The Democracy Hour with Tom De Luca

Every Tuesday Evening: 8-9PM

The Democracy Hour is a weekly internet radio program that features intelligent discussion, dialogue, and debate on issues of concern to those who care about democracy–in America and throughout the world.  It creates a safe-haven for reasonable discussion and analysis so we can find out what is going on in today’s world.

But the Democracy Hour’s has a point of view. When its host, Tom De Luca, thinks something is wrong–or right–he’ll say so.  So while we hope you will feel good listening to the show, it’s not just another feel-good show. While we respect all reasonable opinions, we try to get the answers right. The issues we face are just too important.

Join us every Tuesday Evening, from 8-9PM, for an hour reserved just for democracy: The Democracy Hour.

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The Next Show, Tuesday 8PM

The next show will be on Tuesday, May 10 at 8PM

Topic: Global Warming with Special Guest Michael Oppenheimer

To Listen Live: Click here.

Guests:

Michael Oppenheimer is the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University. Professor Oppenheimer joined the Princeton faculty after more than two decades with The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), where he served as chief scientist and manager of the Climate and Air Program. He continues to serve as a science advisor to EDF. Professor Oppenheimer is a long-time participant in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, serving recently as a lead author of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report and now as a coordinating lead author of the Fifth Assessment Report, as well as, a special report on climate extremes and disasters.
Dan Ferber is a Journalist who covers science, technology, health, and environmental issues.  He is a co-author of the recent and already acclaimed book, “Changing Planet, Changing Health: How the Climate Crisis Threatens Our Health and What We Can Do about It,” which focuses on how climate change is altering patterns of disease, such as the links between global warming and cholera, malaria, Lyme disease, asthma, and other health threats.

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Listen Live!

If it’s Tuesday at 8PM you can Listen Live to:

The Democracy Hour with Tom De Luca

To Listen Live: Click Here

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Upcoming Shows

The next show will be on Tuesday, May 10 at 8PM

Topic: Global Warming with Special Guest Michael Oppenheimer

To Listen Live: Click here.

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Past Shows

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Scroll Down for Past Shows

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May 3: After Graduation: What’s Next in Today’s World for College Grads?

–a conversation with Fordham graduating seniors about their future

To Listen Now Click here

On this show we talk to Fordham University International Studies majors Sali Salfiti and Lucas Reckhaus, and Art History majors Kseniya Ignatova and Elle Mellor about their college experience and what’s next as they get set to graduate later this month.

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April 19th: Nuclear Power and Our Energy Future

To Listen Now Click here.

In light of the tragedy in Fukushima, Japan, on this show Leslie Kass and Robert Alvarez discuss and debate the viability of nuclear power as a safe and efficient source of energy for our future.

Leslie Kass is the Senior Director for Business Policy and Programs at the Nuclear Energy Institute. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) is the policy organization of the nuclear energy and technologies industry and participates in both the national and global policy-making process. Its objective is to ensure the formation of policies that promote the beneficial uses of nuclear energy and technologies in the United States and around the world.

Robert Alvarez is a Senior Scholar at Institute for Policy Studies, where he is currently focused on nuclear disarmament, environmental, and energy policies. He served for five years as a Senior Investigator for the U. S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs While at the Department of Energy from 1993 to 1999, he: coordinated the effort to enact nuclear worker compensation legislation; led teams in North Korea to establish control of nuclear weapons materials.  Bob was awarded two Secretarial Gold Medals, the highest awards given by the department.

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April 12: Budget Wars: The Politics and Economics of the Budget Battles in Washington

To Listen Now: Click here.

Guests: David Gold and Christina Greer

On tonight’s show we discuss the economics and politics of just what is really going on in the often mind-numbing and mundane world of budget making.

David Gold is an economist and Associate Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School. Prior to joining the New School faculty, he spent fifteen years in the United Nations Secretariat. He holds a PhD. in Economics from the City University of New York.

