While Americans may think our country does things on a large scale, nothing quite matches the “sociological exercise” of democracy in India:
The world’s largest democracy is bracing itself for the most anticipated event every 5 years. To keep things in perspective, almost 1 in 6 on earth would be voting this April-May 2014. More than the election extravaganza, this is the world’s largest sociological exercise; an exercise that places everything else outside and puts the Indian at heart and mind while casting the ballot. As much as the focus on this has been the youth, there is a particular section of society which is slightly undermined yet equally important; the Indian women.
India has over 1.2 billion people while the US has over 310 million. While the American Revolution led to a new kind of country and government sometimes referred to as the American experiment (attributed to de Toqueville), this is quite different than developing a modern government and economy for so many people.
I sometimes think part of the current issues in the United States simply have to do with our relatively large population. Coming to a consensus among so many groups and interests is difficult. In comparison, other industrialized nations have smaller populations and are often more homogeneous. But, these issues are multiplied in India with even more interests.
Amidst news that Illinois tollway directors voted today to raise tolls for a $12 billion capital project (see my earlier thoughts here), I noticed that Naperville Mayor George Pradel is involved:
But a majority of Illinois State Toll Highway Authority leaders said the move is crucial to repair existing roads and build some new ambitious projects such as the long-delayed Elgin-O’Hare Expressway extension into O’Hare International Airport and a western bypass road around the airport. The capital plan will create about 120,000 permanent jobs and ease congestion, officials said.
“My heart goes out to those going through tough times and that have lost jobs. One side effect of this is that it will enhance the economy in northern Illinois over 15 years,” said Naperville Mayor and tollway director George Pradel, who voted for the toll increase.
The decision didn’t come quietly — one board director called the move too hasty and proposed a scaled-back version.
Director Bill Morris of Grayslake, the only dissenter in today’s vote, thinks the toll authority could carry out a 10-year capital plan with a 15-cent increase at a 40-cent toll plaza now with more hikes expected later.
You can see the profiles of the Illinois Tollway Board of Directors here. Having never looked at these profiles, I was intrigued: Pradel is joined by the current mayor of Aurora as well as well a number of businessmen and two female public servants (one from education, one from Cook County government). On the whole, it seems like the directors bought into the economic development argument: good tollways, whether that means improved roadways or new roadways, will help northeastern Illinois prosper.
But looking at the backgrounds of this group, I wonder how many also were influenced by how better roadways might help their community or business interests. While this is not necessarily bad – indeed, northeastern Illinois needs businesses and jobs – it is a different perspective than the common driver might have. (And since this is Illinois, I assume there is some political process behind this board. Still, no “citizen” members?) Take Mayor Pradel: was his vote solely for northeastern Illinois and/or is this quite beneficial for Naperville? The regional argument is interesting (and I’m sure the job and economic estimates could be debated) but I would be interested in hearing about how local interests affected this vote.
A recent story in the New York Times suggested that the cause of the major deaths of honeybees had been found. But a reporter from Fortune says the story is not so clear – in addition to some scientists suggesting the breakthrough wasn’t that much of a breakthrough, the reporter also says one of the key scientists has a major conflict of interest:
What the Times article did not explore — nor did the study disclose — was the relationship between the study’s lead author, Montana bee researcher Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, and Bayer Crop Science. In recent years Bromenshenk has received a significant research grant from Bayer to study bee pollination. Indeed, before receiving the Bayer funding, Bromenshenk was lined up on the opposite side: He had signed on to serve as an expert witness for beekeepers who brought a class-action lawsuit against Bayer in 2003. He then dropped out and received the grant.
Bromenshenk’s company, Bee Alert Technology, which is developing hand-held acoustic scanners that use sound to detect various bee ailments, will profit more from a finding that disease, and not pesticides, is harming bees. Two years ago Bromenshenk acknowledged as much to me when I was reporting on the possible neonicotinoid/CCD connection for Conde Nast Portfolio magazine, which folded before I completed my reporting.
Bromenshenk says this is not an issue and didn’t influence the results of the recent study. The scientific community will have to figure this out – one issue will be whether the scientific study actually solved or helped the honeybee issue and the other issue will be Bromenshenk’s past history.