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Off Topic => Other Conspiracy Theories => Topic started by: Peter B on July 15, 2012, 10:10:10 AM

Title: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on July 15, 2012, 10:10:10 AM
Okay, that's a fairly inflammatory subject line, and not one you might expect from someone like me.

But then I read this article in the local (Canberra) newspaper on Saturday.

http://www.smh.com.au/world/radicals-push-members-out-on-a-wing-20120713-2218k.html

(The Sydney Morning Herald is one of the mainstream newspapers in Australia.)

Lines like "They dream of anarchy, of ending government" or "In a recent poll only 31 per cent of Republicans believed Barack Obama was born in the United States. Who are the others? They are either stupid or crazy" or "Some of the smartest and most sophisticated people I know...sincerely and passionately believe that President Barack Obama...is willfully and relentlessly driving the United States down the road to socialism" are being said or written by Republicans.

The article quotes one person making comparisons with Weimar Germany, but the comparison I see is with the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC.

I've said elsewhere that ragging Americans is almost a national sport in Australia. But the fact remains that we rely strongly on the USA, and the idea of America spiralling into ungovernability seriously worries me.

Perhaps others on the forum might like to ease my fears...
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Noldi400 on July 15, 2012, 11:48:01 AM
Sadly, it does seem to me that political polarization has gotten much worse in recent years. The Republicans, especially, seem to have adopted an "If they're for it, we're against it" stance, along with what I characterize as 'guerrilla' tactics - harassing attacks like the "birther" nonsense that do no real damage in themselves, but distract from the real business of government.

Let me also say that I think Chief Justice John Roberts is a brave and honorable man; by voting to uphold the President's health care reform he had to know that he would be ostracized by other Republicans, but I believe he was making the statement that the Supreme Court is above partisan politics.

I certainly don't hold the Democrat party above blame for the current situation, but they're not the ones really showing their asses at the moment.

That having been said, I continue to have confidence in the basic strength and stability of the US system. We have weathered hard political times before now, and we will survive this without 'descending into ungovernability'.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Ranb on July 15, 2012, 12:12:43 PM
Lines like "They dream of anarchy, of ending government" or "In a recent poll only 31 per cent of Republicans believed Barack Obama was born in the United States.

Perhaps others on the forum might like to ease my fears...
31%?  Really?  I would question who performed that poll, exactly what question was asked and who they polled.  Maybe they polled an asylum populated by racist morons?

Ranb
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on July 15, 2012, 02:43:50 PM
Yeah, while I realize it isn't exactly a scientific sample, I literally don't know any birthers.  No, I don't have a lot of Republican friends, but the few I have think that's garbage.  We are able to disagree, and strongly, but most of the people I know are able to disagree politely on the subject of politics.  I'm really worried about some things in this country, but I'm a poor, mentally ill woman.  That is not a good thing to be in quite a lot of places.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Echnaton on July 15, 2012, 03:41:07 PM
The birther movement is a marginal group within the Republican party, and its adherents are essentially no different that the conspiracy theorist that show up here.  I no longer hang out in Republican circles but I know a few local politicians and judges, none of which have given any support to the birther movement.  It is really just one among many FUD based fund raising efforts.  As shameful as it is, FUD based fund raising is an old phenomenon that has never been limited to one party.  It is not going away so we might as well get used to it.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Echnaton on July 15, 2012, 04:02:21 PM
I've said elsewhere that ragging Americans is almost a national sport in Australia. But the fact remains that we rely strongly on the USA, and the idea of America spiralling into ungovernability seriously worries me.

While living in Europe, I got my share of ragging from Aussies.  All taken in stride.  I've always felt that Aussies and Texans have a common attitude from being raised in big countries.  I don't like the direction the country is going either, we are becoming a nation driven the the idea that a failure to follow rules is a moral failing. An agenda that Obama did not originate but is certainly pushing forward.  I see politics becoming more dynamic as some people push back, but not the country becoming ungovernable. 
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on July 15, 2012, 10:53:04 PM
Thanks people, you've made me feel a bit better about things.

For one thing, having done a little research I've found the stories behind a couple of the references in the original article.

I found a video of Andrew Breitbart shouting at the protesters. I didn't realise he was shouting at the Occupy protesters, who were quite verbose in response. It's not as though he was shouting at little old ladies straight out of church. It was also curious to hear him change his cry at one point from "Stop raping people!" to "Stop raping the people!" Adding "the" gives the statement a slightly different cast. Having said that, his behaviour was bizarre and over the top, and it doesn't surprise me he died of a heart attack at in his 40s.

As for the Allen West statement about card-carrying Communists in Congress, I understand he was talking about members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, so an identifiable group of people rather than some secret cabal. Having said that, I had a look at the policies the caucus advocates, and in the context of life in the USA I think I'd support every one of them. In fact most have already been adopted here in Australia, which I think most Americans recognise is not exactly a hot-bed of radical socialism.

So it looks at though the author of the article put the most sinister possible spin on what he described, although there was at least some reality behind it.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on July 15, 2012, 11:23:26 PM
I don't think most Americans have the slightest idea what Australian politics are like.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: twik on July 15, 2012, 11:37:48 PM
My mother is in her eighties, and would, if she were an American, probably have been a Republican most of her life. She says she cannot recogize the current party as having any connection to what it once was.

I suspect the change has at least a little bit to do with current television journalism. I think things went wrong when producers started allowing people to scream over each other, rather than discuss things as if they were among civilized people. It created a venue that encouraged craziness rather than logic and good faith.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on July 16, 2012, 09:06:54 AM
I don't think most Americans have the slightest idea what Australian politics are like.
Not even enough to know that Australia doesn't sit in the same category as Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea?
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Echnaton on July 16, 2012, 10:11:32 AM
My suspicion is that most Americans that have an inkling of Australian politics understand that the country is basically a rational democracy that is willing to cooperate with like minded countries.  When we still read newspapers, we don't get much news from Australia here so many people knew very little of the current affairs.  With Internet media, it's even harder because you have to actively seek out real news for so many places. 

The interesting thing about generalizing Americans is that there is not static generalization of our population.  I live in the same neighborhood I grew up in but the demographics have shifted.  Most of my neighbors growing up moved to Houston from somewhere else in the US, but the newer neighbors are just as likely to have originated in another country as another US city.  It makes for difficultly in pinpointing what the products of an American education is, because so many Americans today are only partially, or not at all, the product an American upbringing. 
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on July 16, 2012, 01:49:40 PM
When I was getting the five-cent tour of San Francisco the other day (we agreed that the five-cent tour of Olympia will take you much farther), one of the things my friend was telling me was where neighbourhoods were in transition.  (He said the hipsters were battling the Hispanics for one neighbourhood, which had some interesting West Side Story overtones.)  My mom's neighbourhood in LA has remained relatively static, ethnically speaking, since she moved in, but a lot of the other neighbourhoods in the area have not.

I was reading Bill Bryson's book about Australia not long ago, and it talked a lot about how little news from Australia makes it to the US.  I think the average American knows that Australia isn't exactly Cuba, but I doubt most of them know much more than that.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: pzkpfw on July 17, 2012, 12:18:46 AM
We get some Australian news over here in New Zealand (Sky News, via our Satellite T.V. provider) which I watch from time to time, and from what I've seen it seems more like the current U.S. style than N.Z. style; just for comparison.

They get a bunch of Aussie politicians around a table, in a show that's supposed to be about debate, and they mostly just seem to shout "you are a doody head" at each other; based on what seems little more than their party membership.

(I'm not saying it's all that much better in N.Z., but that's my general impression of it.)

Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Not Myself on July 17, 2012, 09:31:06 AM
Not even enough to know that Australia doesn't sit in the same category as Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea?

