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Idealism Without Illusions




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Selected E-Mails
 to the Editor,

Here are some of the feisty e-mails and letters that are coming in to Radical Middle Online Newsletter.  They're arranged in reverse chronological order.

For selected e-mails and letters from 2008, go HERE; from 2007, HERE; from 2005, HERE; from 2002-04, HERE; and from 1999-2001, HERE.

To send YOUR OWN e-mail to the editor, just click on E-Mail the Editor.


A Thousand Times YES!

December 31, 2006

To your article on restoring the draft, YES!  A thousand times YES ("Yes, Let's Bring Back the Draft -- But a Better One than [Rangel Is] Proposing," December 15, 2006).

As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I know how important it is to serve, and how desperately we need alternatives to military service through which young people can meet their intrinsic idealism.  Part of the tragedy of Iraq is that it drew so many genuinely idealistic kids into its web for all the wrong reasons.

Larry Daloz
Senior Fellow, The Whidbey Institute
Clinton, WA

Your Kind of Guy

December 31, 2006

It is fabulous that Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank have won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2006!!!  His and the Bank's work is very Radical and very Middle, as a look at the Bank's Web site will show.

If your readers want to get a little deeper into his work, then I think his book, Banker to the Poor (rev. 2003), might be a good place to start.

Sam Daley-Harris
Director, Microcredit Summit Campaign
Washington, DC

Second Draft?

December 31, 2006

Many thanks for your excellent letter to Congressman Rangel ("Yes, Let's Bring Back the Draft -- But a Better One than You're Proposing," December 15, 2006).

Jack Sawyer
President, Parker Street Foundation
Berkeley, CA


There are good reasons why a draft will never be popular enough to get through Congress unless a major war breaks out.  I am a strong believer in volunteers for all kinds of activities on a community basis (was a community activist for many years and enjoyed it).  

Andrew Weiszmann
Writer and political consultant
Chicago, IL


No matter how "fair" a new draft is, it will still unavoidably be slavery, a fact pointed out to me by Black friends when I advocated universal service a while back.  And somehow they and I all expect the rich and powerful will find a way out for themselves.  Personally, I like the idea of letting older folks also serve, as in young (b. '69) John Scalzi's recently-published sci-fi novel Old Man's War.

James Strasma
United Methodist minister
Arlington Heights, IL

It's Obama Time!

December 15, 2006

I was delighted to see your analysis of Barack Obama's new book The Audacity of Hope ("Barack Obama: First Radical Middle Presidential Candidate?," November 1, 2006).  I found myself inspired by it in much the same way as you.

I would be delighted to have the opportunity to vote for this man, for a truly radical middle approach to national politics.  How refreshing to discover somebody with the potential to seriously run for President who is finally going beyond platitudes, who is finally making sense.

Barbara F. Schaetti, Ph.D.
Principal Consultant, Transition Dynamics
Founding Partner, Personal Leadership Seminars
Seattle, WA

Priority #1: Great (and Bright) Teachers

December 15, 2006

I loved what you wrote about needing great teachers ("What Our Schools Need Now: Great Teachers, Great Teachers, Great Teachers," November 2003).  Try being a Mensan in the elementary schools -- the things I try to do in my class are so far above the administrators that they think I'm crazy.  The kids, however, love what I do, and the kids flourish.

Unfortunately, I get labeled a radical and am shunned by administrators and teachers alike.  I change schools often.

You are right -- we do not need more computers or more supplies or even higher teacher salaries.  What we need are smart, dedicated, outside-the-box thinkers who can get through to the kids.

You are right about teacher-ed schools, too.  I did my M.Ed. in 354 days and got a 3.8 GPA.  Even for a Mensan it should not be that easy.  Teacher-ed schools exist to promote the status quo, and they cater to the lower end of the SAT scale.

Stupid teachers -- who think they are smart -- produce less-than-challenged kids.  These people must be stopped.

Nikki Lardas
Teacher, Osceola County Schools
Kissimmee, FL

The Commons vs. Corporate Capitalism: An Exchange

December 1, 2006

Thanks very much for reviewing my book Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons (“Building the Commons,” November 15, 2006). You did an outstanding job of presenting and discussing my arguments, even if, in the end, you didn't agree with all of them.

Peter Barnes
Senior Fellow, Tomales Bay Institute
Co-founder and former President, Working Assets
Point Reyes Station, CA

Dear Peter: Thanks for your kind note. I hope you understand my disagreement is not with your idea of the commons, but with your mixing it in with your anti-corporate-capitalist and anti-complex-urban-civilization biases. Those biases are a distraction (see, for example, your colleague’s letter immediately below). The project of “reclaiming” or -- as I prefer to put it -- “building” the commons is in the long-term material interest of us all, including those of us who direct corporate capitalism and those of us who enjoy Cokes, iPods, and trips to the mall. I am not sure you have grasped, yet, what a powerfully unifying and transformative idea you have wrought! -- Mark Satin


Thank you for your review of Peter Barnes’s new book Capitalism 3.0 (“Building the Commons,” November 15, 2006). I just sent it to Peter in fact.

I think you gave an honest assessment. However, I do think you went overboard on Peter's critique of the corporation. I thought his critique was measured, real -- and most of all grounded in experience. As Peter says, he tried to work within the existing corporate institutional structure and found that there are built-in defects. The institution is encoded to produce a certain result and somehow we have got to change the code.

