The Zimmerman Verdict Is a Wakeup Call to Address the Deep and Structural Injustices in America

By Makani ThembaAlterNet, July 15, 2013   Makani Themba is executive director of The Praxis Project.

Excerpt

…It is wrong. It is an atrocity. There’s no way this verdict would have gone down if Trayvon was white. The legal argument that led to this verdict, which is centuries old, could not exist without de facto acceptance of racism as legitimate motive and Blackness itself as life threatening…The Zimmerman trial was essentially an opportunity to lay more legal groundwork to advance vigilantism. Let’s face it.   This is a standard ‘go to’ move in the white supremacy handbook because the vigilante state is particularly important when the “majority” becomes a “minority” as a way to hold power without the pretense of democracy…What is most important, however, is the structural analysis and strategy that undergirds their work. Much of our work – in stark contrast – is focused at the level of individual casework.  And it’s just not enough. We often labor under the mistaken assumption that law is created by case history and argued in courts.  As a result, the bulk of resources targeted for racial justice work are invested in groups engaged in legal defense strategies.  Yet, law is so much more than cases.  Law is a fluid amalgamation of principle – ideals like freedom, liberty, equality; public perception and meaning – how we come to understand what principles mean in our current context; code – the nitty gritty words and technicalities that make up how these principles are implemented to and for whom; andcoercion and intimidation – we follow laws that don’t work for us because we’d rather not deal with the consequences. The Right understands the importance of all these elements in the forging of law and social norms...Yes, we should support efforts to bring Zimmerman up on civil rights charges……… We must also be more adept at leveraging human rights tools at our disposal to take our efforts beyond the limited framework of the Constitution  and reimagine remedies at a macro-systemic level including, yes, even reparations. Ending this tragic history of murder and mayhem; ensuring that there are no more Trayvons or Oscars or Vincents or Addie Maes requires an upending of the deeply entrenched structures that led to their deaths in the first place.  Let’s hope that this latest wakeup call will inspire more of us to take on the deeper work of structural transformation to make tragedies like these a thing of the past.

Full text

“They call it due process and some people are overdue… Somebody said ‘brother-man gonna break a window, gonna steal a hubcap, gonna smoke a joint, brother man gonna go to jail.’  The man who tried to steal America is not in jail… And America was ‘shocked.’  America leads the world in shocks.  Unfortunately, America does not lead the world in deciphering the cause of shock…” - We Beg Your Pardon (Pardon Our Analysis) by Gil Scott-Heron

No matter how many times I live through moments like these, it never gets any easier.  Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant [3], John T. Williams [4], Henry Glover [5], Juan Herera [6], Amadou Diallo [7], Iman Morales [8],Eleanor Bumpers [9], Vincent Chin [10], Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair [11], Emmett Till [12]… There are so many more names to recall.  There are so many names I don’t know.  And they number into the millions, over centuries as we are reminded over and over again that for people of color in this country, our lives are cheap.

I think my friend Dennis said it best when he observed that Trayvon was convicted of his own murder.

My heart goes out to Trayvon’s family and all of us who are feeling the trauma and pain in this moment. It is wrong. It is an atrocity. There’s no way this verdict would have gone down if Trayvon was white. The legal argument that led to this verdict, which is centuries old, could not exist without de facto acceptance of racism as legitimate motive and Blackness itself as life threatening.

With each of these cases, we find ourselves in a kind of shock.  As in how could the country that brought you slavery, the Alamo, small pox blankets and waterboarding do such a thing?  Again? Many of us believe there is a “real” America, which is noble and great and if only we could take her “back” and let her be as she was intended, everything would be alright. 

I’m betting that that’s going to work about as well as any other abusive relationship.  It’s time for a change.

The Zimmerman trial was essentially an opportunity to lay more legal groundwork to advance vigilantism. Let’s face it.   This is a standard ‘go to’ move in the white supremacy handbook because the vigilante state is particularly important when the “majority” becomes a “minority” as a way to hold power without the pretense of democracy. Unlike Malcolm X in his famous 1964 speech The Ballot or the Bullet [13], white supremacy works to hold down the ballot and the bullet. It is not an “either or” proposition.

What is most important, however, is the structural analysis and strategy that undergirds their work. Much of our work – in stark contrast – is focused at the level of individual casework.  And it’s just not enough.

We often labor under the mistaken assumption that law is created by case history and argued in courts.  As a result, the bulk of resources targeted for racial justice work are invested in groups engaged in legal defense strategies.  Yet, law is so much more than cases.  Law is a fluid amalgamation of principle – ideals like freedom, liberty, equality; public perception and meaning – how we come to understand what principles mean in our current context; code – the nitty gritty words and technicalities that make up how these principles are implemented to and for whom; andcoercion and intimidation – we follow laws that don’t work for us because we’d rather not deal with the consequences. 

The Right understands the importance of all these elements in the forging of law and social norms.  They push for cases that push us on all these fronts.  They work to control not only the public narrative but the institutions that shape meaning and teach us what to think about the world and each other.  And they defend vigilante and state violence that works to limit our freedom, our mobility and even our dreams of what’s possible for our children.   Trying to counter these efforts with law centered strategy is like expecting to beat a card shark at poker – using their marked deck.

Yes, we should support efforts to bring Zimmerman up on civil rights charges [14] and boycott the companies that fund groups like ALEC that are responsible for the law [15] that made his acquittal possible.  We also need a DOJ investigation and suit to address the blatantly racist patterns in the application of stand your ground type laws and extrajudicial killings [16] in general.  We must also be more adept at leveraging human rights tools at our disposal [17] to take our efforts beyond the limited framework of the Constitution [18] and reimagine remedies at a macro-systemic level including, yes, even reparations [19].

Ending this tragic history of murder and mayhem; ensuring that there are no more Trayvons or Oscars or Vincents or Addie Maes requires an upending of the deeply entrenched structures that led to their deaths in the first place.  Let’s hope that this latest wakeup call will inspire more of us to take on the deeper work of structural transformation to make tragedies like these a thing of the past.

See more stories tagged with:

zimmerman [20],

trayvon [21]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/reimagining-remedies-21st-century-wake-zimmerman-verdict

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/makani-themba
[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/05/mehserle-sentencing-judge_n_779643.html
[4] http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/02/seattle_cop_resigns_after_native_american_carvers_killing_ruled_unjustified.html
[5] http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2010/06/nopd_officers_indicted_in_henr.html
[6] http://www.ocregister.com/news/herrera-62938-furtado-city.html
[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/26/nyregion/diallo-verdict-overview-4-officers-diallo-shooting-are-acquitted-all-charges.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/25/nyregion/25tased.html?_r=0
[9] http://www.nytimes.com/1985/04/13/nyregion/state-judge-dismisses-indictment-of-officer-in-the-bumpurs-killing.html
[10] http://blog.sfgate.com/eguillermo/2012/06/27/vincent-chins-murderer-still-sorry-but-30-years-of-freedom-hasnt-changed-his-view-of-the-crime/
[11] http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=93402&page=1#.UeQgjay4UiU
[12] http://www.emmetttillmurder.com/
[13] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRNciryImqg
[14] https://donate.naacp.org/page/s/doj-civil-rights-petition?source=zimmermannotguiltyLB&utm_medium=lightbox&utm_source=NAACP&utm_campaign=zimmermannotguiltyLB
[15] http://www.republicreport.org/2012/trayvon-martin-alec-corporate-funder/
[16] http://mxgm.org/operation-ghetto-storm-2012-annual-report-on-the-extrajudicial-killing-of-313-black-people/
[17] http://thepraxisproject.org/using-international-convention-elimination-all-forms-racial-discrimination-icerd-advance-human
[18] http://thepraxisproject.org/scotus-decisions-poignant-reminder-time-finish-reconstruction
[19] http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/blj/vol20/feagin.pdf
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/zimmerman
[21] http://www.alternet.org/tags/trayvon
[22] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

5 Ways That Raw, Unregulated Capitalism Is Acting Like a Cancer on American Society

By Paul Buchheit, AlterNet, May 5, 2013  |

Unregulated capitalism is out of control. Like a cancer [3], it has become “something evil or malignant that spreads destructively,” with tumors growing in several once-healthy parts of the American body.

1. Attacking the Hungry

The uncontrolled growth of investment wealth is diverting resources away from vital programs, effectively smothering them. The average Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) [4] recipient received about $1,500 for food for the entire year. At least ten Americans each made that much in under ten seconds from their investment gains in 2012 [5], about the time it took each one to fluff his pillow and roll over in bed.

Under capitalism, fortunes accrue to a few while 47 million [6] Americans, or one out of seven, need food assistance [7]. Almost half of the hungry are children [8]. For every food bank we had in 1980 [9], we now have 200.

Yet just 20 people made more from their investment income in one year [5] than the entire 2011 food assistance budget [10]. That’s $73 billion, taxed at the capital gains rate. Meanwhile, President Obama couldn’t get the $1 billion per year he needed to improve childhood nutrition [9]in schools.

Most recently, the House proposed a farm bill [11] that would cut another $2 billion a year from the food stamps account.

2. Suffocating the Students

The corporate style of capitalism allows young college graduates, the bright hope of the future, to work in minimum wage positions while carrying an average of $26,000 [12] in student loans, which accumulated because tuition rose ten times faster [13] than the cost of living, and which now come with interest rates [14] many times higher than the banks pay.

The great majority of pre-recession jobs have been replaced, if they’ve come back at all, aslow-wage [15] jobs in food service and retail. The number of college grads working for minimum wage has doubled [16] in five years. They may be the ‘fortunate’ ones. In 2011, about 360,000 [17]Americans holding advanced degrees were on food stamps or some other form of public assistance. Many of them are homeless [18].

Jobless and frustrated young Americans trusted the system, and it failed them. Yet free enterprise entrepreneurs hustle [19] them for even more college, in order to extract federal loan money, which goes right to the schools to pay administrative salaries.

