The shutdown of good governance

By Fred Hiatt, Washington Post,  October , 2013

Excerpt

…the government seems unable to do its job. The shutdown can be blamed on the reckless, irresponsible miscalculations of congressional Republicans. But the shutdown is only the most extreme example of government’s failure to solve solvable problems: to fix Social Security, pass a budget, reform immigration laws. What gives?

One theory is bad luck

another… leaders of the previous generation were the aberration: Men (mostly) whose world views were formed in World War II and the Cold War understood the nature of existential threats and were willing to put aside partisan interest for the nation’s good. Today’s partisanship is just a return to normal.

But maybe even larger trends are at work. Here are a few possible culprits:

Slow growth and inequality

The great fracturing – we seem to live in two separate countries whose inhabitants lack the empathy or even the language to understand each other.

Immigration and the end of a white majority – By 2043, whites will no longer be in the majority.

Inadequate political institutions…In an increasingly self-serving redistricting process, politicians choose their voters instead of the other way around and insulate themselves from challenges by all but the extremes. The frantic money chase drives good people out of politics.

The contrast between the country’s relative advantages and its Washington dysfunction is frustrating, but maybe that, too, is part of the problem: In an apparently benign environment, when foreign enemies again seem distant and unthreatening, nothing scares the politicians toward compromise. They manufacture one ginned-up crisis after another, but the deadlines fail to provide the hoped-for jolt toward progress — even when, as now, millions of blameless Americans suffer for politicians’ failings.

Will it take a crisis not of their creating to change the dynamic? Let’s hope not.

Full text

If a country proves unable to govern itself, you expect to find a historical explanation. A plague, maybe, or chronic drought, or the rise of a hostile power on its borders.

None of those applies in the present case. To the contrary, by many measures the United States, long blessed, should be entering a new golden age. Who would have predicted 10 years ago that the United States would become, as the Wall Street Journal reported last week, the world’s No. 1 energy power — producing more oil and gas combined than Russia or Saudi Arabia? While most developed nations, from Japan to Italy to Russia, don’t have enough young people, U.S. population trends are relatively benign thanks to immigration and a stable birth rate.

Yet the government seems unable to do its job. The shutdown can be blamed on the reckless, irresponsible miscalculations of congressional Republicans. But the shutdown is only the most extreme example of government’s failure to solve solvable problems: to fix Social Security, pass a budget, reform immigration laws. What gives?

One theory is bad luck: Some analysts suggest that John Boehner, Harry Reid and Barack Obama are a collection of unusually weak leaders, or leaders especially ill-matched in temperament.

A variation on that theme holds that leaders of the previous generation were the aberration: Men (mostly) whose world views were formed in World War II and the Cold War understood the nature of existential threats and were willing to put aside partisan interest for the nation’s good. Today’s partisanship is just a return to normal.

But maybe even larger trends are at work. Here are a few possible culprits:

Slow growth and inequality. As my colleague Robert Samuelson recently wrote, after World War II Americans became accustomed to 3 percent annual growth, which allowed for a cheerful spreading of the wealth. Now 2 percent may be the new normal, in part because the United States, though its population is younger than that of many countries, still will have more retirees per active worker than in the past.

The growth we do manage is being shared less equally, thanks largely to technology and globalization. The possible result: nastier politics as classes and generations fight over a slower-growing pie.

The great fracturing. Then-Sen. Barack Obama electrified the nation in 2004 with his Democratic convention speech insisting there was no Red America or Blue America. Since then, the divisions have only become more marked. From guns to gay marriage to Obamacare, we seem to live in two separate countries whose inhabitants lack the empathy or even the language to understand each other.

As Americans increasingly choose to live among those with whom they agree politically, in what author Bill Bishop called “the big sort,” technology and other factors loosen the ties that bound us into one nation. Other than the occasional, and fleeting, YouTube video, there is no cable television channel or Internet site that we experience in common. Political parties that transcended region have been purged of dissenters and overshadowed by single-focus interest groups.

Immigration and the end of a white majority. “The Mexican migration, and the similarly large migration of others from the rest of Latin America, has in just one generation reshaped the nation,” Michael Barone recently wrote. In 1970 there were fewer than 1 million Mexican-born people in the country; today they number more than 12 million, and with their children comprise about 10 percent of the population.

Meanwhile, for the first time, racial and ethnic minorities — if that’s still the right word — make up about half of the under-5 population. By 2043, whites will no longer be in the majority. The country seems to have handled the surge in immigration more peaceably than it greeted past waves of newcomers. But the shifts may be causing political shockwaves whose connections to the demographic changes aren’t immediately obvious.

Inadequate political institutions. There’s the affront posed to the principle of one man, one vote by the U.S. Senate, where 600,000 Wyoming residents have as much say as 38 million Californians. In an increasingly self-serving redistricting process, politicians choose their voters instead of the other way around and insulate themselves from challenges by all but the extremes. The frantic money chase drives good people out of politics.