There are two possible ways to do this, three actually. One has been the regulatory approach, but that is so easily corrupted -- as you would know from having lived in Washington DC! Another is the Richard Grossman corporate charter campaign. I think it would be wonderful to rewrite the corporate charter laws in the 50 states. But, talk about a "long term" project.

Peter is proposing a third way. It's a kind of aikido. Rather than resist property rights, devise a new kind of property right that can work as a boundary to the corporate kind. Develop institutions that give people a positive and tangible stake in these where possible -- as in the “American Permanent Fund” Peter describes in his book (and you mention in your review).

Such a proposal is not hippie dippie. A Republican governor of Alaska did it, for Pete's sake.

Work on corporate charter reform, cooperatives, and all the stuff you wrote about in your Radical Middle book [promoting humanistic management consulting, passing laws that would induce corporations to pay less attention to short-term profits and more attention to building long-term wealth, etc. - ed.] can continue of course.

The corporation that exists today really is an anachronism. It is an appetite without a shut-off switch. It contains no capacity to say "enough"; and any human or human institution that cannot say "enough" is cruisin' for the proverbial bruisin'. When you create an appetite on the scale of today's global corporation, then there is real trouble afoot.

In the Adam Smith model one entity would provide a competitive check to the others. But we have seen that this does not work, when they all are cannibalizing the social and natural commons and in fact are programmed to do so. (Smith dismissed the possibility of corporations looming large in the scheme of things. They were too cumbersome and bureaucratic, he said -- one of his gross miscalculations, though understandable given the corporations of his day. He premised his "invisible hand" upon a world of individual entrepreneurs rooted in particular places and subject to the moral suasion and social sanction -- the "Moral Sentiments"-- of their peers.)

Well, at these times I often think of what a former assessor of Los Angeles County told me: "I don't care what you say about me, just spell my name right." I thought the piece was mainly complimentary and is the kind that will stir up interest in the book. I appreciated the research that went into it. Plus you spelled Peter's name right, so who can complain?

Jonathan Rowe
President, Tomales Bay Institute
Contributing Editor, The Washington Monthly
Point Reyes Station, CA

Dear Jonathan: I appreciate your eloquent defense of Peter's and your decidedly anti-corporate approach to writing about the commons. However, I still feel the two of you are making a serious strategic error.

The idea of the commons has the capacity to appeal to a wide variety of Americans of all political beliefs. But by combining his description of the commons with a shrill attack on corporate capitalism, Peter has produced a manifesto that will appeal to a much more limited audience.

I don’t get it. It strikes me as a willfully blown opportunity. Especially since -- as Peter makes clear at certain points in his book -- the commons is not only compatible with corporate capitalism, but would improve its workings and enlarge its appeal.

A more radical middle approach might have been to convey that there are many ways of judging Capitalism 2.0 . . . but that in the year 2006 it is in EVERYBODY’S interests to move on ASAP to Capitalism 3.0.

And it is, you know. -- Mark Satin

Twidding the Dials Is Not Enough!

November 15, 2006

I just read your review of Steven Hill's 10 Steps to Repair American Democracy ("Changing the Rules Is Not Enough," September 1, 2006).  We will change nothing in any significant degree unless we outvote both parties, and I do not mean by creating another party.  The citizens must form a "Kitchen Table Politics" venue whereby they (a) choose whom to write in and (b) take control.

Hoby Herron
Creator, Votealution
Bend, Or.


I enjoyed your review / critique of Hill's book.  I certainly agree with you that the ten steps he lists are not enough to save our society.  I also think the two vital steps you added need one more, namely, 

Step 13. Convene all of us into "We the People."

This requires what I've been calling a national Wisdom Council.  Basically, we need to move from a deliberative democracy to a "weocracy," as set forth in my article "Transforming the Public Conversation."

One key aspect of this strategy, which we are seeking to demonstrate in different communities, is that it not only works to transform the collective intelligence of a system of any size.  It is something that a few people can initiate without permission from anyone!  It doesn't require wishful thinking or electoral miracles, it's actionable immediately.  And, once implemented, this step will assure that Radical Middle newsletter's Steps 11 and 12 come into being, plus most of Hill's Steps 1-10.

Jim Rough
President, Center for Wise Democracy
Port Townsend, WA

Spiritual Teacher Says: Evangelicals Are Programmed

November 1, 2006

In your recent critique of Noah Feldman's book Divided by God ("Let's Worry Less About Getting God Out of Our Institutions and More About Getting Values into Them," September 15, 2006), you state, "It's a great book but the solution's too top-down.  Why not . . . break down the differences between secularists and evangelicals by identifying shared values rooted in religion AND spirit AND love of life?"

Sounds good, my friend, but evangelicals are not interested in sharing anything.

Ever try to have a conversation about religion with evangelicals?  Their job is to convert you -- not, in their mind, to water down any of their absurd and antiquated beliefs.  That's just the way they're programmed.

Your very rational suggestion is out of touch with reality.  There are solid reasons for the way things are and have been for centuries.  Common sense (albeit too uncommon) is not about to change that.

Joe Simonetta
Author, Seven Words That Can Change the World: A New Understanding of Sacredness (2001)
Sarasota, FL

Academic Says: Religion's Role Is Prophetic

November 1, 2006

Re: your analysis of Noah Feldman ("Let's Worry Less About Getting God Out of Our Institutions and More About Getting Values into Them," September 15, 2006), Stephen Carter is also on point.

