The Wisdom of Bob Dole

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, New York Times, May 28, 2013

Excerpt

a furiously oppositional Republican Party… has left mainstream conservatives like Mr. [Bob] Dole and Senator John McCain shaking their heads in disgust.

The difference between the current crop of Tea Party lawmakers and Mr. Dole’s generation is not simply one of ideology…the time came to actually govern, Republicans used to set aside their grandstanding, recognize that a two-party system requires compromise and make deals to keep the government working on the people’s behalf.

The current generation refuses to do that. Its members want to dismantle government, using whatever crowbar happens to be handy, and they don’t particularly care what traditions of mutual respect get smashed at the same timeThis corrosive mentality has been standard procedure in the House since 2011, but now it has seeped over to the Senate…Already, the mulish behavior of Congressional Republicans has led to the creation of the sequester, blocked action on economic growth and climate change, prevented reasonable checks on gun purchases and threatens to blow up a hard-fought compromise on immigration. Mr. Dole’s words should remind his party that it is not only abandoning its past, but damaging the country’s future.

Full text

Bob Dole no longer recognizes the Republican Party that he helped lead for years. Speaking over the weekend on “Fox News Sunday,” he said his party should hang a “closed for repairs” sign on its doors until it comes up with a few positive ideas, because neither he nor Ronald Reagan would now feel comfortable in its membership.

“It seems to be almost unreal that we can’t get together on a budget or legislation,” said Mr. Dole, the former Senate majority leader and presidential candidate. “I mean, we weren’t perfect by a long shot, but at least we got our work done.”

The current Congress can’t even do that, thanks to a furiously oppositional Republican Party, and that’s what has left mainstream conservatives like Mr. Dole and Senator John McCain shaking their heads in disgust.

The difference between the current crop of Tea Party lawmakers and Mr. Dole’s generation is not simply one of ideology. While the Tea Partiers are undoubtedly more extreme, Mr. Dole spent years pushing big tax cuts, railing at regulations and blocking international treaties. His party actively courted the religious right in the 1980s and relied on racial innuendo to win elections. But when the time came to actually govern, Republicans used to set aside their grandstanding, recognize that a two-party system requires compromise and make deals to keep the government working on the people’s behalf.

The current generation refuses to do that. Its members want to dismantle government, using whatever crowbar happens to be handy, and they don’t particularly care what traditions of mutual respect get smashed at the same time. “I’m not all that interested in the way things have always been done around here,” Senator Marco Rubio of Florida told The Times last week.

This corrosive mentality has been standard procedure in the House since 2011, but now it has seeped over to the Senate. Mr. Rubio is one of several senators who have blocked a basic function of government: a conference committee to work out budget differences between the House and Senate so that Congress can start passing appropriations bills. They say they are afraid the committee will agree to raise the debt ceiling without extorting the spending cuts they seek. One of them, Ted Cruz of Texas, admitted that he didn’t even trust House Republicans to practice blackmail properly. They have been backed by Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, who wants extremist credentials for his re-election.

At long last, this is finally drawing the rancor of Mr. Dole’s heirs in the responsible wing of the party. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said that negotiating on a budget was an “issue of integrity.” Roy Blunt, Lamar Alexander and many others have encouraged talks, and Mr. McCain (who was not above veering to the far right when he was running for president in 2008) now says the Tea Partiers are “absolutely out of line” and setting a bad precedent.

“We’re here to vote, not here to block things,” he said last week. “We’re here to articulate our positions on the issues and do what we can for the good of the country and the let the process move forward.”

Already, the mulish behavior of Congressional Republicans has led to the creation of the sequester, blocked action on economic growth and climate change, prevented reasonable checks on gun purchases and threatens to blow up a hard-fought compromise on immigration. Mr. Dole’s words should remind his party that it is not only abandoning its past, but damaging the country’s future.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/29/opinion/bob-dole-misses-his-republican-party.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130529

The Real Numbers: Half of America in Poverty — and It’s Creeping toward 75%

By Paul Buchheit, AlterNet, May 26, 2013 

The Census Bureau [3] has reported that one out of six Americans lives in poverty. A shocking figure. But it’s actually much worse. Inequality is spreading like a shadowy disease through our country, infecting more and more households, and leaving a shrinking number of financially secure families to maintain the charade of prosperity.

1. Almost half of Americans had NO assets in 2009

Analysis of Economic Policy Institute [4] data shows that Mitt Romney’s famous 47 percent [5], the alleged ‘takers,’ have taken nothing. Their debt exceeded their assets in 2009.

2. It’s Even Worse 3 Years Later

Since the recession, the disparities have continued to grow. An OECD report [6] states that “inequality has increased by more over the past three years to the end of 2010 than in the previous twelve,” with the U.S. experiencing one of the widest gaps among OECD countries. The 30-year decline in wages [7] has worsened since the recession, as low-wage jobs have replaced [8] formerly secure middle-income positions.

3. Based on wage figures, over half of Americans are now IN poverty.

According to IRS data, the average household in the bottom 50% brings in about $18,000 [9] per year. That’s less than the poverty line [10] for a family of three ($19,000) or a family of four ($23,000).

Census [11] income figures are about 25% higher, because they include [12] unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, public assistance, veterans’ payments, and various other monetary sources. Based on this supplemental income, the average household in the bottom 50% brings in about $25,000, which is just above the $23,000 poverty line for a family of four.

4. Based on wage figures, 75% of Americans are NEAR poverty.

According to IRS data, the average household in the bottom 75% earns about $31,000 [9] per year. To be eligible for food assistance, a family can earn up to 130% [13] of the federal poverty line, or about $30,000 for a family of four.

Again, Census [11] income figures are about 25% higher because of SNAP reporting [14] requirements, bringing average household income for the bottom 75% to about $39,000.

Incredibly, Congress is trying to cut [15] food assistance. Republican Congressman Stephen Fincher of Tennesseereferred [16] to food stamps as “stealing.” He added a Biblical quote: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” A recent jobs hearing [17] in Washington was attended by one Congressman.

5. Putting it in Perspective

Inequality is at its ugliest for the hungriest people. While food support was being targeted for cuts, just 20 rich Americans [18] made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire 2012 SNAP [19] (food assistance) budget, which serves 47 million people.

And as Congress continues to cut life-sustaining programs, its members should note that their 400 friends on theForbes list [20] made more from their stock market gains last year than the total amount of the food [19], housing [21], andeducation [21] budgets combined.

Mr. Fincher should think about the tax breaks that allow this to happen, and then tell us who’s stealing from whom.

See more stories tagged with:

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Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/economy/real-numbers-half-america-poverty-and-its-creeping-toward-75-0

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/paul-buchheit
[3] http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/about/overview/
[4] http://epi.3cdn.net/2a7ccb3e9e618f0bbc_3nm6idnax.pdf
[5] http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/12/13/mitt-romneys-47-percent-gaffe-tops-yales-quotes-of-the-year/
[6] http://www.oecd.org/els/soc/OECD2013-Inequality-and-Poverty-8p.pdf
[7] http://stateofworkingamerica.org/who-gains/#/?start=1979&end=2008
[8] http://www.nelp.org/page/-/Job_Creation/LowWageRecovery2012.pdf?nocdn=1
[9] http://www.usagainstgreed.org/TaxFoundnSumm2_brief_append.xls
[10] http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/12poverty.shtml
[11] http://www.usagainstgreed.org/CensusIncomeSummary2011.xls
[12] http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/about/overview/measure.html
[13] http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/applicant_recipients/eligibility.htm
[14] http://www.massresources.org/snap-financial-eligibility.html#incomecounted
[15] http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/05/14/2010531/senate-committee-approves-4b-in-food-aid-cuts-as-house-preps-even-worse-measure/
[16] http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2013/05/22/gop-congressman-stephen-fincher-on-a-mission-from-god-starve-the-poor-while-personally-pocketing-millions-in-farm-subsidies/
[17] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/24/lawmaker-unemployment-hearing_n_3148362.html
[18] http://www.usagainstgreed.org/Fortune400_2011-12.xls
[19] http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/FY13budsum.pdf
[20] http://www.forbes.com/sites/edwindurgy/2012/10/05/who-got-rich-this-week-a-new-billionaire/
[21] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_United_States_federal_budget
[22] http://www.alternet.org/tags/don-poverty
[23] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Progressive Activism Is Bubbling Up Across the Country -

- Here’s What’s Happening That the Corporate Media Can’t Be Bothered to ReportBy Kevin Zeese, Margaret Flowers, AlterNet, May 23, 2013 

This was a week that exemplified the historic moment in which we live.  We will look back at these times and see the seeds of a national revolt against concentrated wealth that puts profits ahead of people and the planet.

Mike Lux, who authored a history of the movements of the 1960s, wrote this week [4] that when he researched his book he “was struck by the fact that so many big things happened so close together.” Comparing that moment to today he writes, “We are living in such a moment in history right now, that organizers and activists are sparking off each other and inspiring each other, that there is something building out there that will bring bigger change down the road.”

That is how we felt as we watched and participated in this week’s unfolding.  We began the week prepared to focus our attention on the amazing teacher, student and community actions that were occurring in defense of schools.  In Philadelphia, there was a giant walk-out of schools [5] last Friday as students demanded their schools remain open and be adequately funded.  The photos of young people fighting for the basic necessity of education were an inspiration.

That was followed by three days of protests [6] in Chicago that were equally inspiring, students organized [7] and communities came together to fight for education.  Though corporate-mayor Rahm Emanuel’s carefully selected board voted to close 50 elementary schools [8] and one high school (while the city funds the building of a new basketball stadium), the Chicago activists say they are not done. They are just getting started.  It is that kind of persistence that wins transformation.  These school battles are part of a national plan to replace community schools with corporatized charter schools. The battles of Chicago, Philadelphia and other cities are all of our battles.

Then there were the college students, who inspired us with their bravery especially because they were not fighting for themselves but for the students who come after them.  At Cooper Union [9], students are in their second week of occupying the school president’s office. As the sit-in grew [10] to more than 100, they garnered increasing community support.  The school is about to begin to charge tuition, ending the nearly two century mission of its founder for free higher education. The students protesting will get free tuition; they are protesting for the students who follow. While they are sitting in, they are painting the president’s offices black and will continue to do so until he resigns his $750,000 a year job. Thousands have signed a “no confidence” petition [11] against the president and board chairman.

We believe that a country that really believed in its youth and was building for its future would provide free post-high school education, college or vocational school, to young adults rather than leaving them crippled by massive debt [12].

As the week went on, more Americans stood up and showed their power.  On Monday, people who have lost their homes to foreclosure or are threatened with foreclosure, along with their allies, began an occupation of the Department of Justice. Some of them joined us first as guests on our radio show [13] on We Act Radio. Afterwards, we went to Freedom Plaza where they rallied.  The coalition was a great mix of people of different ages, races and regions who were angry, organized and prepared.  They marched down Pennsylvania Ave. to the Department of Justice to demand that Attorney General Eric Holder prosecute the bankers who collapsed the economy and stole their homes.

