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“Unprecedented Demographic Change”: Adapting To Change Requires Curiosity And Creativity

Our 24/7 news cycle that is addicted to the crisis of the moment and the horse race of electoral politics doesn’t do a good job of recognizing the tectonic shifts of change that are undergirding our lives.

The attacks of 9/11 followed by the Great Recession changed the way a lot of people feel about America in ways that aren’t articulated often enough. We are experiencing demographic change that is unprecedented, are nearing the end of two terms for our first African American president and are likely on the cusp of electing our first female president. All of that is happening as we are experiencing the effects of globalization and automation in our economy while technology becomes more central to how we live our everyday lives. Finally, we are just beginning to see the effects of climate change – with dramatic impacts looming on the horizon.

We can play the political parlor game of trying to suss out which of these is the most responsible for the dynamics of our current politics, or we can notice that the combination of those changes is affecting all of us. When Kevin Drum wonders why both political parties are afraid to talk about an improving economy and Gregg Easterbrook asks when optimism became uncool, I suspect that it is the weight of all of these changes that is the answer. But Easterbrook makes an interesting observation.

Though candidates on the right are full of fire and brimstone this year, the trend away from optimism is most pronounced among liberals. A century ago Progressives were the optimists, believing society could be improved, while conservatism saw the end-times approaching. Today progressive thought embraces Judgment Day, too…

Pessimists think in terms of rear-guard actions to turn back the clock. Optimists understand that where the nation has faults, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

The Tea Party responded to these changes by saying that they wanted to “take our country back.” When Donald Trump talks about “making America great again,” that’s essentially what he is saying too. Fear and retreat are a pretty common reaction to change among human beings.

Traditionally progressives have faced challenges like this by working on ways to move forward rather than pinning for days past. To do so requires things like curiosity and creativity. The past can be examined objectively, but the future is still uncertain. Ideologues too often stand in the way of curiosity and creativity. Here is how then-Senator Barack Obama talked about that back in 2005:

…the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, “true” progressive vision for the country, we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward. When we lash out at those who share our fundamental values because they have not met the criteria of every single item on our progressive “checklist,” then we are essentially preventing them from thinking in new ways about problems.

I believe that this is why the President so often says that it is young people who inspire his optimism. They tend to be free of the ideologies and baggage of the past. Instead, they bring fresh eyes to the challenges we face going forward. Progressives need not fear the changes we are experiencing today when we tap into all of that.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 17, 2016

May 17, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Liberals, Progressives, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“America Needs An Attitude Adjustment”: Here’s A Reminder About The USA’s Many Accomplishments

A wise friend once pointed out to me that the relationship between an individual and her to-do list is called “attitude.” Profound, right? If we think “I can’t do it all,” then we can be sure that we won’t. Whereas if we decide “I can do this,” we have a good chance.

Attitude applies to everything from work, to relationships, to weight loss. It also applies to things beyond ourselves, such as politics, leadership and governing.

So picture, for one moment, each of our leading presidential candidates. Are they smiling? Any of them? I didn’t think so.

Picture the American people, however you might conjure that. Do they look happy?

I’m sure you can see where I’m going here. The “I can do it” or “we can do it” attitude is embodied by one of the most beautiful human characteristics: the smile. “I can’t do it” or “we suck” is characterized by the most-unflattering frown or scowl.

Our country is past due for an attitude adjustment. We yearn for a leader to bring us that gift – to renew our optimism, our healthy attitude. We remember great leaders like Reagan and Kennedy as men who were smiling.

But if we aren’t going to get that type of leader any time soon, it might be up to us to enact a national attitude adjustment. So let us take a break from criticizing our politicians and our government. Let us focus on the good things about the U.S. of A.

We live in a country where a young, brilliant and stunningly wealthy entrepreneur – Napster founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker – just announced he is contributing his innovative leadership and personal wealth to cutting-edge efforts to cure cancer. That kind of thing happens here. It doesn’t happen everywhere in the world.

We have contributed – and continue to contribute – the most incredible technology, medicine and art to the world. To illustrate, I’ll point out just a few in each category: the light bulb, the telephone, television, airplanes, the personal computer, transistors and the integrated circuit, social media and, thanks to Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, the swivel chair. General anesthesia, immunotherapy for cancer, 3-d printed prosthetics and organ transplants. Hemingway and Faulkner, American television (OK, bear with me, I’m talking about “Seinfeld,” “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad,” not “The Bachelor”), American movies, and American music. (How sad the world would be without the blues and jazz.)

Seriously, when you look at that very-short list, why are we – and our leaders – so busy beating ourselves up? I mean, I didn’t even mention how many medals we win at the Olympics. I didn’t even mention Oprah. Or Oreos. Or Yellowstone National Park. Or small business. Or Uber.

We all like to complain about our own political parties a lot, too, and maybe we ought to ease up a bit. After all, both the Republican and Democrat parties have produced some excellent leaders and public policies. When the parties have worked together, they’ve achieved many incredible successes, such as defeating the evils of fascism and imperialism in World War II, and then helping to rebuild post-war Europe and Japan, standing up to Soviet expansionism, and enacting civil rights laws to protect all Americans. Oh, and yes, it was America that put the first man on the moon.

A reminder to both citizens and leaders: If beating ourselves up was an effective way to make things better, we’d all be amazing. (For example, I, personally, would be very, very thin if my own hurtful self-critiques somehow magically produced weight loss.)

But that kind of attitude doesn’t work. Not for individuals, not for our country, not for our leaders. And if those leaders haven’t figured that out yet, we – the people – are just going to have to be the example. This power, like the power of our country, does still rest in our own hands.

 

By: Jean Card, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog; U. S. News and World Report, April 14, 2016

April 15, 2016 Posted by | America, Politics, Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Jeb Once Again Turns To His Apple Watch”: A Wrist Gadget As Part Of His Vision For A Replacement Healthcare System

Jeb Bush caused a bit of a stir last week, telling an audience that he intends to destroy the Affordable Care Act, replacing it with a “consumer-driven” system, part of which includes his new Apple Watch.

“On this device in five years will be applications that will allow me to manage my health care in ways that five years ago were not even possible,” he said. “I’ll have the ability, someone will, you know, because of my blood sugar, there’ll be a wireless, there’ll be, someone will send me a signal…. We’ll be able to guide our own health care decisions in a way that will make us healthy.”

Yesterday, campaigning in New Hampshire, the Florida Republican returned to the same subject:

“We’re on the verge of a revolution in this regard, where we’ll be able to know all sorts of things with, you know, devices like this. I got beat up by the left because I showed my, you know, Apple Phone – this device will have the ability to measure your sugar content, to measure your heartbeat, to measure whether you’re taking your drugs in the proper way. And you’ll be able to wirelessly send text messages to your health care provider or to your loved one, or whatever, so that you can get back on track.”

It seems the former governor isn’t entirely clear on why he “got beat up.”

The point isn’t that wearable tech is irrelevant (he said “phone” yesterday, but I assume he meant “watch”). It’s easy to imagine devices that can help people manage chronic conditions like diabetes. Indeed, the Florida Republican makes it sound as if these advancements are on the horizon, but in many instances, the technology already exists.

That’s not the problem. Rather, the area of concern is that Bush intends to scrap the Affordable Care Act, which would eliminate health security for millions of families, and he included a wrist gadget as part of his vision for a replacement system. Sarah Kliff added last week:

Bush endorses the idea of “someone” sending him a signal on his Apple Watch when his blood sugar is low. I like that idea, too! It would help diabetic patients, like Bush, better manage their care.

But here’s the challenge: there is not some army of benevolent people out there monitoring blood sugar. There are health-care providers who do this, and to get signed up for their blood sugar monitoring programs, you typically need health insurance. In this way, the type of consumer-powered health market that Bush describes is one that relies on Americans having access to health services – and using that access to make better decisions about their health care.

Jeb Bush didn’t get “beat up” because he pointed to his fancy gizmo; he got “beat up” because he pointed to his fancy gizmo while making the case against the existing U.S. health care system.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 22, 2015

May 26, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Ignoring The Real While Fighting The Imaginary”: The Dangers Of The Right Wing Panic Machine

It should’ve been the shot heard around the world. Chances are, you didn’t hear it.

An ominous sort of history was made last week near Austin, Texas, but it seems to have largely escaped notice. There was some media coverage, yes, but less than, say, Lindsay Lohan’s latest stint in rehab, certainly less than you’d think for something whose ramifications will likely shadow us for years.

On May 2, you see, a group called Defense Distributed, led by law student and self-described anarchist Cody Wilson, accomplished what was apparently the first successful firing of a gun “printed” entirely by a 3-D printer. According to Forbes reporter Andy Greenberg, who witnessed the test, the gun is made almost entirely of plastic, the only metal in it being the nail that served as a firing pin and the bullet it fired.

A 3-D printer, for the benefit of those who remember when the mimeograph machine was the cutting edge of duplication technology, is a device that can download computer blueprints and use them to manufacture complex physical objects right on your desktop.

The one Defense Distributed used is said to have cost $8,000. Amazon has one listed for $1,299.

So we now have technology, largely unregulated, with the potential to turn every desktop into an armory. Forbes reports that, in just two days, 100,000 blueprints were downloaded.

Hold that thought as you ponder another recent headline. It seems one Adam Kokesh, an Iraq War veteran and activist, is organizing an armed march on Washington for Independence Day. Participants — he claims 2,500 so far — with loaded rifles slung across their backs plan to march into the nation’s capital to protest the “tyranny” of the federal government.

While D.C. residents are allowed to have registered firearms on their property, they are not allowed to carry them in public. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has said marchers will be met at the border and if they break that law, “we’ll take action.”

Kokesh, apparently delusional, promises to turn back peacefully if confronted, but says it is his hope the city will suspend the law for him and even provide his group a police escort.

