Samantha Miller's Magazine


Below I have compiled the majority of the information that can be found in my project, the political magazine. Unfortunately formatting problems have prohibited me from being able to transport the exact document to the site. I hope you enjoy what is left of it here!
Defining Democracy
The Differing Perspectives ...On the defining characteristic of our governmentIn a world of dramatically diverse perspectives and ideals, composing a definition for something as magnitudinous, dynamic, and controversial as democracy poses a monumental challenge. In the United States, American freedoms, liberties, and ideals are in constant flux, as are the opinions of our nation’s leaders and population. Therefore, our definition of “democracy” is also inherently subject to fluctuation. Within these pages of From the Inquisitive Files of Samantha Miller, I hope to challenge your opinions concerning the ideal of democracy, the realities of democracy, and the power of democracy by approaching this system of government from a holistic perspective, both historically and geographically. With the help of the words of some of most intelligent leaders in history, and in combination with some of my own opinions, I hope to broaden and deepen your understanding of the history, structure, function, and challenges of democracy.Quotes of the Day
“The enemy isn’t conservatism. The enemy isn’t liberalism. The enemy is bullshit.” -Lars-Erik Nelson, political columnist “Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.” -E.B. White “Democracy is only a dream: it should be put in the same category as Arcadia, Santa Claus, and Heaven.” -H. L. Mencken “The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.” -Hubert H. Humphery
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. -C.S. Lewis
“A universal peace, is to be feared, is the catalogue of events, which will never exist but in the imagination of visionary philosophers, or in the breasts of benevolent enthusiasts.” -James Madison,


Article oneDefining Democracy Government of the People
Democracy may be a word familiar to most, but it is a concept still misunderstood and misused in a time when totalitarian regimes and military dictatorships alike have attempted to claim popular support by pinning democratic labels upon themselves. Yet the power of the democratic idea has also evoked some of history's most profound and moving expressions of human will and intellect: from Pericles in ancient Athens to Vaclav Havel in the modern Czech Republic, from Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence in 1776 to Andrei Sakharov's last speeches in 1989. In the dictionary definition, democracy "is government by the people in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system." In the phrase of Abraham Lincoln, democracy is a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Freedom and democracy are often used interchangeably, but the two are not synonymous. Democracy is indeed a set of ideas and principles about freedom, but it also consists of a set of practices and procedures that have been molded through a long, often tortuous history. In short, democracy is the institutionalization of freedom. For this reason, it is possible to identify the time-tested fundamentals of constitutional government, human rights, and equality before the law that any society must possess to be properly called democratic. Democracies fall into two basic categories, direct and representative. In a direct democracy, all citizens, without the intermediary of elected or appointed officials, can participate in making public decisions. Such a system is clearly only practical with relatively small numbers of people--in a community organization or tribal council, for example, or the local unit of a labor union, where members can meet in a single room to discuss issues and arrive at decisions by consensus or majority vote. Ancient Athens, the world's first democracy, managed to practice direct democracy with an assembly that may have numbered as many as 5,000 to 6,000 persons--perhaps the maximum number that can physically gather in one place and practice direct democracy. Modern society, with its size and complexity, offers few opportunities for direct democracy. Even in the northeastern United States, where the New England town meeting is a hallowed tradition, most communities have grown too large for all the residents to gather in a single location and vote directly on issues that affect their lives. Today, the most common form of democracy, whether for a town of 50,000 or nations of 50 million, is representative democracy, in which citizens elect officials to make political decisions, formulate laws, and administer programs for the public good. In the name of the people, such officials can deliberate on complex public issues in a thoughtful and systematic manner that requires an investment of time and energy that is often impractical for the vast majority of private citizens. How such officials are elected can vary enormously. On the national level, for example, legislators can be chosen from districts that each elect a single representative. Alternatively, under a system of proportional representation, each political party is represented in the legislature according to its percentage of the total vote nationwide. Provincial and local elections can mirror these national models, or choose their representatives more informally through group consensus instead of elections. Whatever the method used, public officials in a representative democracy hold office in the name of the people and remain accountable to the people for their actions. Majority Rule and Minority Rights
All democracies are systems in which citizens freely make political decisions by majority rule. But rule by the majority is not necessarily democratic: No one, for example, would call a system fair or just that permitted 51 percent of the population to oppress the remaining 49 percent in the name of the majority. In a democratic society, majority rule must be coupled with guarantees of individual human rights that, in turn, serve to protect the rights of minorities--whether ethnic, religious, or political, or simply the losers in the debate over a piece of controversial legislation. The rights of minorities do not depend upon the goodwill of the majority and cannot be eliminated by majority vote. The rights of minorities are protected because democratic laws and institutions protect the rights of all citizens. Diane Ravitch, scholar, author, and a former assistant U.S. secretary of education, wrote in a paper for an educational seminar in Poland: "When a representative democracy operates in accordance with a constitution that limits the powers of the government and guarantees fundamental rights to all citizens, this form of government is a constitutional democracy. In such a society, the majority rules, and the rights of minorities are protected by law and through the institutionalization of law." These elements define the fundamental elements of all modern democracies, no matter how varied inhistory, culture, and economy. Despite their enormous differences as nations and societies, the essential elements of constitutional government--majority rule coupled with individual and minority rights, and the rule of law--can be found in Canada and Costa Rica, France and Botswana, Japan and India. Democratic Society
