Since the close of the Cold War, apologists for corporate arrogance and irresponsibility have argued that the world has reached an "end of history" moment when there can no longer be any debate about the superiority of cut-throat competition and business-defined "free markets." The rigid orthodoxy of the corporatists has played out in the form of free trade agreements such as NAFTA, which are crafted to allow corporations to easily relocate production facilities in order to avoid laws, rules and regulations that protect workers, consumers and the environment, and in the strengthening of "global governance" groups such as the World Trade Organization, which were created to take away the ability of communities, regions and nation states to hold corporations accountable.
The initiative has been advanced by conservative and centrist politicians such as George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, and by most of the global media conglomerates, which stand to benefit from the deconstruction of laws that require broadcasters and publishers to display at least a small measure of concern for the civic and democratic health of the nations where they operate.
But, despite the pressure from the politicians and the constant spin campaign from the media, the people have begun to notice that the free-market emperor has no clothes. Street protests in Seattle in 1999 prevented the WTO from advancing the free-trade agenda into new sectors of the economy, saving millions of farmers around the world from being overrun by the agribusiness conglomerates and slowing the rush to privatize education, transportation and communications services.
Recently, some pharmacists across the country have refused to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception and other birth control pills. Why? They argue that the pills are in conflict with their moral beliefs. And in the current political climate, instead of writing legislation requiring these rogue pharmacists to comply with the law and fill prescriptions without discrimination, many state governments, encouraged by the Bush Administration, are giving these vigilante pharmacists cover. Four states already have laws on the books that permit pharmacist refusals and 12 more are considering similar legislation.
As Rachel Laser of the National Women's Law Center, told the Washington Post: "This is another indication of the current political atmosphere and climate. It's outrageous. It's sex discrimination. It prevents access to a basic form of health care for women. We're going back in time."
No one seems to know exactly how often pharmaceutical refusals are occuring, but cases have been reported in California, Washington, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Texas, New Hampshire, Ohio and North Carolina. Advocates on both sides say the refusals appear to be spreading, often surfacing only in the rare instances when women file complaints.
Did you know that on the eve of the Iranian presidential election, that country--with 70 percent of its population under 30--has 75,000 bloggers? I find that pretty stunning--and I'm usually skeptical of blog-hype.
Blogging has gone international in a big way. And in Iran, blogging means that news, ideas and rumors are bypassing traditional censors. As one of Iran's leading bloggers recently pointed out at opendemocracy.net, Iran's blogs are generating "an unprecedented amount of information [and] pre-election news has...been much more transparent." In fact, Hossein Derakhshan argued, " it will probably be one of the most open and transparent elections Iran has ever seen."
The internet is playing a major role. This is the first time, for example, that most of the major candidates (except the oldest ones) have their own websites. And with an estimated three or four million internet users in Iran, blogs are opening up Iranian society and culture--despite the enduring threat of government censorship and imprisonment of journalists and activists.
Electoral reform is on the march. Burlington, Vermont, the state's biggest city, recently adopted instant runoff voting for its 2006 mayoral elections. On May 18th, Portland, Oregon became the first city in the country to approve full public financing of elections. And last week in Canada, a majority of voters opted for proportional voting in an important symbolic victory that could eventually lead to more voices and more choices in future elections.
In a referendum coinciding with British Columbia's parliamentary elections, 57.4 percent of a record turnout of 1.6 million chose to replace Canada's US-style, winner-take-all voting system with a method of proportional voting known as the "single transferable vote" (STV). Under this plan, voters rank multiple candidates in order of preference, empowering minorities and breaking up the monopoly of entrenched political parties. "This was not generally a vote of ideology," says Rob Richie of the Center for Voting and Democracy. "This was a vote for a better, fairer democracy that people in all parties could rally around."
Although the STV drive fell short of the 60 percent needed for passage, the measure won a majority of votes in 97 percent of the province's districts. In the wake of these results, Premier Gordon Campbell immediately declared that reforming the electoral system should be a top priority for the newly elected Parliament. "The citizens have been very clear," said Campbell. "There's a pretty strong mandate for electoral reform to take placeâ€¦a hunger to see improvement."