Christina Greer is an assistant professor of political science at Fordham University -Lincoln Center campus. Her research and teaching focus on American politics, black ethnic politics, urban politics, quantitative methods, and public opinion. She is currently working on a book called, Shared Dreams, Different Visions: Black Ethnicity in America, and received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University.

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Tuesday, April 5: Military Intervention: Libya and Beyond

To Listen Now: Click here.

Guests: Phyllis Bennis and Melissa Labonte

On this show we analyze and evaluate the current military intervention in Libya and ask: is military intervention in a nation ever justified, under what circumstances, and under whose auspices?

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.  She works with US and global peace and occupation movements, and her books include Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer, and Challenging Empire: How People, Governments and the UN Defy U.S. Power.

Melissa Labonte is assistant professor of political science at Fordham University. She has conducted research on agenda-setting and the politics of consensus building in the office of the United Nations 63rd General Assembly President, Fr. Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann. Labonte’s publications include “Same Car, Different Driver? The Impact of Peacebuilding ‘Partnerships’ and the Chiefdom System in Sierra Leone,” and “Human Rights and Peacebuilding,” in the Encyclopedia of Human Rights published by Oxford University Press.

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Tuesday March 29th at 8PM:

The Other Nuclear Danger: Nuclear Weapons

To Listen Now click here.

Guest: Aaron Tovish
Director, 2020 Vision Campaign
Mayors for Peace

With almost three decades of experience, Aaron Tovish is one of the world’s foremost disarmament activists. The Euro-American has worked for numerous non-governmental organizations. During 17 years with Parliamentarians for Global Action, he was responsible for its peace and security programs. He has consulted for Greenpeace, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the Swedish Foriegn Policy Institute, NGO Committee for Disarmament in Geneva, and the Middle Powers Initiative. Aaron Tovish made significant contributions to a number of successful disarmament campaigns, including the Six Nation Initiative for Peace and Disarmament, the convening of the Partial Test Ban Treaty Amendment Conference in 1991, and the strengthening of the NPT review process in 1995. He has served as Director of the 2020 Vision Campaign of Mayors for Peace since 2004.

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Tuesday March 8th at 8PM:

Iran Today: A Conversation with Ervand Abrahamian

To Listen Now click here: Iran Today: A Conversation with Ervand Abrahamian

Revolution is sweeping the Middle East. With tenuous success so far in Tunisia and Egypt and a minute by minute struggle for power in Libya two almost contradictory questions help form the background for these events: will these revolutions go the way of Iran? Will these revolutions spread to Iran?

To understand these and other critical questions it’s probably more important than ever to understand Iran itself.

We hear a lot about Iran in American politics—but too often from political leaders who know little or nothing about the country. What is Iran like today? How has it become what it is? Where does its future lie?

To help us answer these questions, I’m delighted to have Ervand Abrahamian on our show tonight.

As an Armenian born in Iran and raised in England, Ervand Abrahamian is well qualified by education and experience to study, analyze and tell us about Iranian, Middle Eastern, and world history. He is Distinguished Professor of Iranian and Middle Eastern history and politics at Baruch College of the City University of New York. He holds a B.A. and M.A. from Oxford University and a Ph.D. from Columbia University. He has published Iran Between Two Revolutions, The Iranian Mojahedin, Khomeinism, Tortured Confessions, and Inventing the Axis of Evil. He teaches at the CUNY Graduate Center, and has taught at Princeton, New York University, and Oxford University. He is currently working on two books: one is The CIA Coup in Iran; and another, A History of Modern Iran, for Cambridge University Press.

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March 1: India Today: A Conversation with Falguni Sen

To Listen Now click here: India Today-A Conversation with Falguni Sen, March 3, 2011

Guest: Falguni Sen, Professor, Fordham Graduate School of Business

Originally from Calcutta, India, Falguni Sen is Professor of Management at the Graduate School of Business Administration of Fordham University, where he directs the Global Healthcare Innovation Management Center. He specializes in economic and business relations between the U.S. and India and China, with special expertise in the pharmaceutical industry. He also studies outsourcing,  pubic trust in health-care, and managing innovations, and is an adviser on health care programs for the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a premier think tank in India, and a consultant for many other institutions.