Democracy is more than a set of constitutional rules and procedures that determine how a government functions. In a democracy, government is only one element coexisting in a social fabric of many and varied institutions, political parties, organizations, and associations. This diversity is called pluralism, and it assumes that the many organized groups and institutions in a democratic society do not depend upon government for their existence, legitimacy, or authority. Thousands of private organizations operate in a democratic society, some local, some national. Many of them serve a mediating role between individuals and the complex social and governmental institutions of which they are a part, filling roles not given to the government and offering individuals opportunities to exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens of a democracy. These groups represent the interests of their members in a variety of ways--by supporting candidates for public office, debating issues, and trying to influence policy decisions. Through such groups, individuals have an avenue for meaningful participation both in government and in their own communities. The examples are many and varied: charitable organizations and churches, environmental and neighborhood groups, business associations and labor unions. In an authoritarian society, virtually all such organizations would be controlled, licensed, watched, or otherwise accountable to the government. In a democracy, the powers of the government are, by law, clearly defined and sharply limited. As a result, private organizations are free of government control; on the contrary, many of them lobby the government and seek to hold it accountable for its actions. Other groups, concerned with the arts, the practice of religious faith, scholarly research, or other interests, may choose to have little or no contact with the government at all. In this busy private realm of democratic society, citizens can explore the possibilities of freedom and the responsibilities of self-government--unpressured by the potentially heavy hand of the state. International Information Programs http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/whatsdem/whatdm2.htm

Article TwoPoll: PUblic opposes increased presidential power WASHINGTON – Americans strongly oppose giving the president more power at the expense of Congress or the courts, even to enhance national security or the economy, according to a new poll. The Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll of views on the Constitution found people wary of governmental authority after years of controversy over the Bush administration's expansion of executive power, and especially skeptical of increasing the president's powers. "There is clearly a concern about executive power and the balance of power that comes out in a couple of different ways," said Joseph Torsella, president of the Philadelphia-based organization. The nonpartisan center is dedicated to educating the public about the Constitution. Torsella said he believes the polls reflect long-standing skepticism of presidential power. "I think it's a basic chord in the American song and it gets louder and stronger depending on what's happening in the headlines," he said. The survey also found overwhelming opposition to the government's power to take private property for redevelopment and to amending the Constitution to allow foreign-born citizens to be president. Americans are divided over government recognition of gay marriage, but younger people are far more likely to support it. President Bush and Congress are at record low approval ratings in recent polls, with Congress even less popular than the president. But in the new poll, the public is more reluctant to expand the president's powers than those of Congress. Two-thirds of Americans oppose altering the balance of power among the three branches of government to strengthen the presidency, even when they thought that doing so would improve the economy or national security. People were more evenly split over giving Congress more power in the same circumstances. "The Constitution sets up three branches of government and to increase the power of one at the expense of the others endangers the fundamental structure," said poll participant James Crowder, 74, of Cockeysville, Md., a Baltimore suburb. "This current president and his vice president have distorted the office of president so much that it will take an enormous amount of time, if ever, for us to recover from that." Crowder is a Democrat and a retired Episcopal priest. In one area, the poll found Americans clearly on Congress' side. They said Congress should have the power to require senior presidential aides to testify before House and Senate committees — a topic currently wending its way through the courts. The administration is trying to prevent former White House counsel Harriet Miers from testifying about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys. The government's power to take private property for redevelopment had little support in the poll, not even when owners are paid a fair price and the project creates local jobs. Participants said they consider private property rights conferred by the Constitution as important as freedom of speech and religion. The Fifth Amendment allows the government to seize property for public use with just compensation. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that governments may seize people's homes and businesses — even against their will — for private economic development when there is a corresponding public purpose of bringing more jobs and tax revenue. In the new poll of people's views on the Constitution, 75 percent disagreed. Opposition to the government power known as eminent domain was as strong among liberals as conservatives. Cities, backed by some liberals, generally see the power to seize private property as an important tool for urban renewal projects crucial to revitalizing cities. Many conservatives — particularly in the West — have called the high court decision a dangerous interpretation of the Constitution that would lead to abuse of individual rights. Since the ruling, 39 states have enacted legislation or passed ballot measures restricting the government's power to take property, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The poll also found a split on whether governments should recognize gay marriage. But a majority said same-sex couples