Defenders of capitalism say hard work will ensure success. At a recent jobs hearing [20] in Washington, only one Congressman bothered to show up.

3. Weakening the Children

The disease has been spreading since the 1960s, when life expectancy [21] began to decrease along with increasing health care costs. Capitalism has betrayed our children. A UNICEF study [22] places the U.S. 22nd out of 24 OECD countries in “children’s health and well-being.”

Child poverty, perhaps the main cause of their health problems, is up 50% [23] since 1973, with the rate for minorities three times that for white children.

Our global poverty ranking is shameful. Despite having the second-highest average income for children among the 30 OECD countries, the U.S. ranked 27th out of 30 for child poverty [24](percentage of children living in households that are below 50% of the median income).

4. Depleting the Taxpayers

The body of our society has been drained of its vital juices by tax avoidance. Loopholes and exemptions cost the public about a trillion dollars [25] a year, and underreported [26] income costs another $450 billion. The total is much more than the cost of our stable but always threatened Social Security program.

Since the recession, Fortune 500 corporations have cut [27] their tax payments in half, even though their profits have doubled in less than ten years.

Finally, it is estimated [28] that between $21 and $32 trillion is hidden offshore, untaxed, with up to40% [29] owned by Americans. U.S. PIRG [30] estimates that the average taxpayer in 2012 paid an extra $1,026 in taxes to make up for tax havens by corporations and wealthy individuals. The average small business paid $3,067.

5 .Paralyzing the Voters

Corporations and Congress are a carcinogenic mix. Voters are rendered useless, like withering organs, as all the attention is given to the greedy mass of nutrient-taking super-rich individuals and companies.

A vast majority of Americans want background checks [31] on guns, an emphasis [32] on clean energy [33], job stimulus [34] programs, taxes on the rich [35], and an uncut Social Security [36] program. Yet Congress only hears the ka-ching of campaign contributions. Of the 435 House elections [37] in 2004, 95% of them were won by the candidates who outspent their opponents.

Healing

There’s much more to the sickness, like the workplace explosions and fires triggered by cost-cutting measures, banks preying [38] on working people, the environmental [39] destruction caused by oil companies [40] and herbicide [41] manufacturers, attempts [42] to profit [43] from global warming, the middle class collapse caused by corporations transferring jobs overseas and then calling themselves multi-nationals to avoid allegiance to the country that supported their growth. Et cetera, et cetera.

This all allows a small number of people to make most of the money. These are the people who demand ‘freedom’ at the first hint of regulation.

The post-WW2 American body began to deteriorate around the time of Milton Friedman, author of one of the all-time economic inaccuracies: “The free market system distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people.” For forty years the sickness caused by his teaching has spread, at first without pronounced symptoms, but now in an out-of-control process that threatens to incapacitate the better part of America. A revolutionary medicine may be the only hope for recovery. A revolution, that is, of co-ops and small farms and local currencies and solar panels on the rooftops.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/economy/5-ways-raw-unregulated-capitalism-acting-cancer-american-society

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/paul-buchheit
[3] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cancer
[4] http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=1269
[5] http://www.usagainstgreed.org/Fortune400_2011-12.xls
[6] http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3239
[7] http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/884525/err141.pdf
[8] http://www.fns.usda.gov/Ora/menu/Published/SNAP/FILES/Participation/2011Characteristics.pdf
[9] http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/03/09
[10] http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/FY13budsum.pdf
[11] http://www.capitalpress.com/content/jh-farm-bill-details-042913
[12] http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/09/26/a-record-one-in-five-households-now-owe-student-loan-debt/
[13] http://www.deltacostproject.org/pdfs/Delta_Not_Your_Moms_Crisis.pdf
[14] http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-04-15/how-obama-wants-to-change-student-loan-interest-rates
[15] http://www.nelp.org/page/-/Job_Creation/LowWageRecovery2012.pdf?nocdn=1
[16] http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2013/03/30/number-of-the-week-college-grads-in-minimum-wage-jobs/
[17] http://chronicle.com/article/From-Graduate-School-to/131795/
[18] http://www.alternet.org/college-students-are-going-homeless-and-hungry-and-corporate-america-trying-exploit-them?paging=off
[19] http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_19/b4177064219731.htm
[20] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/24/lawmaker-unemployment-hearing_n_3148362.html
[21] http://www.oecd.org/els/health-systems/oecdhealthdata2012-frequentlyrequesteddata.htm
[22] http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc9_eng.pdf
[23] http://www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/soac-2012-handbook.pdf
[24] http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/19/4/43570328.pdf
[25] http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/UploadedPDF/412404-Tax-Expenditure-Trends.pdf
[26] http://finance.yahoo.com/news/irs-estimate-17-percent-taxes-204637410.html
[27] http://www.payupnow.org/CorpTaxByYear.xls
[28] http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/Price_of_Offshore_Revisited_120722.pdf
[29] http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/Inequality_120722_You_dont_know_the_half_of_it.pdf
[30] http://www.uspirg.org/news/usp/offshore-tax-havens-cost-average-taxpayer-1026-year-small-businesses-3067
[31] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/04/03/90-percent-of-americans-want-expanded-background-checks-on-guns-why-isnt-this-a-political-slam-dunk/
[32] http://www.alternet.org/environment/how-country-one-worlds-largest-economies-ditching-fossil-fuels?paging=off
[33] http://www.gallup.com/poll/161519/americans-emphasis-solar-wind-natural-gas.aspx
[34] http://www.gallup.com/poll/158834/economy-entitlements-iran-americans-top-priorities.aspx
[35] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/28/taxing-the-rich-poll_n_2203400.html
[36] http://www.politico.com/story/2012/12/battleground-poll-hike-taxes-on-the-rich-84824.html
[37] http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2004/11/2004-election-outcome-money-wi.html
[38] http://www.alternet.org/economy/rich-have-gained-56-trillion-recovery-while-rest-us-have-lost-669-billion?paging=off
[39] http://www.thenation.com/article/164497/capitalism-vs-climate?page=full
[40] http://itsoureconomy.us/2013/02/oil-sands-mining-uses-up-almost-as-much-energy-as-it-produces/
[41] http://www.biosafety-info.net/article.php?aid=267
[42] http://www.alternet.org/environment/cynical-companies-are-already-scheming-how-getting-rich-global-warming?paging=off
[43] http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-03-07/investors-seek-ways-to-profit-from-global-warming
[44] http://www.alternet.org/tags/capitalism
[45] http://www.alternet.org/tags/us-0
[46] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Transformation of the Republican Party into extremism

Cracked Worldview by David Klinghoffer, StarTribune, August 4, 2010 — Conservatism once had a meaningful and noble purpose. Those days, it seems, have waned…With its descent to baiting blacks, Mexicans and Muslims, its accommodation of conspiracy theories and an increasing nastiness and vulgarity, the conservative movement has undergone a shift toward demagoguery and hucksterism.….

Meet The Radical Republicans Chairing Important House Committees, By Zack Beauchamp on Nov 28, 2012, thinkprogress.org -…ThinkProgress’ guide to the views of five of the new committee chairs on the issues they’ll be in charge of, which range from climate change to immigration to financial regulation:

Lamar Smith (Texas) — Science, Space and Technology — …Smith is a climate change skeptic…Smith received significant donations from both Koch industries and the oil and gas sector in his most recent campaign…

Jeb Hensarling (Texas) — Financial Services — …his candidacy was underwritten by Wall Street: banks donated more than seven times as much as the next largest industry to Hensarling’s reelection campaign. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hensarling wants to take down the Dodd-Frank regulations and thinks taxing the financial industry is “frankly ludicrous.” Hensarling has also called Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid “cruel Ponzi schemes.”

Ed Royce (California) — Foreign Affairs -  Rep. Royce has a questionable history with respect to people from diverse cultures and backgrounds: last year, he told an anti-Muslim rally that multiculturalism “has paralyzed too many of our citizens to make the critical judgement we need to make to prosper as a society.” He also appears on lead Islamophobic propagandist Frank Gaffney’s radio show, proposed a national version of Arizona’s “papers, please” immigration law, and allegedly sent mailers accusing his Taiwanese-American opponent in the 2012 election of being funded by Chinese Communists.

Michael McCaul (Texas) — Homeland Security -  Rep. McCaul…endorsed .. hearings on Islamic terrorism that..demonized” Muslims. He’s also a drug warrior… celebrated Arizona’s discriminatory “show me your papers” immigration law…

Bob Goodlatte (Virginia) — Judiciary -  Rep. Goodlatte…is staunchly anti-immigrant, opposing a pathway to citizenship…holds fringe views on the Constitution: he believes that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, and that the federal minimum wage may be.

Are Republicans rebranding or rethinking?

Calling radicalism by its name

How Party of Budget Restraint Shifted to ‘No New Taxes,’ Ever  

Meet The Radical Republicans Chairing Important House Committees  

Plu­toc­racy, Paral­y­sis, Per­plex­ity

The Worst Of Times

Where Have You Gone, Bill Buckley?

Welcome to the Data Driven World

By Joseph Marks, nextgov.com, April 5, 2013

University of Wisconsin geologist Shanan Peters was frustrated by how much he didn’t know.

Most geological discoveries were locked away in troves of research journals so voluminous that he and his colleagues could read only a fraction of them. The sheer magnitude of existing research forced most geologists to limit the scope of their work so they could reasonably grasp what had already been done in the field. Research that received little notice when it was published too often was consigned to oblivion, wasting away in dusty journals, even if it could benefit contemporary scientists.

A decade ago, Peters would have had to accept his field’s human limitations. That’s no longer the case. In the summer of 2012, he teamed up with two University of Wisconsin computer scientists on a project they call GeoDeepDive.

