Status quo or change?

Ideas we need to talk about – e-letter of September 19, 2013 from ProgressiveValues.org by Phyllis Stenerson

Changes in America and the world over the past decade have been stunning. The magnitude and consequences are almost too much to comprehend causing most people to tune out. America is at a trajectory moment, facing multiple crises and incomparable opportunity.

Change must come from the grassroots up. What each of us does or does not do in the coming months will make a difference in ways we can’t know now, can barely imagine. The choice is stark – do nothing and allow the disastrous status quo to continue or be a part of the grassroots movement for long term, systemic change for the common good.

Our American democracy is dangling by the slimmest of threads. Now when wise leadership is most needed, we’re immersed in a political quagmire. Those elected and sworn to represent we citizens in Congress are, with a few valuable exceptions, failing miserably. Unprecedented power is being wielded by unelected operatives to serve their own agendas. We, the people, the 99%, must seize the power granted to us in the Constitution.

What makes this hinge of history tragically significant is that this time the facts indicate the future of humanity is at stake. Virtually everything and everybody are impacted. Environmental threats, perpetual war, persistent racism and economic injustice are among the crises stealing the future from our children. Major change is overdue and essential.

Another point of difference from other times is that we have access to unlimited information and ways to connect with other people that can quite literally change the world. You won’t hear about it from the main stream media, but all around the globe countless people are immersed in making change for the common good. The excitement is palpable.

My wakeup call came when the Bush administration prepared to invade Iraq. I had to find out how this horrific act could be possible. Although I have been deeply involved in politics for many years, I realized my knowledge was sadly limited so I immersed myself in self-education and the progressive movement. It has been fascinating!

The Big Picture is made up of countless components, each one needing assessment, and most likely change. Underlying and surrounding all facets of public policy and society are the intangibles, the ideas that shape our understanding of the world and our place in it – worldview.

Worldview is the focus of this work. Worldview is our moral truth and intellectual truth – faith and reason – our philosophy of life. Religion and spirituality play an oversized role in politics today. The epidemic of anti-intellectualism must be reversed. Information and ideas that have been pumped into the public consciousness over the years must be peer reviewed by we, the people.

How do we know right or wrong? True or false? Smart or stupid?

The mainstream media rarely has the time, interest or context to communicate these ideas. Opinion is often skewed to favor corporate sponsors. The culture wars and religion wars are real, awesomely complex and key to influencing public opinion and making change.

Selected information and commentary have been posted on my website to help speed up the learning curve for others. No one could possibly understand the depth and scope of cultural factors impacting our politics and culture without purposeful learning. What is needed now is to take a deep, broad look at the Big Picture and how each issue is impacted by worldview. Countless citizens are doing exemplary work on specific issues such as climate change, gun control, health care and many more. Fewer of us are inclined to study the history and philosophy at the core of the American experience.

I want others who like to study civics and the humanities to connect with one another and collaboratively ignite a national conversation. Public dialogue about the big picture and radical (root) ideas is essential to understand and communicate why and how we must change the world.

I think people will be drawn into this conversation if we frame it not as getting involved in politics, but as participating in democracy.

Ideas we need to talk about include the nexus of religion and politics, the moral values of climate change and income inequality, how special interests have shaped worldviews in our country over the past 40 year and much more. To help find focus in this enormous concept, I am trying to connect as directly as possible public thought and opinion with federal government policy, particularly as relates to the future of our grandchildren. Dialogue about ideas embedded within the Big Picture is applicable to any particular area of interest or expertise.

There is already a lot happening in this arena to build upon. There is a critical need for organizations with resources and expertise to provide leadership and coordination. That is something I cannot do and am longing for others to step up and make it work. My work is available for use by all. Please let me know what’s happening – Phyllis@progressivevalues.org. Thank you.

We must move forward in the days ahead with audacious faith. The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Recent relevant articles

Before You Give up on Democracy, Read This! by Frances Moore Lappé, September 18, 2013, The Huffington Post

The End Game for Democracy  by Bill Moyers, billmoyers.com August 23, 2013

The Rise of the New New Left by Peter Beinart, The Daily Beast, September 12, 2013

American Intellectuals’ Widespread Failure to Stand Up to Billionaires and Authoritarian Power By Robert Jensen, AlterNet, July 5, 2013

Humanity Imperiled — The Path to Disaster by Noam Chomsky, Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com, Huffington Post, June 4, 2013

* * * * * * *

Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American… America is the only idealistic nation in the world.
Woodrow Wilson

What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise. Barbara Jordan

The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

When you place a high value on truth, you have to think for yourself.
Dr. Cornel West

No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.
Isaac Asimov

Time doesn’t change things. People change things.
Andy Warhol

Policy is driven by more than politics, however. It is equally driven by ideas.
Malcolm Gladwell

http://p0.vresp.com/ZDU6MS Link to e-letter online


Community building

Scientists find visions of a benevolent future society motivate reform By Eric W. Dolan, Washington Post, March 21, 2013  – Activists, take note: People support reform if they believe the changes will enhance the future character of society…people support a future society that fosters the development of warm and moral individuals…explore Noam Chomsky’s dictum that “social action must be animated by a vision of a future society” — a proposition they said had not been investigated by social psychologists… “On climate change, we have other research showing that support for action was higher when people focused on character, but also on opportunities for economic/technological development.”…“One challenge is to work out how to design policies to actually promote warmth/morality…“The whole idea may sound a bit implausible, but if you think of it as ‘community building’ (bringing people together to promote social bonds) then it becomes more tangible for policy makers, as this is something they are able to consider in policy design.”…“If you can communicate how a policy will serve its primary function and help community-building, our research suggests you will gain broader public support.”


 

Turning Congress’s partisans into problem solvers

By Joe Manchin and Jon Huntsman, Washington Post, January 13, 2013

Joe Manchin, a Democrat, represents West Virginia in the U.S. Senate and is one of the two dozen “Problem Solvers.” Jon Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, was a Republican candidate for president last year. They are the national leaders of No Labels.

