‘Cuz the Bible Tells Me So

by Robert Shetterly, February 13, 2013 by Common Dreams

We humans constantly are telling ourselves stories about moral and immoral behavior. Many of the most memorable — if only because of repetition — are from the Bible. From them we learn about moral courage and cowardice, about wisdom and folly, about when to obey and when to rebel.  And, of course, most Bible stories tell us to believe in God. But God — He/She/It — is so many things at once: God is Love, God is Nature, God is Truth. How can I believe in all these things at the same time? I’m more comfortable with each of those declarations about what God  IS when  the formula is reversed. For example, I prefer Nature is God. If that identifies me as a pagan, so be it. But the Bible stories still move me profoundly, especially when I try to apply them to the world around me.

For instance, remember the story of King Herod and the Massacre of the Innocents? Herod, in an attempt to protect his crown from being supplanted by the rumored birth of the King of the Jews, ordered the execution of all male children in Nazareth under the age of two. He cannot identify which child might be Jesus, so he decides to kill them all. We are expected to think about this monstrous crime as the work of a paranoid maniac, which it is. And we may be expected to learn that totalitarian leadership can lead to this sort of barbarity. That is also correct.

But couldn´t we also interpret Herod´s actions as the use of rational and necessary collateral damage to ensure the continued integrity of the state? If the sanctity of the state is the foremost good, then security has to trump justice and the right to life of any individual. In fact, security then becomes justice. It’s the same political and philosophical excuse used for drone warfare by our government today. If children are killed as a by-product of killing terrorists, then the killing is justified. Herod feared Jesus wanted to overthrow his state. Our government fears the terrorists do. Are all actions that advance the security of the state de facto ethical?  Should our drones be called Herod?

Take a look at Giotto’s masterful 14th Century fresco of the Massacre of the Innocents.  Above the town square, where his soldiers are lancing and decapitating children, Herod stands calmly giving his orders, pointing out the next victim as calmly as a US president ordering a drone strike. In neither case is any consideration given to law or to morality, or to what we might quaintly call “due process.” We witness the paranoid justice of security.

What lesson is this behavior meant to teach our children? I am reminded of how Martin Luther King, Jr. struggled in the late 1960s to answer young black men in the ghetto when they asked him why they should not use violence to achieve their rights. They reminded Dr. King that the US government claimed the use of extreme violence in Vietnam as justified and necessary to promote democracy, so why shouldn’t they use the same method to achieve equality at home? King’s only answer was to condemn the war as immoral, a war that was racist, imperialist, and for the benefit of the military-industrial complex at the expense of the poor.

Another instructive Bible story is the Wisdom of Solomon parable. King Solomon is approached by two women both claiming to be the mother of the same child. How can he know who is telling the truth? DNA tests were still a ways off. So, he suggests a compromise. Compromises are good. He raises his sharp sword intending to slice the baby in half.

One woman objects and gives up her claim in order to protect the child. Solomon in his wisdom now knows who the mother is and hands her the intact child.

But our Solomon today is CEO of Terrible Swift Sword, Inc. His “compromise” has a special interest. What an opportunity to demonstrate superior sword performance! This shareholder Solomon asks us to accept the damage done to our children by gun violence, by contamination, by poor education, by fast food, by climate change, by absurd drug laws, by continual war funding, by the necessities of Empire — on & on — as “compromises” so that profits may be enhanced and markets expanded. The wisdom of capitalism. The lives of our children are being sliced in half.

When the rights of money become part of the process of ethical compromise, wisdom is lost. When we allow our justice to be derived from our fears for security, ethics are lost. We are not then wise kings with wise swords, but armed and frightened barbarians with bottom lines. Every would-be Solomon becomes a Herod.

How do I know this? The Bible tells me so.

Robert Shetterly [send him mail] is a writer and artist who lives in Brooksville, Maine. He is the author of Americans Who Tell the Truth. See his website.

 

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/02/13-1

Why Ultra-Conservatives Like the Sequester

by George Lakoff, February 26, 2013 by Common Dreams

Excerpt

Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, Robert Reich and other major economists have pointed out that the deficit is not an urgent economic problem and that, to the contrary, the economy would be helped by an increase in public investment and harmed by drastic cuts. The Sequester would hurt the economy, millions of people, and the country as a whole.

President Obama has detailed the vast range of harms that the sequester would bring. They are well-known. And they are not necessary. The president sees the sequester, if it happens, as an enormous self-inflicted wound, inflicted on America by a Republican-dominated House elected by Americans.

But pointing out Republican-caused harms to millions of people — many of them Republicans — does not sway the ultra-right. Why? Democratic pundits say that Republicans want to hurt the president, to show government doesn’t work by making it not work, and to protect “special interests” from higher taxes. All true. But there is an additional and deeper reason. Ultra-conservatives believe that the sequester is moral, that it is the right thing to do.

Progressives tend to believe that democracy is based on citizens caring for their fellow citizens through what the government provides for all citizens…progressives believe that the private depends on the public…They believe that those who make more from public provisions should pay more to maintain them.

Ultra-conservatives don’t believe this. They believe that Democracy gives them the liberty to seek their own self-interests by exercising personal responsibility, without having responsibility for anyone else or anyone else having responsibility for them. They take this as a matter of morality. They see the social responsibility to provide for the common good as an immoral imposition on their liberty.

Their moral sense requires that they do all they can to make the government fail in providing for the common good. Their idea of liberty is maximal personal responsibility, which they see as maximal privatization — and profitization — of all that we do for each other together, jointly as a unified nation… In the long run, they believe, the country will be better off if everyone has to depend on personal responsibility alone.

Moreover, ultra-conservatives do not see all the ways in which they, and other ultra-conservatives, rely all day every day on what other Americans have supplied for them. They actually believe that they built it all by themselves…

It is mostly about what they see as the right direction for the country: maximal elimination of the public sphere.

