Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Display:
And BTW, I see and hear of and participate in a lot more grassroots democracy here in America than I ever even see reported on ET.  I was at an informal pot luck Monday night with a group of candidates who recently ran for Chicago city council as reformers and independents (a.k.a. democrats against Mayor Daley), some of whom won, some of whom were in run-offs, some of whom lost, all of whom helped give Daley his biggest defeat (losing a significant number of allies in city council) and all of whom did it with only the support of grassroots (DFA) and organized labor.  It was pure democracy in action.  And even with those who lost, everyone was excited and empowered and ready for the next election.  It was the kind of thing our founders envisioned.  

I just don't hear many such stories here on ET.  There was someone (Detlef?) who ran for a local seat and won.  There have been policy papers written, LTE's etc, but I don't see much participation in direct democracy, in the process itself.  Not like you see at MyDD or Daily Kos, where people are actively doing organizing, field work, running for things themselves.  In America the process is broken -campaign finance & media consolidation being the culprits- but people are actively trying to fix it, to improve it, to do something besides complain about it.  And while there is a long way to go, the tide is turning.  You can bitch about the end product being the same, that the new dems are no better than the old GOPers -we do too!- but the process is undergoing a change.  There are places in this country which have had no progressive political organization for 35 years or more.  That's going to take a long time to change, but it is being changed.  People all over are being educated on how to run campaign, new media outlets are popping up and gaining influence and attention, candidates are starting to pander to activists instead of just to millionaires, at the local level seats are being challenged for the 1st time in decades, and if they aren't won, they have the effect of making incumbents defend their records.  I'd invite you to come spend a week in my shoes and still tell me democracy is dead in America.  It's not dead in my America.  Yet.


"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 01:13:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A valid criticism.

Except that in every legislature, real power is concentrated at the centre. I'm sure it was very energising to be so invovled in Illinois politics, but Cheney still pulls the strings everywhere. Habeas Corpus has gone, the Constitution has been shredded and the foundations laid for the Imperial Presidency, the Unitary Excutive, unless a significant group of National figures choose to do something about it.

Meanwhile back here, you're right. We don't get invovled. In the UK even MPs have been rendered irrelevant, nobody even knows what local councillors do, except that they can get sued if they get it wrong.

And lacking a primary system, unless you scratch the right backs, you never get to positions where you get elected anyway.

No, we don't participate, because we've been deliberately excluded. But then again when you look at who might get to Washington, is there any place for non-squillionaires either ?

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 01:30:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cheney might control national politics and foreign policy -everything you see- , but daily-to-day matters like if a Walmart can be built in your town or how safe your neighborhood is or affordable housing laws, gun control, etc. are decided at the local level.  And for many Americans, these are more pressing matters than USAttorney-Gate...  

And the big plan Dean has -basically modelled after the GOP's rise to power- is that these local politicians can start out in the ward or town board and work their way up to Congress.  It's called a "farm team" - like in sports.  Minor leagues->Major Leagues.  

Can a non-squillionaire win?  It's certainly difficult.  I bet not simply because of fundraising, but having friends on boards of networks, or having no qualms about taking money from Big Pharma, etc.  But if it puts anything into perspective, Obama, in his race for Senator, ran against a self-funded millionaire in the Primary.  The millionaire lost...  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 01:42:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That kind of democracy is still active here too, up to a point. If you make enough noise the big store won't be built - probably. The new road from nowhere to nowhere and the shopping development in the town that doesn't really need one may not be built either - perhaps.

But when it comes to core issues, which are more or less the same as the ones in the US - health care and education, economic policy, foreign policy - ordinary people are completely disenfranchised.

We aren't given the choice to vote for populist, bottom-up policies. The rules are set by Big Money, Big Oil, and Big Death, and they're the ones who are steering the ship.

