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Democracy Café
A Fresh Taste of Philosophy and Politics
Category: Society & Culture
Location: SocratesCafe.com
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I'm the founder of Socrates Cafe -- see SocratesCafe.com -- and a noted author (Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy, The...


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September 21, 2018 10:58 AM PDT

Democratic freedoms are on the decline. What can be done to arrest this pernicious development and make sure freedom rings the world over?

Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House (freedomhouse.org), an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change and monitors the status of freedom around the world, has an array of timely insights on the matter. 

Michael - who before joining Freedom House in February 2017 was director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Levine Institute for Holocaust Education, and before that was National Editor and White House correspondent for the Washington Post -- discusses Freedom House's annual report, 'Freedom of the World,' which they've been producing for nearly a half century. Its key indicators -- which track everything from freedom of the press, to rule of law, to free and fair elections -- show that, as Michael puts it, "after a long period of steady growth of democratization....you've had kind of a reversal of that over the last twelve years... More countries are suffering a decline in political rights and civil liberties."

There is much that can and must be done, as Michael eloquently shares, if this trend is to be reversed. Listen in.

And deepest thanks as always to our engineer Odin Halvorson, who also is an exquisite writer, among many other things. Visit his website at OdinHalvorson.com

September 14, 2018 05:24 PM PDT

When Joaquin Gonzalez heard about the effort of Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig and other compatriots to challenge and prospectively overhaul the 'unrepresentative' way Electoral College votes are distributed via a winner-take-all system, he immediately reached out to offer his services and help bring a lawsuit in Texas.

To Joaquin, a recent graduate of Yale Law School, radically changing the way the Electoral College operates is a key way to bring about a more egalitarian and participatory democracy --- his paramount aim.

As Lessig readily recognized, Joaquin is a force to be reckoned with, and he enlisted him at once to join in the admirable effort. Joaquin, 33, based in San Antonio, where his family is from, is the recipient of the 2018 Shirley Adelson Siegel Public Interest Fellowship. As part of his fellowship, he is working at the Texas Civil Rights Project on voting rights issues and election protection in Texas. TCRP is a Texas-based nonprofit which in its twenty-six year history has brought thousands of strategic lawsuits to protect and expand voting rights, challenge the injustices in our broken criminal justice system, and advance racial and economic justice.

Listen in as Joaquin explains why he feels it incumbent to become a foot soldier in this effort and do all he can to make the Electoral College at long last an entity that contributes to a more representative democracy.

[Apologies for the brief glitch at about the 2:50 mark in this. It just is for a second or two, then smooths out.]

September 13, 2018 09:14 AM PDT

Our representative democracy is more and more unrepresentative. As Lawrence Lessig asserts, American voters are being "essentially silenced by constitutional inequality."

This is made abundantly evident by the winner take all system that pervades the way nearly all states allocate electoral votes -- and yet this system isn't at all mandated by the Constitution; rather, it's been created by the states. The tragic result of denying proportionality in distributing electoral votes is that millions of votes for presidential candidates effectively don't count. It's downright undemocratic.

This is an ever more alarming predicament, as the winner take all system increasingly likens the odds that we'll face more presidential election outcomes in which the candidate with the least votes wins.

Listen in as Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard University, shares how he and other concerned citizens are taking on the existing system. As Lessig puts it, such vitally needed change can only come to pass "if we fuel it bottom up."

Our Founders and Framers would be proud of the effort being waged. And Lessig just might convince that you have a key role to play in making our republic a genuinely representative one once again.

We'll have a follow-on podcast on Sunday, the day before Constitution Day, that features Joaquim Gonzalez, a graduate of Yale law school and foot soldier based in San Antonio who has joined the effort of Lessig and company to take on the winner take all system in Texas, which is one of four states -- two red states and two blue states -- that are being sued.

