Tuesday, May 26, 2015

We Can Change the Rules of the Game
David Ignatius from the Washington Post wrote an editorial reprinted in the Akron Beacon Journal today that is well worth considering.  While there is no single silver bullet to revitalizing American democracy, if there was this would be it:  set the rules to weaken extremists and strengthen moderates.

While Ignatius frames his analysis using conventional assertion about Democrats moving left, this is a forgivable error.  He can only tilt at one windmill at a time. 

Describing Hillary Clinton as ‘moving to the left on trade’ fundamentally distorts our political communication.  She (and President Obama) hold positions on trade today that are more accurately characterized as moderately conservative.

Putting that (non-trivial point) aside let’s focus on his larger point about setting the rules of the game so we have a chance of getting leadership that represents the views of most Americans.  Here is how he starts…

“Hillary Clinton’s move to the left on trade and other issues is a reminder of the growing power of activists on the wings in presidential nominating politics — and a corresponding diminution of the power of the center.”
Just as our support for the most fanatical elements of the resistance in Afghanistan (because we wanted to increase the costs to the Soviets for their invasion) resulted in erasing Afghan moderates and, later, the rise of Osama bin Laden…we make decisions domestically as well that make it more likely that the extremes dominate public deliberation.

“The disenfranchisement of the center is a fact of modern politics. That should be worrisome even if you think the center is an ideological muddle. As we’ve seen in recent years, in a world dominated by the political wings, the compromises necessary for passing any legislation become difficult. As the center disappears, so does governance.”

We should worry about the disenfranchisement of moderates, because this is one reason the everyday compromises that make democracy work have been missing in action for so long.

And while the middle class, defined by income, is disappearing, even conservative estimates show that the moderate middle in terms of voter perspective is larger (more than 40%) than either those who identify as strongly D or strongly R (both less than 30%).

“Yet as we head toward the presidential nominating season, the voice of this broad center is barely audible. Politics is pulled toward the left and right by campaign-finance rules, redistricting and other issues” including a journalistic preference for dramatized news, Citizens United, and corporate ownership of nearly all mass media outlets.  Ignatius cites a reform proposal—to change the rules of the game—from Peter Ackerman as one idea to consider.
“Ackerman has launched a campaign dubbed “Change the Rule” to address one piece of this puzzle of America’s political dysfunction. The rule in question is imposed by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which the two major parties created in 1987 to administer the televised debates that are the nexus of modern presidential campaigns. Ackerman argues that this rule, as currently applied, prevents the emergence of an independent candidate who might empower the underrepresented middle. 
The current debate rule requires that any third-party candidate must average 15 percent support in five polls taken in the two weeks before the debates begin in October of the election year. To get the necessary name recognition and support, Ackerman’s group estimates that an independent candidate would have to spend $266 million. Because of contribution limits, this effectively precludes anyone who’s not a billionaire from joining the debates as an independent. 
Ackerman argues that the entry ticket to the debate should instead be getting on the ballots by the end of April in an election year in states that together have at least 270 Electoral College votes. To avoid chaotic debates, just one such independent candidate should be added — the one with the highest number of ballot-access signatures nationwide. Such a signature drive would cost less than $15 million, Ackerman estimates, opening the field to less-wealthy candidates who could mobilize volunteers and small donations. 
Supporters are a “who’s who” of the bipartisan center: John Anderson, a Republican former congressman who ran as an independent in the 1980 presidential race; William Cohen, a Republican former senator who served as secretary of defense for a Democratic president; Lee Hamilton, a Democratic former congressman who co-chaired bipartisan commissions on 9/11 and the Iraq War; Jon Huntsman, a Republican former governor whose moderate positions vaporized his 2012 presidential campaign; and Joe Lieberman, a Democratic former senator and vice presidential nominee. Other backers include retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal and retired Adm. James Stavridis. 
To bolster the case, Ackerman commissioned a survey last July by pollster Douglas Schoen. In the sample of 1,000 likely voters, 86 percent said the political system is broken and doesn’t serve ordinary people; 89 percent said they wished politicians would work together and compromise; and, interestingly, 66 percent said they thought presidential debates could do a better job of informing the electorate. 
Yet the system grinds forward with a perverse set of incentives that rewards extremism and punishes compromise. I don’t know if opening the presidential debates would fix this mess, but it might pull candidates back toward the center, where the public lives and where problems get solved.”

