Mark & Steve – Politics and Democracy, Part 2

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Mark and Steve discuss a recent provincial election in British Columbia talking about politics in general and the democratic system.

Mark: Yeah.

I think they could try and do things to reduce the…make it a little less onerous, for instance.

I mean in this day and age you shouldn’t have to move to Ottawa, for instance.

Steve: Right.

Mark: You should be able to do it, you know, over the Internet or that kind of thing.

Steve: I mean I agree with you.

Sitting in Parliament where they’re all yakking at each other and behaving like a bunch of monkeys is bad for the image of democracy.

Mark: For sure.

Steve: And so then, of course, the other issue with democracy is the way in which, you know to some extent, the idea of democracy itself becomes a little ideological and so the Americans are out promoting democracy in the world.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So, I mean in some countries, yeah, we have democracy in Venezuela or in I guess it’s Bolivia and they vote in governments that are not very…

Mark: …democratic…

Steve: …and quickly start changing the laws so they can stay president for life.

Mark: Well, I saw where in Russia they just fired…or there was some head of the judiciary or something that was able to vote down motions.

I don’t remember the exact details, but it was a potential impediment to Putin becoming president again and all of a sudden now that guy’s been canned.

The legislature voted to remove that position or something, so yet another Czech is removed there.

Steve: Right. But Russia is not considered a very democratic country, with all due respect to Russians.

Mark: Right.

Steve: I mean the government controls the media and there was a certain amount of intimidation during the election, so it’s not really a free democratic system.

Even the Russians themselves recognize that they don’t have an independent judiciary, so a lot of the pieces are missing there.

But even where you have a better setup, people can slide from a properly-functioning democracy into a situation where people take over who start to corrupt.

Mark: Well like in Venezuela.

Steve: Like in Venezuela or like what happened in Nazi Germany and so forth, so one has to be always vigilant.

And that’s where I think, obviously, even in Venezuela, I mean if the people want Hugo Chavez to be president for life and they vote for it then that’s their democratic wish and that’s fine.

Mark: Right.

Steve: The problem can arise when all of a sudden in Venezuela the president doesn’t respect the independence of the judiciary or doesn’t allow newspapers to print criticism, so I think the freedom of the press…

I was once listening to Russian on this Echo Moskvi my favorite Russian radio station; they were talking about corruption in Russia.

And this one Russian commentator said, you know, there’s no point in doing what the Chinese do, which is shoot people.

You know so and so is corrupt, we shoot him to make an example.

We shoot a few, 10, 100; it doesn’t matter in those countries.

He said, what we need to have is we need to have an independent judiciary and freedom of the press and freedom of expression and less government interference in all spheres, especially in economic life, because a lot of the corruption has to do with things that the government controls.

Mark: Right.

Steve: And so if the government says you want to start a factory you pay me so much or you want to do this you pay me.

The smaller the role of government the less opportunity for that kind of corruption.

Mark: Right.

Steve: And if there is an independent judiciary then if a government official is abusing his power at least there’s some place to go or if there’s freedom of the press then I can go to the newspapers.

Mark: Right.

Steve: But in a country where you don’t have freedom of the press and you don’t have an independent judiciary you’re kind of at the mercy of the government and then the government can, because they control the press, insure that they get “elected”, you know.

Mark: Right.

Steve: But in countries where you don’t have these traditions (I’m looking at Afghanistan) and in countries where they don’t have enough to eat and where they’re all shooting each other, democracy is probably not at the top of their list of things that they’re wishing for.

Mark: No.

And if there was a democratic vote they’d be trying to vote in their buddies who could then go and wipe out the other guys that have been irritating them for so long.

Steve: Well, that’s right.

And, of course, there are countries where there’s always a struggle between the secularists and the more religious groups, especially in some of these Islamic countries.

And, conceivably, you could have maybe 30-40% of the population that favors a very fundamentalist Islamic group and maybe the other secular group is divided between the conservatives and the leftists and the communists and some separatist independent group over there.

And so all of a sudden your 30% independent fundamentalists come in and their view is that all laws come from God.

So if you have a democracy where the parliament votes in laws that are based on the authority of the elected parliament that’s a sacrilege.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Because people don’t make laws, you know, Allah makes laws.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So, anyway, how do you change that culture?

Mark: I don’t know.

Steve: I don’t think we’re going to change it today in this discussion.

Mark: No, I don’t think so, I don’t think so.

You wonder with the Americans in Iraq whether…I mean their goal, of course, is to try and institute a functioning democracy in Iraq and establish, at least, a functioning democracy in the Middle East, a functioning Muslim democracy in the Middle East.

I don’t know if there is one at the moment.

Steve: Considered to be the most successful democratic Muslim state today is Indonesia and/or the Muslim people in India who regularly participate in the elections and do so in a responsible manner.

Mark: But they’re not in the Middle East.

Steve: No, not in the Middle East.

Mark: I mean obviously the Middle East has been such a powder keg for so long, I think the hope is that Iraq could be used as a model.

Can that happen, I mean given what you’re saying about laws being handed down from God?

There’s a certain contradiction there.

Steve: Well, of course, don’t forget…yeah, I don’t know…I mean Syria is not an Islamic state.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein was not an Islamic state.

Mark: No, right.

Steve: It wasn’t a democratic state.

Mark: No.

Steve: And I think that there all kinds of different forces in Iraq.

