Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Good News Column

Every year at about this time, I hear from a small group of readers who follow my columns on the Web. And every year, their message is the same: “Can’t you find some good news to write about?”

God knows, they’re entitled. Virtually everything I write deals with death, destruction and mayhem. Most of my tales expose the darkest side of the human species.

Nevertheless, I promise my readers that I will give some thought to their suggestion. And I do. But I never seem to come up with enough good-enough news to fill a good news column. For me, good-enough news would be something like a lasting peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The bottom line is I fail. And one way I can think of to avoid that embarrassment is to ask readers what’s happening in the world that’s giving them hope.

So I did. And here’s some of what a few of them told me.

Their responses trended toward the sociopolitical and ran the gamut from democratization in Myanmar to ongoing protest in Egypt, from immigration to the U.S. to what young people are doing in terms of creative expression, from this nation's unmatched proclivity to innovate to embrace of same-sex marriage to “we can learn to love.”

Here are a few of those comments in their author’s own words:

Peter M. Shane, who teaches law at Ohio State, wrote: There is “a lot happening in the political world that gives me cause to feel good -- e.g., democratization in Myanmar, elections in Sierra Leone, ongoing protest in Egypt, blogging in China, the global rise in standards of living.

“We live in a time, of course, where every proclamation of hope can be met with a response of, ‘Yes, but . . .,’ but we shouldn't let our anxieties blind us when good things develop.

“Immigration to the U.S., for example, is good, and what the Obama Administration is doing to take the pressure off young undocumented immigrants is good. The rapid pace of change in social attitudes towards gays and lesbians is good. Getting millions more Americans on health insurance plans is good.

“When I really need a big dose of hopefulness, I focus on what young people are doing in terms of creative expression, journalism, political mobilization -- everything -- with the mind-blowing toolbox of new digital information and communication technologies.

“A lesson I take from the 2012 election is that people are tired of professional politicians' expectations for their passivity, and new technologies are enabling us to engage in the public sphere with a much greater reach -- think about how many more readers you reach than I.F. Stone! Isn't that amazing? For all these reasons, I feel very good, indeed.”

Kevin R. Johnson, who is Dean of the law school at the University of California at Davis, notes that he is “not particularly known for optimism” but is “happy about the chances for Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Indeed, the time, I believe, is now for such reform, which could have a positive impact on millions of people in the United States.
“The last decade has been rather depressing when it comes to immigration and possible reform. The shadow of September 11 influenced any and all discussion of immigration and the national mantra becomes something like border "enforcement now, enforcement forever", to paraphrase Alabama Governor George Wallace's defense of segregation.

“In an attempt to secure Republican support for meaningful reform, the Obama administration deported more immigrants than any administration in U.S. history, close to 400,000 in fiscal years 2011 and 2011.

“Here is why I am happy about the chances that immigration reform might pass:

1. Reelection of a President committed to reform;

2. Rejection overwhelming by Latinos of a Republican candidate who -- to attract the base -- claimed in the primaries that he endorsed "self-deportation," would promote enforcement, would not sign into law the DREAM Act; and

3. The realization by Republicans that to be relevant in future elections they had to attract Latino/a voters, not alienate Latina/os by demonizing Latina/os and immigrants, and enact some kind of immigration reform.

Then along came Lu (for Ludwig) Rudel, who built a successful business career atop 25 distinguished years in the US Foreign Service. Lu admitted to being “very thankful for a lot of things” but “that does not mean I am optimistic about the future. In fact, I am probably less optimistic than you are.”

Lu goes on: “I share your admiration of the Constitutional protection afforded to us from public authority. I share your recognition and thankfulness for our Rule of Law (notwithstanding all of the "lawyer jokes" that are out there).

“But I also feel gratitude for those gun-slinging enforcers who are protecting me from hostiles both overseas and within our borders. That includes our military, Customs and Immigration and the Border Patrol as well as the local police. They deserve my thanks and support even when a few rotten apples abuse their mandate.

“I am a legal immigrant that was allowed to escape to these shores during the Holocaust. In the words of Mark Rubio, I ‘was given a chance...’ by this country to get a free education, to become a citizen, to serve in the military during the Korean War, to serve in the Foreign Service for 25 years and then to build a business that made a profit. That is a great deal in one lifetime for which I give much thanks.