They blocked the doors at the Department of Justice and put up tents [14] emblazoned with “Foreclose on Banks Not on People,” put up a home with “Bank Foreclosed” over it and blocked the streets with orange mesh saying “Foreclosure and Eviction Free Zone.”  As evening came, they moved their tents onto DOJ property, brought in a big couch and prepared to stay the night – and some did.  By the third day of protests, they moved to Covington and Burling [15], the corporate law firm that spawned Eric Holder and where the DOJ official in charge of prosecuting the banks, Lenny Breuer, who did not prosecute a single big bank now gets a $4 million annual salary [16]. In Congress the DOJ could not justify their claim [17] that prosecuting the big banks would hurt the economy.

The Home Defenders League/Occupy Our Homes actions broke through in the media as you can see at the end of this photo essay [14].  We particularly enjoyed the coverage in Forbes – someone claiming to be Jamie Dimon was arrested in DC [18] – reporting on protesters who gave the name of banksters when they were arrested. The police responded aggressively, which often attracts media coverage, including the tasering non-violent protesters [19]. And, we were pleased to see local groups, like Occupy Colorado, highlighting the efforts of their colleagues [20] who came to DC.

But, action in the nation’s capital did not end there.  There was also a massive walkout of food service workers [21] across the city.  The strike began at the building named for the famed union-destroying president, the Ronald Reagan Building, and then moved on, with a particular focus on Obama – the largest employer of low-wage workers [22].  Obama could end poverty federal wages with a stroke of the pen.  Will he?

DC is the sixth city to see low-wage workers striking, New York [23], Chicago [24], Detroit [25], St. Louis [26], and Milwaukee [27], came before the Capital.  Communities have stood with the workers [28] when employers threatened their jobs and people now need to do the same for the DC workers who are being threatened with job loss, please take action to support them [21].  And, coming up is the Wal-Mart workers’ “Ride for Respect” [29] to the annual shareholders meeting on June 7 which emulates the Freedom Riders.

Actions are happening throughout the country. In Illinois, so far two people have been arrested at a sit-in [30] in the capitol building to support a ban hydro-fracking. And, the reaction to the call for a fearless summer by front-line environmental groups [31] has been very strong. They are working together to plan major actions throughout the summer escalating resistance against extreme energy extraction. Pressure is building in the environmental movement [32] which now recognizes Obama is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Groups like 350.org that avoided protesting Obama, are now protesting his “grass roots” group, Organizing for America.

And, more is coming.  At the end of the week people who have been marching to Washington, DC from Philadelphia [33] as part of “Operation Green Jobs” will arrive to protest at the corporate bully of the capital – the US Chamber of Commerce – uniting the masses in opposition to the corporate lobbyists [34].  Their long walk to DC echoes a walk last week by people from Baltimore [35] seeking jobs and justice.

This Saturday will be the worldwide March Against Monsanto in 41 countries and nearly 300 cities.  We published an article in Truthout that explains why we should all protest Monsanto on May 25. [36]  This is a great example of non-hierarchical organizing as this protest was called by young grass roots activists [37] and supported by Occupy Monsanto.

One of the things that let us know the popular revolt is more powerful than we realize is the reaction of the power structure.  The Center for Media and Democracy issued a report this week [38] that examined thousands of pages of documents which showed how the national security apparatus against terrorism combined with corporate America to attack the occupy movement.  And, in Chicago one of the undercover police involved in the NATO 5 case, is still spying, now on students and teachers protesting school closures [39].  If they did not fear the people, would the power structure be behaving this way?

But, when you read reports about police acting in this undemocratic way, don’t forget that many of them do not like doing what they are ordered to do and that pulling them to join the popular revolt is part of our job. A mass movement needs people from the power structure to join it in order to achieve success. We highlight one this week, Officer Pedro Serrano of New York who took the great personal risk of taping his superiors [40] as part of an effort to end the racist ‘stop and frisk’ program of the NYPD.

And, it is great to see people planning ahead.  We got notice this week from activists in Maine planning for an October Drone Walk [41].  The anti-drone movement and Guantanamo protests have had very positive effects. This week, President Obama had to admit that he killed four Americans with drones, mostly by accident – even though the DoD claims drones are accurate.  Also this week, activists filed a war crimes complaint against Obama, Brennan and other officials [42] seeking their prosecution.  And Thursday, Obama was forced to make a public speech at the National Defense University about both the drone program and Guantanamo Bay Prison. Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, interrupted the speech several times such that the President had to acknowledge her and she asked powerful questions as she was escorted out by security. [See video and transcript [43].] Guantanamo activists responded to the president saying “no more excuses” and vowed to keep the pressure [44] on!

So, just as author Mike Lux saw in the 60s, there is a lot going on, lots of issues coming to a head at the same time and people taking action to confront them.  How do we get to the next phase of popular resistance?

Long time writer on movements and transformational change, Sam Smith, the editor of Progressive Review [45] wrote “The Great American Repair Manual in 1997,” we reprinted a portion of it this week: A Movement Manual [46].  The essence: movements are “propelled by large numbers of highly autonomous small groups linked not by a bureaucracy or a master organization but by the mutuality of their thought, their faith and their determination.” He recommends: organize from the bottom up, create a subculture, create symbols, develop an agenda and make the movement’s values clear. He also recommends becoming what you want to be – become an existentialist – writing “existence precedes essence. We are what we do.”  As far as building community power, we recommend this video from “The Democracy School” [47] on how to use local governance to challenge corporate power.”

Do not despair when the media says there is no popular resistance.  We have been covering the actions of the movement with weekly reports [48] since 2011 and even before the occupy movement [49] began, we saw Americans beginning to stand up. We knew it was the right time for occupy and we now see it is the right time for a mass  popular resistance.  We will be announcing a new project in mid-June to help bring the movement to a new level.  Sign up here to hear about it [50] and how you can help. To create the transformative change we want to see, we need people to get involved.

We agree with Mike Lux who writes [4]: “just as it took several years for the seeds planted in those 18 months in the early ’60s to take root and begin to bring about the changes of the years to come in terms of civil rights, women’s rights, and the environment, it will take several years for the seeds being planted now to fully take root. But I believe more and more that it will happen.”

The government responds with police force and ignores the demands of the people. Super majorities of Americans agree with the views of the popular resistance [51], even if they are not yet acting. This is a recipe for a mass eruption of movement activity.  We are in the midst of the pre-history of historic transformational change: a transformation, which will end the power of money to ensure that the people and planet come before profits.

(For a listing of upcoming protests see last week’s newsletter [52].)

This article is produced in partnership with AlterNet [53] and is based on a weekly newsletter for October2011/Occupy Washington, DC [54]. To sign up for the free newsletter, click here [50]. If you have actions you want to promote or report on write us at info@october2011.org [55].

 

See more stories tagged with:

protests [56]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/activism/progressive-activism-bubbling-across-country-heres-whats-happening-corporate-media-cant-be

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/kevin-zeese
[3] http://www.alternet.org/authors/margaret-flowers
[4] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/inspiring-each-other-forward
[5] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/thousands-students-walk-out-philadelphia-schools-protesting-budget-cuts
[6] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/chicago-school-protest-photos
[7] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/chicago-students-organizing-save-our-schools
[8] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/chicago-plans-close-schools-lots-money-stadiums-battle-community-schools-not-over
[9] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/free-cooper-union-continues-occupy-presidents-office-one-week-so-far
[10] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/cooper-union-sit-grows-more-100-student-bloc-solidarity-statement
[11] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/more-2000-sign-statement-no-confidence-cooper-union-president-and-board-chair
[12] http://itsoureconomy.us/2013/05/class-of-2013-student-debt-reaches-new-heights/
[13] http://clearingthefogradio.org/this-monday-may-20-home-defenders-expose-crimes-by-wall-street-banks/
[14] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/homeowner-defenders-protest-doj-failure-prosecute-big-banks
[15] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/third-day-homeonwer-protests-dc-focus-corporate-law-firm-covington-burling
[16] http://itsoureconomy.us/2013/03/dojs-lanny-breuer-cashes-in/
[17] http://itsoureconomy.us/2013/05/too-big-to-jail-dogs-obamas-justice-department-as-government-documents-raise-questions/
[18] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/someone-claiming-be-jamie-dimon-arrested-homeland-security
[19] http://october2011.org/blogs/margaret-flowers/peaceful-protester-tasered-outside-doj
[20] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/three-members-colorado-foreclosure-resistance-arrested-action-department-justice-e
[21] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/low-wage-workers-walk-out-dc-photo-essay
[22] http://itsoureconomy.us/2013/05/hundreds-of-low-wage-workers-go-on-strike-in-d-c/
[23] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/fast-food-workers-plan-surprise-strike
[24] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/fast-food-walkout-planned-chicago
[25] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/largest-fast-food-strike-yet-workers-walk-out-michigan
[26] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/surprise-fast-food-strike-planned-st-louis
[27] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/fast-food-strikes-hitting-fifth-city-milwaukee
[28] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/fast-food-worker-rehired-help-community
[29] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/protesting-walmart-ride-respect-new-freedom-riders
[30] http://october2011.org/blogs/margaret-flowers/two-arrested-so-far-sit-ban-fracking-il
[31] http://wearefearlesssummer.tumblr.com/
[32] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/climate-change-obama-faces-attack-his-left-flank
[33] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/march-operation-green-jobs-philadelphia-washington-dc-beginning-may-18th
[34] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/operation-green-jobs-unite-masses-marching-corporate-lobbyists
[35] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/poor-peoples-campaign-marches-baltimore-washington-dc
[36] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/why-protest-monsanto-may-25th
[37] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/interview-march-against-monsanto-director
[38] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/dissent-or-terror-new-report-details-how-counter-terrorism-apparatus-was-used-moni
[39] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/undercover-police-officer-connected-nato-5-case-still-spying-protest-chicago
[40] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/nypd-officer-who-trying-end-stop-and-frisk
[41] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/plan-ahead-october-drone-walk-maine
[42] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/antidrone-activists-file-war-crimes-complaint-against-obama-brennan-and-others
[43] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/medea-benjamin-interrupts-obama-drone-speech-excellent-questions-drones
[44] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/close-guantanamo-protesters-promise-keep-pressure-after-obama-speech
[45] http://prorev.com/
[46] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/rebuilding-america-movement-not-campaign
[47] http://october2011.org/blogs/kevin-zeese/using-local-governance-challenge-corporate-power-democracy-school
[48] http://october2011.org/pages/weekly-updates
[49] http://october2011.org/blogs/organizer/it-can-be-done-now-time
[50] http://october2011.org/pledge
[51] http://october2011.org/standwiththemajority
[52] http://october2011.org/blogs/margaret-flowers/weekly-update-courageous-and-inspiring-popular-resistance
[53] http://alternet.org
[54] http://www.occupywashingtondc.org/
[55] mailto:info@october2011.org
[56] http://www.alternet.org/tags/protests-0
[57] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Turned off from politics? That’s exactly what the politicians want.

By Steven Pearlstein, Washington Post, April 20, 2012

If you asked Americans to identify the most noticeable change in U.S. politics over the past two decades, they’d probably answer that politics has become more polarized and that this has made it harder for the government to address the problems the country faces.