They're all countries.

"In a recent poll only 31 per cent of Republicans believed Barack Obama was born in the United States. Who are the others? They are either stupid or crazy"

This one is so far down my list of widely-held and disturbing American beliefs that I probably wouldn't even mention it if asked.  One that bothers me much more is the attitude that the only people more despicable than those with more money (investment bankers, CEOs, whatever) are those with less money (Chinese workers).
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: ka9q on July 17, 2012, 11:25:39 AM
Sadly, it does seem to me that political polarization has gotten much worse in recent years. The Republicans, especially, seem to have adopted an "If they're for it, we're against it" stance, along with what I characterize as 'guerrilla' tactics - harassing attacks like the "birther" nonsense that do no real damage in themselves, but distract from the real business of government
It certainly has gotten worse. And I do wonder if the communications explosion has fed it. I'm an electrical engineer who specializes in communications, so I've always thought of it as a pure good. But when I see Fox News or listen to AM talk radio, I wonder.

The "birther" movement most definitely has caused some real damage. It has polarized people to the point that they're unlikely to cooperate on anything.

I thought that it used to be possible for people to occasionally discover that they agreed on something, set the disagreements aside for a moment, do the thing they agree on, and go back to arguing about their disagreements. Maybe even find some mutually acceptable compromises. Maybe it never really was that way, but it certainly isn't now.

There most definitely is an air of "if you're for it, then I'm against it -- no matter what it is" that's making it impossible to do even those things everyone really wants. It's very worrisome.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: cjameshuff on July 17, 2012, 11:45:01 AM
Mostly what I've heard of Australian politics relates to the government's apparent "Big Brother knows best!" approach to censorship issues.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: LunarOrbit on July 17, 2012, 01:47:47 PM
There most definitely is an air of "if you're for it, then I'm against it -- no matter what it is" that's making it impossible to do even those things everyone really wants. It's very worrisome.

I wonder if it would help to increase the time between elections? It seems like US politicians are always trying to score points to help them win the next election which is always two years away. If the elections were farther apart maybe they would actually leave campaign mode long enough to get some work done.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on July 17, 2012, 08:12:50 PM
Ah, but the next election isn't always two years away.  It's two years away for Representatives, but it's six for Senators and four for President.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on July 17, 2012, 10:46:51 PM
I was reading Bill Bryson's book about Australia not long ago, and it talked a lot about how little news from Australia makes it to the US.  I think the average American knows that Australia isn't exactly Cuba, but I doubt most of them know much more than that.
Ah, I have a lot of time for Bill Bryson - his sense of humour is deliciously dry. His book "Troublesome Words" is very useful for me as an editor, and "A Short History of Nearly Everything" is a tour-de-force of science communication.

I skimmed his book about Australia, having a brief look only at what he wrote about Canberra. I can understand why he says what he says about Australia, but I suppose I sort of thought that Americans might realise that Australia has many things that Americans consider "socialist" (like a nationalised healthcare system) without being in the slightest bit a socialist or communist country (like Cuba or North Korea).
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on July 17, 2012, 11:03:10 PM
We get some Australian news over here in New Zealand (Sky News, via our Satellite T.V. provider) which I watch from time to time, and from what I've seen it seems more like the current U.S. style than N.Z. style; just for comparison.

They get a bunch of Aussie politicians around a table, in a show that's supposed to be about debate, and they mostly just seem to shout "you are a doody head" at each other; based on what seems little more than their party membership.

(I'm not saying it's all that much better in N.Z., but that's my general impression of it.)
Yeah, I think I know the show you mean...

One of the less appealing aspects of party politics in Australia is that politicians pretty much always vote along party lines. It's very rare for politicians to cross the floor to vote with the opposing party, so when it happens it's big news.

It's all the more in effect now, given that the current Government has a razor thin majority, a politician under investigation for doing naughty stuff when he was a union official, and the Speaker is under investigation for doing naughty stuff when he was a back-bencher. The Opposition has a massive lead in the polls, yet the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, is a very divisive figure. His tactics in the Parliament have to some extent mirrored those of the Republicans - oppose everything the Government proposes.

Yet having said all that, a lot of legislation quietly passes through Parliament with bipartisan support. The Opposition doesn't want to draw attention to that because presumably it would harm their claim of staying tough on the Government, and the Government presumably keeps it quiet because they want to keep getting stuff done so they can go to the next election with a record of legislative achievements.

The other thing that so clearly marks Australian democracy from American is that our Parliament doesn't allow filibustering. There are set limits on times for speeches which generally mean that people have to stick to the topic.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on July 17, 2012, 11:06:29 PM
...I'm an electrical engineer who specializes in communications, so I've always thought of it as a pure good. But when I see Fox News or listen to AM talk radio, I wonder.
In the same newspaper which had the article I linked in the OP, there was another one about Aaron Sorkin's new TV show. He was quoted as saying that people who watched Fox News were actually worse informed than people who watched no news at all.

That's worrying if it's true.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on July 17, 2012, 11:12:36 PM
Mostly what I've heard of Australian politics relates to the government's apparent "Big Brother knows best!" approach to censorship issues.
I think opposition to that is something our Obviousman is involved in.

As a general rule Australians do accept government intervention in a range of everyday activities, whether providing funding to non-government schools or subsidising medications (thank you!). But I think the desire to get involved in blocking Internet sites has touched a raw nerve, especially given that the list of proscribed sites is secret, and that the censorship software isn't that great.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on July 18, 2012, 12:43:50 AM
I skimmed his book about Australia, having a brief look only at what he wrote about Canberra. I can understand why he says what he says about Australia, but I suppose I sort of thought that Americans might realise that Australia has many things that Americans consider "socialist" (like a nationalised healthcare system) without being in the slightest bit a socialist or communist country (like Cuba or North Korea).

No, I don't think most Americans know about Australia's flirtation with socialism.  We know about Europe, but most of the people who know that Australia has socialized health care know that essentially all industrialized nations do.  In many cases, that's why people know.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Al Johnston on July 18, 2012, 03:16:09 AM
... most of the people who know that Australia has socialized health care know that essentially all industrialized nations do.

Indeed. It's a source of some bafflement to the rest of the world that the USA doesn't...
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on July 18, 2012, 01:09:43 PM
A lot of Americans, too.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: ka9q on July 19, 2012, 09:43:50 PM
The other thing that so clearly marks Australian democracy from American is that our Parliament doesn't allow filibustering. There are set limits on times for speeches which generally mean that people have to stick to the topic.
I think some people think filibustering is easier than it really is. First of all, it can only occur in the Senate; the House of Representatives, being a much larger body (435 vs 100 members) always has time limits on speeches. You can't filibuster there.

Even in the Senate, a cloture vote can be taken to cut off debate. This used to require a supermajority of 2/3 of the Senators present; since 1975 it requires 3/5 (60%) of all Senators -- whether or not they are present and voting. In practice, this has made cloture easier and filibustering somewhat more difficult. Now filibustering tends to occur only when one party has only a slight majority in the Senate, which has often been the case in recent years.

I think the American system has bigger problems than filibustering. At times it can even be a good thing by serving as a check on the tyranny of the majority, though it has often been the reverse such as when many Southern Senators filibustered the Civil Rights acts of the 1960s.

The main difference between the American government and most other western democracies is our President. Rather than being the leader of the majority party in the legislature, he's elected independently and runs a completely separate Executive branch of government. All three branches (Legislative, Executive and Judicial) are in theory co-equal and separate, each with unique powers over the others and limits on its own power. While the Congress can impeach and remove the President (or any other federal officer) from office, it is nothing like dissolving Parliament and calling for elections. It is a much more difficult, solemn and painful process that, while tried twice (Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998) has never actually succeeded in removing a President. (Nixon resigned in 1974 rather than face inevitable impeachment.)

