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A spot of advice on matters of state from a Brit

Empires die, America. And this is what happens to you. It’s not pretty. I’m not going to sugar coat it for you people: One second you’ll be running the entire known planet. You look away for what feels like nothing more than a decade, glance backwards and the only thing your country is left with is voicing a gecko. Laugh now, while you still can. Because I guarantee you in 20 years time, you’ll be on Chinese television selling them insurance dressed like a squirrel. — John Oliver

Liz Joyner: Glass house you live in, meet stone in your hand


The recent passage of the healthcare bill in the Senate brought with it some need-to-take-a-bath-right-now details on how the legislative “sausage” was made. Now dubbed the “Louisiana Purchase” and the “Cornhusker Kickback” by conservative commentators, two Democratic Senators (Landrieu and Nelson) seemed to have snatched possible electoral defeat from the jaws of what initially probably looked to them as consummate legislative dealmaking victories.

Whether you’re on the left or right side of the aisle, there are real signs of good news in the general public’s negative reaction to Nelson and Landrieu’s actions, most wonderfully in their home states – the people who were supposed to be delighted at the booty the Senators had brought home. Good for them.*

You would have a hard, hard time finding .5% of the population who support this sort of legislative ugliness. We should probably take a moment to revel in something that is finally bipartisan.

Moment over. Hope you enjoyed it though.

Right now “we the people” are acutely aware of the apparent failure in moral standing of our elected representatives. Half of them anyway.

We seem to be only capable of perceiving moral failure in those we disagree with. The exact behaviors that we rail on endlessly about in our political enemies get a big yawn – or even an ovation – when they’re practiced by our political allies, if we even ever perceive they’ve occurred. If we bother to see the inconsistency, we usually use an uber-rationalization for it, such as the old standby that “we” stand for goodness and light, “they” are out to get you.

So while the right is having strokes over the bad behavior of Democratic Senators, the left is having strokes over nearly identical bad behavior of Republican Senators:

Last week, after nine months, the Senate finally approved Martha Johnson to head the General Services Administration, which runs government buildings and purchases supplies. It’s an essentially nonpolitical position, and nobody questioned Ms. Johnson’s qualifications: she was approved by a vote of 94 to 2. But Senator Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri, had put a “hold” on her appointment to pressure the government into approving a building project in Kansas City.

This dubious achievement may have inspired Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama. In any case, Mr. Shelby has now placed a hold on all outstanding Obama administration nominations – about 70 high-level government positions – until his state gets a tanker contract and a counterterrorism center.

We have become a nation of people who so love the warm bubble bath of only ever perceiving things that make us feel good. And apparently hate, finger-pointing and lobbing stones from our own glass houses is really yummy feeling right now.

The tragedy here is that if we could only momentarily throw off our blinders, we’d see that we could change what none of us like by holding everyone to the same high standards. Elected officials can only play their hypocritical childish games as long as our nation is a playground full of children with no adults in sight.

It should be perfectly clear by now that we can’t wait around for our leaders to grow up. So we’d better go ahead and do it ourselves.

If we don’t like legislators holding out for home state payoffs, we’ve got to be equally offended when our “side” does it. On the day that we wake up to that reality, when the politicians hold their finger up in the wind, it will have shifted.

So often we whine that we have no power. The irony is that we have all of it.


*On a side note, there is some reporting that the Republican Governor of Nebraska asked Senator Nelson to strike this deal, who is now – in an utterly ridiculous irony – the opposition candidate who Nelson’s action has put him 31 percentage points behind in the polls.


Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. You can reach her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org

(Photo credit)

Steven Pearlstein: The myth of Washington bipartisanship and the art of true compromise

From yesterday’s Washington Post:

The only way a democratic system like ours can work is if the majority party acknowledges that winning an election means winning the right to set the agenda and put the first proposal on the table, though not the right to get everything it wants. By the same logic, if members of the minority party want to influence that policy, they have to understand that it will require them to accept some things they don’t like to get some things they do.