In short, they have an ideology that partially, but only partially, fits what half of our population believes. Overall, it actually fits what about 20 to 30 percent of the population totally believes. Both total progressives and partial progressives don’t want to see millions of folks hurt and the economy hurt as well. But thanks to Republican gerrymandering at the state level, progressives and partial progressives do not control Congress.

This is the real picture and few people in public life dare to tell it…Democratic messaging hasn’t gotten to the heart of the problem: the real moral divide in America. Democratic messaging, in blaming Republicans in Congress for the harm to come, just offends Republicans and fails to speak to moral divide at the heart of our public life.Would addressing it help? I think so, if it is done with the appropriate sensitivity.

Full text

Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, Robert Reich and other major economists have pointed out that the deficit is not an urgent economic problem and that, to the contrary, the economy would be helped by an increase in public investment and harmed by drastic cuts. The Sequester would hurt the economy, millions of people, and the country as a whole.

President Obama has detailed the vast range of harms that the sequester would bring. They are well-known. And they are not necessary. The president sees the sequester, if it happens, as an enormous self-inflicted wound, inflicted on America by a Republican-dominated House elected by Americans.

But pointing out Republican-caused harms to millions of people — many of them Republicans — does not sway the ultra-right. Why? Democratic pundits say that Republicans want to hurt the president, to show government doesn’t work by making it not work, and to protect “special interests” from higher taxes. All true. But there is an additional and deeper reason. Ultra-conservatives believe that the sequester is moral, that it is the right thing to do.

Progressives tend to believe that democracy is based on citizens caring for their fellow citizens through what the government provides for all citizens — public infrastructure, public safety, public education, public health, publicly-sponsored research, public forms of recreation and culture, publicly-guaranteed safety nets for those who need them, and so on. In short, progressives believe that the private depends on the public, that without those public provisions Americans cannot be free to live reasonable lives and to thrive in private business. They believe that those who make more from public provisions should pay more to maintain them.

Ultra-conservatives don’t believe this. They believe that Democracy gives them the liberty to seek their own self-interests by exercising personal responsibility, without having responsibility for anyone else or anyone else having responsibility for them. They take this as a matter of morality. They see the social responsibility to provide for the common good as an immoral imposition on their liberty.

Their moral sense requires that they do all they can to make the government fail in providing for the common good. Their idea of liberty is maximal personal responsibility, which they see as maximal privatization — and profitization — of all that we do for each other together, jointly as a unified nation.

They also believe that if people are hurt by government failure, it is their own fault for being “on the take” instead of providing for themselves. People who depend on public provisions should suffer. They should have rely on themselves alone — learn personal responsibility, just as Romney said in his 47 percent speech. In the long run, they believe, the country will be better off if everyone has to depend on personal responsibility alone.

Moreover, ultra-conservatives do not see all the ways in which they, and other ultra-conservatives, rely all day every day on what other Americans have supplied for them. They actually believe that they built it all by themselves.

So for them the sequester is not a “self-inflicted wound.” It is justice. The sequester is not merely about protecting “special interests.” It is about the good people who pursued their self-interest successfully, got rich, and have acted “morally” in avoiding taxes that pay for public provisions by the government.

They are not merely trying to harm their own constituents just to hurt the president politically. Yes, they think hurting the president politically is moral, and they believe that any constituents they are hurting need to become more personally responsible. They see the sequester as serving that purpose.

In short, the sequester is not just about money and political power for the republicans in the House. It is mostly about what they see as the right direction for the country: maximal elimination of the public sphere.

In short, they have an ideology that partially, but only partially, fits what half of our population believes. Overall, it actually fits what about 20 to 30 percent of the population totally believes. Both total progressives and partial progressives don’t want to see millions of folks hurt and the economy hurt as well. But thanks to Republican gerrymandering at the state level, progressives and partial progressives do not control Congress.

This is the real picture and few people in public life dare to tell it. It is more convenient, and less scary, to think that all that is involved is money and politics as usual. That’s what current Democratic messaging says. Democratic messaging hasn’t gotten to the heart of the problem: the real moral divide in America. Democratic messaging, in blaming Republicans in Congress for the harm to come, just offends Republicans and fails to speak to moral divide at the heart of our public life.

Would addressing it help? I think so, if it is done with the appropriate sensitivity.

George Lakoff is the author of The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic (co-authored with Elizabeth Wehling). His previous books include Moral Politics, Don’t Think of an Elephant!, Whose Freedom? and Thinking Points (with the Rockridge Institute staff). He is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, and a founding senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute.

 

A More Perfect Union

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: ‘A More Perfect Union’ speech on race in America – Philadelphia, PA – March 18, 2008 –
As Prepared for Delivery  http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/hisownwords

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination – where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs – to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen – is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

Wisdom: The Forgotten Dimension?

 by Mary Jaksch,  2013-01-12

Excerpt

…Wisdom means having the moral will to do right by other people, and to have the moral skill to figure out what doing right means. This is not a new idea; it is something that Aristotle taught that in ancient Greece….a wise person has four aspects:

  1. A wise person knows how to make an exception to every rule.
  2. A wise person knows how to improvise.
  3. A wise person knows how to use these moral skills to serve other people.
  4. A wise person is made not born….

A wise person takes the overviewCompassionate action – the outflow of wisdom – happens when we stop being the center of our concern .

Then we can open up to a wider view of reality that includes the suffering of others, as well as our own – and  respond with compassion.

Full text

Wisdom – what is it and how do you acquire it?

According to Professor Barry Schwartz, Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swathmore College, wisdom means having moral will and skill.

Wisdom means having the moral will to do right by other people, and to have the moral skill to figure out what doing right means.

This is not a new idea; it is something that Aristotle taught that in ancient Greece.