In 1992 Falguni Sen was honored by Fordham with the Gladys and Henry Crown Award for Faculty Excellence. Before that he received funding for his studies from the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation.  He holds a PhD. from Northwestern University, an MS from the University of Delhi and a BS from St. Stephen’s College (India). His writing have appeared in the Human Systems Management Journal, The Monitor, and IEEE Transactions in Engineering Management.

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February 22: What Does Egypt Mean for China?: A Conversation with Jerry Cohen

To Listen Now click here: Jerry Cohen Feb 25 2011-What Does Egypt Mean for China with Jerry Cohen

Guest: Jerry Cohen, China Law Expert and Human Rights Advocate

Jerome A. Cohen has been traveling to China for almost forty years and studying Chinese law for even longer. Since 1995 he has been adjunct senior fellow for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.  Since 1990, he has been a professor at the New York University School of Law, where he teaches courses on Chinese criminal justice and Chinese business law. He has also been a member of the board of editors of both the China Quarterly and the American Journal of International Law. He continues to serve on the advisory board of Human Rights Watch – Asia and is a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Mr. Cohen has published several books, including The Criminal Process in the People’s Republic of China, 1949–63, People’s China and International Law, and Contract Laws of the People’s Republic of China, and many articles on Chinese law. He formerly served as Jeremiah J. Smith professor, director of East Asian legal studies, and associate dean at Harvard Law School. He joined the international law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in 1981 and retired from commercial law practice in 2000.

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February 15th: The Obama Budget and the American Economy

Guest: David Gold, Economist

To Listen Now click here: The Obama Budget and the Economy with David Gold, February 15, 2011.

David Gold is an economist and Associate Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School. Prior to joining the New School faculty, he spent fifteen years in the United Nations Secretariat. He holds a PhD. in Economics from the City University of New York.

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February 8th:  Glenn Beck’s Demonization of Frances Fox Piven

To Listen Now click here: Interview with Frances Fox Piven, Feb. 8, 2011.

Guest: Frances Fox Piven

Frances Fox Piven is Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

She is an expert in social welfare policy, American electoral politics, and social movements. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the American Sociological Association’s Career Award for the Practice of Sociology, and was herself president of the American Sociological Society. Her writings include: Poor People’s Movements (1977), Why Americans Don’t Vote (1989), Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare (updated edition, 1993), The War at Home: The Domestic Causes and Consequences of Bush’s Militarism (2004), and Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America (2006).

President Bill Clinton gave Piven one of the pens he used to sign into law the National Registration Act of 1993 (the “Motor Voter Law”)—to help rather than hinder the average American as she or he tries to register to vote–in recognition of the central role she played in conceiving that law and lobbying for its passage.

On a personal note, Piven’s work on the causes of consequences of the high rates of nonvoting we have in America helped inspire my own thinking and writing on political apathy.

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February 1st:

Revolution in the Middle East

To Listen Now click here: Feb 1, 2011-Revolution in the Middle East with John Entelis

Guest: John Entelis

We discuss with John Entelis the revolution the Middle East is now experiencing, from Tunisia to Egypt, its causes and outcomes, and its potential impact on U.S. foreign policy.

John P. Entelis is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Middle East Studies Program at Fordham University (Bronx, New York).

He has been widely interviewed about the current Middle East crisis and revolution by major U.S. and foreign media outlets.

He received his B.A. degree in political science from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1964, an M.A. from New York University in 1967, and a Ph.D. in political science from New York University in 1970.

Professor Entelis has lectured widely both in the United States and abroad and is the author or co-author of numerous scholarly publications on the comparative and international politics of the Middle East and North Africa.  He is also the Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of North African Studies and on the Board of Directors of the American Institute of Maghrib Studies.

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LAST YEAR: 2010

December 21:

No Labels: A New Political Movement for Bipartisan Politics

*To hear this show at any time click here– then in the box marked TALKING click show on the show and then click the play button above “Host.”

