Dutch Municipal Elections Article

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The following is an excerpt from a piece I wrote this past week for the Guardian CiF, to read the full text, click the link below:

The media have recycled the same headlines following Dutch elections for about a decade now, and similar observations are regularly trumpeted in international newspapers. Part of me thinks they actually just run the same articles, updating the picture, changing a few names, and maybe touching up a few percentage points. The political landscape is changing in the Netherlands, it is true. “How could this happen in this bastion of a liberal democracy?” commentators ask in an accusing tone.

I shall go against the international headlines and some of the Dutch media when I say to you, please remain calm. This sudden explosion of intolerance and fragmented politics is nothing new; we have been reading about it for decades. The myth maintained by international media outlets and perhaps the Dutch bureau of tourism, which parrots the Netherlands as an open-minded leftwing paradise, has long kept a smoke screen over the well-established and not always tolerant tradition of smaller parties, extremist or moderate, left or right, which rise up suddenly, gain power and occasionally disappear into obscurity as fast as they came.

The international press summed up the results of yesterday’s Dutch legislative elections as a major victory for the far-right, anti-Islam and ironically named Freedom Party (PVV). They are also quick to point to the two cities (out of the entire country!) where the PVV managed to top the polls in local elections. But while The Hague, where the PVV is now the second-largest party, is certainly a city of international and national importance, gaining control of it, along with the little-known city of Almere, does not equal an electoral sweep.

The PVV’s sporadic success is significant not so much because of the small number of votes they won, but because of the xenophobic, nationalist rhetoric that has managed to get them votes. While this development grabs the headlines, several Dutch political parties on both the centre and the left have made just as many – if not more – gains. In the cities of Utrecht and Nijmegen, the Green-Left party (GroenLinks) gained enough to become the largest party. The more moderate D66 party made the biggest gains nationwide, becoming the largest party in Leiden, Haarlem, and Hilversum. The socially progressive and fiscally conservative party’s success was far greater than that of the PVV, but since they don’t say controversial things about the Muslim faith or try to convince people that the country is being taken over, they’re just not as fun for the front page.

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ctrp316 Coffeeshops, Drug Tourism, and Politics

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ctrp316 Coffeeshops, Drug Tourism, and Politics

Two Dutch municipalities decided last year that all their coffeeshops must be closed down. While in other cities, like nearby Breda, city governments have no intention of going back to the days of street dealing in back alleys and dark corners.  Selçuk Akinci is a bloggingtweeting digital native, not to mention the chairperson of the Green Party Delegation for the city council of Breda. He has also spoken out and written over the last few years on the topic of coffeeshops and the attempts to shut them down or instate pass-card systems where only card carrying members could make purchases.  When in 2008, neighboring municipalities to Breda decided to close down their coffeeshops in effort to chase away drug tourism and other alleged undesireable elements, Selçuk was a vocal part of the effort to serve the influx of customers by setting up more coffeeshops in strategic locations.

From Breda, to the national level, to the European Court of Justice, Selçuk and I discuss drug policy in the Netherlands and just which way the political and social wind is blowing.

ctrp315 The Unfinished Drug Policy of the Netherlands

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Freek at the UNPeople around the world admire, hate, or giggle at what they think they know about drug policies in the Netherlands. But how much do they really know? To get beyond the tall tales and the half-baked explanation you’ll get from enthusiasts on both sides of the drug issue, it is important to not only look at the facts, but to hear real experience and analysis. Not to mention to learn the details of just what the political and social climate aims to do with the future of Dutch drug policy.

As part of a running series of podcasts on the Reality of Drug Policy in the Netherlands, I begin with this program featuring a conversation with Freek Polak of the Netherlands Drug Policy Foundation.

During the program Freek mentions this video of his face-off with the Executive Director of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime.

Longterm Social Crisis

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This week several mainstream headlines quoted “experts” who pointed to signs of economic recovery on the horizon.  I think they were referring to Europe, but if you search the news, you’ll find other experts pointing out signs of the same for Japan and the United States. Of course after experts say such things they add the caveat: but there is still a lot of uncertainty.

As I ride through the streets of Amsterdam and my neighborhood, the young yuppie mecca known as the Oud West, I see “for sale” signs everywhere.  Most of those signs have been hanging there for most of this year.  As I drive the Red August around the canals of Amsterdam, I see more “for sale” signs on house boats then I’ve ever seen before as well.  Some disappear in a few weeks, some linger and have become part of the scenery.

Riding home from frisbee practice the other night I was chatting with a longtime friend who works as a freelance ICT person for the past few years.  Talking about his business and how things have been, he pointed out that in the past few years he was always swamped with work, in many cases having to turn down jobs because he was too busy.  In sharp contrast he described this year as one with hardly any work, for the first time in his freelance career he has had to approach businesses and potential customers in an attempt to convince them they could use his services.

Are so many people unemployed in the Netherlands? I suppose not as many as I’ve noticed back in Portugal or the United States.  But what about all these freelancers and those of us who are employed part-time for the past few years, how do we factor in to the statistics in these troubled times. Beyond that, do any of us realize how much worse it can get?

Economic experts and government representatives can point to industrial output numbers and so-called investor confidence surveys to justify holding a “the economy is going to get better” press conference.  But a walk down the street and a talk with your neighbors tells another story.  Seems like everyone, from the big corporations who needed bail outs, to the banks who traded in fake money, to we the freelancers/consumers, thinks that we can have economic recovery but just doing things how we always did, not need to learn any lessons from the past. Looming social crisis? 25 million unemployed by next year? We don’t want to think about it.