In his must-see TED video The Real Crisis? We Stopped Being Wise, Barry Schwartz gives an example of how the dimension of wisdom is disappearing from our society. It’s the  job description for a hospital janitor. The job description is a long list of tasks and responsibilities, from mopping the floor to cleaning and waxing furniture. Schwartz points out that something significant is missing: there is not a single point on that list that involves other human beings! He says:
“The janitor’s job could just as well be done in a mortuary as in a hospital.”

Luckily there are some janitors who take no notice of such sterile restrictions, and will actually interact with patients and their families. They see part of their job as being caring, kind, and helpful – even though their job description doesn’t say a word about other people. Schwartz said of them:

“These people have the moral will to do right by other people. And beyond this, they have the moral skill to figure out what doing right means.”

In other words, such people are wise.

According to Schwartz, a wise person has four aspects:

  1. A wise person knows how to make an exception to every rule.
  2. A wise person knows how to improvise.
  3. A wise person knows how to use these moral skills to serve other people.
  4. A wise person is made not born.

Wisdom depends on experience – but not just any experience. Schwartz lists three important points that are crucial for learning to be wise:

  1. You need the time to get to know the people you are serving
  2. You need permission to improvise
  3. You need to be mentored by wise teachers

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, wisdom comes with age. So I’ll just wait a while and then I’ll finally be wise.” But is that true?
Does wisdom come with age?

I think the answer is, “Yes, but…” It’s true that with each day and each year we can learn to become wiser. However, we often ignore the teachings that life offers us. Here is one unforgettable teaching that I nearly ignored – because the teacher happened to be my son who was seven years old at the time.

It was a bitter winter in Wiesbaden, a beautiful but rather stuffy city in Germany. Sebastian and I were visiting my mother. On that particular day – just a week before Christmas – darkness had fallen early. I was hurrying through an underpass to catch the bus home. Suddenly I felt Sebastian tug at my coat sleeve. I looked down.

“What’s up?”

“Mum,” he said, “why didn’t you give that lady any money?”

I looked back and saw a woman sitting on a threadbare blanket, begging.

“Oh,” I said, shaking my head, “she would most likely use any money for drugs or alcohol.”

Sebastian took my hand and looked up imploringly.

“Only someone who is very unhappy would sit in the cold and beg, don’t you think?”

I blushed. Then I walked back and gave her some money.

In this story you can see that wisdom isn’t necessarily related to age. I was the adult and Sebastian was the child. But in that moment he was the wise and compassionate person – and I wasn’t.

 

What is the secret ingredient of wisdom?

I think there is one key ingredient. And it’s not one on Professor Schwartz’ list.

A wise person takes the overview.

The story of Sebastian and the woman begging illustrates that point perfectly. When I walked past that woman, I was pre-occupied with getting the bus. My mind revolved around my anxiety and I wasn’t open to 
anything that was happening around me. In contrast, Sebastian took the overview. He could sense that I was anxious and in a hurry, but he could also see the despair and suffering of this woman sitting in the bitter cold and begging for money. 

Compassionate action – the outflow of wisdom – happens when we stop being the center of our concern .

Then we can open up to a wider view of reality that includes the suffering of others, as well as our own – and  respond with compassion.

What teachings of wisdom have you stumbled across in your life?

Source: http://goodlifezen.com/2009/03/09/wisdom-the-forgotten-dimension/

Mary Jaksch is a writer, editor of the Zen journal, Bright Water, a researcher, a Zen master and psychotherapist and blogs on Goodlife Zen.

http://voiceseducation.org/wisdom-forgotten-dimension

We Must Unleash Radical Thought: Harry Belafonte

Wednesday, 20 February 2013, Democracy Now

“We Must Unleash Radical Thought”: Harry Belafonte’s Stirring Speech Accepting NAACP Spingarn Medal

h his rise to worldwide stardom, the musician and actor Harry Belafonte has been deeply involved in social activism for decades. One of Dr. Martin Luther King’s closest confidants, Belafonte helped organize the March on Washington in 1963.

On Friday, the NAACP awarded Belafonte their highest honor, the Spingarn Medal. “Numerous strategies in the quest of our freedom have been played out at all levels of the social spectrum,” Belafonte says in his acceptance speech. “What is missing I think from the equation in our struggle today is that we must unleash radical thought. … America has never been moved to perfect our desire for greater democracy without radical thinking and radical voices being at the helm of any such a quest.” [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: The son of Caribbean immigrants, Harry Belafonte grew up on the streets of Harlem and Jamaica. In the 50’s he spearheaded the Calypso craze, become the first artist in recording history with a million selling album. He was also the first African-American musician to win Emmy. Along with his rise to world wide stardom, Belafonte became deeply involved in the civil rights movement. One of Dr. King’s closest confidants, he helped organize the march on Washington in 1963. Well, on Friday night, the NAACP honored him with their highest honor the Spingarn Medal. He began his speech referring to Mayor Cory Booker’s introduction.

HARRY BELAFONTE: Mayor Booker, that was heavy. I don’t know that I’ve ever been introduced quite like that before. As you called out the moments that represent the crossroads of the paths in my life, I’m reminded that no matter how I am anointed for what it is that I do and try to do it was never without the knowledge and the joy that what I said and what I still say was really rooted in the courage and strength of so many remarkable people who befriended me and who counseled me and who became an intricate part of my journey. And to sit here and to watch you do the work that you do in the city of Newark, which is not a garden, not a paradise, but a place of remarkable struggle [Applause] You are to be anointed for how well you are doing your job in Newark. But your mother didn’t tell you everything. But your daddy was my best friend.

What I am about to say I had occasion to say a couple of weeks ago. I was in California celebrating the NAACP Image Awards. And what made that event, which I have attended quite often and I have been anointed with the awards at different intervals in my journey, but, what made this one particularly significant was that it was the first time that in the history of the NAACP awards, the Spingarn Medal honoree was being platformed. So, the country go an opportunity to not only look at the young men and women who have achieved so much in the arts, but to also take a moment and a pause to look at our social concerns as well as our social journey.

