Category Archives: Civil Discourse

God Bless the CWA

April 8, 2011

God bless the CWA. One of the great benefits of living in a university town is the infusion of wisdom and controversy waves of young minds and somewhat older professors wash over us each year. The CWA brings this intellectual cross-pollenization to a head. The most wondrous aspect of the sessions is the audience. In the journalism session I attended on Wednesday (“Long Live the News”), 20% appeared to be students and the remainder constituted a robust cross-section of Boulder’s other residents. I may have to start reducing my commitments during CWA, because the quality of the presentations and the subsequent questions and answers was at the highest level.

“News” is flowing towards us in an ever-growing torrent. Our job, if we choose to accept it (and heaven help us, if we don’t), is to develop Great American Readers and Listeners. Skepticism must always exist in response to a pay-to-play news cycle. Wire services have been steadily pumping stories out since the early part of the last century. The blogosphere is doing the same thing, but at drinking-out-of-a-fire-hose speeds and volume. WE must apply the filters and slow down our “judgment cycle” as the news cycle speeds up.

Some commentators do more old-fashioned journalism than the anchors from other outlets, correcting misinformation, revealing biases, learning from real experts, and placing actual facts in play. Other “affirmation-type” journalists eschew consistent accuracy, compelling prose and thoughtful analysis. We must find ways to feed the former and starve the latter, before it’s too late.

OSMP West TSA Process

February 12, 2011

This is a tough one, made exceedingly tougher by procedures that encourage organizations to be formed to “fight” for members with bikes, dogs, walking shoes or an abiding love for woodland creatures. Instead of discussing how to balance all these legitimate interests, we seem to have orchestrated a demolition derby where everyone sustains damage and no one emerges as a “winner.”

Perhaps, the perception of carnage is derived from the interest group representing organizations whose institutional purpose may be better-served by crying “foul” than by a willingness to compromise. However, another possibility is that our open space decision-making process has historically demonstrated a tendency to respond to the loudest or last voices heard. It may be that the loudest and last voices heard fully and accurately represent majority viewpoints in our fair city and, despite the fact full-throated democracy is a contact sport, our past decisions got it right in the end. If so, there is no escaping these master plan update soul-searching, mind-numbing, patience-testing forays.

I wonder, though, how much of the heat is generated by managing public access to our open space so as to prevent the harm done by 5% of the users who don’t seem to have a clue – whether on foot, with dog, or on a bike – concerning how to behave in mixed company. We should manage for the 95% and, whether due to ignorance or a conscious disregard for the experiences sought by others, develop effective ways to educate or banish the rest.

Citizens United Slam Ads

October 16, 2010

Money may not be the root of all evil, but it sure is threatening to destroy our democracy. There is a limited supply of broadcast minutes for television and radio advertising. The bandwidth for voices heard “in the public square” should not simply go to the highest bidder.

At the very least, the purveyors of political sleaze should be prohibited from operating behind a veil of contributor secrecy. Corporate deep pockets have the potential to suck all the oxygen out of the room, leaving no affordable ad time for dissenting points of view. And boy, howdy, aren’t they trying hard to do it during this, their first untrammeled opportunity?

Based on the current crop of corporate-funded attack ads, the focus group-tested slams and carefully chosen background musical themes have taken fear and loathing to new and unsightly depths. The cringe factor is ginormous. However, mindful of its own bottom line, reliable, balanced truth-parsing by the media rarely occurs. Even when ads have been outed as particularly egregious smears, they continue to run if the checks clear. No holds barred.

Ultimately, I trust the American people to grasp the resulting skew and adapt their voting patterns to correct for it, but we are headed into the rapids, rough waters to be sure, in the near term. Difficult decisions with complex trade-offs must be made correctly, and with some urgency. In a fragile and hostile world, concerned citizens seeking to govern themselves wisely are ill-served by this collossal waste of financial resources.

Seth Brigham, Redux

Seth Brigham, Redux
September 25, 2010

‘Tis a challenge to find 250 more words to write on this arguably unworthy subject. Isn’t all the attention going to encourage or enable similar behavior? Not to mention the cold, hard cash. Do we really want Council’s public comment period to become the City of Boulder’s “Gong Show” (apologies to Chuck Barris)?

The premature “hook” of Mr. Brigham is apparently going to cost “us” $10,000. What would have been “price-less” is waiting a few additional seconds to see whether Seth might remove his skivvies, thus committing an actual code violation; or, his three minutes having been exhausted, whether Seth would be content to simply leave the stage wearing fewer clothes than when he started.

Let’s be honest. Boulder’s citizenry are a creative lot. Anticipating every behavior that might be conjured up by one of our own is well nigh impossible at a public hearing, where passions have occasionally been known to run hot. Thus, patience is proved yet again to be a virtue. Instead of, “Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200” (apologies to Parker Brothers), we pay $10Gs. We ought to be able endure for three minutes or less almost any combination of words and actions. We do it on the Downtown Mall all the time, don’t we?