To say politics has become polarized is another way of saying that the politicians we nominate and elect have moved away from the ideological center, that the Democratic Party has become more liberal and the Republicans more conservative, with little or no overlap. Liberal Republicans are all but extinct, and conservative Democrats aren’t far behind. Genuine bipartisan compromise has gone from standard practice to quaint anomaly. In Washington and increasingly in state capitals, once a majority of the party in control of a chamber decides what it wants to do, everyone else in the party is expected to line up behind it — and everyone in the other party lines up to oppose it.

Public opinion polls consistently report that Americans aren’t happy with these developments — they don’t like partisanship or gridlock — and that their views on issues are closer to the center than to the extreme positions in either party. And it’s not just the voters. Politicians themselves are frustrated at not being able to get things done; they chafe at their loss of independence and public respect; they loathe the endless fundraising needed to wage unending partisan warfare.

So if voters and politicians don’t like it, why does this polarization persist? In a democracy, like in any open market, having everyone pursue their own self-interest is supposed to generate the best outcome for society. What is causing this political market failure?

In the vision of politics that many of us carry around in our heads, it is the “median voter,” at the center of the ideological spectrum, who ultimately is supposed to determine the long-term course of government policy. In this model, the best way — the only way — for a party to increase its political market share is to moderate its views to attract such independent swing voters. When either party has tried a different strategy (Barry Goldwater in ’64, say, or George McGovern in ’72), it has failed.

But something fundamental seems to have changed in the political marketplace. The winning strategy is no longer to be more moderate than your opponent, to offer a bigger tent. Instead, it is to be more zealous and committed to your party’s ideology.

This transformation has its roots in what has become the dominant reality of American politics: the arms race in campaign finance. Candidates and parties now raise and spend enormous sums, well beyond what would reasonably be needed to provide for a well-informed electorate and well beyond what is raised and spent in other advanced democracies.

These days, the average Senate candidate raises and spends $9 million to win election, which works out to slightly more than $4,000 for each day of a six-year term. For the average House candidate, it’s $1.4 million, or just under $2,000 per day in office (including Saturdays, Sundays and holidays). These sums are several times what they were 25 years ago.

Given this dramatic increase in campaign spending by those with the most intimate knowledge of campaigns, and with the most at stake in the outcomes, it’s probably safe to conclude that this spending must work — that it can determine the outcome of close contests. In fact, it appears to work so well that it has now been embraced by a growing legion of “independent” entities with their own fundraising and campaign spending.

And how is the money spent? Anyone with a telephone, TV set or Internet connection has surely noticed that it is mainly used to produce an ever-increasing volume of negative, distorting and ideologically tinged advertising about opposing candidates and parties.

Contrary to what many believe, the central effect of such negative advertising isn’t to move voters from supporting another candidate to backing yours, as Mitt Romney and his allies have discovered during this primary season. The main effect is not even to move undecided voters into your column. No, the real effect of negative advertising is to energize and solidify support among your ideological base while turning everyone else off to the other candidate, the campaign and the entire electoral process. Negative advertising isn’t about changing minds; it’s about altering the composition of the voter pool on Election Day by turning moderate voters into non-voters.

This is particularly true in low-turnout elections such as primaries and midterm contests. But it is even true these days in high-turnout elections.

Peter Hart, the dean of American political pollsters, notes that President George W. Bush won Ohio in 2004 by boosting voter turnout among conservatives in exurban and rural areas. If turnout in those areas had been the same as in the rest of the state, Bush would have lost Ohio and the election. And a key to the strategy was massive amounts of negative advertising.

Similarly, in 2008, Barack Obama was able to use negative advertising to move the traditionally Republican states of North Carolina and Virginia into the Democratic column, increasing turnout of reliably liberal voters around Charlotte and in Northern Virginia while dampening enthusiasm for the GOP candidate, Sen. John McCain, everywhere else.

Energizing the base has another important advantage: It increases campaign contributions from both small donors and rich zealots. That money can be plowed back into yet more negative advertising along with sophisticated get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day. This self-reinforcing cycle creates a strong incentive for politicians to abandon the center and move permanently to the ideological extreme. You do not energize the base through moderation and compromise.

What makes this an effective and rational strategy, of course, is the phenomenon known as “free riding.” When you think about it, it’s pretty irrational for any of us to vote. During these endless campaigns, it takes an extraordinary amount of time and energy to inform yourself about the candidates and their positions. And it takes time and energy to interrupt your daily schedule and vote. And for what? Rarely, if ever, does any single vote make a difference in the outcome. The rational thing is to just stay home and let everyone else do their civic duty while we still enjoy the full benefits of democracy.

Unfortunately, if everyone follows that individually rational strategy, the political market fails, democracy doesn’t work, and we end up with a far-from-optimal outcome. And that is precisely the market failure that shrewd political campaigns seek to turn to their advantage.

There is a vigorous academic debate over whether negative advertising depresses or increases voter turnout. I suspect it does both, depressing turnout among moderates and independents while stimulating it at the ideological extremes. In that process, what has changed is the composition of the turnout rather than its overall level.

So, if this is such a winning strategy, why is it taking hold only now?

The most obvious reason is that American politics has gone through a gradual realignment since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which finally ended the Democratic hold on the South. The economic decline of the Midwest Rust Belt and the rapid growth in the Sunbelt were also big parts of this process. One result of this geographic shift has been that states and congressional districts became more politically and ideologically homogenous and thus more heavily tilted toward one party or the other — and all the more susceptible to aggressive redistricting strategies. In such an environment, appealing to moderate swing voters has become far less important.

Technology has also played a role. It is much easier today to pursue a strategy of energizing the base and suppressing the moderate vote when you can tailor your messages to different groups. Because of the Internet, sophisticated databases and cable television networks that hew to one ideology or another, such targeting is now easier and more effective.

More recently, the rise of “independent campaigns” run by PACs, unions, business organizations and other special interest groups has also heightened the polarization. These groups tend to air ads that are even more negative and more ideologically charged than the ones from the candidates themselves. And the candidates have been all too happy to reap the benefits while distancing themselves from such tactics.

The irony is that the politicians who prevail in these gladiator contests inherit a system so bitter, so partisan and so ideologically polarized that they can’t accomplish anything. They know that they and their constituents would be better off if they cooperated and compromised more, but they just can’t. If they try, they face a serious risk of being run out of office, either in the next primary by someone who better appeals to the party’s political base, or in the general election by an opponent whose extremism has allowed him or her to energize the other side’s core voters.

Politics has become a tragedy — a tragedy of the commons, that is. The individual pursuit of rational self-interest by parties and politicians, which in political and economic theory is supposed to generate the best outcome, has instead led to a cycle in which extremism, partisanship and stalemate all beget more of the same. We keep thinking it can’t continue like this, but it only gets worse.

Some may complain that this analysis falls into the trap of moral equivalency, failing to note that Republicans practice the politics of extremism and suppression of the moderate vote and that Democrats offer more moderation and compromise. But while it is true that the move away from the political center has been asymmetric and probably began with the Republicans, the success of that strategy has now forced everyone to play the same game.

These days, congressional Democrats and Obama campaign strategists make no secret of their belief that previous attempts at moderation and compromise have not been to their benefit and that they have no choice but to energize their base with a tougher, more left-leaning campaign.

And to those who now expect Romney to move to the center as he shifts from primary- to general-election mode, I’d point out that didn’t happen with either John Kerry or Bush in 2004, or Obama or McCain in 2008. The problem with Sarah Palin wasn’t that she was too ideologically extreme — that part of her selection as McCain’s running mate is still considered a base-energizing, game-changing masterstroke. The problem was that her hard-edged ideology was not matched by a hard-core understanding of the issues.

We know the solutions to escalating polarization: A disarmament treaty for the campaign finance arms race involving spending caps and contribution limits. A ban on campaign spending by independent groups. A requirement that all broadcasters and cable networks provide free advertising time to all candidates. A requirement that everyone vote or face a fine. Transferring redistricting powers from party leaders to unelected, nonpartisan experts. And that hardy perennial, a third-party movement.

Simply to list these ideas, however, is to acknowledge how unlikely it is that the system can correct itself.

Arms races, free riding, tragedies of the commons — these failures in economic markets are well understood. The solutions usually involve some form of government action or regulation. But when similar failures occur in political markets, there are no institutions capable of stepping in and forcing the necessary collaboration or collective action.

Government can’t be the solution when it is the problem.

pearlstein@washpost.com

Steven Pearlstein is a Washington Post business and economics columnist and Robinson professor at George Mason University. This essay is adapted from the Harold Gortner Lecture he delivered at the university on April 16.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/turned-off-from-politics-thats-exactly-what-the-politicians-want/2012/04/20/gIQAffxKWT_story.html

Want to end partisan politics? Here’s what won’t work — and what will.

By Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, Washington Post, May 17, 2012

Excerpt

Washington is broken, that our political system can’t grapple with the nation’s big, long-term problems. So what can be done about it? Unfortunately, the cures that get tossed around are often misguided, sometimes even worse than the disease. Here are five much-praised solutions we should avoid, followed by four that have a chance to make a meaningful difference.

1 A third party to the rescue

2 Term limits will save us

3 A balanced-budget amendment can fix the economy

4 Public financing of elections will restrain special interests

5 Stay calm — things will get back to normal eventually…it is not exactly comforting to compare what’s going on now to the years leading up to the Civil War. And an examination of the Obama presidency suggests that we are experiencing neither politics as usual nor an odd blip. We are witnessing unprecedented and unbalanced polarization of the parties, with Republicans acting like a parliamentary minority party opposing almost everything put forward by the Democrats; the near-disappearance of the regular order in Congress; the misuse of the filibuster as a weapon not of dissent but of obstruction; and the relentless delegitimization of the president and policies enacted into law.

…a more sensible and promising reform agenda, one more focused on fixing the party system and addressing the roots and the weapons of political partisanship.

1 Realistic campaign finance reform

2 Converting votes into seats

3 Restoring majority rule in the Senate

4 Expanding the electorate…In the United States, such near-universal voting could eliminate the parties’ incentive to diminish the turnout of their opponents’ supporters and to mobilize the ideological extremes. Boosting overall turnout would help tilt the balance back toward where most Americans actually are: closer to the middle.

Full text

Political dysfunction. Partisanship at record levels. Attack politics run amok. And public approval of Congress scraping the single digits (Sen. John McCain is fond of saying it’s down to blood relatives and paid staff).

We’ve all heard the laments — we’ve made some of them ourselvesthat Washington is broken, that our political system can’t grapple with the nation’s big, long-term problems. So what can be done about it? Unfortunately, the cures that get tossed around are often misguided, sometimes even worse than the disease. Here are five much-praised solutions we should avoid, followed by four that have a chance to make a meaningful difference.

1A third party to the rescue

Ah, if only we had a third force, an independent movement that could speak plain truths to the public and ignite the silent, centrist majority around common-sense solutions.

Sound familiar? In recent decades, Ross Perot, John Anderson and George Wallace have pursued a serious third-party route, although only Wallace managed to win any electoral votes. But that hasn’t stopped high-profile columnists such as Tom Friedman of the New York Times and Matt Miller of The Washington Post from singing this siren song, along with former elected officials such as Republican Christine Todd Whitman, Democrat David Boren and many others. The much-hyped Americans Elect group — which was to harness the democratic spirit of the Internet to find a centrist third-party presidential candidate for the 2012 race — is a prime example of this approach.