The computer system built by professors Miron Livny and Christopher Re will pore over scanned pages from pre-Internet science journals, generations of websites, archived spreadsheets and video clips to create a database comprising, as nearly as possible, the entire universe of trusted geological data. Ultimately, the system will use contextual clues and technology similar to IBM’s Watson to turn those massive piles of unstructured and often forgotten information—what Livny and Re call “dark data”—into a database that Peters and his colleagues could query with questions such as: How porous is Earth’s crust? How much carbon does it contain? How has that changed over the millennia?

The benefits of GeoDeepDive will be twofold, Peters says. First, it will give researchers a larger collection of data than ever before with which to attack problems in the geosciences. Second, it will allow scientists to broaden their research because they will be able to pose questions to the system that they lack the expertise to answer on their own. 

“Some problems were kind of off limits,” Peters says. “You couldn’t really think about reasonably addressing them in a meaningful way in one lifetime. These new tools have that promise—to change the types of questions we’re able to ask and the nature of answers we get.”

Order From Chaos

GeoDeepDive is one of dozens of projects that received funding from a $200 million White House initiative launched in March 2012 to help government agencies, businesses and researchers make better use of what’s called “big data.”

Here’s what that means: Data exist all over the world, in proliferating amounts. Satellites beam back images comprising every square mile of Earth multiple times each day; publishers crank out book after book; and 4.5 million new URLs appear on the Web each month. Electronic sensors record vehicle speeds on the Interstate Highway System, weather conditions in New York’s Central Park and water activity at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Until recently, scientists, sociologists, journalists and marketers had no way to make sense of all this data. They were like U.S. intelligence agencies before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. All the information was there, but no one was able to put it together.

Three things have brought order to that cacophony in recent years. The first is the growth of massive computer clouds that virtually bring together tens or hundreds of thousands of servers and trillions of bytes of processing capacity. The second is a new brand of software that can link hundreds of those computers together so they effectively act like one massive computer with a nearly unlimited hunger for raw data to crunch.

The third element is a vastly improved capacity to sort through unstructured data. That includes information from videos, books, environmental sensors and basically anything else that can’t be neatly organized into a spreadsheet. Then computers can act more like humans, pulling meaning from complex information such as Peters’ geosciences journals without, on the surface at least, reducing it to a series of simple binary questions.

“For a number of years we’ve worked really hard at transforming the information we were collecting into something that computers could understand,” says Sky Bristol, chief of Science Information Services at the U.S. Geological Survey. “We created all these convoluted data structures that sort of made sense to humans but made more sense to computers. What’s happened over the last number of years is that we not only have more powerful computers and better software and algorithms but we’re also able to create data structures that are much more human understandable, that are much more natural to our way of looking at the world.

“The next revolution that’s starting to come,” he says, “is instead of spending a lot of energy turning data into something computers can understand, we can train computers to understand the data and information we humans understand.”

Big Promises 

Big data has hit the digital world in a big way. The claims for its power can seem hyperbolic. A recent advertisement for a launch event for the book Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) promised the authors would explain why the “revolution” wrought by big data is “on par with the Internet (or perhaps even the printing press).”

Big data’s promise to transform society is real, though. To see its effect one need not look to Guttenberg but to Zuckerberg, Page and Brin. Each day Facebook and Google chew through millions of pages of unstructured text embedded in searches, emails and Facebook feeds to deliver targeted ads that have changed how sellers reach consumers online.

Retailers are mining satellite data to determine what sort of customers are parking in their competitors’ parking lots, when they’re arriving and how long they’re staying. An official with Cisco’s consulting arm recently suggested big box retailers could crunch through security camera recordings of customers’ walking pace, facial expressions and eye movements to determine the optimal placement of impulse purchases or what store temperature is most conducive to selling men’s shoes.

Big data is making an appearance in international aid projects, in historical research and even in literary analysis.

Re, the University of Wisconsin computer scientist, recently teamed with English professor Robin Valenza to build a system similar to GeoDeepDive that crawls through 140,000 books published in the United Kingdom during the 18th century. Valenza is using the tool to investigate how concepts such as romantic love entered the English canon. Ben Schmidt, a Princeton University graduate student in history, has used a similar database built on the Google Books collection to spot linguistic anachronisms in the period TV shows Downton Abbey and Mad Men. His assessment: The Sterling Cooper advertising execs of Mad Men may look dapper in their period suits but they talk about “keeping a low profile” and “focus grouping”—concepts that didn’t enter the language until much later.

The ‘Holy Grail’

The White House’s big data investment was spawned by a 2011 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a group of academics and representatives of corporations including Google and Microsoft. The report found private sector and academic researchers were increasingly relying on big data but weren’t doing the sort of basic research and development that could help the field realize its full potential.

The council wasn’t alone. The research arm of McKinsey Global Institute predicted in May 2011 that by 2018 the United States will face a 50 percent to 60 percent gap between demand for big data analysis and the supply of people capable of performing it. The research firm Gartner predicted in December 2011 that 85 percent of Fortune 500 firms will be unprepared to leverage big data for a competitive advantage by 2015.

The White House investment was funneled through the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Defense and Energy departments, among other agencies. The grants are aimed partly at developing tools for unstructured data analysis in the private, academic and nonprofit worlds but also at improving the way data is gathered, stored and shared in government, says Suzi Iacono, deputy assistant director of the NSF’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering.

As an example, Iacono cites the field of emergency management. New data storage and analysis tools are improving the abilities of the National Weather Service, FEMA and other agencies to predict when and how major storms such as Hurricane Sandy are likely to hit the United States. New Web and mobile data tools are making it easier for agencies to share that information during a crisis.

“If we could bring together heterogeneous data about weather models from the past, current weather predictions, data about where people are on the ground, where responders are located— if we could bring all this disparate data together and analyze them to make predictions about evacuation routes, we could actually get people out of harm’s way,” she says. “We could save lives. That’s the Holy Grail.”

One of the largest impacts big data is likely to have on government programs in the near term is by cutting down on waste and fraud, according to a report from the industry group TechAmerica released in May 2012.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services launched a system in 2011 that crunches through the more than 4 million claims it pays daily to determine the patterns most typical of fraud and possibly deny claims matching those patterns before they’re paid out. The government must pay all Medicare claims within 30 days. Because it lacks the resources to investigate all claims within that window CMS typically has paid claims and then investigated later, an inefficient practice known as “pay and chase.”

The board that tracks spending on President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package used a similar system to weed out nefarious contractors.

Big data is having an impact across government, though, in areas far afield from fraud detection. The data analysis company Modus Operandi received a $1 million Army contract in late 2012 to build a system called Clear Heart, which would dig through hundreds of hours of video—including footage from heavily populated areas—and pick out body movements that suggest what officials call “adversarial intent.” That could mean the posture or hand gestures associated with drawing a gun or planting a roadside bomb or the gait of someone wearing a suicide bombing vest.

The contract covers only the development of the system, not its implementation. But Clear Heart holds clear promise for drone surveillance, Modus Operandi President Richard McNeight says. It could be used to alert analysts to possible dangers or to automatically shed video that doesn’t show adversarial intent, so analysts can better focus their efforts.

The technology also could have domestic applications, McNeight says.

He cites the situation in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 elementary school students and six adults. “If you’d had a video camera connected with this system it could have given an early warning that someone was roaming the halls with a gun,” McNeight says.

Big data’s greatest long-term effects are likely to be in the hard sciences, where it has the capacity to change hypothesis-driven research fields into data driven ones. During a panel discussion following the announcement of the White House big data initiative, Johns Hopkins University physics professor Alex Szalay described new computer tools that he and his colleagues are using to run models for testing the big-bang theory.

“There’s just a deluge of data,” the NSF’s Iacono says. “And rather than starting by developing your own hypothesis, now you can do the data analysis first and develop your hypotheses when you’re deeper in.”

Coupled with this shift in how some scientific research is being done is an equally consequential change in who’s doing that research, Iacono says.

“In the old days if you wanted to know what was going on in the Indian Ocean,” she says, “you had to get a boat and get a crew, figure out the right time to go and then you’d come back and analyze your data. For a lot of reasons it was easier for men to do that. But big data democratizes things. Now we’ve got sensors on the whole floor of the Indian Ocean, and you can look at that data every morning, afternoon and night.”

Big data also has democratized the economics of conducting research.

One of NIH’s flagship big data initiatives involves putting information from more than 1,000 individual human genomes inside Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud, which stores masses of nonsensitive government information. Amazon is storing the genomes dataset for free. The information consumes about 2,000 terabytes—that’s roughly the capacity required to continuously play MP3 audio files for 380 years—far more storage than most universities or research facilities can afford. The company then charges researchers to analyze the dataset inside its cloud, based on the amount of computing required.

This storage model has opened up research to huge numbers of health and drug researchers, academics and even graduate students who could never have afforded to enter the field before, says Matt Wood, principal data scientist at Amazon Web Services. It has the potential to drastically speed up the development of treatments for diseases such as breast cancer and diabetes.

Over time, Wood says, the project also will broaden the scope of questions those researchers can afford to ask.

“If you rewind seven years, the questions that scientists could ask were constrained by the resources available to them, because they didn’t have half a million dollars to spend on a supercomputer,” he says. “Now we don’t have to worry about arbitrary constraints, so research is significantly accelerated. They don’t have to live with the repercussions of making incorrect assumptions or of running an experiment that didn’t play out.”

http://www.nextgov.com/big-data/2013/04/welcome-data-driven-world/62319/

In History Departments, It’s Up With Capitalism

By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER, New York Times, April 6, 2013

Excerpt

…a new generation of scholars is increasingly turning to what, strangely, risked becoming the most marginalized group of all: the bosses, bankers and brokers who run the economy…courses in “the history of capitalism” — as the new discipline bills itself …The events of 2008 and their long aftermath have given urgency to the scholarly realization that it really is the economy, stupid. The financial meltdown also created a serious market opportunity….