We're allowed to rearrange the deck chairs. But we're not allowed to avoid the rocks or join the pillage party in the big ballroom.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 03:29:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Speaking of the non-squillionaires, I followed Bill Wyatts run in the preisdential primaries of the Repbulican party in 2004. This is what wikipedia says about him:

Bill Wyatt is a liberal Republican and was a candidate for the U.S. Republican Party presidential nomination, 2004. He is a 43-year-old T-shirt maker and father of three from California. Wyatt left the Democratic Party to become a Republican after Democrats voted for the war in Iraq, an action he saw as a betrayal. He hopes to have a greater voice as a member of the Republican Party.

Wyatt has traveled 12,000 miles and spent an estimated $20,000 on his Presidential campaign. He managed to qualify for ballot status in New Hampshire, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, and even the Democratic Primary ballot in Arizona.

His early showings were disheartening but not surprising. He finished tenth in the New Hampshire primary with 0.23% of the vote (153 votes).

However, a major upset occurred on Mini-Tuesday when Wyatt won just over 10% of the vote in Oklahoma. He also placed second in Missouri, where he gained 1,268 votes (1.03%). Wyatt also received 233 votes (0.10%) in the Arizona Democratic primary.

Wyatt has stated that the Louisiana primary was his last stand, since it was the final state where he qualified for ballot status. He gained 4% of the vote there, which he considered a symbolic victory against George W. Bush that sent a message to the Republican Party. Wyatt has declared that he will be a candidate in the 2008 presidential election.

What was particulary interesting was his failed attempts to get on the primary ballots in the first place. The reason he ran in the Arizona Democratic primary was that the republican was cancelled because of lack of other candidates then Bush. That he was a republican and wanted to participated did not matter (this was also the case in a number of other states). So he ran in the Arizona Democratic primary to get more votes then Bush in Arizona.

To be a candidate for the presidency in the US you apparently have to be a candidate accepted by the media or have enough money to be buy media time. As a comparision: to be a candidate for the presidency of Iran you have to be acceptable to a group of mullahs (or possibly buy their acceptance).

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Jun 28th, 2007 at 10:35:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also worth mentioning, I think the Federalist nature of the United States of America really undermines any feeling of government centralization.  The current admin, once pro-states rights, it trying doggedly to change that, but the state of politics can really vary quite radically from one state to another.  There isn't really anything culturally or politically homogenous about America, even right down to the way the democratic process is conducted, laws change from state to state.  So it may look to you like we are all under the thumb of Cheney, but here in the US, a person is just as likely to feel more under the thumb of their Governor...

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 02:04:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dear lady, I would have to offer some disagreement, not in terms of your central argument about the current American Administration and its actions, but with the overall effect. One sometimes sees certain situations as having broader application than they really do.  Yes,  "Cheney.. pulls the strings everywhere", but he is not the only puppet master.

The Administration and Congress may have diddled with Habeas Corpus, but by no means is that process or American justice in its death throes as a result; and the justice system is still more than capable of dealing with any liberties that have been taken with the Constitution and law.  

This New Yorker article makes interesting reading.  I dare say the fight is not over.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 03:59:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And lacking a primary system, unless you scratch the right backs, you never get to positions where you get elected anyway.

Some parties are more internally democratic than others, but generally the party apparatus controls who can get on the "shortlist" that is presented to the membership for candidate selection. I think in the US the barriers to enter a party's primary are as low as simply having to change your partisan voter registration.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 04:23:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is the big gotcha in UK politics. You can nominate whomever you like, but if Party HQ doesn't like them, they won't stand. And Party HQ always has the option of parachuting in an Obxridge drone if they want to promote one of their own for good behaviour.

Independents often stand and occasionally win. One of the best moments of the last election was watching the father of someone who died in Iraq laying into Blair in public on election night, because he'd stood as an independent in Blair's constituency and won a good proportion of the votes.

But generally it's the party machine that keeps things running, and parties are very definitely run top-down - to the extent that Westminster is almost irrelevant anyway.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 04:36:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I think in the US the barriers to enter a party's primary are as low as simply having to change your partisan voter registration.

