Archive for Media

Centrism and the Third-Party Reality

By Dana Davison

John Reisman is a conservative by definition, which he says frightens a lot of people because they misunderstand the meaning of the word. “How conservative is a Hummer?” he asks. “That’s not a conservative car. A conservative car is a Hyundai or a hybrid.” (He drives a Honda Civic.) He has friends in the military who say they hate the socialists and equate them with Democrats. Reisman likes to point out to those friends that the definition of socialism is owned and operated by the government, so they actually earn their paychecks under a socialist reality.

Reisman is methodically building the structure for a third political party that he believes will resonate with the largest swath of Americans. He registered the Centrist Party with the Federal Election Commission in 2006 and set up a website to provide the foundation. He wrote and posted five centrist editorials, and sent them to 13,000 press contacts, hoping to the change the language. He wanted to differentiate between moderates and centrists.

“We don’t need moderation, necessarily,” Reisman says. “Moderation is more malleable; it’s almost mealy. Centrism has to be about standing for tough subjects. It has to be strong.” He designed the Centrist Party on what he sees as the seven most crucial platform planks: economy, education, energy, environment, healthcare, political reform and security.

The notion of centrism is not new, but Reisman is the first to attempt establishing it as a viable third party. At the same time, he wants to protect his ideas from being misused, which makes him cautious. He won’t divulge any exact number of members, but he says that people across the country responded to the editorials and joined the party.

A recent Gallup poll indicated that 58 percent of Americans favor an alternative party, and independentvoting.org put independents at 40 percent of the electorate. Last year, a Washington Post poll found two-thirds of Americans “unhappy with the government.”

Reisman is a systems expert. He studies the ways things work, and how different parts work together. He worked on developing a new education system. He conducted research and analysis in energy-efficient urban and industrial buildings, and he was awarded a patent for his time management system. He studied engineering and worked in media production and information technology systems.

Fellow entrepreneur Amir Banifatemi says Reisman started his party as a way of focusing on common sense solutions. “His passion is solving problems,” he says. “Initially, I was looking at him as a weird person. He has so many ideas and different perspectives. As I got to know him, I realized that his mind is connecting things together like very few people can.”

Currently, Reisman is examining climate, energy, economics and healthcare systems, becoming well versed in all the pillars of his proposed party. He says he wants to apply his knowledge to the political system because it is critical to the collective future of the nation to start putting people before corporations.

“I do not believe we will be able to reverse these trends without a truly reasonable third party,” he says. For Reisman, a new party is the only way to break the gridlock between special interests, campaign influence and the resulting mediocre, ineffective legislation.

“He’s not trying to get anything for himself,” Banifatemi says, “He’s not backed by anybody. He used all his own money to do this, spent hours and nights on it, and he’s doing it alone.” He adds that Reisman, with his deep understanding of complex problems, sometimes gets too focused on solutions and has difficulty keeping it simple.

Reisman’s wife Harito, a Swiss marketing and communications specialist, explains this difficulty as related to his 160 IQ, but she says his sense of humor and comedic wit help keep it all in perspective. Reisman himself is working to make his approach more accessible.

“When you look at it from a holistic view, I mean the entire system of the political reality in America – the parent systems, collateral systems and subsystems as defined by Systems Science – everything’s intertwined; everything’s tied together,” he says. “We now have a political landscape that’s largely manipulated by legislative values, gerrymandering, media bias, profiteering and greed. All of these things are in play.”

While state ballot access, media coverage, debates and the Electoral College present obstacles for a third party, Reisman thinks the biggest challenge is making people aware enough to act. The Centrist Party is not on any state ballots yet. It would need petitions in 50 states. “It’s a concept,” he says.

The website allows membership by name and Zip code, to aggregate the districts. Once enough signatures are collected for a state, then that state can be registered with the secretary of state’s office so people can sign up for it in the next election cycle. Reisman is looking for an individual in each state to organize and set up the ballot, but he is being careful to find people truly in the center.

His caution stems from personal experience, and Reisman avoids the media for the most part. He says that candidates from both major parties lifted his material. He believes the current “media storm” makes it difficult for the public to be informed accurately and in context. “There are a lot of media biases fighting it out in the public and a lot of political biases fighting it out through the media,” he says. He wants to keep the Centrist Party out of that and keep it focused on the best ways to run the country.