Excerpt

F…rom our perspective, there is only one way for leaders in Washington to step up: They need an attitude adjustment. Everyone needs to be willing to sit down with anyone — conservative, liberal or anyone in between — to work together to achieve success for our nation. Everyone needs to recognize that principled and deeply held political beliefs don’t require an all-or-nothing approach to governance and that the letter behind a person’s name does not automatically make them stupid or treasonousadopting an attitude focused on problem solving is a deeply pragmatic response to Washington’s dysfunction.…On Monday morning, the group No Labels — a collection of Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving — will unveil two dozen “Problem Solvers”: a group of House and Senate members evenly split between Republicans and Democrats who have agreed to hold monthly meetings in 2013 to build trust across the aisle……No Labels’ grass-roots supporters will strive to expand the number of problem solvers, with a goal of recruiting 75 members by year’s end. This could transform how Washington works…We can begin tapping our potential the moment we stop taking score and begin taking steps to start solving problems. That’s the only realistic way forward for America.

Full text

Joe Manchin, a Democrat, represents West Virginia in the U.S. Senate and is one of the two dozen “Problem Solvers.” Jon Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, was a Republican candidate for president last year. They are the national leaders of No Labels.

Much ink has been spilled over what’s wrong with Washington.

The rise of partisan media, too much money in politics and congressional gerrymandering that rewards ideologues with safe seats have all been offered as diagnoses for government dysfunction.

These explanations are accurate — but almost totally irrelevant to the urgent challenges at hand.

The American people can’t just hope for the creation of a better “system.” Reducing money in politics and building a better election system are worthy and important endeavors — but they are tough, multi-year, state-by state slogs.

We need to attempt those things and to seek solutions now from the system and the leaders we already have. Businesses are not hiring, and investors are not investing as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Washington. Too many would-be workers are not working. The coming generations are being doomed to a worse standard of living than previous generations.

Knowing that should light a fire under everybody in Washington. But it hasn’t. The gridlock continues, most recently with the “fiscal cliff” fiasco, and the fight over the debt ceiling looms.

From our perspective, there is only one way for leaders in Washington to step up: They need an attitude adjustment. Everyone needs to be willing to sit down with anyone — conservative, liberal or anyone in between — to work together to achieve success for our nation. Everyone needs to recognize that principled and deeply held political beliefs don’t require an all-or-nothing approach to governance and that the letter behind a person’s name does not automatically make them stupid or treasonous.

To be clear, we are not naïve about the challenge of fostering cooperation across the aisle. There are philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans that can’t be papered over with nice words about civility.

But adopting an attitude focused on problem solving is a deeply pragmatic response to Washington’s dysfunction. With Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans controlling the House, no one can get everything they want. We will either work across the aisle to fix problems or we will achieve nothing.

Luckily, we are not the only ones who recognize this. On Monday morning, the group No Labels — a collection of Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving — will unveil two dozen “Problem Solvers”: a group of House and Senate members evenly split between Republicans and Democrats who have agreed to hold monthly meetings in 2013 to build trust across the aisle.

These forward-looking Americans include: Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), Jim Moran (D-Va.), Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), Scott Rigell (R-Va.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

This is a big deal. While in past years members of Congress used to interact regularly with members of the opposite party, today members of Congress interact very little with people from the other party — or even members of their own party in the opposite body. Members’ daily lives are dominated by party caucus, policy and fundraising meetings that are focused on winning elections or destroying the opposing party. There isn’t much time left over to actually govern.

But the Problem Solvers can and will seek to change this. In the next year, No Labels’ grass-roots supporters will strive to expand the number of problem solvers, with a goal of recruiting 75 members by year’s end. This could transform how Washington works. And it won’t be long before members start hearing demands from their constituents to join the group. Millions of Americans who have tired of the hyper-partisanship have realized that there is an organized group that can finally give them a voice in our political system. They have gone to NoLabels.org and are telling their friends and neighbors to as well.

Despite the gloomy outlook in Washington, the United States has great potential and promise. The American people need their leaders in Washington to start supporting our economy and stop subtracting from it. We can begin tapping our potential the moment we stop taking score and begin taking steps to start solving problems. That’s the only realistic way forward for America.

Joe Manchin, a Democrat, represents West Virginia in the U.S. Senate and is one of the two dozen “Problem Solvers.” Jon Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, was a Republican candidate for president last year. They are the national leaders of No Labels.

Much ink has been spilled over what’s wrong with Washington.

The rise of partisan media, too much money in politics and congressional gerrymandering that rewards ideologues with safe seats have all been offered as diagnoses for government dysfunction.

These explanations are accurate — but almost totally irrelevant to the urgent challenges at hand.

The American people can’t just hope for the creation of a better “system.” Reducing money in politics and building a better election system are worthy and important endeavors — but they are tough, multi-year, state-by state slogs.

We need to attempt those things and to seek solutions now from the system and the leaders we already have. Businesses are not hiring, and investors are not investing as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Washington. Too many would-be workers are not working. The coming generations are being doomed to a worse standard of living than previous generations.

Knowing that should light a fire under everybody in Washington. But it hasn’t. The gridlock continues, most recently with the “fiscal cliff” fiasco, and the fight over the debt ceiling looms.

From our perspective, there is only one way for leaders in Washington to step up: They need an attitude adjustment. Everyone needs to be willing to sit down with anyone — conservative, liberal or anyone in between — to work together to achieve success for our nation. Everyone needs to recognize that principled and deeply held political beliefs don’t require an all-or-nothing approach to governance and that the letter behind a person’s name does not automatically make them stupid or treasonous.

To be clear, we are not naïve about the challenge of fostering cooperation across the aisle. There are philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans that can’t be papered over with nice words about civility.

But adopting an attitude focused on problem solving is a deeply pragmatic response to Washington’s dysfunction. With Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans controlling the House, no one can get everything they want. We will either work across the aisle to fix problems or we will achieve nothing.

Luckily, we are not the only ones who recognize this. On Monday morning, the group No Labels — a collection of Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving — will unveil two dozen “Problem Solvers”: a group of House and Senate members evenly split between Republicans and Democrats who have agreed to hold monthly meetings in 2013 to build trust across the aisle.

These forward-looking Americans include: Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), Jim Moran (D-Va.), Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), Scott Rigell (R-Va.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

This is a big deal. While in past years members of Congress used to interact regularly with members of the opposite party, today members of Congress interact very little with people from the other party — or even members of their own party in the opposite body. Members’ daily lives are dominated by party caucus, policy and fundraising meetings that are focused on winning elections or destroying the opposing party. There isn’t much time left over to actually govern.

But the Problem Solvers can and will seek to change this. In the next year, No Labels’ grass-roots supporters will strive to expand the number of problem solvers, with a goal of recruiting 75 members by year’s end. This could transform how Washington works. And it won’t be long before members start hearing demands from their constituents to join the group. Millions of Americans who have tired of the hyper-partisanship have realized that there is an organized group that can finally give them a voice in our political system. They have gone to NoLabels.org and are telling their friends and neighbors to as well.

