Thanks to Ed for leading last week’s discussion on the uncertain future of NATO and other U.S. alliances. Given Ed’s extensive knowledge it must have been a good one.
One of the more fun aspects of our group is that we switch topic areas rather dramatically from week to week. Next up after NATO will be the “right-to-die.” We did this topic in 2014. But, over one-half of CivCon’s regulars are new since then and California has since passed its own assisted suicide law. So, it seems useful to tackle this haunting but important public policy issue again.
According to Wiki, California is one of eight U.S. jurisdictions where some form of assisted suicide is legal. The others are Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Vermont, Hawaii, Montana, and Washington, D.C. Assisted suicide is just what it sounds like: Suicide with help from another person. If that person is a doctor, it is physician-assisted suicide (PAS). The individual that is to die must administer the instrument of their own death themselves. If anyone else directly commits the killing it would be euthanasia, which no U.S. state allows. Some countries have legalized assisted suicide, mainly in Europe. Some of them have less restrictive criteria than the U.S. laws, notably Belgium and the Netherlands.
There are lots of issues here, ranging from the moral and ethical to political to the practical (of PAS laws’ proper design). I will begin our meeting by describing U.S. and selected foreign PAS laws, emphasizing California’s. Then I will introduce some of the major issues and questions that crop us when this topic gets discussed in the press. Then we can talk about the right to die as it is, should be, or shouldn’t be. Maybe we can use these questions to guide us.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- U.S. laws: What do existing U.S. PAS laws permit and not permit?
— What moral or philosophical POV do they express?
— What procedural safeguards do they have to prevent misuse?
- Foreign laws: Same Qs.
- Impact: How has implementation gone?
— Who has used the laws and why?
— Problems, controversies, public satisfaction?
- Arguments: Pros and cons and of supporters and opponents? Do they address each other’s’ arguments or just make different ones?
- You: Do you support these laws? Why? How would you rebut what the other side says?
- Specific issues:
— How often is PAS already being done on the sly? Better or worse to bring it into the open?
— Safeguards/procedures: More/less onerous, better oversight?
— Expand beyond terminally ill; e.g., mentally ill or infants?
— Allowing/banning Americans from going overseas to do it?
— Religious objections by medical providers.
— Sanctity of life, sending the message suicide is OK.
— How can law satisfy everybody on such a polarizing social issues? Should govt stay out of this issue altogether?
- Is lousy end-of-life medical care a part of the problem? How could it be improved?
OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS –
- Wiki “assisted suicide” entry. Explains terminology and state and foreign laws.
- Pro: A poignant story. California’s law is working. Recommended.
- Against: 12 myths about how great assisted suicide laws are. Recommended.
- Issue – “Either everybody should have a right to assisted suicide, or no one should?”
- What do you think of organizations like this one? Recommended.
- Issue – Short summary of Belgium’s controversial law that include non-terminally ill. Long version here.
- An alternative that’s legal everywhere: Palliative sedation.
NEXT: America’s opioid crisis – Who’s to blame + what to do?
Reports of President Trump’s erratic behavior arrive so frequently now and are so alarming that their foreign policy implications often get overlooked in the press. Of particular concern is the70-year old, U.S.-built alliance system.
Obviously, our allies and friends have clearly been shaken by Trump’s election and his willingness to insult them and trash the very idea of positive-sum international politics. U.S. foreign policy is highly president-centered. Presidents have made significant course corrections in the past, such as Nixon’s détente, Reagan’s defense buildup, and Bush II’s preemptive war doctrine. Our allies know that Trump has a lot of room to maneuver and foreign confidence in America as a reliable ally and partner likely has taken a permanent hit.
Yet, even before Trump the U.S. alliance system was under challenge. NATO lost its core mission after the Soviet Union collapsed. China’s rise complicates our alliance system in Asia and Africa. Our relying on undemocratic governments as our main partners in the Middle East and Africa seemed more and more questionable. Globalization had created a more multipolar world that the international political order (designed mostly in the 1940s) needed to adapt to accommodate.
Perhaps most importantly, American public opinion may be changing. Many of us especially Trump’s supporters – that will still be here when he leaves the scene – have grown suspicious of our alliance system. They ask: What’s really in it for us? Why do we need NATO, 30,000 troops in South Korea, and permanent war in Afghanistan? Why do we need so many immigrants (the face of globalization most people see most clearly)?
Anyway, there are a lot of issues here. This week Edward, our resident former Foreign Service officer, will manage the meeting while DavidG is out of town. It should be very interesting.
Here are a smaller number of links than usual.
OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS –
- CivCon similar mtg 2017: Is U.S. global leadership slipping away?
2016 mtg: Is this the Asian century?
- Woodward book five revelations re Trump’s foreign policy.
- He hates the liberal international order and he wants out. Recommended.
- Trump’s trip to Europe was a watershed moment – no going back. Recommended.
- How our allies are responding to “America First.”
- OTOH: Trump has NOT ended U.S.-led world order – yet.
- Will we “lose Seoul?”
- CivCon similar mtg 2017: Is U.S. global leadership slipping away?
NEXT: Should people have a “right to die?”
Has maintaining the independence and integrity of the nation’s news media ever been more important than it is right now? [Update: Or more difficult? Your #1 read.]
If there is any precedent in U.S. history for the sustained attacks by President Trump and his many allies on the media as an “enemy of the people” producing “fake news” I am unaware of it. His devotees overwhelmingly agree. Roughly three-quarters of Trump’s supporters literally believe the mainstream media (MSM) invents stories about the President in order to destroy him and about the same percentage supports government retaliation and censorship.
It’s not like the MSM and the journalistic profession were on a sound footing with the rest of the public before Trump, anyway. As we have discussed many times, the entire industry is in trouble. Its audience is changing rapidly. It is widely distrusted by the American people generally. Social media monopolies are hoovering up almost all of the industry’s new ad revenue. Big companies like Sinclair Media and private equity firms are seizing control of local TV news and newspapers. Fox News’ model of a nakedly partisan Media outlet tightly integrated with one party is being widely imitated. See the list of old CivCon meetings, below, for more on some of these issues. CivCon has discussed news media bias, as well.
Yet, we have never exactly discussed what the reporting standards of modern journalism should be. What constitutes responsible journalism today? Has it changed? What standards can the MSM’ meet in today’s hyper-competitive and shrinking news media environment? Specifically, how should the MSM:
- Stand up for the truth?
- Deal with propaganda posing as hard news and bad-faith political actors?
- Uncover and counter fake news?
- Control its own biases (or at least be upfront about them)?
- Maintain its independence from both government and corporate masters?
- Rebuild its lost reputation with the public?
None of these problems are from the machinations of just one man – but all are being exacerbated by him and what he is teaching his supporters to believe about the press. The MSM is not free of responsibility for some of its own problems, IMO.
Below are some readings on how the press might go about dealing with this unprecedented situation. I will start the meeting off with a short introduction that frames the issues and the basic conundrum. Then, let’s hear from everyone – including I hope the several journalist we have in the group.
OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS –
FYI: CivCon mtgs on News Media –
- Bias in the news media, 2014. The readings were good.
- Future of the MSM, 2016.
- Fox News effect, 2016.
What is good journalism?
- The five principles of ethical journalism.
- Eight possible reasons why Americans distrust the MSM (Read the 8 but skip the rest of the long article). Recommended.
- Is MSM biased against conservatives? Yes (conservative POV). Or maybe No.
Our crisis –
- Trump’s latest accusations and threats against the press.
- How the press should deal with this president. Don’t let everything be all about him. Either.
- Focusing on “truth” is not enough: Real news media reforms are needed. Recommended.
- Huge problem: Journalistic conventions reward bad-faith. Recommended.
NEXT WEEK: Will NATO and other U.S.-led alliances fall apart?
There will be two pre-mtg posts this week to preview our Labor Day topic on the news media. This one just links to a study on and some list of where Americans get their news and political information.
- Where do we get our news from? See this summary of Pew Center research.
- Top 15 most popular news websites: The top five are
- Yahoo (175 million unique monthly visitors)
- Google (150 million)
- Huffington Post (110m).
- CNN (95m)
- NYT (70m)
- Top 15 political websites: Top 5 are
- Huffington Post (80 million)
- Breitbart (60m)
- Drudge Report (30m)
- Politico (25m)
- The Hill (20m)
- Top 15 social networking sites. These include #12 Meetup (42 million) and:
- Facebook (1.5 billion)
- YouTube (1.5 billion)
- Twitter (400m)
NEXT: What constitutes responsible journalism today; some POVs.
Sure, soaring economic inequality and our increasingly plutocratic politics have revived interest in class-based social analysis. But, the 20th century saw communism fail spectacularly as any kind of just or effective governing philosophy. Moreover, the 21st century is grounded in universal values that communist regimes were fundamentally hostile to, like democracy, constitutionally-limited government, and a mixed economy. A handful of countries still call themselves socialist in the Marxist sense (China, North Korea, Cuba, etc.). But no one thinks they mean it.