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Seek First to Understand Others
EJ Dionne hit a home run again in an editorial reprinted in the ABJ today.  He argues for the democratic value of struggling to find the humility to balance our passion, and in terms of politics today to embrace the power of being passionate about moderation.

In doing so, he quotes Reinhold Niebuhr expressing an idea I have long held close to my heart as critically important for achieving agreements, transforming conflicts, and problem solving.  I believe I first encountered the idea in JS Mill's On Liberty.
Dionne does not quote Niebuhr and I could not find a quote or source on the web, but here is how Dionne paraphrases him (see below for RH quote):
"It is always wise to seek the truth in our opponents' error, and the error in our own truth." 
This idea overlaps with Getting To Yes where we find the assertion that we would be wise to reframe our conflicts from positions to interests...in other words,
"It is always wise to seek the truth value within the underlying interests/concerns in our opponents' position, and the hidden-in-plain sight positionality and posturing, blind spot and shadow side in our own truth."
Using GTY we first need to move from posturing about positions to focusing on and engaging about underlying interests an concerns.
Then using RH (and Gandhi or King) we need to identify from among the competing and overlapping interests & concerns that we and our opponents bring to any dispute the portions of truth contained in each (and all thinkers here would agree that no one person or party or sect or era has a monopoly on truth, so there is always some truth value to be found in the menu of concerns & interests driving on each side).
Niebuhr here is also intersecting with Steven Covey’s 5th of 7 habits of effective people:  seek first to understand, then to be understood.  And with St. Francis of Assisi’ who says ‘Oh master grant that I many never seek so much to be understood as to understand.”

Thanks EJ. 

There is a hot link from EJ Dionne's piece to a Richard Crouter book titled Reinhold Niebuhr: Politics, Religion, and Christian Faith, with the actual Niebuhr quote at the link provide, from page 134 of that book.   

"The fact is that any commitment, religious political or cultural, can lead to intolerance if there is not a residual awareness of the possibility of error in the truth in which we believe, and of the possibility of truth in the error against which we contend."

Monday, May 18, 2015

Unpacking Ferguson
Here is a powerful, detailed, analysis of how Ferguson came to become the 'Ferguson' in the news we all know today.  Highly recommended.

"We flatter ourselves that the responsibility is only borne by rogue police officers, white flight, and suburbanites’ desire for economic homogeneity. Prosecuting the officer who shot Michael Brown, or investigating and integrating Ferguson’s police department, can’t address the deeper obstacles to racial progress."

This is analysis from the Economic Policy Institute.  There was also a short version that appeared in the magazine American Prospect.

This analysis can help us find ways to get out of the straight-jacket that is our current conversations about race...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Rethinking the History of the Present
Just read a deeply saddening story in Salon where local Democratic Party leadership early in the 20th century looks a lot like Republican Party leadership today. 

The author argues persuasively that in Baltimore (Ferguson, Cleveland…) “the protests are not really (or primarily) about policing,” so even praise-worthy proposals for policing reform are likely to have far less impact than even progressive reformers might hope.

And there are other parts of the story that link our history to our present.  The analysis of how the mayor used health inspectors as agents of the law enforcing segregation is mirrored in widely-praised aspects of community policing today that include police problem solving partnerships with probation and parole officers, health inspectors, and INS agents.

“In 1925, 18 Baltimore neighborhood associations came together to form the “Allied Civic and Protective Association” for the purpose of urging both new and existing property owners to sign restrictive covenants….” 

Again, approaches to community policing usually seen as innovative include bringing together the local business and property owning community to provide additional surveillance, share information, raise money for the police or to put up signs (one in a Seattle neighborhood read in huge letters: ‘Illegal Activity in this Area Strictly Prohibited’), and provide an army of letter writers ready to speak at city council meetings in support of aggressive preventive patrol.

