The Wall Street Journal ran a piece recently Generic viagra online without prescription
001424052702304879604575582192395853212.html?mod=WSJ_WSJ_US_News_5″>about the current anti-Washington sentiment reviving an old debate over the 17th Amendment. This Amendment, which provides for the direct election of US Senators, has been denounced by some Republicans. A repeal of the law would involve appointing senators by state legislators.
“People would be better off if senators, when they deliver their messages to Washington, remember the sovereignty of the states,” Mike Lee, who supports repeal, told reporters recently. Mr. Lee is a Republican running for the U.S. Senate from Utah. Proponents of repeal say the amendment wrecked the founding fathers’ balance between national and state governments, removing one of the last checks to unbridled power in Washington. Opponents counter that direct election of senators, long a goal of the Progressive movement of that era, expanded democracy.
This raises several interesting questions. First, the idea of “remembering state sovereignty,” or “Senators representing states,” is worth exploring. What exactly does this mean? A state, after all, is not a moral agent that is capable of being represented the same way a person or group of persons is. Perhaps this just means representing the citizens living in that state – but if this is true, why does direct election of senators not provide for this?
Second, we can ask what the status of Federalism and state sovereignty is in modern America. At the time of the Constitution’s writing, it was reasonable to assume that different states had different political and economic values. But geography no longer seems to correlate as strongly with political or economic beliefs, considering how often Americans move and how quick information is disseminated. So, is Federalism an historical artifact, or somehow central to American political values?
Finally, even if Federalism is essentially American in some important way, is there any truth to the Progressive stance that direct election of Senators limit democracy? If so, what should be done about it?
Photo by Flickr user Marion Doss used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
An Op-Ed in The New York
Timescontrasts China’s efforts to combat global warming and create a “green” economy with America’s current failures in that area. Because China is an economically modern nation with an undemocratic regime, such a piece leads naturally into some interesting questions about American style democracy and its efficacy.
There is really no debate about climate change in China,” said Peggy Liu, chairwoman of the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, a nonprofit group working to accelerate the greening of China. “China’s leaders are mostly engineers and scientists, so they don’t waste time questioning scientific data.” The push for green in China, she added, “is a practical discussion on health and wealth. There is no need to emphasize future consequences when people already see, eat and breathe pollution every day.
Presumably, America’s government has substantially less scientists and engineers because such experts cannot compete with lawyers and businessmen when it comes to campaigning and politicking. Moreover, such experts often have an “elitist” sheen on them, making them unelectable in the modern political climate. Oftentimes, the election of the politicians who are “like us” is seen as a positive consequence of democracy, but perhaps it can also have a dark underbelly.
China is changing from the factory of the world to the clean-tech laboratory of the world,” said Liu. “It has the unique ability to pit low-cost capital with large-scale experiments to find models that work.” China has designated and invested in pilot cities for electric vehicles, smart grids, LED lighting, rural biomass and low-carbon communities. “They’re able to quickly throw spaghetti on the wall to see what clean-tech models stick, and then have the political will to scale them quickly across the country,” Liu added. “This allows China to create jobs and learn quickly.
The idea is that because of China’s authoritarian nature, large-scale projects that require much effort and sacrifice can be put into effect with political ease. In a democracy, where politicians rely on public sentiment, such projects that will make a substantial part of the population unhappy are difficult to undertake. This is again seen as a positive consequence of a democratic system – but sometimes it can also engender inertia and resistance to necessary change.
When thinking about these two questions, we should ask whether solving these problems requires changing the democratic system or the American political culture – or maybe both. Alternatively, perhaps these are problems inherent with democracy and can’t be solved without sacrificing liberty and political equality.
Photo by Flickr user futureatlas.com used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
And maybe wrong
The hostage taker at the Discovery Channel headquarters posted a diatribe condemning modern civilization. The hostage taker saw humans as “filthy” and “parasitic” and considered the environment the only important value. In a warped re-reading of Daniel Quinn’s My Ishmael, his manifesto urges human civilization to dismantle itself before it takes the environment down with it.