More important than filibustering, I think, is the President's veto power. He can veto any bill sent to him, and his veto can be overridden only by a 2/3 vote of both houses of Congress. Because Congress has been so divided in recent years, veto overrides have become extremely difficult and this hands considerable power to whoever happens to be President at the time -- already a very powerful office compared to most Prime Ministerships.

Since FDR was elected four times in a row, the US Constitution was amended to implement term limits for the President; no one can now be elected more than twice. (In theory one could still serve nearly 12 years if first elected as Vice President, succeeds to the Presidency on the death or resignation of the incumbent, and is then elected President twice in his or her own right.) So this means that most Presidents spend their first 4-year term trying to get re-elected. Only if they succeed do they have the option of conducting a second term without having to worry about another election (though they are still very concerned with getting members of their own party into Congress, of course.) It is always interesting to see whether a President makes truly major policy changes in a second term; usually it doesn't happen, but it could.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on July 19, 2012, 10:01:40 PM
You have fallen prey to a common misperception about impeachment, I'm afraid.  Or at least you're implying it.  Impeachment is only the first stage in removing from office.  It's like indictment.  Both Johnson and Clinton were impeached.  Johnson only stayed in office by a single vote, in fact, of the next step.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Tanalia on July 19, 2012, 11:24:07 PM
Someone who is elected in as VP who then serves more than 2 years as President is only eligible to be voted in as President once, making the limit 10 years.

There is some contention over whether a former President could get elected as VP and then take over as President (for whatever reason) and keep accruing more time in office, as the 22nd amendment only appears to restrict being elected as President.  As this situation has not been tried, no decision has been made as to whether the amendment should also be considered a restriction on eligibility.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: ka9q on July 20, 2012, 01:41:31 AM
You have fallen prey to a common misperception about impeachment, I'm afraid.  Or at least you're implying it.  Impeachment is only the first stage in removing from office.  It's like indictment.  Both Johnson and Clinton were impeached.  Johnson only stayed in office by a single vote, in fact, of the next step.
Did I give that impression? You're right, the House impeaches and then the Senate tries the case and convicts or acquits. The Chief Justice presides over the trial to avoid the obvious conflict of interest that would result if it were run by the nominal chair of the Senate, the Vice President.

When I said that the process of removing a President through impeachment has been "tried" twice but has never succeeded, I was referring to the formal impeachments of Johnson and Clinton followed by their Senate trials and acquittals.

Although Nixon resigned before he was even formally impeached by the House, his case is arguably the one and only successful use of the impeachment process because he would never have resigned without the threat of almost certain impeachment and conviction. I was between high school and college that summer, and I followed every minute of the proceedings. I knew it was history in the making, and while a lot of Americans were upset and embarrassed about the whole thing I thought it was actually an excellent demonstration of the strength of the American system. It was actually possible (then, at least) to get rid of a powerful but corrupt leader without anyone firing a single shot. How many countries can make that claim?





Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: ka9q on July 20, 2012, 02:11:45 AM
Someone who is elected in as VP who then serves more than 2 years as President is only eligible to be voted in as President once, making the limit 10 years.
I stand corrected. I should have re-read the 22nd Amendment first.
Quote
There is some contention over whether a former President could get elected as VP and then take over as President (for whatever reason) and keep accruing more time in office, as the 22nd amendment only appears to restrict being elected as President.  As this situation has not been tried, no decision has been made as to whether the amendment should also be considered a restriction on eligibility.
The 12th Amendment specifically states
Quote
But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.
I don't think that provision was amended by the 22nd, so doesn't that resolve the issue? Someone who has already been elected President twice is not constitutionally eligible to be elected Vice President, which is the case you mentioned.

A more obscure case would be someone other than the elected Vice President assuming the Presidency after the death or resignation of both the elected President and Vice President. If only the Vice President leaves office, the President can appoint his successor subject to Congressional approval, as Nixon appointed Gerald Ford after Spiro Agnew resigned. Ford is the only US President never elected as either President or Vice President. If Dwight Eisenhower, who served two terms as President, had still been alive when Agnew resigned, could Nixon have appointed him to replace Agnew, and could Eisenhower then have become President again when Nixon resigned? It certainly would have been strange to see these two men swap their offices.



Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: ka9q on July 20, 2012, 02:38:04 AM
I now see what you mean; there's a discussion in the section Interaction with the Twelfth Amendment in the Wikipedia article on the 22nd Amendment. It's that distinction between eligibility to serve as President vs eligibility for election to the office. Our Presidents are generally still elected (nominally including that in 2000) but we've already had one unelected President, Gerald Ford.

To be eligible to serve as President you have to be a natural-born US citizen, 35 or older, and a US resident for 14 years or more. Until the 22nd Amendment there was no special distinction between serving and being elected.

It's interesting that while Congress can and has established laws for Presidential succession should both the President and Vice President resign or die, they can't override the Constitutional requirements. For example, although the US Secretary of State is fairly high in the order of succession, right after the Speaker of the House and the President pro tem of the Senate, Henry Kissinger could not have succeeded to the Presidency despite holding that Cabinet office.

Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Noldi400 on July 20, 2012, 04:18:19 PM
I'm always rather proud of the fact that, while our system has its problems, it generally works. As you said, Nixon was removed bloodlessly.  The Bush/Gore "hanging chad" uproar was resolved - maybe fairly, maybe not, but I've always believed that that kind of crisis could well have touched off a street war in many countries.

I also think that Americans in general feel a kinship with Aussies - both sort of social outcasts who landed in a big new country and built it into something we're proud of. (No offense intended...)
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Donnie B. on July 20, 2012, 04:30:12 PM
Seems like someone could still get up to (nearly) 12 years as President, through a very unlikely scenario.

A person (let's call her H) could be elected President and serve only one term.  She could then run as the VP candidate legally.  Immediately after the subsequent inauguration, the new POTUS could resign (or die), making H President again.  At the end of that term, she could still run again, having been elected only once to the office of POTUS.

Amirite?
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Noldi400 on July 21, 2012, 02:21:28 AM
Quote
A person (let's call her H) could be elected President and serve only one term.  She could then run as the VP candidate legally.  Immediately after the subsequent inauguration, the new POTUS could resign (or die), making H President again.  At the end of that term, she could still run again, having been elected only once to the office of POTUS.

Amirite?
No, I don't think so...

The wording of the 22nd Amendment is: No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once.

So if your hypothetical person had already been elected President once, then served more than two years by succession, she would be ineligible because she had already been elected once. The Amendment doesn't specify before or after.

That's my understanding. Anyone else?

Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: RedneckR0nin on July 21, 2012, 09:42:38 AM
There most definitely is an air of "if you're for it, then I'm against it -- no matter what it is" that's making it impossible to do even those things everyone really wants. It's very worrisome.

I wonder if it would help to increase the time between elections? It seems like US politicians are always trying to score points to help them win the next election which is always two years away. If the elections were farther apart maybe they would actually leave campaign mode long enough to get some work done.
Make campaign donations illegal...make them use free networking and a channel dedicated to such..equal opportunity.
Get more parties in the major race...the more the merrier

Then the source fund raising and lobbyist power drops to nothing.......the more parties competing the more honest it becomes.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on July 21, 2012, 02:09:25 PM
Yeah, just ask the Italians.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: ka9q on July 22, 2012, 11:15:09 PM
So if your hypothetical person had already been elected President once, then served more than two years by succession, she would be ineligible because she had already been elected once. The Amendment doesn't specify before or after.