Carter's book God's Name in Vain (orig. 2000) points out the importance of the prophetic role of religion in achieving needed social change, and reminds us that the original purpose of the so-called "wall of separation" was to protect the church from the state, not the state from the church.

Try to imagine how -- or if! -- segregation would have ended in the sixties if churches and pastors had not been allowed to get involved in that very political issue.  And wasn't the same true over 100 years earlier in the fight against slavery?

Jim Strasma
Academic Computing and Communications Center
University of Illinois - Chicago Circle
Chicago, IL

Radical Middle -- or Radical Whole?

October 15, 2006

What a great article (“Repairing American Democracy: Changing the Rules Is Not Enough,” September 1, 2006). Can I send it to my e-list?

A few notes. You say:

It is typical of activists to focus on how The System is failing us. But as psychologically- and holistically-oriented political thinkers have been pointing out for 40 years now, the equation also runs in reverse.

We ourselves need to (a) become much savvier political thinkers, (b) honestly dialogue and thoughtfully deliberate among ourselves, and (c) ensure that the products of our deliberations get through to the political decision-makers.

An aside: The real leading-edge is when the deliberative public IS the political decision-makers, as in the British Columbia Citizens Assembly or the Porto Allegre participatory budget process.

But, at a more theoretical level: I think it isn't a matter of us OR The System. It is a matter of the feedback-loop CONNECTION BETWEEN us and The System. We shape it, and it shapes us. There is no starting point, and we can start anywhere. So I'd say something like this about our failure:

"We have failed to create a system that won't so persistently fail us. Even those few of us who are politically active have focused on issues and candidates -- or on direct community service -- rather than on changing the System, itself, which makes it so hard to make sane collective decisions, to effectively care, and to serve the common good simply by living our ordinary lives."

Robert Theobald once said that what’s most tragic about our systems is they make it so hard to effectively care. I think that says it. But, to give it your spin, it is our responsibility to CO-CREATE systems that make it easy and compelling to effectively care.

You write: “So while his book is marvelous and even definitive as far as it goes, it's not complete. It's a half moon, and 21st century democracy advocates need the full moon.”

Brilliantly said! I think that metaphor applies to a LOT of things, and I'll probably steal it if you don't trademark it quickly. I'd suggest that "completeness,” however, is not the responsibility of any one person (and therefore not something to critique folks for), but is caused by inadequate forums for all of us parts to come together and co-create things that are more comprehensive and coherent together. Again, it is a matter of co-creating systems that help us be our best selves together.

So the question is, what needs to happen for us to co-create those systems? We could say that that is the inquiry of the emerging Radical Whole (as contrasted with the Radical Middle).

Tom Atlee
President, The Co-Intelligence Institute
Author, The Tao of Democracy
Eugene, OR

Ambivalent about Hill

October 1, 2006

I heartily disagree with Proposals 5 and 6 in Steven Hill’s book as reported in your article (“Repairing American Democracy: Changing the Rules Is Not Enough,” September 1, 2006):

-- “Reform the Senate to give high population states more Senators." The entire reason for the Senate, besides cooling down the House, was to give small states a fair shake. I guess you can tell I'm from a small state, New Mexico, and would not like to be run over by, say, California.

-- "Subsidize more media.” No, no, a thousand times no! As bad as corporate control of the media is now, government control of the media -- and that's what he’s looking at -- is a major step towards a captive press. I realize most people’s model is NPR and the BBC, but you can trust that some administration somewhere down the line will threaten to yank their funding if they don’t toe the line -- and later, even say "We own you -- you WILL print what we say!"

Patricia Mathews
Albuquerque, NM

Reuniting Us Then -- and Now

September 15, 2006

I am delighted to see that you referred -- positively! -- to the founding statement of the 1980s-era Planetary Initiative for the World We Choose in your article about the just-emerging Reuniting America group (“First ‘Transpartisan’ Political Organization Prepares for Liftoff,” August 15, 2006). I played a major part in drafting and editing the Planetary Initiative statement 25 years ago.

And I am still, consistent with the theme of your article, involved in healing and dialogic political work. Let me tell you about a new organization I've been advising as a volunteer.

The Institute for Public Dialogue, founded last year, is a non-profit, post-partisan organization that seeks to expand both the dialogue about and analysis of political issues. The Institute will encourage the equal exposition of opposing views, thus yielding a greater public recognition of truth regardless of political fallout.

At a forthcoming Washington DC luncheon the Institute will be suggesting a "Public Talks" initiative -- a new form of international political dialogue, allowing adversaries to make their cases on an equal basis. The Internet, newspapers, and magazines would all be involved.

A more detailed description of this process is on the Institute for Public Dialogue’s web site in the form of a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, HERE.

Gordon Feller
Editor, Urban Age Institute
San Rafael, CA

Not Okay to Quote the Great Mark Satin!

September 15, 2006

You’re not doing the old job.

Your old style had you front and center, which was okay, because it put a person in there. But it’s not okay when it’s “as I said in my book, x” [see esp. Reuniting America and David Korten articles].

This is a problem other writers have too.

