UNELECTED SENATORS: The US Senate, never a perfectly representative body, is in the process of becoming a good deal less representative. One new senator, Tim Scott, has been appointed by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. Another senator has been appointed by Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie to fill the vacancy created by the death of Dan Inouye. A third is expected to be appointed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to replace Secretary of State nominee John Kerry.
These senators will have the power to approve or reject cabinet and Supreme Court appointments, decide tax and budget policy, and send the country over a “fiscal cliff ”—or to war. Critical votes will be cast by people who never earned a single vote. Why?
Because of a deliberate misreading of the Constitution, whose Seventeenth Amendment sought to end the corrupt process of appointing senators, but included a loophole allowing governors the authority to make temporary appointments. Not only have dozens of people served in the Senate without having been elected, but appointed senators often serve for two full years. South Carolina’s Scott will not face the voters until 2014. This means that, to the end of the 113th Congress, a senator chosen by one governor will have the same power as a senator elected by 7,748,994 voters, like California Democrat Dianne Feinstein.
Former Senator Russ Feingold tried to address this problem, proposing an amendment to require special elections to fill Senate vacancies. “No one can represent the American people in the House of Representatives without the approval of the voters,” he said in 2009. “The same should be true for the Senate.” Feingold can’t complete the process he began. But his former colleagues should. JOHN NICHOLS
NEWTOWN, AFGHANISTAN: Twenty children are killed in Newtown, Connecticut, and there’s a huge outpouring in response: wall-to-wall media coverage, an avalanche of flowers, flags flown at half-staff nationwide.
Scores of children are killed in Afghanistan, and the response: almost nothing. Are Afghan children any less precious? Or is the difference that the killers were wearing American uniforms or piloting US aircraft?
In March 2012, there was the army sergeant who “methodically killed at least 16 civilians, 9 of them children, in a rural stretch of southern Afghanistan…. The man gathered 11 bodies, including those of 4 girls younger than 6, and set fire to them,” reported The New York Times.
In October 2012, three children were killed in Helmand Province. They “had been sent to gather dung, which farmers in the area…use for fuel,” when they were fired upon by coalition forces. That same month, the Times reported, a firefight between coalition troops and the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan “killed four children who were in the area grazing their sheep and goats.”