The Editors
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Can’t Buy Me Love

Election Day 2009 provided a fix for political junkies still in withdrawal from the electoral highs of 2008. Among the most intriguing story lines of the day was the loss, and near loss, of two wealthy businessmen turned public servants. Michael R. Bloomberg spent more of his own money on his campaign for mayor of New York than any other municipal candidate in history, yet won by only five percentage points. (Late polls had projected him ahead by 18 points.) Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey outspent his Republican opponent by nearly two to one and still lost. The state’s economic malaise played a key role in Mr. Corzine’s loss, just as Mr. Bloomberg’s controversial decision to override the city’s term limits law angered many voters. Yet in both cases the candidates’ personal wealth also seemed to work against them. In New York in particular, residents seemed exasperated with a mayor who left no check unsigned in his bid for a third term.

Both Mr. Corzine and Mr. Bloomberg left lucrative jobs in the private sector to enter public service. In many ways their intentions were noble, but their decision to bypass existing financing laws was a serious blow to the campaign regulatory movement. Their bulging war chests intimidated would-be opponents, and their excessive spending too often led to negative campaign advertising. This month’s election returns were a heartening reminder that a formidable bank account goes only so far. Money can help put a candidate on a ballot and get face-time on television, but in the end it takes more than money to win the hearts of voters.

The Highest Cost

If the infant mortality rate is an indication of a nation’s health, recent statistics should prompt a closer look at whether sufficient protection is given to some of the youngest and most vulnerable people in the United States.

A new study by government researchers ranked the U.S. infant mortality rate (6.9 percent) 30th among those countries studied. Singapore, which ranked first, had the lowest rate, 2.1 percent. Premature births are the greatest contributing factor to the U.S. ranking, the study said. In 2005, the most recent year for which data are available, 12.4 percent of births in the United States were premature.

In every country, premature infants are less likely to survive than full-term infants. More than 540,000 children are born prematurely in the U.S. each year. Therefore, the number of premature births in the United States alone means U.S. statistics are more likely to compare poorly with other nations. While many factors, such as an increase in the number of Caesarean sections and an increase in multiple births due to in vitro fertilization, contribute to the large number of premature births, far too many occur because mothers lack basic needs.

In the United States many premature infants are born to mothers who have not had access to affordable health care throughout their pregnancy. The number could be cut significantly by ensuring affordable prenatal care and treating illnesses of expectant mothers, particularly non-Hispanic black, American Indian, Alaskan Native and Puerto Rican women, among whom infant mortality rates are highest. Educational programs that teach women about the dangers of drinking alcohol, smoking and using drugs while pregnant also have been shown to decrease these practices and also help prevent premature births. As the fight for the protection of the unborn continues, protecting the well-being of children born too soon, and into poverty and hardship, must also be a goal.

Term Limits in Nicaragua

After overturning term limits, Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega is now able to run for a third term in 2011. In mid-October Nicaragua’s supreme court (six of whose justices are supporters of the president’s Sandinista party) lifted a constitutional barrier that would have prevented such a step. The move resulted from a petition that Mr. Ortega and a group of over 100 mayors brought to the court. First elected president in 1984, he held office until his party lost in 1990, after which the opposition banned re-election through a clause in the 1995 constitution. Under this provision presidents are disqualified from running consecutively or serving more than two terms. The supreme court ruling permitting Mr. Ortega, who was elected anew in 2006, to run again is expected to stand.

Other controversial term-limit issues in Latin America concern presidents like Venezuela’s populist Hugo Chávez, who seek to remain in power as long as they can win elections. Similarly, Bolivia’s president and Chávez-ally, Evo Morales, won a referendum in January 2009 allowing him to run for another five-year term. And Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa brought about constitutional changes that permit him to hold office for two more four-year terms, until 2017. In Colombia, álvaro Uribe may seek a third term after having gained a second.

In democratic societies, term limits serve a purpose. They diminish the potential for demagoguery and limit the opportunity to extend time in power for the ruler’s sake rather than for the good of the people.

Comments

Antonio Gordon | 11/14/2009 - 10:10am
Two of this week’s comments require, in my opinion, further discussion in this forum. First, the premise that “the infant mortality rate is an indication of a nation’s health” is true. However, two important points need to be made. A simple nation in terms of its geography and demographics may have an infant mortality level much lower than one with a much more complex national scheme without having to have a national health advantage. This is the case when you compare Singapur to the United States. Aside form this point; the issues about prematurity are well documented and need atention. Note, however, that in Cuba, a country that has a very low infant mortality rate, abortion is performed in complicated or possibly-to-be-complicated pregnancies without much consideration precisely to maintain the infant mortality low. One physician, Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet is currently in prison precisely for opposing the Cuban regime’s policy on abortion-on-request and when needed-by-the-state to maintain its image of “beneficence and health.” Therefore, although indicators of health and wellness are useful, they can also be misleading.

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