Thursday, April 26, 2012


Critique of Democracy

Many of my liberal friends lament that we do not have a functioning democracy in this country.  Money plays a big part in elections and in policies adopted by the elected officials.  Presidents solicit huge campaign donations from super-rich Wall Street types and then adopt policies and make appointments that these types favor.  Even if we could get rid of the effects of money on elections, we still would not have a truly representative government that approaches the democratic ideal, rule by a thoughtful and careful majority.  We have single member election districts.  This circumstance makes it nearly impossible for small "third" parties to elect anyone.  Our political parties are coalitions to elect that single member of Congress or that single member of a State legislature or the President.  These coalitions contain factions with differing views on how the country ought to be run.  Elected officials have to cater to certain of these minority groups in order to have a good chance at being reelected.

I compare our archaic system of choosing elected representatives with the election systems used elsewhere in the world.  In a small country like Israel, members are not elected from individual election districts.  Instead, members of the Knesset are elected at large for the whole country.  Different political and religious groups sponsor slates of candidates.  These groups win seats in the Knesset in proportion to the votes their slates receive.  Every faction is represented fairly.  I would call the process "democratic."  Every voting citizen is represented in the Knesset.

Consider how our system works if we eliminate the effects of money.  In each election district, the majority party in that district elects the candidate.  The result is that in a closely divided district, nearly half the population is NOT represented in the legislature or Congress.  Only in those districts where an overwhelming majority of the voters choose one candidate can one say that the great majority of voters are pleased with the outcome of the election.

Does a system in which every small bloc of voters has at least one representative in the national legislature provide better governance than one like ours in which a substantial fraction of the voters are dissatisfied at not being represented?  I don't know.  The experience of Israel suggests that a "democratic" election system does not necessarily produce a government and policies that please the majority of the voters.  It is my understanding that a majority of Israelis favor a peaceful accommodation with the Palestinians, including agreeing on a border between two separate countries, abandoning Jewish settlements that are on the Palestinian side of the border, making concessions about water rights, etc.  It is my observation that the present Likud government of Israel has no interest in doing any of those things.  Settlement activity continues. The wall between the Palestinians and the Israelis is routed to isolate small groups of Palestinians from their  farm land.

Why does the "democratic" government of Israel not follow the wishes of the majority?  It is similar to the effect noted above of the influence of certain coalitions.  Just as American candidates have to placate such groups as the National Rifle Association and the Tea Party to garner enough votes to get elected and re-elected, an Israeli government has to put together a coalition of many political groups in the Knesset to form a majority.  In both cases, the result is far from ideal.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Religion and Genocide

The worst genocide in recorded history occurred in territory now known as the United States of America, starting around 1600 and lasting 300 years or more.  During that time approximately 90 percent of the indigenous people were killed to make way for the new immigrants and colonizers from Europe.  The process started in the early 1600's or late 1500's when the English colonists noted that the native people were not immune to such childhood diseases as measles, mumps, and chicken pox.  Today we know that these diseases are caused by viruses and that children have much stronger immune systems than adults.  When a child contracts measles, he or she generally recovers and become immune to the disease for the rest of his or her life.  Among Europeans it was customary for children to have all of these diseases.  Since the parents had had the same diseases when they were children, they were immune and were able to care for the children.

The natives of New England had never been exposed to these particular viral diseases.  They contracted them as adults.  Measles in particular is often fatal to an adult who has no acquired immunity.  Entire population of villages would come down with measles and would die.  The European settlers were actually welcomed when they occupied the villages that had been emptied in this way.  No one in those days understood that diseases are caused by tiny living things, like bacteria and viruses.  Things not understood were ascribed to God.  God was very near.  God took care of His people, the people who worshiped the Bible as God's Truth, and punished their enemies.  The Bible contained stories of how the Israelites, God's chosen people, had come out of the desert into a fertile land, already occupied by another people, and had slaughtered the occupants to make room for themselves.  Arranging for the native Americans to die of measles was thought to be the act of God, who was preparing the new land for his chosen people.

By 1900 the descendants of the Europeans realized that it wasn't the work of God at all but the result of this "European" disease that had killed the native population.  The idea that we descendants of Europeans were somehow responsible for a great killing began to take root in our thinking.  Today we try to make amends by creating museums devoted to the culture of the now-vanished original inhabitants, recording as much as we can of the native languages and oral literature, and romanticizing the lost people.  We congratulate ourselves that at least we admit that we caused the extinction of tens of millions of people.  Some of regret what happened.  Others believe still that it was inevitable that the superior European culture would replace the native cultures.  Perhaps it was.  At least we do not censor writers who study this great genocide and report for future historians the facts available about it.

Monday, April 09, 2012


My complaint about the current Primary Race

Not too long ago I celebrated my 89th birthday.  I have decided that I will claim and exercise the prerogatives of old age, particularly the right to grump and kvetch about things that displease me.  One think that displeases me is the current primary race in the Republican Party.  The whole purpose of the reform that led to primary elections rather than party conventions was to provide an open, democratic, honest, and effective way to choose the Nation's Chief Executive.

So, what do we have this year?  At present we have three candidates running around from State to State, campaigning for votes in the various primary elections.  Do the candidates talk about what they will do if elected President?  No.  They talk about what a miserable, useless fellow the present incumbent is.  Each one talks about what a liar each of his opponents in the present primary race is.  From other things each candidate does or doesn't say, I conclude that, if elected, he would try to:

Etc., etc., etc.

I assert that the primary system for selecting Presidential nominees is a failure.  I advocate getting rid of it and combining the Primary and General elections with a single instant run-off election.  Let all the candidates who can qualify by obtaining enough signatures or raising enough money or whatever run in the General Election in November.  Voters would indicate their first, second, third, fourth, etc., choices.  Counting would consist of repeatedly discarding the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes and distributing the other choices among the other candidates until one candidate has a majority.

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