Are you tired of merely complaining about government corruption? Here’s your chance to do something. I just donated a significant amount of money to the SuperPac Kickstart campaign created by Lawrence Lessig, a tireless leader in the election reform movement. Listen to his 5-minute presentation and then ask yourself, “Isn’t this what I’ve been waiting for?” Please . . . PLEASE listen to this message and consider joining this movement. This approach has real potential to change the way Washington works. You’ll need to get past the dark irony that it will take money to beat money. The battle cry is “Mayday”–our government is going down in flames. Become a proud player in this effort.
Francis Kissling is a Catholic. In his article at The Nation, he sees no hope that choosing a new pope will improve the Catholic Church:
[The central teachings of the church are] cynicism—teaching things that are not true—at its most damaging, and it is the foundation of the modern church. The virgin birth is only the start of it. Heaven and hell, the turning of bread and wine into the body of Christ (a core teaching that polls tell us most Catholics reject), the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven (how could her body have gone to heaven when we are now clear it is not a real physical place?), the infallibility of the pope telling these untruths and insisting that Catholics must believe them to be Catholic—this all leads directly to corrupt popes and priests who lack compassion. Lying or just fudging it demoralizes those who teach in the name of the church. From such demoralization stems the need to protect the institution and oneself, to protect pedophiles, to let women die in childbirth by denying contraception, to allow the transmission of HIV and to keep alive a dysfunctional institution. It is no accident that priests have historically had a high rate of alcoholism; not only were they isolated by the solitude of the priesthood but by the dissonance in what they were bound to teach and preach and their own understanding of life and goodness. A new pope will change nothing.
Why keep trying to clean up corrupt political systems? Glenn Greenwald offers this advice:
[O]ne indisputable lesson that history teaches is that any structures built by human beings – no matter how formidable or invulnerable they may seem – can be radically altered, or even torn down and replaced, by other human beings who tap into passions and find the right strategy. So resignation – defeatism – is always irrational and baseless, even when it’s tempting.
I think the power of ideas is often underrated. Convincing fellow citizens to see and care about the problems you see and finding ways to persuade them to act is crucial. So is a willingness to sacrifice. And to create new ways of activism, even ones that people look askance at, rather than being wedded to the approved conventional means of political change (the ballot box).
For reasons I alluded to above, putting fear (back) in the heart of those who wield power in the public and private sector is, to me, the key goal. A power elite that operates without fear of those over whom power is exercised is one that will be limitlessly corrupt and abusive.
Glenn Greenwald reports on the lack of meaningful debate regarding Susan Rice:
Virtually all of this debate has concerned Rice’s statements on a series of Sunday news shows in September, during which she claimed that the Benghazi attack was primarily motivated by spontaneous anger over an anti-Islam film rather than an coordinated attack by a terrorist group. Everyone now acknowledges that (consistent with the standard pattern of this administration’s behavior) Rice’s statements were inaccurate, but in a majestic display of intellectual dexterity, progressive pundits claim with a straight face that public officials should be excused when they make false statements based on what the CIA tells them to say, while conservatives claim with a straight face that relying on flawed and manipulated intelligence reports is no excuse.
All of that is standard, principle-free partisan jockeying. It goes without saying that if this were Condoleezza rather than Susan Rice, the two sides would have exactly opposite positions on whether these inaccurate statements should be held against her. None of that is worth examining. But what is remarkable is how so many Democrats are devoting so much energy to defending a possible Susan Rice nomination as Secretary of State without even pretending to care about her record and her beliefs. It’s not even part of the discussion.
Sure, the Birthers and Truthers are ramping up their positions this election year. But how about this?
Step one: Note an uptick in gun violence as the weather warms up (as recently has been reported in places like Seattle).
Step Two: Encourage the “Liberal Media” like Fox News and CNN to run with the statistical spike, rolling out regular stories about gun violence.
Step Three: Sit back as the predictable political posturing by liberal politicians results in writing moderate gun control legislation.
Step Four: Respond in the early fall with a fervent campaign push saying, “See? We Told you Obama is after your guns!”
Result: Getting out the conservative voters who otherwise wouldn’t bother voting for that Mormon not-conservative-enough Romney.
On his most recent show, Bill Moyers discusses the heightened polarization in the political discourse with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who runs the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, including the sites FactCheck.org (which monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players) and FlackCheck.org (which tracks patterns of political deception). This is a high-quality discussion well worth watching.
The starting point for the discussion was the defeat of Senator Lugar, who was accused by his more conservative opponent of working with Barack Obama to dismantle the world’s stocks of aging nuclear weapons to make sure that they don’t fall into the wrong hands. Cooperating with the enemy (in this case, a member of the opposing political party) has become a mortal sin. The result is, politically speaking, we cannot any longer talk with each other. Jamieson spreads the blame in many directions; this is not your typical polarized pundit who aims her arrows only at the other party. For instance, Factcheck.org has challenged Barack Obama’s Life of Julia illustration as being based on “some false or dubious assumptions.”
