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.
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
You may not know this, but, earlier this year, President Obama signed into law the most sweeping overhaul of health care since the 1965 creation of Medicare. It's the largest piece of social legislation in at least half a century.
I know, I know, I shouldn't be treating you as if you have your head buried in the sand. Except you do.
According to a recently leaked presentation based on polling and focus groups about the law encourages Democrats to “Let voters know the healthcare [sic] law passed!”
They don't know? Really?
This raises a depressing question: what's the point of governing in the Republic of Ignorance?
Most major theories of government make some basic assumption
s about human rationality. Some say people are perfectly rational beings capable of deciding their own good. Others take a more moderate stance, suggesting that people are often shaped by their environment and circumstances.
But few if any theories account for complete and total inability to notice life-changing events.
My tone may be humorous, but my humors are melancholy (the bodily ones, anyway).
It's time to make a choice. Must we radically improve the capacity of our population to understand the basic knowledge it takes to function as a democracy? Or should we radically rethink democracy itself?
In either case, it may be time to do something radical.
Image of a lemming used under a Creative Commons attribution license from Flickr user kgleditsch.
According to James Jay Carafano in today’s New York Post, the press has moved on from the Deepwater Horizon spill—at least, they don’t care about the disaster nearly as much as the locals in the Gulf do.
Carafano’s main project is to criticize the federal response to the spill, on behalf of Americans in the Gulf. But he also notes that people who aren’t still personally affected by the disaster are forgetting about the situation in the Gulf States, or that most people and our news media have a memory problem.
The idea that the citizenry gets apathetic unfortunately quickly with certain issues, like distant disasters and politicians’ records, is not new. It is, nevertheless, important.
Our society is a democratic one. It is the citizens who determine (however indirectly) what decisions are made and what issues need to be decided. If we can only keep our attention focused on each society-spanning problem until another problem arises, how will we resolve them?
Is this democratic ADD one of the reasons we are not a direct democracy, but a representative democracy or republic instead?
TPP’s own Sam Gill has written on a similar topic in a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution op-ed. Give it a read.
Image used under a Creative Commons attribution license from Flickr user Deepwater Horizon Response.
Should high-crime neighborhoods have a say in police staffing levels?
This week the New York Times featured a program which targets high volume of police attention and effort in a small geographical area, a Brooklyn housing development. This mostly takes the form of stop-and-frisks, designed primarily to reduce the number of guns in the development.
Data shows that the stop-and-frisks are useful in reducing crime within the projects but have not been effective in reducing crime for the precinct as a whole. The legal basis for the program appears a bit tenuous. Police are required to have reasonable suspicion before stopping a citizen. In the city-owned projects, police routinely use violations of housing code as a pretense for stops.
The piece presents residents of the development as conflicted between the increase in public safety and the decrease in privacy.
Should residents be given a role in deciding the nature of police involvement? One could c
ertainly envision a neighborhood referendum putting the question of increased police scrutiny to the test.
(Certainly one could just say that increased police involvement is good in principle but should be conducted in some better way; I'd like to bracket that question for now).
There are certainly benefits to society as a whole to decreasing levels of crime. This seems to be a special case in that the program is ineffective outside the walls of the housing complex, but quite successful inside. The key stakeholders are quite clearly those inside the complex. With that in mind, I'd argue that it does indeed make sense to give communities some decision-making power. The proper balance between safety and privacy is one that local police departments are not likely to get right when working on a block-by-block basis. Given that decision-making must be this granular, it makes sense to offer that power to the communities the police serve rather than to the police themselves.
Image from thomashawk used under a Creative Commons license.
Last week’s round of upsets in Senate primary races was interpreted by many as the product of an anti-incumbent and -establishment mood. Maybe more than that, however, it was the standard result of primary voters rewarding those especially to the right or left. In the Kentucky Republican race, Rand Paul defeated Trey Grayson. In the Pennsylvania Democrat race, Joe Sestak defeated incumbent Arlen Specter. And incumbent Blanche Lincoln is in a runoff with Bill Halter for the Arkansas Democratic ticket. In all three cases, primary voters have punished the more “moderate” candidate.
Are these primary votes a good thing? Not every democracy has them.
Democracy seems to be in their favor, though. Rather than party insiders somewhat shadily selecting candidates and placing them in seats strategically, the members of the party themselves decide who shall represent their views.
Parties have an entrenched and often positive role in our system, as the sort of ideological categorical guides I discussed earlier, as a means of cooperation and organization, and as an additional systemic check (on each other). Related, they have an enormous amount of power. To leave the selection and placement of party candidates to a few unelected party leaders affords those people an undue amount of democratically unaccountable influence. And independent candidates, who have an difficult time fighting party machines, cannot be counted upon to check party leaders.
Also, primaries might afford the people an opportunity to escape the traditional, status quo views of party leaders (see Rand Paul).
Opinion polls and democratic decision making
Anyone watching the recent health care vote on C-SPAN heard the same refrain from the Republican opposition: the healthcare bill (now law) is morally wrong because a majority of Americans oppose it. Many conservatives made this argument during the year-long slog, citing public opinion polls for support. Indeed, across the political spectrum public opinion polls are regularly used as a defense for or against particular legislation or government actions. But what do opinions polls really tell us? And what role should they have in deciding how we as a political society should act?
The impulse to invoke public opinion as a moral basis for democratic actions is understandable. Citizens in democracies are self-ruling. Acting contrary to the majority opinion is often seen as violating the public will. And opinion polls are as close as we can get in the short term at least, to taking the temperature of the public. Elections are held periodically, but they can only stop perceived injustices after the fact. For instance, assume Congress passes a wildly unpopular bill. It may take upwards of two years before the electorate can voice its disapproval through elections. But after two years, the damage may already be done. It is difficult to retroactively repair injustices. Opinion polls are all we have to assess the public will on a bill by bill basis.
But do opinion polls actually tell us the public will?
Are term limits a good idea?
Should there be limits on how long politician’s can remain in office? The majority of states now impose term limits on their governors and many people would like to see similar limits placed on officials elected for federal office. Public support for these sorts of laws has always been high and 23 states had passed laws imposing term limits on their U.S. Congressional representatives before the Supreme Court declared these restrictions unconstitutional in 1995. Now, the Tea Party, “with its roots in anti-Washington sentiment,” has become the newest advocates for term limits and has helped reignite the debate over this contentious issue. Both supporters and critics of term limits cite the importance of representative and effective government but they are divided over whether term limits would help us achieve these goals. Read more
Here’s a passionate and thought-provoking presentation by lawyer / activist Philip K. Howard at this year’s TED meeting:
I think Howard is right in his basic observation – we live in a culture permeated by preventative, and often combative, defensiveness. And that makes it tough to get anywhere. He squeezes his most important prescription into the very end – probably by design: greater leeway for authorities to “make the law as they go along.” That would certainly help to thwart overly intrusive, broad regulation, but is the American public prepared to surrender their (ever more convoluted) rights to judges and government bureaucrats?