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Beyond Naturalism: On Ronald Dworkin

I read with interest the discussion about Ronald Dworkin’s ideas about values and rights. A few days ago CNN had a story about a Danish zoo that had put to death one of its healthy giraffes. As I understood it, the zoo runs a breeding program in which this particular giraffe did not fit in. So for the good of the over-all program, the animal was euthanized. Various values were discussed, including the value that animals should be treated well while they are alive and living at the zoo; so they were reluctant to transfer the animal to some other zoos. Still, the giraffe did not in their view have an inherent right to life that would trump their breeding program. I found it interesting that the anchor, Anderson Cooper, was not not so sure the giraffe didn’t have that right. Presumably we humans feel we have such an inherent right, but on what is it grounded? There does seem to be reference to a transcendent value, at least for now.

Jim McDonald

Cranston, RI

Feb 13 2014 - 6:25pm

Distorting Russia

S.F. Cohen’s lonely and unsupported article ensures my rejection of subscribing to your magazine, and I would appreciate not receiving any further e-mail communications or solicitations. I do subscribe to The Economist and Bloomberg Businessweek, as well as Newsweek online.

Roger Allison

(somewhere in the United States)

Feb 13 2014 - 5:09pm

Why Bankrolling Israel Prevents Peace in the Middle East

As long as US aid to Israel continues the Israel lobby in Congress will be able to influence Congress and thereby continue oppression of the Palestinian people, which is not likely to end. The overwhelming majority of American citizens are not fully aware of why Israel has such a stranglehold on the high and mighty USA. The aid (American taxpayers’ money) received by Israel would be handled by the Procurement Department in the Israeli Embassy, which is likely to award commercial and military contracts to American companies that are expected to donate funds to candidates standing for election in both houses of Congress. This is one of the major reasons Israel is able to call the shots and determine who should be elected in Congress. Wake up, Americans, and stop supporting those senators and representatives who continue to support Israel.

Solly Jacquesson


Feb 12 2014 - 9:46am

Rand Paul Gets the Math Wrong on the Minimum Wage

At one time the phrase “the bottom line” was in vogue. Although a phrase of the past, it is still the principle governing corporate America.

The bottom line as to the minimum wage is this: the glut of low-wage workers has enabled employers to keep wages low. Workers have lost virtually all bargaining power. The current minimum wage is not only far below what it should be for inflation and productivity adjustments, it is far below a living wage. The bottom line: economic fairness dictates that the wage be increased appropriately and indexed for automatice increses in the future.

The arguments against the increase are rhetorical; even if there is some truth, fairness trumps all and the only bargaining power low-wage workers have is government intervention. However, one argument that cannot be dismissed out of hand is that corporate America (shortsighted, greedy and, yes, stupid) will focus on the bottom line and thus hours will be reduced. The increase in the minimum wage is a step towards economic fairness, but passage will mark the begining, not the end, of the struggle to have an economy that lifts all ships with the rising tide. No doubt President Obama would trumpet an increase in the minimum wage as a victory. There is no indication that he could or would after winning this battle, go on to win a war against the corporate and individual greed that is the hallmark of American society.

Asher Fried

Croton-on-Hudson, NY

Feb 11 2014 - 11:22am

Why Now Is the Time to Reform How We Elect the President

It’s a rainbow with only red and blue (and purple). It’s a black and white (and gray) television picture. It’s multiculturalism with just two cultures represented. It’s an ice cream shop with only vanilla and strawberry (I like them both, but where’s the… chocolate, for God’s sakes!). It’s a highway full of two-toned automobiles. It’s either Bush or Clinton.

This project should have begun twenty, thirty years ago, but here we are. Make the best of it, please. El Salvador is going to the second round of its presidential elections because the leading candidate received only 49 percent of the total vote, and 50 percent is required!

Pete Healey

New Paltz, NY

Feb 11 2014 - 8:23am

Why Now Is the Time to Reform How We Elect the President

One approach within the current constitution would be to vastly expand Congress. You can read about one such idea here  or in the book discussed there. Even if that did serve to reinvigorate democracy to some extent, it would have to go hand in hand with some cultural shift to return to the rule of law and a turn away from the cult of the presidency: fewer executive orders, a more literal reading of the constitution (accompanied by the courage to amend it) with a more assertive Congress (especially on oversight of security and defense issues, etc.).

Mark Hatlie

Feb 8 2014 - 6:58am

Why Now Is the Time to Reform How We Elect the President

Voter fraud it appears more commonly occurs as a result of rigging the rules by election authorities or rule makers than from individual acts by voters. One example of this is the practice of gerrymandering.

The Problem. The American Constitution neither provides for nor prohibits gerrymandering, the practice of creating congressional districts by artfully tailoring the boundaries of a district for partisan advantage. Gerrymandering amounts to rigging the outcome of the election. State legislatures draw the boundaries for the federal congressional districts from which the United States House of Representatives is selected. In doing this the majority party in both houses of a state legislature makes sure the newly drawn district includes more voters favorable to their party than to their opponents in drawing the electoral district lines.

