In his novel Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov describes an imaginary country where, under the guidance of a wise and benevolent king, "Taxation had become a thing of beauty. The poor were getting a little richer, and the rich a little poorer...."
On Oct. 2, the Program on International Policy and Attitudes (PIPA), an ultra-respectable, non-partisan research institute, released a study titled "Misperceptions, The Media, and the Iraq War." The report concluded that "a substantial portion of the [American] public had a number of misperceptions that were demonstrably false, or were at odds with the dominant view in the intelligence community." The three biggest misperceptions were the beliefs that:
1) Iraq either
was directly involved in 9/11 or provided substantial support to Al
2) weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq or even used during the war itself; and
3) world public opinion supported the war.
Call it the American Al Jazeera. Call it the Bush News Agency. Call it whatever you want, but don't call it fair and balanced.
Within days of 9/11, President George W. Bush began using the language of the hunt. "We will hunt down" the terrorists. Osama Bin Laden "can run but he can't hide." More recently, "we are on the hunt" for violent elements in Iraq.
This rhetoric might seem reasonable enough; certainly, it captures the basic reality of an anti-terror policy that gives priority to military rather than diplomatic strategies. But the language of the hunt carries a unique cultural force that helps to explain how we got to where we are today.
By now, the importance of energy legislation must be obvious, especially to those who experienced the August blackout or lost revenue because of it, not to mention the millions who are paying nearly $2 for a gallon of gas and looking ahead anxiously to the winter's heating bills.
In the coming weeks, Congress will finally finish work on the sprawling Energy Act of 2003, which will determine how much you and I pay for energy in the short term, and what direction we pursue in the long term toward a more self-reliant and sustainable energy future.
It's easy to get blasé about presidential primaries, particularly when they're obviously going to renominate an incumbent, as in 1984 or 1996. Even in contested primaries, voter turnout rarely exceeds 20 percent, and late-season primaries can devolve into academic exercises. But primaries do play a vital role in the political process, and so they should be defended against attempts by some states to cancel them for the 2004 election.
Let it be said right here that, as a non-partisan organization, the Commonweal Institute takes no position on specific races and does not support any political party. Our commitment is to the vitality of American democracy, which we feel would be undermined by the cancellation of primaries. Our analysis here is meant to throw some light on the motivations of those seeking to cancel primaries and on the consequences of doing so.
Every so often, conservative activists, both in and out of government, work themselves into a lather about some new proposal for amending the Constitution. Given that the fundamental law of the land has only been changed once in the last 30 years, the amendment bandwagon usually ends up broken down by the side of the road, but it does represent a useful way of drawing attention to a particular cause and thereby of mobilizing political support to achieve specific short-term aims. The latest cause célèbre is an effort in the House of Representatives, introduced in May, to get a constitutional ban on gay marriage. While the proposal has little chance of succeeding, its supporters (from both sides of the aisle, we should note) are fully in earnest, and so the arguments against such an amendment need a full airing.
A little history is in order. Since 1787 there have been 27 constitutional amendments, and they have occurred - with the inevitable occasional exception - in four roughly defined phases:
Food seems awfully complicated nowadays. Lurking in it might be mad cow disease, E. coli, botulism, Salmonella, pesticides, and God knows what else. Genetically modified meats and vegetables are gobbled up every day, but nobody really seems to understand their long-term effects. The World Trade Organization and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture are at odds over the rules governing food importation. Even SARS, we learn, may have crossed into the human population from the eating of civets, a delicacy in China, although that is still speculative - like so much else!
National boundaries, species barriers, and biotechnological borders are all crumbling when it comes to food production. Not even our stomachs, evidently, are out of reach of the forces of globalization and human ingenuity.
Americans now routinely eat foods shipped in from other countries and climates, since this is often the cheapest way, or the only way, to get the items we want. Need a tomato in winter? No problem. Need Chilean sea bass rather than catfish? Chicken with lots of white meat? Fungi-resistant melon? No problem.
It's becoming clearer every day that moderates and progressives need a more effective way to get their message out. The reason the Right has been so effective at getting their message out, and getting their politicians elected, and getting their policies enacted, is that they've established an extremely well-funded idea-development and communications infrastructure that has been called "The Mighty Wurlitzer." This infrastructure consists of think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute; radio talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh; TV pundits on Fox News; newspapers like the Washington Times and New York Post, publishing houses like Regnery; and a variety of other organizations.
All of this constitutes an "infrastructure" because it is already set up and in place, ready to amplify and disseminate any message that the conservative movement's ideological leaders feed into it. Moderates and progressives, meanwhile, don't have anything comparable in place. That has to change!
Where medical knowledge goes, perhaps environmental policy should follow. Over the past half century, as we know, modern medicine has increasingly emphasized a proactive, preventive approach to bodily affliction. Better to cut cholesterol, the thinking goes, than to call the heart surgeon. The same thinking underlies a recent concept in ecology called the “precautionary principle,” which aims at identifying environmental risks and implementing policies that will head off environmental damage before it occurs.
Two hundred years ago, most Americans -- including unpropertied men, women (propertied or not), African Americans, soldiers, illiterates, and non-English-speakers -- could not vote. Today, there's just one group that, as a matter of law, is routinely barred from voting: felons.
Progress, certainly. But that remaining restriction -- "criminal disenfranchisement" -- is a doozy. About four million U.S. citizens are now barred from voting because of a criminal conviction. The majority of these people are not incarcerated -- either because they're on probation or parole, or because they've completed all elements of their sentence. The United States not only executes more offenders than does any other democracy, but it is the only democracy that indefinitely bars so many criminals from voting.