Freedom and Democracy

It is a sad day for Switzerland, it is a sadder day for humanity. It is a day when a slight majority – 50.3% – of the 56% who voted on this weekend’s plebiscite approved an initiative that was advertized in the media to deceive. It was designed to stoke existential fears, and add fuel to the virus of xenophobia. That this initiative succeeded to get a thin majority at the polls, comes as a surprise to many, and I hope that it comes at a surprise to those 44% who did not bother to vote. While I claimed that I would not be surprised if this happened, now that it happened, I am indignant and surprised.

The EU is build on four fundamental principles set down in the 1957 Treaty of Rome. This treaty is an 80 page document, the four freedoms are the freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and people, Article 3 (c).

If we are to take the case that these freedoms constitute fundamental rights, and this is a case that can be made. Then the violation of these, when contrary to international law, in that intentional deprivation of these rights constitutes persecution, this could approach a crime against humanity. But, this is a difficult case to make, and I do not wish to go so far right now. 

We may recall that states are free to exercise their territorial sovereignty and deciding matters pertaining to foreigners. This freedom is however is limited by the EU bilateral agreements, but also by anti-descrimination and reunification of families right (remember Gül v Switzerland?) Really, why don’t we have an independent constitutional court? 

Now, this is going to be dizzy to implement! 

It really is no consolation that the virus of xenophobia is spreading through Europe. Some states have better immune systems against this virus, but it is one which we are all being exposed to. It is also not just Europe. I thought that we had done the civil liberties movement, dealt with apartheid, and that we were on the way to live in a truly free world. Think again! 

The erosion of our basic freedoms is not something to be taken lightly. A thin majority of Swiss today voted against one of the four freedoms on which our neighbours on all sides are building the future.

Good Morning America!

I have been puzzled by the fact that Occupy Wall Street (OWS) according to CNN, the source of all news and rumors, is on its 24th day. Is it my perception, or is it that reporting of protests outside the USA gets a totally different kind of media coverage?

I do not know. But when Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria (Arab Spring 2011) started their revolt, the mainstream media were on fire with the news. With OWS, the same mainstream media is reporting rather subdudly. It is a trickle on my twitter stream, and frankly it seems that nobody gives a damn. Have we, the rich westerners, gotten disenfranchised to this point of just not caring about what is going on on our front porch (Wall Street)?

Let’s have a look at what the main headlines are on the hour:

CNN/US: Main headline “Bullies just not preying on the weak:” A new study commissioned by CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°” found that the stereotype of the schoolyard bully preying on the weak doesn’t reflect reality in schools. Comforting to see is that the second line on the front page and first item on ‘US top stories’ is indeed the announcement of the 24th day of OWS. But then it is all business as usual. Where are the in depth stories about the protests? Should it not be on the front page on the website? But it is on the front page, down at the bottom, in “iReport” as one of nine boxes alongside “Sports Illustrated.” I stand corrected, not!

New York Times: NATO, gulf shrimp, election, budget deficit, and by the way, an headline down the page Protesters Offer Help and Risk for Democrats. The first paragraph is a revelation: “Leading Democratic figures, including party fund-raisers and a top ally of President Obama, are embracing the spread of the anti-Wall Street protests in a clear sign that members of the Democratic establishment see the movement as a way to align disenchanted Americans with their party.” Is anybody out there listening to these people? Am I the only cynic left in this world that only sees self-interested instrumentalist purposes in what is being reported?

The Washington Post: Almost makes it important and dedicates a navigation tab to Occupy Wall Street. However on its front page, Afghan detainees are being tortured according to the UN, and you have to scroll down and really look for it to find the tab and a banner that you can click to find out what is being reported. Meanwhile, the readership also seems much more interested in Demi Moore’s latest romantic foils that anything that has to do with protests and government. To save grace, this newspaper does publish Eugene Robinson’s opinion that albeit on the conservative side, still manages to echo some of the discontent “a nation where the rich have become the mega-rich while the middle class has steadily lost ground, where unemployment is stuck at levels once considered unbearable, and where our political system is too dysfunctional to take the kind of bold action that would make a real difference.”

At Le Monde, the french are preoccupied with their own elections, and a few minor disarrays in the land of centralism and accelerated social decay. In their international section, we learn about a resurgence of cholera in Haiti, that the Liberians are having an election, and Juppé is flirting with the Syrians while the Copts in Egypt are burying their dead. Ouch! Nobody really cares about the troubles on Wall Street.

The Swiss NZZ front page is dedicated to the calamities of the weather, the workings of Ukrainian justice and politics, and of course, what the hell is wrong with the banks. Down at the bottom of the page the Swiss have their own OWS to worry about, “Occupy Paradeplatz.”

But that was a short snapshot of the web versions of some of the mainstream dailies that I occasionally read. However the media landscape is fragmenting at a rate that can only be welcome. Citizen media – a mad name by any measure – is popping up allover, and nobody can really keep up, so their voices are difficult to detect from under all the background noise. Still, if you care to dig, it is there: Livestram,Twitter (suspiciously quiet), John Perry Barlow (awake as ever), Gawker (almost anesthetized towards mainstream), and Lawrence Lessig (as uncomfortable as ever), to name a few off the top.

Good morning America, you are dying in your sleep. Sweet dreams!

PS: The rich westerners are on a drug induced sleep. Democracy has become empty rhetoric, and government a consumable.


photo, originally uploaded by trafal.