As for getting into the debates, Reisman says he would have to see how things develop to that point, but that televised debates may not be so important if people are already seeing centrism as the right choice. “If they saw that the foundation work is there, and there was the notion that it is in motion, then it’s as simple as signing up on the Internet,” he says. “But for a Centrist Party to work, it has to be an intelligent and pragmatic party.”

Reisman says he is not convinced the Electoral College is as flawed as some people think, adding that it requires further investigation. He stresses that it is all about finding the right candidate. “We need candidates who are strong enough to argue for reason,” he says. “People who aren’t going to smile all time just to get people to like them. We don’t need baby kissers. We need somebody willing to look at all the exigencies of our reality and how to realistically address those.”

Although he does not intend to run for office himself, Reisman believes none of the hurdles are insurmountable, as long as the organization comes from people being aware. He put the system in place, and now the public will have to decide whether or not to mount a third-party attempt and get the Centrist Party on the ballot by 2012.

Read the Centrist Party tenets and positions at: http://www.uscentrist.org

And more John Reisman here:
http://www.johnreisman.com/bio/
http://www.ossfoundation.us/
http://www.enovant.ch/

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In the Name of Peace

By Dana Davison

Different factions refer to it as the Islamic Community Center, Cordoba Center, Ground Zero Mosque, Muslim Center or the Old Burlington Coat Factory. Each of these names might reveal a particular stance on the project officially known as Park51.

However, the debate surrounding this controversial building proposal centers not on the name but on the location. And while extreme opinions on both sides of this polarizing issue tend to garner the most attention, two women—both non-Muslim and deeply affected by September 11th—offer more nuanced and unexpected opposing views. Their beliefs put them each at odds with their peers, but they find common ground with each other on what stirred the controversy and agree on a possible solution.

Abigail Carter lost her husband in the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. She supports Park51. “I feel that any group, no matter their faith, has the freedom to exist in this country,” she says. Carter was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Toronto. She and her husband, Arron Dack, lived in London, Brussels and Boston before settling in Montclair, NJ. After her husband’s death, Carter started writing as a way to make sense of it all. She now lives in Seattle, and has contributed to Self magazine and published a book called The Alchemy of Loss.

“The mosque is not technically at Ground Zero, but even if it were, as long as it is legal in respect to city ordinances, it should not matter where it is built,” she says. “I do not hold all of Islam accountable for my husband’s death, just as I do not hold all Christians accountable for the Oklahoma bombing or all Germans accountable for the Holocaust. To me, a mosque at Ground Zero shows the zealots responsible for terrorist acts and the rest of the world what freedom and tolerance look like, and shows that we are not conquered by their acts but able to rise above them and grow stronger.”

Genevieve describes herself as an average New York lady. She has lived in the city for 25 years, working as a freelance writer and editor, and she watched the collapsed towers from her Chelsea apartment rooftop. She opposes Park51, much to the surprise of her fellow liberal friends. Because of angry reactions and a general worry of repercussions, she prefers to use a pseudonym. “I think it is inappropriate to build such a center, no matter how noble its intentions, on the site where such a huge, terrible crime was committed in the name of Islam,” she says, “even though the vast majority of Muslims find that day as abominable as anyone else.”

She points out that the old Burlington Coat factory was damaged on September 11th by part of one of the planes that flew into the towers. “That, to me, makes the location very fairly part of Ground Zero,” Genevieve says. “Opposing a location is not religious intolerance. Religious tolerance is abundantly established in this country, and the more I heard opposition to the site almost uniformly labeled bigotry, the more I felt that something very scary was happening. Calling someone bigoted is an effective way of putting a stop to a healthy discussion of anything. I do not see how building the center in another Manhattan location would ultimately hurt anyone who would want to use it.”

Carter and Genevieve have never met, but they each are taking an unusual position within their respective worlds, and both express an awareness of the other side. Carter worries about getting flack from other families affected by 9/11 who oppose it, but she says so far no one has dared to take on a widow. “I sense that the opposition is based in fear,” Carter says. “It is a fear I understand.” Genevieve is concerned that people realize there are valid reasons to oppose it, but she says, “There are also a variety of equally ugly reasons.”

From their two unique vantage points, the women concur that the media intensified the divisions. “The media fanned the flames of this issue and then the politicians jumped on board and used it to whatever advantage they could,” Carter says. “The media often plays Chicken Little with their alarmism.” Genevieve thinks most of the mainstream media labels any opposition to the project as intolerance. She points to the coverage of Florida pastor Terry Jones. “The pastor may have acted in a tasteless way,” she says, “but media outlets effectively poured gasoline on a spark and turned it into a bonfire.”

