Thursday, September 29, 2011

Institutional Change?

Maybe the problem with American democracy is that we have too much democracy.

North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue (Dem.) seemed to suggest this when she commented that we should consider suspending congressional elections until Congress passes legislation addressing our economic ails.

While she might have been joking, we are not. The American political system suffers from hyper-democracy with too many elections, and we suggest amending the Constitution to reduce the number of these elections.

When looking back on the most prominent institutional change to our governmental system in the last 60 years, we cannot ignore the problems that have arisen with the addition of new elections.

The use of primary elections to nominate party candidates for office has added an entirely new round of elections to our system causing government officials to focus even more on campaigning while distracting them from governing.

Using these primaries to nominate candidates was heralded as a progressive movement toward more democratization as the smoke-filled rooms of party bosses selecting their preferred candidates were replaced by the ballots of ordinary party supporters who express their preference for candidates.

But this institutional change has created a political system even more dominated by a culture that prioritizes campaigning over governing.

As soon as candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives win office, they realize that their next electoral challenge could come in a primary election in as little as 18 months. Time spent crafting legislation or working on bureaucratic oversight often gets spent on raising money and developing plans for the next election battle right around the corner.

The result is a political system that greatly diminishes the time representatives focus on addressing policies without the added distraction of election politics.

But scrapping the primary election process would not be a reasonable solution due to the complexity of getting all 50 states to agree to this change as well as the likelihood that party bosses would again grow dominant.

Our solution to this problem of hyper-democracy is to have fewer elections by lengthening the term of the member of the House of Representatives to 3 years and increasing the presidential term length to 6 years.

The result would allow our representatives more time to govern rather than using their time to politic. Extended terms would also reduce the amount of political gridlock that inevitably occurs when candidates hold out on policy changes to await the results of the next election.

So we agree with Gov. Perdue (even if her suggestion was in jest) that the 2012 elections for the House and President should be suspended as we pass the 28th constitutional amendment to lengthen these terms. Perhaps our system might then be able to bring the focus back to governing rather than politicking.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Six-Day War: How About One Day of Peace?

In June of 1967 465,000 troops, 2,880 tanks and 810 aircraft were aiming their sights on “the extermination of Zionist existence.” Egyptian President Nasser pulled no punches. At the time he simply stated, “Our basic aim will be to destroy Israel.” The Iraqi President hoped “to wipe Israel off the map.” Syrian Hafez Assad called it a “battle of annihilation.” Israel’s very existence was in jeopardy. Their immediate fate would be decided in six days.

On June 5, 1967 the state of Israel launched a preemptive strike against those who had made their intentions quite clear. Within six days of fierce combat these enemies backed down in retreat. Israel had defeated the odds and defended itself once again.

Yet a new problem emerged. Israel now occupied the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza strip from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria and the West Bank from Jordan. Thousands of Palestinian refugees now lived in occupied territories under Israeli sovereignty. Most of this land would be subsequently returned.

The Six-Day War may have been a decisive victory for the state of Israel but conflict in the Middle East was far from over. Not then, not now.

This week in the United Nations the Palestinian remnant is hoping for a favorable vote. They are hoping that the United Nations will come to their rescue. The hope is that the United Nations will recognize the Palestinians as a legal entity.

The United Nations has not been silent in the past. In fact following the Six Day War in 1967 the United Nations responded quite clearly.

“Expressing its continuing concern with the grave situation in the Middle East” the United Nations passed Resolution 242 November 22, 1967. The United Nations has always advocated for “ the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

As the United Nations braces for a politically charged and toxic vote this week regarding the Palestinian question it would be appropriate to review Resolution 242.

Resolution 242 called for the “termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

In other words, to those nation-states or people groups who deny the legitimacy of the state of Israel change your ways. Until Israel can be assured of its own security it is futile for others to call upon the sympathies of the world community.

Yitzshak Rabin coined the name Six-Day War. When asked “why” he suggested it had less to do with the duration of the conflict and more to do with what in his tradition comes on the seventh day. In the Jewish tradition the world was created in six days. On the seventh day there was rest. The seventh day brought peace.

If the United Nations still desires lasting peace in the Middle East it should remember its commitment made in Resolution 242. Many of those belligerents back in 1967, including the Palestinians, have yet to recognize the legitimacy of Israel. The United Nations can not compromise on this point.

As Israel sees its borders again under siege let’s hope the United Nations understands what is at stake. A wrong move this week by the United Nations will take more than six days to remedy. A right move just might bring us closer to one day of peace.

Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11 Questions

Heading to teach a 1st period class on September 11, 2001, we knew that a plane had hit the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York but we did not know that the world had changed.

During that 55-minute class period (in which we were discussing how the attack on Pearl Harbor led to the Japanese internment during World War II) we learned that the south tower of the WTC had been struck by another airliner, and then we watched it collapse just as a passing bell indicated that class was dismissed.

For the rest of the day and weeks later, planned classes meandered into trying to answer questions of “How?” and “Why?” in regards to the terrorists’ motives and methods. For months later, we asked the question of “What?” as in “What should the American government do to respond?”

Now, 10 years later, we’d like our readers to tackle another question.

“When you think back on the last 10 years, what do you think will be seen as the most significant response to the 9/11/2001 terror attacks?”

• The creation of the TSA and more rigorous air travel safety standards.

• The creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

• The invasion of Afghanistan.

• The invasion of Iraq.

• The re-election of George W. Bush.

• The election of Barack Obama.

• The passage (3x) of the USA PATRIOT Act.

• The use of our Guantanamo Bay naval base as a long-term detention camp.

• The use of “enhanced interrogation” by the United States to question suspected terrorists.

• The use of “extraordinary rendition” by the United States to question suspected terrorists in countries that allow the torture of prisoners.

• The use of “warrantless wiretaps” to eavesdrop on phone conversations involving suspected terrorists.

• The killing of Osama bin Laden.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011