All this is rather elementary stuff, but trust me when I say that until recently, you’d have trouble finding anyone who seemed to understand it. For years, the reigning philosophy from both sides has been “It’s our way or the highway.” It has reached the point where people don’t know how to hammer out a compromise even when they might be so inclined, as we saw during the charade put on by the “gang of six” trying to negotiate a health-care compromise in the Senate. That dynamic is unlikely to change until the voters get so disgusted that they are willing to indiscriminately turn out all incumbents, irrespective of party and ideology. Perhaps we have finally reached that tipping point.

National Prayer Breakfast: “A prayerful return to civility”

Suggest you begin watching at 79:00, when his Village Square-ish comments begin in earnest.

What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas at all

A perfect expression of the stupidity in our politics:

“When times are tough, you tighten your belts. You don’t go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage. You don’t go blow a bunch of money on Vegas when you’re trying to save for college. You prioritize.” —Obama at a town hall meeting

After Obama’s first Vegas jab, about a year ago, Mayor Oscar Goodman (D) demanded an apology, and Reid reassured everyone in a Senate floor speech that he had spoken with Rahm Emanuel about it, and that the comments were more about executives than Vegas…then Reid proceeded to trumpet low Vegas hotel rates in the Senate chamber.

Now, Goodman (who has since left the Democratic Party to become an independent) is all over Obama again, saying that “an apology won’t be acceptable this time…

“I want to assure you when he comes I will do everything I can to give him the boot back to Washington and to visit his failures back there,” Goodman said. Obama will reportedly campaign for Reid in Nevada this month.

Reid, meanwhile, stuck up for his home state, issuing a statement that he had asked the president to “lay off” Vegas.

(Photo credit.)

Tallahassee Democrat: Peaceful Village

Remember the fracas surrounding the town hall meetings on health care? The founders of The Village Square do. Their efforts to bring together diametrically opposed ideological groups has earned a $72,000 slice of $24 million offered through the Knight Foundation’s Community Information Challenge. The money will be used to support programs that help concerned individuals follow Albert Einstein’s charge: “To the village square we must carry the facts … from there must come America’s voice.” (more…)

Today’s FSView: ‘We the People’ project wins major grant

The Community Foundation of North Florida, partnering with the local Village Square, recently received a $72,000 challenge grant to go toward renewing the dialogue regarding community issues. “The whole idea is to bring people together that don’t agree politically and bridge the partisan divide,” said Liz Joyner, executive director of the Village Square. The Knight Community Information Challenge is a highly-competitive national competition that chooses only 24 winners every year. The premise of the competition (more…)

Village Square wins highly competitive national Knight Community Information Challenge Grant

Tallahassee, Fla., – The Community Foundation of North Florida, in partnership with The Village Square, recently received a $72,000 challenge grant to revitalize the dialogue among the city’s diverse residents around community issues. The project entitled “We the People” will create a 21st Century virtual and face-to-face public square by offering unique town hall forums, in addition to constructive online engagement through a community problem-solving Wiki. The project’s goal is to renew (more…)

Real leaders consider how to minimize the coarser aspects of human nature to lead; Opportunists want to grow the coarser aspects of human nature to gain power.

George Washington was a real leader:

“One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart-burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.”George Washington’s farewell address

These days we elect a lot of opportunists.

Community Foundation and Village Square Benefit from a Knight Foundation Challenge Grant


Contact: Joy Watkins, President
Community Foundation of North Florida
(850) 222-2899 ext. 104


Tallahassee, Fla., January 13, 2010 – In a highly competitive national grant contest, the Community Foundation of North Florida is one of 24 community and place-based foundations recently selected to receive a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The grant was awarded as a part of The Knight Community Information Challenge, a five-year, $24 million initiative to help community and place-based foundations find creative ways to use new media and technology to keep residents informed and engaged.

The Community Foundation, in partnership with The Village Square, received a $72,000 challenge grant to revitalize the dialogue among the city’s diverse residents around community issues. The project entitled “We the People” will create a 21st century virtual and face-to-face public square by offering unique town hall forums in addition to constructive online engagement through a community problem-solving Wiki. The project’s aim is to renew Tallahassee’s marketplace of ideas where good solutions rise from an informed citizenship, and where abundant information can be channeled into constructive results. The grant requires a $50,000 match from our community making the total project budget $122,000.