Not long ago, there was another madman who embraced the collapse of civilization. He was a brilliant Harvard mathematician who convinced himself that, in order to truly be free, humans must satisfy a “power process” of challenge-and-reward cycles by eschewing industrial technology and struggling to survive. He also thought mailing bombs to people was a good idea.
Jared Diamond’s book Collapse provides a saner discussion of the demise of human civilization. Diamond argues that the depletion of resources has historically doomed isolated civilizations and may doom the entire human race in the near future. The solutions he suggests challenge things we take for granted, such as rising living standards and reproductive freedom.
In the latest episode of the War on Drugs, about 10% of the Mexican federal police have been fired for corruption or failure to perform their duties. Many face additional criminal charges. Perhaps some federales will now think harder before dealing with the cartels.
As Jake has described, punishment serves four purposes: retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence, and incapacitation. In the case of the federales, deterrence was probably the prime motivator.
But how effective is deterrence? For a criminal, the severity of punishment is one of three things to consider. The other two are the likelihood of being caught and the reward for carrying out the crime.
In the course of policing, a government can affect two of these factors: likelihood and severity of punishment. But affecting only these two factors may not be enough. Until recently, the Chinese government was routinely executing officials found guilty of malfeasance, yet corruption remains stubbornly entrenched.
This is because the potential rewards for abusing power might be so great as to trump dangers to life and limb. A simple cost-benefit analysis tells us that if the potential reward for a crime is great enough, then many risks may be justified.
In Mexico, the continued existence of a lucrative underground market provides irresistible opportunities to some people; in China, a lack of transparency in the political system does the same thing.
Punishment surely has its place among the means a society uses to control miscreants. But lasting solutions to corruption might require that we think more about eliminating the rewards that make corruption attractive.
Image by Flickr user Foto Martien used under a Creative Commons Attribution License
Over at CNN, Will Bunch bemoans how Glenn Beck is attempting to rewrite history in order to support his own political agenda.
For thousands of followers […], there is a genuine desire to relearn American history. The only problem is that what they're learning is bunk. It's not history as it happened, but rather a Beck-scripted, Tea Party rewrite of history that demonizes Obama, Democrats and progressive activists.
This problem is a consequence of the harmful reverence for history that I wrote about earlier this week. If we didn’t have such a history-worshiping political cultur
e, then no rewrite of history would have such an effect on our present day politics.
For example, Glenn Beck teaches his viewers that America’s creation was rooted in Christianity. Whether this is historically true or not, it shouldn’t matter. Even if America was rooted in Christianity, it shouldn’t settle the issue about whether today’s America should be a Christian nation.
The solution is a greater reverence – or at least awareness – of philosophy’s place in politics. If we had such a political culture, Glenn Beck and others would have to argue their case with solid theory and sound logic. And if he can do that, then maybe he’s right.
Photo by Flickr user Gage Skidmore used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Philosophy, the Constitution, and respect for the Founding Fathers
According to a report by the Associated Press, Republicans have proposed forty-two amendments to the Constitution during the current Congress, compared to twenty-seven such proposals by the Democrats (one third of which are part of a package from a single member).
This is surprising because many Republicans won their seats as strict defenders of the Constitution’s “plain language.” One of these politicians, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia, explains away the discrepancy.
He said the Founding Fathers never imagined the size and scope of today's federal government and that he's simply resurrecting their vision by trying to amend it. “It's not picking and choosing,” he said. “We need to do a lot of tweaking to make the Constitution as it was originally intended, instead of some perverse idea of what the Constitution says and does.”
Apparently, politicians like Rep. Broun appeal to the intentions of the Founding Fathers as their political philosophy, not the Constitution itself. Variations of this “Founding Father-ism” exist across the political spectrum, yet there are several problems with this position. Read more
George Soros writes at Project Syndicate that the recent expulsion of the Roma from France is tantamount to collective punishment. His outrage is echoed by a French priest who prays for Sarkozy to have a heart attack.