One problem: Despite Americans’ disgust with our politics, about 90 percent of us identify with — or at least lean toward — one of the two major parties. Among Americans who call themselves independent, two-thirds lean to one of the parties, and behave at the polls just like the partisans. So the core audience for a third party is perhaps 10 percent of the electorate. So-called independents are classic referendum voters; when times are bad, they want to throw the bums out rather than carefully attribute responsibility or parse alternatives.

The third-party fantasy is of a courageous political leader who could persuade Americans to support enlightened policies to tax carbon; reform entitlements; make critical investments in education, energy and infrastructure; and eliminate tax loopholes to raise needed revenue. But there is simply no evidence that voters would flock to a straight-talking, independent, centrist third-party candidate espousing the ideas favored by most third-party enthusiasts. Consensus is not easily built around such issues, and differences in values and interests would not simply disappear in a nonpartisan, centrist haze.

Just ask Americans Elect, which was unable to coalesce around a single candidate, despite spending $35 million.

2 Term limits will save us

This is the quintessential bromide for curing American democracy. The case seems self-evident: Career politicians in safe seats lose touch with their constituents, become beholden to the Washington establishment and stop acting in the public interest. Term limits, we’re told, would replace them with citizen-lawmakers who cared less about reelection and more about acting on behalf of their fellow citizens — thus restoring Congress to its intended role as the citadel of deliberative democracy.

Does it work? Term limits of some sort have been implemented in 21 states since 1990 (in six of them, the limits were ultimately overturned), and the experience has given scholars time and opportunity to evaluate them. But instead of channeling ambition in the right, public-interest direction, term limits have the opposite effect: New lawmakers immediately begin planning for ways to reach the next level, or to find lucrative lobbying jobs when they are term-limited out. They have no incentive to do things for the long-term and no regard for maintaining their own institutions. With the loss of expertise among senior lawmakers, power devolves to permanent staff members and to lobbyists.

If anything, voters should look to candidates with a stake in the regular order, an understanding of the need to compromise, a willingness to build expertise in important policy areas, and an incentive to listen to constituents — all features that are more likely among politicians with longer horizons.

3A balanced-budget amendment can fix the economy

Another hardy perennial is the notion that a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget would end Washington’s rapacious habits and force politicians to make tough fiscal decisions. After all, 49 states have such an amendment in their constitutions, so why not Washington?

In fact, the states’ balanced budgets are the best reason to avoid one at the federal level. When a downturn occurs, basic economic theory tells us that we need “counter-cyclical” policies to inject adrenaline into a fatigued economy — meaning more government spending and/or lower taxes. States do the opposite: A downturn means less revenue and more demands from unemployed residents, so they cut spending and raise taxes to preserve their balanced budgets. The fiscal drag from states in the recent Great Recession amounted to $800 billion, which the Obama administration’s stimulus plan barely offset. A federal balanced-budget amendment would only have aggravated the downturn — the economic equivalent of bleeding an anemic patient.

The latest House Republican proposals for a balanced-budget amendment would limit spending to 19.9 percent of gross domestic product and make any tax increases contingent on a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of Congress. Because federal revenue is now at barely more than 15 percent of GDP and spending is at 24 percent, balancing the budget under these conditions would essentially eliminate all of the government other than the big entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare — or would require cutting those programs severely.

Maintaining fiscal flexibility is critical in the American political system, particularly in a globalized economy where less and less of our destiny is under our control. And the experience of the 1990s demonstrates that the White House and Congress together can take the steps needed to balance the budget under existing rules.

4 Public financing of elections will restrain special interests

Certainly, in the post-Citizens United world, the financing of political campaigns is a nightmare — a Wild West of secret big money and a new Gilded Age of influence peddling by special interests.

But full public financing of campaigns is not the answer. We understand the appeal, but short of an unlikely constitutional amendment or a reconstituted Supreme Court placing limits on private money in political campaigns, public funding simply cannot provide candidates enough resources to overcome hugely expensive “independent” campaigns against them by super PACs. Even then, the influence of organizations such as the National Rifle Association, AARP, the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO is not defined simply by the money they spend on campaigns. They also mobilize powerful collections of single-minded members and followers to pressure lawmakers; and they hire former lawmakers or congressional staff members to gain access to power and boost policy expertise on key issues. Campaign donations are a relatively small part of the resources they invest in influencing government.

Whether or not campaign money is the key, restricting the flow of private money in politics has proven devilishly difficult, and the actions of the Roberts Supreme Court and the feckless Federal Election Commission have made it virtually impossible.

5 Stay calm — things will get back to normal eventually

Finally, there are some analysts who do not think that our times are particularly exceptional, that under economic stress, advanced democracies grapple with dysfunction, and that as life calms down, so will our politics. They also point out that the 111th Congress (the last one) was extremely productive, passing health-care reform, financial regulation and an economic stimulus package.

David R. Mayhew, a political scientist at Yale and the author of books such as “Divided We Govern” and “Partisan Balance,” is a prominent adherent of this view. Most of the political imbalances of our era “have not been major, permanent systemic problems,” he argues. “More precisely, at least during recent generations, many alleged problems have proven to be nonexistent, short term, limited, tolerable, or correctable.”

No doubt, acrimony and gridlock are built-in features of our political system, and it is true that we have had several eras of intense stress and polarization, including the period right before the Civil War and around the turn of the 20th century.

Yet, it is not exactly comforting to compare what’s going on now to the years leading up to the Civil War. And an examination of the Obama presidency suggests that we are experiencing neither politics as usual nor an odd blip. We are witnessing unprecedented and unbalanced polarization of the parties, with Republicans acting like a parliamentary minority party opposing almost everything put forward by the Democrats; the near-disappearance of the regular order in Congress; the misuse of the filibuster as a weapon not of dissent but of obstruction; and the relentless delegitimization of the president and policies enacted into law.

Given the defeat of problem-solvers such as Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and the emergence of take-no-prisoners partisans such as Richard Mourdock, there is no reason to think the system will correct itself anytime soon.

So, if these solutions won’t work, what will? There is a more sensible and promising reform agenda, one more focused on fixing the party system and addressing the roots and the weapons of political partisanship.

1 Realistic campaign finance reform

Without a different Supreme Court, serious problems with money in politics will endure. But there are fruitful reform possibilities outside the public financing of elections; namely, restoring the effectiveness of two provisions of the law the court affirmed in Citizens United: disclosure and the separation of independent spending groups (such as super PACs) from the candidates and campaigns they support.

Passage of straightforward disclosure legislation requiring the timely identification of all significant donors to independent campaign ads (say, of $5,000 or more) would be a big step. Combine that with real efforts by the Internal Revenue Service to simply enforce its own regulations on nonprofit 501(c)4 entities to keep sham organizations from exploiting the law to hide political donors, and we would be on a path to real disclosure.

Congress could also pass a measure to sharply tighten the anti-coordination provisions that require unlimited donations to be totally independent of candidates and their campaigns. Even absent such legislation, the Justice Department could prosecute those who violate the coordination bans in cases where the brazen behavior has been most evident. (The fact that Foster Friess, who bankrolled the “independent” effort to back Rick Santorum’s presidential candidacy, sat next to Santorum on his campaign plane and stood behind him at campaign rallies shows how farcical the practice has become.) Justice does not need to wait for the Federal Election Commission to act — it would be waiting a long time.

2 Converting votes into seats

With the partisan redrawing of congressional district lines skewing American politics, we support a redistricting process that — like several states have done — uses independent commissions to draw the lines based on respect for communities’ boundaries and for real political competitiveness. It is no cure-all (none of these solutions is), but such an effort could contain and possibly reduce our escalating partisanship.

Another option that would help make votes more accurately reflect the electorate’s real feelings is instant runoff voting, where voters can rank their candidate preferences. Such a system produces majority winners, eliminates the spoiler role and reduces the “wasted vote” calculation for minor-party candidates, allowing them to participate more fully in the election process. Building more legitimate majorities in this fashion could extend the electoral reach of the major parties and thereby reduce their polarization.

3 Restoring majority rule in the Senate

Restoring the filibuster to its traditional role of allowing an intense minority to temporarily hold up action on issues of great national import — and away from its new use as a regular weapon for obstruction — should be a top priority. Senate rules should allow only one filibuster on any bill (now there can be two or more). Currently, the burden is on the majority to provide the 60 votes to break a filibuster; instead, the minority party should have to take the floor and hold it via debate, and provide the 41 votes needed to maintain the filibuster.

Senate rules should guarantee an up-or-down vote on executive and judicial nominations reported out of the relevant committees, with a time limit for holds on the nominations.

In return for allowing true majorities to ultimately prevail, finding a way to allow a minority to offer a respectable number of relevant amendments on most bills is a reasonable trade-off.

4 Expanding the electorate

Consider the Australian system of mandatory attendance at the polls, where not showing up results in a fine of $15 or so. This modest penalty has spurred participation of more than 90 percent since the 1925 reform. Australian politicians can count on their bases turning out, so they focus on persuadable voters in the middle. Instead of campaigning on marginal wedge issues, they talk about the economy, jobs, education — and they seek to attract a majority from the entire citizenry.

In the United States, such near-universal voting could eliminate the parties’ incentive to diminish the turnout of their opponents’ supporters and to mobilize the ideological extremes. Boosting overall turnout would help tilt the balance back toward where most Americans actually are: closer to the middle.

Other promising avenues to expand the electorate include automating the registration process (so voters can register online and carry their documentation with them when they move from one state to another) and to open up the primaries, as California has done, to all voters. Over time, open primaries could produce more moderate elected officials.

Finally, if we can’t persuade more Americans to vote with the threat of a fine, how about the promise of untold riches? Millions lined up — sometimes wasting all night — for a shot at the Mega Millions lottery in March. How about another lottery, where your vote stub is a ticket, and where the prize is the money collected from the fines of those who didn’t vote? The odds of the mega-jackpot were about 1 in 176 million — we’d like to believe that the chances of fixing American politics are a bit better than that.

tmann@brookings.edu

nornstein@aei.org

Thomas E. Mann is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is adapted from their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.”

Read more from Outlook, including:

Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.

Turned off from politics? That’s exactly what the politicians want.

