Chris Christie gets Village Square points: Part 2

On election eve:

"Let me tell you, if you’re looking for the candidate that you agree with 100% of the time, then I want you to do something for me tonight: Go home and look in the mirror, because that’s the only person you agree with 100% of the time. But sometimes we make political candidates feel like that’s what you want. Like you want us to agree with you 100% of the time or you won’t vote for us. You know what happens then? If you make politicians believe that, you know what they’ll do, they’ll just lie to you. They’ll just look you in the eye and they’ll say ‘hm, I wonder what she wants to hear."’..



Chris Christie gets Village Square points: Part 1

Part 2 comes tomorrow.

From last night’s New Jersey gubernatorial victory speech:

We still fight, we still yell. But when we fight, we fight for those things that really matter in people’s lives. And while we may not always agree, we show up everywhere. We just don’t show up in the places that vote for us a lot, we show up in the places that vote for us a little. We don’t just show up in the places where we’re comfortable, we show up in the places where we’re uncomfortable.



FairVote: Fixing Congress with Fair Representation Voting



Popular Science shuts down its comment thread (and why this is very important)

Science ExpressH/T to the smart people over at CivilPolitics for this news:

Today Popular Science announced it is shutting down blog comments on most articles on it’s website. The reason? Studies have shown that comments on an article not only polarize readers (same old thing we see on every comment thread) but they also change the perception of the story itself. When your topic is science, you can quickly see that conflation of scientific results and what an angry person says on a blog thread is dangerous to one of the two (like mixing ice cream and horse manure – doesn’t do much to the horse manure, but it sure does damage the ice cream). From Popular Science:

If you carry out those results to their logical end–commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded–you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the “off” switch.

Read the entire article online HERE.

And here’s a question to ponder: If we simultaneously shut off comment threads in every major publication in America, would civil discourse return to the town square? Sure, we’d all walk in mad, but we’d share a few munchies, a cup of coffee and a little bit of time with our neighbors. Might leave with a slightly different disposition…

(Photo credit)



Their Normandy Beach, Our Higgins Boats

normandy-higgins-boatOn this day seventy-two years ago, young Americans were fighting and dying on the shores of Normandy France. The soldiers made their way onto the beach that June 6th in Higgins boats, unique high-walled boats that carried 25 men, sort of a “floating boxcar.”

Conservative author Peggy Noonan wrote about D-Day, and about the Higgins boats in the introduction of her book “Patriotic Grace: What it is and why we need it now.” Noonan tells of one soldier, his fate intricately woven with the fate of the other men in his Higgins Boat, heading in high seas to a conclusion unknown… “it took [his] five little boats four hours to cover the nine miles to the beach:”


They were the worst hours of our lives. It was pitch black, cold, and the rain was coming down in sheets, drenching us. The boats were being tossed in the waves, making all of us violently sick.

Noonan reflects in the remainder of Patriotic Grace on the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in as a people today, and of the rise of the partisan hate-filled din. Says Noonan “we fight as if we’ll never need each other,” yet our very fate may depend on one another.


And so I came to think this: What we need most right now, at this moment, is a kind of patriotic grace-a grace that takes the long view, apprehends the moment we’re in, comes up with ways of dealing with it, and eschews the politically cheap and manipulative. That admits affection and respect. That encourages them. That acknowledges that the small things that divide us are not worthy of the moment; that agrees that the things that can be done to ease the stresses we feel as a nation should be encouraged, while those that encourage our cohesion as a nation should be supported. I’ve come to think that this really is our Normandy Beach… the little, key area in which we have to prevail if the whole enterprise is to succeed. The challenge we must rise to… We are an armada. All sorts of Americans, wonderful people, all ages, faiths and colors, with different skills, fabulous skills, from a million different places, but all here with you, going forward.

Like it or not, we are in each others’ Higgins boats. Our fate, almost certainly shared.

Given that circumstance, perhaps we might use today to consider how we will best keep faith with those young Americans who left their lives that day on Omaha Beach. It’s something we ought to be doing right about now.

Photo credit: Chuck Holon



In Flanders Fields, for those who served



On darkness and light on this day

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Photo credit.)



Bob Schieffer: We’ve cumulatively gone back to high school

Currently all about Bob Schieffer’s commentary from yesterday’s Face the Nation. He nailed it:

“The author Kurt Vonnegut once observed that life was more or less a replay of high school, and with every passing day, that comparison becomes more apt in describing Washington. The one difference is that high school stays in session most of the time. Yet the parallels with high school are inescapable. Just think about this: Distractions such as vanity and the mania for gossip and the short attention span that prevents focusing on problems even long enough to try to understand them. Unbridled meanness toward those who are not part of your crowd. The cliquishness that requires group think – if you don’t believe exactly what we believe you can’t be part of our crowd. We’re right, you’re always wrong, and don’t confuse us with facts. An inability to act for fear it will cause a loss of popularity…”

Read the whole commentary (Anthony Weiner’s behavior is appropriately up next) HERE.