“We thank the Knight Foundation for recognizing that access to information is essential for the quality of life in our community and for providing resources to help increase access for all citizens. Through this challenge grant contest, Knight is challenging communities across the country to respond to the changing media landscape in our communities and ensure that residents have access to information. We are pleased to be able to support Knight’s work in our community, strengthen The Village Square’s work and increase access to information for citizens in our community.” – Joy Watkins, President of the Community Foundation of North Florida.

“The Village Square is thrilled to have this opportunity to partner with the Community Foundation and the Knight Foundation. The Village Square’s mission is to encourage civil dialogue about community issues and to ensure the people of our community receive factual information about those issues. Our work is right in line with what the Knight Foundation is trying to accomplish. This grant will enhance our work by allowing us to get more information to a broader audience.” Liz Joyner, Executive Director of The Village Square.

Allen Katz co-founded The Village Square in 2006, along with Tallahassee Community College President Dr. Bill Law. “Rapid changes in the way we communicate with each other and the hyper-partisan environment nationally have left communities less able to deal with local and state issues constructively,” says Katz, a former Tallahassee City Commissioner who has been nominated by President Obama to become U.S. Ambassador to Portugal. “The best ideas in a democracy come from engaged and informed citizenship,” says Law. “This project will bring more light and less heat to problems ahead of us.”

“The social glue of communities has changed substantially over the last 40 years,” according to Joyner. “Civic clubs and service organizations used to knit us together to form a geographical community whose bond was greater than political difference. But ideology-based groups are on the rise and as a result our unique made-in-America social fabric is fraying,” says Joyner.

“We the People” will expand The Village Square programming on local and state issues through varying formats like “Dinner at the Square,” “Take-out Tuesday,” “Politics, Partisans & A Pint” and “Sunday Night Supper Club,” intentionally reviving community between people with diverse perspectives.

To compliment these face-to-face forums, the project will have an online component: A Wiki-based online problem solving tool, where neighbors can collaborate to assemble relevant facts and resources for addressing local, state and national issues. “We hope to create an online community that defies the trend toward angry likeminded groups; where people will treat each other with the same respect as they do when they see neighbors at the grocery store or at their mailbox,” says Joyner.

“This grant presents a great opportunity for our organization and our community”, says Joyner. “We have a lot of work ahead of us to raise the $50,000 match and to implement the details of the project. Our hope is that the community will rally with us to raise the matching funds and help us improve the vitality of our community by increasing access to civil and factual information in our community.”

To learn more about the project or to get involved with The Village Square, please go to www.tothevillagesquare.org or contact Liz Joyner at liz@tothevillagesquare.org or (850) 264-8785.

About the Community Foundation of North Florida
The Community Foundation of North Florida is a nonprofit public charity serving the 10 county Big Bend area by facilitating and promoting charitable giving and strengthening nonprofit organizations. The Foundation helps people give in perpetuity to their favorite charities and helps nonprofit organizations with grants, education and endowment building expertise. For more information, contact Joy Watkins, President, at jwatkins@cfnf.org or 850-222-2899 ext. 104.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote community engagement and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.


Liz Joyner: Meeting a gentleman at the knife edge of democracy

According to the National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jim Leach: “Citizenship is hard. It takes a commitment to listen, watch, read, and think in ways that allow the imagination to put one person in the shoes of another.”

While he’d be too polite to agree with me, by his own measure Jim Leach is the quintessential citizen.

We had the distinct pleasure to spend a day last week learning a thing or two about citizenship from this man who’s had a lot of practice at it, 30 years in Congress and all. Taking a page from Paul Revere – although with a gentlemanly preference toward intentionally less fanfare in the ride, possibly more of a William Dawes (who I admittedly would know nothing about were it not for Lea Marshall and Malcolm Gladwell.… bless them both…) – Leach is setting out to visit every single one of these United States to tell us a thing or two about the high bar that citizenship demands.

While he will be characteristically gentle in the telling, it just could be that a test of citizenship is coming, a test of citizenship is coming.