Guests: John Avlon and Lisa Borders

No Labels is a new political movement that claims: “We are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents who are united in the belief that we do not have to give up our labels, merely put them aside to do what’s best for America.”

We will discuss with No Labels founders John Avlon and Lisa Borders just what it means to “do what’s best for America” and whether labels are just labels–like rooting for a sports team– or whether they indicate a philosophical point of view that we subscribe to for important reasons.

John Avlon is a CNN contributor and the senior political columnist for The Daily Beast. He is the author of “Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics” and “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America.”

Lisa Borders is President of the Grady Health Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Grady Health System, the only Level I Trauma Center within 100 miles of metro-Atlanta. She is leading the Greater Grady capital campaign – a 5 year, $325M effort – and guiding the system’s fund-raising efforts during the most important period of Grady’s history. Formerly, Lisa Borders served as President of the Atlanta City Council – elected citywide in a special election – from August 2004 – January, 2010. She also served as Co-Chair of the Transition Team for Atlanta Mayor M. Kasim Reed.

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December 14:

Islamic Politics and the Politics of Islam

*To hear this show at any time click here– then in the box marked TALKING click show on the show and then click the play button above “Host.”

Guest: John Entelis

We will discuss with John Entelis Islamic politics– the mass based social movements for which Islam is a rallying point. We will also discuss the politics of Islam: how regimes in North Africa and the Middle East co-opt the Islamic idiom.

John P. Entelis is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Middle East Studies Program at Fordham University (Bronx, New York).

He received his B.A. degree in political science from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1964, an M.A. from New York University in 1967, and a Ph.D. in political science from New York University in 1970. He has been awarded several Fulbright awards and has also directed three National Endowment for the Humanities summer institutes and seminars.

Professor Entelis has lectured widely both in the United States and abroad to university, government, business, and community groups under the sponsorship of private, academic, and governmental institutions. Dr. Entelis is the author or co-author of numerous scholarly publications on the comparative and international politics of the Middle East and North Africa including The Government and Politics of the Middle East and North Africa (1980,1986,1995, 2002, 2006, 2011), and has also published analytic pieces in The New York Times and Le Monde Diplomatique, among others. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of North African Studies and on the Board of Directors of the American Institute of Maghrib Studies.

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December 7th: Inequality and What We Can Do About It

*To hear this show at any time click here– then in the box marked TALKING click show on the show and then click the play button above “Host.”

Guest: Jacob S. Hacker. He is co-author of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.

Jacob Hacker is the Stanley B. Resor Professor of Political Science at Yale University.

Besides Winner-Take-All Politics, he is the author of The Great Risk Shift: The New Economic Insecurity and the Decline of the American Dream (a New York Times Editors’ Choice), The Divided Welfare State, and, co-author of, Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy. A frequent media commentator who often testifies before Congress, he has appeared recently on Charlie Rose, the PBS NewsHour, MSNBC, CNN, All Things Considered, the Diane Rehm Show, and Marketplace.

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November 30th: China Today

*To hear this show at any time click here– then in the box marked TALKING click show on the show and then click the play button above “Host.”

Guests: Yawei Liu, Stanley Lubman

Dr. Yawei Liu has been Director of the China Program of the Carter Center since 2005. He has also been a member of numerous Carter Center election observation missions to China and Latin America. A native of China, he received his bachelor’s degree in history at the Xian Foreign Languages Institute in Shaanxi, China, a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii in recent U.S. history, and a doctorate in U.S. diplomatic history from Emory University.

He has written numerous articles on China’s political developments and grassroots democracy and is the founding editor of the China Elections and Governance Web site. In 2008 he co-authored in Chinese a book that was quite popular in China: Obama: The Man that Will Change America.

Stanley Lubman  holds a doctorate in law from the Columbia law School and is now Distinguished Resident Lecturer (ret.) and Senior Fellow at the Miller Institute for Global Challenges and the Law at the Berkeley Law School of the University of California.