(Photo credit: Michael Foley Photography)



Serendipity, information cocoons and our very own facts

Evgeny Morozov has a smart book review of Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble in today’s NY Times Book Review.

Not a bad time to re-run Pariser’s TED talk:



Florence Snyder: Poisoning the Press

This post is our regular weekly Purple State of Mind feature. Why not hop on over to Purple and read it there instead?

"Poisoning the Press" is a favorite fantasy of politicians caught in the crosshairs of a dogged investigative reporter. It's also the title of a new book about Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture.

The author is journalist turned media ethics professor Mark Feldstein. The storytelling skills Feldstein honed over years of Peabody and Emmy award winning reporting make Poisoning the Press a scholarly work wrapped in a rockin' good beach-read. For Village Squares trying to understand how our political culture got so ugly, Feldstein cracks the code.

Using previously classified documents and interviews with folks who were there, the author shows how Nixon and Anderson fed off each other in a twisted, mongoose-and-cobra kind of way. Nixon was obsessed with the press. He spent countless hours talking about journalists, but hardly any time with them.

Feldstein's forensic autopsy of Nixon and Anderson raises an intriguing possibility: What if Nixon had Liz Joyner and other advocates of civil discourse appealing to his better angels instead of a palace guard pandering to his paranoia? Might the two Navy veterans have come together over a burger and a baseball game? Would we have a healthier body politic today?

They would have had lots to talk about. Nixon and Anderson both grew up poor and worked like dogs for the success they craved.

The future president and the future Pulitzer Prize winner both arrived in Washington in 1947. Nixon was a newly-minted congressman and Anderson had landed a job as a legman for Drew Pearson, whose syndicated column, Washington-Merry-Go-Round, Anderson would eventually inherit.

Nixon became Bud Abbott to Anderson's Lou Costello. With no moral compass in his inner circle, straight-man Nixon would take bribes; suborn perjury and stage overseas military coups. Anderson would merrily report all of it, in close to real time.

Nixon's press paranoia grew as Anderson racked up scoop after scoop at his expense. He even toyed with the idea of having Anderson assassinated.

Feldstein concludes that Anderson's coverage of Nixon and Nixon's reaction to Anderson's coverage "has tainted governance and public discourse ever since."

The toxic legacy lives on in Florida. A recent Florida TaxWatch study found that the recession has yet to reach our state's multimillion dollar public relations payroll. TaxWatch documented that communications people out-earn police, prison guards, and social workers who risk their lives to serve and protect.

Real communications people—also known as schoolteachers—are being laid off en masse while Florida's public officials cling to their publicists like Linus to his security blanket.

Thanks to Mark Feldstein for reminding us why this worked badly for Nixon and to TaxWatch for shining a light on how his dark legacy still casts shadows in the Sunshine State.
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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com. Find more posts by Florence HERE.

(Disclosures: Mark Feldstein interned for Jack Anderson in the 1970s. Florence Snyder represented Feldstein in what were his first libel suit and her first jury trial.)



Consider the lemon tree

Recently, as he promoted his “Restoring Courage” event in Jerusalem in August, Glenn Beck recalled the moving, meaningful and important movie Schindler’s List. His guests shared stories of courage in saving lives of Jews during WWII.

The safety and security of the Jewish people and the state of Israel is one near to American hearts for deeply human and compelling reasons, even if you sidestep the loaded topic of biblical history and prophecy that Beck is invoking.

Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree tells part of the history of the Jewish people during the establishment of the State of Israel and the central conflict in the Middle East through the very personal history one home in Ramallah, built by an Arab family who was later forced by events to leave it.

It tells the story of a Bulgarian Jewish family who fled Europe after the war to Israel with nothing but the dream of returning to their ancient homeland after the horror they had endured. In the tumult of politics, people and their imperfection, Jewish families were allowed to claim homes that had been left by fleeing Palestinians.

It tells of the lemon tree planted in the backyard of this home by the Arab family who had to leave it.

The adult daughter of the Jewish immigrants who had claimed the home would consider two histories of the land many years later after having been visited by the son of the family who had built the home: "I had to acknowledge that this is my childhood home, my parents lived here until they died, my memories are all here, but that this house was built by another family, and their memories are here. I had to acknowledge absolutely all of it." The visit was the beginning of a difficult, challenging friendship between the two.