Book review: ‘It’s Even Worse Than It Looks’ by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

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http://failover.washingtonpost.com/opinions/want-to-end-partisan-politics-heres-what-wont-work–and-what-will/2012/05/17/gIQA5jqcWU_story.html

Political dysfunction spells trouble for democracies

By E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, May 19, 2013

Mini-excerpt

…it’s worth asking if there is something especially flawed about our democracy. …We should consider whether democracy itself is in danger of being discredited. Politicians might usefully disentangle themselves from their day-to-day power struggles long enough to take seriously their responsibility to a noble idea and the systems that undergird it[there are] two streams of discontent the world’s democracies face. One is material. The other might be called spiritual… politicians might contemplate their obligations to stewardship of the democratic ideal…

Excerpt

…it’s worth asking if there is something especially flawed about our democracy. Our circumstances certainly have their own particular disabilities: a radicalization of conservative politics, over-the-top mistrust of President Obama on the right, high-tech gerrymandering in the House and a Senate snarled by non-constitutional super-majority requirements…We should consider whether democracy itself is in danger of being discredited. Politicians might usefully disentangle themselves from their day-to-day power struggles long enough to take seriously their responsibility to a noble idea and the systems that undergird itEarlier this month, the Transatlantic Academy, a global partnership of think tanks led by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, issued “The Democratic Disconnect,” a sober report by a group of distinguished academics. “Democracy is in trouble,” the report begins. “The collective engagement of a concerned citizenry for the public good — the bedrock of a healthy democracy — is eroding. Democratic governments often seem crippled in their capacity to deliver what their people want and need. They are neither as responsive nor as accountable as they need to be in an era of hard choices and rising nondemocratic powers. There is widespread concern about apparent declining rates of voter participation and about the alienation or disaffection of citizens from the political process.”…Ernst Hillebrand, the head of international policy analysis for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the German Social Democratic Party’s think tank…pointed to two streams of discontent the world’s democracies face. One is material. The other might be called spiritual. On the one side, large numbers of lower-middle-class and working-class voters have seen their economic standing deteriorate over two or three decades. There has been a substantial transfer of wealth and income from labor — which is how most people pay their way — to capital. Productivity gains no longer lead to wage gains. This builds justified frustration. At the same time, he said, many citizens, especially the young, have enhanced expectations for “participation, self-realization and control over their lives.” They do not see current electoral arrangements in democracies giving them much chance to achieve any of these goals. Since World War II, bouts of economic growth have allowed democracies to buy their way out of trouble. One can hope this will happen again — and soon. In the meantime, politicians might contemplate their obligations to stewardship of the democratic ideal. They could begin by pondering what an unemployed 28-year-old makes of a ruling elite that expends so much energy feuding over how bureaucrats rewrote a set of talking points.

Full text

We know American politics are dysfunctional. But after a week of scandal obsession during which the nation’s capital and the media virtually ignored the problems most voters care about — jobs, incomes, growth, opportunity, education — it’s worth asking if there is something especially flawed about our democracy.

Our circumstances certainly have their own particular disabilities: a radicalization of conservative politics, over-the-top mistrust of President Obama on the right, high-tech gerrymandering in the House and a Senate snarled by non-constitutional super-majority requirements.

Still, while it may not be much of a comfort, the democratic distemper is not a peculiarly American phenomenon. Across most of the democratic world, there is an impatience bordering on exhaustion with electoral systems and political classes.

Citizen dissatisfaction is hardly surprising in the wake of a deeply damaging economic downturn. That doesn’t make the challenge any less daunting. We should consider whether democracy itself is in danger of being discredited. Politicians might usefully disentangle themselves from their day-to-day power struggles long enough to take seriously their responsibility to a noble idea and the systems that undergird it.

It’s not hard to discover that this conundrum is global and not just our own. “Has democracy had its day?” is the headline on Columbia University historian Mark Mazower’s cover story in the May issue of Prospect, a British magazine. The subhead: “Electoral politics has had a bad decade.”

Earlier this month, the Transatlantic Academy, a global partnership of think tanks led by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, issued “The Democratic Disconnect,” a sober report by a group of distinguished academics.

“Democracy is in trouble,” the report begins. “The collective engagement of a concerned citizenry for the public good — the bedrock of a healthy democracy — is eroding. Democratic governments often seem crippled in their capacity to deliver what their people want and need. They are neither as responsive nor as accountable as they need to be in an era of hard choices and rising nondemocratic powers. There is widespread concern about apparent declining rates of voter participation and about the alienation or disaffection of citizens from the political process.”

In Europe, the authors noted, “there is fear that the distance between ordinary citizens and the politicians and bureaucrats in Brussels compromises democratic legitimacy.” In the United States, “lamentations about gridlock and polarization are the order of the day.” Even our peaceable neighbor Canada is not immune. “Canadians,” they write, “worry about the tendency of their political system to place largely unaccountable power in the hands of the prime minister.”

The report does include some useful suggestions for reviving the democratic spirit and improving democratic practice. But it is not alarmist to be uneasy about democracy’s prospects. Ernst Hillebrand, the head of international policy analysis for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the German Social Democratic Party’s think tank, describes a chilling finding in a 2009 survey by the German polling firm Forsa: “that zero percent — yes, zero percent — of workers in Germany believe they can have a significant impact on how policy in Germany is shaped via the ballot box.”

And bear in mind that a poll released last week by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that Germans are far more satisfied with their country’s situation than are their European neighbors.

In a conversation last week during a visit to Washington, Hillebrand pointed to two streams of discontent the world’s democracies face. One is material. The other might be called spiritual.

On the one side, large numbers of lower-middle-class and working-class voters have seen their economic standing deteriorate over two or three decades. There has been a substantial transfer of wealth and income from labor — which is how most people pay their way — to capital. Productivity gains no longer lead to wage gains. This builds justified frustration.

At the same time, he said, many citizens, especially the young, have enhanced expectations for “participation, self-realization and control over their lives.” They do not see current electoral arrangements in democracies giving them much chance to achieve any of these goals.

Since World War II, bouts of economic growth have allowed democracies to buy their way out of trouble. One can hope this will happen again — and soon. In the meantime, politicians might contemplate their obligations to stewardship of the democratic ideal. They could begin by pondering what an unemployed 28-year-old makes of a ruling elite that expends so much energy feuding over how bureaucrats rewrote a set of talking points.

Read more on this topic: The Post’s View: European Union economic crisis grinds on George F. Will: The European Union is a coalition of irresponsibility Steven Pearlstein: Turned off from politics? That’s exactly what the politicians want. Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein: Want to end partisan politics? Here’s what won’t work, and what will

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ej-dionne-political-dysfunctions-spells-trouble-for-democracies/2013/05/19/757fedba-bf28-11e2-97d4-a479289a31f9_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

Quotations of African American Women

The Wisdom of African American Women

Researched and compiled for the Givens Foundation

by Paideia LLC ©2002  All rights reserved.

Quotation Author

 

As long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you otherwise might. (1957) Marian Anderson.
In my life, if you have a purpose in which you can believe, there’s no end to the amount of things you can accomplish. Marian Anderson
A solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities. Maya Angelou
Each time a dancer moves devoutly or a composer faithfully searches the silence for veiled melodies, eternity is engaged. (in “The Jamison Spirit”, Essence, December, 1990) Maya Angelou
I have forgiven myself; I’ll make a change. Once that forgiveness has taken place you can console yourself with the knowledge that a diamond is the result of extreme pressure. Less pressure is crystal, less than that is coal, less than that is fossilized leaves or plain dirt. Pressure can change you into something quite precious, quite wonderful, quote beautiful and extremely hard. Maya Angelou
I try to live what I consider a “poetic existence.” That mean I take responsibility for the air I breathe and the space I take up. I try to be immediate, to be totally present for all my work. Maya Angelou
If one is lucky a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities. Maya Angelou
Life seems to love the liver of it. Maya Angelou,
Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the spaces between the notes and curl my back to loneliness. Maya Angelou
Nothing can dim the light that shines from within. Maya Angelou
One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. Maya Angelou,
Reality has changed so chameleonlike before my eyes so many times that I have learned, or am learning, to trust almost anything except what appears to be so. Maya Angelou
Self-pity in its early stage is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable. Maya Angelou
Surviving is important, but thriving is elegant. Maya Angelou
There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth. Maya Angelou
To be human is to be challenged to be more divine. Not even to try to meet such a challenge is the biggest defeat imaginable. Maya Angelou
Tragedy, no matter how sad, becomes boring to those not caught up in its addictive caress. Maya Angelou
You may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I’ll rise. Maya Angelou
There’s a period of life when we swallow a knowledge of ourselves and it becomes either good or sour inside. Pearl Bailey
You cannot belong to anyone else until you belong to yourself. Pearl Bailey
You must change in order to survive. Pearl Bailey
You never find yourself until you face the truth. Pearl Bailey
Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it might be a diamond in the rough. Mary McLeod Bethune
Seek to be an artist. Ceases to be a drudge. Mary McLeod Bethune
ART is refining and evocative translation of the materials of the world. Gwendolyn Brooks
I have never cared too much what people way. What I am interested in is what they do. Shirley Chisholm
Service is the rent you pay for room on this earth. Shirley Chisholm
Individual ideas – like breaths – are waiting to be drawn from an unlimited supply. Margaret Danner
In our dreams, we are always young. Sadie Delany
Go within every day and find the inner strength so that the world will not blow your candle out. Katherine Dunham
Service is the rent each of us pays for living – the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time or after you have reached your personal goals. Marian Wright Edelman
You really can change the world if you care enough. Marian Wright Edelman
People should raise their children so that other people will love them. (Minneapolis c. 1990) Josephine Ewing
It isn’t where you came from; it’s where you’re going that counts. Ella Fitzgerald
Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there’s love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong. Ella Fitzgerald
Mistakes are a fact of life/ It is the response to the error that counts. Nikki Giovanni
This is one of the glories of man, the inventiveness of the human mind and the human spirit: whenever life doesn’t seem to give an answer, we create one. Lorraine Hansberry
God has blessed you when he lets you believe in somebody. Billie Holliday
It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it. Lena Horne
I love myself when I am laughing. Zora Neale Hurston
Learning without wisdom is a load of books on a donkey’s back. Zora Neale Hurston
Now women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. Zora Neale Hurston
Once you wake up thought in a man, you can never put it to sleep again. Zora Neale Hurston,
Tell me, and then again show me, so I can know. Zora Neale Hurston
God can make you anything you want to be, but you have to put everything into his hands. Mahalia Jackson
Friend! It is a common word, often lightly used. Like other good and beautiful things, it may be tarnished by careless handling. Harriet Ann Jacobs
If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got. Moms Mabley
Blues is to jazz what yeast is to bread – without it, it’s flat. Carmen McRae
As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think. Toni Morrison
There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. Give it up. Bernice Johnson Reagon
I have always respected everyone’s religion. As I say, there is only one God and a lot of confused people. Hazel Scott
If you reach for something and find out it’s the wrong thing, you change your program and move on. Hazel Scott
Jazz is not just music, it’s a way of life, it’s a way of being, a way of thinking. I think that the Negro in America is jazz. Everything he does – the slang he uses, the way he walks, the way he talks, his jargon, the new inventive phrases we make up to describe things – all that to me is jazz just as much as the music we play. Nina Simone
One day at a time — this is enough. Do not look back and grieve over the past, for it is gone; and do not be troubled about the future, for it has not yet come. Live in the present, and make it so beautiful that it will be worth remembering. Ida Scott Taylor
Religion without humanity is poor human stuff. Sojourner Truth
I am not a special person. I am a regular person who does special things. Sara Vaughan
No person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow
Alice Walker
To know is to exist; to exist is to be involved, to move about, to see the world with my own eyes. Alice Walker
Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment. Oprah Winfrey
I am where I am because of the bridges that I crossed. Sojourner Truth was a bridge. Harriet Tubman was a bridge. Ida B. Wells was a bridge. Madame C. J. Walker was a bridge. Fannie Lou Hamer was a bridge. Oprah Winfrey
I do not believe in failure. It is not failure if you enjoyed the process. Oprah Winfrey

 