Discord about the project extends into the Muslim community, and the developers are trying to set the record straight.

For their part, prominent Muslims are divided on the project for various reasons. Journalist, author and commentator Fareed Zakaria supports Park51 on secular grounds, and Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, opposes it as insensitive. In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Muslim scholar Irshad Manji posed questions like “Will the swimming pool be segregated? May women lead congregational prayers any day of the week? What will be taught about homosexuals? Agnostics? Atheists? Apostasy? Where does one sign up for advance tickets to Salman Rushdie’s lecture?”

The Park51 website does not address these specific questions, but the developers are making their case for the center as a place of tolerance, stating in the Vision section: “Our goals are pluralism, service, arts and culture, health and healing.” And in the Mission section, the center strives to: “Encourage dialogue, harmony and respect amongst all people, regardless of race, faith, gender or cultural background.”

Although Genevieve believes the location could be easily moved out of respect since the developers still need a lot more money to make the center a reality, she also supports a proposed compromise to keep the Park51 address. Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel publicly suggested that Imam Faisal Rauf bring Muslims, Christians and Jews together to raise the money, and run it as a Center of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, united.

It may be idealistic, but then that is a quality these two women share in their agreement on a solution to end the tensions and promote healing for everyone involved. Says Carter, “I love it! What a message that would send to the world!”

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On Park51

I’m posting this email from a reader with the idea of initiating some discussion from both sides, not of the extreme but of the in-between. –HD

Dear Hope Dascher,

In watching this whole brouhaha about the Islamic Center down near Ground Zero, what strikes me about it is the way so much of the media seems determined to portray supporters for the Center as morally superior and those opposed to it as hateful and/or bigoted. There doesn’t seem to be any room for all the many ideas in between those two extremes. Recently Imam Faisal Rauf, of the proposed Center, said something that bothered me in an interview on CBS “This Week.” He said that while he hasn’t closed the door on moving the project, he fears that moving it will cause a big uproar in the Muslim world. He said:

“My major concern with moving it is that the headline in the Muslim world will be Islam is under attack in America, this will strengthen the radicals in the Muslim world, help their recruitment, this will put our people — our soldiers, our troops, our embassies, our citizens — under attack in the Muslim world and we have expanded and given and fueled terrorism.”

If that is his main concern about whether or not to move the location of the Center, it would mean that we’re held hostage to building it there out of fear that people elsewhere might be offended and therefore might cause us harm. I find that very depressing. I find hearing the word “hatred” used so easily and copiously by people in favor of the location also very depressing. Because while there’s plenty of hatred to be found in the world, I think most people who oppose the location are not doing it out of hatred at all. On the news, we see truly hateful people featured on one side, people insisting that opposing it equals religious intolerance on the other, and absolutely nothing in between. I’ve read some articles recently by Muslims on the subject, which I think are worth reading, one by Irshad Manji, director of the Moral Courage Project at NYU, in which she states that both sides have it wrong.

A Muslim Reformer on the Mosque
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703632304575451433090488678.html

Another one is by Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, in which he offers compelling reasons from a Muslim point of view for why the location is a mistake.

Muslim Scholar: Don’t Build Islamic Center
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/09/11/earlyshow/saturday/main6855993.shtml

I wonder why so many writers on “The Left” (And I consider myself an essentially left-wing thinker) want to write off any opposition as bigotry, which is a kind of bigotry in itself. I can’t imagine that anyone wanting to use the Islamic Center and all the altruistic amenities it proposes would be made to feel terrible if it were built, for example, on an empty lot I’ve passed for years on East 13th Street. By contrast, I have heard many family members of Sept. 11th victims saying it would cause them pain to have it built there, and I don’t see how allowing for that by compromising on the location is in any way indicative of the U.S. being intolerant to religious freedom. Being opposed to the building of  ”a mosque” on any site would indeed be intolerance in action, but the majority of New Yorkers, according to polls, just feel that it would be preferable to not build it there. What bothers me most is the relentless campaign from the left to brand any opposition as hatred. It makes me so sad, and to me the hatred feels palpable almost, but it’s coming from “my” side.

These are some of my thoughts. I thought you might like to post the enclosed links for your Ethical Realist readers.

