I remember an old adage that the right to vote does not constitute democracy; but the right to count the votes does. With last year’s national elections fresh in our minds and others in the not too distant past, can we categorically admit that we are a democratic society? In this article I comment on partisan politics and how they impact the election process, gun control and fracking.
The rules and procedures for holding elections vary from county to county in each state. The partisan views of one elected official of a state, the Attorney General, with or without the nod from the State Governor, usually provides the last word. In the last elections held in Nov. ’12, almost half the number of states of the union had managed to restrict the voting rights of citizens, by requiring new photo identification, pre-election day voting privileges to fewer days and hours, challenging the voting rights of voters by private citizens and even misleading voters to go to wrong voting centers.
The very long lines of voters in parts of the state of Florida was proof of carefully engineered delay tactics by county officials. Attempts to seek redress from the courts by public interest groups and individuals were numerous. Obviously, such petitions were not always successful.
The role of higher court judges in the election process cannot be denied. Remember the events in Florida in the year 2000? The Supreme Court basically appointed the next President by denying a recount petition.
By way of comparison, I understand that in Russia, a timely telephone call is made by higher ups prior to the judge’s rulings. Hence these pillars of justice are satirically called “Telephone Judges.” Maybe we should call our judges “Partisan Judges?”
The slaughtering of unsuspecting innocents by single individuals using high powered weapons such as semi-automatic assault rifles with high capacity magazines for rapid fire has unfortunately become frequent during the past few years. Such tragic events have occurred in college campuses, town hall meetings between elected representatives and their constituents, movie theatres, elementary schools in session and against first responders (fire fighters) trying to control an ongoing conflagration.
Gun enthusiasts find it easy to justify these incidents on the basis of the constitutional guarantee to militias to bear arms. Even a meaningful public discussion of the problem is dubbed unpatriotic by the powerful gun lobby.
Have we become prisoners of our constitution even after amending it 27times so far? It appears that after the most recent tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut in which 20 young children were massacred, a majority consensus has developed to legislate controls on the proliferation of automatic weapons, high capacity magazines for ammunition and background checks on the buyers. A sitting conservative federal district judge who sentenced the accused killer, Loughner, in the Tuscon rampage to 140 years in prison, has written a persuasive op-ed in the Los Angeles Times for legal controls now.
The time to do so is now, but only by default. It should have been done decades ago. We should remember that America has only five percent of the world’s population but we own fifty percent of the guns in the world (outside of the weapons in the military) in private hands.
Historically, the first state to impose a form of assault weapons ban was California under the leadership of a Republican governor, George Deukmajian, twenty four years ago. The weaker controls imposed by the Federal Government expired during the past decade and were not renewed. At this time of writing, there appears to be some momentum developing for legislative action.
Don’t Frack Me!
I recall a projection that in five to ten years, America will out-Saudi the Saudis in oil production. The modern technology of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) using high pressure water, chemicals and sand makes it possible to extract more oil and gas from what were considered dry wells. Natural gas output reached an all time high in 2012 due to shale gas production accounting for about half the total as a by product of the same process. The United States open market price for gas is only about 20% of that in western Europe. Oil production now, at a low of 5 million barrels per day in 2008, is projected to double by 2020 (U.S. Energy Information Administration). The petro-chemical industry will experience an invigorating growth consequently.
But, benefits come with risks too. Environmental pollution, especially that of chemicals leaking into water supply is a serious risk.
The pollution issue has been taken up by Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono (and other artists) who have created a music video to persuade New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to extend the ban on drilling and fracking in New York. The catchy refrain of the song is “Don’t frack my mother, coz I ain’t got no other,” with Ono popping in periodically to add “don’t frack me!” Lennon and Ono might have a personal investment in the fracking decision since their farm might be impacted if Governor Cuomo does decide to drill. The bottom line is that there are benefits to fracking, including more jobs and lower energy bills.
Disagreements are part and parcel of any governing process, but when party planks are shrouded in doublespeak, few citizens will take the trouble to search for the truth. The truth is invariably what gets told the most and loudest.
P. Mahadevan is a retired scientist with a Ph.D. in Atomic Physics from the University of London, England. His professional work includes basic and applied research and program management for the Dept. of Defense (India). He taught Physics at the Univ. of Kerala, at Thiruvananthapuram. He does very little now, very slowly.