That's my understanding. Anyone else?
I think you're right. But the crucial distinction in the 22nd amendment is elected. I don't see anything to keep someone from serving indefinitely as an appointed or successive president. The problem for a would-be dictator is that elections happen every 4 years. But I can think of a rather extreme scenario where the President, Vice President and Congress could all conspire (or be coerced) to do an end-run around the Constitution; each time a new President/Vice President are elected, the latter resigns, the President appoints the person in question to replace him (who has to be confirmed by the House and Senate, as when Nixon appointed Gerald Ford to replace Agnew) and then resigns, making that person President again. The cycle could repeat every 4 years indefinitely, and nothing would disqualify this person from office because he'd never be elected to it.

An even more extreme scenario would have our dictator coerce a figurehead president into appointing him Secretary of State. Then he assassinates the President, Vice President, House speaker and Senate president pro tem (or forces them all to resign) and succeeds to the presidency, avoiding possible prosecution through executive privilege and/or sovereign immunity. After each election, he repeats the process indefinitely. He'd also have to somehow avoid impeachment and conviction by the Congress. And even if he did that, the states could bypass Congress, call a Constitutional Convention and pass an amendment to clearly state that no person can serve as an elected or unelected President for more than 10 years.

So it's actually not that easy for a dictator to become President For Life under our Constitution without first subverting an awful lot of checks and balances. Maybe the guys in powdered wigs got it right.
 



Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on July 23, 2012, 09:36:57 AM
...An even more extreme scenario would have our dictator coerce a figurehead president into appointing him Secretary of State. Then he assassinates the President, Vice President, House speaker and Senate president pro tem (or forces them all to resign) and succeeds to the presidency, avoiding possible prosecution through executive privilege and/or sovereign immunity. After each election, he repeats the process indefinitely. He'd also have to somehow avoid impeachment and conviction by the Congress. And even if he did that, the states could bypass Congress, call a Constitutional Convention and pass an amendment to clearly state that no person can serve as an elected or unelected President for more than 10 years.

So it's actually not that easy for a dictator to become President For Life under our Constitution without first subverting an awful lot of checks and balances. Maybe the guys in powdered wigs got it right.
While on paper it seems hard to get around the Constitution, it seems the President (and Congress?) get around it easily enough when it suits. For example, isn't Congress supposed to vote in favour of war declarations? And haven't several Presidents got around that by being voted powers by Congress (such as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution)?

So, based on my reading of the article I linked in the original post, the nightmare scenario I think about involves constant cuts in taxes, education, social security and health benefits being cut and Defence taking an ever higher proportion of the budget. In 40 years time the disparity between poverty and wealth would make the USA look like Russia or Spain 100 years ago. The only difference would be that there are opportunities for people who are clever and lucky. There is a small middle class which provides the wealthy with its teachers, doctors and other services, but the position of any individual is precarious and utterly at the mercy of the whim of anyone in the elite. In theory everyone has the vote but in practical terms the wealthy choose the leaders from among themselves. Criticism of the state is stifled by liberal use of the USA PATRIOT Act. The only access people have to social services is through churches, which are themselves subject to state interference if they offer too much state criticism. It's the sort of world someone could make a good novel out of, but imagining it depresses me...
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: ka9q on July 23, 2012, 11:07:02 AM
I hear you. I think the structure of our government, and particular the Bill of Rights, is probably the best that's ever been designed. But it's not perfect, and even it cannot forever withstand constant, withering assaults intent on destroying it.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on July 23, 2012, 02:04:52 PM
I will say that there are a few churches which I'd love to see lose their tax-exempt status, at least one of which should lose it because of its political activities.  (The Civil Rights Movement didn't ever actually say, "Go out and vote this way."  And no one in those churches which were involved was expected by the church authorities to give up their time and money in order to earn divine favour.)  However, I have also argued with several people why expecting churches to do all the heavy lifting in caring for the poor is folly.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Noldi400 on July 23, 2012, 09:05:23 PM
Quote
While on paper it seems hard to get around the Constitution, it seems the President (and Congress?) get around it easily enough when it suits. For example, isn't Congress supposed to vote in favour of war declarations? And haven't several Presidents got around that by being voted powers by Congress (such as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution)?
I need to go look up the details, but I believe the distinction is that the Constitution authorizes the Congress to declare (a formal state of) war, while the President is authorized to wage war, i.e., take such military action as he deems necessary for national security. In the case of the Resolutions such as the one you mention, Presidents have almost always replied, more or less, "I appreciate your support, even though it is not legally required."

I'll check around and get back on that point.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: ka9q on July 24, 2012, 03:27:13 AM
I think a lot of people would agree that by far the most serious threat to American constitutional democracy, particularly its guarantee of individual rights, is the ongoing expansion of Presidential power. Generally that position is held by most Democrats when a Republican is President and held by most Republicans when a Democrat is President, so they're probably both right.

There's no dispute that the Executive Branch has the sole authority to wage war, with the President as Commander-in-Chief. It couldn't be any other way. The big questions are over who sets policy for waging war, and where's the line between policy and execution? The Constitution clearly establishes Congress, not the President, as the policy-making branch of the US federal government. Personally, I think it's also clear that this principle doesn't go out the window in wartime. That's why Congress, not the President, has the sole authority to declare war.

Congress also has the closely related authorities to raise an army and navy, to collect taxes to pay for them, to allocate those funds, and (for the Senate) to ratify all foreign treaties.

For the most part, the US Constitution makes brilliant use of the natural human desire for power. That's the whole idea behind the carefully crafted set of "checks and balances" that every civics class talks so much about.

But it has an Achilles heel that will probably be its (and our) undoing. Presidential power always expands greatly in wartime and shrinks in peacetime. The bigger the war, the greater the expansion. World War 2 was the extreme case - so far - and it coincides with the start of an enormous expansion of Presidential authority that still continues. (The first and only President to serve more than 2 terms was in office for nearly all of WW2, leaving only when he died.) This strongly tempts every President to start or expand a war on a pretense merely to expand his own power. His ability to do this is now greatly enhanced by his extremely tight control over the gathering and dissemination of the information most relevant to the decision to go to war. Even though Congress still makes the nominal decision, it is almost preordained by the information given to them.

I'd like to think that there could never be a more pure example of the US going to war solely to expand the power of the President than George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. But that would be wishful thinking. This is easily the most dangerous structural weakness in our entire government and I fully expect it will be our eventual undoing.

Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on July 24, 2012, 10:09:07 AM
So, based on my reading of the article I linked in the original post, the nightmare scenario I think about involves constant cuts in taxes, education, social security and health benefits being cut and Defence taking an ever higher proportion of the budget. In 40 years time the disparity between poverty and wealth would make the USA look like Russia or Spain 100 years ago. The only difference would be that there are opportunities for people who are clever and lucky. There is a small middle class which provides the wealthy with its teachers, doctors and other services, but the position of any individual is precarious and utterly at the mercy of the whim of anyone in the elite. In theory everyone has the vote but in practical terms the wealthy choose the leaders from among themselves. Criticism of the state is stifled by liberal use of the USA PATRIOT Act. The only access people have to social services is through churches, which are themselves subject to state interference if they offer too much state criticism. It's the sort of world someone could make a good novel out of, but imagining it depresses me...
I've been having a bit more of a think about this, and I'm starting to veer towards the scenario presented in the article I linked, the Weimar Germany one. How's this for a nightmare:

Quote
Obama narrowly wins the 2012 election, and faces ever larger protests from extremist Republicans who think anything he does is putting the USA on the path to socialism. After a while this becomes civil disobedience, and police in many cities are reluctant to step in.

Moderate Republican Jeb Bush and his Tea Party Vice President win in 2016 amid calls for Obama to be tried for treason. Democrat supporters start employing the same tactics against President Bush, pushing him into the arms of the Tea Party. Fighting breaks out at competing Democrat and Republican protests across the country and moderates on both sides are shouted down or ignored when they call for dialogue.