The speech I’m about to give is one that I gave the night on television. Some of you may have heard it. And for those of you who haven’t, I will give you the opportunity to hear it now. For those who are hearing it for the second time, my hope the redundancy doesn’t drive you from the room. But it won’t be long. But, it says there is a preciseness to the thought, when I put those thoughts on paper that it was about America as I see it today and where we stand.

The group that is most devastated by America’s obsession with the gun is African-Americans. Although making comparisons can be dangerous, there are times when they must be noted. America has the largest prison population in the world and the over 2 million men, women, and children that make up the incarcerated, the overwhelming majority of them is black. African-Americans are the most unemployed, the most caught in the unjust systems of justice. And the gun game, they are the most hunted. The rivers of blood that wash the streets of our nation flow mostly from the bodies of our black children. Yet, as the great debate emerges on the question of the gun, white America discusses the constitutional issues of ownership while no one speaks to the consequences of our racial carnage.

Where is the outraged voice of black America? Where and why are we muted? Where are our leaders? Where are our legislators? Where is the church? Not all, but many who have been the recipients of this distinguished award, were men and women who spoke up to remedy the ills of the nation, they were all committed to radical thought. They were my mentors, my inspiration, my moral compass. Through them I understood America’s greatness, I understood America’s potential. Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, and others like Fannie Lou Hamer, and Ella Baker, Bobby Kennedy, and Ms. Constance Rice, and perhaps for me most of all, Paul Robeson.

For me Mr. Robeson was the sparrow. He was an artist who made those of us in the arts understand the depth of that calling when he said, artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are the civilization’s radical voice. Never in the history of black America has there ever been such a harvest of truly gifted and powerfully celebrated artists. Yet, our nation hungers for their radical song. In the field of sports, our presence dominates. In the landscape of corporate power, we have more African-American presence as captains and leaders of industry then we have ever known.

Yet we suffer still from abject poverty and moral malnutrition. Our only hope lies in the recall of a moment which has been to referred to earlier here, and was my last meeting with Dr. King. It was just before he left to go off to Memphis to join the strike with sanitation workers. We held a strategy meeting and Dr. King — the meeting was in my home, and Dr. King, during that meeting, appeared to be distracted and in a dark mood. When we asked him what was the matter he said, we have come far in the struggle for integration, and although we may be winning some battles, we have not won the war. And I’ve come to the conclusion that in our struggle to integrate, we may be integrating into a burning house.

That thought we found it deeply disturbing. And when we asked him if such was his belief, what would he have us do? His reply was, we will have to become firemen. Numerous strategies in the quest of our freedom have been played out at all levels of the social spectrum. Youth groups, women’s groups, labor groups, religious groups, the list goes on and on. And yet the opposition persists in its resistance to our quest. What is missing, I think, from the equation in our struggle today is that we must unleash radical thought. America keeps that part of the discourse mute. I would make an appeal for the NAACP as the oldest institution in our quest for human dignity and human rights, that we stimulate more fully the concept and the need for radical thinking. America has never been moved to perfect our desire for greater democracy without radical thinking and radical voices being at the helm of any such quest.

The pursuit of justice is all I have ever known. And I have often said that what defines a true patriot and reading a book, “The Life of Theodore Roosevelt,” I came upon a quote where he said that when the state finds itself moving away from its commitment to the rights of the citizen, when those rights are being trampled and misguided, when there are those who would wrest from the Constitution the quality that it attempted to give all of us then citizens of the nation have not only the obligation, but, the right to challenge the state and those who run it. And he said, if we fail to do that, if we fail to meet that moral criteria, then we the citizens should be charged with patriotic treason. And that struck me because what we’re really on is a journey to end the treasonous behavior of the contemporary political scene. And what it is trying to do to steal our votes [Applause] — to steal our votes. To what it is doing to our women, to what it’s doing to our children, to what it’s doing to wherever black people have moments of need and want. I would ask that unless Black America — or I would say that unless Black America raises its voice loud and clear, America — and it is specifically our responsibility of all cultural diversity that makes up this nation and its promise to be great, the most powerful force is the voice of African-Americans, and America will never become whole and America will never become what it dreams to be until we are truly free, and truly a bigger part of this.

AMY GOODMAN: The legendary actor, musician, activist Harry Belafonte, speaking on Friday night, awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal. He turns 86 years old on March 1st. You can go to our website for our full interview with Harry Belafonte, our archive of interviews.


Related

The Surprising Brain Differences Between Democrats and Republicans

By Chris Mooney, Mother Jones,  February 15, 2013 author of 2012 book The Republican Brain.

Two new studies further support the theory that our political decision making could have a neurological basis….the relationship between our deep-seated tendencies to experience fear—tendencies that vary from person to person, partly for reasons that seem rooted in our genes—and our political beliefs. What they found is that people who have more fearful disposition also tend to be more politically conservative…  that does not mean that every conservative has a high fear disposition… Peter Hatemi: nothing is all genes, or all environment.” These forces combine to make us who we are, in incredibly intricate ways… thinks the current research suggests not only that having a particular brain influences your political views, but also that having a particular political view influences and changes your brain…Simply by living our lives, we change our brains. Our political affiliations, and the lifestyles that go along with them, probably condition many such changes…

Full text

Two new studies further support the theory that our political decision making could have a neurological basis.

It is still considered highly uncool to ascribe a person’s political beliefs, even in part, to that person’s biology: hormones, physiological responses, even brain structures and genes. And no wonder: Doing so raises all kinds of thorny, non-PC issues involving free will, determinism, toleration, and much else.

There’s just one problem: Published scientific research keeps going there, with ever increasing audacity (not to mention growing stacks of data).