Quotations of African American men

Author 

 

The Wisdom of African American MenResearched and compiled by Paideia LLC  ©2002

10-16-02

Quotation

Peter Abrahams The words dripped on my consciousness, sank into my being, and carried me away to the magic long ago of once upon a time.
Muhammad Ali A man who has no imagination has no wings.
Muhammad Ali God gave me this physical impairment to remind me that I’m not the greatest, He is.
Muhammad Ali To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you’re not, pretend you are.
Kofi Annan (Fante tribal proverb)Se eye ndzeye pa enum yi a, na eye barima. (Gather the five virtues, then you are a man.)

enyimnyam (dignity)

awerehyemu (confidence)

akokodur (courage)

ehumbobor (compassion)

gyedzi (faith)

Louis Armstrong Jazz is played from the heart. You can even live by it.
Louis Armstrong Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know. (when asked what jazz is)
Arthur Ashe You’ve got to get to the state in life where going for it is more important than winning or losing.
Nnamdi Azikiwe Originality is the essence of true scholarship. Creativity is the soul of the true scholar.
James Baldwin A man is not a man until he is able and willing to accept his own vision of the world, no matter how radically this vision departs from that of others.
James Baldwin Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck — but, most of all, endurance.
James Baldwin I love this country more than any other country in this world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
James Baldwin If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.
James Baldwin Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
Jean-Michel Basquiat I cross out words so you will see them more. The fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them.
Eubie Blake I don’t have any bad habits. They might be bad habits for other people, but they’re all right for me.
Eubie Blake If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.
Cab Calloway Clean living. I don’t do anything that would injure my health. That’s why I’m eighty-one years old and I’ve been able to work this long.
George Washington Carver Most people search high and wide for the keys to success. If they only knew, the key to their dreams lies within.
Eldridge Cleaver You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. (speech in San Francisco, 1968)
Ornette Coleman I sometimes realize that there is something on the earth that is free of everything but what created it, and that is the one thing I have been trying to find.
Ornette Coleman Jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night but differently each time.
John Coltrane There are so many things to be considered in making music. The whole question of life itself…I know that I want to produce beautiful music, music that does things to people that they need. (Interview, 1962)
Bill Cosby Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.
Bill Cosby I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.
Bill Cosby The past is a ghost, the future is a dream, and all we ever have is now.
Miles Davis Do not fear mistakes – there are none.
Miles Davis I’ll play it first and tell you what it is later.
Miles Davis If you understood everything I say, you’d be me. (in Ellington, Music is My mistress, 1973)
Frederick Douglass
It is better to be part of a great whole than to be whole of a small part.

Frederick Douglass

Man’s greatness consists in his ability to do, and the proper application of, his powers to things needed to be done.
W. E. B. DuBois Believe in life! Always human beings will live and progress to greater, broader and fuller life.
Gerald Early I think there are only three things America will be known for 2,000 years from now when they study this civilization: the Constitution, jazz music, and baseball.
Duke Ellington Create, and be true to yourself, and depend only on your good taste.
Duke Ellington
Gray skies are just clouds passing over.
Duke Ellington I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.
Duke Ellington Playing “bop” is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing.
Duke Ellington Selfishness can be a virtue. Selfishness is essential to survival, and without survival we cannot protect those who we love more than ourselves.
Duke Ellington Tomorrow is in the wings waiting or you to sound her entrance fanfare.
Ralph Ellison Eclecticism is the word. Like a jazz musician who creates his own style out of the styles around him, I play by ear.
Ralph Ellison Fate is determined by what one does and what one doesn’t do.
Ralph Ellison The true artist destroys the accepted world by way of revealing the unseen, and creating that which is new and uniquely his own.
Ralph Ellison We look too much to museums. The sun coming up in the morning is enough.
Marcus Garvey
If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence, you have won even before you have started.
Marvin Gaye If you cannot find peace within yourself, you will never find it anywhere else.
Dizzy Gillespie This music is just out here waiting for somebody to come get it…if the music says ‘come over here’ you go on over to where the music is telling you to go.
Peter J. Gomes If you let the world define you, you are dead, and that is all there is to it. If you let the spirit define you, you have a life that even death itself cannot intimidate or extinguish.
Berry Gordy Make your success work to help others achieve their measures of success and hope they, in turn, will do likewise. This is the kind of chain reaction that is music to my ears.
Dick Gregory The God I pray to is as universal as the moon is universal. (c. 1974)
Alex Haley When you clench your fist, no one can put anything in your hand, nor can your hand pick anything up.
Lionel Hampton I want my heart to pour out and give me the best ideas. And I get them because I have a great desire to do so.
Lionel Hampton I’m motivated. The spirit hits me and I just keep going and don’t stop. The more I play, the more I can invent, the more ideas come to me.
Langston Hughes Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.
Ted Joans Everything that IS was once IMAGINED!
John H. Johnson If you can somehow think and dream of success in small steps, every time you make a step, every time you accomplish a small goal, it gives you confidence to go from there.
Bill T. Jones My job is to be resilient. That’s why I call life a dance.
Quincy Jones You have to leave room for God to walk through the room.
Michael Jordan
I can accept not winning, but I can't accept not trying.
Michael Jordan I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come. (I Can’t Accept Not Trying, 1994)
Martin Luther King, Jr. He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it.
Martin Luther King, Jr. I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
Martin Luther King, Jr. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
B. B. King Jazz is the big brother of the blues. If a guy’s playing blues like we play, he’s in high school. When he starts playing jazz it’s like going on to college, to a school of higher learning.
B. B. King Maybe our forefathers couldn’t keep their language together when they were taken away from Africa, but this, the blues, was a language we invented to let people know we had something to say.
Martin Luther King, Jr. My religion has come to mean more to me than ever before. I have come to believe more and more in a personal God – not a process, but a person, a creative power with infinite love who answers prayers.
King
One who condones evils is just as guilty as the one who perpetrates it. –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.
Martin Luther King, Jr. The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.
Martin Luther King, Jr. We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve…You only need a heart full of grace.
Spike Lee Do the Right Thing.
Joe Louis A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t,
Joe Louis I don’t like money actually, but it quiets my nerves.
Malcolm X
The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.
Nelson Mandela
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others
Nelson Mandela Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.
Nelson Mandela To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
Nelson Mandela Your playing small won’t serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that the other people won’t feel insecure around you.
Bob Marley Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,None but ourselves can free our minds.
Wynton Marsalis An art form can influence your thinking, your feeling, the way you dress, the way you walk, how you talk, what you do with yourself.
Wynton Marsalis Jazz is the nobility of race put into sound; it is the sensuousness of romance in our dialect; it is the picture of the people in all their glory.
Bobby McFerrin I am my own walkman.
Charles Mingus Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.
Simeon Nkoane It’s important to think big. It’s wonderful if it comes off.
Mercy Amba Oduyoye To strive for unity in diversity is a task we cannot evade – and there are no shortcuts.
Satchell Paige How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?
Satchell Paige We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.
Charlie Parker Don’t plan the saxophone. Let it play you.
Charlie Parker Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come our of your horn. They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.
Charlie Parker They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.
Gordon Parks America is me. It gave me the only life I know, so I must share in its survival.
Gordon Parks If a man can reach the latter days of his life with his world intact, he has mastered life.
Gordon Parks The guy who takes a chance, who walks the line between the known and the unknown, who is unafraid of failure, will succeed.  (in “A Passion for Living,” Modern Maturity, June-July, 1989)
Gordon Parks The guy who takes a chance, who walks the line between the known and the unknown, who is unafraid of failure, will succeed.
Richard Pryor Art is the ability to tell the truth, especially about oneself.
Max Roach Jazz is a very democratic musical form. It comes out of a communal experience. We take out respective instruments and collectively create a thing of beauty. (“Jazz Men: A Love Supreme,” Ebony Man, April 1987)
Paul Robeson No one can leave a permanent mark on the world til he learns to be true to himself. (in “My Answer,” New York Age, Aug-Sept 1949)
Sugar Ray Robinson To be a champ you have to believe in yourself when nobody else will.
Korey Stringer Read. Stay in school. Be responsible. Be respectful.
Thomas “Fats” Waller Lady, if you got to ask you ain’t got it. (when asked to explain rhythm)
Booker T. Washington Character, not circumstances, makes the man.
Booker T. Washington Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.
Booker T. Washington Success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life as by obstacles that one has overcome while trying to succeed.
Cornel West Never confuse knowledge with wisdom. By wisdom I mean wrestling with how to live.
August Wilson It ain’t nothing to find no starting place in the world. You just start from where you find yourself.
August Wilson We are what we imagine ourselves to be and we can only imagine what we know to be possible.
Flip Wilson What you see is what you get.
August Wilson You have to decide if you are going to approach your work as an artist. In order to do that, you have to have a belief in yourself that’s greater than anyone’s disbelief.
Stevie Wonder You can’t base your life on other people’s expectations.
Tiger Woods I’ve learned to trust the subconscious. My instincts have never lied to me.

The Collapse of Journalism, and the Journalism of Collapse

By Robert Jensen, May 2013, The Rag Blog | News Analysis, Truthout

For those who believe that a robust public-affairs journalism is essential for a society striving to be democratic, the 21st century has been characterized by bad news that keeps getting worse.

Whatever one’s evaluation of traditional advertising-supported news media (and I have been among its critics; more on that later), the unraveling of that business model has left us with fewer professional journalists who are being paid a living wage to do original reporting. It’s unrealistic to imagine that journalism can flourish without journalists who have the time and resources to do journalism.

For those who care about a robust human presence on the planet, the 21st century has been characterized by really bad news that keeps getting really, really worse.

Whatever one’s evaluation of high-energy/high-technology civilization (and I have been among its critics; more on that later), it’s now clear that we are hitting physical limits; we cannot expect to maintain contemporary levels of consumption that draw down the ecological capital of the planet at rates dramatically beyond replacement levels. It’s unrealistic to imagine that we can go on treating the planet as nothing more than a mine from which we extract and a landfill into which we dump.

We have no choice but to deal with the collapse of journalism, but we also should recognize the need for a journalism of collapse. Everyone understands that economic changes are forcing a refashioning of the journalism profession. It’s long past time for everyone to pay attention to how multiple, cascading ecological crises should be changing professional journalism’s mission in even more dramatic fashion.

It’s time for an apocalyptic journalism (that takes some explaining; a lot more on that later).

The basics of journalism: Ideals and limitations

With the rapid expansion of journalistic-like material on the Internet, it’s especially crucial to define “real” journalism. In a democratic system, ideally journalism is a critical, independent source of information, analysis, and the varied opinions needed by citizens who want to play a meaningful role in the formation of public policy.

The key terms are “critical” and “independent” — to fulfill the promise of a free press, journalists must be willing to critique not only specific people and policies, but the systems out of which they emerge, and they must be as free as possible from constraining influences, both overt and subtle.

Also included in that definition of journalism is an understanding of democracy — “a meaningful role in the formation of public policy” — as more than just lining up to vote in elections that offer competing sets of elites who represent roughly similar programs. Meaningful democracy involves meaningful participation.

This discussion will focus on what is typically called mainstream journalism, the corporate-commercial news media. These are the journalists who work for daily newspapers, broadcast and cable television, and the corporately owned platforms on the internet and other digital devices.