The dominant question in American politics today, scholars say, is the relationship between democracy and the capitalist economy. “…The new work marries hardheaded economic analysis with the insights of social and cultural history, integrating the bosses’-eye view with that of the office drones — and consumers — who power the system…

Harvard, which in 2008 created a full-fledged Program on the Study of U.S. CapitalismPrinceton, Brown, Georgia, the New School, the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere…While most scholars in the field reject the purely oppositional stance of earlier Marxist history, they also take a distinctly critical view of neoclassical economics, with its tidy mathematical models and crisp axioms about rational actors..The history of capitalism has also benefited from a surge of new, economically minded scholarship on slavery…

Full text

A specter is haunting university history departments: the specter of capitalism.

After decades of “history from below,” focusing on women, minorities and other marginalized people seizing their destiny, a new generation of scholars is increasingly turning to what, strangely, risked becoming the most marginalized group of all: the bosses, bankers and brokers who run the economy.

Even before the financial crisis, courses in “the history of capitalism” — as the new discipline bills itself — began proliferating on campuses, along with dissertations on once deeply unsexy topics like insurance, banking and regulation. The events of 2008 and their long aftermath have given urgency to the scholarly realization that it really is the economy, stupid.

The financial meltdown also created a serious market opportunity. Columbia University Press recently introduced a new “Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism” book series (“This is not your father’s business history,” the proposal promised), and other top university presses have been snapping up dissertations on 19th-century insurance and early-20th-century stock speculation, with trade publishers and op-ed editors following close behind.

The dominant question in American politics today, scholars say, is the relationship between democracy and the capitalist economy. “And to understand capitalism,” said Jonathan Levy, an assistant professor of history at Princeton University and the author of “Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America,” “you’ve got to understand capitalists.”

That doesn’t mean just looking in the executive suite and ledger books, scholars are quick to emphasize. The new work marries hardheaded economic analysis with the insights of social and cultural history, integrating the bosses’-eye view with that of the office drones — and consumers — who power the system.

“I like to call it ‘history from below, all the way to the top,’ ” said Louis Hyman, an assistant professor of labor relations, law and history at Cornell and the author of “Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink.”

The new history of capitalism is less a movement than what proponents call a “cohort”: a loosely linked group of scholars who came of age after the end of the cold war cleared some ideological ground, inspired by work that came before but unbeholden to the questions — like, why didn’t socialism take root in America? — that animated previous generations of labor historians.

Instead of searching for working-class radicalism, they looked at office clerks and entrepreneurs.

“Earlier, a lot of these topics would’ve been greeted with a yawn,” said Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia and the author of “A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men and the Making of the United States.”But then the crisis hit, and people started asking, ‘Oh my God, what has Wall Street been doing for the last 100 years?’ ”

In 1996, when the Harvard historian Sven Beckert proposed an undergraduate seminar called the History of American Capitalism — the first of its kind, he believes — colleagues were skeptical. “They thought no one would be interested,” he said.

But the seminar drew nearly 100 applicants for 15 spots and grew into one of the biggest lecture courses at Harvard, which in 2008 created a full-fledged Program on the Study of U.S. Capitalism. That initiative led to similar ones on other campuses, as courses and programs at Princeton, Brown, Georgia, the New School, the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere also began drawing crowds — sometimes with the help of canny brand management.

After Seth Rockman, an associate professor of history at Brown, changed the name of his course from Capitalism, Slavery and the Economy of Early America to simply Capitalism, students concentrating in economics and international relations started showing up alongside the student labor activists and development studies people.

“It’s become a space where you can bring together segments of the university that are not always in conversation,” Dr. Rockman said. (Next fall the course will become Brown’s introductory American history survey.)

While most scholars in the field reject the purely oppositional stance of earlier Marxist history, they also take a distinctly critical view of neoclassical economics, with its tidy mathematical models and crisp axioms about rational actors.

Markets and financial institutions “were created by people making particular choices at particular historical moments,” said Julia Ott, an assistant professor in the history of capitalism at the New School (the first person, several scholars said, to be hired under such a title).

To dramatize that point, Dr. Ott has students in her course Whose Street? Wall Street! dress up in 19th-century costume and re-enact a primal scene in financial history: the early days of the Chicago Board of Trade.

Some of her colleagues take a similarly playful approach. To promote a two-week history of capitalism “boot camp” to be inaugurated this summer at Cornell, Dr. Hyman (a former consultant at McKinsey & Company) designed “history of capitalism” T-shirts.

The camp, he explained, is aimed at getting relatively innumerate historians up to speed on the kinds of financial data and documents found in business archives. Understanding capitalism, Dr. Hyman said, requires “both Foucault and regressions.”

It also, scholars insist, requires keeping race and gender in the picture.

As examples, they point to books like Nathan Connolly’s “World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida,” coming next year, and Bethany Moreton’s “To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise” (Harvard, 2009), winner of multiple prizes, which examines the role of evangelical Christian values in mobilizing the company’s largely female work force.

The history of capitalism has also benefited from a surge of new, economically minded scholarship on slavery, with scholars increasingly arguing that Northern factories and Southern plantations were not opposing economic systems, as the old narrative has it, but deeply entwined.

And that entwining, some argue, involved people far beyond the plantations and factories themselves, thanks to financial shenanigans that resonate in our own time.

In a paper called “Toxic Debt, Liar Loans and Securitized Human Beings: The Panic of 1837 and the Fate of Slavery,” Edward Baptist, a historian at Cornell, looked at the way small investors across America and Europe snapped up exotic financial instruments based on slave holdings, much as people over the past decade went wild for mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations — with a similarly disastrous outcome.

Other scholars track companies and commodities across national borders. Dr. Beckert’s “Empire of Cotton,” to be published by Alfred A. Knopf, traces the rise of global capitalism over the past 350 years through one crop. Nan Enstad’s book in progress, “The Jim Crow Cigarette: Following Tobacco Road From North Carolina to China and Back,” examines how Southern tobacco workers, and Southern racial ideology, helped build the Chinese cigarette industry in the early 20th century.

Whether scrutiny of the history of capitalism represents a genuine paradigm shift or a case of scholarly tulip mania, one thing is clear.

“The worse things are for the economy,” Dr. Beckert said wryly, “the better they are for the discipline.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/education/in-history-departments-its-up-with-capitalism.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130407

The Young are the Restless

By CHARLES M. BLOW, New York Times, April 5, 2013

Excerpt

The surge of generational change continues in this country, altering the cultural landscape with a speed and intensity that has rarely — if ever — been seen before…millennials (defined by Pew as people born in 1981 or later), Generation Xers (those born between 1965 and 1980) and baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964)…The millennial generation is the generation of change. Millennials’ views on a broad range of policy issues are so different from older Americans’ perspectives that they are likely to reshape the political dialogue faster than the political class can catch up…a generation bent on rapid change — even if that means standing alone…Young people also are the least religious (more than a quarter specify no religion when asked), and they are an increasingly diverse group of voters. Fifty-eight percent of voters under 30 were white non-Hispanic in 2012, down from 74 percent in 2000. Like it or not, younger Americans are thirsty for change that lines up with their more liberal cultural worldview. Advantage Democrats.

Full text

The surge of generational change continues in this country, altering the cultural landscape with a speed and intensity that has rarely — if ever — been seen before.

The latest remarkable change concerns the decriminalization of the use of marijuana. A poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that for the first time more Americans support legalizing marijuana use than oppose it.

It was rather unsurprising that more young people would support the move, but it was striking how quickly they adopted a more liberal position. About seven years ago, millennials (defined by Pew as people born in 1981 or later), Generation Xers (those born between 1965 and 1980) and baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) shared the same view on marijuana: Only about a third thought it should be legalized. Since then, the share of millennials supporting its legalization has risen more than 90 percent. Meanwhile, the number of legalization supporters in Generation X and among the baby boomers has risen by no more than 60 percent.

The millennial generation is the generation of change. Millennials’ views on a broad range of policy issues are so different from older Americans’ perspectives that they are likely to reshape the political dialogue faster than the political class can catch up.

I surveyed the past six months of Pew and Gallup polls, to better understand the portrait of a generation bent on rapid change — even if that means standing alone.

ON GAY MARRIAGE Much has been made of the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage in this country, but a Pew poll last month found that that the change is driven mainly by millennials. Theirs was the only generation in which a majority (70 percent) supported same-sex marriage; theirs was also the only generation even more likely to be in favor of it in 2013 than in 2012, as support in the other generations ticked down. The longer-term picture is even more telling. Support for same sex-marriage among Generation X is the same in 2013 as it was in 2001 (49 percent). But among millennials, support is up 40 percent since 2003, the first year they were included in the survey.

Some of this no doubt is the result of younger adults’ having more exposure to people who openly identify as LGBT. According to an October Gallup poll, young adults between 18 and 30 were at least twice as likely to identify as LGBT as any other age group.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that millennials overwhelmingly agree, on a moral level, with same-sex relationships. In fact, a survey released last year by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University in conjunction with the Public Religion Research Institute found that they “are nearly evenly divided over whether sex between two adults of the same gender is morally acceptable.”

ON GUN CONTROL According to a February Gallup report, Americans ages 18 to 29 are the least likely to own guns, with just 20 percent saying that they do. That is well under the national average of 30 percent of Americans who own guns.

And in a Pew poll taken shortly after the Newtown, Conn., shootings, younger Americans were the most likely to say that gun control was a bigger concern in this country than protecting the right to own a gun. (Younger respondents barely edged out seniors with this sentiment.)

In fact, a Gallup poll found that the percentage of those 18 to 34 years old saying they want the nation’s gun laws and policies to be stricter doubled from January 2012 to 2013. No other age group saw such a large increase.

