Archive for the ‘US democracy’ Category

A quiet revolution

November 14, 2007

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There is progress on globalisation issues if you look for it, though how fast it comes and how far it takes us is a moot point.

Think back to Seattle 1999, and the anti-WTO riots, a landmark moment for global justice campaigners seeking fairer economic treatment for the world’s poor. The power of the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation, controlled by richer countries to the great advantage of their larger corporations, appeared massive and unchallengeable at the time. Capitalism claimed to have triumphed over all alternatives, the doctrine of “free” markets held sway. Much less so now.

As the writer Naomi Klein craftfully points out in this Alternet article, it is in Latin America that this change is most evident. These were the countries that most suffered under the hyper-capitalism of Milton Friedman and his Chicago School economics but they are now finding their feet. Though the trend has been clear for some time, Klein’s piece offers a useful synopsis.

Witness, first, the International Monetary Fund’s loss of influence in the region:

In 2005 Latin America made up 80 percent of the IMF’s total lending portfolio; the continent now represents just 1 percent–a sea change in only two years.

And marvel at the fate of its twins during the same short space of time:

When Paul Wolfowitz was forced to resign as president of the World Bank in May, it was clear that the institution needed to take desperate measures to rescue itself from its profound crisis of credibility. In the midst of the Wolfowitz affair, the Financial Times reported that when World Bank managers dispensed advice in the developing world, “they were now laughed at.” Add the collapse of the World Trade Organization talks in 2006 (prompting declarations that “globalization is dead”), and it appears that the three main institutions responsible for imposing the Chicago School ideology under the guise of economic inevitability are at risk of extinction.

My only gripe would be with Klein’s unquestioning trust in the good faith of all the Latin American leaders she names in her piece. While I would give Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez many more marks for democracy than I would his U.S. counterpart, he still makes me nervous. The piece should also have made reference to the zapatistas and their influence not only on the region but also on the entire global justice movement.

Some useful climate change material

June 22, 2007

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I was surprised the other day by a good friend who expressed his doubts about carbon dioxide being the cause of climate change, a phenomenon which he accepted as happening but only because of variations in the Earth’s orbit in relation to the Sun.

He believed humankind should plan for climate change but without bothering overmuch about CO2 as such. He’s a smart fellow so I bit my customarily active lip and directed my energy into some web research instead.

This New Scientist piece did for the solar wobble phenomenon, saying it is an influence but not always and never to the extent that would explain global temperature changes through history.

On the subject of climate change, and whether taxes, technology or individual actions will sort things out, this article, from the excellent openDemocracy, explained why none of the above might be our escape route. The solutions themselves, on their own or together, are too entrenched in liberal capitalism and its emphasis on markets and individual choices.

So what might work? As the article says:

More social-science research suggests that collectivist, social-welfare societies are a better incubator of pro-environmental behaviour than individualist ones where welfare is looked on with suspicion.

It suggests a sense of community with others may be as important as concern over the biosphere in generating environmentalism, and adds:

If this is true, then any community that is subjected to a near-thirty-year experiment designed to prove that “there is no such thing as society” – as Britain under successive prime ministers has effectively been since 1979 – will be in poor shape to deal with the pro-social policy demands of a problem like climate change.

Can’t disagree with that.

All that being said, we have to deal with what we’ve got, which is why, as hotairhead, I posted a couple of times on the Guardian’s Comment is free site the other day on the subject of whether Al Gore should run again for the U.S. presidency. I reckon he should.

Parts of the U.S. political world are moving, as evidenced by this week’s Economist.

Finally, while on the subject of climate change, I can’t recommend enough the work of George Monbiot and his latest book “Heat”.

New Standard RIP

April 24, 2007

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This Friday, April 27, 2007, will see the last edition of The New Standard, a pioneering online reporting operation in the United States that tried to live its ideals through both its news, its collective employment set-up and its advert-free financial model. Sadly, it hasn’t worked out.

The staff, Jessica Azulay, Michelle Chen, Brian Dominick, Shreema Mehta
and Megan Tady, announce the news here. The bit I would pick out is this:

“… the five staffers who form the PeoplesNetWorks Collective – the nonhierarchical nonprofit that publishes TNS – have accepted that the news publication we envisioned cannot be achieved without a greater level of support. We do not believe we will be able to obtain that support in the foreseeable future, and as individuals, we have reached a point at which we are unable to sustain the long hours and stress that publishing TNS entails.”

I met Jessica and Brian (pictured above) when they lectured on the Z Media Institute alternative politics and journalism course in 2005. They were mines of information, humble, passionate – damn good basically. It’s a shame to see their project bite the dust. There will be a post mortem, and valuable lessons to be drawn for anyone interested in real journalism. They will re-emerge somewhere else, I have no doubt.