You will not be surprised to learn that, by “tyranny,” Kokesh means the duly elected (not a hanging chad in sight) president of the United States going about his job. Thing is, if you don’t like the way he does his job, you get a chance every four years to make a change. People in North Korea would doubtless love to live under that kind of “tyranny.”

Because it isn’t. Kokesh’s march is just the latest product of the great American panic machine, the mechanism by which the extreme right works itself into spasms of apoplectic terror over threats that don’t exist.

“We’re going to be under Sharia law!”

Except, we’re not.

“We’ve become a socialist country!”

Except we haven’t.

“There’s a War on Christmas!”

Except there isn’t.

“They’re trying to take our guns away!”

Except that it is now theoretically possible for a mental patient to manufacture his own gun in the comfort of his aluminum foil-lined basement. That’s a sobering development with far reaching implications barely considered, much less addressed, by lawmakers though this technology has existed for over a decade. Since Wilson’s test, there’s been a flurry of calls for legislation. On Friday, the federal government ordered Wilson to remove the blueprints from his website. All of which is the very epitome of locking the garage after the Hyundai has been hotwired.

It’s a pity some of the energy that has gone into fighting imaginary tyranny did not go into pondering this real and eminently predictable threat. But, then, we are unserious people in a very serious age.

And therein lies the danger of the panic machine. We spend so much time fighting threats that do not exist, we are left ill-prepared for the ones that do.

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr.,  The National Memo, May 12, 2013

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Guns | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Robots And Robber Barons”: Profits Continue To Rise At The Expense Of Workers

The American economy is still, by most measures, deeply depressed. But corporate profits are at a record high. How is that possible? It’s simple: profits have surged as a share of national income, while wages and other labor compensation are down. The pie isn’t growing the way it should — but capital is doing fine by grabbing an ever-larger slice, at labor’s expense.

Wait — are we really back to talking about capital versus labor? Isn’t that an old-fashioned, almost Marxist sort of discussion, out of date in our modern information economy? Well, that’s what many people thought; for the past generation discussions of inequality have focused overwhelmingly not on capital versus labor but on distributional issues between workers, either on the gap between more- and less-educated workers or on the soaring incomes of a handful of superstars in finance and other fields. But that may be yesterday’s story.

More specifically, while it’s true that the finance guys are still making out like bandits — in part because, as we now know, some of them actually are bandits — the wage gap between workers with a college education and those without, which grew a lot in the 1980s and early 1990s, hasn’t changed much since then. Indeed, recent college graduates had stagnant incomes even before the financial crisis struck. Increasingly, profits have been rising at the expense of workers in general, including workers with the skills that were supposed to lead to success in today’s economy.

Why is this happening? As best as I can tell, there are two plausible explanations, both of which could be true to some extent. One is that technology has taken a turn that places labor at a disadvantage; the other is that we’re looking at the effects of a sharp increase in monopoly power. Think of these two stories as emphasizing robots on one side, robber barons on the other.

About the robots: there’s no question that in some high-profile industries, technology is displacing workers of all, or almost all, kinds. For example, one of the reasons some high-technology manufacturing has lately been moving back to the United States is that these days the most valuable piece of a computer, the motherboard, is basically made by robots, so cheap Asian labor is no longer a reason to produce them abroad.

In a recent book, “Race Against the Machine,” M.I.T.’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee argue that similar stories are playing out in many fields, including services like translation and legal research. What’s striking about their examples is that many of the jobs being displaced are high-skill and high-wage; the downside of technology isn’t limited to menial workers.

Still, can innovation and progress really hurt large numbers of workers, maybe even workers in general? I often encounter assertions that this can’t happen. But the truth is that it can, and serious economists have been aware of this possibility for almost two centuries. The early-19th-century economist David Ricardo is best known for the theory of comparative advantage, which makes the case for free trade; but the same 1817 book in which he presented that theory also included a chapter on how the new, capital-intensive technologies of the Industrial Revolution could actually make workers worse off, at least for a while — which modern scholarship suggests may indeed have happened for several decades.

What about robber barons? We don’t talk much about monopoly power these days; antitrust enforcement largely collapsed during the Reagan years and has never really recovered. Yet Barry Lynn and Phillip Longman of the New America Foundation argue, persuasively in my view, that increasing business concentration could be an important factor in stagnating demand for labor, as corporations use their growing monopoly power to raise prices without passing the gains on to their employees.

I don’t know how much of the devaluation of labor either technology or monopoly explains, in part because there has been so little discussion of what’s going on. I think it’s fair to say that the shift of income from labor to capital has not yet made it into our national discourse.

Yet that shift is happening — and it has major implications. For example, there is a big, lavishly financed push to reduce corporate tax rates; is this really what we want to be doing at a time when profits are surging at workers’ expense? Or what about the push to reduce or eliminate inheritance taxes; if we’re moving back to a world in which financial capital, not skill or education, determines income, do we really want to make it even easier to inherit wealth?

As I said, this is a discussion that has barely begun — but it’s time to get started, before the robots and the robber barons turn our society into something unrecognizable.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 9, 2012

December 10, 2012 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Politics | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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