should be entitled to the same benefits as married, heterosexual couples. The answers to these questions revealed a sharp generational split. More than two-thirds of people under 35 favor recognition of gay marriage, compared with less than 40 percent of those 35 and older. Majorities also favor following the rule of law, even if that sometimes comes at the expense of short-term public safety considerations and protecting the rights of everyone in the face of majority opposition. The public broadly supports government aid to religious organizations for social service programs. But that support drops sharply when organizations also promote their religious beliefs while providing help to the homeless and other social services. The AP-National Constitution Center poll involved telephone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide. The survey was conducted Aug. 22-29 by Abt SRBI Inc. and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. - http://news.yahoo.com/story//ap/20080915/ap_on_go_ot/ap_national_constitution_center_poll
The Charters of American FreedomDECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE: The Declaration articulates the highest ideals of the Revolution, beliefs in liberty, equality, and the right to self-determination. Americans embraced a view of the world in which a person's position was determined, not by birth, rank, or title, but by talent, ability, and enterprise. It was a widely held view, circulated in newspapers, pamphlets, sermons, and schoolbooks; but it was Thomas Jefferson, the 33-year-old planter from Virginia, who put the immortal words to it. THE CONSTITUTION: The Federal Convention convened in the State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787, to revise the Articles of Confederation. Because the delegations from only two states were at first present, the members adjourned from day to day until a quorum of seven states was obtained on May 25. Through discussion and debate it became clear by mid-June that, rather than amend the existing Articles, the Convention would draft an entirely new frame of government. All through the summer, in closed sessions, the delegates debated, and redrafted the articles of the new Constitution. Among the chief points at issue were how much power to allow the central government, how many representatives in Congress to allow each state, and how these representatives should be elected--directly by the people or by the state legislators. The work of many minds, the Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise. THE BILL OF RIGHTS: During the debates on the adoption of the Constitution, its opponents repeatedly charged that the Constitution as drafted would open the way to tyranny by the central government. Fresh in their minds was the memory of the British violation of civil rights before and during the Revolution. They demanded a "bill of rights" that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens. Several state conventions in their formal ratification of the Constitution asked for such amendments; others ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the amendments would be offered. (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/)Article ThreeRecent reports from the group Human Rights Watch claim the U.S. and European democracies, in an attempt to be the foster parents for a free world, have a penchant for winking at the civil rights abuses of political regimes that appear to be moving toward democracy. The impulse is understandable. Just as people tend to overlook the faults of a prospective mate until after the marriage, sometimes countries don't want to send a chill through a budding flower. The result is one of unintended consequences. If democracies fail to hold the feet of despots to the fire, that hurts human rights initiatives everywhere. And in this era of strategy and counter- strategy, there is no way of telling which nations are sincere in their push for democratic ideals and which are engaging in a ploy. The list of countries accused of violating their democratic leanings is long: Kenya, Pakistan, Russia, Thailand and several others. All told, the Human Rights Watch report scolds more than 75 countries for violations. The problem is as age-old as institutions themselves. There is no oversight and little follow-through. A nation holds an election, declares the results fair and trumpets its embryonic democracy, but true democracies don't step in to see if it's a sham. The good news of renegade nations turning toward freedom and openness overshadows the doubts and blunts the criticisms. It shouldn't. Emerson may have claimed that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, but in international relations, it is often vital. Copyright C 2008 Deseret News Publishing Co.
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4188/is_20080204/ai_n21228349
Article Four
Outspoken Khalaf Ahmed Al Habtoor of the Lebanon's Daily Star is discussing Western democracy and America's efforts to impose USA style "democracy" to the Middle East:
The US is behaving as though it has the patent on "democracy." In the same way it exports Uncle Ben's Rice, Starbucks and F16s to the Middle East, it is eager to impose its own stars-and-stripes brand of "rule by the people for the people." The US wants us to believe that democracy comes in one-size-fits all like a "made in America" T-shirt. It has attempted to cloak this system of governance, which has its roots in Ancient Greece, with an almost religious aura. Those who challenge it are unfairly dubbed communists, fascists, despots or dictators.
It's time to break this contrived taboo. We must analyze America's motives in trying to remake this region in its own image. We must question whether Western-style democracy is right for us. And we must ask ourselves whether there is a better solution; a home-grown solution based on who we truly are and what we need.
Washington arrogantly tells us democracy is the only way forward for this region in spite of the fact that the Arab world has functioned without it for thousands of years, producing remarkable thinkers and accomplishments in the fields of literature, mathematics, philosophy and science.
This is not to imply that any of our governments are perfect - far from it - but neither are Western so-called democracies where citizens are often indoctrinated into believing they are free when many are not.
- http://democraticthinking.blogspot.com/2006/09/arab-worlds-rejection-of-americas.html
IN Conclusion Readers, I hope that the pages of this edition of From the Inquisitive Files of Samantha Miller have challenged your precepts and opinions concerning our American democratic system of government, broadening your perspective and allowing you to see democracy from a historical distance as well as a global one. Maybe your opinions have evolved, maybe not. Until next time...

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