In the lead-up to the 2020 election, to give the image of being a strong man, Bush agrees that Obama should be tried for treason. Obama flees the USA, confirming in the minds of many that he's guilty as charged.

An extremist Republican, convinced that Bush deliberately made his announcement so Obama had time to run, assassinates the President. The assassin successfully evades capture, convincing many Democrats that he had police assistance. Meanwhile many Republicans are convinced the assassin was part of a Democrat conspiracy.

The Vice President, newly promoted to the top job, convinces a shocked Congress to pass tough new laws to crack down on political violence. The laws make no mention of parties, but Democrat supporters seem to fall victim to them far more frequently than Republican supporters.

With the Democrats in disarray, the Republicans settle down to an extended period of time in power in both the Presidency and Congress. Voter participation drops from 50% in 2020 to 35% in 2024 and to less than 20% in 2028. Real wages fall and the economy stagnates. Congress responds by massive cuts in public services, leaving tens of millions destitute. Bank profits, however, continue to climb on the back of ever bigger financial gambles, in the expectation that the government will step in to save them in case of trouble.

Thanks to a Chinese economic stumble in 2029, a couple of banks find themselves dangerously over-committed. Their boards approach Congress for assistance. Congress says No, saying the market will decide who survives. The banks collapse, taking several others with them. The financial system teeters on the brink of collapse. Attempts to continue paying soldiers and the few remaining public servants by printing more money causes a spike in inflation.

Food riots break out in several cities and the police and state and national guards are unable or unwilling to quell the riots. The President calls for military intervention...
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Noldi400 on July 24, 2012, 10:15:01 AM
Just following up on my earlier post.

This is a legal opinion from the U.S.A.G.'s office given shortly after the 9/11 attacks:

http://www.justice.gov/olc/warpowers925.htm (http://www.justice.gov/olc/warpowers925.htm)

Quote
Presidential power always expands greatly in wartime and shrinks in peacetime. The bigger the war, the greater the expansion. World War 2 was the extreme case - so far - and it coincides with the start of an enormous expansion of Presidential authority that still continues. (The first and only President to serve more than 2 terms was in office for nearly all of WW2, leaving only when he died.)

It might also be worth noting here that, even prior to WWII, Congress had handed FDR more domestic power than any President before or since. The country's economical system was literally in ruins - 25% unemployment, banks closed in 32 states - and it was a case of desperate situations requiring desperate measures. Whether or not that power was wisely used is a debate for another day, but the economic disaster disappeared into the ramp-up for WWII.

IMHO, the President has historically had relatively little direct domestic power; he appoints officials and is responsible for law enforcement. Aside from that, his strongest tool is the "bully pulpit" described by Teddy Roosevelt - setting the tone for the country and acting as a 'cheerleader. (Some resemblance to the HRM position in the UK.)

Just a few random thoughts, and my own $0.02.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: DataCable on July 24, 2012, 06:54:27 PM
I will say that there are a few churches which I'd love to see lose their tax-exempt status
I don't even think religious institutions  should merit tax-exempt status based solely on that self-description.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Echnaton on July 27, 2012, 07:22:25 PM
I will say that there are a few churches which I'd love to see lose their tax-exempt status
I don't even think religious institutions  should merit tax-exempt status based solely on that self-description.
The main help to religious institutions is the exemption form property taxes that would otherwise cause them to be unable to afford to keep their buildings.  There is something to be said for allowing non profit community organizations an exemption from having property taxed as if it were used for commercial purposes.    In Texas, a place of worship and contiguous property is exempt.  But if the church leases spaces in its parking lot, then it become subject to taxes.  The exemption is not just for churches but for a wider class of organizations such as cultural centers and museums.   It is a provision that allows cultural organizations to exist. 
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Not Myself on October 06, 2012, 11:35:41 PM
I've been having a bit more of a think about this, and I'm starting to veer towards the scenario presented in the article I linked, the Weimar Germany one. How's this for a nightmare:

Are you perchance the author of this one?

http://www.theglobaledition.com/canada-beefing-up-border-patrol-in-event-romney-wins-presidential-election/
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on October 08, 2012, 01:22:51 AM
I've been having a bit more of a think about this, and I'm starting to veer towards the scenario presented in the article I linked, the Weimar Germany one. How's this for a nightmare:

Are you perchance the author of this one?

http://www.theglobaledition.com/canada-beefing-up-border-patrol-in-event-romney-wins-presidential-election/
:-) No, but I wouldn't mind claiming credit...

Quote
Canadian citizens have reportedly complained that these illegal immigrants are “creating an organic-broccoli shortage and renting all the good Susan Sarandon movies”.
LOL!
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: JayUtah on October 08, 2012, 01:58:58 PM
It may be nostalgia, but I sense a polarization in United States politics too.

Over my lifetime I've voted in a fairly non-partisan fashion.  Not so lately.  I've become quite disaffected toward the Republican party, mostly for their brazenly partisan politics.  I think this polarization is not entirely in my head, as this latest Congress seems to have acquired the lowest approval rating in recent (and perhaps all) memory.  Thirty years ago there was still partisan politics.  But at least both sides made a better effort to couch their partisanship in ostensibly good governmental measure.  These days it's hard to see where the GOP is trying to do any good; it's all about thwarting the opponent's agenda, even if that agenda objectively makes sense.

Now from my time abroad in Europe, I take a measure of comfort in the predictability and "stability" of American government.  Coalition politics are an order of magnitude more confusing and unproductive, in my opinion, than anything I've seen in the United States.  I've never been to Australia, but I've been very close to Cuba.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on October 08, 2012, 02:58:05 PM
I mean, when one of your people in leadership states that your party's number-one goal is to prevent the opposition from winning again--and no one in leadership says, "No, that's crazy; our number-one goal is [thing that helps the people you serve]," that's a sign that you need to rethink things.  Or else your constituents need to vote you out.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Echnaton on October 08, 2012, 03:00:22 PM
But at least both sides made a better effort to couch their partisanship in ostensibly good governmental measure.

The GOP, my former party of preference, is so overrun by fundamentalism and statism to the point that it is hard to satirize them.  They discuss the principle of limited government for tactical political gain completely ignore it in action.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: DataCable on October 08, 2012, 05:34:02 PM
They discuss the principle of limited government for tactical political gain completely ignore it in action.
Some have noted that the GOP seems to want a government just small enough to fit in a woman's uterus.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on October 09, 2012, 11:09:46 AM
These days it's hard to see where the GOP is trying to do any good; it's all about thwarting the opponent's agenda, even if that agenda objectively makes sense.

Something similar is happening in Australian politics too, with the Liberal Party (conservative, right of centre) under Tony Abbott's leadership often opposing legislation purely to frustrate the governing Australian Labor Party. I'm not sure what their motive is, but I could pick one or more of (a) be able to go to the electorate at the next election and say the government didn't achieve much while in office, (b) psychologically wearing down the government in the hope they'll make a tactical error which will convince the cross-benchers to change their allegience and put the Liberals into power before the next election, or (c) punishing the ALP for outbidding them in the post-election negotiations which the ALP won.

Quote
Now from my time abroad in Europe, I take a measure of comfort in the predictability and "stability" of American government.  Coalition politics are an order of magnitude more confusing and unproductive, in my opinion, than anything I've seen in the United States.

Coalitions aren't necessarily of themselves worse than one-party governments. The need to compromise on party agendas can often mean the more extreme policies of some parties get moderated. On the other hand, Israel is an example where minority religious parties seem to wield power well out of proportion to their numbers in the Knesset. And Germany of the 1920s and post-WW2 Italy are two more examples of the paralysis which can occur when no one party can dominate the political scene.

