Saturday, May 19, 2007

Who are we as a people? Where is our soul?

Michael Moore told reporters after a press preview the other day:
I'm trying to explore bigger ideas and bigger issues, and in this case the bigger issue in this film [SiCKO] is who are we as a people? Why do we behave the way we behave? What has become of us? Where is our soul?
So began the hoopla at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Moore's movie portrays the American medical industry as driven by greed.

SiCKO, which has taken Cannes by storm, goes further than just the health care industry by depicting a country where the government is more interested in personal profit and protecting big business than caring for its citizens, many of whom cannot afford health insurance.

Where is our soul is a serious question as we ponder candidates for our next President. What have we become as a people - and how can we get back on tract - are questions that beg to be answered. The recent Republican debate was such an example of spirit being derailed that it was disheartening to me. Every candidate wanted to be seen as the strongest fighter against terrorism, the most ballsy, the most "manly." Not one of the candidates attempted to answer these questions - or even acknowledged that a good majority of Americans believe them to be our primary issues in this campaign.

I saw Farenheit 9/11 at theaters in Europe and America and the reactions, poignant tearful spots, laugh lines and murmurs were the same - which surprised me. That's why I'm anxious to see this new movie and see it in large theaters at various places in my travels so I can watch the various responses as they occur.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A New Book by Al Gore

Time Magazine calls Al Gore "the perfect stealth candidate for 2008" in their article which excerpts from his new book The Assault on Reason. I've read the excerpts but the book won't be available until next week. Gore says some wonderful things toward developing an understanding of how the media has failed us and what we can do to change the process.
It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse. I know I am not alone in feeling that something has gone fundamentally wrong.
One-way media, TV, enables manipulation of public debate which leads to cynicism, doubt and lack of participation.
Unfortunately [there is] a new cynicism about reason itself — because reason was so easily used by propagandists to disguise their impulse to power by cloaking it in clever and seductive intellectual formulations. When people don't have an opportunity to interact on equal terms and test the validity of what they're being "taught" in the light of their own experience and robust, shared dialogue, they naturally begin to resist the assumption that the experts know best.

So the remedy for what ails our democracy is not simply better education (as important as that is) or civic education (as important as that can be), but the re-establishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way—a conversation of democracy in which meritorious ideas and opinions from individuals do, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.
I've blogged many times about Gore's point of view (which I share) on this subject. In the area of political dialogue, it might be called the “pollster-consultant industrial complex” [coined by Joe Klein] that has had the same effect in political dialogue as manipulative commercial advertising has on the buying public: lack of spontaneity, test-tube bromides, insipid photo ops, and idiotic advertising combined to pass for political discourse. In the current Time excerpt Gore is less dramatic and confrontational than he was last year when he said:
The conversation of democracy has been desiccated [pulverized; lacking in energy or vitality]. To bring it back to life, break the monopoly of broadcast and cable television.
Is there hope in what he writes? Does he propose a plan to take back the airwaves and enable real awareness and discourse? Here's what he writes:
...broadband interconnection is supporting decentralized processes that reinvigorate democracy. We can see it happening before our eyes: As a society, we are getting smarter. Networked democracy is taking hold. You can feel it. We the people—as Lincoln put it, "even we here"—are collectively still the key to the survival of America's democracy.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Cutting Carbon Emissions

First, a rant: most members of Congress are either lawyers or businesspeople. They know what “fiduciary responsibility” is. It means reading and understanding each and every bill that they vote upon.

Congress has not met this duty for a long time. Instead . . .
  • They carelessly pass mammoth bills that none of them have read. Sometimes printed copies aren't even available when they vote.

  • Often no one knows what these bills contain, or what they really do, or what they will cost.

  • Additions and deletions are made at the last minute, often in secrecy.

  • They combine unpopular proposals with popular measures that few in Congress want to oppose.
Once these bills are passed, and one of these unpopular proposals comes to light, they pretend to be shocked. “How did that get in there?”

America was founded on the slogan: “No taxation without representation.” It's not as catchy but perhaps we need another slogan: “No legislation without representation.”

Now, for cutting carbon emissions: the legislative process - to debate a strategic issue and negotiate a legal solution - involves fact gathering and discussion. The process includes sifting through biased and often selfish information sources and involves the art of persuasion, creative thinking, and manipulation as well as strength of character, due diligence and altruism.

Cutting carbon emissions - a world-wide issue of momentous magnitude - is a perfect example of how things are supposed to work.

There are thousands of industry groups. The automotive industry is one case in point. The industry has almost one hundred groups representing the various types of labor, parts suppliers, steel makers, the car manufactures, the truckers, shippers and other transportation industries, the sellers and dealerships, the engineers, the computer people, etc. And they each have a different point of view regarding what to do about reducing carbon emissions and how so doing will effect their group.

Each industry group attempts to present their point of view to the congressional committee members that might have influence on the development of a legislative proposal to address the problem. They also lobby staffers and reporters as well. Most such groups hire paid lobbyists to target and approach key legislators and staff members. Many of these paid lobbyists are ex- (or present) political consultants or ex-members or staff of the very Congress they are lobbying. Their very familiarity with the players gives them a bit more access than anyone else.

How does each group make it's point of view known, heard and favorably received? In caustic terms, one might say that cash opens the door and long-term economic promises keep them open for comments and rebuttals. Even if cash were taken out of the equation, it's still in everyone's interest to gather and hear information from every source before negotiating a solution.

Here's where integrity enters the picture. In recent years many committees and committee members have actually let industry groups draft the legislation that is then proposed by the committee.

Where did the due diligence go? The fiduciary responsibility?

Although extremely partisan members of congress might say that no money changed hands, how much does one favor his "friends" versus doing what's right for his country and constituents?

Only a new slate of players - elected officials with ethics, responsibility, and a passion for change - can sift through the partisanship, one sidedness and unfairness to craft a solution to cutting carbon emissions.