Despite the gloomy outlook in Washington, the United States has great potential and promise. The American people need their leaders in Washington to start supporting our economy and stop subtracting from it. We can begin tapping our potential the moment we stop taking score and begin taking steps to start solving problems. That’s the only realistic way forward for America.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/turning-congress-from-partisanship-to-problem-solving/2013/01/13/30e547ba-5db0-11e2-9940-6fc488f3fecd_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines


Beware Stubby Glasses

By DAVID BROOKS, New York Times, January 10, 2013

If you want to deter crime, it seems that you’d want to lengthen prison sentences so that criminals would face steeper costs for breaking the law. In fact, a mountain of research shows that increases in prison terms have done nothing to deter crime. Criminals, like the rest of us, aren’t much influenced by things they might have to experience far in the future.

If a police officer witnesses the death of his partner, it seems that you’d want to quickly send in a grief counselor. In fact, this sort of immediate counseling freezes and fortifies memories of the trauma, making the aftershocks more damaging.

If you want to get people to vote more, it seems you’d want to tell them what a problem low turnout is. In fact, if you want people to vote, tell them everybody else is already voting and they should join the club. Voting is mostly about social membership and personal expression.

These are three examples of policies and practices that are based on bad psychology. The list of examples could go on and fill this page. That’s because we spend trillions of dollars putting policies and practices into place, but most of these efforts are based on the crudest possible psychological guesswork.

Fortunately, people in the behavioral sciences are putting policies to the test. I know of groups at Duke and Penn that are applying behavioral research findings to policy issues. Eldar Shafir of Princeton has edited a weighty new book, “The Behavioral Foundations of Public Policy,” which is a master compendium of what we know.

One of the things we know is that seemingly trivial changes can have big effects. People who are presented with a wide variety of choices of, say, yogurt, will eat more than people who are presented with a small array of choices or no choice. People who were randomly given a short, wide 22-ounce glass, poured 88 percent more juice or soda into it than people who were offered a tall, narrow 22-ounce glass, but they believed they only poured in half as much as they actually did.

Sometimes the behavioral research leads us to completely change how we think about an issue. For example, many of our anti-discrimination policies focus on finding the bad apples who are explicitly prejudiced. In fact, the serious discrimination is implicit, subtle and nearly universal. Both blacks and whites subtly try to get a white partner when asked to team up to do an intellectually difficult task. In computer shooting simulations, both black and white participants were more likely to think black figures were armed. In emergency rooms, whites are pervasively given stronger painkillers than blacks or Hispanics. Clearly, we should spend more effort rigging situations to reduce universal, unconscious racism.

The research is also leading to new policy approaches. The most famous involve default settings. Roughly 98 percent of people take part in organ donor programs in European countries where you have to check a box to opt out. Only 10 percent or 20 percent take part in neighboring countries where you have to check a box to opt in.

In one clever program, dieters were told to phone in their weight to a nurse daily. Every day they called, they got an encouraging text and a lottery ticket, with a chance of winning a small amount. These dieters lost three times more weight than people who didn’t get tickets. Another ingenious program automatically diverts some money into your savings account every time you buy a state lottery ticket.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s government in Britain has gone furthest in implementing these sorts of programs. Personalized text messages were found to be six times more effective in getting people to pay fines than warning letters. If you tell people what percentage of their neighbors has already paid their taxes, you are more likely to get late filers to actually pay than if you nag them another way.

My problem with these efforts is that they are still so modest. What about the big problems? How do we get people to restrain government commitments now so that debt down the road won’t be so ruinous? How do we calculate the multiplier effects of tax cuts or spending increases among different subgroups of the population, or under different emotional conditions? How do we rig the context of budget negotiations so participants can actually come to a deal? How are people in different cultures likely to react to drone strikes? How do we structure sanctions against Iran to cause the greatest psychic humiliation?

These are the big questions, and most of our policies rely on crude folk psychology from a few politicians. But there’s hope. As Brian Wansink notes in Eldar Shafir’s volume, the 20th century saw great gains in sanitation and public health. The 21st century could be a great period for behavior change.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/11/opinion/brooks-beware-stubby-glasses.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130111&_r=0

The Massive New Liberal Plan to Remake American Politics

Revealed: The Massive New Liberal Plan to Remake American Politics

A month after President Obama won reelection, America’s most powerful liberal groups met to plan their next moves. Here’s what they talked about.

By Andy Kroll | Wed Jan. 9, 2013


It was the kind of meeting that conspiratorial conservative bloggers dream about.

A month after President Barack Obama won reelection, top brass from three dozen of the most powerful groups in liberal politics met at the headquarters of the National Education Association (NEA) [1], a few blocks north of the White House. Brought together by the Sierra Club [2], Greenpeace [3], Communication Workers of America (CWA) [4], and the NAACP [5], the meeting was invite-only and off-the-record. Despite all the Democratic wins in November, a sense of outrage filled the room as labor officials, environmentalists, civil rights activists, immigration reformers, and a panoply of other progressive leaders discussed the challenges facing the left and what to do to beat back the deep-pocketed conservative movement.

At the end of the day, many of the attendees closed with a pledge of money and staff resources to build a national, coordinated campaign around three goals: getting big money out of politics, expanding the voting rolls while fighting voter ID laws, and rewriting Senate rules to curb the use of the filibuster to block legislation. The groups in attendance pledged a total of millions of dollars and dozens of organizers to form a united front on these issues—potentially, a coalition of a kind rarely seen in liberal politics, where squabbling is common and a stay-in-your-lane attitude often prevails. “It was so exciting,” says Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director. “We weren’t just wringing our hands about the Koch brothers. We were saying, ‘I’ll put in this amount of dollars and this many organizers.’”

The liberal activists have dubbed this effort the Democracy Initiative. The campaign, Brune says, has since been attracting other members—and also interest from foundations looking to give money—because many groups on the left believe they can’t accomplish their own goals without winning reforms on the Initiative’s three issues. “This isn’t an optional activity for us,” Brune tells me. “It is mission critical.”