There are victims of city mistakes who are far more deserving, but the City has told them, “times are tough; we’re sorry, but we just don’t have the money.” This case settlement would suggest otherwise.

Negative Campaign Ads Are Destroying America

August 14, 2010

Will there ever again be a political campaign that stays on the high road instead of wallowing in the gutter? Are ads featuring character attacks, mudslinging and sneering innuendo the only ones that work? Do the ends justify the means (and the absurd amount of money spent polluting our airwaves)? I don’t think our republic can survive these scorched-earth tactics.

I think Bennett could have defeated Romanoff by an even greater margin had he not spent so much money painfully trying to pillory Romanoff for taking PAC money in the past, but we’ll never know. If PAC money is a bad thing, and Senator Bennett is accepting it, how does it help his cause to accuse his opponent of taking it, too? He’d have been better off sticking with the high road and the ad featuring his cute daughters (“that’s hard to say”).

The McInnis-Maes race was an even more astounding spectacle. Personal integrity matters and unbridled ambition stinks, which provides some relief, but what’s a voter to do? I’ll tell you what they did. They didn’t vote. 19,341 Republicans who voted in the Senate race did not vote in the governor’s race on the same ballot. 47.6% of registered Republicans voted in the Senate primary, while only 41.4% of Democrats did.

Driving voters out of the process with money-squandering negative campaign ads may be a “winning” strategy, but it’s destroying America. Absent civil discourse, the ability to govern is lost. If we’re not there yet, we’re perilously close.

The Audacity of “Nope”

March 27, 2010

Can the Republican Party’s Audacity of “Nope” strategy succeed? At what point will the American people, a vast majority of whom – including myself – would prefer bipartisan cooperation, hold the Republican Party accountable for adopting their just say “no” tactical approach? As the Republican Party drifts further to the right, inexorably drawn in that direction by the most vocal elements in their base, will Republican moderates survive the Party’s primary culling process? If they don’t, can the hard-right winners prevail over Democrats in November?

The Democrats have primary litmus tests of their own, wielded by their most vocal activists, progressives sorely disappointed by the lack of a public option in the health care bill. If hard left candidates run against hard right candidates in the fall, what will moderate and independent voters do? Stay tuned . . .the answer to this question may determine the future of our republic. However, patience, length of memory and depth of understanding are all characteristics for the possession of which voters as a group are not generally renowned.

From a hope-diminishing morass of opposition party obstructionism and majority party lack of discipline, plus procedural maneuvering aimed at exploiting both, President Obama and Democratic House and Senate leaders rescued the Senate health care bill, and eliminated the worst amendments added to secure 60 votes. As the many benefits of health care reform roll out over the next two election cycles, they must help strengthen the economy first and foremost. Here’s hoping . . .
Ed Byrne,

bipartisan support
As a member of the “obstructionist, hope diminishing morass of opposition party” I would like to respond to Ed Byrne (Editorial Advisory Board, March 27). Reasonable people of opposing points of view can, and should, agree that the manner in which Obama Care became law was appalling. It is true that the legislation does not have bipartisan support — despite the fact that the president`s platform of hope and change promised us “an end to partisan politics as usual in Washington.”
People could use some help in understanding how the president might get bipartisan agreement on a piece of legislation that bitterly divides the country. Let me start with examples of how not to gain bipartisan support:
1. Exclude members of the minority party from committees drafting the legislation. 2) Write legislation that guarantees no minority party support. 3) Have a nationally televised summit to hammer out differences between the two parties, including the president, speaker of the house, senate majority leader and vice president and make sure that their facial expressions convey their disdain, contempt and boredom for the minority party`s ideas. 4) Remind the minority party that their vote is not necessary to passing the legislation. 5) When the filibuster-proof majority is lost in the Senate, threaten to use the reconciliation process to pass the legislation anyway. 6) Vote down each and every amendment offered by the minority party to eliminate the need to send the bill back to the House. 7) Have the speaker of the house say on national television that the bill will have to be signed so that people can read it. 8) Have the president fill a budgetary shortfall of $38 billion in the legislation by seizing control of the student loan program. 9) Have the legislation be extremely unpopular with half the country and vilify the opposing half with derision. 10) Have the legislation be unconstitutional.
One final point, economic literacy is very useful when reordering one-sixth of the economy. Passing this legislation the same week that, shocking, the Social Security program announced that it is now distributing more money in benefits than it receives in contributions, should give everyone who supports this legislation pause when trusting the government to compute anything accurately. According to Ed Byrne, my lack of understanding and bad memory will guide my vote in the fall. Well — we shall see what we shall see.
trappist99 65p · 7 hours ago
“an end to partisan politics as usual in Washington.”

The development of the health care bill was left to the Congress& Senate of a full year.
Republicans were so intent on winning their self declared war (they claimed it would be Obama’s
Waterloo) and the Democrats were so weak, compromising and selfserving the entire year was
nearly wasted.