There are the Shiah and the Sunni Muslims or the Curds who obviously have their own ethnic agenda and there are, I’m sure, a lot of secularist-type people.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: I mean they had quite a successful election given the circumstances, but I guess there are just so many people pulling in different directions.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So it’s a bit like Yugoslavia.

Once the lid was lifted it off it led to people settling scores and that kind of thing.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: In the long run whether Iraq can succeed, it would be nice.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: I mean it’s been at an unbelievable cost in human life.

Hopefully, yeah, things settle down.

But, you know it brings up this whole issue of peace.

One of the things that’s interesting about learning languages is that you start to hear about events in the world from different perspectives.

So I’m listening to my Russian radio station and they’re interviewing people from Afghanistan and, apparently, there’s been a whole delegation of Afghan politicians who have descended on Moscow.

Of course their main goal there is to get aid from Russia.

Mark: Right.

Steve: And Russia has had a long history with Afghanistan before the very bloody war.

They were neighbors when those central Asian countries were part of the Soviet Union, so to hear those discussions.

I mean I think part of the problem is we only ever see the problem from our own perspective.

So I think languages are good, you can hear another person’s perspectives.

You know today I had lunch in an Iranian restaurant, it was quite good.

It was a stew; it was like $7, it was quite cheap.

And they had the Farsi radio blaring and music, yeah, yeah, yeah, you know, and Arabic script dashing across the screen of their TV.

But I’m saying you know I wish I could understand Farsi…

Mark: Right.

Steve: …and I might have a little better understanding of their perspective.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: But, you know, that probably doesn’t help either.

The French and the German they all understood each other and they went to war twice in the last century.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: And I’m sure the Tamils and the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka speak the same language or understand each other’s language.

Mark: I’m sure they don’t want to read what the other guys are writing about them.

Steve: Well, that’s right. Maybe that will just make them angry.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: I don’t know.

Mark: No.

Steve: Well it seems like even in the Middle East there is no question that in a totally ideal world that if you had a country that consisted of Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, West Bank, Gaza, all that as one country.

Mark: Right.

Steve: I mean Israel has most of the seacoast, which Jordan doesn’t have.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Jordan, in fact, is an artificial country, was created out of Palestine and the king there is originally from Saudi Arabia.

But it’s just not practical.

There is just no way because there’s so much bitterness, in theory at least.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Not only is there bitterness, but there are so many different agendas.

Even in a country like Israel you have the Orthodox Jews who have their thing, which is like totally, I don’t know, out of the 14th century and you have the Muslim fundamentalists who are out of the 12th century.

Mark: It doesn’t matter how small your pie is there’s always people that are willing to…

Steve: I know.

Mark: There’s always in-fighting in different groups because it’s always about looking out for your own group versus other groups out there.

Steve: I mean families can’t even get together.

I mean we read so much about family violence and so forth and so on.

Mark: Right.

Steve: I guess it’s unrealistic to expect.

I mean even amongst the Palestinians they’re all fighting each other.

Mark: Yeah, different sects.

Steve: The Hamas and the Hezbollah and I don’t know what other groups they have there and so…we’re a pretty bad bunch the human race.

But, in the meantime, we have to keep on the bright side.

Mark: That’s right.

So I guess we shouldn’t be knocking our political system here too badly.

I mean it more or less works.

Steve: Well, you know, absolutely.

You know I was listening, there’s a service on the Internet called TED (t-e-d), which puts out these videos of famous people talking about different subjects.

And, by the way, I’ve gotten permission to put audio and text from that site on LingQ in our Library.

Mark: Right.

Steve: But they had one presentation there by Isabel Allende who wrote a number of books Hija de la fortuna and whatever, books, and she was talking about the need for passion.

And she went on and gave an example of some woman in East Africa who plants trees or saves orphans or whatever and she’s totally passionate about it and so forth and so on and we need passion to make things happen.

Mark: Right.

Steve: You know what? I think less passion is a good thing.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: You know?

Fifty-one percent or whatever, we had a very apathetic voter turnout.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Maybe that’s a good thing.

I would rather have people apathetic than having them drive around with machine guns mounted on the back of pickup trucks shooting at each other.

Mark: Or out having big demonstrations in support of one party or the other.

Steve: Something to be said for apathy.

Mark: Well, I mean, yeah, partly. Obviously, people are comfortable.

Steve: Well, that’s right.

Mark: If they weren’t comfortable they would be less apathetic.

Steve: Well, that’s right.

Mark: Things are more or less working, so, okay, yeah, that’s fine.

We don’t really need to vote.

I guess there are countries…like in Australia you have to vote, do you not?

Steve: I’m not against that.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: I’m not against that.

Mark: Right.

Steve: Compulsory vote. I’m not against that at all.

Mark: No.

Steve: It’s a civic duty.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: I mean you have to vote like you have to serve on a jury.

You can’t park wherever you want.

You know there are rules.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: So you belong to this society and you have to vote because that’s how we determine how we should run the country…

Mark: That’s right.

Steve: …and tax people and so forth and so on.

Mark: I mean I think that’s probably a good system.

It can’t be that difficult to implement.

Steve: No. They do it over there we can do it here.

Mark: Yeah. Anyhow, we’ve probably…

Steve: We’ve covered a few subjects; didn’t solve too many.

Mark: No.

Steve: Alright. I hope this is helpful to people learning English.

Mark: Lots of terminology related to politics and so on.

So, again, let us know.

Steve: Let us know what you like to hear about.

Mark: Exactly.

We’ll talk to you again soon.

Bye-bye.

Steve: Bye for now.

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