For what it's worth, I read somewhere that the political system in a country (or whatever) determines almost universally what sort of politics that country experiences. Single member electorates lead to two-party politics, while some form of proportional representation or multi-member electorates lead to multiple parties and coalition governments.

Quote
I've never been to Australia, but I've been very close to Cuba.

You know you'd be most welcome any time you wanted to visit Australia!

But as far as politics goes, readers may remember the commentary I wrote on the old board about our federal election in 2010. It resulted in neither major party achieving a majority, and the balance of power being held by Independents. After a few weeks of negotiations the ALP was able to form a government.

The price has been high, as Prime Minister Gillard was almost immediately forced by the Greens to agree to a price on carbon, something which she had very clearly ruled out a couple of days before the election. The result was that the ALP's support in polls absolutely collapsed. The ALP has also often been its own worst enemy, with erratic performances by ministers (the Indonesian Abbatoirs affair), highly irregular behaviour by a Government politician while he was a union official, naive negotiating (expecting that the Opposition would want to reach an agreement with the Government about refugee processing when a lack of agreement only hurt the Government), and barefaced politicking (nominating an unpopular Opposition politician as Speaker purely to gain another vote in the House, only to have his sordid behaviour lead to his resignation as Speaker).

Nevertheless, the Government has gained ground in polls in recent months, probably with people wondering whether the Liberals would be any better in government, and suspecting that Tony Abbott would be a less successful PM than Julia Gillard. This is partly fuelled by increasingly unpopular policies being implemented by conservative state governments.

The ugly side of politics has also stepped up in recent months, with a constant stream of highly sexualised or personal abuse of the PM. One of the more egregious examples came when a radio shock jock associated with the Liberal Party claimed (supposedly in rough jest) that the PM's father had died of shame because of her lies. I haven't been that impressed with Gillard as a Prime Minister; she was an excellent minister, and is apparently a very pleasant and intelligent person, but she has often failed to manage the political scene, presenting no coherent vision of what her Government stands for to voters, having an inane public speaking style, and seemingly unable to provide decisive leadership to the party. But the abuse she's been subjected to goes way beyond mere criticism of her performance and displays an ugly misogynist streak which Tony Abbott as Opposition Leader has cautiously exploited.

So while next year's federal election may have originally seemed like a walk-up start for Abbott and the conservative side of politics, things may be getting closer. This in turn suggests the Liberal Party may actually need to develop and release a few policies of their own, which should be a good thing for voters.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on October 09, 2012, 02:06:07 PM
For what it's worth, I read somewhere that the political system in a country (or whatever) determines almost universally what sort of politics that country experiences. Single member electorates lead to two-party politics, while some form of proportional representation or multi-member electorates lead to multiple parties and coalition governments.

The US has a certain amount of proportional representation, though it's always been intended to be the least-powerful branch of the government.  The House of Representatives was part of the Great Compromise of the Constitutional Convention, and it was generally considered that gentlemen would be Senators.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Halcyon Dayz, FCD on October 09, 2012, 08:14:03 PM
Proportional representation means that if a party gets 13% of the votes, they get 13% of the seats.

In a FPTP system people who vote for the wrong party aren't represented at all.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Echnaton on October 09, 2012, 09:55:39 PM
Proportional representation means that if a party gets 13% of the votes, they get 13% of the seats.

In a FPTP system people who vote for the wrong party aren't represented at all.
I don't know how all states do elections, but in Texas we do not have a FPTP system.  The winner must have 50% + 1 of the votes.  If this does not occur in the general election, the top two candidates will face each other in a runoff.  The presidential election is the only one that has a plurality winner and winner take all for electoral votes. 

The more un-democratic property of our electoral systems is the gerrymandering of districts to provide seats for for each party that are essentially un-changeable.  That feature is one of the reasons we have such a partisan split in government, because candidates win safe seats by appealing to the most energized outliers of their parties in the primary elections allowing them to ignore the center and independent voter.   The way Congressional districts are drawn, there is almost never a runoff. The place I live has been in a Republican district for over fifty years, only changing the Representative when one retires.  But several surrounding neighborhoods have been moved into other districts because of the changes in the demographics.  It is really depressing for an independent.   
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on October 09, 2012, 10:03:53 PM
Proportional representation means that if a party gets 13% of the votes, they get 13% of the seats.

In a FPTP system people who vote for the wrong party aren't represented at all.

Ah.  Some of the books I've read have used incorrect terminology.  Thank you.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on October 09, 2012, 11:39:57 PM
The more un-democratic property of our electoral systems is the gerrymandering of districts to provide seats for for each party that are essentially un-changeable.  That feature is one of the reasons we have such a partisan split in government, because candidates win safe seats by appealing to the most energized outliers of their parties in the primary elections allowing them to ignore the center and independent voter.   The way Congressional districts are drawn, there is almost never a runoff. The place I live has been in a Republican district for over fifty years, only changing the Representative when one retires.  But several surrounding neighborhoods have been moved into other districts because of the changes in the demographics.  It is really depressing for an independent.

Fortunately here in Australia we have an independent public sector agency, the Australian Electoral Commission, which sets boundaries and runs federal elections. I'm pretty sure each state has an equivalent agency. People who are politically active aren't allowed to apply for jobs at the AEC. And they pretty much keep gerrymandering out of the federal game. It hasn't always been that way at the state level, with (usually but not always) conservative parties setting boundaries which worked to maximise the value of their votes.

Having said that, it's a fact of life that certain parts of any country are going to be strongly in favour of one party or another, simply because of it happens to be where a lot of factory workers or business people live. Of the two federal seats in Canberra, the seat of Canberra has been held by the Labor Party for something like 55 of the 63 years it's been in existence, while the seat of Fraser has been held by the Labor Party without interruption since it was created in 1974.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: smartcooky on October 10, 2012, 01:02:51 AM
Fortunately here in Australia we have an independent public sector agency, the Australian Electoral Commission, which sets boundaries and runs federal elections. I'm pretty sure each state has an equivalent agency. People who are politically active aren't allowed to apply for jobs at the AEC. And they pretty much keep gerrymandering out of the federal game. It hasn't always been that way at the state level, with (usually but not always) conservative parties setting boundaries which worked to maximise the value of their votes.

I heard a rumour once that Joh Bjelke Petersen was going to change his name by Deed Poll... to Gerry Mander Petersen

Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: ka9q on October 10, 2012, 11:27:48 PM
The US has a certain amount of proportional representation,
The US federal government has many elements of what we communications engineers call a nonlinear combining function. I'm thinking mainly of the Electoral College, where the winner of the popular vote usually wins the election, but in certain oddball cases the loser of the popular vote can get elected. This last happened in 2000.

The US House of Representatives could also be seen this way, even though representatives are apportioned according to population (unlike the Senate, which has 2 per state regardless of population). For starters, each state has at least one representative no matter how small its population, so this creates a slight bias towards small states that is such a prominent feature of the Senate.

And, as already been pointed out, gerrymandering is common. It takes advantage of these representative nonlinearities to concentrate the voters who support the party out of power into as few districts as possible, which they will hold overwhelmingly, while setting up small but comfortable majorities in as many districts as possible for the party in power. This can also result in the House often reaching results that would not be obtained if the issues were put to a straight national public vote.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Not Myself on October 11, 2012, 12:10:50 AM
For starters, each state has at least one representative no matter how small its population, so this creates a slight bias towards small states that is such a prominent feature of the Senate.

