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Former CIA Clandestine Operative
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Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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The Trouble with Mann & Ornstein's "The Republicans Are the Problem" Frame

The Trouble with Mann & Ornstein's "The Republicans Are the Problem" Frame

Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institute and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute have a must-read essay in today's Washington Post titled "Let's Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem." At the core of their argument is that Republicans in Congress have veered so far to the right, that the GOP deserves the majority of the blame for Washington's dysfunction.

I agree with much of their analysis, and if you follow politics, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of their new book detailing their argument. Congressional Democrats today as they put it, might be on the 25 yard line ideologically, but Republicans are on the goal line, and Tea Party members are out of the end zone.  I also share their conclusion that where there is strong expert agreement on issues -- such as the human causes of climate change -- journalists should steer clear of false balance. And I agree that when it comes to characterizing the party most responsible for gridlock, media analysts should emphasize the role of the GOP.

But I think the biggest weakness in their argument is their overall frame. It's not that Republicans shouldn't be deservedly blamed for America's political dysfunction, it's what the "us versus the radical fringe" narrative enables.

In short, if as liberals and moderates we focus all of our analysis and anger on the "other," it's too easy to overlook our own contributions to polarization and paralysis, even when they are less severe than our conservative opponents.  More importantly, its liberals and moderates who are the most capable of investing in what is needed to repair our political culture, but we need to think systematically about what this would mean, and devote the resources. Going on 15 years, we have yet to do so, but the post-election period offers the opportunity.

Starting in the early 2000s, liberals built their own billionaire donor networks, their own self-styled "left wing conspiracy" and "liberal message machine," pouring vast resources into the creation of purposively created echo chambers.  In elections, they adopted and advanced many of the same base mobilization strategies pioneered by Karl Rove and the Bush team.

The result is a civic culture dominated by two financial Goliaths devoting billions to an ideological arms race, with each election cycle promising more spending, ever more advanced "my side" communication strategies, and ever more extreme rhetoric.

Polarization is not like the stock market, something that is going to right itself in a year or two.  Like climate change, it's a massively complex problem that we need to manage through a variety of approaches.  The strategy of liberals to invest almost exclusively in an ideological arms race with conservatives runs counter to this reality, amplifying polarization rather than mitigating it.

I will have more on what it would mean post-2012 to invest in rebuilding our civic culture and political system in later posts.

Take your career to the next level by raising your EQ

Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.

  • Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
  • One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
  • EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
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Yale scientists restore cellular function in 32 dead pig brains

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
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Here’s a map of Mars with as much water as Earth

A 71% wet Mars would have two major land masses and one giant 'Medimartian Sea.'

Just imagine: a Mars that's as wet as Earth.

Image: A.R. Bhattarai, reproduced with kind permission
Strange Maps
  • Sci-fi visions of Mars have changed over time, in step with humanity's own obsessions.
  • Once the source of alien invaders, the Red Planet is now deemed ripe for terraforming.
  • Here's an extreme example: Mars with exactly as much surface water as Earth.
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The entrepreneur's guide to success: Follow these tips

Starting and running a business takes more than a good idea and the desire to not have a boss.

  • Anyone can start a business and be an entrepreneur, but the reality is that most businesses will fail. Building something successful from the ground up takes hard work, passion, intelligence, and a network of people who are equally as smart and passionate as you are. It also requires the ability to accept and learn from your failures.
  • In this video, entrepreneurs in various industries including 3D printing, fashion, hygiene, capital investments, aerospace, and biotechnology share what they've learned over the years about relationships, setting and attaining goals, growth, and what happens when things don't go according to plan.
  • "People who start businesses for the exit, most of them will fail because there's just no true passion behind it," says Miki Agrawal, co-founder of THINX and TUSHY. A key point of Agrawal's advice is that if you can't see yourself in something for 10 years, you shouldn't do it.

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