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The Costs of Campaigning

While the presidential election of 2008 is nearly two years away, the field of aspiring candidates is already crowded. The early start of the campaign provides an unsettling reminder of how costly election campaigns have become. The first index of a candidate’s potential strength is the ability to raise massive sums of money, and the first year of campaigning will be largely an exercise in fundraising for all the candidates. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has raised the stakes in the electoral poker game by declaring that her strongest supporters will be expected to contribute at least $1 million each. Senator Clinton will not participate in the program for public campaign funding, established as an electoral reform after the Watergate scandals, since she does not want to accept the limitations on contributions and expenditures that are the conditions for participation. Senator John McCain, a leading candidate for the Republican nomination who has been a champion of campaign finance reform, is expected to follow suit.

But the more expensive the electoral campaign, the less enlightening it is likely to be. The high cost of campaigning is driven by the cost of television advertising. Political consultants advise their candidates to bombard the voting public with waves of brief commercials, many of them negative attacks on opposing candidates. They are much less interested in the opportunities an electoral campaign could provide for a debate on critical national issues. There is also a hidden cost in the time and energy that candidates, who occupy responsible offices in state or federal government, must devote not to the discharge of their duties but to fundraising nearly two years before the election.

Can the nation really afford the current costs of campaigning?

Evicted by the Church?

The Catholic Church in Angola has allegedly been involved in the government’s eviction of thousands of families in an area near the capital of Luanda. A new report by Amnesty International, Lives in Ruins, claims the evictions were accompanied by the use of force, including police beatings of children and women. The deputy director of Amnesty’s Africa program, Tawanda Hondora, has said that disturbingly, many forced evictions in the last two years have been carried out at the request of the Catholic Church. The government returned the church’s land in 1998, prior to the nation’s independence, partly in response to a request by Pope John Paul II during his 1992 visit.

According to the Amnesty report, the Angolan authorities, when granting the church title to the land, failed to consider people already living on the property. The church plans to build a sanctuary on part of it. When asked about the evictions, the archbishop of Luanda told Amnesty that the church, while asserting its right to the land, had requested the government to provide land elsewhere for affected families. Whatever its legal right to the land in question, the church should take care not to tarnish its image by involvement in the eviction of poor people. It ought to press the government to provide them compensation, a step the government itself has acknowledged to be their right. However, the report notes that so far, none of the affected residents of Kitamba Kiaxi has received compensation. Justice has yet to be done.

Sea Monsters!

What do you get when you mix a shark with an eel? If this were a children’s joke, the answer might be trouble. But recently a fisherman off the coast of Tokyo discovered the true answer is Chlamydoselachus anguineus, otherwise known as the frilled shark. Considered a living fossil because of its close biological similarities to fossil sharks over 80 million years old, the frilled shark has the long, thick, snake-like body of an eel, and can grow to six-and-a-half feet. But it has six sets of party-jewelry-like protruding gill slits around its neck, oceanic bling, if you will, which indicate to biologists that it is not in fact an eel, nor a member of the British royal family, but a strange kind of shark. Practically speaking, of course, the distinction is moot; given its enormous jaws, a mouth filled with pitchfork shaped teeth and its diet of large sea creaturessharks, rays and squid are special favoritesencountering a frilled shark would likely not yield a positive experience. Luckily, these creatures swim around 2,000 feet underwater and almost never come to the surface.

It has been oft noted that God must have a sense of humorconsider the walrus. Or the attention span of adolescent males. Or the word Yahtzee. Perhaps the frilled shark, a real-life sea serpent, recalls as well the broad and mysterious, terrifying (and bizarre) extent of God’s creative power.

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