Professor Lubman has specialized on China as a scholar and as a practicing lawyer for over forty-five years. He has taught courses on Chinese law at the Berkeley Law School and at Stanford, Columbia, Harvard, and Yale, and in several European universities. From 1978 to 1997 he headed the China practice at major law firms in San Francisco and England, advising foreign clients in China on a full-time basis while continuing his academic activities.

Professor Lubman has also been advisor to The Asia Foundation on legal reform projects in China and his writings on Chinese law have been widely published, including an edited volume China’s Legal Reforms. He currently writes a blog on Chinese law for the Wall Street Journal. (http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/tag/stanley-lubman/).

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November 30th: It’s Your Turn.

*To hear this show at any time click here:  Your Views on the Mid-Term Elections of 2010

Listener Call-In Show to talk about why the midterm elections went the way they did and what the results means for the future of American politics, and for our future as a nation.

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November 16: The Tea Party Movement

*To hear this show at any time click here– then in the box marked TALKING click show on the show and then click the play button above “Host.”

On this show New York Times reporter Kate Zernike and writer William Hogeland assess the meaning and influence of the Tea Party Movement on the elections and on the future of American politics.

For Kate Zernike’s reporting on the Tea Party go to: http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/z/kate_zernike/index.html

For William Hogeland’s take on the Tea Party go to: http://bostonreview.net

/BR35.5/hogeland.php

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Tuesday, November 9th: No Show

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Tuesday, November 2nd: The Obama Presidency–What Went Wrong?

*To hear this show at any time click here: The Obama Presidency So Far with John Judis

On this show political writer John Judis tells us just where he thinks the Obama presidency went wrong on politics and policy and what needs to change.  Economist David Gold talks about why the Obama administration pursued the economic policies it has during the recent crisis and what, if anything, Obama might have done differently.

John B. Judis is an author and journalist. He received B.A. and M.A. degrees in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a senior editor at The New Republic and a contributing editor to The American Prospect.

David Gold is an economist and Associate Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School. Prior to joining the New School faculty, he spent fifteen years in the United Nations Secretariat. He holds a Ph D in Economics from the City University of New York.

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Tuesday, October 19th and 26th: The Midterm Elections: What Will Happen? What Will  It Mean?

*To hear this show at any time click here– then in the box marked TALKING click show on the show and then click the play button above “Host.”

Fordham Professor of Political Science Costas Panagopoulos and Democratic strategist Dylan Loewe analyze the prospects for the Democratic and Republican parties in the upcoming midterm elections.

Can the Democrats retain control of Congress on November 1st? Or will the Republicans sweep into congressional power? Who is responsible for the Republican “surge” that most analysts are predicting? Has the Obama administration made serious mistakes in policy or politics? And what will these elections mean for the future as we move quickly from them into the presidential sweepstakes in 2012? These are some of the questions Tom De Luca poses to these experts.

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Tuesday, October 12th: The Coffee Party Movement with its founder Annabel Park

*To hear this show at any time click here– then in the box marked TALKING click show on the show and then click the play button above “Host.”

Look out Tea Party–there’s a new party in town.

Annabel Park founded the The Coffee Party to show that the Tea Party does not represent America. She got it going by starting a Facebook page and by posting this video on Youtube. The Coffee Party just had its first annual Convention in Louisville Kentucky. We’ll talk with Annabel about why she started the movement, what it is working on, and where it–and America–go from here

Annabel Park was born in Seoul, South Korea and immigrated to to the U.S. with her family when she was nine.  She grew up in Texas and Maryland. She studied philosophy at Boston University on a Melville Scholarship and political theory at Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar.

In 2007, she was the national coordinator for the 121 Coalition, organizing a historic grassroots effort to successfully pass U.S. House Resolution 121, also known as the “comfort women” resolution. In addition to organizing the Coffee Party, she is a filmmaker. Her 2010 film 9500 Liberty on conflict over immigration in Virginia won three film festival awards.

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October 5th: Education and the Economy

*To hear this show at any time click here– then in the box marked TALKING click show on the show and then click the play button above “Host.”

