True Independence Requires Reciprocal Civic Empowerment

True Independence Requires Reciprocal Civic Empowerment

“A republic… if you can keep it…” 

The work of building up to a better outcome has always already begun, before we have a chance to think about the work itself or its necessity.

The act of leading, then, is a recognition of the forces that are converging and a conscious understanding of how to work with them, when and to what purpose.

Having just arrived back from a journey to the heart of our democracy, I am again affirmed in the feeling that our democracy is deeply personal. And so, the success of our democracy depends on the intimate experience each participant has of the democratic process.

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The Illusion of the Definite & Invasive ‘Other’

Seven lies that inform the push for an English-only United States

Is the United States an “English-speaking nation”, or a place where all cultures are welcome to converge, mix and evolve? To answer this question, we must consider that there is a natural human tendency to fear what is perceived as the definite and invasive “other”, that which is different and which we feel can be categorized in a way that fits our worries.

The human space is fluid, adaptable, sensitive to evolving circumstance. This is why democracy is the only legitimate form of government. The identity of groups, or for that matter of individuals is not implacable, nor is it absolutely relative. It follows the vicissitudes of the human health and mind, and requires sincere dialogue with the other in order to reach its fullest potential. The push to establish a single national language can only be sustained on the basis of a number of false premises.

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Any Healthcare Exclusion for Condition or Care Option is Failed Reform

Pres. Obama used his prime-time press conference last night to dive straight into the fray on healthcare reform, pledging commitment to bold action, demanding cost-cutting measures and promising to bring affordable coverage within reach of all Americans. He did not specify if he wanted an “individual mandate” that all Americans buy into one plan or another, and he did not promise that no insurer would be allowed to deny treatment under any circumstances.

But since we’re talking tough and being straightforward about what constitutes success and failure, it must be said: any amount of leeway for insurers to deny coverage or to limit treatment options will be a failure for the healthcare reform movement. Insurers are not substitutes for doctors and hospitals; they are insurance companies and payment systems, and that is all they should be involved in: they should have to survive without the market being rigged through allowances for denial of coverage and denial of care.

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CBO Never Reported Patients’ Healthcare Costs Would Go Up

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported last week that the healthcare plan currently being debated in Congress would likely cause federal expenses related to healthcare to increase. But it did not report that the plan would cause average per-patient costs to increase across the entire healthcare market, as opponents of healthcare reform are alleging. In fact, that philosophical point has not been disproven by any budgetary analysis to date.

Douglas Elmendorf, the CBO director, told Congress last Thursday that reform proposals currently under consideration would likely increase costs for the federal government. He never said they would fail to bring costs down across the market as a whole; nor did he, for that matter, comment on whether the federal cost increases would materialize if costs did, in fact, come down in the marketplace.

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High-speed Rail Program Integral to Energy Overhaul

Pres. Barack Obama has proposed a national high-speed rail program that would develop eight to ten regions for high-speed rail (currently, only the so-called northeast corridor, running from Washington, DC, to Boston, through Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, has a regular high-speed service), as part of a phased-in long-term economic recovery plan. The rail project comes into play also as part of Obama’s plans for a comprehensive energy-sector overhaul, aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

The high-speed rail project is perhaps one of the least adequately reported components of both economic recovery and energy infrastructure overhaul plans, but one of the most vital and thoughtful. A successful implementation of 10 high-speed rail “regions”, in the most densely populated areas of the country, would provide a platform for major innovations in transport and energy sourcing.

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Empathy is Not Prejudice

EMPATHY IS NOT PREJUDICE: it is the ability to imagine the point of view of the other. Without this ability to engage in thoughtful outreach, beyond one’s own personal realm of experience, and empathize with the human situation of the other, no jurist can begin to understand the human meaning of the arguments made in their court, and objectivity remains wholly beyond their reach. Empathy is not sympathy.

Sympathy means feeling what the other feels, experiencing grief at the other’s grief, loyalty in kind with the other’s loyalties, taking sides; empathy is the ability to comprehend the meaning of another’s experiences, and does not entail adopting or sharing the other’s views. Empathy for a judge means the ability to see how both parties arguing before a court could arrive there based on legitimate human experiences and assertions about the protections and provisions of the law.

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The Radical Naïveté of Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich is trying to reinvent, or rehabilitate, himself. And he’s doing it by trying to whip up reflexive anger across his party’s base. Without citing one single point of Pres. Obama’s policy or one single piece of historical evidence, he has classed Obama’s call for a world free of nuclear weapons as “a dangerous fantasy”. He is situating himself firmly in the camp of make-believe “values conservatives” whose world view is actually an adolescent reading of Machiavelli (and a fantasy already proven to be dangerous).

Values, if those who camp along this stretch of the ideological spectrum have any allegiance to them, must always come after and be subsumed by a regime of dark and cynical manipulations. To what end? To prove that one is dark and cynical enough to be feared. This is the adolescent part of their understanding of Machiavelli — whose philosophy we will not treat in detail here. They claim to know how to be better than the brutes, thugs and villains, by imitating them.

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How to Solve Healthcare: Focus on Coverage, Cost & Cure

8 crucial ideas for solving the healthcare crisis

We don’t have a good answer for how to solve healthcare in America. Let’s start there. Every interest group sees the problem differently, depending on immediate interests, learned perceptions, or advertised distortions. But the fact is, every interest group has some overlap with others, and there is a lot of common ground to be had, if we put ideology aside and try to focus on the problem itself. The problem is severe enough that neary 50 million people are without healthcare coverage, and another many millions are underinsured, not guaranteed to have necessary treatments covered, for one reason or another.

Some blame malpractice insurance costs, some blame pharmaceutical drug costs, some blame malpractice lawsuits, some blame greedy insurers, greedy doctors, or stingy public-funding programs. And they are all right. But the one group that is not ripping anyone off and that has no interest in costs continuing to escalate, is the average patient. Others fall into the category of innocents, but we have to recognize that the average person has zero control over these egregious failings of the system and does not want to see them prolonged.

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Stimulus is Needed & Will Mean Big Spending

Whether you are an avid supporter of Barack Obama, a perennial political skeptic, a critic, or a staunchly ideological opponent, it is clear that there must be some sort of vast, perhaps unprecedented economic stimulus put into effect in order to slow or reverse a now spiraling economic downturn. And, all have to admit as well, it is a very risky thing to gamble one’s political capital, at such a crucial moment in American history, on a huge spending package that might not have a very visible effect in the immediate short term.

Stimulus means spending, and that’s why it’s a gamble. It can mean spending by issuing cash tax-credit payouts, which consumers can then use as they please (this will likely lead only to the paying of already existing bills, which tends to be less stimulative, especially when banks are not issuing new credit freely). It can mean spending on public works, which will spur industrial output and is likely the most serious motivator of job-creation.

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Inauguration Diary: a Politics of Inclusion & of Civic Intelligence (photo essay)

Millions of people are expected to gather on the National Mall, between the west face of the Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial; security is expected to be without any known precedent, and temperatures are not likely to rise above freezing… should we go? Should we go, and if we do, should we go as citizens, or as journalists? If millions of people can brave the crowds, the security and the cold, to witness an historic moment of such sweeping resonance, then why can’t we?

I realized over the weekend that I wanted to attend this event as a citizen, as a person who believes in the values of true democracy, and who believes that, flawed as the system is, it can still be bent to the virtues of those willing to engage it with principle and decency, and in that way, can be used to make life better and freer, even for the least powerful. And it came back to me what it was to witness the 15,000 people who did just this to attend then Senator Barack Obama’s campaign announcment speech, on 10 February 2007, when the conventional wisdom said he could never win.

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