US Senate candidate Ralph JaffeTimonium, Feb.12.─ In 1968, the country’s culture wars pitted a rebellious young generation against the values of their parents. The rift was fodder for Ralph Jaffe, a social studies teacher at Ridgely Middle School in Timonium, to take his ninth-grade students through an experiment in participatory democracy.
They would spend all of their time in class trying to pass a bill through Congress to help create a rapport between the embittered generations.
Students lobbied Maryland’s then-2nd District Rep. Clarence Long, who later introduced a bill. A word-of-mouth campaign began for students outside the class to write their representatives. Students called members of the House Appropriations Committee to make their case.
The U.S. says it has Putin and Assad right where it wants themAssad (l) & Putin (r)
Nov.2.─ So the U.S. government that was surprised by Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Crimea, surprised by his invasion of eastern Ukraine, surprised by his plan to sell S-300 missiles to Iran, and surprised by his intervention in Syria now thinks the Russian strongman will sue for peace in Syria on U.S. terms and oust Bashar Assad.
“Russia’s intervention is a powerful example of the law of unintended consequences,” said Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a security conference in Bahrain this weekend. “It will have two primary effects. First, it will increase Russia’s leverage over Assad. But second, it will increase the conflict’s leverage over Russia. And that in turn creates a compelling incentive for Russia to work for, not against, a political transition.”
Since the Jasmine revolution of January 14, 2011 that sparked the Arab Spring, Tunisian social and political life has changed considerably. After 23 years of the brutal and corrupt regime of General Ben Ali, the people of Tunisia started to experience the basic preconditions of a democratic state for the first time. Among them are freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and political pluralism, including competitive elections. The intense fear that characterized the 1987-2011 period was suddenly replaced by a general enthusiasm to rebuild government at the state and local level and to promote democratic institutions and practices. Some of this enthusiasm was translated into action with the election of parliament and a head of state, the peaceful transition of power and theBedis Bouziri promulgation of a new constitution that devotes several articles to decentralization and participatory democracy. Decentralization is an important issue in Tunisia. As Bedis Bouziri points out in our conversation, municipalities have so little autonomy that they cannot even make decisions about sewage or speed bumps.
Things are slowly starting to change, one step at a time. In 2014, Tunisia implemented participatory budgeting projects in four municipalities: La Marsa, Menzel Bourguiba, Tozeur and Gabès. The residents of these four municipalities proposed 63 projects, and after a process of deliberation 29 of them were voted for implementation. To the best of our knowledge, with these four projects Tunisia has become the first North African country to undertake participatory budgeting. On the evening of Sunday, May 17, after the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy, Decentralization and Participation celebrated at Carthage University, I had the opportunity to talk with Bedis Bouziri, who volunteered as facilitators of the participatory budgeting of La Marsa in its first cycle in 2014 and again in the second cycle that is taking place in 2015. La Marsa is a coastal municipality of 110,000 people located near the capital city of Tunis. Like most Tunisians, Bedis is fluently bilingual in Arabic and French, but he also speaks Spanish and English. Our conversation flowed from English to Spanish to French, but the final transcript of the text is entirely in English.