AirTalk for August 29, 2011

Mercer 20644

Could initiative reform destroy direct democracy?

California Democrats are pushing several bills that would make the initiative process more difficult. Among them are proposals that would raise the filing fees for initiatives, require signature gatherers to wear badges showing whether or not they’re paid, and one that would list the largest donors to any initiative in the voter information guide. Democrats say these new rules will make the initiative process more transparent. According to them big-money interests have hijacked the process in recent years and passed laws that have put untenable restraints on lawmakers. According to state Senator Mark DeSaulnier, one of the major backers of the bills, legislators are hamstrung by initiatives that earmark state funds for expensive projects and programs while making it difficult to raise taxes. Detractors aren’t having it. They say the democrat’s reform bills are nothing more than an attempt to destroy direct democracy in the state. Both parties have benefited from the initiative process over the years, but initiative experts say the new proposals would have a greater impact on republicans. It’s unclear whether or not the bills can pass. Some of them may need republican support to do so and that’s unlikely. It’s also unclear whether or not Governor Jerry Brown will sign any of these bills into law. He’s long been a supporter of initiatives and recently vetoed a bill that would have outlawed paying signature gatherers. Is the initiative process out of control? Or just working for the wrong side according to the majority democrats in the legislature? Do any of these bills stand a chance? Will they reform the initiative process and make it more transparent or destroy it and dismantle the most direct route voters have to democracy?
Mercer 20649
Vice President Joe Biden has stirred up controversy again over something he said, which, his spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff asserts, he didn’t really mean to say. On August 21st Biden was in China giving a speech to Chinese leaders. In response to a question about that nation’s one-child policy, the V.P. said, “Your policy has been one which I fully understand—I'm not second-guessing.” He then added that the policy was economically unsustainable. On Tuesday, Mitt Romney’s camp issued a statement saying that “Biden should have condemned it in the strongest possible terms. There can be no defense of a government that engages in compulsory sterilization and forced abortions in the name of population control.” In response to the criticism, Biden’s office issued its own statement, “The Obama administration strongly opposes all aspects of China’s coercive birth limitation policies, including forced abortion and sterilization. The Vice President believes such practices are repugnant.” But this hasn’t stopped the GOP from blasting Biden for supporting China’s “gruesome and barbaric” one-child policy, which was adopted 30 years ago. China’s policy limits most couples to one child, with exceptions made for rural families and for couples whose first child is a girl. Many couples willingly follow the rule, but coercion is common. And couples who break the law face fines or joblessness. Whether Biden supports the policy or not, the kerfuffle begs many questions. Do lawmakers routinely say one thing in one country, and something else altogether upon returning home? Is that diplomacy or duplicity? If Biden does support or “understand” China’s policy, is it right or wrong for him to say so? And moral questions aside, is China’s policy economically unsustainable?
Mercer 20608
Doctors have long touted the importance of a healthy lifestyle when it comes to lowering your cholesterol. But in recent years, the use of statins – drugs such as Lipitor, Crestor and Zocor -- has increasingly become the remedy of choice for those with high levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL – the so-called “bad” cholesterol. And for their doctors - last year saw over 355 million prescriptions dispensed for statins and other lipid-regulating drugs. Now a new Canadian study, published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reports that a healthy diet may be just as effective as statins in reducing LDL levels. According to the study, subjects who followed a diet heavy in soy protein, nuts, grains and other plant sterols saw a 13 percent or more decline in cholesterol levels after six months. These results would appear to offer hope to those at high risk of heart disease. But doctors caution that diet isn’t a silver bullet cure. Many worry that the news might encourage patients to risk their health by abandoning cholesterol-controlling drugs. Statin or soy milk – what do you trust to unclog your arteries? Are you ready to toss your Lipitor and eat your legumes?
Mercer 20613

Shaping power outside Tahrir Square

When Egyptians revolted in the streets of Cairo, it was clear what they did not want: authoritarian rule, a security state, a weak economy, and, most of all, a desperate lack of democratic representation. Now, whether and what Egyptians' role will be in their own governance is a huge question mark. As journalist Alia Malek explains in the latest edition of The Nation, "the unity displayed in Tahrir when it came to unseating [President Hosni] Mubarak has given way to major disunity around the question of how to move the country forward." In the interim, the military leaders of SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) are the governing authority. While up to 50 political parties expect to be represented in the country's inaugural election in the fall, SCAF could wield more influence over the results than the ballot box. Even though it’s believed SCAF is sincere in its desire to hand over authority to parliament, some experts worry the military is not as willing to surrender to a political commander-in-chief. In the coming months, will the military support or thwart democracy in Egypt? Will SCAF have much of a choice if powerful political parties emerge? How quickly can Egyptians ready their parties and build a democracy? Which parties will be best prepared for an election? What role will Islam play in the constitution and government, and does it matter?
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