Yes, compare Michael Bloomberg (mayor of New York, and this week's media fascination as he coyly denies that he's running for President). Since he couldn't win the mayoral primary in his own party (the Democrats), he registered Republican and won that way. (At least that's how Newsweek reports it.) This is not seen as unfair, just unusual; it's up to the primary voters to decide whether they accept it.

by Toby Bartels (toby+8190809933@ugcs.caltech.edu) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 09:09:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cynthia Mc Kinney was allegedly unseated by the Republicans in 2002 by contesting the Democratic party primary, as the Republican candidate in her district has zero chance of getting elected.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 28th, 2007 at 06:08:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think Denise Majette was ever a Republican (but I could be wrong. Still, an African-American woman who's a Republican would be slightly unusual). Or are you saying the Republicans put up another candidate in the primary to take away votes from McKinney?

(And why I would know Majette's name of the top of my head remains a mystery even to me)

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde

by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Thu Jun 28th, 2007 at 06:36:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm saying enough Republicans voted in the Democratic primary to bring Majette over the top, instead of their own primary where they were going to be selecting an eventual loser. At least that's the allegation coming from McKinney.
McKinney protested the result in court, claiming that thousands of Republicans, knowing they had no realistic chance of defeating her in November, had participated in the Democratic primary to vote against McKinney in revenge for her anti-Bush administration views and allegations of possible voter fraud in Florida in the 2000 Presidential Election. Like 20 other states, Georgia operates an open primary: voters do not claim a political party when they register to vote, and may participate in whichever party's primary election they choose.


Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 28th, 2007 at 06:45:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Aah, I see what you're saying. That's perfectly possible.  

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Thu Jun 28th, 2007 at 07:00:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The grip of political parties in Europe stifles grass-roots involvement.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 03:35:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No ability to work from within the parties?  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 03:48:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The stifling of dissent by only promoting like-minds prevents this. Grass roots with new ideas are frozen out from any position of influence and involvement.

Nowadays it's worse as there's a professional political class who have been working as advisers and media consultnts for years till they get parachuted into safe constituencies. Jobs for the boys (and it usually is boys)

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 03:56:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This professional caste of politicians gets started in the youth sections of the parties, or in student associations, and quickly graduate into the party apparatus. Many young rising stars of many European parties have never been involved in anything other than partisan politics or the party apparatus.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 04:05:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
(Yes, because the girls marry the boys and get the money without needing to work for it.)
by Number 6 on Fri Jun 29th, 2007 at 06:50:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not really.

Party membership is very small and it's really hard to join and make a difference because the local party will essentially be a clique (or a few of them).

Also, note that party membership implies paying dues. There is no equivalent of partisan voter registration and voluntary involvement from outside the party is minimal. And, in addition, public finance of campaigns means that parties don't need to (and often can't really) reach out for donations.

A question about the US: what is the difference between a sympathiser, a registered voter, a volunteer helper, a donor, a dues-paying card-carrying member, and a member of the apparatus of the party? Which categories are important and which are not (or are even nonexistent?)

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 04:04:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]

A question about the US: what is the difference between a sympathiser, a registered voter, a volunteer helper, a donor, a dues-paying card-carrying member, and a member of the apparatus of the party? Which categories are important and which are not (or are even nonexistent?)

In my time, I've been a registered in

  • the Democratic Party,
  • no party,
  • the Green Party
  • the Peace and Freedom Party, and
  • the Libertarian Party.

Having recorded my voter registration with the State (Nebraska, then California, now Nebraska again), I am a member of the party. My citizenship (along with my age and my lack of felony conviction) is my dues. (Some people would say that their taxes are their dues, but —unless you lose the franchise through a felony conviction for tax evasion— that's actually irrelevant.)

I'd say that I sympathise, in various ways, with the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and the various small socialist parties (which include Peace and Freedom), although none of them really represent my views. I might also say that I sympathise with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and (somewhat) the small-government wing of the Republican Party, even though I certainly don't sympathise with the parties themselves.