It is remarkable that young people’s opinions shifted so dramatically, especially since a December Pew poll found that young adults under 30 were the least likely to believe that the shootings in Newtown reflect broader problems in American society. This age group was, in fact, the most likely to believe that such shootings are simply the isolated acts of troubled individuals.

Young people also are the least religious (more than a quarter specify no religion when asked), and they are an increasingly diverse group of voters. Fifty-eight percent of voters under 30 were white non-Hispanic in 2012, down from 74 percent in 2000. Like it or not, younger Americans are thirsty for change that lines up with their more liberal cultural worldview.

Advantage Democrats.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/06/opinion/blow-the-young-are-the-restless.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130406&_r=0

Scientists find visions of a benevolent future society motivate reform

By Eric W. Dolan, Washington Post, March 21, 2013

Excerpt

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.”

Full text

Activists, take note: People support reform if they believe the changes will enhance the future character of society, according to a study published online this month in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Namely, people support a future society that fosters the development of warm and moral individuals.

“There are implications for communication, but also for policies themselves. The ‘easy’ answer would be to promote a policy or cause in terms of how it will make people more warm/moral,” Paul G. Bain of the University of Queensland, the lead author of the study, explained to Raw Story via email. “But I think for this to really work it needs to be authentic/real and not just rhetoric – the policies themselves need to promote this.”

Bain, along with four colleagues, sought to 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.

The researchers conducted eight separate experiments to investigate how people’s vision of society’s future affects their willingness or unwillingness to support particular reforms. The eight studies asked participants to reflect on how society would change by 2050 if climate change was averted, abortion laws were relaxed, marijuana was legalized, or various religious groups obtained political dominance.

Using meta-analyses, a procedure that statistically summarizes multiple studies, Bain and his colleagues determined what particular projections about the future motivated people. The strongest common element that emerged was “benevolence.” In other words, people were willing to actively support policies that they believed would result in a future where people were more friendly and moral.

“While a focus on character is more likely to be effective, this cuts both ways – if someone can persuasively argue that legalizing marijuana will harm morality/warmth in people, this might effectively turn people against legalization,” Bain explained to Raw Story. “So the main point I’d make is that we’ve helped identify dimensions that people are most likely to respond to, but these dimensions can be used rhetorically by both supporters and opponents of change.”

Implications for the climate change debate

Visions of future technological progress and crime reduction also motivated people, but only in certain contexts, such as climate change and marijuana legalization, respectively.

“While benevolence (character) showed consistent effects across studies, other dimensions emerged in particular contexts,” Bain added. “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.”

Previous research conducted by Bain found that skeptics of climate change could be coaxed into pro-environmental positions if the issue was presented as creating a more benevolent society and increasing technological progress.

“One challenge is to work out how to design policies to actually promote warmth/morality, and I’m discussing this with academics engaged in policy design and advice,” he told Raw Story. “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.”

Bain noted the success of a community-driven effort in the deeply conservative city of Salinas, Kansas. By changing the conversation from climate change to enhancing the city, the Climate and Energy Project was able to convince residents to conserve energy and adopt renewable sources of power.

“So my advice would be to incorporate community building into policy proposals, even if the policy concern is not directly about community building,” Bain said. “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.”

The study was co-authored by Matthew J. Hornsey, Renata Bongiorno, Yoshihisa Kashima, and Daniel Crimston.

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/03/21/scientists-find-visions-of-a-benevolent-future-society-motivate-reform/

The Empathic Civilization

Amanda Gefter, Books & Arts editor – New Scientist.com, interviews Jeremy Rifkin, 17 February 2010

Excerpt

…before we can save ourselves from climate change we have to break a vicious circle and embrace a new model of society based on scientists’ new understanding of human nature…the premise of The Empathic Civilization…We have to think deeper, to think as a human family…Empathy goes hand-in-hand with selfhood; if you know you’re a self you can see yourself in relation to the other…Increasing individuation and selfhood is critical to increasing empathy… Empathy is the invisible social glue that allows a complex individuated society to remain integrated…

Full text

In The Empathic Civilization, Jeremy Rifkin argues that before we can save ourselves from climate change we have to break a vicious circle and embrace a new model of society based on scientists’ new understanding of human nature. I asked him how we can do it.

What is the premise of The Empathic Civilization?

My sense is that we’re nearing an endgame for the modern age. I think we had two singular events in the last 18 months that signal the end. First, in July 2008 the price of oil hit $147/barrel. Food riots broke out in 30 countries, the price of basic items shot up and purchasing power plummeted. That was the earthquake; the market crash 60 days later was the aftershock. It signaled the beginning of the endgame of a great industrial era based on fossil fuels. The second event, in December 2009, was the breakdown in Copenhagen, when world leaders tried to deal with our entropy problem and failed.

That’s the context of the book. Why couldn’t our world leaders anticipate or respond to the global meltdown of the industrial revolution? And why can’t they deal with climate change when scientists have been telling us that it may be the greatest threat our species has ever faced?

What do you think the problem is?

My sense is that the failure runs very deep. The problem is that those leaders are using 18th century Enlightenment ideas to address 20th century challenges. I advise a number of heads of state in Europe and over and over again I see how these old ideas about human nature and the meaning of life continue to cloak public policy. The Enlightenment view is that human beings are rational, detached agents that pursue our own self-interests and our nation states reflect that view. How are we going to address the needs of 7 billion people and heal the biosphere if we really are dispassionate, disinterested agents pursuing our own self-interest?

A lot of interesting new discoveries in evolutionary biology, neuroscience, child development, anthropology and more suggest that human nature might not be what Enlightenment philosophers suggested. For instance, the discovery of mirror neurons suggests that we are not wired for autonomy or utility but for empathic distress; we are a social species.

If we begin to change our ideas about human nature and, as you say in the book, view history through an empathic lens, what new things do we discover?

We can see how consciousness, which is wired for empathy and social engagement, changes over history. Obviously consciousness has changed over history–a Paleolithic hunter is wired differently than a medieval serf or a modern human. My belief is that when energy and communications revolutions converge it creates new economic eras and changes consciousness dramatically by shifting our temporal and spatial boundaries, causing empathy to expand.

For instance, wherever there were hydraulic agricultural societies based on large-scale irrigation systems, humans independently created writing. That’s fascinating to me. Writing made it possible to manage a complex energy regime. It also changed consciousness–transforming the mythological consciousness of oral cultures into a theological one. In the process, empathy evolves. The range of oral communication is limited–you can’t extend empathy beyond kin and blood ties. With script you could empathize further with associational ties, you broaden your frame of reference.

In the 19th century the printing press communications revolution converged with new energies: coal and steam. This led to the introduction of public schools and mass literacy across Europe and America. Theological consciousness became ideological consciousness. The same shift occurred in the 20th century with the Second Industrial Revolution, the electronics revolution, which gave rise to psychological consciousness.

Each convergence of energy and communications technology changed our consciousness, extended our social networks and in turn expanded our empathy.

But all of that happens at the expense of the environment?

It’s the conundrum of history that these more complex civilizations that use greater energy flow-through allow us to bring more people together, but they create more entropy in the process. If we are going to ward off the extreme dangers posed by climate change we need to find a way to increase empathy while decreasing entropy. The question is, how do you do that? How do you break the paradox?

In the book you argue that we can break the paradox by shifting from geopolitical consciousness to biosphere consciousness.

We need to implement reglobalization from the bottom-up in order to achieve a more sustainable global economy. Geopolitics is an extension of the Enlightenment view of human nature, the idea that we pursue our utilitarian pleasures and individual self-interests. In geopolitics, the nation-state becomes a macro view of that. Nations deal with nations by being rational, detached and calculating, pursuing self-interests, excercising power and acquiring more capital and wealth. That’s why Copenhagen failed. The world leaders weren’t thinking biosphere, they were thinking geopolitics. Everyone was looking out for their nation’s self-interest.

What we need to do is attempt biosphere politics. Governing units are going to change–I think there’s going to be a shift toward continentalization. The EU is a first attempt at organizing a new frame of reference across continents, but it’s a transitional governing form. The Asian Union, African Union and South American Union are in their early stages.

Why “re-globalization”?

The global economy didn’t work in its first stage. And that’s because the economics and the technology raced ahead of our changing consciousness. A global economy requires social trust; you need biosphere consciousness, not geopolitics. You’re never going to get globalization until empathy extends to the whole species.

As I said in the book, I think we need to rethink economic policies and make thermodynamics the basis of economic theory. The price of energy is embedded in every product we make. At the same time, the effects of climate change are already eroding economies in many parts of the world as extreme weather events destroy ecosystems and agricultural infrastructure. The Third Industrial Revolution will be driven in part by the need to mitigate the entropic impact of the first two industrial revolutions.

A lot of business people would say that you can’t be empathic in the market. But the market is a secondary institution–it’s an extension of culture. The real invisible hand of the market is trust, which is the result of empathic engagement. The only way you can have a market is if you have a shared narrative. The market is not a utilitarian frame of reference, it only exists by the social trust that allows people to engage in anonymous settings and believe that their engagements will be honored. When that trust fails, markets collapse and that’s what is happening now.

What will the Third Industrial Revolution look like? When will it happen?

I think we’re on the verge. I had the privilege to help design the European Union’s Third Industrial Revolution economic stability game plan, which was endorsed by the European Parliament in 2007. What we noticed is that in the last 10 or 15 years we’ve had a very powerful communication revolution with the internet, and the key word is that it’s distributed. What’s beginning to happen now is that the distributed ICT [information and communication technologies] revolution is beginning to converge with a new energy regime: distributed renewable energy. When they do converge, it’s likely to change consciousness once again.

Distributed ICT will organize distributed energies. Renewables like wind, solar, geothermal and biomass are found in some proportion everywhere, in people’s backyards. As people begin to harvest these renewable energies they can share electricity peer-to-peer across an internet-like smart energy grid that extends across nations and even continents. We see buildings as the new power plants. Buildings are the number one source of C02 emmissions, but they might also be the solution if they can harness renewables to produce their own energy on site. People will also need new energy storage technologies like hydrogen. The EU has committed 8 billion Euros to hydrogen storage technologies. Those technologies will give us dependable distributed energy.

I founded the Third Industrial Revolution Global CEO Business Roundtable, which is comprised of 100 leading companies from renewable energy to utilities to architectural firms. We’re starting to lay out plans.

How will the Third Industrial Revolution change our consciousness?

It extends it in a distributed fashion, with everyone taking responsibility for their swath of the biosphere and then sharing their energy across continents. We have to take responsibility where we are but we have to share across the world for it to work. That would allow us to think biosphere politics not geopolitics and extend empathy in that regard. That gives us a possibility of breaking the empathy/entropy paradox. Will we actually do it? If I were a betting person…well, I wouldn’t even want to make a bet. But it’s our best shot.

It’s a tough challenge. What I’m saying is so difficult. But what encourages me is the empathy we are already seeing resulting from technology.

After the Iranian elections a young college student was gunned down in the street by an Iranian militiaman for protesting, and someone took a cell phone video. The world instantly empathized. Then there was the earthquake in Haiti. There was an immediate response. That’s new–we’re thinking as a human race. We still have our xenophobia and our prejudices but I think we’re catching a glimpse of something new, and we’re going to have to if the possibility of our own extinction depends on it.

I think the question hasn’t been asked yet, what is the point of this exercise in connecting the human race in this way? Up to now, most people’s reasons for supporting it is more information, quicker information, better entertainment, improved commerce and trade, etc. What I’m suggesting is that that is not enough. When Henry David Thoreau saw the telegraph, he said, “Well, now Maine can talk to Texas, but does Maine really have anything to say to Texas?” If we can’t have a global discussion of the transcendent purpose of this connectivity, I don’t think entertainment and information are going to be enough to justify the Third Industrial revolution. We have to think deeper, to think as a human family, to take responsibility for the biosphere and our fellow creatures.

If human nature is Homo empathicus, as scientists are suggesting, if that’s our true nature, then we can begin to create new institutions–parenting styles, education, business models–that reflect our core nature. Then I can see how this Third Industrial Revolution will happen.

Perhaps we are too cynical for these ideas. Do some people see an empathic global society as an idealistic dream?

If you know my past work you know I’m not utopian. But empathy isn’t about utopia. It’s about knowing how damn tough it is to be alive. We empathize with others because we smell the whiff of death in their vulnerabilities and so we celebrate their life. There’s no such thing as empathy in heaven because there’s no mortality, no suffering. Empathy is about encouraging another person’s struggle to be. It’s a tough feeling to have. In utopia there’s no struggle, there’s nothing to empathize with. Empathy is more than just, “I feel your pain”. We root for each other’s struggle to live out this mystery of life.

I was struck by the vast number of fields you explore in your book. Do you think there’s a need for more cross-disciplinary scholarship?

Absolutely. Education is a total mess. Our educational model is based on Enlightenment ideas and progressive ideas of the 20th century–if human nature is autonomous, calculating and self-interested and if the market is the way we fulfill those interests, our education reflects that. We are taught that knowledge is a personal asset to achieve one’s aims in the world–knowledge is power. If you share your knowledge, that’s cheating.

It limits us to a more vocational idea of what life is about. We all become little drones. And as we go through education it grows narrower and narrower. But what’s happening with the internet is that young folks are growing up believing that information is something you share, not hoard. That thinking is a collaborative exercise, not an autonomous one, and that spaces ought to be commons. That’s completely alien to the Enlightenment ideas I grew up on.

I’m a big fan of interdisciplinary and collaborative teaching. If you’re studying evolutionary biology, let a philosopher come in and talk about the way our concept of nature has changed over history. Allow young people to have so many frames of reference so they can be more open and more synthetic in their thinking. If we are a social animal and we live by our stories, then our stories are only made richer with more points of view.

Sharing knowledge is considered cheating, yet collaboration has been shown to improve critical thinking if it’s done in a disciplined way. There was a doctor at UCL medical college in the 1950s who realized that if he brought all of his interns to a patient’s bedside at the same time, the collaborative response got to a diagnosis quicker than if only one intern was there.

Education has to be completely reformed to reflect the new era of distributed knowledge. I’m currently in deep private discussions with some major educational associations in the US who want to put together a team of people to begin rethinking this.

We still don’t know how to grade people in a collaborative model. But if we’re moving from Homo sapien to Homo empathicus, we have to rethink all of this.

You’ve also said we need to rethink the scientific method.

The scientific method reflects Enlightenment thinking. You have to be detached, rational and value-free; you can’t be connected or use empathic imagination. But we’re seeing that you need both. If the scientific method is the way kids learn, how do they grow up to form an empathic connection to the world?

There are scientists who are practicing a different kind of science, a not-too-close, not-too-far empathic engagement. Jane Goodall is a great example. I told Jane, what you did was so amazing because it’s a new approach to science, and she said she had never thought about it that way. She began to empathize with the chimpanzees she was studying, imagining their experience as if it were her own. What she learned about chimpanzee behaviour was massively more than what people had previously learned by studying them in a completely detached way.

Goethe understood this a couple hundred years ago–he disagreed with Francis Bacon’s approach. He argued that we understand nature by participating, not by standing back and observing with dispassionate neutrality. Especially in the ecological sciences and climate science, you need to be engaged, interactive and interdisciplinary, because you’re dealing with systems thinking.

Empathic science is a good balance between the traditional scientific method on the one hand and something that wouldn’t be science at all on the other. Empathy requires that you not be too close or too far away. You have to be close enough to feel the experiences biologically as if they are your own but far enough to use your cognitive abilities to rationally respond.

I hope scholars will take these ideas much further. I’m hoping a younger generation can do that.

I found it interesting that you correlate the expansion of empathy throughout human history with a growing sense of self. I would naively think that they would have an inverse relationship.

Empathy goes hand-in-hand with selfhood; if you know you’re a self you can see yourself in relation to the other. People hear “empathy” and they think socialism or something–that’s completely missing the point. Increasing individuation and selfhood is critical to increasing empathy.

We are wired for empathic distress. If you put a bunch of babies in a nursery and one starts crying, the others start crying but they don’t know why. Real empathy – empathic expression–doesn’t occur until children develop a sense of self and recognize themselves as being separate from others; when they can recognize themselves in a mirror, for instance. When kids learn about birth and death they think, uh oh, now I know I have a history, I’m finite. Realizing their own vulnerability allows them to feel another’s vulnerability. The more advanced your selfhood, the more you can feel another’s fragility and empathize. Empathy is the invisible social glue that allows a complex individuated society to remain integrated.

You said that people hear “empathy” and think “socialism”. How does capitalism survive an empathic society?

Market capitalism will be transformed into “distributed capitalism”. Just as the internet led to the democratization of information, the Third Industrial Revolution will lead to the democratization of energy. The required changes to infrastructure are going to create massive amounts of jobs and a whole new economy. But when you have peer-to-peer sharing of energy across an intelligent grid system, you no longer have the top-down, centralized economic system. Distributed energy requires distributed capitalism, and that relies on the opposite view of human nature than that of market capitalism. But the politics isn’t right or left–its centralized, top-down versus collaborative commons. You don’t hear people say, I’m going onto a social networking space because I’m a socialist–it’s just a different frame of reference.

At over 600 pages, The Empathic Civilization is a long book! How long did it take you to write it?

I didn’t mean for it to be a long book, but my wife says the older I get, the longer my books get. It took over five years. I got so deep into the research; I read about 400 books and maybe 3,000 articles. The actual writing took about a year and a half. My wife has made me promise no more books!

Jeremy Rifkin is an advisor to the European Union and heads of state around the world. He is a senior lecturer at the Wharton School’s Executive Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania where he instructs CEOs and corporate management on new trends in science, technology, the economy and society. He is the president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, D.C. His book The Empathic Civilization was published by Penguin in December

http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/culturelab/2010/02/jeremy-rifkin-the-third-industrial-revolution.html

2012 or Never

By Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, Feb 26, 2012

Republicans are worried this election could be their last chance to stop history. This is fear talking. But not paranoia.

Of the various expressions of right-wing hysteria that have flowered over the past three years—goldbuggery, birtherism, death panels at home and imaginary apology tours by President Obama abroad—perhaps the strain that has taken deepest root within mainstream Republican circles is the terror that the achievements of the Obama administration may be irreversible, and that the time remaining to stop permanent nightfall is dwindling away.

“America is approaching a ‘tipping point’ beyond which the Nation will be unable to change course,” announces the dark, old-timey preamble to Paul Ryan’s “The Roadmap Plan,” a statement of fiscal principles that shaped the budget outline approved last spring by 98 percent of the House Republican caucus. Rick Santorum warns his audiences, “We are reaching a tipping point, folks, when those who pay are the minority and those who receive are the majority.” Even such a sober figure as Mitt Romney regularly says things like “We are only inches away from no longer being a free economy,” and that this election “could be our last chance.”

The Republican Party is in the grips of many fever dreams. But this is not one of them. To be sure, the apocalyptic ideological analysis—that “freedom” is incompatible with Clinton-era tax rates and Massachusetts-style health care—is pure crazy. But the panicked strategic analysis, and the sense of urgency it gives rise to, is actually quite sound. The modern GOP—the party of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes—is staring down its own demographic extinction. Right-wing warnings of impending tyranny express, in hyperbolic form, well-grounded dread: that conservative America will soon come to be dominated, in a semi-permanent fashion, by an ascendant Democratic coalition hostile to its outlook and interests. And this impending doom has colored the party’s frantic, fearful response to the Obama presidency.

The GOP has reason to be scared. Obama’s election was the vindication of a prediction made several years before by journalist John Judis and political scientist Ruy Teixeira in their 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority. Despite the fact that George W. Bush then occupied the White House, Judis and Teixeira argued that demographic and political trends were converging in such a way as to form a ­natural-majority coalition for Democrats.

The Republican Party had increasingly found itself confined to white voters, especially those lacking a college degree and rural whites who, as Obama awkwardly put it in 2008, tend to “cling to guns or religion.” Meanwhile, the Democrats had ­increased their standing among whites with graduate degrees, particularly the growing share of secular whites, and remained dominant among racial minorities. As a whole, Judis and Teixeira noted, the electorate was growing both somewhat better educated and dramatically less white, making every successive election less favorable for the GOP. And the trends were even more striking in some key swing states. Judis and Teixeira highlighted Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona, with skyrocketing Latino populations, and Virginia and North Carolina, with their influx of college-educated whites, as the most fertile grounds for the expanding Democratic base.

Obama’s victory carried out the blueprint. Campaign reporters cast the election as a triumph of Obama’s inspirational message and cutting-edge organization, but above all his sweeping win reflected simple demography. Every year, the nonwhite proportion of the electorate grows by about half a percentage point—meaning that in every presidential election, the minority share of the vote increases by 2 percent, a huge amount in a closely divided country. One measure of how thoroughly the electorate had changed by the time of Obama’s election was that, if college-­educated whites, working-class whites, and minorities had cast the same proportion of the votes in 1988 as they did in 2008, Michael Dukakis would have, just barely, won. By 2020—just eight years away—nonwhite voters should rise from a quarter of the 2008 electorate to one third. In 30 years, nonwhites will outnumber whites.

Now, there are two points to keep in mind about the emerging Democratic majority. The first is that no coalition is permanent. One party can build a majority, but eventually the minority learns to adapt to an altered landscape, and parity returns. In 1969, Kevin Phillips, then an obscure Nixon-­administration staffer, wrote The Emerging Republican Majority, arguing that Republicans could undo FDR’s New Deal coalition by exploiting urban strife, the unpopularity of welfare, and the civil-rights struggle to pull blue-collar whites into a new conservative bloc. The result was the modern GOP. Bill Clinton appropriated some elements of this conservative coalition by rehabilitating his party’s image on welfare and crime (though he had a little help from Ross Perot, too). But it wasn’t until Obama was elected that a Democratic president could claim to be the leader of a true majority party.

The second point is that short-term shocks, like war, recession, or scandal, can exert a far more powerful influence than a long-term trend: The Watergate scandal, for instance, interrupted the Republican majority at its zenith, helping elect a huge raft of Democratic congressmen in 1974, followed two years later by Jimmy Carter.

But the dominant fact of the new Democratic majority is that it has begun to overturn the racial dynamics that have governed American politics for five decades. Whatever its abstract intellectual roots, conservatism has since at least the sixties drawn its political strength by appealing to heartland identity politics. In 1985, Stanley Greenberg, then a political scientist, immersed himself in Macomb County, a blue-collar Detroit suburb where whites had abandoned the Democratic Party in droves. He found that the Reagan Democrats there understood politics almost entirely in racial terms, translating any Democratic appeal to economic justice as taking their money to subsidize the black underclass. And it didn’t end with the Reagan era. Piles of recent studies have found that voters often conflate “social” and “economic” issues. What social scientists delicately call “ethnocentrism” and “racial resentment” and “ingroup solidarity” are defining attributes of conservative voting behavior, and help organize a familiar if not necessarily rational coalition of ideological interests. Doctrines like neoconservative foreign policy, supply-side economics, and climate skepticism may bear little connection to each other at the level of abstract thought. But boiled down to political sound bites and served up to the voters, they blend into an indistinguishable stew of racial, religious, cultural, and nationalistic identity.

Obama’s election dramatized the degree to which this long-standing political dynamic had been flipped on its head. In the aftermath of George McGovern’s 1972 defeat, neoconservative intellectual Jeane Kirk­patrick disdainfully identified his voters as “intellectuals enamored with righteousness and possibility, college students, for whom perfectionism is an occupational hazard; portions of the upper classes freed from concern with economic self-interest,” and so on, curiously neglecting to include racial minorities. All of them were, in essence, people who heard a term like “real American” and understood that in some way it did not apply to them. Today, cosmopolitan liberals may still feel like an embattled sect—they certainly describe their political fights in those terms—but time has transformed their rump minority into a collective majority. As conservative strategists will tell you, there are now more of “them” than “us.” What’s more, the disparity will continue to grow indefinitely. Obama actually lost the over-45-year-old vote in 2008, gaining his entire victory margin from younger voters—more racially diverse, better educated, less religious, and more socially and economically liberal.

Portents of this future were surely rendered all the more vivid by the startling reality that the man presiding over the new majority just happened to be, himself, young, urban, hip, and black. When jubilant supporters of Obama gathered in Grant Park on Election Night in 2008, Republicans saw a glimpse of their own political mortality. And a galvanizing picture of just what their new rulers would look like.

In the cold calculus of game theory, the expected response to this state of affairs would be to accommodate yourself to the growing strength of the opposing coalition—to persuade pockets of voters on the Democratic margins they might be better served by Republicans. Yet the psychology of decline does not always operate in a straightforward, rational way. A strategy of managing slow decay is unpleasant, and history is replete with instances of leaders who persuaded themselves of the opposite of the obvious conclusion. Rather than adjust themselves to their slowly weakening position, they chose instead to stage a decisive confrontation. If the terms of the fight grow more unfavorable with every passing year, well, all the more reason to have the fight sooner. This was the thought process of the antebellum southern states, sizing up the growing population and industrial might of the North. It was the thinking of the leaders of Austria-Hungary, watching their empire deteriorate and deciding they needed a decisive war with Serbia to save themselves.

At varying levels of conscious and subconscious thought, this is also the reasoning that has driven Republicans in the Obama era. Surveying the landscape, they have concluded that they must strike quickly and decisively at the opposition before all hope is lost.

Arthur Brooks, the president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a high-profile presence on the Republican intellectual scene, wrote a 2010 book titled The Battle, urging conservatives to treat the struggle for economic libertarianism as a “culture war” between capitalism and socialism, in which compromise was impossible. Time was running short, Brooks pleaded in apocalyptic tones. The “real core” of what he called Obama’s socialistic supporters was voters under 30. “It is the future of our country,” he wrote. “And this group has exhibited a frightening openness to statism in the age of Obama.”

The same panic courses through a new tome by James DeMint, who has made himself probably the most influential member of the Senate by relentlessly pushing his colleagues to the right and organizing primary challenges to snuff out any hint of moderation among his co-partisans. ­DeMint’s book, titled Now or Never, paints a haunting picture: “Republican supporters will continue to decrease every year as more Americans become dependent on the government. Dependent voters will naturally elect even big-government progressives who will continue to smother economic growth and spend America deeper into debt. The 2012 election may be the last opportunity for Republicans.”

That apocalyptic rhetoric is just as common among voters as among conservative eggheads and party elites. Theda Skocpol, a Harvard sociologist, conducted a detailed study of tea-party activists and discovered that they saw themselves beset by parasitic Democrats. “Along with illegal immigrants,” she wrote, “low-income Americans and young people loom large as illegitimate consumers of public benefits and services.”

It’s easy for liberals to ­dismiss these fears as simple racism—and surely racism, to some degree, sways the tea party. But it is not just conservative white people who react fearfully when they ­see themselves ­outnumbered by an influx of people unlike themselves. Minorities do it. White hipsters do it. Recall the embarrassing spectacle of liberal panic, in the aftermath of George W. Bush’s reelection, when Kerry voters believed their country had been taken over by gay-bashing Evangelical Christians.

That the struggles over the economic policies of the last few years have taken on the style of a culture war should come as no surprise, since conservatives believe Obama has pulled together an ascendant coalition of voters intent on expropriating their money. Paul Ryan, the House Republican budget chairman, has, like many Republicans, cast the fight as pitting “makers” against “takers,” with the latter in danger of irrevocably gaining the upper hand. “The tipping point represents two dangers,” he announced in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, “first, long-term economic decline as the number of makers diminishes [and] the number of takers grows … Second, gradual moral-political decline as dependency and passivity weaken the nation’s character.”

Of course, both parties make use of end-times rhetoric, especially in election season. What’s novel about the current spate of Republican millennialism is that it’s not a mere rhetorical device to rally the faithful, nor even simply an expression of free-­floating terror, but the premise of an electoral strategy.

In that light, the most surprising response to the election of 2008 is what did not happen. Following Obama’s win, all sorts of loose talk concerning the Republican predicament filled the air. How would the party recast itself? Where would it move left, how would it find common ground with Obama, what new constituencies would it court?

The most widely agreed-upon component of any such undertaking was a concerted effort to win back the Hispanic vote. It seemed like a pure political no-brainer, a vital outreach to an exploding electoral segment that could conceivably be weaned from its Democratic leanings, as had previous generations of Irish and Italian immigrants, without altering the party’s general right-wing thrust on other issues. George W. Bush had tried to cobble together a comprehensive immigration-reform policy only to see it collapse underneath a conservative grassroots revolt, and John McCain, who had initially co-sponsored a bill in the Senate, had to withdraw his support for it in his pursuit of the 2008 nomination.

In the wake of his defeat, strategists like Karl Rove and Mike Murphy urged the GOP to abandon its stubborn opposition to reform. Instead, incredibly, the party adopted a more hawkish position, with Republicans in Congress rejecting even quarter-loaf compromises like the Dream Act and state-level officials like Jan Brewer launching new restrictionist crusades. This was, as Thomas Edsall writes in The Age of Austerity, “a major gamble that the GOP can continue to win as a white party despite the growing strength of the minority vote.”