The Solution. There may be a solution to this problem that can be achieved legislatively and without the need for a constitutional amendment. The Constitution does not require single-member congressional districts. The only constitutional requirement for congressional representation, quoting the Constitution, Article I, section 2, is that representatives “shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their [the states'] respective Numbers”—in other words, according to the population. The language is specific as to whom is counted. It says that this number “shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of years [indentured servants], and excluding Indians not taxed, [and] three fifths of all other Persons.” The three-fifths reference is to those persons then held as slaves. The census presumably gives the total of all persons. For the sake of counting persons, “free persons” refers to residents and not citizens. Still, today only citizens can vote.

Accordingly, the idea is simply to eliminate congressional district boundaries within the states as the final boundaries for representation in the House of Representatives by federal legislation and have the popular vote represented proportionally in congress on a state-wide basis. Such a solution would not be proportional representation, strictly speaking, but it would be in some sense more proportional. For example, if a state is entitled to eighteen members of Congress, let each party have a representation in exact proportion to the popular vote for that office in the state. If the popular vote for congress is 60 percent Republican and 40 percent Democratic, then congressional representation of the eighteen members from that state would reflect that vote. In the example given, this would mean the Republicans would receive eleven congressman and the Democrats would receive seven. If the results of the popular vote were reversed in the example the Democrats would get the eleven and the Republicans would get seven. Each party could submit a slate of eighteen candidates for Congress (the number used in the example), perhaps following district primaries, and the top statewide individual vote-winners would be seated before those receiving fewer votes, with the winning party's total representation not to exceed nor be less than their share of the popular vote state wide, as nearly as is numerically possible.

Also, for the presidency, eliminate the electoral college.

Richard W. Crockett

Monmouth, IL

Feb 7 2014 - 2:34pm

Why Now Is the Time to Reform How We Elect the President

Political scientists and historians agree that our election system is insoluble short of a complete revamping of our form of government, i.e., by initiating a constitutional convention and establishing a parliamentary form of government. Such would eliminate our broken and non-representative bipartite system, with its corruptible Electoral College, and, probably, result in some sort of coup. The latter probability is high, as our current form has incurred a madhouse of divisiveness that is as unlikely to establish a healthy, representative system as are Iraq or Afghanistan. Accepting that, one can only project a takeover by either the extreme right, as powered by the wealthy and driven to rule at any cost, the military, given their extant position of military governance of the world, or some combination of these. With their increasing belligerence, our Chinese creditors may even elect to foreclose.

Charles Riley

Tucson, AZ

Feb 6 2014 - 6:35pm

Taking Up the Legacy of Anita Hill

An occasional reader of The Nation, I noted Jessica Valenti’s recent commentary about rape, in which she wrote, “We live in a country where politicians call rape a ‘gift from God’ ”.

She linked “gift from God” to its source, a CBS interview with Ohio GOP Senate candidate Robert Murdock headlined “GOP Senate Candidate: Pregnancy from rape a gift from God.” According to the video, Murdoch, said: “I believe life begins at conception. The only exception I have for to have an abortion is in the case of the life of the mother. I struggled with myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape. It is something that God intended to happen.”

Miss Valenti said that Murdoch called rape a “gift from God”. Murdoch said he saw life, meaning the baby, as a gift from God. True, Murdoch holds a traditional religious belief that life begins at conception. Also true, some may misconstrue, perhaps even on purpose, Murdoch’s phrasing of “something that God intended to happen”, which clearly relates to conception, not rape. From the actual text, however, it seems that Valenti attributed to Murdoch something he did not say.

Will The Nation issue a clarification of this? To let stand the falsehood that “we live in a country where politicians call rape ‘a gift from God’ ” would invite suggestions that Valenti lied and that The Nation either misedited or acquiesced. With her false assertion Valenti slandered politicians in general, “GOP” politicians in particular and especially Murdock, to whose quote she linked her assertion.

Most politicians, even GOP politicians are fathers, many of whom have daughters. Many GOP politicians are also women who are also mothers of daughters. No politicians believe that rape is a gift from God. For Valenti to say so in a journal as fine as The Nation is outrageous. A conceived child, as an innocent third party who had nothing to do with whatever transpired before the conception, still constitutes a human life. Without diminishing the heinous act of rape in any way, most thinking people are are able to differentiate a rape of a woman from the conception of a child—and to agree that a human life sparked by a conception is indeed a gift from God.

Tom Pyle

Princeton, NJ

Feb 6 2014 - 10:33am

What’s Wrong With Choosing to Be Gay?

Comparing external affiliations (being a Seventh Day Adventist, for example) with internal, innate personal qualities doesn’t buttress the argument about “choice” with regard to sexuality.

Children try out handedness until they somehow figure out which hand works best. This is a far cry from my having attended a somewhat conservative church in the past and my current state of being religiously liberal and seriously unchurched.

Sexuality is more complex and fluid than we know or admit, and we are only now beginning to realize that while for many people, there are firm (but not rigid) preferences, for many other people, there are not. Sexual expression/preference can change for some people, and how they or describe themselves in no way extrapolates to “gay is a choice.”

Karen Isaacson

Pacific Northwest

Feb 4 2014 - 9:48pm