My own thought on the demise of TNS is that we didn’t do enough to support it and didn’t appreciate the boldness, novelty and importance of its efforts. My own, inadequate, journalism model for now is to do whatever it takes to provide my share of household inputs, and grab whatever spare time there is to report, blog and write talking about a revolution for free. Not great, but that’s all I have for now. That’s why I’m particularly sorry to see the TNS crowd shutting up shop.

Perhaps the reason I didn’t spend more time on the TNS site was that my take on alternative journalism is a bit different. In addition to the TNS efforts to provide an objective dissection of daily news, I am more inclined towards how we recalibrate news reporting to focus on the poor quality of our underlying political systems.

That would mean reporting that includes reference to the weakness of the underlying decision-making structures related to the story and presents what policies might result from using alternative structures. It would be hard work, and a challenge not to end up with very dull reports of use to no-one. The aim would be to de-power the voice of the few in favour of the powerless many (err, that’s us folks). Any report featuring politicians or policy would give equal if not more play to what ordinary people want, not just from opinion polls but also from ongoing participatory democracy sessions.

Sounds a bit wooly perhaps, I’ll work on it, but I hope you get the gist for now.

For once, a good news story on U.S. democracy

December 9, 2006

It’s easy, particularly with George Dubya at the helm, to see U.S. politics as a corporation-dominated, planet-threatening basket case immune to all voices of reason. I am not quite that gloomy.

Guarded optimist that I choose to be, I prefer to latch onto the savvy, grass-roots activism that ordinary Americans excel at and which is much in evidence if you choose to look for it. When, for example, was the last time you heard an American say this:

“What we see as the largest roadblock to democracy is that some people either believe that we already have a democracy or that we don’t have a right to it. To us, that’s about shifting people’s minds fundamentally to where they’re willing to act instead of being paralyzed by cynicism or hopelessness.”

Those are the words of Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, a lead organiser of Measure T, a successful ballot initiative this year in Northern California’s Humboldt County that banned non-local corporate money in elections. It also also rejected corporate personhood, the legal doctrine that grants corporations the same rights and protections as people. If that sounds dull and meaningless, you clearly haven’t had the chance yet to watch the Corporation.

The eloquent Sopoci-Belknap, in an article carried on ZNET, explained the rationale of Measure T as follows:

“Our constitution is about restrictions on government; government cannot pass laws that violate people’s rights. If corporations have personhood rights, that means government down to the local level can’t meaningfully restrict them.”

Don’t expect the presidential hopefuls, Democrat or Republican, to be doing too much on that front come oath-of-office time in 2009.

The ZNET crowd, as well as publishing the magazine from which these quotes are taken, provide what they call a community for those committed to social change. I count myself among their members.

I was lucky enough to attend their Z media event in 2005, an alternative politics and journalism course run every couple of years in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. I learnt heaps and met some smart, committed activists as well as listening to and questioning the likes of Noam Chomsky. They’re running another one in June 2007. It rocks. Check it out here.

I posted a slide show of the 2005 event on YouTube, for fun but also to show that even in a sleepy joint like Woods Hole, the Iraq war was pretty divisive even 18 months ago.

Which U.S. president said that?

October 9, 2006

“As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

Not George W. Bush of course, the syntax is too clean, nor his Dad, who’s busy working for the corporations.

No, it is Abraham Lincoln, writing in 1864 after the American civil war and quoted at the start of chapter 8 in Paul Kingsnorth’s excellent book “One no, many yeses”. I came across it again today researching content for the second chapter of my book “Talking about a revolution”.

Old Abe, barring the distractions of a few instruments of modern warfare and Fox News, would struggle to see a whole lot of difference with today’s United States.

What talking, what revolution?

September 24, 2006

Hi, my name is Patrick Chalmers and this is the public face of my efforts to contribute something to the development of real democracy at the local, national and global levels of our society.

I am 40 years old, was born in Scotland and am living in France having left a staff reporting job with the Reuters news agency in April 2005. I will get into more detail about all that in due course.

What revolution do I mean? The one needed to transform our existing democracies into something worthy of that name.

And what talking? Basically, the journalism – underpinned by the necessary honesty, integrity and humility too often missing in my trade – needed to support and nurture democratic revolution at every level of our societies.

Part of that process will be to research, write and publish a book on democracy and journalism, offering anyone who fancies it a chance to contribute their ideas and suggestions.

Another will be to try to walk my talk by learning how to be an independent multi-media journalist, outside the embrace of conventional news organisations. This process is in no way unique and I will reference, credit and draw on all the examples that I think are useful.

For the French speakers among you, here is my first attempt at TV news reporting, which came about during a three-day TV training session I did in Brussels in September 2006 :

Low bandwidth and high bandwidth.

Chuckle if you must, it’s no Pulitzer winner.

I look forward to hearing your views/ideas/abuse with one request – if you want to criticise feel free but please pause a moment to think of a better idea that you might suggest.