We talk to economists Simon Head and Steve Hertzberg about the future of the American economy and about whether education can play the role assigned to it–of providing the opportunity for advancement for all.

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September 28th: Money and Democracy

*To hear this show at any time click here– then in the box marked TALKING click show on the show and then click the play button above “Host.”

Can we have a democracy if wealth is allowed to dominate political voice? This is the question we discussed with Professor Samuel Issacharoff  of New York University’s School of Law. We talked to him about the influence of money on politics today, how the Supreme Court has abetted that influence, especially in the recent Citizens United Supreme Court case.

Then we discussed what can be done to make our elections more democratic. We  spoke to Nick Nyhart, President of Public Finance about the The Fair Elections Now Act and what you can do to help that bill become law.

We end the show with a surprise Constitutional Amendment proposed by your host.

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September 21st:   National Security Policy after 9/11

*To hear this show at any time click here– then in the box marked TALKING click show on the show and then click the play button above “Host.”

Bill Hartung discusses with us the wisdom of America’s national security policy, from Afghanistan to Iraq, in the post-9/11 environment and with the rise of China as a major power. Hartung is Director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation and an expert on issues of weapons proliferation, the economics of military spending, and alternative approaches to national security strategy.

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September 14th: Political Change We Can Count On

*To hear this show at any time click here– then in the box marked TALKING click show on the show and then click the play button above “Host.”

In this show we discuss with award-winning author Alexander Keyssar, Minnesota representative Laura Brod, and  “Why Tuesday?” rep Barnett Zitron on  how we can take back American democracy for average Americans by empowering us to count on ourselves.

Alexander Keyssar is the award-winning author of The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, and Professor of History and Social Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Because of recent political despair, we thought we’d kick-off our first show by remembering that self-empowerment has always had forward movement and backsliding, wins and losses—and then wins again—if we work for them. Our current political situation is no exception. We’ll discuss with Keyssar how we got to where we are and what we now need to do.

We also talk to bipartisan representatives of two different movements for change in American elections that are having some success. We talk with Rep. Laura Brod (R), member of the Minnesota House of Representatives about the effort to put the Electoral College out of business. For more information click on National Popular Vote. We also talk to Barnett Zitron about the bill in Congress to move Election Day to the weekend. For more information on weekend voting click on Why Tuesday?

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Change we can count on

The Christian Science Monitor – CSMonitor.com

–Ready to work for political change you can count on?

We can break the cycle of bias that keeps us from pursuing a more perfect union.


By Tom De Luca
posted July 27, 2010 at 2:15 pm EDT

New York —

Two years ago, Barack Obama electrified the nation with a promise of “change we can believe in.” That was the wrong pledge.

Americans need far more than change we can believe in. We need change we can count on.

And the only kind of change we can really count on is change that empowers us to count on ourselves. Yet a program for that kind of change is nowhere to be found on the American political agenda.

The best hope average citizens have to fight for their interests and beliefs is to take back the institutions of representative government. Our most important problem isn’t the size of government – it is how to achieve governance that’s far more democratic.

A cycle of bias

But a cycle of bias is preventing us from doing just that. This cycle has three parts.

The first consists of the rules of the political game, beginning with the domineering role personal and corporate wealth play in politics. But the problem goes far deeper than money.

Sedimented institutions worsen the bias by lessening choice, interest, and participation. These include: a two-party duopoly that freezes out other voices; voting on a workday; “gerrymandered” districts that unfairly protect incumbents; an Electoral College that limits campaigns to “battleground” states; and laboriously registering voters one at a time.

Then there is the revolving door from Congress to lobbying firms, further ensuring that policy will suit special interests, leaving out the rest of us.

The second part of the cycle of bias is the way political parties selectively mobilize voters. Politicians use their resources to organize those who have voted before, our already most organized citizens, casting the least organized and protected among us back into the political wilderness.

Finally, the agenda of policy proposals set by political, business, and media elites neglects many citizens, especially – but not only – the poor.

