Current Comment

The Limits of Color-Coding

During the last two U.S. presidential elections, the media devised a catchy system for depicting the partisan divide among the 50 states. Where a majority of the votes cast were Republican, the state was called red; where Democrat, blue. Maps of the nation required just a glance to show where each party prevailed. The red and blue categories proved helpful in discussions of the electoral college, which decided the 2000 election for George W. Bush, although Al Gore won the popular vote. The red and blue labels worked because in most instances the winner of the popular election takes all (not a proportionate number) of each states electoral votes.


But the color-coding has limited usefulness. Complex-ity gets lost. In some states, voters choose a president from one party and national legislators from another; are these states red or blue? Two colors cannot account for other factorslike gender, marital state, education and income, race and ethnicity, and urban, suburban or rural residencethat must be considered when seriously discussing voting patterns. And the two colors apply only to those who vote, leaving out the more than 40 percent of eligible voters who did not vote. Finally, the red and blue labels cannot adequately describe ideology, despite repeated assertions that blue states are liberal, red states conservative.

Note the possibility that in post-primary 2008, Rudolph Giuliani could be running for president against Hillary Clinton. One bright blue state would have produced both the candidate representing the red states and the candidate representing the blue states. Even the color blind could see the need for nuance in the red/blue scheme then.

Of course, some might prefer a return to the gray days of yore when people couldnt tell any difference between the major parties. Who would claim that now?

Investing in the Future

The collapse during rush hour of a 40-year-old bridge linking Minneapolis and St. Paul, the explosion of a steam pipe next to New York Citys Grand Central Terminal and the flooding of that citys subway system a week later raised national concern over the condition of the nations infrastructure. How safe are the nations aging bridges and highways? How reliable are underground systems of transportation and engineering?

Since bridges and tunnels do not have a noisy constituency promoting their interests in political campaigns, elected officials may feel no pressure to respond to the long-range needs of an aging infrastructure. At a time when much public attention is focused on terrorist threats from abroad, national and local leaders need to recognize the dangers from within.

The Highway Trust Fund receives from each penny increase in the federal tax imposed on gasoline about a billion dollars a year, which it provides to local governments for the repair and replacement of local infrastructure. President Bush has resisted Congressional pressure to increase the tax on gasoline so that more funds can be available for investment in the future of the nations highways and bridges. The cost of gasoline in the United States is held hostage, of course, to the unilateral decisions of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries on the cost of a barrel of oil. The president would be better advised to resist the monopoly of OPEC by challenging its violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act, as Congress has proposed. Increasing taxes on gasoline would provide the necessary funds for a greater investment in the nations future.

The Truth Will Out

It has now been established legally by a court of inquest in Kenya that the death of John Kaiser, then 67, on the night of Aug. 24, 2000, on a road outside Nairobi was a murder. The Minnesota native was a member of the Mill Hill Missionaries who had worked in Kenya for 36 years. He was an outspoken defender of human rights, even personally sheltering those caught up in violent tribal conflicts. His death was seen as a national tragedy.

Father Kaisers brother missionaries and his family appealed to the late Senator Paul Wellstone for help in determining the circumstances of his death. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted an investigation and proposed a theory of suicide, a finding that seemed inconsistent to those who knew Father Kaiser and were familiar with the circumstances of his death.

The Kenyan bishops were outraged and pressed for a full inquest, which went on for four years. During that period, officials of the F.B.I. postponed or canceled their scheduled appearances before the court at which they would have been asked to explain how an arthritic 67-year-old could have shot himself in the back of the head with a three-foot-long gun. At the time of the hearing, the attorney for the bishops identified by name the F.B.I agents, who were unavailable because of unforeseen assignments. In finding that Father Kaiser was murdered, the Kenyan judge named four suspects whom the police should investigate. Seven years too late, the Kenyan judicial system has scored a victory for the truth and for its own integrity.

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