The effect is amplified in the electoral college - California has about 3.6 times as many people per electoral vote as Wyoming :)

Speaking of which, it looks like I'll be visiting the land of the left lane blockers in mid-November, when we should know whether "It's Russia 1917!" prevailed over "It's Germany 1933!"
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Echnaton on October 11, 2012, 09:09:00 AM
Could be worse. We could live in Belgium where politics is either democracy run amok or proof that anarchy is a viable form of government. 
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Halcyon Dayz, FCD on October 13, 2012, 10:48:09 AM
That's really a misconception.

The cabinet being demissionary doesn't mean there isn't a government.
It means they do not have a mandate to implement new policies.
Modern states have well developed bureaucracies, they don't need to be managed top-down on a a day-to-day basis anyway.
Not to mention all the other levels of government.
Title: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Echnaton on October 13, 2012, 11:44:00 AM
True. I was speaking in jest but failed to put in a smiley
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on October 22, 2012, 07:54:31 AM
I've been watching the Ken Burns series on Prohibition. In the last episode they covered the 1928 Presidential election. Boy, they had the gloves off then, too, with some of the Republican charges levelled at the Democratic candidate Al Smith way beyond what you'd consider acceptable in polite society. The fact the many of the pro-Prohibition Republicans were secretly flouting the laws they publicly supported makes it all the more astonishing.

That, plus (if I heard it right) Congress deliberately delaying reallocation of seats for a decade in order to minimise political representation in the fast-growing big cities which were strongly anti-Prohibition, suggest that there's a long pedigree for today's political shenanigans.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Echnaton on October 22, 2012, 11:46:50 AM
No doubt.  Politics today follows in a long tradition of bitter divisiveness and corruption.  The rural/urban split took a long time to resolve following the urbanization of the population.   One rationale for keeping rural ares strong was that the rural Congressional and legislative districts in many states, and particularity in Texas,  began to grow in geographic size so that it was difficult for one representative to actual visit and know his constituents.  In reality it was about funding, just like everything in government.  Once the transition to balanced urban representation was accomplished in Texas, the cities became the greater focus of the legislature in almost every way, favoring commerce over farming and ranching.  Particularly the big budget items like highways, which had been controlled by the rural block before.  My suspicion is that the anti-Prohibition cause was just one aspect of the long standing rural/urban split.     
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on October 22, 2012, 01:29:08 PM
Arguably, Rachel Jackson died (she was already in poor health) because of the things said about her and her husband in 1828.  Of course, I'd also argue that they were true, but she was pretending that they weren't for so long that I think she'd come to believe it.  Besides, society had changed so dramatically that what had been acceptable on the frontier was not to be acknowledged anymore as something a Lady had done.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Sellaman on January 24, 2013, 09:23:31 AM
I've said elsewhere that ragging Americans is almost a national sport in Australia.
Seriously.....where did you get that impression? Our PM does everything she can to support the USA because of our alliance.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on January 25, 2013, 12:45:11 AM
I've said elsewhere that ragging Americans is almost a national sport in Australia.
Seriously.....where did you get that impression? Our PM does everything she can to support the USA because of our alliance.
Yes, she and most previous PMs all the way back to Curtin have been proudly pro-American.

I get the impression from things my friends say, or what sporting crowds say, whether beating the USA in the America's Cup, or their 4 man pursuit cycling team on their super-bikes, or the cry of "Carter's a [email protected]" at a pre-Olympic basketball game in 2000.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Philthy on January 25, 2013, 01:11:58 AM
I have several Aussie friends, I've never noticed this. Ever.

Yes, I'm an American.

Phil
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: ChrLz on January 26, 2013, 07:39:40 AM
I have several Aussie friends, I've never noticed this. Ever.
Yes, I'm an American.
Phil
Yeah, well.. we're polite.  We wouldn't rag you to your face.. :D
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on January 26, 2013, 08:23:27 AM
I have several Aussie friends, I've never noticed this. Ever.
Yes, I'm an American.
Phil
Yeah, well.. we're polite.  We wouldn't rag you to your face.. :D
:-)

Then there's the Dumb American Tourist meme, of which my personal knowledge (through friends) includes:

1. The American tourist in Pompeii asking loudly why they built the city underground.

2. The American army officer who announced to his Australian colleague his intention to drive from Sydney to Brisbane and back as a day trip. When he pointed out it was "only a couple of inches on the map", he was then asked to check the map scale. (The distance is ~600 miles/1000km one way.)

3. The American tourist who asked what the weather was like driving from Australia to New Zealand. (He was told, "Damp".)

There's also this article which appeared around the time of the 2000 Olympics: http://www.oocities.org/subarustuff/touristguide.html (If you're Australian, Kiwi or British, it's probably NSFW.) Makes me chuckle every time I read it...

So yes, I think there are plenty of Australians who are happy to rag Americans.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Noldi400 on January 26, 2013, 11:49:59 AM
I've said elsewhere that ragging Americans is almost a national sport in Australia.
Seriously.....where did you get that impression? Our PM does everything she can to support the USA because of our alliance.

Well, official support and unofficial ragging aren't mutually exclusive.

Echnaton:
Quote
No doubt.  Politics today follows in a long tradition of bitter divisiveness and corruption. 

US elections have indeed had a history of strangeness. In the 1948 presidential contest the pundits and pollsters were so convinced that Thomas Dewey (R) would defeat the incumbent Harry Truman (D) that articles published the morning after election day (written the night before) included one in the Detroit Free Press urging that  Truman's Secretary of State resign and Dewey's choice be appointed in his place to "restore confidence... abroad and at home".  The Alsop brothers proposed in the New York Herald Tribune that Dewey's cabinet nominees immediately move in as "special assistants" to guide their predecessors through the transition process.

The UK media even got into the act; on election day, the Manchester Guardian published an article by Alistair Cooke entitled  "Harry S. Truman: A Study of a Failure".

(http://i627.photobucket.com/albums/tt353/jarvisn/Deweytruman12_zps1d5b76d7.jpg)
Harry Truman gleefully displays an incorrect headline. (AP)

Needless to say, there was a record number of red faces the next morning when the headlines got it wrong: Truman won by 303 - 189 electoral votes (24 M - 22M in the popular vote.

We are a strange peoples...
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: twik on January 28, 2013, 12:16:13 PM
I have several Aussie friends, I've never noticed this. Ever.
Yes, I'm an American.
Phil
Yeah, well.. we're polite.  We wouldn't rag you to your face.. :D
:-)

Then there's the Dumb American Tourist meme, of which my personal knowledge (through friends) includes:

1. The American tourist in Pompeii asking loudly why they built the city underground.

2. The American army officer who announced to his Australian colleague his intention to drive from Sydney to Brisbane and back as a day trip. When he pointed out it was "only a couple of inches on the map", he was then asked to check the map scale. (The distance is ~600 miles/1000km one way.)

3. The American tourist who asked what the weather was like driving from Australia to New Zealand. (He was told, "Damp".)

There's also this article which appeared around the time of the 2000 Olympics: http://www.oocities.org/subarustuff/touristguide.html (If you're Australian, Kiwi or British, it's probably NSFW.) Makes me chuckle every time I read it...

So yes, I think there are plenty of Australians who are happy to rag Americans.

It's not just Americans. Consider my widely travelled Canadian cousin, on hearing my mother say she would love to go to Greece to see the antiquities, replying "There are no antiquities in Greece. Everyone just goes for the beaches."
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Echnaton on January 28, 2013, 08:50:33 PM
The uncultured and stupid American is a stereotype for a reason.  It is partly that there are so many of us and many people never leave the country during their lives.  Unlike Europe where is is easy to travel or Australia where world travel is a passion.  In Houston now days, it seems that I meet as many people that are from another country as Americans that have been abroad.  My children's high school seems to be half filled with students whose parents moved here, judging by accents and teh students I have met.  And as a mater of experience, today's kids are far more culturally aware than my class of '78 at Robert E. Lee HS. So hopefully the uncouth American stereotype will slowly die out.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on January 28, 2013, 09:24:30 PM
It's also worth noting that I traveled over a thousand miles one way last summer and never left the US.  Americans may not know the differences between a lot of European countries, but how many Europeans know the difference between Arizona and Missouri?
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Halcyon Dayz, FCD on January 28, 2013, 09:31:34 PM
Arizona is desert and American Indians, Missourah is mostly farmland?