Liberal groups have joined forces around issues—and elections—before. Health Care for America Now [6] (HCAN) was a megagroup formed to support Obama’s health care reform bill [7] in 2009. And in 2003, leaders from EMILY’s List, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), AFL-CIO, and Sierra Club formed America Coming Together [8], the most sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation in the history of Democratic politics, to help elect presidential candidate John Kerry. Indeed, progressives have collaborated specifically on voting rights or campaign finance before, too. But the Democracy Initiative may be the first time so many groups teamed up to work on multiple issues not tied to an election. “This is really the first time that a broad spectrum of groups have come together around a big agenda that impacts the state and national level,” says Kim Anderson [9], who runs the NEA’s center for advocacy and outreach and attended the December meeting.

The Democracy Initiative grew out of conversations in recent years among Radford, Brune, CWA president Larry Cohen [10], and NAACP president Ben Jealous [11]. (“We all have a knitting class together,” Brune jokes.) Brune says the four men bemoaned how the dysfunctional political process was making it impossible for their groups to achieve their goals. “We’re not going to have a clean-energy economy,” he says, “if the same companies that are polluting our rivers and oceans are also polluting our elections.”

Greenpeace’s Phil Radford notes that for decades conservatives have aimed to shrink local, state, and federal governments by reforming the rules so they could install like-minded politicians, bureaucrats, and judges. Radford calls it “a 40-plus-year strategy by the Scaifes [12], Exxons [13], Coors [14], and Kochs [15] of the world…to take over the country.”

So last spring Brune, Cohen, Jealous, and Radford called up their friends on the left and, in June, convened the Democracy Initiative’s first meeting. A handful of groups attended, and they began to focus on the triad of money in politics, voting rights, and dysfunction in the Senate.

By December, the Democracy Initiative’s ranks had swelled to 30 to 35 groups, Brune says. (He expects it to be 50 by the end of the winter.) Other attendees at the December meeting included top officials from the League of Conservation Voters, Friends of the Earth, Public Campaign, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Common Cause, Voto Latino, the Demos think tank, Piper Fund [16], Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, People for the American Way, National People’s Action, National Wildlife Federation, the Center for American Progress, the United Auto Workers, and Color of Change. (A non-editorial employee of Mother Jones also attended.)

According to a schedule of the meeting [17], the attendees focused on opportunities for 2013. On money in politics, Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign, a pro-campaign-finance-reform advocacy group, singled out [18] Kentucky, New York, and North Carolina as potential targets for campaign finance fights. In a recent interview, Nyhart said the Kentucky battle would likely involve trying to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Public Enemy No. 1 for campaign finance reform, who faces reelection in 2014. In New York, Nyhart said, activists [19] are pressuring state lawmakers, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to pass a statewide public financing bill [20] in 2013. And in North Carolina, the fight is more about countering the influence of a single powerful donor, the conservative millionaire Art Pope [21], whose largesse helped install a Republican governor and turn the state legislature entirely red.

On voting rights, a presentation by a Brennan Center for Justice staffer [22] identified California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, and Minnesota as states where efforts to modernize the voter registration system and implement same-day registration could succeed.

But the most pressing issue right now for Democracy Initiative members is Senate rules reform. At the December meeting, attendees heard from Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) on rule changes to curb the spiraling use of filibusters to block legislation. The use of the filibuster has exploded in recent years, and Republicans now block up-or-down votes on nearly everything in the Senate, requiring Democrats to muster 60 votes to conduct even the most routine business. Liberal groups in the Democracy Initiative want to fix that, and they used the December meeting to plan a coordinated push to urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to rewrite the rules. Democrats have until January 22 [23], when the window closes on easy rules changes, to get the reforms they want.

Other potential targets for Democracy Initiative action include Chevron, which gave $2.5 million [24] to a super-PAC backing House Republican candidates in 2012. Google was mentioned as another target for its continued membership with the generally pro-Republican US Chamber of Commerce. And a 16-member coalition targeting the American Legislative Exchange Council [25], the conservative “bill mill” [26] behind many voter ID, school choice, and anti-union laws, wants to use the Democracy Initiative to recruit members and so expand its efforts identifying lawmakers and corporations who are ALEC members and urging them to cut ties with the group. “We’re going to put the pressure on ALEC even more” in 2013, says Greenpeace’s Radford.

Radford, Brune, Cohen, and others say the Democracy Initiative is no flash in the pan; they’re in it for the long haul, for more than just this election cycle and the one after it. It took four decades [27], these leaders say, for conservatives to shape state and federal legislatures to the degree that they have, and it will take a long stretch to roll back those changes. “The game is rigged against us; the corporate right has done such a good job taking over the Congress and the courts,” Radford says. “We’re saying we need to step back and change the whole game.”


Source URL: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/01/democracy-initiative-campaign-finance-filibuster-sierra-club-greenpeace-naacp

Links:
[1] http://www.nea.org
[2] http://www.sierraclub.org
[3] http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/
[4] http://www.cwa-union.org
[5] http://www.naacp.org
[6] http://healthcareforamericanow.org
[7] http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/11/obamacares-incredible-high-wire-history
[8] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/harold-ickes-priorities-usa-action-obama?page=2
[9] http://www.nea.org/home/46301.htm
[10] http://www.cwa-union.org/pages/president/
[11] http://www.naacp.org/pages/benjamin-todd-jealous
[12] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/stories/scaifemain050399.htm
[13] http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2005/05/some-it-hot
[14] http://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/excellence_in_philanthropy/taking_the_fizz_out_of_coors
[15] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/09/exclusive-audio-koch-brothers-seminar-tapes
[16] http://www.proteusfund.org/piper/about-0
[17] https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/552135-democracy-initiative-december-meeting-schedule.html
[18] https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/552137-public-campaign-priorities-map-for-democracy.html
[19] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/10/sean-eldridge-new-york-campaign-finance-reform
[20] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/04/cuomo-new-york-public-financing-citizens-united
[21] http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/10/10/111010fa_fact_mayer
[22] https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/552139-brennan-center-voting-rights-opportunities.html
[23] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/03/the-date-for-filibuster-reform-january-22-probably/
[24] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/26/chevron-super-pac_n_2023842.html
[25] https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/552138-alec-working-group-fact-sheet.html
[26] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2002/09/ghostwriting-law
[27] http://prospect.org/article/strategic-plan-liberals

 

Battles of the Budget

By PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times, January 3, 2013

The centrist fantasy of a Grand Bargain on the budget never had a chance. Even if some kind of bargain had supposedly been reached, key players would soon have reneged on the deal — probably the next time a Republican occupied the White House.

For the reality is that our two major political parties are engaged in a fierce struggle over the future shape of American society. Democrats want to preserve the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and add to them what every other advanced country has: a more or less universal guarantee of essential health care. Republicans want to roll all of that back, making room for drastically lower taxes on the wealthy. Yes, it’s essentially a class war…

According to the normal rules of politics, Republicans should have very little bargaining power at this point…But the G.O.P. retains the power to destroy, in particular by refusing to raise the debt limit — which could cause a financial crisis. And Republicans have made it clear that they plan to use their destructive power to extract major policy concessions.

Now, the president has said that he won’t negotiate on that basis, and rightly so. Threatening to hurt tens of millions of innocent victims unless you get your way — which is what the G.O.P. strategy boils down to — shouldn’t be treated as a legitimate political tactic…

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/opinion/kurgman-battles-of-the-budget.html?hp&_r=1&

 

 

New Year, New Era for Progressives and Obama

by Norman Solomon, January 2, 2013 by Common Dreams

As 2013 gets underway, progressives need to be here now. We’re in a new era of national politics—with different circumstances that call for a major shift in approach.

Last year, the vast majority of progressives supported the Obama campaign to keep a Republican out of the White House. We helped deliver that vital blow to right-wing forces.

But now, President Obama is no longer the alternative to prevent a GOP takeover of the presidency. He goes into his last term as the leader exerting immense leverage that continues to move the Democratic Party—and the frame of political debate—in a rightward and corporate direction.

That’s a predictable result when Democratic leadership makes cutting Social Security doable, puts a bull’s-eye on Medicare, protects the military from major cuts, takes a dive on climate change, reinforces perpetual war in sync with “kill lists” for routine drone attacks across continents, throws habeas corpus and other civil liberties under the bus and promotes far-reaching austerity measures.

With the threat of a President Romney gone and the continuing scarcity of a progressive moral core in the Oval Office, millions of progressives who understood the tactical wisdom of supporting Obama’s re-election should now recognize that the time has come to renounce his leadership.

That leadership has become so corrosive that the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, last month declared a cut in Social Security’s cost-of-living allowance would “strengthen” Social Security. This is typical of the doublespeak that continues to accompany a downward spiral—underscoring the great need for progressive insurgencies against what the Obama administration has become.

To build progressive strength, as a practical matter, sooner is much better than later. With the president in his final term, why wait years to challenge the rightward momentum coming from the top of the Democratic Party? There is no better time to proceed with that challenge than right now.

We need to politicize our opposition… based on a moral view of what politics should be and what so many administration policies are not. We’re fighting to overcome an entire corporatist system.

As part of the process, we’ll need to build genuine progressive leadership from the grassroots. An astute motto notes: when the people lead, the leaders will follow.

For those who contend that grassroots action cannot dramatically shift the national discourse, one word of refutation should suffice: Occupy. Such insurgencies are possible—and can scale up with remarkable rapidity, as the Occupy movement showed in late 2011.

But denunciations and protests, while vital, are insufficient. We need stronger progressive institutions imbued with clarity and greater capacity to organize from the base to make the most of this new era—without illusions or counterproductive fixations on Obama as an individual.

Vilifying or lionizing Obama often personalizes politics as “pro” or “anti” Obama. But the useful point is not to personalize our opposition —quite the opposite. We need to politicize it, clearly based on a moral view of what politics should be and what so many administration policies are not. We’re fighting to overcome an entire corporatist system.

Ironically, on the left, Obama’s demonizers and apologists often fall into opposing sides of the same trap: fixating on Obama the person instead of concentrating on a sober political assessment of his presidential actions and inaction.

That governance is not compatible with a progressive agenda. Obama’s political dance steps with Republicans continue to move the country’s frame-of-reference further rightward. As the New York Times reports, the tax deal that President Obama pushed through Congress on Tuesday “would have been a Republican fiscal fantasy” just a few years ago—“a sweeping bill that locks in virtually all of the Bush-era tax cuts, exempts almost all estates from taxation, and enshrines the former president’s credo that dividends and capital gains should be taxed equally and gently.”

Obama has his hands firmly on the levers of national party power. That’s why so few Democrats—just three in the Senate and 16 in the House—dared to vote against the fiscal deal on New Year’s Day. But now there are real opportunities for insurgencies and challenges from the party base as well as other progressive constituencies, inside and outside the electoral arena.

Will we grasp those opportunities? If the answer is yes, it won’t come from the top echelons of the largest unions, environmental groups or liberal PACs. Whatever their virtues, such organizations have become too enmeshed as enablers of the Obama White House to contemplate helping to launch from-the-base challenges to the administration.

With the danger of a Republican replacing Obama in the White House now behind us, progressives must proceed to systematically confront the administration in the process of reframing the national discourse on economic fairness, Wall Street, civil liberties, war and climate change. The next generations are depending on us.

Norman Solomon is founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org. He co-chairs the national Healthcare Not Warfare campaign organized by Progressive Democrats of America. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” and “Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State“.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/01/02

President Obama’s speech at prayer vigil for Newtown shooting victims

By Washington Post Staff, Published: December 16

Full transcript of President Obama’s remarks at a Dec. 16 prayer vigil for victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

OBAMA: Thank you.

Thank you, Governor. To all the families, first responders, to the community of Newtown, clergy, guests, scripture tells us, “Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly, we are being renewed day by day.

“For light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all, so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven not built by human hands.”

We gather here in memory of 20 beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America.

Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts.

I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you. We’ve pulled our children tight.

And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide. Whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown, you are not alone.

As these difficult days have unfolded, you’ve also inspired us with stories of strength and resolve and sacrifice. We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school’s staff did not flinch. They did not hesitate.

Dawn Hocksprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Russeau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy, they responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances, with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care.

We know that there were other teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms and kept steady through it all and reassured their students by saying, “Wait for the good guys, they are coming. Show me your smile.”

And we know that good guys came, the first responders who raced to the scene helping to guide those in harm’s way to safety and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and their own trauma, because they had a job to do and others needed them more.

And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do, one child even trying to encourage a grownup by saying, “I know karate, so it’s OK; I’ll lead the way out.”

As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other. You’ve cared for one another. And you’ve loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered, and with time and God’s grace, that love will see you through.

But we as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. You know, someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.

With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child, is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice, and every parent knows there’s nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet we also know that with that child’s very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them.

They will suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments, and we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear. And we know we can’t do this by ourselves.

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?

Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?

Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?

Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change. Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose — much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?

Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

You know, all the world’s religions, so many of them represented here today, start with a simple question.

Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose?

We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain, that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it’s wealth or power or fame or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that, no matter how good our intentions, we’ll all stumble sometimes in some way.

We’ll make mistakes, we’ll experience hardships and even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.

There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace, that is true.

The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger, we know that’s what matters.

We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that.

That’s what we can be sure of, and that’s what you, the people of Newtown, have reminded us. That’s how you’ve inspired us. You remind us what matters. And that’s what should drive us forward in everything we do for as long as God sees fit to keep us on this Earth.

“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, Allison, God has called them all home.

For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory. May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in His heavenly place. May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort, and may He bless and watch over this community and the United States of America.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/president-obamas-speech-at-prayer-vigil-for-newtown-shooting-victims-full-transcript/2012/12/16/f764bf8a-47dd-11e2-ad54-580638ede391_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

10 Steps to Repair American Democracy

By Steven Hill,  Paradigm Publishers | Book Excerpt – posted on Alternet, November 24, 2012

10 Steps to Repair American Democracy.In this excerpt, Hill concludes his book by presenting two alternative futures: a dystopia of post-democracy, if the US continues along the current futile path; or a brighter future if fundamental reform is enacted, rescuing Americans from our nation’s downward trajectory.

Introduction:

In 2008, an economic crash of historic proportions shook the world. Without a politics that could rein in the economics, Wall Street honchos turned American banks and the financial system into their personal casinos that had to be bailed out by taxpayers. But that economic collapse was preceded by a long-standing political collapse. The U.S. political system had been captured by wealthy elites who gutted crucial regulations and oversight of the out-of-control financial system, and drained the wealth of the nation into fewer and fewer pockets. Today, American democracy finds itself plagued by out-of-control campaign spending, choiceless elections, paralyzed government, superficial debate, backward voter registration laws, a filibuster-gone-wild U.S. Senate, mindless media, untrustworthy voting equipment, even a partisan Supreme Court. In his new book, 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy: 2102 Election Edition, political reformer Steven Hill outlines a blueprint for renewing the American republic by enacting fundamental political and media reforms. In this excerpt, Hill concludes his book by presenting two alternative futures: a dystopia of post-democracy, if the U.S. continues along the current futile path; or a brighter future if fundamental reform is enacted, rescuing Americans from our nation’s downward trajectory.

 

Conclusion: Renewing the American Republic

 

A Tale of Two Futures

 

What will be the future of representative democracy in the United States? America is standing at a fork in the road, staring into the distance of an unknown landscape. Allow me to present two possible alternatives, a tale of two potential futures.

 

Imagine it is Election Day 2016. Imagine yet another presidential election boiling down to the same two battleground states—Ohio and Florida—that have tilted three of the last four elections, a not-unrealistic scenario, given current demographic trends. Candidates will spend most of their time in these two states and perhaps a handful of other swing states, ignoring all the others. Visits to our largest states (e.g., California, Texas, and New York) will include only select zip codes known as fund-raising mother lodes. The Florida and Ohio electorates will be sliced and diced into bite-sized targets of swing voters at which will be aimed carefully crafted campaign missiles. Ohioans and Floridians will be carpet bombed with television ads, most of them negative, while in the rest of the nation it will be all quiet on the electoral front.

 

In a close race, spoiler candidates still will threaten to wreck the majority mandate of the front-runners, perplexing voters with lesser-of-two-evils dilemmas and acting as a damper on new candidates and their ideas. All campaign spin and hype will be directed toward the narrowest slices of voters, either the partisan base or undecided swing voters, which will determine the winner. Consequently, the nation’s most important election will be dumbed down to a handful of parochial issues, and the voters who care about all the other concerns facing the nation will watch like spectators from the forty-second row.

 

In the run-up to this 2016 presidential election, unfortunately, we never did fix the problems with election administration and voting equipment, so out of 120 million voters nationwide, a change of only a few hundred votes in either Ohio or Florida— whether due to administrative miscue or fraud—could alter the outcome. Further complicating matters, with the numbers of minorities in the electorate rising every year, some conservative organizations have increased efforts to use various tricks to disenfranchise them. In 2015, a few states, including Florida, even tried passing English-language requirements for voters–and nearly succeeded. The roller coaster of the 2016 electoral season already has resulted in dozens of lawsuits across the nation, ensuring that no matter which side wins, the nation once again will lose. And the lawyers will get rich.

 

Not only that, even though all fifty states redrew their legislative districts following the 2010 census, congressional districts have continued their plummet into one-party fiefdoms. In the 2016 congressional elections, only 25 out of 435 district races will be even remotely competitive. To its credit, Congress finally passed a national law in 2013 outlawing partisan gerrymandering and mandating independent redistricting commissions in all states—yet it has had very little impact. Republican and Democratic voters have become so bunkered down into

 

their own red and blue regions that the line-drawing process mostly has become inconsequential. To counteract that, as well as the terrible Supreme Court decision Citizens United, reformers managed to pass Clean Money and full public-financing legislation in a dozen states by 2014, a tremendous accomplishment that has introduced some badly needed political debate into our brain-dead elections. Yet, with so many red and blue winner-take-all districts dominating the political landscape, that also has made little difference in terms of who gets elected or the policies they pass.

 

In round two of President Obama’s health-care reform, the House finally passed legislation to rein in health-care costs for all Americans via a joint public option-private sector effort, but 41 senators representing a mere 25 percent of the nation’s population were able to kill it by deploying the anti-majoritarian filibuster. The conservative senators from these low-population states were concerned about an expansion of big government, even though their own states are heavily subsidized by the federal government and by the blue states. In fact, they receive significantly more in federal tax dollars than they pay out, and twice the per capita federal dollars received by blue states California, New York, and Illinois.

 

Yet, despite all the partisan pyrotechnics and passion on both sides, hardly anyone will show up to vote on Election Day 2016. Disgusted by the lack of choices at the ballot box, the partisan sandbox play, the bland, uninformative media, and a government so out of touch with the concerns of average Americans, voters have continued their trend of staying home. The fact is, most voters no longer need to show up since most races are decided well in advance of Election Day, and so it’s not surprising that they don’t bother. Voter turnout for congressional races plunged to barely a quarter of eligible voters in 2014. In recent years, cities such as Dallas, Charlotte, Austin, New York, and Boston, among others, have seen voter turnout for mayoral elections in the single digits. In one recent mayoral race in Los Angeles, only 5 percent of eligible voters could be bothered to interrupt their busy Tuesday—a workday, after all—to cast a vote.

 

Some pundits have begun to wonder out loud on editorial pages and talking head shows whether elections even matter anymore. Not only has turnout continued to plunge, but certain cities in California canceled their elections because there were no candidates to compete against the safe-seat incumbents. In fact, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which has raised a public ruckus over the cost of elections where so few voters show up, has begun collecting signatures on a California initiative to pass a constitutional amendment to hold one election every eight years. In essence, the Howard Jarvisites are asking the few remaining voters to permanently cancel most elections and transmogrify the United States into a “ratification” democracy with occasional elections and referendums, more like the plutocratic Roman Republic than a participatory democratic republic. And polls show the ballot measure has a good chance of passing.

 

The onset of this post-democratic future has paved the way for the “Berlusconization” of American politics. Silvio Berlusconi is the Italian media magnate and political patriarch who managed to gobble up nearly all private media in Italy, then used that resource as a personal stepping-stone to political domination in Italy during the 1990s and 2000s. By 2016, the trajectory of America’s shattered democracy has moved us a giant step closer to a Berlusconi-type political figure lurking on the horizon: Sarah Palin, who was made the head of Fox Broadcasting Company after Rupert Murdoch got caught red-handed once again tapping into the voice mail boxes and e-mail accounts of prominent people as well as crime victims. After making a media alliance with Clear Channel, Palin has used her media empire to return to the spotlight and launch her late entry into the 2016 presidential campaign.

 

Palin is strongly playing the national security card, promising her supporters a “war to restore American global power.” Palin’s polling numbers have quickly surged into the high thirties, making her a front-runner, and combined with yet another independent presidential run by eighty-two-year-old Ralph Nader that threatens to split the center-left vote, all calculations about the race have been thrown into a tizzy.

 

Despite all the electoral fireworks, it is projected that America will be lucky if it can cajole even half of the electorate to turn out to vote for president. The rest of the world is greatly alarmed by this turn of events in the former global paragon of representative democracy and still heavily armed superpower, so France has introduced a United Nations resolution demanding that, if Americans are not going to turn out to vote for president, then the rest of the world should be allowed to because the occupier of the American presidency affects nations all over the world.

 

On Election Day 2016, America takes a big gulp and prepares for a grim outcome. There will be no winner in a country so bedeviled by bitter partisanship and antiquated political institutions and practices. The rest of the world can only watch and shake their heads in disbelief, a by now familiar posture toward the former leader of the Western world. This is the way American democracy will end, not with a bang but with a whimper.

 

***

 

Instead of a gloomy future of post-democracy, another future is possible— one of renewed democracy. Imagine a different election in 2016, one where all 220 million eligible voters, including the millions of minority, poor, and young voters, have been automatically registered to vote as a result of a federal law passed in 2014 enacting universal voter registration. Imagine that law also brought the United States into the ranks of other advanced democracies that have lifted all barriers to participation, including allowing residents of our nation’s capital, Washington DC, to elect congressional representation; enabling our poorest citizens to vote on equipment as good as that used in the wealthy county next door; and permitting prisoners to learn the good habits of citizenship, such as the basic act of voting, while incarcerated. This federal law enfranchising all these new voters amounted to the greatest civil rights advance since 1965 and dramatically changed the profile of the electorate.

 

Imagine that in 2014 Congress finally passed a law ensuring that voting equipment and election administration would be overseen by a national elections commission that rigorously tests and produces the best and most innovative voting equipment and election administrative practices, partnering with states, counties, and the private sector to ensure that every corner of America is technologically equipped and trained to count our ballots accurately and securely. Election officials are now trained and certified professionals, with expertise in computer technology, databases, the logistics of running elections, and public relations, instead of a hodgepodge of career bureaucrats with little more than on-the-job training.

 

By the 2016 presidential election, twenty-one states have signed treaties awarding all their state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, enough that the election has become a de facto national direct election for president. Candidates no longer can confine their campaigns to a handful of battleground states, especially the bigger ones such as Ohio and Florida. Instead, the candidates crisscross the nation, ignoring practically no one, trying to pick up every single vote they can. In 2016 it’s going to be a close race, just as it has been in most presidential elections since 2000, and no one knows whether the decisive votes will come from Wyoming, North Dakota, Georgia, California, New York, or some other state. This in turn leads to a massive mobilization of voters, old and new, who suddenly aren’t being treated like spectators anymore or ignored because they happen to live in the wrong state.

 

These twenty-one states as well as several others also have decided to use ranked choice voting (RCV) to guarantee majority winners in their presidential, gubernatorial and other statewide races, so the presence of several independent and minor party candidates doesn’t split the vote or spoil the race; in fact, it injects new ideas and fresh faces that excite more voters. Suddenly voters can hear a range of candidates directly addressing their concerns. And by ranking the candidates 1, 2, 3, so that if their first choice can’t win, their vote goes to their second choice, they can vote for these candidates without shooting themselves in the foot and contributing to their least favorite candidate winning. The net effect of a national direct election for president, as well as using RCV in many states for other statewide races, is that voter turnout in the 2016 election is projected to surge across the nation to a phenomenal 77 percent of eligible voters, on a par with many other democracies and the highest turnout in more than 120 years.

 

But that’s not all. By 2016, imagine that nineteen states have scrapped their antiquated winner-take-all elections and adopted proportional representation for electing their state legislatures and congressional delegations. As a result, multiparty democracies have sprouted in all these states, giving voters a whole new range of independent candidates and political parties to choose from. In addition to Democrats and Republicans, a Libertarian Party, a Green Party, a Working Families Party, and a centrist Ross Perot–type New America Party are all vying for legislative seats. The candidates for the different parties receive public financing and free media time, so even the smaller parties have sufficient resources to reach voters with TV and radio ads about their platforms and policy proposals. The result is real free market competition in our elections, something America has never really seen before, and a political buzz across the landscape that would have made Alexis de Tocqueville gush with enthusiasm. For the first time in their lives, millions of American voters are no longer bunkered down in safe, one-party districts, and are hearing a genuine debate with a full range of policy choices. Voters feel more informed and more satisfied with their political options across the political spectrum. As a result, voter turnout for state and congressional elections has doubled in these nineteen states to an average of 75 percent of eligible voters, nearly as high as in many other nations.

 

A couple of years earlier, in 2014, the US Senate was finally recognized as an eighteenth-century anachronism, but political resistance from the low-population states benefiting most from this sclerotic, unrepresentative body meant that reform possibilities were limited. Nevertheless, the Twenty-Eighth Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 2015, greatly reducing the Senate’s powers, taking away its authority to confirm the Supreme Court and other presidential appointments, and transforming it into an upper chamber like that in other advanced democracies that can delay legislation initiated by the House but that cannot stop it or introduce its own legislation. This amendment also abolished anti-majoritarian practices like the filibuster.

 

With the Senate scaled back, other reforms are in the air, one of them leading to moves to overhaul the Supreme Court. Another constitutional amendment has been passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification that will impose fifteen-year judicial term limits for Supreme Court justices as well as other federal judgeships, and a mandatory retirement age of seventy-five. If passed by three-fourths of the states, the Twenty-Ninth Amendment will ensure that the Supreme Court becomes, for the first time in decades, a balance of legal-political views that better reflects the views of most Americans.

 

With broader representation in Congress and many of the state legislatures—including perspectives from the right, left, and center— policy has adjusted to align more closely with the opinions of most Americans. Congress has passed sensible laws to regulate the corporate media, forcing Big Media to sign a legally binding charter with detailed requirements for how it will serve the public interest, including providing adequate election news coverage and free airtime for all candidates (that meet reasonable eligibility requirements). Cable companies have finally been brought to heel and made to serve the public interest, with a regulated pricing structure and cooperative agreements with cities and rural areas to bring high-speed Internet access to all citizens, even the poorest. Social media and networking via the Internet have become smoothly integrated into our politics and public discourse, allowing young people to gain a political foothold. The Fairness Doctrine has been restored, ensuring that all sides and opinions can be heard, reducing the inclination of Americans to bunker down in their own impoverished media ghettos.

 

Public broadcasting has been granted robust funding to nearly BBC-type levels via a small mandatory monthly fee paid by households instead of by congressional authorization, liberating it to put the “public” back into its broadcasting. Hard-hitting journalism and penetrating interviews of political leaders, like those seen on the BBC, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now!, and other media outlets, is making a tentative appearance in PBS and NPR broadcasts. Daily newspapers in under-served communities are being subsidized, resulting in a flowering of dailies. Newspapers are even incorporated into classrooms, getting high school students into the habit of reading the news. With more robust public and private media, including high-speed Internet and social media, the result has been a surge of interest and knowledge on the part of Americans in news and politics and an improvement in the quality of political discourse and citizenship, leading to new understanding and respect among Americans of differing viewpoints.

 

The cumulative effect of all these changes by Election Day 2016 is that, in so many ways, the winner-take-all mentality—the adversarial “if I win, you lose” mantra—has begun to transform. Whether it’s in the legislatures, the executive branch, the media, or the courts, a new form of consensual democracy is emerging where various points of view compete against each other in a more respectful manner, sometimes strongly disagreeing but no longer crossing the line between vigorous advocacy and bitter “win-at-all-costs” partisanship. In such a climate of multi-partisan collegiality, where minds can come together and share perspectives in order to craft compromises and solutions for the good of the nation, Congress is able to chart a legislative course for America’s future, including figuring out a plan to ensure that every American has health care, and a decent retirement too, using a mix of public-private partnerships.

 

With legislative chambers functioning more as pragmatic, deliberative, problem-solving bodies instead of mud-wrestling pits of partisan warfare, Americans no longer are so frustrated by paralyzed politics and stop looking to millionaire politicians or media moguls or poorly crafted voter initiatives to fix the mess. Government acquires a better reputation. Americans see that smart government—not big government or “chopped-to-the-bone” government—can assist them in living prosperous, healthy, and enjoyable lives without overly restricting their liberty or freedoms. Once again, America presents a more cooperative leadership on the global stage, much to the world’s relief. All this ushers in a new era of shared prosperity among all Americans, and the rising tide helps lift boats the world over.

 

This is one alternative future for the United States. Down this path lies a renewal of American democracy that will allow our nation to live up to the lofty rhetoric of our Founders’ homily: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” A renewed democracy will create a nation that works for all of us instead of some of us.

 

But down another path—much like the current path, relying on antiquated institutions and practices—lies a downward spiral into post-democracy, a nightmarish future where political and economic cabals wielding ominous technology have hog-tied democracy, rolled back regulation, turned our economy into their own personal casino, and rendered our nation into one that works for only a handful of us instead of all of us. These are two very different alternative futures, founded on two very different philosophies regarding representative democracy: elite rule versus popular sovereignty. We are standing at a fork in the road, and the choice is ours.

 

Like the rest of the world, the United States must adapt to profound political and economic changes that are sweeping the 21st century. Understandably, many people look at the political landscape today and throw up their hands, concluding things will never change. But how many Germans in 1980 thought the Berlin Wall would fall in less than ten years? I have spoken to many Germans who in 1988 did not imagine the Berlin Wall would fall less than a year later. How many people in the spring of 2008 thought the US and then the global economy would collapse in a matter of months? How many experts in December 2010 predicted that the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his wares and the humiliation inflicted on him by a municipal official, would precipitate the remarkable chain of events known as the Arab Spring, which has led to the fall of dictators and unleashed a wave of political and economic reform across the Middle East? And how many anticipated the Occupy Wall Street movement that drew inspiration from the Arab Spring and spread throughout the United States in the fall of 2011?

 

The take-home lesson is that you never know at any given moment where you stand on the fault lines of history. Change proceeds very slowly, via inch-by-inch movements of the tectonic plates, until suddenly it is unleashed in an earthquake of unexpected proportions. A similar process of political evolution is occurring in the United States today.

 

Despite the seeming odds, we urgently need to press forward with efforts focused on adopting the reforms proposed in this book. Everybody can do a little, volunteering time and resources to the various organizations listed at the end of each chapter. One step at a time, we will transform the American political system, taking it out of the eighteenth-century museum in which it is stuck and transplanting it into the twenty-first century.

 

Steven Hill

 

Steven Hill is a political writer and former political reform director at the New America Foundation whose most recent books include Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope for an Insecure Age and “10 Steps to Repair American Democracy.” For more information and links to his articles and op-eds, visit www.Steven-Hill.com. Follow Hill on Twitter @StevenHill1776

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/12920-10-steps-to-repair-american-democracy