Saturday, December 08, 2007

A good week for democracy, a bad week for democracy and the head-in-the-sand approach to climate change

Democratic progressives were alternately heartened and chastened by developments around the world in the past week.

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez’s referendum that would have allowed him to run for re-election indefinitely, declare states of emergency for unlimited periods and increase the state’s already-expansive control over the country’s economy there, was narrowly defeated, 51% to 49%. Abandoning the petulant tone that had marked his public statements in recent weeks (most notably in his exchange with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero at the Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile last month), Mr. Chávez was extremely gracious in accepting the verdict of his country’s electorate.

Were it only true that such an example of participatory democracy had been on display in Russia, where parliamentary elections that gave a sweeping majority to political parties aligned with Russian President Valdimir Putin were characterized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as “not fair” and christened as an illegitimate "merging of a (Putin’s United Russia) political party and the state…clear violation of international commitments and standards.” In Chechnya, ruled by Putin’s ally Ramzan Kadyrov, the president’s party took a Soviet-style 99.2% of the vote. Russia’s liberal democratic opposition, most eloquently represented in the West by former chess champion Garry Kasparov, alternately clapped in jail, ignored on the government-controlled airwaves, forbidden from marching and all-but-bullied off the ballot itself, was left to ponder their next move.

Where was the United States government amidst all this turbulence? Telling the world that it still wasn’t ready to commit to mandatory caps to cut global-warming gases at the United Nation’s global warming conference in Bali, of course. This continued the rather less-than-visionary Bush administration approach to global warming that has resulted in my native country being the only major industrial nation to have rejected Kyoto Protocol and its modest targets for reducing damaging greenhouse gases.

Let’s hope the coming week has more stories like the first one, and fewer like the last two.

A busy week ahead, and as it’s a rainy night in Paris, so time to turn back to watching a pirated version of The Darjeeling Limited.

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