Promoting a Caring Society

It is easy to focus on what is wrong in the world. But sometimes people and even nations get it right. We should learn from their stories.

DenmarkThis morning I listened to the rebroadcast of an inspiring documentary on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition on how elderly people with dementia are cared for in Denmark.  It has won several major awards since its original broadcast. With so many pressing human needs in society it is worth celebrating simple, practical and humane solutions when we find them.

Here is part of the opening introduction to this documentary:

Denmark looks after its old people.  Lotte, the most famous nursing home in the country, has become an international shrine for anyone seeking another way … a happier way … to make a life for people with dementia.  Lotte is a big old brick house on the west side of Copenhagen, where 23 men and women live like a family.  Seventy per cent of the family has dementia.

Denmark – like every other country in Europe – is in an economic squeeze. Yet Lotte is fully funded and fostered by the Danish government.  The underlying philosophy of elder care is well rooted.  Every man or woman, no matter how ill, or how old, has the right to choose how they want to live.

No one wants to see mum or dad  – or to imagine themselves – strapped down to a bed in a locked dementia ward – chemically warehoused.  But in North America, the choices are limited.  Which is why the world looks to Denmark — where it is illegal to imprison people with dementia in locked wards; where nursing homes regularly take their people on holiday, and where people with dementia are asked what they want to do today.

You can download the 30 minute radio documentary here [click on the button below the picture marked “Listen”]. It may really brighten your day.


7 Traits of the Politics of Fear

Americans are increasingly fearful. They fear the unpredictable acts of terrorists. They fear their neighbours and have armed themselves for protection in record numbers. They fear infringement on their individual freedoms. They distrust their political leaders. They distrust government itself. Some are even drawn to conspiracy theories involving plots by surreptitious extra-governmental and global networks.

Particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Americans have been immersed in a climate of fear, with continual reinforcement of this theme. This climate of fear in America is pervasive. It is echoed in the news media, in Hollywood films, and in the halls of government itself.

Here are 7 important things to know about the politics of fear.

1.   The politics of fear is not new.

nazi-swastika-badgeThe Nazis knew how to politicize fear back in the 1940s. Herman Göring, founder of the Gestapo, stated

The people don’t want war, but they can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.

2.  Fear is a powerful political tool.

Zbigniew Brzezinski DePauw 1Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as National Security Advisor to Jimmy Carter, stated

Constant reference to a “war on terror” [by the Bush administration] stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.

3.   Fear is built on fantasy.

The Power of NightmaresIn the opening to the documentary mini-series, The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (2004– ), the narrator states:

Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to protect us: from nightmares. They say that they will rescue us from dreadful dangers that we cannot see and do not understand. And the greatest danger of all is international terrorism, a powerful and sinister network with sleeper cells in countries across the world, a threat that needs to be fought by a War on Terror.

But much of this threat is a fantasy, which has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It’s a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services and the international media.


4.   Fear generates bad decisions.

national-capitol-washington-dcFear needs a definable enemy and a constructed narrative. This narrative may take the form of an imagined conspiracy or imminent threat. Focusing on the fantasy rather than on reality diverts the public’s attention from the real issues that should be dealt with. As Steve Benen recently noted in his blog article “Tinfoil Hats, Black Helicopters, and the Politics of Paranoia,”

We couldn’t pass a [UN] disability treaty because [certain politicians] believed conspiracy theories. We can’t address global warming because [some politicians] believe the entirety of climate science is a giant conspiracy. We couldn’t pass bipartisan health care reform in part because [some politicians] were too heavily invested in the “death panel” conspiracy theory.

5.   Fear is captivating.

newspaper-headlinesMedia personalities like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh regularly stoke public fears on their talk shows and have huge audiences. In the words of Danah Boyd,

Fear-mongerers leverage our willingness to pay attention to fearful stimuli in order to generate attention. A fearful newspaper headline captures people’s attention. This draws people into paying attention to the newspaper as a whole, which is precisely the intention of headlines. Likewise, when TV anchors are spouting off fearful information, people are far less willing to turn the channel.

6.   Fear leads to social disintegration.

gunLast week Farleigh Dickenson University released the results of a national survey of registered voters in the U.S. which found that “29 percent of Americans think that an armed revolution in order to protect liberties might be necessary in the next few years, with another five percent unsure.” (18% of Democrats held this view compared to 44% of Republicans.)

7.   Fear is profitable (for some).

department_of_homeland_security_sealsvgIt was recently reported that America has spent $791 billion on “homeland security” since 9/11. According to The New York Times, within 3 years after the Department of Homeland Security was set up at least 90 officials who had worked there or at the White House had already found work in the private sector as “executives, consultants, or lobbyists for companies that collectively do billions of dollars’ worth of domestic security business.” This past weekend USA Today reported that “firearms and ammo sales have surged to record highs after the December tragedy in Newtown reinvigorated debate about gun control.” Also this past weekend the National Rifle Association held its annual convention this past weekend in Houston, Texas. It reported an 86% increase in new memberships and upgrades, a 54% increase in NRA store sales and the largest attendance ever.