And on Monday, Constitution Day, during our 6th annual Conversation with the Constitution in San Antonio, hundreds of concerned citizens of all ages and walks of life will join me in exploring how the Electoral College winner take all system is abrogating the 'one person one vote' ethos embedded in our Constitution, and hence standing in the way of making our democracy more, well, democratic.

Thanks as always to our volunteer wunderkind Odin Halvorson working his magic on this podcast. His website is OdinHalvorson.com

[Friends, if you believe in our mission at Democracy Cafe and like our work, please consider supporting us via this Paypal link: https://www.paypal.me/DemocracyCafe ]

September 10, 2018 04:51 PM PDT

Kathy Cadwell is my kind of educator -- she is dynamic, passionate, curious, and best of all, equips her charges not just to lead the classroom, but to take leadership roles in the community.

A teacher at Harwood Union High School in Moretown, Vermont, Kathy has had a Socrates Cafe for students and the community for a decade (and I've had the privilege and honor of visiting twice to hold Socratic inquiries, give workshops and presentations). She also was one of the select few to be named a Rowland Fellow in 2016.

Listen in as Kathy shares her philosophy of living, learning, and changing the world, one student at a time.

Be sure also to check out her website: https://katherinecadwell.wordpress.com/
And here's a link to a very compelling Ted Talk she gave: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzQhiB2EOVE

Here also is an article about my most recent visit to her school -- the students themselves facilitated the give-and-take when we broke into smaller groups (sure hope to return soon! I learn so much from everyone there, Kathy in particular) https://www.google.com/search?q=socrates+cafe+harwood+unino&oq=socrates+cafe+harwood+unino&aqs=chrome..69i57j69i65l3.12487j0j9&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

September 06, 2018 09:34 AM PDT

I had the great pleasure and honor of picking the brain of the celebrated, award-winning journalist and author James Fallows, who with his wife Deborah co-scribed Our Towns: A 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America.

It is a sumptuous read, as sweeping as it is intimate. I can't recommend it highly enough; it is that absorbing and insightful.

As Jim eloquently shares with me, the American affinity for affiliation, for organization, for association still thrives "more than we expected and more than many would expect."

Tocqueville himself likely would be most pleased that "the agglutinative nature of the American people," as Jim puts it, remains as singularly distinctive and inventive as ever, at least among the communities that he and Deborah visited.

Be sure also to visit the website OurTownsBook.com

Now, listen in as Jim recounts their fascinating years-long journey via prop plane that Jim piloted across an America that still 'works.' [And I apologize that it's a bit echo-y on my end, but I had unexpected travels and hence had to record from a hotel room.]

August 28, 2018 09:36 AM PDT

Paul Martin is a beloved mentor. He is the founder and Chief Investment Officer of Martin Capital Advisors (MartinCapital.com), for which I'm an Investment Advisor Representative, an inveterate Socratic questioner, philanthropist, and all-around fabulous human being.

The epitome of a person who continually wonders and inquires -- and hence establishes a beachhead against stupidity -- Paul models a way of being and doing that sets a high bar.

"As long as you say to yourself, maybe I don't know everything, then you're open to inquiry," Paul asserts. "What drives stupidity is a lack of inquiry" and the concomitant sense of wonder with which inquiry is entwined.

Listen in as Paul -- a graduate of St. John's College and erstwhile commander of a reserve Navy SEAL unit -- compellingly challenges much of the conventional wisdom of 'experts' when it comes to investing, the stock market, and the economy as a whole.

In the process, you might well discover how better to create a roadmap for achieving greater excellence -- what the Greeks of old called 'arete' - in all dimensions of life.

[I apologize about the staticky quality of a bit of this give and take, due to a glitch on my end.]

August 27, 2018 02:49 PM PDT

For many moons there has been an ongoing Socrates Cafe in Pasadena, California, and for nearly the last ten years, Brian Yoder has been its organizer and on most occasions its facilitator. Listen in as he describes how and why it is a boon for all those who gather to philosophize regularly.

