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From “What Democracy? The case for abolishing the United States Senate,” by Richard N. Rosenfeld in the May 2004 Harper’s.
Americans believe in the idea of democracy. We fight wars in its name and daily pledge allegiance to its principles. Curiously, the fervor with which we profess our faith in democracy is matched only by the contempt with which we regard our politics and politicians. How interesting that we should so dislike the process that we claim to revere. Perhaps, however, our unhappiness with politics points to something significant; perhaps Americans dislike the daily reality of their political system precisely because it falls short of being a proper democracy. Indeed, in the last presidential election, we saw a man take office who did not win the popular vote. Money above all else shapes our political debate and determines its outcome, and in the realm of public policy, even when an overwhelming democratic majority expresses its preference (as for national health insurance), deadlocks, vetoes, filibusters, and “special interests” stand in the way. No wonder so few people vote in national elections; we have become a nation of spectators, not citizens.
The United States of America is not, strictly speaking, a democracy; indeed, the U.S. Constitution was deliberately designed to prevent the unfettered expression of the people’s will. Yet the Founders were not, as some imagine, of one mind concerning the proper shape of the new American union, and their disputes are instructive. The political dysfunction that some imagine to be a product of recent cultural decadence has been with us from the beginning. In fact, the document that was meant to prevent democracy in America has bequeathed the American people a politics of minority rule in which our leaders must necessarily pursue their unpopular aims by means of increasingly desperate stratagems of deceit and persuasion.
Yet hope remains, for if Americans have little real experience of democracy, they remain a nation convinced that the best form of government is by and for the people. Growing numbers of Americans suspect that all is not right with the American Way. Citizens, faced with the prospect of sacrificing the well-being of their children and grandchildren on the altar of supply-side economics, the prospect of giving up new schools and hospitals so that the colony in Iraq might have zip codes and modern garbage trucks, have begun to ask hard questions. Politics, properly understood as the deliberate exercise of citizenship by a free people, appears to be enjoying a renaissance, but the hard point must be made nonetheless that tinkering with campaign-finance reform is unlikely to be sufficient to the task. True reform becomes possible only if Americans are willing to return to the root of our political experiment and try again. And if democracy is our aim, the first object of our constitutional revision must be the United States Senate.
“We now have probably the most powerful upper house of any legislature,” Ritchie said. “Combine that with the inequality, and it creates some peculiar situations.” Not all small states are G.O.P. strongholds. (Hello, Vermont, Delaware and Rhode Island.) And it’s true that Obama won the 2008 nomination thanks in part to racking up caucus victories in states such as Idaho and Wyoming. But since Obama took office, senators from the wide-open spaces have asserted themselves against him over and over. Conrad opposed his plan to cut subsidies for wealthy farmers. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) pushed to focus transportation funding in the stimulus bill on rural areas and last week blocked the lifting of sugar tariffs to protect the ethanol industry. –“The Gangs of D.C.: In the Senate, small states wield outsize power. Is this what the Founders had in mind?” by Alec Macgillis, The Washington Post
Ezra Klein with Harper’s editor Luke Mitchell on the Leonard Lopate show today;
insurance and citizenship;
the leading cause of catastrophic injury in young women: cheerleading;
a review of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector by “New Books” author Benjamin Moser
According to plant pathologists, this killer round of blight began with a widespread infiltration of the disease in tomato starter plants. Large retailers like Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart bought starter plants from industrial breeding operations in the South and distributed them throughout the Northeast. (Fungal spores, which can travel up to 40 miles, may also have been dispersed in transit.) Once those infected starter plants arrived at the stores, they were purchased and planted, transferring their pathogens like tiny Trojan horses into backyard and community gardens. Perhaps this is why the Northeast was hit so viciously: instead of being spread through large farms, the blight sneaked through lots of little gardens, enabling it to escape the attention of the people who track plant diseases. It’s important to note, too, that this year there have been many more hosts than in the past as more and more Americans have taken to gardening… the explosion of home gardeners— the very people most conscious of buying local food and opting out of the conventional food chain— has paradoxically set the stage for the worst local tomato harvest in memory. –“You Say Tomato, I Say Agricultural Disaster,” Dan Barber, The New York Times
Suggestions for flavours range from Gooey Decimal System to Sh-sh-sh-sherbet. Woodworth writes on Facebook that the logic behind the scheme is that “libraries are awesome, Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream is tasty, therefore a library-themed Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream would be tasty awesome.” Gooey Decimal System could combine dark fudge alphabet letters with caramel swirls in hazelnut ice-cream, he suggests, while Dusty Stacks could be a layered ice-cream with speckles of cocoa in every layer. Li-Berry pie could mix lime sherbet with raspberry sauce and pie-crust pieces, and Overdue Fine as Fudge Chunk could drop fudge brownies and white chocolate coins into milk chocolate ice-cream swirled with caramel. The fine details of Sh-sh-sh-sherbet aren’t pinned down quite yet– it could be key lime, or possibly a vanilla/chocolate combination –“Book Fans Develop a Taste for Library-themed Ice-cream,” Alison Flood, The Guardian
Chances that a deep breath inhaled today will contain a molecule from Julius Caesar’s dying breath:
Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences, by John Allen Paulos, Hill and Wang (N.Y.C.)
The earth once had three moons; the two lost moons may have crashed into the surviving moon, or been sucked into the sun, or flung out of the solar system to drift through deep space.
In Florida, an 87-year-old World War II veteran flying touch-and-go drills in a Cessna collided with an airborne skydiver. “There was a ‘woof’ sound,” said a witness, “like falling on your face into your pillow.”
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“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.”