You'd be surprised, we get exposed to a lot of American media products, including old Westerns.
We've been cocacolonised.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Echnaton on January 28, 2013, 11:03:03 PM
We've been cocacolonised.

Improving the world, one mind at at time.   :o
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: ka9q on January 29, 2013, 04:38:41 AM
but how many Europeans know the difference between Arizona and Missouri?
Point taken. I have encountered a few people (mostly Europeans who've never been here, or have just arrived on their first visit) who seemed to have no idea how big the United States is. They think they can drive from New York to California and back in a couple of days and see everything along the way.

I even know a New Yorker (though he is actually a Greek immigrant) who didn't realize that San Francisco and San Diego aren't within commuting distance of each other just because they're in the same state.

Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Peter B on January 29, 2013, 06:00:14 AM
...In Houston now days, it seems that I meet as many people that are from another country as Americans that have been abroad. My children's high school seems to be half filled with students whose parents moved here, judging by accents and teh students I have met...
Funny you should mention that. I visited Houston in 2004 (wow, nine years ago!), and one morning the guy at the front desk of the motel I stayed at was from Sri Lanka, studying at university. We talked about cricket.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on January 29, 2013, 02:03:01 PM
I even know a New Yorker (though he is actually a Greek immigrant) who didn't realize that San Francisco and San Diego aren't within commuting distance of each other just because they're in the same state.

That's actually, from what I can tell, a fairly common one in the US.  We drove from Olympia to LA and back last summer, and my friends were stunned at how long California is north-south.  We left LA at around eleven or so in the morning, and we weren't in Oregon until well after midnight, driving pretty much nonstop.  Even getting all the way across LA takes a couple of hours, depending on how much of the "greater Los Angeles area" you count.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: twik on January 29, 2013, 02:40:07 PM
Funny you should mention that. I visited Houston in 2004 (wow, nine years ago!), and one morning the guy at the front desk of the motel I stayed at was from Sri Lanka, studying at university. We talked about cricket.

One of my memories of Houston is going to a nearby wildlife preserve. I met a local family who were crabbing there, and starting talking.

They seemed to find it very odd that I had come there, from Canada, to look at birds. I might have been from Alpha Centauri for how far they seemed to think I'd travelled.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: ka9q on January 29, 2013, 08:11:45 PM
my friends were stunned at how long California is north-south.
Yup, even though I'd already lived here for quite a few years, I didn't really have that brought home until we drove between San Diego and southern Oregon a few times.

So many people call San Francisco "northern" California that it's easy to forget it's still only halfway up the state.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Echnaton on January 29, 2013, 08:43:10 PM
Funny you should mention that. I visited Houston in 2004 (wow, nine years ago!), and one morning the guy at the front desk of the motel I stayed at was from Sri Lanka, studying at university. We talked about cricket.

One of my memories of Houston is going to a nearby wildlife preserve. I met a local family who were crabbing there, and starting talking.

They seemed to find it very odd that I had come there, from Canada, to look at birds. I might have been from Alpha Centauri for how far they seemed to think I'd travelled.
Maybe some people simply don't appreciate how much birders love doing what they do.  I've been told that Brazoria County, just south of Houston is the single best county in the U. S. for bird watching.  Birders that are looking for single day records flock to the place at certain times of year to see the abundant year round and migratory species.  I did my first bird watching trip last weekend to the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. 

And it is an area that where people tend to be less sophisticated, the main employment there is working in refining and petrochemicals. 
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on January 29, 2013, 09:09:37 PM
Yup, even though I'd already lived here for quite a few years, I didn't really have that brought home until we drove between San Diego and southern Oregon a few times.

So many people call San Francisco "northern" California that it's easy to forget it's still only halfway up the state.


I think it's a climate thing.  Or "there's not much important north of there"!  But yeah, we had lunch in Oakland on the way down and got to Mom's around midnight.  When the driver is asking if we're there yet, you know you've got problems.  Of course, I was the only one who knew the state at all.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Tedward on January 30, 2013, 03:25:01 AM
I knew the US was big but did not appreciate it until I went there last year, one four hour hop on an internal flight. Friends were asking why it took me a day to get most of the way to where I wanted to go (flight times were not helpful).


I tell  little white lie, I did drive from Vancouver to Calgary but that was a while ago and the memory fogs. Our last visit (see above, first proper visit), we are asked if it is our first visit. I reply I went there for a day trip once. I get an incredulous look.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: ka9q on January 30, 2013, 03:52:32 AM
They seemed to find it very odd that I had come there, from Canada, to look at birds.
Canada doesn't really count because it's, like, attached... right? (Goldie Hawn in Protocol).
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: twik on January 30, 2013, 09:22:04 AM
I remember about 30 years ago, there was a human-smuggling operation that landed some refugees on shore in Nova Scotia. Some of them found a taxi, and asked the driver to take them to Toronto, where they had family. They were rather taken aback at the estimated cost of several thousand dollars, as well as the two-day timeframe.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Echnaton on January 30, 2013, 09:51:53 AM
I have always found it amusing that Americans don't know that Canada is about the same size as the U.S. (A bit larger in total area, slightly smaller in land area) Somehow people think it should be much smaller. My guess is that people get confused in mentally reversing the flat map projections that make Canada look so much larger and overestimate the percentage of non-land space.  The facts of the V shape of the continent and that the northern US border is obviously our longest are clues to the relative sizes.   A cursory look at a globe will show the relatively equal sizes.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gillianren on January 30, 2013, 12:20:11 PM
More people should listen to the song "Canada Is Really Big."
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Echnaton on January 30, 2013, 12:29:45 PM
More people should listen to the song "Canada Is Really Big."

My first time hearing that.  The Arrogant Worms are certainly proud to be number two.

 
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Noldi400 on January 30, 2013, 08:58:49 PM
I have always found it amusing that Americans don't know that Canada is about the same size as the U.S. (A bit larger in total area, slightly smaller in land area) Somehow people think it should be much smaller. My guess is that people get confused in mentally reversing the flat map projections that make Canada look so much larger and overestimate the percentage of non-land space.  The facts of the V shape of the continent and that the northern US border is obviously our longest are clues to the relative sizes.   A cursory look at a globe will show the relatively equal sizes.

Huh. I was reading these posts and thinking that Canada was quite a bit larger than the US.  I guess it's all those Mercator maps.

I remember reading a comment made by a European just after the end of WWII about how you could tell Brits and Americans - even in civvies - before you ever spoke to them:

"An Englishman walks as if he owns the world.  An American walks as if he doesn't give a damn who owns it."
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Tanalia on January 30, 2013, 11:35:41 PM
They seemed to find it very odd that I had come there, from Canada, to look at birds.
Canada doesn't really count because it's, like, attached... right? (Goldie Hawn in Protocol).
Isn't Canada just a suburb of New York?  :D
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: Echnaton on January 31, 2013, 09:17:42 AM
"An Englishman walks as if he owns the world.  An American walks as if he doesn't give a damn who owns it."

That is a good quote.
Title: Re: The end of democracy in the USA?
Post by: gwiz on January 31, 2013, 09:54:01 AM
"An Englishman walks as if he owns the world.  An American walks as if he doesn't give a damn who owns it."
A version is still current in the UK explaining how you tell whether someone was educated at Oxford or Cambridge.