The contrast between the country’s relative advantages and its Washington dysfunction is frustrating, but maybe that, too, is part of the problem: In an apparently benign environment, when foreign enemies again seem distant and unthreatening, nothing scares the politicians toward compromise. They manufacture one ginned-up crisis after another, but the deadlines fail to provide the hoped-for jolt toward progress — even when, as now, millions of blameless Americans suffer for politicians’ failings.

Will it take a crisis not of their creating to change the dynamic? Let’s hope not.

Read more from Fred Hiatt’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fred-hiatt-the-shutdown-of-good-governance/2013/10/06/329f9c1a-2d0b-11e3-8ade-a1f23cda135e_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

Group Challenges Corporate Power, Government Secrecy With Crowd-Funded Transparency

Andrea Germanos, December 17, 2012 by Common Dreams

‘We all have a stake in the Freedom of the Press Foundation’r

A new organization launched Monday aims to fight government and corporate corruption by crowd-funding transparency journalism, and believes “that not only does WikiLeaks need to survive, it must be joined by an array of others like it.”

The financial embargo of WikiLeaks catalyzed this new group, Freedom of the Press Foundation, whose co-founders include whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow, and Rainey Reitman, founder of Bradley Manning Support Network.

Lawyer and Guardian blogger Glenn Greenwald, who is on the board of directors of the foundation, writes:

The primary impetus for the formation of this group was to block the US government from ever again being able to attack and suffocate an independent journalistic enterprise the way it did with WikiLeaks. Government pressure and the eager compliance of large financial corporations (such as Visa, Master Card, Bank of America, etc.) has – by design – made it extremely difficult for anyone to donate to WikiLeaks, while many people are simply afraid to directly support the group (for reasons I explained here).

“Financial transactions are speech. The financial embargo was censorship – not just of WikiLeaks but of all of us who wished to donate to WikiLeaks,” stated Barlow, who is also board member.

Explaining how the funding will work, Greenwald continues:

We intend to raise funds ourselves and then distribute it to the beneficiaries we name. The first group of beneficiaries includes WikiLeaks. We can circumvent those extra-legal, totally inappropriate blocks that have been imposed on the group. We can enable people to support WikiLeaks without donating directly to it by donating to this new organization that will then support a group of deserving independent journalism outlets, one of which is WikiLeaks. In sum, we will render impotent the government’s efforts to use its coercive pressure over corporations to suffocate not only WikiLeaks but any other group it may similarly target in the future.

The first group of beneficiaries, Ellsberg and EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow write, are “the still-beleaguered WikiLeaks,” as well as “MuckRock News, which streamlines Freedom of Information Act requests so that ordinary people can file them easily, The National Security Archive, which has been prying open the black boxes of classified information for years, and The UpTake, a combative Midwestern collective of citizen journalists focused on bringing transparency to state and local governments.”

“So much of what impacts us happens locally and it’s where information is most likely to be hidden or overlooked,” said one of The UpTake’s founders, Executive Producer Michael McIntee.

Explaining their effort to “crowd-fund the right to know,” Ellsberg and Barlow write that “secure conduits for anonymously-provided documents that the citizens whose lives and liberties they impact have a natural right to see… are needed more than ever.”  They continue:

In 2011, the U.S. Government classified over 92 million documents, four times more than were classified under George Bush in 2008. Moreover, President Obama’s Justice Department has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all the previous administrations combined.

When a government becomes invisible, it becomes unaccountable. To expose its lies, errors, and illegal acts is not treason, it is a moral responsibility. Leaks become the lifeblood of the Republic.

Urging support for the group, Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight center for digital media entrepreneurship at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite school of journalism and mass communication, writes that it is not just journalists who should care about the organization; “we all have a stake in the Freedom of the Press Foundation:”

The obvious question raised by the Freedom of the Press Foundation initiative is whether the payment systems will shut this off, too. If they do, they’ll be punishing not just WikiLeaks, but the entire journalism ecosystem – and ultimately, your right to get the information you want and need. Will they extend the bad faith they showed two years ago?

That I even have to ask this question is evidence of the power of these centralized mega-corporations. They have far too much power, like too many other telecommunications companies and a number of others in the information and communications industries on which we rely more and more for our daily activities.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation can be a first step away from the edge of a cliff. But it needs to be recognized and used by as many people as possible, as fast as possible. And journalists, in particular, need to offer their support in every way. This is ultimately about their future, whether they recognize it or not. But it’s more fundamentally about all of us.

In addition to Ellsberg, Barlow, Greenwald and Reitman, the board of directors includes Josh Stearns of Free Press, actor and activist John Cusack, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, founding partner and co-editor of Boing Boing Xeni Jardin and writer, activist, and lawyer Trevor Timm.

You can follow Freedom of the Press Foundation on Twitter and its website.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/12/17-3