The son returned to be questioned by his family about his visit to the home they had not seen since being forced to leave:

Did the light still stream in through the south windows in the afternoon? Were the pillars on the gate still standing straight? Was the front gate still painted olive green? Was the paint chipping? If it still is, when you go back you can bring, a can of paint to make it new again; you can bring shears and cut the grass growing up along the stone lath. How is the lemon tree, does it look nice? Did you bring the fruit? Did you rub the leaves and smell them, did your fingers smell like fresh-cut lemons?

The tragedy of the Middle East is deep and wide. It has planted much hatred which has since gone to seed. The Jewish people and the Palestinian people know both the tragedy and the hatred. In time, the victim becomes the aggressor, and back again the victim in an endless spin of loss, heartache, blame, retribution, repeat.

We cannot afford to look at the situation from a comfortable vantage point – one that starts the story from the transgression that most favors “our side” and pretends that what came before doesn’t exist; ignoring facts along the way that don’t confirm our righteousness. This is not a comfortable story if you tell it truly. Telling comfortable stories only serve ultimately to accelerate tragedy.

In his presentation Beck warned, as he is prone to do, not to blur the line between good and evil. A world view that places all evil over there (whether “there” is across the street, across the aisle or across the Israeli West Bank barrier) while all goodness resides here is self-deceiving, self-serving, belies the teachings of faith and only serves to pour gasoline on what is already well beyond combustible.

And what connects us? The same thing that separates us. This land.

"Our enemy," the Jewish daughter said softly, "is the only partner we have."

This is usually true in epic, entrenched conflict… if you look closely enough to see the lemon tree.



Authentic Patriotism: Restoring America’s Founding Ideals through selfless action

Between Memorial Day and July 4th, we’ll be doing a series of posts on the concept of authentic patriotism, featuring vignettes from Stephen P. Kiernan’s book Authentic Patriotism as well as local stories of authentic patriotism (you can submit them HERE). Stephen will be our featured speaker at the June 21 Dinner at the Square (find details HERE).

Kiernan writes of the personal sacrifices made by patriots in the founding generation for their love of country. Here he writes about John Adams:

“Picture John Adams in February 1778, climbing the gangplank of a ship bound for France. He is traveling as an envoy of the colonies, at that point not a nation but rebellious subjects of Great Britain. Adams’ task is to persuade Paris to loan millions of dollars so the rebellion can pay its army and begin to build a navy. The ship he boards is not outfitted for passengers. Between rough winter seas and King George III’s mighty naval patrols, crossing the Atlantic in that era is more dangerous than parachuting from a plane today. His only companion is his son, John Quincy Adams. John the elder will not see his wife for eighteen months, his personal finances are a mess, and he may die from British cannons on the sea. He goes anyway.”



Florence Snyder: Pot, kettle, Ed Schultz

Radio and cable talk show host Ed Schultz calls himself “The Nation’s Number 1 Progressive Voice.”

This week, he progressed to the Misogynist Hall of Fame with his radio reference to fellow opinionator Laura Ingraham as a "slut." Schultz managed to use the word twice in one sentence, which is one time more than would have gotten past the Village Square Civility Bell.

Impulse control is not one of Schultz's strengths. Last summer, the New York Post reported his meltdown in the [MSNBC] 30 Rock newsroom. Schultz was enraged that the marketing folks ran commercials that he wasn't in. When his huffing and puffing failed to win hearts and minds, he slammed down the telephone and shouted, “I’m going to torch this [bleep]ing place.”

White men with microphones have likewise been on the receiving end of Schultz verbal violence.  According to The Post, Schultz œonce told White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, ‘You’re full of [bleep].’ And after Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck revealed a condition that may make him go blind, Schultz said, “It’s a travesty he’s not going to see the country he’s trying to destroy.”

The working people Schultz claims to champion would be fired from their factories, fast food restaurants and offices if they acted nuts and uncorked about "sluts."  But Schultz seems to have a license to behave like a bad-tempered seventh grader. Following his Monday dump on Ingraham, MSNBC brass huddled for two days and emerged with this statement:

MSNBC management met with Ed Schultz [Wednesday] afternoon and accepted his offer to take one week of unpaid leave for the remarks he made yesterday on his radio program. Ed will address these remarks on his show tonight, and immediately following begin his leave. Remarks of this nature are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Accepted Schultz’ offer?  Really?

Call it zero tolerance, Orwell-style.

Schultz won't miss a week's pay, and it sounds like he could use a few days to chill out, but it will be a long time before anyone takes his “civility” lectures seriously.

MSNBC’s slogan is “Lean forward.”  It did….and spit straight into our eyes.

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Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com

(Photo credit, Schultz pictured with Ingraham: Dan Patterson)