I have been both a volunteer and a donor; ironically, all of my party volunteer work was before I was 18 (voting age), so I was not a party member. For that matter, most of my donations have been to candidates of different parties. I've never donated to any party's campaign committees, but the Democrats keep asking me to, and I'm sure that they'd accept my money even though I haven't been a Democrat for years. (I even got a solicitation from the Republicans once, even though I've never been a member. Clearly these people are just using rented mailing lists, like the charity solicitations I get.)

As for member of the party apparatus …, you should talk to somebody from Iowa about that.

by Toby Bartels (toby+8190809933@ugcs.caltech.edu) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 09:29:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hi Toby, welcome to ET. I hope you will be commenting here without Migeru reminding you. :-)
by Fran on Thu Jun 28th, 2007 at 01:35:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Thanks, Fran!

by Toby Bartels (toby+8190809933@ugcs.caltech.edu) on Tue Jul 3rd, 2007 at 11:27:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Partisan voter registration seems like a terribly dangerous privacy violation from a European perspective. I don't know whether that's because Europeans have a stronger memory of political repression or what, but it would be unthinkable to introduce that system in Europe.

The converse is making European parties closed dues-paying social clubs, which raises a lot of eyebrows among American ETers.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 28th, 2007 at 06:11:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
difference between a sympathiser, a registered voter, a volunteer helper, a donor, a dues-paying card-carrying member, and a member of the apparatus of the party?

Sympathizer:  Anyone can sympathize with whatever or however many parties they choose.  Though mostly there is little sympathy for any party.

Registered voter:  Anyone who votes.  I believe the laws vary by state, but often you have to choose a party if you want to vote in the primaries.  All this means is you tell them what ballot you want.  You don't have any obligation to whichever party you choose.  Some states don't ask you to declare a party at all.  The problem with this is that it can lead to abuse of the primary system.

Volunteer helper:  Anyone can volunteer for any candidate they choose. They can also go to their local party organization and ask to volunteer, to do precinct work, canvassing, etc.

Donor:  Anyone can give to any party they want, though there are limits on how much you can give.  Or you can sidestep the party and give directly to a candidate.  Again, there are limits on how much you can give them.

Dues-paying card-carrying member:  I am not aware of any "dues."  I do know that if you donate any money at all, you get on a mailing list.  I don't know if you get a card, but I don't think it really means anything if you do.  The card doesn't give you special access to people.  Connections and money do...  

Member of the apparatus of the party:  Depending on your role, you can be elected or appointed.  It varies widely from area to area, and from the local party to the national party, from position to position.  It's really confusing.  I think in most cases you can just start going to meetings, and after you've committed so much time, you can become a voting member, and then you can run for chair of your local party and be elected by fellow voting members.  Technically, anyone can do this.  Then there is the state-wide party.  I don't know if seats in it are elected or appointed.  But they don't really do anything either...   Then there is the national party: RNC, DNC, etc.  You can be hired as a staffer or elected as a voting member.  The DNC members I know are basically go-getter politicians.  Like the dif. between being a diarist and nd admin at ET.  Either way, the main role of the national party is fundraising and nominating a Pres. candidate, which is a formality anyway because this is decided by primary elections.  The main role of the local party is fundraising, precinct organization and sometimes community organizing.  But all of this varies widely from place to place.  The party apparatus is composed of self-organizing entities which are usually devoid of any organization...  Bylaws?  What are bylaws?  sigh....

Then you have every variety of caucus: by region, race, creed, gender, special issues, etc. etc. which can represent a party.  I could set up an organization called "Chicago Democrats to impeach Daley" and it would be perfectly legal.  The party goons here have no respect for the law, so I might end up with bricks tied to my feet at the bottom of the river, but I could legally do it.

So far as party organizations go, outside the national level, it's really the wild wild west.  Which means they can be as corrupt as they want to be and disenfranchise everyone, but you can also start your own organization if you don't like the one you have.  This does happen and sometimes these organizations become very successful.  But the party apparatus really is a fundraising, gate-keeping entity which few regular citizens ever have any interest in or contact with...  