Even in historic 2008, 40 percent of eligible Americans didn’t vote, while citizens in the bottom fifth ranked by income voted at only 60 percent the rate of those in the top fifth. Many opt out not because they don’t care, but because a biased political agenda doesn’t meet their needs.

Is this just par for democracy? No. Other advanced nations don’t have such low turnouts and large class voting gaps. Nor did America in the second half of the 19th century when turnout often hit 80 percent and the poor were as likely to vote as the rich.

Eight steps for change

What can we do to end this cycle? Here are eight action items:

•Take private wealth out of politics. Amend the Constitution to overturn our activist Supreme Court’s fantasy that unlimited campaign spending is free speech. This would free Congress to write effective campaign finance reform in which one person – not each and every dollar – gets one protected voice.

•Vote on “Democracy Days,” not Tuesdays. We should vote on weekends or make Election Day a national holiday. We wouldn’t advise a new democracy to vote on workdays. Why do we do it here?

•Automatically register all voters. The government knows how to find us for war or taxes. It should use this prowess to register us to vote, as governments do in most other advanced nations.

•End gerrymandering. Nonpartisan commissions should be established to draw legislative district lines to maximize competition and fairness. Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.

•Establish proportional representation. Our system of winner-take-all elections awards all legislative seats only to parties already able to win pluralities in geographic districts. Proportional representation gives all parties a fair share of seats based on the percentage of the vote each gets. This would boost voter choice and break the two-party duopoly.

•Directly elect the president. Five states have already signed a compact to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. If states adding up to a majority of electors sign on, the Electoral College will become history.

•End the revolving door between Congress and K Street. Members of Congress should be constitutionally barred for life from working as paid lobbyists. If politicians want to “serve the people,” that’s a price they’ll pay.

•Pass the democracy amendment. Believe it or not, the word “democracy” never appears in the Constitution. Let’s put it there to create a clear constitutional standard for future legislation and Supreme Court rulings.

Some may find this agenda too procedural, even a bit dull. That group won’t include political elites desperate to keep their power. To them it will be a radical, direct threat.

With so little to lose and so much to gain, let’s create a new national movement to revitalize American democracy. The agenda for change is there. It only awaits a “Continental Army” of new winter patriots, willing to sacrifice just a little to defend American democracy so much.

Tom De Luca is professor of political science at Fordham University. He is a coauthor of “Liars! Cheaters! Evildoers! Demonization and the End of Civil Debate in American Politics” and “The Democratic Debate: American Politics in an Age of Change.” He’s also the radio host of The Democracy Hour with Tom De Luca at www.talkingalternative.com.

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The unconstitutional filibuster

The Christian Science Monitor – CSMonitor.com

–Obama health care reconciliation: save your outrage for the unconstitutional filibuster

Forget President Obama’s health care reconciliation. The real abuse of power is the filibuster.

By Tom De Luca
posted March 3, 2010 at 1:14 pm EST

New York —The debate over healthcare reform should have been about doctors, patients, insurance and drug companies, and coverage. Instead, much of the attention has been focused on a “preexisting condition” in the Senate: the filibuster.

A filibuster allows a senator to delay or defeat legislation through endless talk – or merely the threat of it. That gives the minority breathtaking power to cause gridlock and discredit the majority by stopping it from pursuing the program it was elected on. That is exactly what 41 Senate Republicans are doing to 59 Democrats right now.

The filibuster has become so potent a political weapon that President Obama is reportedly approving the use of the controversial “reconciliation” process to pass healthcare reform. Under this method, Democrats could turn the reform bill into law with a simple majority of senators instead of the 60 now needed to end a filibuster. Critics are calling reconciliation an “abuse of power,” “undemocratic,” and “the nuclear option.” The real undemocratic abuse of power, however, is the present way in which the filibuster is used.

While the use of a simple majority through reconciliation to pass legislation would restore constitutional sanity to the Senate, it does not go far enough. The Senate should rewrite the filibuster rule entirely. Full and thorough debate should be preserved, but the unconstitutional practice of requiring supermajorities to pass important legislation must be ended.