(And kudos to our amazing volunteer engineer Odin Halvorson for splicing this together.)

August 23, 2018 08:48 AM PDT

If you walk into the Twig Book Shop, a idyllic bookstore situated in the Pearl District of San Antonio, in the afternoon on just about any second Tuesday of the month, you'll see a group of thoughtful souls clustered in a circle pondering timely and timeless questions a la Socrates Cafe.

At their last gathering, they explored, with the facilitation of Socrates Cafe organizer Marta Amezquita: What does it mean to empty ourselves; is it good or bad?

To which I wonder: Why does Socrates Cafe fill us with good things?

I had the honor of being part of one of their gatherings late last year, and now also the honor having Marta as a guest on our podcast.

Listen in as this wonderfully thoughtful and inquisitive person shares why their Socrates Cafe is such a singularly fulfilling staple for cultivation of self and community.

{In the photo, Marta is on the far right)

August 20, 2018 08:47 AM PDT

For many years, there has been a thriving Socrates Cafe at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, a figurative stone's throw from Portland. Then, they kindly invited me to give a presentation about how my Socrates Cafe initiative, where I shared how it also has evolved into a Democracy Cafe endeavor that has touched a chord the world over.

Their interest was so piqued that they invited me to return later that year to inaugurate one. Democracy Cafe now has become one of the library's mainstay gatherings for diverse folks who want to 'democratize' about timely and timeless issues pertaining to open societies in these polarizing times.

Listen in as their fearless and marvelous facilitator, Janie Downey Maxwell, describes the boons of convening an ongoing Democracy Cafe at the library. Janie is the Innovative Programming Librarian (what a cool title), and is committed to making ours a more thoughtful, inclusive and participatory world.

On a side note, the southern Maine region is where I began my writing and teaching career a lifetime ago -- in the Lakes Region, where I was a middle school reading teacher in a six-room school house, and a reporter for a wonderful newspaper, the Bridgton News, that has been in the same family since the 19th century.

The very first article I ever wrote was on a New England town meeting -- truly a revelation in participatory and direct democracy for someone (yours truly) who hails from a sprawling city in southeast Virginia.

There are now a number of Democracy and Socrates Cafes throughout Maine, and I'm delighted that these flagship endeavors of ours have proven such an ideal fit in the Pine Tree State.

In case of interest, here also is a link to a program on Maine Public radio's talk show program on which I'm on of the featured guests exploring how to bridge political divides:

http://www.mainepublic.org/post/bridging-political-divide-0#stream/0

And here is a link to information about the Democracy Cafe at Thomas Memorial Library:

http://www.thomasmemoriallibrary.org/democracy-cafe/

If you'd like more general information, please go to our nonprofit site at DemocracyCafe.org or SocratesCafe.org This truly is a time for 'all hands on deck' when it comes to making sure our open society is vibrant and on an ascending track.

August 14, 2018 10:01 AM PDT

Can we discover, or rediscover, our humanity in the world of finance? Are there stores of essential wisdom embedded at their core in financial matters? Is there even a nobility to finance, and of a sort that can nurture the ascent of open societies?

So asserts Mihir Desai, professor of finance at Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School, and author of the intriguing bestseller 'The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return.'

Listen in as Professor Desai makes an eloquent case for why those immersed in the orbit of finance should be imbued with more humanity (and more of the humanities, which are entwined with the enterprise)...

-- and conversely, how and why it is far from a stretch to maintain that most all of us can benefit from teasing out the humanity that can be plumbed from finance, if we know how and where to look.

As a scholar and street philosopher who also is an Investment Advisor Representative for Martin Capital Advisors (MartinCapital.com), I found Mihir Desai's insights provocative and compelling

-- certainly great grist for further pondering at more foundational levels what mixes and scales of economies and markets (among myriad things) best enable all people to discover, develop and contribute their talents in ways that can make all of us ever more connected co-creators of a humane, evolving and outward-expanding universe.

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