For the average Joe, parties are like sports teams.  You pick one and root for them and hope the other team loses.  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Jun 28th, 2007 at 11:48:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I could set up an organization called "Chicago Democrats to impeach Daley" and it would be perfectly legal.  The party goons here have no respect for the law, so I might end up with bricks tied to my feet at the bottom of the river, but I could legally do it.

You're lucky the party goons haven't caught on to the possibilities of trademark law. The Democratic Party could decide that they want to defend the use of the label "Democrat" as a trademark and defend it by sending out cease-and-desist letters.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 28th, 2007 at 11:53:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You could no more do that than trade-mark the term "Catholic" and regulate the use of it...  

People can identify however they want.  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Jun 28th, 2007 at 12:04:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, if you can patent Yoga I wouldn't be too sure ...
by Number 6 on Fri Jun 29th, 2007 at 07:12:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You can't patent Yoga. What Bikram did was copyright a sequence of Asanas, that is postures or exercises. He postulates that it is unique, however the postures are not his creation just the sequence in which you do them. Ridicules in my opinion. He was able to do this in the US, so I don't know if this is acceptable in Europe or India.
by Fran on Fri Jun 29th, 2007 at 11:07:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The grassroots democracy that poemless refers to does not seem to exist in the actual electoral politics of the US. One has a choice between two candidates to "represent" you. If neither is to your taste, the answer is too bad; you should have fought harder in the selection of the candidates. The result is the left wing has been basically destroyed. The left wing is so far removed from American life that it looks like most people do not even know what left wing means. The electoral contest between David Duke and Edwin Edwards get to the heart of what American politics are about. There is no way being forced to choose between these two is in any way democratic.

The smaller the political arena the more power there is in the US system. So yes it may be possible to get, for example, greens elected to city council, but here too an effective take over of the political process is required. So some times it is one group that is frozen out of the political process, and some times it is another group that is frozen out. I don't think I would use Richard J. Daley and his 21 year reign, eventually followed by his son and his potentially longer reign as an example of Democracy in action. It reminds me more of Monarchy and the battles in trying to reign in the Monarchy.

That anyone can run to represent a party means that it is a popularity contest - a money contest - a corruption contest, but not a political contest. It would be easier for an individual to run for the Democratic nomination in the US over me running for party nomination in Canada. I can get a government much closer to my views with Canadian parities than US parties because there is the ability for like minded people to band together and put forward their ideas instead of being atomised and pitted against the majority. (And I haven't mentioned the effects of gerrymandering.)

Even though the Canadian system is basically broken as all first past the post systems are, it is still true that I have, on election night, a much greater chance of having a representative that actually shares some of my values than I would in the US.

The US system is not democratic, but rather it has elements of democracy. In particular it is a tyranny of the majority.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 06:40:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So basically, the Canadian system is as broken as the US' system, but Canada's system is better. Got it.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 06:55:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No - not all first past the post systems are equal. The US has an extreme version of first past the post.

The ability of new political parties to form and to share power in all levels of government shows the difference between the two countries.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 07:08:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That I'll agree with. I still see the same sort of pro-business, anti-environmental decisions coming out the Canadian system, though. The medical system is an enormous plus.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 07:19:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My feeling is that in some ways the pro business policies of Canada are worse than in the US. Look at how we are selling our resources to the United States. Look at how deep the inroads US companies have made in Canada.

While the US is beholden to US multinationals, Canada is beholden to US multinationals too.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Wed Jun 27th, 2007 at 07:39:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And BTW, I see and hear of and participate in a lot more grassroots democracy here in America than I ever even see reported on ET.

That is reasonable and the opposite would be surprising. ET is mostly about the european level of politics, mainly because local politics is shifted along national and laguage boundaries. When I participate in swedish politics, ET is not the main forum for me, as there exists other local forums which are better suited for that purpose (and they are in swedish). Though I try to report some nuggets of it here, that is not the same as seeing the process in action at MyDD or Daily Kos.

So, I see and hear of and participate in a lot more grassroots democracy here in Sweden than I ever report on ET.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Jun 28th, 2007 at 11:00:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Display:

Occasional Series