One idea in the piece strikes me as in need of push back, however.

“Baltimore’s ghetto was not created by private discrimination, income differences, personal preferences, or demographic trends, but by purposeful action of government in violation of the Fifth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments.”

While I support the overall point in this piece, because it is critically important for us all to remember that WE did this—that is, the government acting in our name.  And more importantly that those among the WE with the most power made it happen.

However, the WE doing this is only partially you and I, only indirectly average Americans.  The WE is much more so elites…including—at the center of the equation—private sector elites.  So, this quote, in my view is both accurate and misleading.

Government agents, acting in the name of those with the most influence on government actions (business elites), made this happen…in our name, but the ‘in our name’ part has to also be unpacked. 

Not to erase our own culpability.  Not to ignore the fact that (returning to the quote) that our own individual and shared ‘private discrimination and personal preferences’ are part of what made, and continues to make, this happen. 

But to avoid playing into the hands of the far right by suggesting big government is the primary and most notorious problem here.

For instance, the piece later notes that “Restrictive covenants were not merely private agreements between homeowners; they frequently had government sanction.”  This is true…but these were also (and primarily) private agreements between property owners.  That part is not only not trivial, but it is the source of the most powerful forms of agency in this equation.

And I did not know the George Romney story…an action his son would likely consider the worst form of ‘socialism’ today.  And…this is the first (and I suspect the only) time I will say I agree with Spiro Agnew!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Never really blog about sports, because I experience it as a distraction from things to think (and therefore blog) about.  But I am feeling an itch in need of scratching.

The Cavs just lost Kevin Love for the remainder of the season.  He is 1/3 of the 'Big Three.'  And I hope that (should he return next year) he will emerge as 1/3 of the big three.  For the most part this season, he played more like a solid starter with promise, but one who always seemed a bit out of sync, maybe even too soft.  I hope he emerges next years.  What about this year?

Losing KL will mean more minutes for Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert for sure.  Likely also more minutes for James Jones, Shawn Marion, and Mosgov as well.

Putting aside the question of how to balance first and second units (needs to be one--I trust Blatt to figure it out), more minutes from Thompson and Shumpert right now, with this team, is a very good thing.  That is an upgrade.  Once JR returns, a significant upgrade.

If James Jones can hit threes without being a black hole in every other way (maybe he can focus on getting some rebounds?), his additional minutes will be a wash.  Not a loss; not a bonus.  Just holding steady.

But more offensive rebounds and defense from Thompson and Shumpert, plus Shumpert can hit threes and drive to the hole if the D does not take him seriously...this will improve the Cavs.  And more from a well-rested Shawn Marion might be an upgrade as well; certainly will not be a downgrade.

For the first two games we will lack depth.  This means more minutes for Delly and maybe Mike Miller.  But I hope not.  For the first two games give the extra minutes mostly to Thompson, Shumpert, and Marion with some for Mosgov and Jones (depending on how he plays).

I like a starting five like this:

Kyrie and Shumpert
Mosgov, James, and Jones (or start Thompson)

But if Jones starts, he only comes back on the floor if he shows us something.  Otherwise, his minutes go to Marion or Shumpert or Thompson after the first quarter.

Second quarter unit:

Integrate in lots of Thompson (whether he starts or not), and then second most of Marion and then some Delly and Perkins to rest Kyrie, James, Shumpert and Mosgov at different times.

In the second half...likely more Thompson that Jones with first unit.

I like how these guys play:  Kyrie, James, Shumpert, Movgov, Thompson...so even if this is not your starting unit, this is your best unit.  Then Marion and Delly and Perkins and Jones are (in descending order) solid contributors...to rest others and spread the floor.

Fun to write, but now I know why I do not (and should not) blog about sports.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Making the Implicit Explicit
White flight, tax base disappears, state and federal funding shrinks dramatically, schools turn into prisons, policing reduced to managing the consequences of malign neglect...and then Fox News blames the rioters for the decline of the city.