Jane Mansbridge
Professor, Kennedy School of Government
Cambridge, MA

"I Am Looking to Leave Babylon . . . Somehow"

September 1, 2006

Looking at your David Korten review (“What Can We Learn from the Antiglobalists?,” August 1, 2006), I guess I am off running with the Ishmael crowd, and sympathetic to what Derrick Jensen has to say (Endgame, 2006), and Jared Diamond (Collapse, 2004). I very much doubt the genocidal, planet devouring system we have is reformable. I am looking to leave Babylon . . . somehow.

Anyways. The Korten review. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, and I am a history buff, that the "race to destruction" began about 6,000 years ago, when domination was invented and began to spread. It has nothing to do with Riane Eisler or any other one person or theory. I don't find it a blaming scenario but rather a hopeful one: we have been peaceful and cooperating critters for most of our history, and therefore this aberration of the last several thousand years can be brought to an end.

I guess I am one of those people you so easily dismiss, who would rather have lived way back then. (Iterated preference for one's own milieu is not an argument, no matter how many people hold it, is it?)

Vera Bradova
Author, “Participatory Democracy: Three Paradigms” (article currently being scanned & edited by Co-Intelligence Institute)
Moab, UT

Korten Article, Not Bad

September 1, 2006

Korten review -- really outstanding! Great job.

Gayatri Schilberg
Senior Economist, JBS Energy, Inc.
West Sacramento, CA


I've just read the David Korten article.  OUTSTANDING.  One of the best you've done.

Martin Rutte
Co-author, Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work
Santa Fe, NM


Informative and enlightening review of Korten book. Congratulations! Your perspective gained from many years of reading and acting and reflecting is most helpful to me.

Sven Atterhed
Venture Coach, The Foresight Group
Gothenburg, Sweden


I've just read your review of David Korten's The Great Turning and discovered you to be exactingly truthful. I'm keen on socializing land rent a la Henry George; I wonder what you think of keeping the vision of earth as commonwealth in mind and striving towards the circumstance of socialized rent through advocacy of policy that dampens speculation in economic rent.

What do you or the radical middle have to say about declaring the birthright of all people in the rent of land -- meanwhile patiently taking incremental steps towards that end?

(Btw, you characterized Korten’s book as a “mind experiment.” I believe you'll discover Henry George was the first to use that phrase, in a talk to the faculty and students of UC-Berkeley in the year 1877.)

Dave Giesen
Director, The Henry George School of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA

Dear Dave: I am delighted that you detected some possible affinity between my views and those of Henry George. You are correct. I actually gave a little talk at the Progress & Poverty Centennial Conference back in 1979 (two lifetimes ago, sigh), and later wrote an article based on George's ideas for my old hard-copy newsletter, New Options.

I Remember David Korten When

September 1, 2006

I much enjoyed your review of David Korten's recent book The Great Turning (“What Can We Learn from the Antiglobalists?,” August 1, 2006). David and I co-authored a piece for USAID and Asian Institute of Management a long time ago (“Learning to Aid the Poor, A Curriculum Proposal,” 1984).

David and his wife, Frances, were marvelously insightful about how to exploit the potential of foundations to assist bureaucracies in promoting genuinely effective rural development. David then was adept at bringing institutions with global presence and potential to the service of local communities. I agree with your insight that this is what we must continue to do today.

David had an insight and a methodology he called "bureaucratic re-orientation" which is effective when the players are committed to genuine good, i.e. when they really care about the poor communities and know about their potentials for self-improvement and seek resources for them which they can permanently own and manage. David's real genius is in community development management. For your continued path of seeking the best ways to promote the human good on both the local and global scale, do not fail to read Benedict XVI's Deus Caritas Est. If he lives long and remains vigorous it will explain much of the direction of the Church's role in the goal which you hold dear.

Benedict’s letter is short and delightfully easy to read. He says that the attainment of justice (economic, civic, and international) is the task of the lay, secular world. But he shows how those secular efforts will fail if not infused by genuine caring (caritas).

His remarks on how grand schemes fail where love is absent resonates in my mind for I can still recall standing in the courtyard of the palace of Costa Rican President Luis Alberto Monge in 1984 trying to convince Jerome Segal (now author of the remarkable Graceful Simplicity, 2003) that Korten's methodology might work in USAID. Segal knew a thing or two about USAID and shot my idealistic hopes down by saying, "Stan, that would require that the brightest minds in AID missions in Tanzania or Senegal actually cared about the poor in those countries. What they care about is getting out of Senegal to a post in Paris, and any boat-rocking to get effective development projects going will be seen as risking that kind of promotion."

David, like many ardent souls, wants a comprehensive solution and ends up sounding rather messianic. I sympathize, but I see another problem, not as venal as the "AID as stepping stone to Paris" problem but the failure to recognize how the community-based solutions require persons and communities where normal lives -- lives of families with children and resolutely loving parents -- are being lived. Adults with goals to make those communities sustainably good are the most reliable source of change, because they love their kids and treasure the community that will shelter them.

People who want to produce change must not overlook the reliable sources of love, even if they seem unbearably conventional or unenlightened.  Marxist ignoring of this kind of love produced a lot of dysfunction, and eventual violence. The current crop of thinkers and activists -- and that includes both you and David -- must not make that same mistake.

Stanislaus J. Dundon, Ph. D.
Emeritus Professor, Ethics in Science, Medicine and the Professions
California State University - Sacramento
Sacramento, CA

Regaining the Center -- a Radical Alternative!