– Genevieve

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Wondering: Yes, We Can or Let’s Do It

One thing I like that the President-elect and his transition team have done is to ask us, as individuals, to participate in the new government. After Tom Daschle was nominated for Health and Human Services Secretary, I received an email from John Podesta, co-chair of the Obama-Biden Transition Project, requesting that Americans hold small local gatherings to discuss a new health care plan.

“When you sign up to lead a discussion, we’ll provide everything you need to make your conversation as productive as possible… and, when it’s over, tell us how it went. The Transition’s Health Policy Team will gather the results of these discussions to guide its recommendations.”

This appealed to me, but unfortunately the program ended too soon. I was too caught up in other things to get it organized on time, but hopefully the new administration will sort through all the initial findings and do another round of Health Care Community Discussions, because it’s a good idea.

Obama’s people have been encouraging this all along, asking for more active citizen participation, and having read about the characters in Matt Bai’s book The Argument, I wasn’t surprised that someone like Podesta is behind such an innovative project.

A couple of weeks later another email arrived from Podesta. “We recently launched a new feature on change.gov called Open for Questions. Thousands of you responded, asking 10,000 questions and voting nearly a million times on questions from others.” This program continued to a second round, and I’m hopeful there will be a round three.

On New Year’s Eve, I received an email forwarding an idea someone submitted to the change.gov website. The idea was that Obama should revive the WPA-era Federal Art Project and Federal Writers Project. Another good one, and when I visited the website there were other good ideas and ways to get involved.

Last week, one more Podesta email came, this time outlining Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.

“…it’s going to take a lot of work to get the plan approved, and your involvement is essential. That’s why we asked some leading members of the Transition’s policy teams to sit down and talk a bit about it — why it’s necessary, how it will work, and how we’ll make sure it’s as efficient and effective as it is bold…”

You can see from this video clip that they really need our input!

And yesterday came an email announcing another new feature on change.gov called the Citizen’s Briefing Book, in which ideas will be rated, printed out and handed to the new President after the inauguration.

I’m glad the computer has made it so much easier to participate, through emailing and writing letters and signing petitions online. It got me questioning though how I ended up on Podesta’s email list and who else is on it. Who isn’t on it? I asked a couple of friends and they weren’t on it. How about all the people who don’t have Internet access? Where do they fit into this new model of grassroots lobbying, and is it really effective, or are we just sending our opinions into the same black hole our resumes are going into this year?

It got me wondering if the many people who don’t have Internet access will have any say in this new government, and about the people who don’t have computers. The statistics I found were from 2007, but they were telling. {America Offline… By John P. Mello Jr., TechNewsWorld 03/30/07}

Thirty-one million households were offline. More than 40 percent of households who did not have Internet service had incomes of less than $35,000, while households with incomes of $75,000 or more had non-subscription rates in the single digits. Education also played a role. More than 84 percent of non-subscribers did not have a college degree. Age was another big factor. The two age groups with the highest percentages of non-subscribers were 55 to 64 year olds, and those 65 years old or more. Twenty percent of U.S. households did not have a personal computer. With the age of digital TV approaching, and the economy tanking, I wonder how many people in these groups will be left even without basic television from which to get information.

I’d like to know if Podesta and the Obama-Biden Transition Project are also making phone calls, house calls, or passing out handbills in low-income neighborhoods or to the elderly, telling them how they too can participate and have a say. Or is this an Internet-only revolution, or some savvy marketing ploy? This remains to be seen, but to me, the more involved people are the better.

The Internet has made grassroots efforts much easier, but we still have to hold our government responsible, and we’ve not been doing that these last eight years. With a new President coming in indicating that he wants our input, we should take advantage. And it’s most important that we represent those who don’t have the Internet as a resource. It is essential that those voices are heard just as loud and clear as the rest.

As a friend said recently, “Just because it doesn’t affect you personally doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”

The first day of this new year, I went to Coney Island to protest the destruction of our beautiful rough diamond by the sea and ran into the polar bears lumbering down the beach into the water, and King Neptune on the boardwalk, which turned into an impromptu outdoor disco like it had on all those more festive occasions. The destruction of my favorite place in NYC despite much effort had me feeling quite hopeless, like nothing we do really effects change any more. But in the end, all of this has only strengthened my resolve to work more diligently toward just causes and keep trying to make a difference.

So whether answering the President-elect’s calls, spreading the message to those who might not otherwise get to hear it, signing online petitions, writing letters, making calls, marching on the streets, or starting a new political party, I’d say, start somewhere. Get up and do something to help make America a better place this year.