It was only when Obama gave in and personally steered the compromised legislation thru, using rules
which previous Republican regimes had also used, that any progress was made at all.

Republicans have no intention of breaking their own model of partisan politics, they have stated they will not participate in governing the country till the election. Democrats must understand they cant reach agreement with a party that has explicitly stated it wont cooperate. Olive branches, such as the recent relaxation of drilling regulations, will be ignored.

To Katie Lehr and the Teabag Republicans…… stop whining and grow up, you are gaining nothing but the contempt of the overwhelming majority of moderates.

Lincoln Republicans! are you happy being associated with these nuts? Say something!

Holier Than Thou?

Holier Than Thou?
March 13, 2010

What Would Jesus Do? I think He would be delighted to teach these children. I doubt it would even be a close call. “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them.” Luke 18:15-17. “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Matthew 7:1. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” John 8:7. “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:5. “Right now three things remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13.
Continue reading Holier Than Thou?

No Harm, No Howl

February 27, 2010

“No shirt, no shoes, no ‘sermon?'” At this point, I’ll bet everyone who was in Council’s chambers Tuesday night wishes Seth Brigham had been given his 3 minutes, because the resulting exposure (pun intended) just might have everyone disrobing for the next City Council meeting. I suppose it is a good thing that Council will now have carefully crafted procedures to handle the next person who seeks to speak in their skivvies, but we really do have more important matters to address this year.

I hope we don’t spend too much time carving out First Amendment exceptions to avoid comments that might hurt a councilor’s feelings or breach civic decorum in some other “personal” way. Give a clear warning, threaten removal if need be, and then follow through. But remember the “sticks and stones” rule: “names will never hurt me.” Council members ought to be able to survive 3 minutes of ill-conceived diatribe, even if it’s rude, insensitive and demeaning, without permanent harm.

Don’t get me wrong, they clearly don’t deserve it – Lord knows theirs is a thankless, poorly compensated “job” for which they deserve our thanks, not our brickbats. However, uncivil discourse almost always says more about the speaker than the accused. The audience can keep score pretty easily. Let’s not sternly manage Council meetings to prevent 1% from getting away with behavior that 99% of our citizens would never even consider doing. After all, such moments can be quite “revealing.”

The Demise of Democracy

December 19, 2009

Can democracy function in a scorched podium, shout radio, flaming cable, bumper-snicker world? The evidence from 2009 has me wondering. Despite losing in 2008, the Republican Party has elected to sit this year out. No new policies (the old ones worked, dammit!). No consensus-building. No offers of compromise. The theory seems to be, “if we can make the president fail, we’ll win in 2010.” All hands on deck? That’s for the other guys . . .

Of course, Democrats can’t holster their weapons either, but they save most of their bullets for each other.

On both sides of the aisle, the real conflagration occurs during primaries, where a diminishing number of the unyielding party faithful litmus test their own sacrificial lambs. In 2008, President Obama energized independents with his fight for hope, but the Republican rope-a-dope strategy seems to be working. Here’s an example:

On Wednesday, to secure one more vote for the (eviscerated) health care reform bill, Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) was allowed to introduce his single payer alternative plan. A Republican senator exercised his prerogative and insisted the 767-page proposal – with no hope of passage – be read aloud to the empty chamber. After three hours, Sanders withdrew the bill. Whereupon, Republicans accused Democrats of trampling on Senate procedure, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared this incident proves Democrats will do anything to “jam through a 2,000 page bill before (anyone) has a chance to read it.”

Is anybody watching? Does anybody care? I hope so.

We Should Elect Boulder’s Mayor

November 7, 2009

When I moved to Boulder in 1981, city council elections were a revelation: pick 5-6 winners from among 12-15 candidates? Cool. I’d look at the members who had 2 more years, then cast all my votes on a group of candidates I thought would fill in the missing community DNA. I’d vote for Spence Havlick and Bob Greenlee because both viewpoints deserved a place at the table. “Bullet-voting” was unheard of – you balanced your own ticket and figured everyone else would, too, so a representative sample would be chosen.

This year, 18,535 ballots were cast by Boulder residents (a 29% turnout), generating 75,114 “votes,” which equates to about 4.05 votes per ballot. This means very few voters wandered off their respective reservations to cast 5th votes. Macon Cowles received 7,749 votes and KC Becker received 7,719 votes. Barry Siff’s 177 and 245 vote edge over Tim Plass and Jyotsna Raj, respectively, are another indication that our two “core” constituencies are roughly equal at a secondary (down-ballot) level of 7,000 votes.

8 of our 9 current City Council members received fewer than 10,000 votes apiece – 10% of our population; 15% of our registered voters. Who represents a majority of Boulder’s citizens? Who knows? But there’s no shortage of folks claiming the mantle. We should elect our Mayor. Then there would be at least one person in town who really could say they represent Boulder, and the runners-up would reveal the relative size of our other points of view.