None of this is to say that Republicans ignored the rising tide of younger and browner voters that swamped them at the polls in 2008. Instead they set about keeping as many of them from the polls as possible. The bulk of the campaign has taken the form of throwing up an endless series of tedious bureaucratic impediments to voting in many states—ending same-day voter registration, imposing onerous requirements upon voter-registration drives, and upon voters themselves. “Voting liberal, that’s what kids do,” overshared William O’Brien, the New Hampshire House speaker, who had supported a bill to prohibit college students from voting from their school addresses. What can these desperate, rearguard tactics accomplish? They can make the electorate a bit older, whiter, and less poor. They can, perhaps, buy the Republicans some time.

And to what end? The Republicans’ most audacious choice is the hyperaggressive position they’ve adopted against Obama to sabotage his chances for a second term. Frustrated liberals, assessing the methods of the Republicans in Congress, see a devious brilliance at work in the GOP strategy of legislative obstruction. And indeed, Republicans very skillfully ground the legislative gears to a halt for months on end, weakening or killing large chunks of Obama’s agenda, and nurturing public discontent with Washington that they rode to a sweeping victory in 2010. At the same time, their inability to waver from desperate, all-or-nothing opposition often meant conservatives willingly suffered policy defeats for perceived political gain, and failed to minimize the scale of those defeats.

Take the fight over health-care reform. Yes, Republicans played the politics about as well as possible. But it was their hard line on compromise allowed the bill to pass: The Democrats only managed to cobble together 60 votes to pass it in the Senate because conservatives drove Arlen Specter out of the GOP, forcing him to switch to the Democratic Party. Without him, Democrats never could have broken a filibuster. When Scott Brown surprisingly won the 2010 race to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, Democrats were utterly despondent, and many proposed abandoning comprehensive health-care reform to cut a deal for some meager expansion of children’s health insurance. But Republicans refused to offer even an olive branch. Presented with a choice between passing the comprehensive bill they had spent a year cobbling together or collapsing in total ignominious defeat, the Democrats passed the bill.

Last summer, Obama was again desperate to reach compromise, this time on legislation to reduce the budget deficit, which had come to dominate the political agenda and symbolize, in the eyes of Establishment opinion, Obama’s failure to fulfill his campaign goal of winning bipartisan cooperation. In extended closed-door negotiations, Obama offered Republicans hundreds of billions of dollars in spending cuts and a permanent extension of Bush-era tax rates in return for just $800 billion in higher revenue over a decade. This was less than half the new revenue proposed by the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission. Republicans spurned this deal, too.

Instead the party has bet everything on 2012, preferring a Hail Mary strategy to the slow march of legislative progress. That is the basis of the House Republicans’ otherwise inexplicable choice to vote last spring for a sweeping budget plan that would lock in low taxes, slash spending, and transform Medicare into ­private vouchers—none of which was popular with voters. Majority parties are known to hold unpopular votes occasionally, but holding an ­unpopular vote that Republicans knew full well stood zero chance of enactment (with Obama casting a certain veto) broke new ground in the realm of foolhardiness.

The way to make sense of that foolhardiness is that the party has decided to bet everything on its one “last chance.” Not the last chance for the Republican Party to win power—there will be many of those, and over time it will surely learn to compete for nonwhite voters—but its last chance to exercise power in its current form, as a party of anti-government fundamentalism powered by sublimated white Christian identity politics. (And the last chance to stop the policy steamroller of the new Democratic majority.) And whatever rhetorical concessions to moderates and independents the eventual Republican nominee may be tempted to make in the fall, he’ll find himself fairly boxed in by everything he’s already done this winter to please that base.

Will the gamble work? Grim though the long-term demography may be, it became apparent to Republicans almost immediately after Obama took office that political fate had handed them an impossibly lucky opportunity. Democrats had come to power almost concurrently with the deepest economic crisis in 80 years, and Republicans quickly seized the tactical advantage, in an effort to leverage the crisis to rewrite their own political fortunes. The Lesser Depression could be an economic Watergate, the Republicans understood, an exogenous political shock that would, at least temporarily, overwhelm any deeper trend, and possibly afford the party a chance to permanently associate the Democrats with the painful aftermath of the crisis.

During the last midterm elections, the strategy succeeded brilliantly. Republicans moved further right and won a gigantic victory. In the 2010 electorate, the proportion of voters under 30 fell by roughly a third, while the proportion of voters over 65 years old rose by a similar amount—the white share, too. In the long run, though, the GOP has done nothing at all to rehabilitate its deep unpopularity with the public as a whole, and has only further poisoned its standing with Hispanics. But by forswearing compromise, it opened the door to a single shot. The Republicans have gained the House and stand poised to win control of the Senate. If they can claw out a presidential win and hold on to Congress, they will have a glorious two-year window to restore the America they knew and loved, to lock in transformational change, or at least to wrench the status quo so far rightward that it will take Democrats a generation to wrench it back. The cost of any foregone legislative compromises on health care or the deficit would be trivial compared to the enormous gains available to a party in control of all three federal branches.

On the other hand, if they lose their bid to unseat Obama, they will have mortgaged their future for nothing at all. And over the last several months, it has appeared increasingly likely that the party’s great all-or-nothing bet may land, ultimately, on nothing. In which case, the Republicans will have turned an unfavorable outlook into a truly bleak one in a fit of panic. The deepest effect of Obama’s election upon the Republicans’ psyche has been to make them truly fear, for the first time since before Ronald Reagan, that the future is against them.

http://nymag.com/news/features/gop-primary-chait-2012-3/

Are Republicans rebranding or rethinking?

By E.J. Dionne Jr., Published: February 6, 2013, Washington Post

Rebranding is trendy in the Republican Party..But there’s a big difference between rebranding and pursuing a different approach to governing…A lot of the rebranding efforts are superficial yet nonetheless reflect an awareness that the party has been asking the wrong questions, talking about the wrong issues and limiting the range of voters it’s been addressing…Obama and progressives are changing the terms of the debate, much as Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s…

Full text

Rebranding is trendy in the Republican Party.

Rep. Eric Cantor gave a major speech Tuesday to advance the effort. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants the GOP to stop being the “stupid party.” Karl Rove is setting up a political action committee (it’s what he does these days) to defeat right-wing crazies who cost the party Senate seats.

But there’s a big difference between rebranding and pursuing a different approach to governing.

The good news is that some Republicans have decided that the party moved too far to the right and are backing off long-standing positions on tax increases, guns and immigration. Their new flexibility, combined with President Obama’s new post-election aggressiveness, is producing a quiet revolution in Washington. The place is becoming less dysfunctional.

Congress has already passed a substantial tax increase, Republicans avoided a debt ceiling fight, and the ice is breaking on guns and immigration.

The mixed news: A lot of the rebranding efforts are superficial yet nonetheless reflect an awareness that the party has been asking the wrong questions, talking about the wrong issues and limiting the range of voters it’s been addressing.

This is why Cantor’s speech was more important than the policies he outlined, which were primarily conservative retreads. His intervention proved that Obama and progressives are changing the terms of the debate, much as Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s.

Cantor wasn’t making the case for smaller government or tax cuts for the “job creators.” He was asking what government could do for the middle class — “to provide relief to so many millions of Americans who just want their life to work again.”

No wonder Sen. Charles Schumer, one of the Democrats’ most subtle strategists, jumped at the chance to praise Cantor for taking “the first step toward finding common ground in agreeing on the problem you are trying to solve.” If the debate is about who will be nicer to business or who will cut taxes, Republicans win. What Schumer understands is that if the issue is providing relief for the middle class (and for workers, immigrants and low-income children), Republicans are competing over questions on which progressives have the advantage.

The bad news: In some states where Republicans control all the levers of power, they are rushing ahead with astonishingly right-wing programs to eviscerate government while shifting the tax burden toward the middle class and the poor and away from the wealthy. In trying to build the Koch brothers’ dystopias, they are turning states in laboratories of reaction.

As Neil King Jr. and Mark Peters reported in a Wall Street Journal article on the “Red State model,” Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has slashed both income taxes and spending. This drew fire from moderate and moderately conservative Republican legislators, whom he then helped purge in primaries. Jindal is talking about ending Louisiana’s personal and corporate income taxes and replacing the revenue with sales tax increases — a stunningly naked transfer of resources from the poor and the middle class to the rich.

This deeply anti-majoritarian, anti-populist approach explains the really bad news: Some Republicans show signs of not worrying about winning majorities at all. Gerrymandering helped their party win a majority in the House (no longer so representative) in November while losing the popular vote overall by nearly 1.4 million votes. Some are trying to rig the electoral college in a way that would have let Mitt Romney win the presidency even as he lost by about 5 million popular votes.

And they are willing to use the Senate’s arcane rules and right-wing courts in tandem to foil the policy wishes of a majority of Congress and the president — witness the unprecented U.S. Court of Appeals ruling voiding Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. The president took this course because intransigent Republican senators blocked the nominations. There should be a greater outcry against such an anti-democratic power play.

What’s the overall balance sheet? Level Republican heads seem to be pushing against the electoral college rigging effort. The “Red State model” is likely to take hold in only a few states — and may provoke a backlash. The larger lesson may be the one Cantor offered: Republicans are slowly realizing that the nation’s priorities are not the GOP’s traditional priorities. If Republicans really do start asking better questions, they will come up with better — and less extreme — answers.

Read more from E.J. Dionne’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

Read more about this issue: Greg Sargent: The party of Reagan vs. the party of Norquist Jennifer Rubin: The left squawks as Republicans roll out substance Jamelle Bouie: In defense of the GOP’s makeover Ed Rogers: For Republicans, bad has gotten worse

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ej-dionne-are-republicans-rebranding-or-rethinking/2013/02/06/af1764bc-7096-11e2-ac36-3d8d9dcaa2e2_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines