The Era of Revolutionary Debate

There are few eras as exceptional and consequential as this one we’re currently living in.

There’s the advents of fire and language, money and democratic government, Aristotle’s laws of identity and non-contradiction, the printing press, the industrial revolution’s sort of destruction of feudalism (though these days the richest 1 percent seem to me like new age lords and nobles, and the niches of the working people– though lacking in their rights to strengthen as official unions– seem like contemporary guilds, and bursting through the caste system of sorts, despite proof of so many so- called “American Dreams” fulfilled can feel impossible when you haven’t done it and the way through seems unwritten)…

…and I wonder, really, since the Civil War, at least from an American perspective, when have we seen a time as radical and revolutionary as this?

When, since the tumult related to World War II have we seen so much global radicalism and revolution?    

Nationalism continues to spread like a global fever (so much so that the March/April 2019 Edition of Foreign Affairs titled the issue “The New Nationalism” and the publication’s editor says Nationalism “has come back with a vengeance” ).

Indeed, it has, from Brexit to the fighting between Israel and Palestine, from Russia’s lust for Crimea and more to “the ascent of strongmen in states such as China, the Philippines and Turkey,” as Jack Snyder puts it in one of those Foreign Affairs articles”

The Global Nationalism trend though is just one piece of a fascinating strand of the intensity throughout the world lately.

Vox reported this weekend that New Zealand “released the first-ever ‘well-being budget’ on May 30.” Happiness is starting to matter more.

The Economist reports that “According to India’s telecoms regulator, subscriptions for mobile-broadband services more than doubled between the end of 2016 and the end of 2018, from 218m to 500m.”

People in severe poverty which once kept them from accessing the internet increasingly are gaining access, especially to make and watch videos.

As of 2017, according to an article by The Verge, “the aggregate time people spend watching videos on YouTube’s home page has grown 20 times larger than what it was three years ago.”

Some people, like Caleb Cain, according to a New York Times feature on the YouTube vlogger,  “f[a]ll asleep to YouTube videos at night.“

The New York Times adds:

With two billion monthly active users uploading more than 500 hours of video every minute, YouTube’s traffic is estimated to be the second highest of any website, behind only Google.com. According to the Pew Research Center, 94 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 use YouTube, a higher percentage than for any other online service.

With YouTube in the midst of a dramatic rise, forget how this might impact network television. How will  Netflix, Amazon and Hulu compete for viewers in the 18-24 demographic?

Will some of the biggest vlogs become Netflix vlogs? What is this mean for the Maddow-Hannity style political commentary we got used to?

Meanwhile: “Public support for left-wing policymaking has reached a 60-year high,” Vox Reports.

So just like there was a consciousness revolution in the 1960’s from the politics of that decade to the increased depth of Bob Dylan & The Beatles style music, something distinct yet comparable is going on now.

Donald Trump, a former reality TV Star, is president of the United States. He’s the first president without any meaningful experience and he’s on the verge of becoming only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.

To be sure, his attempts to obstruct investigations into his suspicious ties to Russian interference with our elections (mixed with a plethora of other disconcerting , abusive, and criminal acts, including violation of the constitution’s Emoluments clause) make him far  more impeachable and criminal than Clinton’s lie about oral sex. And the law on which President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment was based was ultimately deemed unconstitutional.   

The political response is likewise, historical: as Bloomberg reports: “There are more current and former governors and members of Congress running this year than there were total candidates in any party primary in the last several decades.”

Politico’s David Siders writes in his headline and subtitle:

Trump backlash sparks avalanche of 2020 policy proposals–The sheer multitude of policy proposals is staggering.

He calls it “an unlikely renaissance of ideas” and says “For brooding Democrats, the primary field’s position papers are an emotional refuge — this summer’s dreamy must-reads.”

And those old tried and true conventional ideas such as “electability” which Trump destroyed in the 2016 election (read Bob Woodward’s book Fear for example after example of Republican operatives dismissing Trump, after each of his missteps, as “unelectable” and Stephen Bannon’s consistent rebuttals to them) are undergoing further demolishment as mainstream media darling, the former Vice-President Joe Biden seems to flaunt his aura of unbreakable “electability”  with the utmost cockiness in a way that is shattering support that he might not have lost eight years ago.

Consider the following quotes Politico documented this weekend:

“It’s not just a flip-flop. It’s like a double axel flip-flop, and he’s not even nailing the   landing,” said Democracy for America Chairman Charles Chamberlain, whose group has supported Warren and Sanders in the past.

“Look. He’s running for president,” Marianne Williamson, the self-help author running in the Democratic primary, said of Biden’s changing position on the Hyde Amendment on CNN on Friday. “People came up to him and said you’re really behind the times on this, Joe. You’ve already got a problem with women, all of that, and so he changed his mind.”

And Politico published another article poking more holes in the “electability” concept and demonstrating why we can really now call it– and please excuse my profanity on this one occassion, this would be one of the very few instances in my blogging life where it seems like the appropriate word– bullshit!

[Read the Politco article here: “Why You’re Wrong About the Democratic Primary– the Wild History of Presidential Campaigns Has a Lesson:  Nobody Knows Anything”]

The 1973 Supreme Court Case on Abortion rights, Roe v Wade this year is being systematically and methodically challenged by a number of state legislatures. ABC News says their

News Supreme Court Contributor Kate Shaw, a law professor who regularly writes about reproductive rights, explained the new spate of abortion restrictions, acknowledging that they present an unprecedented attack on one of the country’s most controversial laws.

“Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, these are absolutely the most extreme laws that have been passed,” Shaw said.

Over 40 prosecutors, including state attorney generals, signed a statement pledging not to prosecute these laws. In other words, we’re in the midst of a major legal faceoff.

What does it mean to live through such an age?

I think it means there’s a special chapter, or maybe even a series of special chapters reserved in the history textbooks of the future which will be taught to posterity. I believe that furthermore this means what how we act in these very particular times will be extremely consequential.

While those of us who are deeply embedded in social media communications and politics are more energized than we’ve been in nearly half a century, and while access to the internet is growing exponentially, especially on already massive sites like YouTube, that doesn’t mean those who live outside our niche, our clique, our Twitterverse if you will, necessarily care.

To illustrate, as someone said to me recently, while the crowds on social media for are calling for Trump’s impeachment, (myself included), that does not necessarily represent the majority or a plurality.

Not that I suggest this is an argument against impeachment and why it’s a losing political move. Rather, I’m thinking of Massachusetts Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and what she said at the recent MSNBC Town Hall event:

See 10:15-10:54

If most of America isn’t with ya, then you talk about it. You make the arguments and then you listen…you start with what you believe is right then you go out there and fight for it.

My bottom line then is this: however revolutionary the times may be, however liberal the plurality of Americans may be, even if internet access is opening up for the severely poor, Nationalism is on the rise, and there are traps like the U.S. Electoral College, gerrymandering, and a Supreme Court which is a product of those– I mean that the revolutionary fervor is alive and well on both the left and the right from different angles and if we want posterity to look back and say this age- not just of revolution, but of revolutionary debate- was won by those who care about things like…abortion rights, not just internet access as a means to distract the poor from their miseries but to help them grow intellectually and economically, and happiness for as many as possible, those kinds of things…we need to make the most of it.

This is not a time like the mid to late 1990s when things seemed so well and yawning in apathy and lethargy didn’t seem to come at such a cost. Like the democracy of Ancient Greece and Rome, like Aristotle’s discovery of logic there’s a lot we can either embrace or lose for who knows how long under the sand inside some time capsule.

Speaker of the House & Senate Majority Leader Have Too Much Power

Observing a Democratic House of Representatives spar with the Republican Senate reveals how the leaderships within both parties– I’m talking about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi here– possess far too much power, stifling the democratic elements that are supposed to propel our legislative processes.  

Thus, our congress now operates in a fashion that seems entirely out of touch with a much wider, international populist revolution of sorts extending far beyond politics, challenging the mainstream media, academia, traditional 20th century corporate models– including even the way companies market with the goal of establishing genuine connection with those they serve– and even cultural ethical assumptions, in the wake, for example, of the #MeToo movement.

Politically speaking though, the most revealing aspect of this global populist revolution is not Trump winning the 2016 Presidential election, and is not the worldwide nationalism and protectionism, at least as I contemplate it. Rather, what strikes me most is how many Democrats are running in the 2020 Primary elections.

The plethora of candidates indicates to me an uptick in passion and earnestness to cast aside assumptions of electability, and “Establishment” choices of who the next president should be.

Put another way, “the people” are hammering a stake into the dying heart of conventional concentrations of power.

Not in congress however.

(And even less so with respect to the presidency. Read this excellent article by Foreign Affairs for more on that specifically)

Unfortunately, the extreme concentrations of power held by Pelosi and McConnell are stalling and weakening our country from any kind of truly political productivity.

Tell me (really, please do!): what is the last major congressional achievement you can think of (if you don’t count when the unanimously passed a resolution “to reject [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s proposal to interrogate US officials.”). Maybe repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” nearly a decade ago?  

To be clear, this is a problem which is exacerbated by both parties!

Consider just how it seems, at times, like Speaker Pelosi gets treated as if she were Queen of the Democrats.

The growing call among her fellow House Democrats for President Trump’s impeachment serves as an illustrative example.

As Politico reports,

[Rep.] Nadler [of NY} pressed Pelosi to allow his committee to launch an impeachment inquiry against Trump — the second such request he’s made in recent weeks only to be rebuffed by the California Democrat and other senior leaders

Why should any lawmaker– or any person for that matter!– enjoy the pedestal of such a high status that she or he gets to deny or “allow” significant legislative  “requests”–?

Please don’t get me wrong here. I get that leadership and management are paramount to making things happen and, theoretically, with efficiency, but “leadership” in a democracy should not be confused with exceptional powers such as has been granted to Nancy Pelosi.   

Maybe it doesn’t seem so awful to some of you when the one granted with so much power and status is part of your own political party, or your faction of your political party, but, if you’re a Democrat these days, how exactly do you feel about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s power to prevent the House’s legislative progress from moving any further?

How do you feel about the way he prevented a vote from taking place on the confirmation of Judge Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court?

Would you rather “bite the bullet” as they say, and chalk it up to a consequence of American politics when things of this sort occur, or are you inclined to think it would be better if McConnell never had that kind of power and that future Senate Majority leaders never do either?

As Salon’s Daley Gruen writes:

How is it possible that one man, for whom odds are neither you nor I voted, has absolute control over the ignition switch to our country, as well as the brakes, the gas, the wheels, the seats and the windows? After a bloody revolution to escape monarchical rule, our Congress was designed to be a conference of extraordinary citizens representing a polity of constituencies as equals, pushing and pulling our country towards the truest manifestation of the popular will. It’s why we call it the People’s House. But instead, “Mitch and Nancy” and their predecessors have enjoyed unchecked rule.

In a democracy, what comes to a vote should be determined by a process, a system, a democratic mechanism – not the whims of one person. If a bill fulfills some reasonable procedural trigger point, it should automatically go up for a vote by the entire body.

Gruen informs us further in the Salon piece that although it seems mostly like lip service, at least since the Democrats took back the House

any legislation that achieves 290 co-sponsors will automatically get a floor vote in the House. That threshold, however, is exceedingly high and not so different than the almost never used “Discharge Petition,” which already allows the House to force a vote if an absolute majority of 218 members sign a petition for it. [But] A democratic process should be regular order – not an act of defiance.

Indeed!

That’s why I believe Democratic Presidential primary candidates like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke (O’Rourke has been calling for impeachment just shy of a year now), along with other clear-headed legislators like Representative Al Green of Texas, and my own Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (though not for much longer as my wife and I are moving out of this congressional district) who don’t let Pelosi dictate their apparent convictions, are exceptional and worth our appreciation.

We should support more politicians like them.

Also, as suggested by Gruen, congress as a whole should vote on which bills go the floor for consideration. Why not a simple plurality?

The concentrations of power held by Pelosi and McConnell are unfair, undemocratic, and out of fashion. Giving the rest of Congress more say in things like its own legislative agenda would be a step in the right direction.

[Click here for an interesting read on the history of power growth within the position of the Speaker the Sen. Majority Leader]

Reasons to Vote for Gillibrand or Warren & Not for Biden

I can appreciate that former Vice-President Joe Biden is willing, so it appears in some respects, to speak his conscience and advocate for unpopular policy positions.

That said, his stance on abortion– upholding the Hyde Amendment (which prohibits use of federal funds for abortions with the exception of rape, incest, and the life of the mother) more specifically– troubles me.

Also, Biden recently “elicited confusion” — as The Daily Beast’s  Emily Shugerman puts it— because, before changing his official stance today, he had voiced his support for abolishing the Hyde Amendment.   