The past two weeks have seen not one but two studies published in scientific journals on the biological underpinnings of political ideology. And these studies go straight at the role of genes and the brain in shaping our views, and even our votes.

First, in the American Journal of Political Science, a team of researchers including Peter Hatemi of Penn State University and Rose McDermott of Brown University studied the relationship between our deep-seated tendencies to experience fear—tendencies that vary from person to person, partly for reasons that seem rooted in our genes—and our political beliefs. What they found is that people who have more fearful disposition also tend to be more politically conservative, and less tolerant of immigrants and people of races different from their own. As McDermott carefully emphasizes, that does not mean that every conservative has a high fear disposition. “It’s not that conservative people are more fearful, it’s that fearful people are more conservative,” as she puts it.

I interviewed the paper’s lead author, Peter Hatemi, about his research for my 2012 book The Republican Brain. Hatemi is both a political scientist and also a microbiologist, and as he stressed to me, “nothing is all genes, or all environment.” These forces combine to make us who we are, in incredibly intricate ways.

And if Hatemi’s and McDermott’s research blows your mind, get this: Darren Schreiber, a political neuroscientist at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, first performed brain scans on 82 people participating in a risky gambling task, one in which holding out for more money increases your possible rewards, but also your possible losses. Later, cross-referencing the findings with the participants’ publicly available political party registration information, Schreiber noticed something astonishing: Republicans, when they took the same gambling risk, were activating a different part of the brain than Democrats.

Republicans were using the right amygdala, the center of the brain’s threat response system. Democrats, in contrast, were using the insula, involved in internal monitoring of one’s feelings. Amazingly, Schreiber and his colleagues write that this test predicted 82.9 percent of the study subjects’ political party choices—considerably better, they note, than a simple model that predicts your political party affiliation based on the affiliation of your parents.

I also interviewed Schreiber for The Republican Brain. He’s a scientist who was once quite cautious about the relevance of brain studies to people’s politics. As he put it to me: “If you had called me four years ago and said, ‘What is your view on whether Republicans and Democrats have different brains?’ I would have said no.” Now, his own published research suggests otherwise.

One again, though, there’s a critical nuance here. Schreiber thinks the current research suggests not only that having a particular brain influences your political views, but also that having a particular political view influences and changes your brain. The causal arrow seems likely to run in both directions—which would make sense in light of what we know about the plasticity of the brain. Simply by living our lives, we change our brains. Our political affiliations, and the lifestyles that go along with them, probably condition many such changes.

The two new studies described here are likely connected: It is hard not to infer that fear of outsiders or those different from you—along with greater fear dispositions in general—may be related to the role of amygdala, a brain structure that has been dubbed the “heart and soul of the fear system.” The amygdala has been repeatedly implicated in politics. Indeed, Schreiber’s research builds on prior brain studies: In a group of University College of London students, for instance, conservatives showed more gray matter in the right amygdala.

So what’s the upshot? How about this: We need a much broader and more thoughtful discussion about what it means if political ideology turns out to be nothing like what we actually thought it was. Scientists working in this new field tend towards the conclusion that the new research should make us more tolerant, not less, of political difference—not to mention a whole lot more humble about our own deeply held beliefs.

http://m.motherjones.com/politics/2013/02/brain-difference-democrats-republicans

Ten years of questions, outrage, tragedy, grief and change – The Iraq War

ProgressiveValues.org e-letter by Phyllis Stenerson, February 15, 2013

Ten years ago today – February 15 – millions of people around the globe took to the streets to protest the planned invasion of Iraq. With an estimated six to ten million people participating, it is listed in the 2004 Guinness Book of World Records as the largest anti-war rally in history.

The invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003. The world was forever changed in countless ways. We embarked upon a new chapter in America’s story that is still unfolding.

For many of us, this event launched a new chapter in our own personal stories. I was flabbergasted and outraged, sending me on a mission to figure out why and how this disastrous decision could have been made by my government. It has grown into wisdom for the future.

Now, ten years later, I have insights but questions remain and I expect new information will continue to be revealed. To manage the voluminous data, I developed a framework so material could be sorted into categories. Highlights are posted for public review on my website www.ProgressiveValues.org. Much of the information has been found on excellent sources on the internet demonstrating the essential role of new media and the progressive movement in saving and revitalizing our democracy. I think of this as having a conversation with many diverse voices.

Pulling this together into a cohesive narrative is a work-in-progress. The story of America’s preemptive war on Iraq – and the aftermath – connects with virtually every facet of American history, government and culture. My focus is on contrasting worldviews, how values affect and are affected by American policy, with an emphasis on the intersection of politics and religion/spirituality. It’s absolutely fascinating. Implications for the future are critically important. Optimism for the future is based on the fact that we’re becoming increasingly knowledgeable and there are a lot of very smart people deeply concerned and engaged.

The website is a start and I now want to collaborate with an established non-profit organization. If you know of any potential connections, please contact me. I want to hear about related work being done by others.
Phyllis Stenerson – phyllis@progressivevalues.org

* * *

Hubris: Selling the Iraq War hosted by Rachel Maddow
premieres February 18 at 9pm ET on MSNBC.

The tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War is March 20.  Even after all this time there are important questions unanswered about how and why this government decision was made. The new documentary called Hubris: Selling the Iraq War is based on the book Hubris, co-written by NBC News National Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff and MSNBC contributor and Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief David Corn

* * *

“Our movement changed history. While we did not prevent the Iraq war, the protests proved its clear illegality, demonstrated the isolation of the Bush administration policies, helped prevent war in Iran, and inspired a generation of activists.”  Phyllis Bennis, The Day the World  Said No To War , CommonDreams.org

* * *

Today the real test of power is not the capacity to make war but the capacity to prevent it. Anne O’Hare McCormick

Wars can be prevented just as surely as they can be provoked, and we who fail to prevent them, must share the guilt for the dead. General Omar Bradley

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace. Jimi Hendrix

Either war is obsolete or people are. R. Buckminster Fuller

I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it. Dwight D. Eisenhower

It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it. Eleanor Roosevelt

http://p0.vresp.com/bQJcTZ

Speaking Out Is at the Heart of Being a Citizen

By George Lakoff, Reader Supported News, February 16, 2013

Political journalists have a job to do – to examine the SOTU’s long list of proposals. They are doing that job, many are doing it well, and I’ll leave it to them. Instead, I want to discuss what in the long run is a deeper question: How did the SOTU help to change public discourse? What is the change? And technically, how did it work?