Leach served at a time when tense work week Congressional fights were followed by weekend signs of friendship across the aisle and probably a bipartisan backyard bar-b-que or two and then, in turn as a democracy demands, another round of philosophical fighting. He served when relationships among legislators were what Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-minded Americans is Tearing Us Apart, refers to as “cross-cutting.” These public servants could be on one “side” here and another “side” there as they went about the business of building a country (which they understood to be their job)… leaving noticeably less room for the evil “they” that seems to have so effectively eclipsed the common “we” just about everywhere these days.

Except we isn’t common at all when it’s part of “We the People,” it is something we should treat with reverence and care. According to Leach, “[c]ertain frameworks of thought define rival ideas. Other frameworks describe enemies.”

It isn’t just anybody who can commit to our historical tradition of complex cross-cutting relationships to serve a greater end. It isn’t just any country that builds itself on such a challenging principle.

There are those who are bonded to our founders because our founders were angry, chafing at authoritarian British rule for freedom.

They were.

But the big audacious and nearly-insane-had-it-not-been-so-wildly-successful essence of our founders was so much more than angry. These were men of profound ideas who believed that, despite all of human history before them, “we, the (plain old average) people” could be the boss.

They were willing to sit uncomfortably at the crossroads of ideas, where the comfort of convictions stood regularly challenged and the luxury of entirely dismissing rival ideas probably edged you a wee bit closer to being hung by the king. They had to sit at a knife’s edge, weighing one idea against another in constant struggle for excellence and results. These men had to bring their “A” game to their revolution, and indeed they did. And by challenging ideas as they stayed connected to each other, they made something magnificent.

They made America the City on the Hill in the world no matter what anyone says (thank you very much).

And it is public servants like Jim Leach who carry on their tradition. Please listen to his speech. What is 20 minutes when a country you love may depend on it?

The bad news is that “We the People” cannot be the boss if we’re unwilling to do the hard work of citizenship. The good news is that we come by it naturally.

Like riding a bicycle I hope.
Liz Joyner is the Executive Director of the Village Square. You can reach her at liz@tothevillagesquare.org

That’s only because he hasn’t funded a Village Square in every city (yet)

“On the heels of our victory over a year ago, there were some who suggested that somehow we had entered into a post-racial America. All those problems would be solved. There were those who argued that because I had spoke of a need for unity in this country that our nation was somehow entering into a period of post-partisanship. That didn’t work out… so well… “-President Barack Obama

Mary Ann Lindley: Progress calls for ‘healing language’

In today’s Tallahassee Democrat, Mary Ann Lindley writes about our Jim Leach 50-state Civility Tour lecture:

One night last week, I was inspired, however, by a small group of people who are trying to restore civility in public conversation – and therefore help us make better progress in solving our problems. Our big three, the economy, health care, war, are all stymied now by vast differences of opinion and approach – and high levels of mistrust – of each other’s ideas on how to move forward.

The Village Square, an informal civic group that’s now two years old here in Tallahassee, had invited to town former Iowa Republican Congressman Jim Leach, who is now chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Leach isn’t exactly a rock star on a world tour, but he is setting out to visit all 50 states on his mission of reinventing civility as a path to solving some of the above gargantuan problems.

It was just a few days before the earthquake in Haiti when The Nature Conservancy’s Andy McLeod, introducing Leach, spoke of avenues to progress. “Its saving grace is in a society that seeks to cultivate moral sensibility,” he said.

In its government institutions and among its citizens, progress can hardly occur without moral sensibility; that is, respect for each other.

This is notably lacking today with rancor that’s become business-as-usual and widely accepted. Spouting off is habit-forming – if even the loudest spouters realize it’s not very helpful.

Leach is mercifully self-effacing, noting that “few subjects are duller than public manners.” Yet his proposition is a simple challenge that any one of us can apply to ourselves (and our blogs): We can use words, he said, “to bring out our better angels” or we can use them dishonestly to confuse and undermine each other.

When it comes to the rivalry of ideas, Leach said, our choice is to “stir anger, polarize and compel violence” with what we say.

Or, conversely, we can use “healing language” such as Lincoln used in his second inaugural address, inspiring the nation to bind up its Civil War wounds “with malice toward none.”

Read the whole article HERE.