August 15, 2006

Although Joseph Lieberman may have been the highest scoring Senator in your last Congressional scorecard (“An Identifiable ‘Radical Middle’ Is Quietly at Work -- in Congress!,” December 2004), the rebellion against Mr. Lieberman in Connecticut last week was actually an uprising by that rare phenomenon, irate moderates.

They are the voters who have been unnerved over the last few years as the country has seemed to be galloping in a deeply unmoderate direction.

A war that began at the president’s choosing has degenerated into a desperate, bloody mess that has turned much of the world against the United States. The Administration’s contempt for international agreements, Congressional prerogatives, and the authority of the courts has undermined the rule of law abroad and at home.

Yet while all this has been happening, the political discussion in Washington has become a captive of the Bush agenda. Traditional beliefs like every person’s right to a day in court, or the conviction that America should not start wars it does not know how to win, wind up being portrayed as extreme. The middle becomes a place where Senators struggle to get the President to volunteer to obey the law when the mood strikes him.

In this context, attempting to regain the real center becomes a radical alternative.

Robert L. Olson
Senior Fellow, Institute for Alternative Futures
Former President, New World Alliance
Alexandria, VA

Suitable for the Classroom

August 15, 2006

Your article on therapeutic alienation is superb (“John McWhorter’s Prescription for Black America: End ‘Therapeutic Alienation’ Now!,” July 15, 2006). My class will be reading it.

Just a reminder how much you help me grow.

Rich Feller, Ph.D.
Professor, School of Education
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO

“As a Part of the Grieving Process For Me”

August 1, 2006

I am responding to your newsletter piece that reviewed George Packer's book The Assassins’ Gate (“The Radical Middle Take on Iraq,” January 1, 2006). The book includes a chapter, “Memorial Day,” about my son Kurt and e-mails from me to Mr. Packer in the months following Kurt's death in Iraq. [“Memorial Day” is the penultimate chapter of Packer’s award-winning book and includes some of the most emotionally wrenching writing about the war you’re likely ever to read - M.S.]

As a part of the grieving process for me, I have tried to read as much as possible about Iraq, its history and people and ideas, as well as about our history. This has been an interest of mine. That was just a part of the grieving process. It is also and more importantly a spiritual process which does involve a psychological aspect.

Without getting too detailed, your “radical middle” concept is attractive. Back in the 1970's a writer named Henry Fairlie used to write regularly for The New Republic. Mr. Fairlie, in an essay “In Defense of Big Government,” described himself as a Tory Democrat. Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary includes a definition of Tory Democracy which probably would fit Mr. Fairlie. And me. In an American context I interpret it to be somewhat Democrat and somewhat Republican. Radical Middle?

Back to Iraq. All I can say to people who ask me what I think is that I have an investment in the future of Iraq. I want a return on my investment. It is not open-ended. I am not able to say how long. I don't think the focus on public timetables for exit is wise apart from the actual situation in Iraq. I do want wise counsel given to and acted upon by the officials to whom the soldiers pledge their obedience in the Soldier’s Oath. I believe that oath put a responsibility and obligation on the President and those other officials.

I have had some e-mail communication with a family in Baghdad, and I believe they want a better Iraq for themselves and their children. They have considered our military who toppled Saddam and who are a buffer, so to speak, against civil war and chaos, as heroes. It is just one family's views but they are Iraqis and their views are important. Besides a policy that honors the service and sacrifice of our American soldiers and Marines we also need to honor the commitment to a better Iraq of brave Iraqis of good will. Or so I believe.

Chris Frosheiser
Social service worker
Des Moines, IA

We Can’t Just Pretend that Cooperation Is at Hand!

July 15, 2006

Your article about China, India and Brazil (“These Are Our Enemies?,” November 15, 2005) tries to say that, through judicious use of “soft power,” we can turn all three into genuine partners. I disagree.

China is not willing to work cooperatively with us. It isn't even willing to work with its own citizens. It pressured Google into delivering an emasculated version of the search engine that allowed the Chinese government to readily censor what its citizens could access. Yes, China has problems with its youth, and maybe this will blow the lid off of the expurgated version of reporting that is currently the norm. But until that happens, to speak of "soft power" is unrealistic -- if not dangerous.

Even the censor-friendly Google engine isn't enough for the Chinese. They are currently writing their own search engine where censorship ability is built in from the start, rather than being layered on after the fact.

If these guys are too buttoned-down to level with their own people, do you really expect them to cooperate with us? Can you even expect them to have the confidence to deal with the crazy Americans after trying to insulate themselves from the reality of what's going on in the world? For me, the Google saga in China is a metaphor for China's stance in general: Insular, protectionist, and infinitely repressive. Surely the openness of the US culture must inspire loathing and terror in China's leaders.

I do agree that dealing with China, India and Brazil in a cooperative spirit is far preferable to what we are currently doing. But to equate this with true cooperation would be foolish. If we were to act as if true cooperation were occurring, we would be planting the seeds of a future disaster.

Ted Ichino
Aerospace contractor
Redondo Beach, CA

The Great Gerzon

July 1, 2006

Thanks for excellent review of Mark Gerzon's new book Leading through Conflict ("Mediator-Leaders: The Leadership We Need Now?," May 1, 2006).  I have now read it, and it brought together a huge amount for me, which I had never seen and / or connected.  Keep up your great work!

John Marks
President, Search for Common Ground
Washington, DC


I appreciate the thoroughness -- and thoughtfulness -- of your review of Mark Gerzon's book.  I am sure it will spark much discussion.

