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May 14, 2003
Your Government At Work Senate

Senate debates wrong tax bill:

WASHINGTON - Senators began what was planned to have been a week of intense deliberations over President Bush (news - web sites)'s biggest domestic initiative, only to discover they were debating the wrong bill.

Democrats refused to give GOP leaders an easy way out of their mistake Monday, and the Senate's tax-writing committee will have to meet again and send new tax-cut legislation to the floor.

To Your Health

AIDS is on the increase in the USofA, discouraging news when placed alongside the failure of the first Phase 3 trial of a vaccine. (The trial wasn't a complete failure, but where it didn't fail, they haven't figured out what the results mean. It's also important when you're reading the article [use peevish/peevish] to note the line about the "very committed volunteers" who participated in the trial. Sadly, this level of commitment isn't found in the general population.

Do you care about the gender of your physician? (I ask because not long ago I was in a discussion with someone, I may have mentioned this before, who claimed that the high preponderance of female gynecologists was proof of gender-based discrimination against men.)

Worthy Reading

When you have the time.

Islam and the Challenge of Democracy (by Khaled Abou El Fadl and others)

Can individual rights and popular sovereignty take root in faith? This essay explores the issue.

For Islam, democracy poses a formidable challenge. Muslim jurists argued that law made by a sovereign monarch is illegitimate because it substitutes human authority for God’s sovereignty.
I'd argue that peoples of all religions had to come to pretty much the same accommodation for whatever law their deity was said to have laid down.

I haven't finished this article yet, but it's very interesting and I recommend it.

Weapons of Mass Confusion (Owen Cote)

In response to September 11 the Bush administration crafted a national security strategy whose core mandate is to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to potential enemies of the United States, using preventive or preemptive military means if necessary. Indeed, the Administration’s public case for initiating war against Iraq was based almost entirely on Iraq’s alleged possession of some WMD, and on the possibility of its gaining more in the future. Since December, as first North Korea and now Iran have declared that they have programs underway that would allow them to produce WMD, a whole series of “WMD wars” seems likely.

Whatever the merits of the case for war against Iraq, the terms of debate about the Bush administration’s larger strategy are flawed. The new emphasis on WMD has not been accompanied by any serious public discussion of the differences among such weapons. A security strategy that fails to acknowledge those differences and their consequences for U.S. foreign and military policies is doomed to failure—in Iraq and elsewhere.

Well worth reading, the essay discusses the different kinds of weapons, compares how "destructive" they can be on a mass scale, and talks about strategy.

Less impartial but consequently more entertaining to read, is The Blame Game (by George Scialabba)

This guy doesn't like Bush, but he's not crazy about the presidency Gore would have offered us, either, so he starts by taking a few potshots at both of them. Unfortunately, after that he runs off the rails.

What is surprising, though—amazing, in fact—is how few on either side have blamed our electoral system. The American electoral system is an affront to reason. To start at the top: the Electoral College has no function except to frustrate equal political representation, i.e., to prevent each vote cast in presidential elections from counting as much as every other vote. The framers of the Constitution may have envisioned the College as a deliberative body, but it has not deliberated once in 200 years and never will. Actually, the framers were ambivalent about the Electoral College and rejected it several times, finally approving it just before the Convention adjourned. That was a mistake. In no fewer than four presidential elections, the candidate with the greatest number of popular votes was not chosen as president. Overwhelming majorities of voters regularly tell pollsters that the Electoral College should be abolished. Seven hundred proposals to reform or abolish it have been introduced in the House, the most recent of which passed in 1989 with an 83 percent majority. As always, the Senate blocked any action.
He's wrong. And that "majority of voters" is wrong, or at least under-informed. The Electoral College provides a huge and vitally important service to this country.

[lecture]

And, let me point out, if I know what it does, it's inexcusable for anyone pretending to be a scholar not to know. For those of you, if any such exist, who are less informed than I am, here's a simple explanation about population density, okay? (The rest of you can skip ahead.)

A lot of people live in Illinois. A lot of people live in New York, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, too.

Not a lot of people live in Wyoming. North Dakota isn't usually the destination of choice for graduating college students or burgeoning families. When you ask someone where they dream of living, Montana and South Dakota don't often show up at the top of the list.

Without the electoral collect, the dozen or so largest, most populated states would choose our chief executive every four years and states like tiny, little Delaware or large-b ut-under-populated Alaska probably wouldn't get much of a say in the outcome.

Essentially, in spite of the populations of California and Texas, the President would be elected by the power of the votes in the East. Anyone "taking" the eastern seaboard would be elected and it's fair to assume that the needs and concerns of those all-important voters would take precedence over the needs of the rest of the country.

The electoral college, by "parceling out" the "electoral" votes among all states makes sure that the needs of Wyoming or Montana, while not paramount to most Administrations, are at least relevant.

[/lecture]

Scialabba goes on to misunderstand the different roles played by the Senate and the House and it's a little odd to read such an ill-informed article in such a reputable publication.

Then he goes on and on about how undemocratic our systems are, but he's just being silly. We call ourselves a democracy and we talk about spreading democracy in the world, but this country is not and never has been a democracy. We're a republic and pretty much always have been.

One reform I'd be interested in seeing is the end of throwing all of a state's electoral college votes to the majority candidate in that state. If, for instance, a state with 30 electoral college votes had a population that voted 1/3 for one candidate and 2/3 for the other candidate, wouldn't it be fun and exciting if the electoral college votes were parceled out the same way? No longer could candidates ignore Utah or Arizona in the late days of a campaign. If they wanted any of those votes at all, they'd have to woo Idaho right along with California.

The lawsuits in Florida in 2000 would be a fraction of the insanity generated by this system, wouldn't they?

Or, better yet, let's have one of those quite-possible-and-quite-legal situations where a state's leaders take advantage of the fact that their laws don't require that the voters to the electoral college vote the way the state's citizens voted. Let's see Florida throw their votes 60% to Charles Candidate and then let's see the state's leadership instruct the state's electoral college voters to give their votes to Larry Loser.

I have no idea where I was going with that, but probably somewhere sarcastic.

Anyhow, in the end, Scialabba wanted to suggest we switch to a proportional system. (If you think my scenario above was complicated, just imagine how complex this would be.)

I'm not saying I didn't enjoy reading the essay though. I totally did. Even if, at one point, I became convinced that the point of the article was to let people voting for Nader run back to the polls and cast another vote after he (surprise!) didn't win.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:14 AM


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