The address was coherent. There was a single frame that fit together all the different ideas, from economics to the environment to education to gun safety to voting rights. The big change in public discourse was the establishment of that underlying frame, a frame that will, over the long haul, accommodate many more specific proposals.

Briefly, the speech worked via frame evocation. Not statement, evocation – the unconscious and automatic activation in the brains of listeners of a morally-based progressive frame that made sense of what the president said.

When a frame is repeatedly activated, it is strengthened. Obama’s progressive frame was strengthened not only in die-hard progressives, but also in partial progressives, those who are progressive on some issues and conservative on others – the so-called moderates, swing voters, independents, and centrists. As a result, 77 percent of listeners approved of the speech, 53 percent strongly positive and 24 percent somewhat positive, with only 22 percent negative. When that deep progressive frame is understood and accepted by a 77 percent margin, the president has begun to move America toward a progressive moral vision.

If progressives are going to maintain and build on the president’s change in public discourse so far, we need to understand just what that change has been and how he accomplished it.

It hasn’t happened all at once.

In 2008, candidate Obama made overt statements. He spoke overtly about empathy and the responsibility to act on it as the basis of democracy. He spoke about the need for an “ethic of excellence.” He spoke about the role of government to protect and empower everyone equally.

After using the word “empathy” in the Sotomayor nomination, he dropped it when conservatives confused it with sympathy and unfairness. But the idea didn’t disappear.

By the 2013 Inaugural Address, he directly quoted the Declaration and Lincoln, overtly linking patriotism and the essence of democracy to empathy, to Americans caring for one another and taking responsibility for one another as well as themselves. He spoke overtly about how private success depends on public provisions. He carried out these themes with examples. And he had pretty much stopped making the mistake of using conservative language, even to negate it. The change in public discourse became palpable.

The 2013 SOTU followed this evolution a crucial step further. Instead of stating the frames overly, he took them for granted and the nation understood. Public discourse had shifted; brains had changed. So much so that John Boehner looked shamed as he slumped, sulking in his chair, as if trying to disappear. Changed so much that Marco Rubio’s response was stale and defensive: the old language wasn’t working and Rubio kept talking in rising tones indicating uncertainty.

Here is how Obama got to 77 percent approval as an unapologetic progressive.

The president set his theme powerfully in the first few sentences – in about 30 seconds.

Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that ‘the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress … It is my task,’ he said, ‘to report the State of the Union – to improve it is the task of us all.’ Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report. …

First, Obama recalled Kennedy – a strong, unapologetic liberal. “Partners” evokes working together, an implicit attack on conservative stonewalling, while “for progress” makes clear his progressive direction. “To improve it is the task of us all” evokes the progressive theme that we’re all in this together with the goal of improving the common good. “The grit and determination of the American people” again says we work together, while incorporating the “grit and determination” stereotype of Americans pulling themselves up by their bootstraps – overcoming a “grinding war” and “grueling recession.” He specifically and wisely did not pin the war and recession on the Bush era Republicans, as he reasonably could have. That would have divided Democrats from Republicans. Instead, he treated war and recession as if they were forces of nature that all Americans joined together to overcome. Then he moved on seamlessly to the “millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded,” which makes rewarding that work and determination “the task of us all.”

This turn in discourse started working last year. Empathy and social responsibility as central American values reappeared in spades in the 2012 campaign right after Mitt Romney made his 47 percent gaff, that 47 percent of Americans were not succeeding because they were not talking personal responsibility for their lives. This allowed Obama to reframe people out of work, sick, injured, or retired as hard working and responsible and very much part of the American ideal, evoking empathy for them from most other Americans. It allowed him to meld the hard working and struggling Americans with the hard working and just getting by Americans into a progressive stereotype of hard working Americans in general who need help to overcome external forces holding them back. It is a patriotic stereotype that joins economic opportunity with equality, freedom and civil rights: “if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.”

It is an all-American vision:

It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.

“Our unfinished task” refers to citizens – us – as ruling the government, not the reverse. “We” are making the government do what is right. To work “on behalf of the many, and not just the few.” And he takes from the progressive vision the heart of the conservative message. “We” require the government to encourage free enterprise, reward individual initiative, and provide opportunity for all. It is the reverse of the conservative view of the government ruling us. In a progressive democracy, the government is the instrument of the people, not the reverse.

In barely a minute, he provided a patriotic American progressive vision that seamlessly adapts the heart of the conservative message. Within this framework comes the list of policies, each presented with empathy for ideal Americans. In each case, we, the citizens who care about our fellow citizens, must make our imperfect government do the best it can for fellow Americans who do meet, or can with help meet, the American ideal.

With this setting of the frame, each item on the list of policies fits right in. We, the citizens, use the government to protect us and maximally enable us all to make use of individual initiative and free enterprise.

The fact that the policy list was both understood and approved of by 77 percent of those watching means that one-third of those who did not vote for the president have assimilated his American progressive moral vision.

The president’s list of economic policies was criticized by some as a lull – a dull, low energy section of the speech. But the list had a vital communicative function beyond the policies themselves. Each item on the list evoked, and thereby strengthened in the brains of most listeners, the all-American progressive vision of the first section of the speech. Besides, if you’re going to build to a smash finish, you have to build from a lull.