Julie Devoll
Harvard Business School Press
Watertown, MA

Unity from the Bottom Up

July 1, 2006

I just saw your article on Unity08 ("The Most Promising Politicial Initiative of Our Time!," June 1, 2006).  My site went up in response to seeing the Unity party's site.  It's brand new and not pretty yet, but it's growing fast: The Unity Supporters Hub.

My goal is to offer more of a "peer to peer" coordination site than a blog or platform to announce things from.  I think part of the appeal of the Unity party (and the reason it might have a chance of winning rather than spoiling the election) is that it is "headless" until June 2008 . . . and then the Net will give it a brain.

With my site I'm shooting for a sort of parietal lobe for that brain.  A place where "Net factions" can find their members, identify their differences (with civility), and then start negotiating.

Jennifer Mueller
San Diego, CA

It's Unity Time!

June 15, 2006

Thanks for an excellent piece ("Unity 08: The Most Promising Politicial Initiative of Our Time!," June 1, 2006).  We've highlighted it on our website.

Jim Jonas
CEO, Unity08
Founder / Partner, Peak Creative Media
Denver, CO


What you're doing at Radical Middle is terrific, and I really appreciate the thought and thoroughness of your Unity08 piece.

Roger Craver
Founders Council, Unity08
Founder / CEO, Craver, Mathews, Smith & Company
Chilmark, MA


What a great, thoughtful piece!  Thanks for the thinking and Net real estate.

Shane Kinkennon
Founder / President, Kinkennon Communications [did the Unity08 press release - ed.]
Washington, DC

Of Course the Radical Middle Should Emphasize Dignity!

June 1, 2006

In the blurb for your review of Robert Fuller's Somebodies and Nobodies (February 15, 2006) you ask,  "If the right emphasizes liberty and the left emphasizes equality, should the radical middle emphasize dignity?"

Of course the Radical Middle should emphasize dignity!

Between liberty and equality, it's the only thing remaining, except perhaps fraternity -- but dignity subsumes that and also includes women!

To me Radical Middle is akin to Buddhism's Middle Way, and that definitely requires (re-)learning dignity.

Dignity is missing in our mainstream culture big-time, along with honesty.

Paul Shippee
Founder, Health Resource 2000: A Smart Health Store
Crestone, CO

P.S. Congratulations on having the wisdom to not stay in DC for more than 10 years!

. . . And How About a Wealth Tax?!?

May 15, 2006

I appreciated your discussion of Charles Murray’s book In Our Hands (“Just Give Them the Money! How to End Poverty while Reaching Out to Left and Right,” April 15, 2006). I am still trying to figure out what I feel about this and how to get reasonable discussions started on it.

My immediate expansion of his proposal is

  • $10,000 per adult, as in his proposal, but also
  • Flat income / capital gains (realized and un-realized) tax of about 15%, and
  • Flat wealth tax of about 2.5%

Of course these rates are rough until the numbers are crunched.

Probably the one transfer payment I would not eliminate would be for education -- Pell Grants, student loans, etc. WE NEED EDUCATED PEOPLE, so ideology / simplicity be damned.

Keep up the good work!

Mike Liveright
“Political observer”
Palo Alto, CA

Thanks, Brother!

May 15, 2006


You wouldn't know me from a bar of soap, but I want to say thank you.

Some 10 yrs ago I bought a grubby second hand copy of an old Whole Earth type magazine (true story) and read a one pager by you (on the shitter) that inspired the rocks off me. Your word encouraged us, the “beautiful losers,” to “get organised” [article now online via LookSmart, HERE - ed.].

I took that on and made the most of what skills and will I was able to muster . . . to some impact. Currently on IFOAM world board for Organics [International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements - ed.]. Currently now in Taiwan coaching the Organic sector here to get organised.

Have always wanted to say thanks, brother, for that moment of light.

Brendan Hoare
Henderson, New Zealand

Left, Right, and Center Sound Off on Murray

May 1, 2006

Very pleased to see an article on poverty ("Just Give Them the Money!: How to End Poverty While Reaching Out to Left and Right," April 15, 2006).  Suggest a negative income tax as easier to administer.

Saul Mendlovitz
Dag Hammarskjold Professor, Rutgers Law School-Newark
Co-author, On the Creation of a Just World Order
New York, NY


I hope Murray explains what we are to do when Bubba and Tyrone piss away their annual grant, and show up at the emergency room, etc.

John McClaughry
President, Ethan Allen Institute
Former Domestic Policy Advisor, Reagan White House
Concord, VT


Thanks for April 15th discussion of Charles Murray's book.  It is precisely what I consider to fall in the "middle ground" -- not ideological, open to reasoned discussion, and radical as all-get-out!  I would like to join in a dialog with people of like mind (Darlow.Botha@verizon.net).

Darlow G. Botha
"Retired after 50 years of high-tech engineering" [named to Laureates Hall of Fame by editors of Aviation Week for outstanding contributions in the field of aerospace - M.S.]
Washington, DC

Wendy Rules!

April 15, 2006

I am one more reader to prove what you wrote about your article “Modest Women, Honorable Men” (March 1999) still being one of the most popular articles on the Radical Middle website [currently #1 out of about 75 - ed.].

I was doing a Google search on Wendy Shalit, the author of the book you reviewed there, and happened across a link to your article. I am definitely getting a copy of her book the first chance I get!