Although every state obviously has a right to protect public order, critics of the expulsion wonder “what harm can a few hundred people do?”
They wonder too how it’s acceptable for an EU country to forcibly relocate EU citizens without due process, especially when all EU citizens are entitled to freedom of movement.
The Roma are the continent’s largest ethnic minority group. They are not native to Europe and are in fact descended from Indians. Their distinct ethnic identity combined with misperceptions has historically made them outcasts everywhere. The Roma presently being deported from France tried to escape
dire poverty and discrimination in Romania.
Despite being EU citizens, the French government’s recent treatment of them signals that no state may reliably look out for them.
How should we respond to the problem of stateless people? For Theodor Herzl and the Zionists, the answer was obvious – to reclaim an ancestral homeland and establish a new nation. But the present Arab-Israeli conflict highlights the extraordinary difficulty and moral complexity of such a solution. And no reasonable person could suggest that the Roma try to re-conquer Punjab in northern India.
The solution will have to be the least impossible of impossible alternatives. The European countries should probably make a concerted effort to integrate the Roma and make them full members of their societies.
Not only does the “plight of so many millions of Roma… [make] a mockery of European values” as Soros writes, but the alternative is to allow a moral and social problem of enormous proportions to fester and ultimately truly undermine public order.
Image by Flickr user Rivard used under a Creative Commons Attributions License
Equality butts heads with freedom
Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith write at Politico that a new debate about first principles and the role of government has replaced the social issues at stake during the “culture wars” of the last three decades.
This dispute over first principles is deeply entwined with questions of national identity and the appropriate role of the government in the economy.
On one extreme is a minimalist state, in which the government is responsible for little more than upholding the rule of law and providing for a common defense. On the other extreme is a socialist state in which the government manages all facets of economic activity.
Neither extreme applies to any industrialized country today. Rather, the modern world is populated by welfare states of various stripes.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
Mainstream media lets us down. Again.
Last night's Daily Show had its usual fun with the political controversy engulfing plans to build a mosque and Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero. We're going wall-to-wall on this topic here at TPP this week, both because it's an important debate and because it touches so many basic moral and philosophical questions.
Of many pokes at the mainstream media during this clip, one worth noting in particular is Stewart's scathing attack on news outlets that seem more concerned with the political fallout of what politicians say about the cultural center than whether building the thing is right or wrong. A New York Times headline from today underscores this media focus: “G.O.P. Seizes on Mosque Issue Ahead of Elections.”
Are there any issues where it is simply wrong to play politics? Read more
Last Friday, President Obama weighed in publicly on the mosque at ground zero. In doing so, he has joined Mayor Bloomberg as one of few major political figures who have openly voiced support for the project on the basis of freedom of religion.
However, polls indicate that Americans as well as New Yorkers overwhelmingly oppose the mosque’s construction to the tune of 68 percent. The poll reaffirms a truism that the writers of the Bill of Rights were grimly aware of: freedom often runs afoul of democracy. As one opponent of the mosque argues: ‘…[Obama]'s lost sight of the germane issue, which is not about freedom of religion,” she said. “It's about a gross lack of sensitivity to the 9/11 families and to the people who were los
Except the germane issue is exactly the balance between sensitivity and principle, and whether, as Jonathan asked yesterday, something can be “legally harmless but unpleasant enough for us to rightly or morally require legal intervention at the cost of others’ legal rights?” Namely, do people have a right not to be offended? Do they also have a right for their faith, beliefs, or values not to be challenged?
Greg Gutfeld of Fox News clearly believes not. In one of the most creative responses to the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, Gutfeld argues for both supporting the mosque's construction and opening a gay bar next door. Now that might take equal opportunity offending to an extreme. But in a society in which we value both the principles of religious freedom and the “marketplace of ideas,” should we want it any other way?
Image from Flickr user Johnnie Utah used under a Creative Commons Attribution license