Many of us first learned about the filibuster in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

In that classic film, the filibuster is our quintessential American hero Sen. Jefferson Smith’s last hope of stopping corruption and symbolically saving the American republic.

In the real world of American politics today, however, the filibuster has become the weapon of choice to thwart a democratically elected majority on important legislation. Once rare, it’s now used routinely. Filibusters used to be hard work. Senators had to actually stand and talk in the Senate 24/7 until they literally dropped. Now they merely need to threaten a filibuster to stop legislation from ever coming to a vote.

This usurpation is more than an unheroic partisan power grab. It is an unconstitutional change in which the entire Senate – and both parties – are complicitous.

The Framers were explicit about those rare cases, such as constitutional amendments, in which supermajorities are required. They fashioned a document that assumed the majority rule principle for legislation, and based important arguments for the constitution’s ratification on that assumption.

In “The Federalist No. 10,” James Madison defended the newly proposed constitution on the grounds that it created the kind of republic that could prevent factions from undermining liberty. He was most worried by the abusive potential of a majority faction and prescribed, not supermajority rule, but a large and strong republic supplemented by federalism and separation of powers.

Minority factions could be more easily handled, he believed, by simply applying the “republican principle” of majority rule, enabling “the majority to defeat [the minority’s] sinister views by regular vote.”

The filibuster also upends the Great Compromise of 1787 that gave us a bicameral legislature. Small-population states wanted congressional representation based on state equality, while large-population states wanted to base it on the number of inhabitants in a state (or the amount of taxes it contributed).

The deal was to have both: a Senate and a House of Representatives. In granting an extraconstitutional veto to a minority faction of senators, the filibuster increases their (and their states’) power relative to that of other senators (and states). It also upsets the balance of power with the House and its members. The filibuster undermines the state equality and proportionality principles at the same time.

Debates over when “extraordinary majorities” would be required were part of the horse-trading that led to final agreement on the constitution. Southern states, for example, depended on agricultural exports and some wanted a legislative supermajority to be required for passage of laws that affected navigation, something the New England shipping states opposed. They traded this demand away for a 20-year guarantee of continuance of the slave trade and a ban on export taxes. Because sectional and state interests played an important role in these deals and compromises, it is inconceivable that the back door would have been left open for supermajorities to sneak in.

Article I, Section 5 offers filibuster-defenders one slim reed to grasp: that “Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings.” However, it also says that each senator shall have “one vote” and that “a majority of each [House] shall constitute a quorum to do business.” The filibuster both deviates from the equality of power idea intrinsic to the “one vote” principle, and changes the meaning of the words “to do business” – unless they were intended by the Founders to mean “do nothing but talk.”

The filibuster “rule” is in reality not a rule at all. It is a structural change to the meaning of the Constitution itself, something even a unanimous Senate is not empowered to do. Its defenders should ask themselves this question: If the filibuster “rule” were written into the constitution’s draft, would the constitution have been ratified? Without a new round of debates and compromises, the answer is no.

As the president of the Senate, Vice President Joe Biden should rule unconstitutional any use of the filibuster to block major legislation. As a political matter, such a move would be highly controversial, but as a constitutional matter, it merely restores the Framers’ intent regarding using majority votes to move legislation in each house of congress – something conservatives should support. After all, the status quo distorts the Constitution. And it robs the vice president of the only real power he has: to cast the tiebreaking vote when the Senate is “equally divided,” an impossibility if the meaningful vote is the one that requires 60 senators to end debate.

If Mr. Biden takes this step and gets attacked, it would be a perfect time to treat his Senate colleagues to a filibuster of his own, by reading to them, in its entirety, “The Federalist No. 51,” which explains how to avoid excessive concentration of power: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” Madison wrote. “The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.” In protecting his own power from Senate usurpation, Biden would also be fulfilling Madison’s constitutional plan. Mr. Smith would be very proud. But not as proud as Madison.

Tom De Luca, a professor of political science at Fordham University, is coauthor of “Liars! Cheaters! Evildoers! Demonization and the End of Civil Debate in American Politics.”


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