According to Jamieson, the following questions should be the focus of our budget disputes and the upcoming election: “How do we afford this level of government, if we want to keep it? Do we want to keep it? How are we going to pay for it? If we’re going to cut, where are we going to cut?”
The campaigns of Obama and Romney are mostly devoid of economic facts, “depriving us of the common ground we need.” She explains that if this trend continues, massive damage will be done to this country. What do you do to force these issues? The media needs to take charge: These questions regarding spending priorities need to be repeated endlessly at debates until they are actually answered. (min 12). Check out the simple questions that need to be asked, but usually aren’t, and are never answered in political debates (last half of min 12):
That’s what we need to do in the presidential debates. We’re going to have them. When they don’t answer the question, the next person up should forgo his or her question and ask the question again. And if the entire debate simply has to ask the question then let’s ask, what about Simpson-Bowles don’t you like, Mr. President? You know, Governor Romney? What about it do you like? Are you ready to advance– to say that we should move the Social Security age to 70 in some kind of a phased-in structure?
Should we be doing means testing in some ways? What are your alternatives? When you say you’re going to reform the tax code, is that an excuse for saying you’re going to do nothing? How much money can you get out of the reforms that you were offering? And what are you going to eliminate and what are you going to cut? Right now we’re playing this game. Right now you’ve got the Ryan budget proposal.
BILL MOYERS: Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Uh-huh. And to his credit, there is a proposal there. The first thing the Democrats did a response was to say, “Ha, we’re going to assume he’s cutting everything across the board.” So they started pushing on the assumption that this good thing is going to be cut. This good thing, this good thing by “X” percent.
Congressman Ryan responds, “No, I’m going to get rid of some things entirely, and I’m going to preserve some things entirely. And I’m going to cut some things.” That’s actually the beginning of a productive exchange. Now the question is what for both sides? And let’s get the public on board to accept that there’s some things we take for granted now we’re not going to have. There’s some costs we’re not now paying that we’re going to have to pay. It’s necessary to preserve our country.
Jamieson came to this discussion with ideas for improving our deplorable situation. I very much like this one:
I would like to see a proposal that Harvard floated a number of years ago, that we devote Sunday nights, from the beginning of the general election period through the election, to intensive discussions with presidential candidates about the serious issues of the day. I think you’d find an attentive audience for that. And I think the person who’s elected would find that he was better able to govern if the public had had that opportunity. The public isn’t stupid. The public actually is smart in some important ways.
Moyers asked whether our political system is close to collapsing “of its own absurdity.” Jamieson doesn’t mince her words (min 16):
We’re close right now to having a campaign run on attack and irrelevant arguments that are highly deceptive and, as a result, make it extremely difficult to solve the problems facing the country, which is what all the concern about money and politics is well justified and why we ought to worry about trying to vigilantly hold the super PACs and the third-party advertisers accountable.
Now, what are the consequences of high level of attack? You don’t have a reason to vote for someone. You’re only being told why to vote against. Hence, no projection of what the alternatives are and no understanding of the trade-offs in government . . . We’re going to have high level of attack; hence, no relevance to governance and votes against. And that we’re going to have high level of deception; hence, people who feel betrayed once they see actual governance or who vote against a candidate they might otherwise support.
The problem with modern political advertising is not framed properly by the use of the phrase “negative advertising”:
I don’t like to use the word “negative” because it conflates legitimate and illegitimate attack and because negative to most people means duplicitous. [The big problem occurs] when there’s a differential in spending and a high level of deception tied to a high level attack because now you have the worst possible consequences.
For those of you who think that you are getting accurate U.S. foreign policy news stories on NPR, think again. NPR, like most other new outlets, has annointed itself a stenographer for the U.S. government. Glenn Greenwald proves this point beyond debate by dissecting a recent NPR store on Iran. It would all be laughable were the stakes not so serious. Here is an excerpt from Greenwald’s story. I highly recommend following the link to his entire story:
This morning, Temple-Raston began her report by noting — without a molecule of skepticism or challenge — that Iran is accused (by the U.S. government, of course) of trying to assassinate the Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil (a plot traced to “the top ranks of the Iranian government”); there was no mention of the fact that this alleged plot was so ludicrous that it triggered intense mockery in most circles. She then informed us that Iran is also likely responsible for three recent, separate attacks on Israeli officials. These incidents, she and her extremely homogeneous group of experts from official Washington explained, are “red flags” about Iran’s intent to commit Terrorism — red flags consistent, she says, with Iran’s history of state-sponsored Terrorism involving assassinations of opposition leaders in Europe during the 1980s and the 1996 truck bombing of an American military dormitory in Saudi Arabia (note how attacks on purely military targets are “Terrorism” when Iran does it, as are the assassinations of its own citizens on foreign soil who are working for the overthrow of its government; but if you hold your breath waiting for NPR to label as Terrorism the U.S. assassination of its own citizens on foreign soil, or American and Israeli attacks on military targets, you are likely to expire quite quickly). All of this, Temple-Raston announces, shows that Iran is “back on the offensive.”