CNN’s Rebecca Buck reported by tweet today

The Biden campaign says he misheard this woman on the ropeline and thought she was referring to the Mexico City rule

(The so called “Mexico City rule,” as Planned Parenthood website explains, “prevents foreign organizations receiving U.S. global health assistance from providing information, referrals, or services for legal abortion or advocating for access to abortion services in their country — even with their own money.”)

I cannot help but wonder, is this really what Biden thought?

While I don’t mean to doubt his honesty or his sharpness of thought, I ask because I’m not sure why he thought she was referring to the “Mexico City rule.”

The ACLU activist, who goes by Nina according to the ACLU tweet sharing the video– did ask Mr. Biden rather directly, “Will you commit to abolishing the Hyde Amendment which hurts poor women and women of color?” and he really had absolutely nothing to say about this policy other than to immediately emphasize how he’s “got a near perfect voting record my entire career” and to add “Right now it can’t be, it can’t stay. Thank you,” and then he walked away.

How aware was Mr. Biden of this specific interaction, and how genuine? To me, it comes across as (though I cannot prove it is) insincere, as if he was sort of mindlessly going through the rhythms of shaking hands, saying hello, and quickly acting on hasty guesses as to what he thinks the people want to hear.

Not that this is a unique problem among politicians and not that Biden should be singled out as the only one guilty of this. Still, between the dynamics of Trump’s electoral success in 2016 for appearing “different,” and Hillary Clinton’s failure in part for seeming like more of the status-quo, one would hope Democrats and sympathetic #NeverTrumpers have learned that politics in the last few years has been changing drastically. Likewise, the kind of politicians we are in need of has been changing.

More disconcerting though than Biden’s inability to appear especially genuine and cognizant of what he’s saying and who he’s saying it to is that his belief in upholding the Hyde Amendment disadvantages women who don’t earn much income.

As the Planned Parenthood website says, “When policymakers deny a woman insurance coverage for abortion, she is either forced to carry the pregnancy to term or pay for care out of her own pocket.”

Biden’s position is thus an affront to efforts made both by women’s advancement in society and efforts to promote the well-being of the economically insecure. Moreover, along with the basic unfairness of the policy, it contradicts conventional Democratic values.

Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren are quite savvy and pro-active on this point.  Of the 20 plus candidates running in the Democratic Presidential primary, along with the 89 year old former Senator from Alaska– Mike Gravel (who is not making a substantial splash in the polls)– these two are the boldest when it comes to their protectiveness of abortion rights, making it clear that they believe it ought to be a matter of law that women be permitted to have abortions should they so choose.

In the process of evaluating Democratic candidates in the midst of this primary, Gillibrand and Warren put their exceptionalism thus far on full display. In contrast, Biden, the mainstream media sweetheart, seems to be either somewhat confused, trying too hard to play politics, or simply fails to demonstrate his awareness of the consequences of his continued support of the Hyde Amendment.

CBS’ SCOTT PELLEY: “I TRULY, DEEPLY, DO NOT CARE”; “MAYBE IT’S A GENTIC DEFECT”

I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the College Media Association (CMA) Spring National College Media Convention in Times Square, where I got to ask CBS’s Scott Pelley a few questions about freedom and bias.

The CMA describes itself on its website (http://www.collegemedia.org/site/about.html) as “the preeminent source for education and support for professionals and students engaged in creating all forms of student produced media on college and university campuses.”

Also according to the website, it was founded in 1954 and has more than 900 members.

The CMA published a program for the convention and inside that program it says they hold two annual conventions. Every Spring they hold a convention in New York City, and every fall the convention “convenes at varying sites across the country.”

One of the convention’s keynote speakers was CBS’ Evening New’s managing editor, Mr. Scott Pelley.

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Photo by Sean O’Connor 

When I got to question Mr. Pelley I mentioned some specific things that I found to be troubling that prompted me to ask my question: things such as the Washington Post article about former CBS employee Sharyl Attkisson, who resigned due to the network’s alleged liberal bias, and their alleged refusal to air certain stories on the Benghazi scandal (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2014/03/10/sharyl-attkisson-leaves-cbs-news/) , and a commentary in the USA TODAY that day on America’s drastic loss of freedom of the press. (Preserve Freedom Of The Press; Jonathan Turley; 3/13/14).

(It is worth noting that I was later told by an advisor at the convention who once interviewed President Barack Obama, that one should never ask someone in a political position to “comment” on something, because it only gives them the opportunity to dance around the issue. A point well made.)

While Mr. Pelley responded by saying “I will put The CBS Evening News- of which I am managing editor- up against any news organization, broadcast or print, when it comes to coverage of Benghazi”, and that he has been accused of having both a liberal and conservative bias, which in his opinion means he has “nailed” his interviews, he said nothing about whether or not he believed we are losing the freedom of the press.

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Photo by Sean O’Connor 

For Mr. Pelley to fail to point out that the U.S. Justice Department seized phone records of reporters and editors of the Associated Press,and seized records of Fox News phone lines, and that the FCC had planned to monitor news rooms, and grill journalists on how their organizations select news stories, and that these events are problematic, is, on his part, most discouraging, especially because he is a veteran journalist, and was in a room full of people who will become future members of the media industry.

It was also rather inconsistent with the message he began his speech with, as he spoke of how without a free press there is no democracy.

He identified the lack of free press in Syria but failed to mention a single attack on free press here in America. Considering how important the issue theoretically is to him, he should have at least raised questions: Should the government monitor news organizations?

If it does, what is the difference between news that is officially run by the state, and news which is unofficially run by the state?

Why do we call the unofficial state ownership of the press “free press”?

There is something else Mr. Pelley said, in response to another person’s question. Mr. Pelley was asked if he worries about being a tool of the government. He said he did not worry about that and then added “I don’t care whether there’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House. I don’t care which party is in the leadership, on either side of the house or senate. Maybe it’s a genetic defect that I have of some kind, but I truly, deeply, do not care. My job is to report on what those people do or say and illustrate the contrast between what they do and say.” He said he is neither a conservative or a liberal, and that he just tries to “inflict as much pain on both of them” as he “possibly can, because…that’s what journalists do.”

It is one thing for a reporter to be unbiased in his official report, and another thing for him to have an opinion. Having an opinion does not make a reporter’s report inherently biased. Injecting an opinion into a report and refusing to tell all sides of the story is biased and is essentially what we would refer to as propaganda. I wonder what Mr. Pelley would say in response that.

I also wonder: was Mr. Pelley being honest?

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Photo by Sean O’Connor

Does he just tell us what he thinks we want to hear so we’ll like him and trust him, or does he mean it when he says he “truly, deeply [does] not care” whether America is led by Republicans or Democrats?

While I wish I could speculate that by not caring, he means that he believes both the Republicans and Democrats are corrupt and he himself is an independent, unfortunately his comment that “maybe it is a genetic defect” suggests that he doesn’t think that deeply about it, and instead, considers his apparent political apathy to be just some bizarre and very paradoxical aspect of his personality.

When he said that his job is to “report what those people do and say and illustrate the difference” and that “we [at the CBS Evening News] just try to inflict as much pain on both of them as we possibly can” it comes across as impersonal, detached, and somewhat nihilistic.

What does he mean when he says he tries to “inflict pain”?

Even supposing he is speaking figuratively, it still comes across as arbitrary since he “truly, deeply [does] not care” about who is leading America, causing his projected ideal image of a journalist to look, not like a person with a moral consciousness, but rather a sadomasochist who views an interview as a means of “inflicting pain” on people merely because it is his job to do so.

A journalist should care about the state of the universe. All people should care about everything that is produced, from ideas to food.

As for journalists in particular, it should be their rational consciences that prompt them to ask the questions they ask and report events honestly. No, not all journalists have to broadcast or publish commentaries.

Perhaps some would rather let reporters report, and commentators publish and broadcast their opinions. That is fine. But all people- no matter what job they work- should most certainly analyze the news and have opinions and share them if asked and act on those opinions.

I would have loved to ask Mr. Pelley if he even votes, and why or why not, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough time for me to ask a follow up question.

As I mentioned earlier, the CMA describes itself as “the preeminent source for education and support for professionals and students engaged in creating all forms of student produced media on college and university campuses”. If the association is what it claims to be, then it should be clear to students, that above all things, they should never be politically apathetic like Mr. Pelley, because in doing so, further attempts by the U.S. government to manipulate the media would grow more and more successful, would trickle down to the college media, and reach a point where American media begins to resemble the Syrian media that Mr. Pelley rightfully condemned.