Thursday, November 29, 2012

Is the Party Over?

Book Cover 
Is The Party Over?
I recently finished reading former Republican conservative Congressman Mickey Edwards’ “The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans”. Edwards describes the underlying system forces that nurture partisanship, all of which were accelerated by Newt Gingrich’s Speakership of the House, but continued under Pelosi and Boehner. He discusses the rules, the gerrymandering, and the structuring of the spaces that push partisanship and offers suggestions on how to dissolve the barriers that foster the partisanship that besieges us. Edwards doesn’t believe the politicians tied to parties will change the rules that benefit them. He suggests that these changes will have to be driven by citizens. It’s not too early to review his remedies and decide if you want to work to see them implemented. We elect a new Congress in two more years, and you can bet everyone of them is already out raising money to beat back any challengers. One can see glimpses of the same forces invading state and local government circles as 'winner take all' approaches to governing overtake thoughtful dialogue and deliberation. More on the brighter side in another post.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Cover
James Gustave Speth's new "America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy" is a seemingly perfect fit for a new blog on 'possibilities'. Speth, former UN Development Programme director, founder of World Resources Institute, former dean of the Yale School of Forestry, and many other influential positions over the past 40 years has written a tract that calls for 'progressives' to become more active and to reach out to other citizens to steer us away from the cliffs facing humanity. These are not the rhetorical 'fiscal cliff' but the ones that climate change and inequality are pushing us towards. As he has documented more thoroughly in his most recent books "Red Sky at Morning" and "Bridge at the Edge of the World", Speth chronicles our environmental challenges and couples it with a concurrent look at both the growing inequality and lack of real democracy that is shaping our growing plutocratic society.

But following the gloomy journal of woe, Speth turns to what might be possible if we would but come together to push for 'America the Possible'. He references many others who have offered ideas in each of the arenas he visits and gives directions to organizations and efforts working to reform the underlying economic, political, and environmental systems. His concerns have grown more desperate from his earlier works so that he fully supports Frederick Douglas' claim.

 "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one or a physical one, or it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

Thus his manifesto for a new economy that weds the progressive interests in the environment, social and economic justice, and political involvement. This book won't make that happen, but those who read it may just get out of their armchairs more often to build America the Possible. His final chapter is entitled "The Movement" - it's a possibility, but only if we build it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Post-Thanksgiving Hunches -

What is possible in a world that changes at amazing speed? From the cells in our body to decisions made in hallowed halls of government to the shift of winds and just the smallest chance of who you meet when, the future is highly uncertain.These young people pictured above I saw last summer in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso have all kinds of possibilities when they slide out of the womb, pre-wired. But simply because of where they are born, grow up and live, those possibilities are quite different from my own.

That being stated it is also clear that despite the constraints of poverty and  access to  fewer opportunities, they can be loved and cherished by their kin and neighbors as much if not more than those raised in more affluent surroundings. They may well learn more easily than I how we humans are dependent upon the natural world and intrinsically part of it. They may better appreciate and savor the power of relationships to sustain and to develop our possibilities.

But what does it say of our time, that despite the vast storehouses of knowledge acquired and passed on, despite our great riches, we see more people fighting for the basics to survive, while some are so wealthy they spend more on a meal than the entire annual food budget for others? If we were starting for scratch, would we construct a system that grows the gulf between the haves and the have-nots, while simultaneously unraveling the ecosystems that sustain life? I don't think so. Yet the evidence for growing inequality and ecological decline is stunning. Just as stunning is the paucity of discussion, let alone action, to address the system rules that are accelerating the growing disparity of opportunity for both current and future generations.

Having an idea that something is 'possible' is the first and necessary step towards making it happen. If we convince ourselves that something is not possible, we all but guarantee that prophecy. Each of us, regardless of where, is born with great possibility that can be fed, nurtured, awakened to or 'enabled' by the family, the environment, and the social-political-economic systems that we create. A just world should not only allow each person to develop their capabilities (Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate), but it should strive to create the conditions that enable that development,  not at the expense of others or the natural world that provides life's essentials, or the possibility of future generations to develop their own capabilities.

If we were to design a system to do that from scratch, what might it look like? It certainly wouldn't be the one that have driven us to an 'inequality cliff'. This feeble blog will be attempting to share 'hunches' of how we might recalibrate our fundamental human systems (social, political, economic) to move us all closer to a human family where everyone gets a fair chance to develop their capabilities while living in balance with our natural world and the ecosystems that sustain us. These are simply meant as reasonable 'possibilities' - not guaranteed, not certain, but possible. I will borrow rapaciously from others I bump into along the journey -- those that shed a new light or provide a different angle or perspective, that might have us see a possibility previously blind to us. The recent understandings pervading the sciences of the 'emergent' properties of so much we cannot yet fathom in this complex universe, might offer us some humility that much more is possible than we have been led to believe.

I sense very deeply, incredible possibilities to become a better human family than we have been to date. As Martin Luther King, Jr. noted: "The arc of the moral universe is long,but it bends towards justice." I believe in that possibility, but our current dominant (social, political, and economic) systems need some changing if we plan to get there. Let's consider the possibilities.