And it was a smash finish! Highlighting his gun safety legislation by introducing one after another of the people whose lives were shattered by well-reported gun violence. With each introduction came the reframe “They deserve a vote” over and over and over. He was chiding the Republicans not just for being against the gun safety legislation, but for being unwilling to even state their opposition in public, which a vote would require. The president is all too aware that, even in Republican districts, there is great support for gun safety reform, support that threatens conservative representatives. “They deserve a vote” is a call for moral accounting from conservative legislators. It is a call for empathy for the victims in a political form, a form that would reveal the heartlessness, the lack of Republican empathy for the victims. “They deserve a vote” shamed the Republicans in the House. As victim after victim stood up while the Republicans sat slumped and close-mouthed in their seats, shame fell on the Republicans.

And then it got worse for Republicans. Saving the most important for last – voting reform – President Obama introduced Desiline Victor, a 102-year spunky African American Florida woman who was told she would have to wait six hours to vote. She hung in there, exhausted but not defeated, for many hours and eventually voted. The room burst into raucous applause, putting to shame the Republicans who are adopting practices and passing laws to discourage voting by minority groups.

And with the applause still ringing, he introduced police officer Brian Murphy who held off armed attackers at the Sikh Temple in Minneapolis, taking twelve bullets and lying in a puddle of his blood while still protecting the Sikhs. When asked how he did it, he replied, “That’s just how we’re made.”

That gave the president a finale to end where he began.

We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title: We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.

It was a finale that gave the lie to the conservative story of America, that democracy is an individual matter, that it gives each of us the liberty to seek his own interests and well-being without being responsible for anyone else or anyone else being responsible for him, from which it follows that the government should not be in the job of helping its citizens. Marco Rubio came right after and tried out this conservative anthem that has been so dominant since the Reagan years. It fell flat.

President Obama, in this speech, created what cognitive scientists call a “prototype” – an ideal American defined by a contemporary progressive vision that incorporates a progressive market with individual opportunity and initiative. It envisions an ideal citizenry that is in charge of the government, forcing the president and the Congress to do the right thing.

That is how the president has changed public discourse. He has changed it at the level that counts, the deepest level, the moral level. What can make that change persist? What will allow such an ideal citizenry to come into existence?

The president can’t do it. Congress can’t do it. Only we can as citizens, by adopting the president’s vision, thinking in his moral frames, and speaking out from that vision whenever possible. Speaking out is at the heart of being a citizen, speaking out is political action, and only if an overwhelming number of us speak out, and live out, this American vision, will the president and the Congress be forced to do what is best for all.

By all means, discuss the policies. Praise them when you like them, criticize them when they fall short. Don’t hold back. Talk in public. Write to others. But be sure to make clear the basic principles behind the policies.

And don’t use the language of the other side, even to negate it. Remember that if you say “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” people will think of an elephant.

Structure is important. Start with the general principles, move to policy details, finish with the general principles.

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/16058-speaking-out-is-at-the-heart-of-being-a-citizen-

The Decline of Unions Is Your Problem Too

By Eric Liu, Time.com, Jan. 29, 2013

Mini-excerpt

the share of America’s work­force that’s union­ized hit a 97-year low…It’s a vicious cycle: as unions decline, fewer peo­ple see their fates as bound up with unions, which just accel­er­ates the decline… Inequal­ity and wealth con­cen­tra­tion are at lev­els not seen since just before the Great Depres­sion…a basic assump­tion now shapes most Amer­i­cans’ mind­set about labor: the belief that the death of unions isn’t my prob­lem because I’m not in a union. That assump­tion is wrong in two crit­i­cal ways. First, the fact is that when unions are stronger the econ­omy as a whole does bet­ter…On the flip side, when labor is weak and cap­i­tal uncon­strained, cor­po­ra­tions hoard, hir­ing slows, and inequal­ity deep­ens. Thus we have today both record highs in cor­po­rate prof­its and record lows in wages. Sec­ond, unions lift wages for non-union mem­bers too by cre­at­ing a higher pre­vail­ing wage…The weak­ness of labor is everyone’s prob­lem — and its revival everyone’s opportunity

Excerpt

Last week came news that the share of America’s workforce that’s unionized hit a 97-year low…It’s a vicious cycle: as unions decline, fewer people see their fates as bound up with unions, which just accelerates the decline… Inequality and wealth concentration are at levels not seen since just before the Great Depression. This would seem as ripe a time in modern memory for a revival of organized labor. Instead, a basic assumption now shapes most Americans’ mindset about labor: the belief that the death of unions isn’t my problem because I’m not in a union. That assumption is wrong in two critical ways.

First, the fact is that when unions are stronger the economy as a whole does better…On the flip side, when labor is weak and capital unconstrained, corporations hoard, hiring slows, and inequality deepens. Thus we have today both record highs in corporate profits and record lows in wages.

Second, unions lift wages for non-union members too by creating a higher prevailing wage…The weakness of labor is everyone’s problem — and its revival everyone’s opportunity.

Full text

Last week came news that the share of America’s workforce that’s unionized hit a 97-year low. A mere 11.3% of workers now belong to a union, and a great chunk of those are in the shrinking public sector. In the private sector, unionization fell to an abysmal 6.6%, down from a peak of 35% during the 1950s.

Most Americans yawned at this news. On one level that’s understandable. After all, most Americans aren’t in a union. It’s a vicious cycle: as unions decline, fewer people see their fates as bound up with unions, which just accelerates the decline.

But on another level, America’s non-reaction is striking. We remain in the wake of the Great Recession. Inequality and wealth concentration are at levels not seen since just before the Great Depression. This would seem as ripe a time in modern memory for a revival of organized labor. Instead, a basic assumption now shapes most Americans’ mindset about labor: the belief that the death of unions isn’t my problem because I’m not in a union. That assumption is wrong in two critical ways.

