Last weeks topic was “What is wrong with Congress? Can it be fixed”. Our government specialist, David, gave an introduction to the topic and he sounded quite overwhelmed. This was most likely due to his exhaustive knowledge of the subject (David graduated from the John F. School of Government at Harvard) where as the rest of us had a more general limited knowledge of the workings of congress.
A theme that keeps popping up in our recent discussions is how we come up with our opinions regarding subjects of discussion. That is, is our knowledge formed from actual experience, empirical study or anecdotal communications? In most cases it is the latter which is often far from factual. With this in mind we asked if ,indeed, is there something wrong with Congress today as oppossed to the past 200 years and how did we come to this conclusion? Are our opinions formed from the fodder of late night comedians and general anecdotal knowledge or from actual experience. I believe popular opinion is that congressmen are lazy, greedy animals with equivocal ethics to say the least. This opinion for mass consumption may be due more to tradition than actual reality. To ridicule congress may be just a national pastime practised by citizens over the last 200 years.
Specific items pointed out to improve congress were to increase the representation numbers, to have real campaign funding reform and possibly extend the terms so congressmen are not constantly running for office. Other suggestions were to have instant run-off elections or to switch to a parliamentary system or to rid the sytem of gerrymandering.
In conclusion it was determined that most representatives are most likely honest hardworking people who are doing the best they can. More cynically it was determined that the system probably will not have any radical changes soon. With this said we proceeded to the second topic that night, should the Bush administration be sued for violating the law over the past two terms? Did the collapse of our moral and legal imperative damage our country here and abroad? I pointed out that in Rome, a dictator or counsul who made enemies of those proceeding them were usually subject to proscriptions, the confiscation of their assets and if not outright assasination, banishment from the empire. Of course any personal allies of the deposed counsul would suffer also.
Whereas these draconian meaures may not occur in our modern times, it can be concluded that any retribution would not be good for government in general. This does not give the executive branch a carte blance in breaking civil and criminal laws I hope but the process of impeachment should always be on the minds of our presidents.
Finally, we discussed the latest Ken Burns documentary on our National Parks System. I suggested that there seemed to be an effort in the documentary to over emphasize the class differences of Americans visiting our parks. It was pointed out that in other countries the upper classes owned many of the natural wonders of their respective countries. I felt that the class differences
mentioned in the documentary were in the end editorial comments which did not really belong in this fine series. For example, the reputation of the railroads as robber barons colored their efforts to build rail access to the parks. They were labeled as being exploitive when this is the only transportation means most Americans had at the time to visit the parks. There was no budget to advertise or maintain the parks at this time. The railroads, in seeking profits, built tracks to the parks and promoted them to Americans who may not even have known of the new parks existence.
Next weeks topic is “Understanding Hinduism”. I’ve got to get busy and find a Hindu to come and talk to us. Take care.