Although there are many types of independent and alternative journalism of varying quality, the vast majority of Americans continue to receive the vast majority of their news from these mainstream sources, which are almost always organized as large corporations and funded primarily by advertising.

Right-wing politicians and commentators sometimes refer to the mainstream media as the “lamestream,” implying that journalists are comically incompetent and incapable of providing an accurate account of the world, likely due to a lack of understanding of conservative people and their ideas. While many elite journalists may be dismissive of the cultural values of conservatives, this critique ignores the key questions about journalism’s relationship to power.

Focusing on the cultural politics of individual reporters and editors — pointing out that they tend to be less religious and more supportive of gay and women’s rights than the general public, for example — diverts attention from more crucial questions about how the institutional politics of corporate owners and managers shapes the news and keeps mainstream journalism within a centrist/right conventional wisdom.

The managers of commercial news organizations in the United States typically reject that claim by citing the unbreachable “firewall” between the journalistic and the business sides of the operation, which is supposed to allow journalists to pursue any story without interference from the corporate front office.

This exchange I had with a newspaper editor captures the ideology: After listening to my summary of this critique of the U.S. commercial news media system, this editor (let’s call him Joe) told me proudly: “No one from corporate headquarters has ever called me to tell me what to run in my paper.” I asked Joe if it were possible that he simply had internalized the value system of the folks who run the corporation (and, by extension, the folks who run most of the world), and therefore they never needed to give him direct instructions.

He rejected that, reasserting his independence from any force outside his newsroom.

I countered: “Let’s say, for the purposes of discussion, that you and I were equally capable journalists in terms of professional skills, that we were both reasonable candidates for the job of editor-in-chief that you hold. If we had both applied for the job, do you think your corporate bosses would have ever considered me for the position, given my politics? Would I, for even a second, have been seen by them to be a viable candidate for the job?”

Joe’s politics are pretty conventional, well within the range of mainstream Republicans and Democrats — he supports big business and U.S. supremacy in global politics and economics. I’m a critic of capitalism and U.S. foreign policy. On some political issues, Joe and I would agree, but we diverge sharply on these core questions of the nature of the economy and the state.

Joe pondered my question and conceded that I was right, that his bosses would never hire someone with my politics, no matter how qualified, to run one of their newspapers. The conversation trailed off, and we parted without resolving our differences.

I would like to think my critique at least got Joe to question his platitudes, but I never saw any evidence of that. In his subsequent writing and public comments that I read and heard, Joe continued to assert that a news media system dominated by for-profit corporations was the best way to produce the critical, independent journalism that citizens in a democracy needed.

Because he was in a position of some privilege and status, nothing compelled Joe to respond to my challenge.

Partly as a result of many such unproductive conversations, I continue to search for new ways to present a critique of mainstream journalism that might break through that ideological wall. In addition to thinking about alternatives to this traditional business model, we should confront the limitations of the corresponding professional model, with its status-quo-supportive ideology of neutrality, balance, and objectivity.

Can we create conditions under which journalism — deeply critical and truly independent — can flourish in these trying times?

In this essay I want to try out theological concepts of the royal, prophetic, and apocalyptic traditions. Though journalism is a secular institution, religion can provide a helpful vocabulary. The use of these terms is not meant to imply support for any particular religious tradition, or for religion more generally, but only recognizes that the fundamental struggles of human history play out in religious and secular settings, and we can learn from all of that history.

With a focus on the United States, I’ll draw on the concepts as they are understood in the dominant U.S. tradition of Judaism and Christianity.

Royal journalism

Most of today’s mainstream corporate-commercial journalism — the work done by people such as Joe — is royal journalism, using the term “royal” not to describe a specific form of executive power but as a description of a system that centralizes authority and marginalizes the needs of ordinary people.

The royal tradition describes ancient Israel, the Roman empire, European monarchs, or contemporary America — societies in which those with concentrated wealth and power can ignore the needs of the bulk of the population, societies where the wealthy and powerful offer platitudes about their beneficence as they pursue policies to enrich themselves.

In his books The Prophetic Imagination and The Practice of Prophetic Imagination, theologian Walter Brueggemann points out that this royal consciousness took hold after ancient Israel sank into disarray, when Solomon overturned Moses — affluence, oppressive social policy, and static religion replaced a God of liberation with one used to serve an empire.

This consciousness develops not only in top leaders but throughout the privileged sectors, often filtering down to a wider public that accepts royal power. Brueggemann labels this a false consciousness: “The royal consciousness leads people to numbness, especially to numbness about death.”

The inclusion of the United States in a list of royalist societies may seem odd, given the democratic traditions of the country, but consider a nation that has been at war for more than a decade, in which economic inequality and the resulting suffering has dramatically deepened for the past four decades, in which climate change denial has increased as the evidence of the threat becomes undeniable. Brueggemann describes such a culture as one that is “competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing.”

Almost all mainstream corporate-commercial journalism is, in this sense, royal journalism. It is journalism without the imagination needed to move outside the framework created by the dominant systems of power. CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News all practice royal journalism. The New York Times is ground zero for royal journalism.

Marking these institutions as royalist doesn’t mean that no good journalism ever emerges from them, or that they employ no journalists who are capable of challenging royal arrangements. Instead, the term recognizes that these institutions lack the imagination necessary to step outside of the royal consciousness on a regular basis. Over time, they add to the numbness rather than jolt people out of it.

The royal consciousness of our day is defined by unchallengeable commitments to a high-energy/high-technology worldview, within a hierarchical economy, run by an imperial nation-state. These technological, economic, and national fundamentalisms produce a certain kind of story about ourselves, which encourages the belief that we can have anything we want without obligations to other peoples or other living things, and that we deserve this.

Brueggemann argues that this bolsters notions of “U.S. exceptionalism that gives warrant to the usurpatious pursuit of commodities in the name of freedom, at the expense of the neighbor.”

If one believes royal arrangements are just and sustainable, then royal journalism could be defended. If the royal tradition is illegitimate, than a different journalism is necessary.

Prophetic journalism 

Given the multiple crises that existing political, economic, and social systems have generated, the ideals of journalism call for a prophetic journalism. The first step in defending that claim is to remember what real prophets are not: They are not people who predict the future or demand that others follow them in lockstep.

In the Hebrew Bible and Christian New Testament, prophets are the figures who remind the people of the best of the tradition and point out how the people have strayed. In those traditions, using our prophetic imagination and speaking in a prophetic voice requires no special status in society, and no sense of being special. Claiming the prophetic tradition requires only honesty and courage.

When we strip away supernatural claims and delusions of grandeur, we can understand the prophetic as the calling out of injustice, the willingness not only to confront the abuses of the powerful but to acknowledge our own complicity. To speak prophetically requires us first to see honestly — both how our world is structured by systems that create unjust and unsustainable conditions, and how we who live in the privileged parts of the world are implicated in those systems.

To speak prophetically is to refuse to shrink from what we discover or from our own place in these systems. We must confront the powers that be, and ourselves.

The Hebrew Bible offers us many models. Amos and Hosea, Jeremiah and Isaiah — all rejected the pursuit of wealth or power and argued for the centrality of kindness and justice. The prophets condemned corrupt leaders but also called out all those privileged people in society who had turned from the demands of justice, which the faith makes central to human life.

In his analysis of these prophets, the scholar and activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel concluded:

Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible. If we admit that the individual is in some measure conditioned or affected by the spirit of society, an individual’s crime discloses society’s corruption.

Critical of royal consciousness, Brueggemann argues that the task of those speaking prophetically is to “penetrate the numbness in order to face the body of death in which we are caught” and “penetrate despair so that new futures can be believed in and embraced by us.” He encourages preachers to think of themselves as “handler[s] of the prophetic tradition,” a job description that also applies to other intellectual professions, including journalism.

Brueggemann argues that this isn’t about intellectuals imposing their views and values on others, but about being willing to “connect the dots”:

Prophetic preaching does not put people in crisis. Rather it names and makes palpable the crisis already pulsing among us. When the dots are connected, it will require naming the defining sins among us of environmental abuse, neighborly disregard, long-term racism, self-indulgent consumerism, all the staples from those ancient truthtellers translated into our time and place.

None of this requires journalists to advocate for specific politicians, parties, or political programs; we don’t need journalists to become propagandists. Journalists should strive for real independence but not confuse that with an illusory neutrality that traps mainstream journalists within ideological boundaries defined by the powerful.

Again, real independence means the ability to critique not just the worst abuses by the powerful within the systems, but to critique the systems themselves.

This prophetic calling is consistent with the aphorism many journalists claim as a shorthand mission statement: The purpose of journalism is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That phrase focuses on injustice within human societies, but what of the relationship of human beings to the larger living world? How should journalists understand their mission in that arena?

Ecological realities

Let’s put analysis of journalism on hold and think about the larger world in which journalism operates. Journalistic ideals and norms should change as historical conditions change, and today that means facing tough questions about ecological sustainability.

There is considerable evidence to help us evaluate the health of the ecosphere on which our own lives depend, and an honest evaluation of that evidence leads to a disturbing conclusion: Life as we know it is almost over. That is, the high-energy/high-technology life that we in the affluent societies live is a dead-end.

There is a growing realization that we have disrupted planetary forces in ways we cannot control and do not fully understand. We cannot predict the specific times and places where dramatic breakdowns will occur, but we can know that the living system on which we depend is breaking down.

Does that seem histrionic? Excessively alarmist? Look at any crucial measure of the health of the ecosphere in which we live — groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, chemical contamination, increased toxicity in our own bodies, the number and size of “dead zones” in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species and reduction of bio-diversity — and the news is bad.

Add to that the mother of all ecological crises — global warming, climate change, climate disruption — and it’s clear that we are creating a planet that cannot indefinitely support a large-scale human presence living this culture’s idea of the good life.

We also live in an oil-based world that is rapidly depleting the cheap and easily accessible oil, which means we face a huge reconfiguration of the infrastructure that undergirds our lives. Meanwhile, the desperation to avoid that reconfiguration has brought us to the era of “extreme energy” using even more dangerous and destructive technologies (hydrofracturing, deep-water drilling, mountain-top removal, tar sands extraction) to get at the remaining hydrocarbons.

Where we are heading? Off the rails? Into the wall? Over the cliff? Pick your favorite metaphor. Scientists these days are talking about tipping points and planetary boundaries, about how human activity is pushing the planet beyond its limits.

Recently 22 top scientists in the prestigious journal Nature warned that humans likely are forcing a planetary-scale critical transition “with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience.” That means that “the biological resources we take for granted at present may be subject to rapid and unpredictable transformations within a few human generations.”

That means that we’re in trouble, not in some imaginary science-fiction future, but in our present reality. We can’t pretend all that’s needed is tinkering with existing systems to fix a few environmental problems; significant changes in how we live are required. No matter where any one of us sits in the social and economic hierarchies, there is no escape from the dislocations that will come with such changes.

Money and power might insulate some from the most wrenching consequences of these shifts, but there is no permanent escape. We do not live in stable societies and no longer live on a stable planet. We may feel safe and secure in specific places at specific times, but it’s hard to believe in any safety and security in a collective sense.

In short, we live in apocalyptic times.

Apocalypse

To be clear: Speaking apocalyptically need not be limited to claims that the world will end on a guru’s timetable or according to some allegedly divine plan. Lots of apocalyptic visions — religious and secular — offer such certainty, imaging the replacement of a corrupt society by one structured on principles that will redeem humanity (or at least redeem those who sign onto the principles). But this need not be our only understanding of the term.

Most discussions of revelation and apocalypse in contemporary America focus on the Book of Revelation, also known as The Apocalypse of John, the final book of the Christian New Testament. The two terms are synonymous in their original meaning; “revelation” from Latin and “apocalypse” from Greek both mean a lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something hidden from most people, a coming to clarity.

Many scholars interpret the Book of Revelation not as a set of predictions about the future but as a critique of the oppression of the empire of that day, Rome.

To speak apocalyptically, in this tradition, is first and foremost about deepening our understanding of the world, seeing through the obfuscations of people in power. In our propaganda-saturated world (think about the amount of advertising, public relations, and marketing that we are bombarded with daily), coming to that kind of clarity about the nature of the empires of our day is always a struggle, and that notion of revelation is more crucial than ever.

Thinking apocalyptically, coming to this clarity, will force us to confront crises that concentrated wealth and power create, and reflect on our role in these systems. Given the severity of the human assault on the ecosphere, compounded by the suffering and strife within the human family, honest apocalyptic thinking that is firmly grounded in a systematic evaluation of the state of the world is not only sensible but a moral obligation.

Rather than thinking of revelation as divine delivery of a clear message about some fantastic future above, we can engage in an ongoing process of revelation that results from an honest struggle to understand, a process that requires a lot of effort.

Things are bad, systems are failing, and the status quo won’t last forever. Thinking apocalyptically in this fashion demands of us considerable courage and commitment. This process will not produce definitive answers but rather help us identify new directions.

Again, to be very clear: “Apocalypse” in this context does not mean lakes of fire, rivers of blood, or bodies lifted up to heaven. The shift from the prophetic to the apocalyptic can instead mark the point when hope in the viability of existing systems is no longer possible and we must think in dramatically new ways.

Invoking the apocalyptic recognizes the end of something. It’s not about rapture but a rupture severe enough to change the nature of the whole game.

Apocalyptic journalism

The prophetic imagination helps us analyze the historical moment we’re in, but it’s based on an implicit faith that the systems in which we live can be reshaped to stop the worst consequences of the royal consciousness, to shake off that numbness of death in time.

What if that is no longer possible? Then it is time to think about what’s on the other side. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the more well-known voices in the prophetic tradition. But if the arc is now bending toward a quite different future, a different approach is needed.

Because no one can predict the future, these two approaches are not mutually exclusive; people should not be afraid to think prophetically and apocalyptically at the same time. We can simultaneously explore immediate changes in the existing systems and think about new systems.

Invoking the prophetic in the face of royal consciousness does not promise quick change and a carefree future, but it implies that a disastrous course can be corrected. But what if the justification for such hope evaporates? When prophetic warnings have not been heeded, what comes next? This is the time when an apocalyptic sensibility is needed.

Fred Guterl, the executive editor of Scientific American, models that spirit in his book The Fate of the Species. Though he describes himself on the “techno-optimistic side of the spectrum,” he does not shy away from a blunt discussion of the challenges humans face:

There’s no going back on our reliance on computers and high-tech medicine, agriculture, power generation, and so forth without causing vast human suffering — unless you want to contemplate reducing the world population by many billions of people. We have climbed out on a technological limb, and turning back is a disturbing option. We are dependent on our technology, yet our technology now presents the seeds of our own destruction. It’s a dilemma. I don’t pretend to have a way out. We should start by being aware of the problem.

I don’t share Guterl’s techno-optimism, but it strikes me as different from a technological fundamentalism (the quasi-religious belief that the use of advanced technology is always a good thing and that any problems caused by the unintended consequences of such technology can be remedied by more technology) that assumes that humans can invent themselves out of any problem. Guterl doesn’t deny the magnitude of the problems and recognizes the real possibility, perhaps even the inevitability, of massive social dislocation:

[W]e’re going to need the spirit with which these ideas were hatched to solve the problems we have created. Tossing aside technological optimism is not a realistic option. This doesn’t mean technology is going to save us. We may still be doomed. But without it, we are surely doomed.

Closer to my own assessment is James Lovelock, a Fellow of the Royal Society, whose work led to the detection of the widespread presence of CFCs in the atmosphere. Most famous for his “Gaia hypothesis” that understands both the living and non-living parts of the earth as a complex system that can be thought of as a single organism, he suggests that we face these stark realities immediately:

The great party of the twentieth century is coming to an end, and unless we now start preparing our survival kit we will soon be just another species eking out an existence in the few remaining habitable regions. … We should be the heart and mind of the Earth, not its malady. So let us be brave and cease thinking of human needs and rights alone and see that we have harmed the living Earth and need to make our peace with Gaia.

Anything that blocks us from looking honestly at reality, no matter how harsh the reality, must be rejected. It’s a lot to ask, of people and of journalists, to not only think about this, but put it at the center of our lives. What choice do we have? To borrow from one of 20th century America’s most honest writers, James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

That line is from an essay titled “As Much Truth as One Can Bear,” about the struggles of artists to help a society, such as the white-supremacist America, face the depth of its pathology. Baldwin suggested that a great writer attempts “to tell as much of the truth as one can bear, and then a little more.” If we think of Baldwin as sounding a prophetic call, an apocalyptic invocation would be “to tell as much of the truth as one can bear, and then all the rest of the truth, whether we can bear it or not.”

That task is difficult enough when people are relatively free to pursue inquiry without external constraints. Are the dominant corporate-commercial/advertising-supported media outlets likely to encourage journalists to pursue the projects that might lead to such questions? If not, the apocalyptic journalism we need is more likely to emerge from the margins, where people are not trapped by illusions of neutrality or concerned about professional status.

[INSERT HOPEFUL ENDING HERE]

That subhead is not an editing oversight. I wish there were an easy solution, an upbeat conclusion. I don’t have one. I’ve never heard anyone else articulate one. To face the world honestly at this moment in human history likely means giving up on easy and upbeat.

The apocalyptic tradition reminds us that the absence of hope does not have to leave us completely hopeless, that life is always at the same time about death, and then rejuvenation. If we don’t have easy, upbeat solutions and conclusions, we have the ability to keep telling stories of struggle. Our stories do not change the physical world, but they have the potential to change us. In that sense, the poet Muriel Rukeyser was right when she said, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

To think apocalyptically is not to give up on ourselves, but only to give up on the arrogant stories that we modern humans have been telling about ourselves. The royal must give way to the prophetic and the apocalyptic. The central story that power likes to tell — that the domination/subordination dynamic that structures so much of modern life is natural and inevitable — must give way to stories of dignity, solidarity, equality. We must resist not only the cruelty of repression but the seduction of comfort.

The best journalists in our tradition have seen themselves as responsible for telling stories about the struggle for social justice. Today, we can add stories about the struggle for ecological sustainability to that mission. Our hope for a decent future — indeed, any hope for even the idea of a future — depends on our ability to tell stories not of how humans have ruled the world but how we can live in the world.

Whether or not we like it, we are all apocalyptic now.

This article was also published at AlterNet.

http://truth-out.org/news/item/16475-the-collapse-of-journalism-and-the-journalism-of-collapse

Scandal Machine

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, New York Times, May 16, 2013

Excerpt

When politicians want to turn scandals into metaphors, actual details of wrongdoing or incompetence no longer matter…reality simply isn’t solid enough to hold back the vast Republican opportunism on display this week. Whatever cranky point Republicans had been making against President Obama for the last five years — dishonesty, socialism, jackbooted tyranny — they somehow found that these incidents were exactly the proof they had been seeking, no matter how inflated or distorted…For Senator Mike Lee of Utah, these incidents proved that the federal budget has to be cut even more deeply. “We need to return it to a simpler, more manageable government,” he said, “because that’s the only way that we’re ever going to prevent things like this from happening.”

There are no “things like this,” beyond a coincidence of bad timing. But they do have one thing in common: when bound together and loudly denounced on cable television and in hearings, they serve to obscure the real damage that Republicans continue to do to the economy and the workings of government…

For those who are wondering whether this week’s political windstorms will hinder Mr. Obama’s second-term agenda, here’s a bulletin: That agenda was long ago imperiled by the obstruction of Republicans. (See Guns. Jobs. Education. And, very possibly, Immigration.)

Full text

When politicians want to turn scandals into metaphors, actual details of wrongdoing or incompetence no longer matter. In fact, the details of the troubles swirling around the White House this week are bluntly contradicting Republicans who want to combine them into a seamless narrative of tyrannical government on the rampage.

The Internal Revenue Service, according to an inspector general’s report, was not reacting to political pressure or ideology when it singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny in evaluating requests for tax exemptions. It acted inappropriately because employees couldn’t understand inadequate guidelines. The tragedy in Benghazi, Libya, never a scandal to begin with, has devolved into a turf-protection spat between government agencies, and the e-mail messages Republicans long demanded made clear that there was no White House cover-up.

The only example of true government overreach was the seizure of The Associated Press’s telephone records, the latest episode in the Obama administration’s Javert-like obsession with leakers in its midst.

Many of the Republicans who have added this action to their metaphor blender were also the ones clamoring the loudest for vigorous investigations of national security leaks. But reality simply isn’t solid enough to hold back the vast Republican opportunism on display this week. Whatever cranky point Republicans had been making against President Obama for the last five years — dishonesty, socialism, jackbooted tyranny — they somehow found that these incidents were exactly the proof they had been seeking, no matter how inflated or distorted.

“This is runaway government at its worst,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said at a Tea Party news conference on Thursday about the I.R.S. scandal. “Who knows who they’ll target next.” Representative Michele Bachmann knew. Standing next to Mr. McConnell, she said the I.R.S.’s next target would obviously be the religious beliefs of people seeking health insurance.

For Senator Mike Lee of Utah, these incidents proved that the federal budget has to be cut even more deeply. “We need to return it to a simpler, more manageable government,” he said, “because that’s the only way that we’re ever going to prevent things like this from happening.”

There are no “things like this,” beyond a coincidence of bad timing. But they do have one thing in common: when bound together and loudly denounced on cable television and in hearings, they serve to obscure the real damage that Republicans continue to do to the economy and the workings of government.

While Washington was arguing about e-mail messages about Benghazi, it wasn’t paying attention to the hundreds of thousands of defense furloughs announced this week because of the Republican-imposed sequester, which will become a significant drag on economic growth. It wasn’t focusing on the huge drop in the deficit, which has yet to silence the party’s demands for more austerity. And apparently it’s considered old news that Republicans are blocking several of the president’s cabinet nominees.

For those who are wondering whether this week’s political windstorms will hinder Mr. Obama’s second-term agenda, here’s a bulletin: That agenda was long ago imperiled by the obstruction of Republicans. (See Guns. Jobs. Education. And, very possibly, Immigration.)

Meet The New York Times’s Editorial Board »

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/17/opinion/the-republicans-scandal-machine.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130517&_r=0