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On speaking, thinking, and the future of democracy

first_imgDear Editor:Kudos to Sean Parker and Chamath Palihapitiya, two social media bigwigs who just blew the whistle on how their industry is destroying society. They ought to be short-listed for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.So, as it turns out, it really is both unhealthy and bizarre that a large percentage of our population now drifts through the day in a computerized trance, like electronic sheep tethered to their devices—counting dopamine-inducing “likes” for a cheap high (a new kind of drug-addict)—while ignoring the awe, wonder, and beauty of actual life; which includes conversations with, um, actual people….remember them?Having taught English at both the high school and college levels since 1997, I’ve had a front row seat for the great “erosion of conversation” in America. If I had a dollar for every student I reminded to turn off their Smartphone in class, to better engage in the joy of real conversation, I’d be a rich man today worth more than my measly teacher salary ever paid me.Not only does poor conversational skills lead to an increase in personal boredom, social isolation, and a sense of alienation or atomization that destroys community (David Brooks has been excellent on this lately), it also paves the way for tyranny. Makes sense, right? If citizens can’t discuss political problems in a calm and rational manner, and without demonizing the other as “Trumpian” or “Liberal,” how can we explore solutions to these problems?Also crucial is the fascinating link between conversation and thinking. Socrates was onto this with his “dialogic method,” but the modern field of cognitive psychology went even further. Created by scholars like Frank Smith (a fierce critic of our testing-obsessed education system) and Jerome Bruner, who discovered that human beings think best in terms of stories, the work of cognitive psychologists needs to be paid more attention to.First, though, we need to shift education away from its current, shallow marketing orientation—of producing better technocrats for the global economy—to one that nurtures more humane, thoughtful, peace-loving citizens. As a first step in this direction, the link between education and democracy (which nobody talks about these days but which seemed obvious to Thomas Jefferson and John Dewey) ought to be known more broadly by the general public.To help this process along, my wife and I created a nonprofit TV show, “Public Voice Salon,” that cares less about pundits and celebrities than artists and thinkers whose ideas could change the world. This year we featured the anti-nuclear activist Alice Slater, who seeks to abolish all nuclear weapons, and Nel Noddings, a philosopher known for her pioneering “theory of care” in education.It might also be time to gather together, in cafes and bookstores and civic spaces, and even in our homes—shutting off our smart (dumb?) phones—to practice the sacred, ancient, democracy-saving art of conversation. Reactions to this letter are welcome at [email protected] John Bredinlast_img read more

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In policy shift, US offers to lift Venezuela sanctions in power-sharing deal

first_imgBut it will be no easy task to draw Maduro onto a path of political reconciliation with opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by the United States and more than 50 other countries as the legitimate interim president.Maduro has held onto power despite repeated US efforts to oust him and shown no willingness to seriously negotiate an end to his rule. As such, Tuesday’s announcement could be seen as a bid by the administration to cut its losses and move on.The initiative comes less than a week after the US government took a more confrontational tack, indicting Maduro and more than a dozen other current and former top Venezuelan officials on charges of “narco-terrorism,” accusations he dismissed as false and racist.Maduro’s staying power has become a source of frustration for President Donald Trump, US officials have said privately. Maduro retains the backing of the military as well as Russia, China and Cuba. But the Trump administration hopes an energy dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia that has contributed to the plunging price of oil – Maduro’s main financial lifeline – and the growing coronavirus threat will help make Maduro and his loyalists more pliable.”The regime is now under heavier pressure than it has ever been,” US Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told Reuters earlier. “Maybe this pressure will lead to a serious discussion within the regime.”The US proposal, which Abrams said was approved by Trump, calls for Maduro to “step aside” and for the opposition-controlled National Assembly “to elect an inclusive transitional government acceptable to the major factions.” Under the plan, Guaido would also step down during the transition.Though the administration has never wavered in public about its support for Guaido, he has struggled to maintain the street protests of his first few months as the opposition’s main leader, and ordinary Venezuelans have increasingly expressed disappointment at his failure to achieve a change of government.A council of state would govern until it oversees elections, which Pompeo said the United States hoped could be held in six to 12 months.Questions about Maduro’s future But in what appears to be a softening of tone toward Maduro, Abrams told Reuters the plan did not call for him to be forced into exile and even suggested that he “could theoretically run” in the election.Pompeo insisted that “Nicolas Maduro will never again govern Venezuela,” but said the administration hoped he would take the US proposal seriously.”If the conditions of the framework are met, including the departure of all foreign security forces,” Pompeo told reporters, “then all remaining US sanctions would be lifted.”Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.With experts deeming OPEC member Venezuela among the countries that could be hardest hit by the coronavirus, Guaido proposed over the weekend the formation of an emergency government of members across the political spectrum.The US plan seeks to build on the effort by Guaido as well as a failed round of negotiations between the two sides in Barbados last year, which the Trump administration dismissed at the time.The proposal represents a significantly less bellicose tone from the administration’s pronouncements since January of last year, when Guaido invoked the constitution to assume a rival interim presidency, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was a sham. Maduro calls Guaido a US puppet.Asked whether the new proposal indicated the United States was backing away from Guaido, Pompeo said the administration remained “supportive of the work that the rightful president of the Venezuelan people, Juan Guaido, is engaged in.”But the success of the plan, which calls for power-sharing between the Guaido-led opposition and Socialist lawmakers, would ultimately hinge on Socialist leaders turning on Maduro, the same strategy that Guaido has been unable to execute.Socialist legislators are again considered unlikely to go along with the new US plan.Saul Ortega, a Socialist legislator, called the US proposal a “dangerous escalation against our people” as battles the coronavirus and said it had an “electoral stench” given Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.A fresh offer of step-by-step sanctions relief, however, seeks to persuade them to peel off from Maduro, whose immediate reaction, Abrams said, “will be to reject this.”  The Trump administration on Tuesday proposed lifting Venezuela sanctions in exchange for a power-sharing deal, with members of the opposition and President Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist Party forming a transitional government in the run-up to early elections.With the South American nation squeezed by low world oil prices, a spreading coronavirus pandemic and a US economic pressure campaign, Washington shifted to a more toned-down approach aimed at promoting fair elections as soon as this year to end the political crisis there.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally announced the administration’s “Democratic Transition Framework” for Venezuela, which offers for the first time a “sequenced exit path” from tough US sanctions, including on the vital oil sector, if Maduro and his allies cooperate.center_img Topics :last_img read more