Going against the grain -- and not merely for the sake of nonconformity -- is something I respect, and the ideas Wendy puts forth are what we need to hear nowadays. I have come to again love being a woman after reading some materials written by Wendy [on her “Modestly Yours” blog].

I have also come to appreciate more, men who are honorable in their ways. Thank you so much for writing your courageous article!

Diana Uichanco
Pro-Life Philippines Foundation
Quezon City, Philippines

Dear Diana: My most self-revealing articles are often my most widely-read.  What message does that hold for public policy writers?

You're Not the Only One Saying Materialism Is Bunk!

April 1, 2006

Three important books have come out recently reinforcing your argument that [beyond a certain minimum point,] material success isn't the answer to finding happiness ("From Material Want to Happiness-, Purpose-, and Meaning-Want: Time for a New Political Discourse!," March 15, 2006):

-- Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (2004). Harris articulates the dangers and absurdities of organized religion and warns against its encroachment on world politics.

-- Jim Wallis, God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It (2005). Wallis is an Evangelical Christian who refuses to allow the religious Right to have a monopoly on morality and spirituality. He also calls for the secular Left to speak to the crucial issues of personal meaning and individual values.

-- Michael Lerner, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right (2006).  Lerner has provided a practical platform that can cut through the polarization and address the basic issues of health care, poverty, peace, the environment etc. on which most people in the middle agree. Sounds just like The Radical Middle!

It is clear that the religious right has co-opted the hunger most Americans feel for basic values.  Lerner and Wallis are working together and have started The Network of Spiritual Progressives: An Alternative to the Religious Right and a New Direction for the Left.

Lucy Dougall
Woodinville, WA

Dear Lucy: Appreciate the recommendations, and I’m sure my viewers will also. But if you can detect no fundamental difference between the Wallis-Lerner approach (full of partisan right-bashing) and the Gregg Easterbrook-Mark Satin approach (full of love for all our crazy non-materialistic dreams and schemes), then you’re not reading my articles with any care.

Point Well Grasped!

March 15, 2006

Your review of my book Somebodies and Nobodies is thoughtful and penetrating ("'Rankism' -- Last Big Barrier to a Just and Decent Society?," February 15, 2006). Thank you for really grasping the point of the book and laying it out for others so lucidly.

Having subscribed to your first newsletter in the 1980s and then to the print version of Radical Middle as well, there's no doubt in my mind that your intellectual (and lifestyle!) footprints could be uncovered by a philosophical archeologist in most every chapter of my book.

Robert W. Fuller
Berkeley, CA

How Dare You Criticize George Lakoff!

March 1, 2006

Re: your review of George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant! (“The Democrats’ ‘New Bible’ Will Raise Us-Against-Them to an Art Form,” January 15, 2006):

I wonder if you've read this slim volume? I highly recommend it.

Lakoff's analysis is so helpful in understanding how social conservatives think. It has tremendous explanatory power. For example, I had never understood people who proclaim loudly "The US Is #1" and fail to see our country as one among many. Lakoff's analysis makes clear that if you have a "strict father" view of what's right in both families and government and on a world stage, you tend to see the US as the father who needs to control the "children" -- all the other countries.

I really encourage you to take another look at this book. There is a culture war in this country, as well as a battle over the proper role of government: strict father vs nurturant mother. I think the direction the Bushites are taking our country in is frightening.

Yes I want to win back our country. Lakoff's analysis goes a long way to show how the conservative forces in this country succeeded in gaining power. I do want them to have less power, since they are doing so much damage all over the earth with the power their wield. Does that make sense?

Janet E. Ploss, M.D.
Seattle, WA

Dear Janet: Your passionate caring "makes sense."  However, if your purpose was to engage in dialogue with me, your e-mail does not make sense. I wrote a clear and carefully considered critique of Lakoff’s important book, yet your e-mail fails to respond to any of the points I made. Instead, you simply reiterate Lakoff’s ideas and imply, twice, that I hadn’t thoughtfully read the book. How does your notion of dialogue, as exemplified by your e-mail, differ from that of the “Bushites,” whom you find “frightening”?

Enough of Lakoff and His Ilk

March 1, 2006

I couldn't agree more with your take on Lakoff (“The Democrats’ ‘New Bible’ Will Raise Us-Against-Them to an Art Form,” January 15, 2006).  I had heard much about him but never met him until he was the commencement speaker last year for Presidio Management School where I had served on the advisory board. Instead of a commencement address he did his reframing shtick and would have alienated anyone who wasn't "progressive" -- another polarizing term.

We need middle ground in this country of ours and we need it fast! Remember Mark Gerzon's book A House Divided (1996)? We are in danger of becoming so divided that the original American Dream as foreseen by our founders will have absolutely no chance of realization.

John Renesch
San Francisco, CA

Dear John: I quote from Gerzon’s book on our home page! He tells me his practice-oriented sequel, Leading Through Conflict, will be published by Harvard Business School Press this year.

You Have Bought the Far Right’s Goals on Iraq!

February 15, 2006

I'm sorry, but your idea of Radical Middle seems to be a matter of strategy rather than ideals or even attention to law. It seems you have bought hook line and sinker the far right's goals if not its methodology ("The Radical Middle Take on Iraq," January 1, 2006).

To say that we should have gone into Iraq because Saddam Hussein was a tyrant (put into power by the US government) ignores international law -- to which the US government had agreed. It also ignores US foreign policy which had been to stay out of the internal affairs of other nations.

I have always considered myself a global citizen concerned with and involved in the care of my fellow humans around the world -- but to use such a poor excuse as "he's a bad guy" to invade a country defies logic.

You may be interested to know that there are many tyrants in the world whom we have absolutely no interest in even discouraging -- Robert Mugabe comes to mind for one. What's more, our government has close relations with other tyrannical regimes. Besides, there are many around the world who consider our country tyrannical -- so to glibly toss around that argument invites chaos.

Now, I have always considered myself a middle way type, but for for me to be Via Media and a global citizen means to listen to and heed the advice of the rest of the world. The United Nations seems the best vehicle of the Middle. And the United Nations told us to NOT go into Iraq.

We took unilateral action on Iraq (don't give me any of this "coalition of the willing" talk). There were precious few who were interested in helping with anything other than tokens -- and some of them were coerced. It seems the true devotee of the Radical Middle would follow the lead of the United Nations, using mature restraint in negotiations rather than immature impatience to get what one wants, and making war the last resort rather than the first.

Father Chuck Kramer
St. James’ Church, stjames@bestweb.net
Hyde Park, NY

Dear Father Kramer: Why in the world did you write this e-mail?  The war in Iraq is causing anguish for us all.  But like Janet Ploss (two sub-heads above), you fail to fairly address any of the key points I made.  Moreover -- I must say this -- I seriously wonder whether Robert Fuller’s book Somebodies and Nobodies (discussed in Rankism -- Last Big Barrier to a Just and Decent Society?,” February 15, 2006) helps explain some of your rhetoric and feeling-tone.

Time To Take “Scenario Planning” Further!

February 1, 2006

Your recent posting on Edward Cornish’s book Futuring was very, very interesting ("What the U.S. Needs Now: Futuring!!! But Not Top-Down Planning," October 15, 2005). Had me wondering if you've read Peter Senge et al., Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future (Cambridge, MA: Society for Organizational Learning, 2004).

They're writing, as they say themselves, at the intersection of leadership, spirituality, and science. And they speak quite extensively, as Cornish and you do, about scenario planning.

But they also take it further. For them, it's not just planning via the three scenarios (more of same, pessimistic, optimistic). It’s about recognizing how we as individuals and organizations powerfully influence / co-create the scenario we ultimately bring forth, and how we can be much more intentional doing that.

Barbara F. Schaetti, Ph.D.
Principal Consultant, Transition Dynamics
Founding Partner, Personal Leadership Seminars
Seattle, WA

"Kind" Book Reviews: An Exchange

January 15, 2006

Thank you very much indeed for your very kind review of [Edward Cornish's book] Futuring, "What the U.S. Needs Now: Futuring!!! But Not Top-Down Planning" (October 15, 2005).  We are really delighted with it and will call it to the attention of our members.

Edward Cornish & Sarah Warner
World Future Society
Bethesda, MD


Dear Sarah & Ed,

Thanks for your wonderful note.  But I must add that I do not write "kind" reviews, only true ones.

Mark Satin
Washington, DC


Dear Mark,

So much the better -- at least in this case!

Ed Cornish
Bethesda, MD

"The Fundamentalist Right": An Exchange

January 1, 2006

Ed. note: For nearly 40 years, John Vasconcellos served in the California Legislature, where he became well known for his innovative "self-esteem"-oriented legislative proposals.  He is currently the guiding force behind The Vasconcellos Project, aka Politics of Trust Network, which for many years was featured on our home page (under "16 Red-Hot Radical Middle Organizations").  What follows is the core of a much more extensive exchange. . . .

The best -- likely the only -- way we can move forward in the face of the hatred of the fundamentalist right (whose entire identity & belief system is grounded in hatred of themselves, a negative vision of our selves, our human nature & potential) is by believing in & opening & deepening ourselves and each other, providing us the capacity to lead our lives according to the alternative faithful vision of our selves, our human nature and potential.

And that is, of course, precisely what the Politics of Trust [Network] is proposing to be and do!

John Vasconcellos
Santa Clara, CA


Dear John,

Pardon me, but don't you think you are painting "the fundamentalist right" with a little too broad a brush here?

Like you, I have studied -- and known -- some of the most perceptive humanistic psychologists of the 20th century. I do not think any of them would have characterized an entire group, ANY group, with phrases like " . . . whose entire identity & belief system is grounded in hatred of themselves. . . ."

As a matter of fact, we have much to learn from conservative evangelicals -- e.g., do we really need to draw the line between government & religion QUITE so high as we do now?

In these times, it is tempting to caricature, and thereby assert our superiority to, those with whom we have significant political differences. Surely it is part of the mission of your (our) "Politics of Trust" to resist that temptation.

Mark Satin
Washington, DC


Dear Mark,

I acknowledge that my characterization was excessive & too universal. However, that doesn’t take away from the seeming truth that on many issues the members of “the fundamentalist right” are more aligned (for their choice of means) with wealth + weapons + war than is my want. And what baffles me is how they manage to claim this as being based in some “faith” or “religion” or “Christianity.”

As I recall, Jesus Christ was of the New Testament, whereas much of the means & values they seem committed to are to be found in the Old Testament.

John Vasconcellos
Santa Clara, CA



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