First, the fact is that when unions are stronger the economy as a whole does better. Unions restore demand to an economy by raising wages for their members and putting more purchasing power to work, enabling more hiring. On the flip side, when labor is weak and capital unconstrained, corporations hoard, hiring slows, and inequality deepens. Thus we have today both record highs in corporate profits and record lows in wages.

Second, unions lift wages for non-union members too by creating a higher prevailing wage. Even if you aren’t a member your pay is influenced by the strength or weakness of organized labor. The presence of unions sets off a wage race to the top. Their absence sets off a race to the bottom.

Unfortunately, the relegation of organized labor to tiny minority status and the fact that the public sector is the last remaining stronghold for unions have led many Americans to see them as special interests seeking special privileges, often on the taxpayer’s dime. This thinking is as upside-down as our economy.

This country has gotten to today’s level of inequality because, ironically, those who work for a living think like atomized individuals while those who hire for a living organize collectively to rig policy in their favor. Today’s 97-year low is the result of decades of efforts to squeeze unions and disperse their power.

To be sure, unions bear part of the blame for their own decline. Some of the work rules they’ve achieved through bargaining made their companies and their own unions less adaptive to change. That’s why a few national labor leaders, from Service Employees International Union and elsewhere, have launched a “Labor 3.0″ project to reimagine unions. And it’s significant that innovative forms of worker organizing are now emerging, like Coworker.org or the National Domestic Workers Alliance, that bypass traditional union structures altogether.

Whatever form it takes, though, organized labor keeps an economy healthy. Some conservatives now argue for a higher federal minimum wage on the notion that when companies pay their employees enough to live, the employees will rely less on government assistance and participate more in economic life. Precisely the same case can be made for unions. Consider that workers at non-unionized Walmart constitute in many states the largest bloc of food stamp and Medicaid recipients.

If we want a better economy, then, we need a better story about how the economy works, in which a union worker is not a cost but a customer. The weakness of labor is everyone’s problem — and its revival everyone’s opportunity.

Read more: http://ideas.time.com/2013/01/29/viewpoint-why-the-decline-of-unions-is-your-problem-too/#ixzz2KbpvFEAn

The humanities are just as important as STEM classes

By Danielle Allen, Washington Post, February 14, 2013

Danielle Allen is a professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. Her forthcoming book, co-edited with Rob Reich, is “Education, Justice, and Democracy.”

Excerpt

…we don’t need to become a nation of technocrats. Let’s not forget that you can’t do well in math and engineering if you can’t read proficiently, and that reading is the province of courses in literature, language and writing. Nor can you do well in science and technology if you can’t interpret images and develop effective visualizations — skills that are strengthened by courses in art and art history. You also can’t excel at citizenship if you can’t read, write or speak well, or understand the complexity of the world and think historically. History helps us understand the features of our worlds that are changeable and that require either reform, because they are damaging, or protection, because they are valuable but vulnerable…The Common Core standards recognize that literacy, the humanities and history are as important as math, science and technical subjects in preparing students for jobs and college. They will also improve our ability to prepare students for citizenship. They should, in other words, help us achieve not only college and work readiness but also participatory readiness.

Full text

In his State of the Union address, President Obama announced that the Education Department would launch another competition to spur educational reform in the states.

Four years ago, the Race to the Top program drove changes in state policy on charter schools, teacher tenure, and standards and accountability. Now the administration proposes a competition to “redesign America’s high schools.” Rewards will go to schools that develop more classes “that focus on science, technology, engineering and math — the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future,” the president said.

We need all those classes in the STEM fields, as they are called, and as a nation we must do a better job of preparing our young people in these fields. But we don’t need to become a nation of technocrats.

Let’s not forget that you can’t do well in math and engineering if you can’t read proficiently, and that reading is the province of courses in literature, language and writing. Nor can you do well in science and technology if you can’t interpret images and develop effective visualizations — skills that are strengthened by courses in art and art history.

You also can’t excel at citizenship if you can’t read, write or speak well, or understand the complexity of the world and think historically. History helps us understand the features of our worlds that are changeable and that require either reform, because they are damaging, or protection, because they are valuable but vulnerable.

Duke University President Richard Brodhead likes to point out that Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Harold Varmus, the director of the National Cancer Institute; and Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple, all studied the humanities. Dempsey and Varmus have degrees in English. Although Jobs dropped out, he initially attended Reed College, famous for its strong emphasis on the humanities.

U.S. high schools absolutely need to innovate. But our students also need to achieve at far higher levels in the fields of the humanities, not merely in the STEM fields.

Better than a challenge to states to enhance their STEM education would be a challenge to states to build curricular and pedagogic innovations that will allow them to succeed at meeting the new Common Core State Standards.

An initiative of the National Governors Association, the standards seek to clarify the knowledge and skills students need for success in the workforce and in college. There are two sets of standards: one for mathematics and one for English language arts and literacy in history/­social studies, science and technical subjects.

No Child Left Behind left it to states to set their own standards. But because the Common Core standards are being implemented by 45 states and the District, we will soon have an opportunity at last to compare the quality of education throughout the country.

The Common Core standards recognize that literacy, the humanities and history are as important as math, science and technical subjects in preparing students for jobs and college. They will also improve our ability to prepare students for citizenship. They should, in other words, help us achieve not only college and work readiness but also participatory readiness.

States are going to have a hard time rising to the level of the new standards. So we could use another competition to excite innovation — but let’s have a competition to spur states’ efforts to find ways of teaching successfully to the Common Core standards. This would entail fostering innovation and improvement for instruction in language arts and historical and civic literacy, as well as in STEM fields. We can do both. Surely we citizens should be that ambitious.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-humanities-are-just-as-important-as-stem-classes/2013/02/14/dea1889c-761e-11e2-aa12-e6cf1d31106b_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines