America: Republic, Democracy, or Empire? Part I

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By Mike Cronin

At the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Ben Franklin was asked what kind of government had been created. He replied “A republic, if you can keep it.”   Yet today, you almost never hear people call the U.S. a republic. It’s often called a democracy.  It is also sometimes spoken of as an empire, usually in a derogatory way.  So what are we supposed to have, and what do we actually have?

Let’s start with “republic.” The word republic, derived from the Latin res publica, or “public thing,” refers to a form of government where the citizens conduct their affairs for their own benefit rather than for the benefit of a ruler. It’s the form of government we are supposed to have, it’s the form of government our Constitution establishes, and that our presidents, military, and other public servants swear oaths to support and defend.   That’s what our founders gave us.

So, do we Americans conduct our affairs for our own benefit, or for the benefit of a ruling power?  How long do you have to work each year to pay your tax bill? How much paperwork do you have to fill out to file your taxes? Is the NSA spying on you? Can you sell your product without some kind of mandatory labeling to warn idiots not to do something stupid with it? If you decide to home school your kids, or send them to private school, do you still have to pay for your neighbors’ kids’ public schooling? If the local government thinks your house and yard would be put to better use as a shopping mall, will you be able to keep your own property?  Can you conduct any financial affairs without government scrutiny? Can you travel anywhere you like via any mode of transportation you want without having your papers checked and/or your property or your person searched? Are your particular vices allowed or prohibited?  Can you marry whichever mutually consenting adult(s) you’d like? Can a male over 18 NOT register for the draft without consequences?  If you decide to hire candidate X instead of candidate Y, are you going to get into hot water for not supporting affirmative action or diversity goals?  Once that has been settled, can you pay the candidate what the work is worth, or do you have pay them what the government says you must?  Are you obligated to provide a benefit package to boot? Do you have to take a drug test in order to work, so that the government can give some of your money to people who don’t work and couldn’t pass a drug test? Can you keep your insurance plan and /or your doctor this year? Are you in compliance with all of the millions of pages of other laws and regulations our government has levied on us over the last 237 years?

I think we can say, that based on the definition above, we are no longer fully functioning as a republic. To be sure, and for now, we still have many freedoms, including the freedom to write a blog like this one, and many other trappings of a republic, including the ability to vote. But are we truly able to conduct our own affairs for our own benefit?

Is Your Understanding of the World Distorted by the Maps We Use?

By Mike Cronin

Here are two ways maps can mislead:

1.            Physical Distortion. Since the earth is a sphere, every flat map we look at distorts the physical geography of the planet. The most common flat map is the Mercator projection.  In order to depict the spherical surface of the earth on a flat map, the Mercator projection distorts our perspective in two ways. First, the northern and southern latitudes are stretched way out of proportion.  Consider: Greenland is not really the same size as Africa, and Antarctica is not as big as all the rest of the world!  The second distortion is more subtle: the image of the earth is centered on Western Europe. It could just as easily be centered on the Pacific Ocean, or the Middle East, or North America.  This orientation may subliminally reinforce Europe-centered thinking.

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2.            Political Distortion. A country and a nation are not the same thing. While most countries have nations, and most nations have countries, there are exceptions that are the source of much conflict in world affairs.  Consider Central Asia and Middle East. When we look at a map and see the country Afghanistan, we are looking a region bounded by lines drawn about 100 years ago. Those boundaries don’t really correspond to the ground truth.  There are many ethnic/tribal groups in Central Asia. Some of those groups’ territories cross several country borders, such as the Pashtuns, Uzbeks, and Tajiks.  Although there is a semi-functional central Afghan government, it would not be much of a distortion to say that the nation of Afghanistan is not nearly so recognizable as the country of the same name. 

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Conversely, Kurdistan is a nation without a country. Spread over portions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, the Kurds have a central government, but no defined territory to call their own:

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Will You Vote for a Beekeeper?

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Image from https://www.facebook.com/Capitalists

By Mike Cronin

The realm of politics is huge, and it can be confusing. Pundits are always talking about liberals & conservatives, Democrats & Republicans, ideologues & demagogues, and many other terms.  How can we make sense of it? In basic social studies or political science classes, teachers may introduce and discuss a model called the political spectrum. If you “google” images for “political spectrum,” dozens, if not hundreds, of different models will be displayed.  The most basic (and most commonly employed) model places Fascist totalitarianism (like Germany under Hitler) on the extreme right side of the scale, and Socialism or Communism (like the former Soviet Union or modern North Korea) on the extreme left side.  A government, a country, or a person’s political position can be gauged on this spectrum.

The problem with this model is that while the ideologies of Fascism and Communism may differ on the surface, in practice they result in the same conditions for the vast majority of people who live under them: tyranny, fear, and poverty. There may be distinctions between the two on paper, but in reality both ideologies are collectivist; that is, they believe that the state, or the party, or the race, or the group, i.e. the collective, is more important than the individual, and that the individual exists to serve the larger group. In other words, both of these forms of politics, communism and fascism, treat humans like bees or ants, i.e. as drones (or slaves). No individual is important, only the party, or country (or hive/colony, i.e. collective), matters.

The achievement of the founding fathers was in creating a nation founded on the concept that the individual has rights that are inherent, that is, they are not granted by the state, and that the purpose of the state is to protect those individual rights.

So, with mid-term elections coming this November, consider this: Whether a politician identifies as a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican, does not matter as much as this: What does his or her character and voting record reveal about their understanding of individual rights?  Will you elect a defender of your rights, or a beekeeper?