Marxism is more than just a failed governing philosophy, however. (You may not even agree it failed; we could debate that.) Marxist thought was also a very well-developed system for critiquing capitalism. Communist doctrine may be relevant today as a tool for analyzing what has gone wrong with global capitalism – and thus with democracy, even though Marx held that bourgeoisie democracy as a mere cover for capitalist greed and exploitation. Understanding the ideas behind what some call “cultural Marxism” may help us to understand some of the structural factors that let the few continue to exploit the many in society.
I propose we start the meeting by discussing what Marxism “stands for.” It might be helpful to identify four distinct historical stages of Marxist thought:
- Phase 1 (1848-1917): The purely theoretical and academic phase. Mainly Marx’s philosophy and critique of where capitalism seemed to be inevitably heading, plus his vague, Romantic ideas for how to prevent that future.
- Phase 2 (1918-1950s or so): The state-centered ascendant phase of Soviet and Chinese led communism. Revolutionary and totalitarian. A fusion of pre-modern absolutism with new “scientific” justifications.
- Phase 3 (1960s-1989): The post-colonial/anti-colonial phase. Marxist-Leninism fuses with third world nationalism and adapts to local conditions (including tribalism and local leaders’ lust for power). Per Lenin, severe critique of Western-led capitalism-based globalization.
- Phase 4: Post-modern Marxism (I made up that term). Marxism as an explainer of underlying power relationships in society that oppress marginalized groups.
The point is whether communism got anything “right” requires more than just pointing out its monstrous cruelty in power. That god has failed and likely won’t be back. Marxian ways of thinking about modern capitalism may provide insight into how we got into the economic mess we are in and how to get out of it.
On Monday I will briefly introduce the main tenets of Marxist political philosophy (I know a bit but not a lot). Then we can dive right in. Here are some readings I found interesting.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Very simple ABCs of communism.
- Marx’s core ideas remain relevant today. Recommended.
- He gives us a basic framework for understanding today’s global capitalism.
For more depth on this idea see here.
- Marx stays relevant only because we keep reinventing him to fit our needs. Long.
- What can liberals learn from Karl Marx? Recommended.
- Conservative POV:
- Karl Marx was wrong about so much that his continued popularity is baffling. Recommended.
- A more sympathetic POV. Long + dense.
NEXT WEEK: Are kids made or born?
Americans continue to bemoan our paralyzed and ineffective political system. Even when it’s 108 degrees outside. Yeech. As we have discussed, some of the problem may be inherent in the structures of our political system and the way we hold elections. One particularly intriguing idea is for the United States to adopt features of a parliamentary system of government.
To go full-on parliamentary is a bit of a pipe dream since it would entail amending the unamendable Constitution. Yet, there are ways the United States could change its electoral systems that would let us capture some of the benefits of parliamentary systems. There are many different variations of the parliamentary model around the world and other presidential systems, too. So, it is hard to directly compare a generic version of the two. Moreover, the U.S. political system has some unusual/unique features beyond anything change to parliamentary procedures could change, so we couldn’t necessarily just adopt some and expect similar results.
From what I understand, the basic arguments in favor of parliamentary government include:
- CHOICE: They tend to produce more than two viable political parties and thus offer voters more choices, and third parties can wield substantial influence sometimes.
- ELECTIONS: Campaigns are shorter and harder to buy with big money. Unpopular leaders and governments can be removed quickly via no confidence votes or snap elections.
- GOVERNANCE: Governments are more effective and accountable because the party that controls the legislature appoints the prime minister (no separation of powers), and voters can see clearly who to hold accountable.
- STABILITY: Parliamentary systems are less likely to produce authoritarian strong men, like in Venezuela or other (ahem) presidential systems.
On the other hand, some argue that parliamentary systems have their own problems. Voters do not directly elect the head of state. Coalitions can take months to form, be fragile, ad fall overnight in the middle of crises. Fringe political viewpoints get their own parties and (sometimes) outsized influence in coalition parties. There are fewer checks and balances and overreliance on permanent bureaucracies. And so forth.
It’s too hot to ask folks to binge read on political theory, IMO. So, here are just a few background articles that argue the advantages and disadvantages of the two systems. I will summarize the main arguments to open our meeting
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Very short pros and cons of presidential v. parliamentary systems. From Canada.
- For parliamentary systems as superior:
- Against parliamentary systems:
- The case against by a conservative.
- There are also “semi-presidential” and “competitive authoritarian” systems.
- How can which system we have solve our worst problem? No democratic political system can accommodate today’s Republican Party – and this is from 2012
NEXT WEEK: Was communism right about anything?