Overcoming Fear

Americans live in a pervasive culture of fear. But it need not be so. Fear is paralyzing rather than empowering. Fear focuses on weaknesses rather than strengths. Fear makes people defensive rather than providing confidence. Fear divides people instead of uniting them around a common purpose. Fear focuses on problems rather than striving for solutions.

f-d-roosevelt-1Eighty years ago, at the height of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave us these memorable words:

Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

People can resist the politics of fear. They can see beyond its illusion, its fabrication, and its captivating allure. Fear is the problem, not the answer. Courage, determination, and hope are the solution. Fear is but the enemy.

Republicans and the Millennials

Reince_PriebusRepublican self-confidence was severely shaken in the wake of the Party’s losses in the lection last fall. As Party Chairman Reince Priebus stated  at the National Press Club Breakfast last month,

When Republicans lost in November, it was a wakeup call.

In response, Preibus commissioned what he referred to as the “most comprehensive post-election review in the history of any national party.” It resulted in a 98-page long Growth and Opportunity Project report released last month. Among its admissions:

Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive.

Focus groups described our party as “narrow minded,” “out of touch,” and “stuffy old men.”

Opinions differ on whether the Republican Party is up to the challenge of effectively reaching out to the voting sectors that largely went to Barack Obama in the election, namely young voters, young women, blacks and Latinos. The challenge will be especially difficult as Republicans attempt to reach out to younger voters.

Yesterday I came across a very insightful blog by Chad Kolinski posted on Chad belongs to the millennial generation. He describes himself as a political moderate and articulates a message that reflects the views of many other millennials.

Millennials Will Be 40 Percent Of the Electorate By 2020

millennialsWe are the millennials. We are Generation Y. We are the 95 million Americans born between the late 1970s and the early 2000s. We are America’s largest age demographic, we are growing, and we are the future of this great nation. According to The Center for American Progress, by 2020, there will be 103 million of us: 90 million of which will be eligible voters, representing 40% of the electorate. In the landmark 2012 election, for the first time in the history of the United States, more millennials voted than senior citizens.

President Obama successfully won our demographic by large margins in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. In fact, in 2012, President Obama received about 5 million more votes from 18-29 year olds than his Republican challenger Mitt Romney did. Just by looking at these figures, it is safe to say that the candidate who wins the millennials wins the election.

The new, perpetual presence of millennials within the electorate is an extremely important concept that will dictate the future of our nation. We, the millennials, need to grasp how significant the opportunity that lies before us is. We need to wake up and understand the undeniable potential for change our generation can bring about.

We are a radically different generation compared to the Baby Boomers or even Generation X. We are the first generation to grow up in a globalized world and to experience the political, social, and economic transformations brought about by the internet. Most importantly, our generation understands that change is unavoidable, a necessity, to remain relevant within the modern world.

Unlike past generations, we do not partake in the nostalgia of “traditional America values” because American values have been evolving our entire lives.  We look back at the 20th century to see what made our country great, and then look ahead to the future for ways to make our country even greater.

Our familiarity with change and the lack of traditional ideology allow millennials to offer new common sense solutions to our nation’s problems. We understand the need to reform entitlements because the looming burden of retiring Baby Boomers ultimately falls upon us. We see the need to alter our bloated defense spending because taking care of our battle weary veterans and defending against cyber warfare are a greater priority than creating surpluses of fighter jets.

We take a progressive approach in promoting green energy, investing in schools, and supporting government’s role in society. And yet, we do not want the federal government making decisions that should be left to the states, such as the legalization of marijuana, and most recently, gay marriage.

The topic of gay marriage is a surprisingly accurate gauge of where our country stands, and in what direction it is headed. Within the next few weeks the Supreme Court will likely either throw out, or make significant changes, to key anti-gay marriage legislation. In 1996, when DOMA was signed, many argued same-sex marriage was morally wrong and had to be prevented at all costs. Today, over half of the nation believes gay couples deserve the right to marry.

This is attributed, in large part, to the influence of us, the millennials. Seventy-three-percent of 18-29 year olds support gay marriage, compared to 39% of those aged 65 and older. Some surveys even show figures of millennials supporting gay marriage in ratios greater than 4:1. Last week, Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a potential 2012 vice presidential nominee, declared his support for same sex marriage. The national conversation is changing on both sides of the aisle — and millennials are leading the way.

Our generation is finally finding its voice in American politics. The 2012 election was the 3rd straight election in which more than 50% of eligible millennials voted. As we continue to get out and vote, we will elect representatives who embody our generation’s hopes and dreams. The number of millennials in Congress increased 3% from the 112th Congress to the 113th Congress. Today, over 35 house representatives are under the age of 40. These trends will only continue to grow in 2014, 2016, and beyond as our generation becomes more politically active and aware.

Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress should take heed of this coming shift.  The refusal to reform entitlements, change our tax code, or invest in our future will not go over easy. If both parties do not pay attention to the changing political tides, then it is all to likely that we just might put an end to this defunct two party system and create a party of our own. When Congress kicks the can down the road, it lands squarely in our laps — if Washington cannot solve our nations problems, then we millennials will find representatives who will.