–Hope Dascher

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Why Huff Post Should Lay Off P-BO*

Last week on Huffington Post, I saw an article seriously questioning Barack Obama. They may have published other such missives before, but this was the first one I had seen. The Robert Scheer column expressed a few beefs with Obama’s selections for his team to get us out of the economic crisis.

Scheer wrote, “Maybe Ralph Nader was right in predicting that the same Wall Street hustlers would have a lock on our government no matter which major party won the election… how else is one to respond to Obama’s picking the very folks who helped get us into this financial mess to now lead us out of it?”

Reading that quote, I felt a little vindicated. I’m one of the 750,000 people who voted for Nader, and one of the things that earned him my vote was that he was against the bailout. And he didn’t just come out against it; he offered what sounded to me like reasonable alternative solutions. He’d been thinking about this for a long time, having predicted the housing crisis eight years ago when members of Congress laughed at him.

On opening night of the Democratic National Convention, not having realized the significance of the date and still unsure who I would vote for, I attended a benefit concert for The Living Theatre. Sitting there, I felt not so alone in my doubts about the Democratic Party. Hearing “This Land is My Land” performed by Eisa Davis and Colman Domingo of Broadway’s Passing Strange made me teary, and the performances of Nellie McKay and Justin Bond that followed blew me away. The evening was fundamentally political – The Living Theatre has been the epitome of political statement for 60 years – but it was very different from politics as usual. For that one night, surrounded by fellow outsiders, I felt part of a beautiful, happy revolution having our very own convention in NYC.

Another questioning article appeared on Huffington Post a few days ago, about how Obama’s small donor base image is a myth, as revealed by a new study conducted by the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. I had just discussed this very thing with a friend who insisted that 80% of his donations were from small donors and how important that was. Nothing I said to my friend could convince him otherwise, although the information was out there to be found if one was looking.

I find it curious that Huffington Post is only now starting to feature more prominently probing analytical stories about Obama. Why didn’t they scrutinize or report objectively throughout the election season? It seemed to me they suffered from “the bandwagon effect”, that notion among certain crowds that you absolutely must adulate Obama and loathe Sarah Palin, and anything less made you a traitor.

I’m in the comfortable position of not feeling terribly upset by anything Obama does now, because he disappointed me early on. During the campaign, I heard him offer standard-issue Democratic positions, and at times I thought he even came across rather Republican. I never saw the cool progressive change guy many of my friends seemed to see. What I saw was more of a Centrist, someone in the middle leaning liberal or conservative depending on the issue, like Bill Clinton or Rudy Giuliani.

Obama was not my choice when it came time to pull the lever, but I don’t think the people who helped elect him should be so quick to criticize him now, before he even takes the oath of office. He seems to be letting himself be guided by pragmatism, and I think Huff Post ought to give him a chance to do the job they seemed pretty partial to seeing him get.

Nader recently wrote, “While the liberal intelligentsia was swooning over Obama during his presidential campaign, I counseled ‘prepare to be disappointed.’ His record as an Illinois state and U.S. Senator, together with the many progressive and long overdue courses of action he opposed during his campaign, rendered such a prediction unfortunate but obvious.

“Now this same intelligentsia is beginning to howl over Obama’s transition team and early choices to run his Administration.”

I’m starting to get a funny feeling that by the time P-BO disappoints everyone else, I might be left liking him again, in the minority again.

– Hope Dascher

* P for President(-elect), BO for Barack Obama, a term of endearment

________

UPDATE: This week a little flurry of columns appeared on Huffington Post to criticize Obama with some pretty harsh words from a source that mostly championed him just weeks ago.

Beyond the Bailout State by Steve Fraser
“A suffocating political and intellectual provincialism has captured the new administration in embryo. Instead of embracing a sense of adventurousness, a readiness to break with the past so enthusiastically promoted during the campaign, Obama seems overcome with inhibitions and fears.”

Obama’s Uninspiring Nation by Lionel Beehner
“Still, Obama’s familiar-looking team of national security fixer-uppers does not inspire confidence. Nor do his vague answers to detailed questions on specific policies… Obama seems to think he can wish away the world’s evils with his eloquence and charm.”

Obama’s Windfall Taxes Shift: First Broken Promise
“The Obama team’s decision to drop the idea of forcing oil and natural gas companies to pay a tax on their windfall profits has caused a firestorm among liberals and small business coalitions.”

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