Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Pieces of Culture: Hamlet

Enjoy. While I haven't seen the whole film, this appears to be a fine adaptation of Shakespeare's play, using a 19th Century setting.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Downfall of a Politician

It appears that Kim Jong-Un of North Korea has decided to imitate Prince Hamlet of Denmark in removing his uncle, Jang Sung-taek. The significance of this event can hardly be exaggerated, for this is relevant not just to the internal politics of North Korea, but to the region and wider world. 

Jang had often served as the bridge between North Korea and its Chinese ally, often visiting the latter country which the current leader of North Korea has yet to do. This made him often advocate for the positions China wanted for North Korea such as reforming the highly centralized economy, much as the former country did in the last generation. Thus to a certain extent the blatant ouster of Jang, to the point that his arrest was carried in the middle of a meeting and photographed for all the world to see indicates Kim Jong-Un intends to continue his assertion of independence from China. This desire has already been displayed this year through the North's nuclear tests, which the Chinese opposed and which led them to respond by supporting UN Security Council sanctions. 

When Kim Jong-Un first came to power almost two years ago, there was some hope that he would be a reformist who would begin to open up the "hermit country" to the wider world. Yet this was not to be: North Korea instead has stepped up its bellicose rhetoric by constantly threatening to renew the war against the South which ceased some sixty years ago. The increasing fraying of relations with China threatens to further increase the isolation and block off what was hitherto a moderating influence.

Thus the arrest of Jang has served to but  add tension to the region of East Asia already fraught by territorial disputes between China and Japan over the Senkakus. The United States must navigate this new situation carefully, promoting what good it can by continuing efforts to denuclearize North Korea but also be prepared to meet any sudden action by the North with strength. We cannot but hope that the removal of Jang does not signify anything worse. 

Monday, 2 December 2013

A Further Explanation Part II-Reforming the Way We Vote

Last time on this blog I discussed why "something was rotten" in the current state of the Republic. One of the biggest problems noted there was the nature of how both the President and Congress was elected which often served to obscure the opinion of the citizenry then give voice to it. Thus, using examples from other countries, I will attempt to show how the way we elect our lawmakers should be changed. Now, a major criticism will be that this will be fundamental constitutional revision and go against the will of the Founding Fathers who were suspicious of a pure democracy. That is absolutely true, but the Founding Fathers were working in a context where the smaller states had to be appeased in order to sign on to the Constitution, so the nation would stay united which resulted in the Senate. Similarly, the Electoral College was based on the assumption that people's primary loyalty would be to their state and its Presidential candidates, leading to the election regularly being sent to the House of Representatives. However in reality this has occurred has only once. Finally the Founders' suspicions about democracy must be analyzed in the context of the times, considering most of them were wealthy merchants and landowners who feared a tyranny of the majority that would threaten their property. It is quite clear, with the expansion of suffrage (which many, if not most Founders favoured restricting to property owners) that such an ignorant mob has not arisen. In light of these changes, I would suggest the following changes to our way of elections.

First of all, the way we register voters and conduct elections should be changed to increase awareness and turnout, especially among demographics who have low turnout rates such as youths, minorities, and the poor. Many countries such as Germany and Israel, automatically register voters once they're eligible. Similarly, I believe all US citizens over the age of 18 and without a criminal record should be put on the voter rolls without having to sign up. This will not involve compulsory voting, however, as is the case in some countries such as Australia. I believe, in addition, that election laws should  so that the time when polling places are open, early voting opportunities, and voting by mail procedures are consistent nationally. Making Election Day a national holiday would also be a good idea by ensuing that many people who are pressed for time due to work and other commitments have the opportunity to vote. 

With regards to Presidential elections, the Electoral College needs to be abolished as soon as possible joining the powdered wig and the musket as an 18th Century invention. While the obvious replacement is to have the President be elected by the popular vote, a problem arises if we implement the system of making the candidate who receives the most votes the winner as that means a party that had split or had a significant third party leeching off ballots (as was the case with Ralph Nader in 2000) will often lose, even if among the top candidates that party is preferred. As a result, implementing a two-round election system (as France does in its presidential elections) would be a better idea. In such a system, if no candidate received 50% or higher of the vote, a run-off election would be scheduled some time later between the top two candidates to determine the final winner. Ideally this would encourage political diversity by allowing more candidates  With the President elected directly by the popular vote, candidates would have to visit and campaign in all corners of the country rather than just in a handful of swing states. While some may argue that this will lead to states that have few people being ignored due to candidates looking for the most amounts of voters, this is a nonissue as most small states are (with a few exceptions such as New Hampshire) already safely in the camp of one party such as Vermont which is overwhelmingly Democratic or Idaho which is strongly Republican. 

Avoiding the issue of reforming the distribution of powers in Congress for the moment, the structure of House of Representatives also demands change. As pointed out previously, the number of Representatives has not been increased for over a century (with a brief exception when Alaska and Hawaii were granted representatives), the number of people represented by a single Congressman has grown to an average of 710,767. To reform this system, the number of Congressional districts ought to be increased by a large amount-for example were it increased to 800, the number of people in an average district would go down to about 396,485, which still is far higher than most other countries. The 2012 elections for the US House showed another problem, as while Democratic candidates for the House received more votes, the Republicans still retained a safe majority. Part of this was caused by gerrymandering (which should be corrected by establishing a nonpartisan committee to redraw Congressional boundaries on a national level as is already the case in some states such as California) but it was also caused by the way Democratic and Republican voters are concentrated. To ameliorate this, a move towards a German system of a mixed-member proportional system which combines the current representatives elected in geographical districts along with representatives elected on a national level by party. The nationally-elected representatives should be distributed in a manner that will actually reflect the vote totals for Congressional candidates to correct for the geographically elected members. 

As stated previously, this series will continue with addressing other fundamental problems our country has along with proposing some solutions to them.