“There are many challenges to the continued growth of this society and I am not optimistic that the present political system is suited to allow our society to meet these challenges effectively, in large part because we tend vilify our institutions every time we note that they are not perfect.

“I believe the right to vote needs to be earned. A citizen needs to show that he/she has qualifications (in the sense that the voter has enough knowledge) to make an informed selection. And those who do not vote should be fined (as is done in Australia).
“I have little respect for those who ‘game the systems’ that have been put in place by the citizens of this country, to gain an undeserved benefit.

“Whatever hope there is for our future rests with this nation's unmatched proclivity to innovate. Those who dwell in this country enjoy a wonderful ‘risk to reward ratio’. I hope it remains so. We are an adventurous lot.

“I can think of no other nation on this planet where I would prefer to reside.”

Col. Morris D. ‘Moe’ Davis (Ret.) was a US Air Force officer and lawyer, was appointed to serve as the third Chief Prosecutor in the Guantanamo military commissions. In October 2007 Colonel Davis resigned from his position as Chief Prosecutor and became the Head of the Air Force Judiciary, hours after he was informed that controversial General Counsel William Haynes ll would be his superior. Davis said, , "The guy who said waterboarding is A-okay I was not going to take orders from. I quit.” Since his resignation. Moe has frequently spoken out against the Commissions.

Here’s what keeps him optimistic:

“When I think about what gives me hope, two people and two groups come to mind.

“New York City Police Officer Lawrence DePrimo bought a pair of boots for a man out on the street with bare feet on a cold night. A lot of people will do the right thing when they know others are looking and they’ll get credit for their good deeds.

“I think it says a lot about a person’s character when he does the right thing when he has no idea anyone is paying attention. The world would be a better place if more of us acted like Officer DePrimo.

“Malala Yousufzai refused to let Taliban extremists stop her from advocating for education for girls in Pakistan and all a coward’s bullet could do was to galvanize support for her efforts.

“Too many of us just lay and down and offer up our liberties when the fear-mongers tell us it’s for our safety and security. More of us need to have the courage of a teenage girl to stand up to fear and march on. We say we’re the Home of the Brave; we ought to act like it….

“I see examples of compassion, courage, commitment and enthusiasm – the kinds of positive examples that are often drowned out by all the bad news we face on a daily basis – and I think there is room for hope for the future. As long as there are those kinds of people out there I’m not going to give up.”

Prof. Lawrence Davidson teaches history at West Chester University in West Chester PA. An expert on Middle East history and politics, he is also a prolific writer.

Here’s his take on keeping optimistic:

“The foibles of leaders and their institutions, and the willingness of a vast majority of people to support these, have existed for thousands of years. It is not going to change now. Nonetheless, one must struggle against the violence and injustice that inevitably results. In doing so one achieves personnel victory and a real sense of worth. So the struggle becomes its own good news. Also, I find the debating aspect of this struggle (now mostly done through the weblog) to be fun. It is a bit odd, but it works for me.

“I also happen to have a rather dark sense of humor. Often I find the pronouncements of our leaders to be ahistorical, illogical, pathetic and funny all at once. Of course the funny side doesn't work when considering invasions of Gaza or drone murders, but sometimes it applies to the often ridiculous efforts made to rationalize these actions. Again, this may be a bit crazy, but you need a little bit of zaniness to get by.“

Simultaneously pathetic and funny comes as no surprise to Dr. Jack N. Behrman, one of the world’s most respected economists, a senior official in the J.F. Kennedy Administration (where he was my boss), and Chairman of the MBA Program and Associate Dean of the Faculty at the University of North Carolina.

Jack reminds us that “Good News consists of focusing on those near and dear. A society is built on relationships, and the closer they are the more pleasure and joy is created out of the love of others.

“On a more expanded world scene, while there is the potential for many and varied relationships, it appears that the major thrust is to gain materially from the others -- a sadness.

“But, this orientation is contradicted when disasters occur, as with Sandy and the Japanese Tsunami -- then we see love and sharing pouring out. So, there is a fundamental social cohesion, but not enough love and compassion during ‘normal times’. We can learn to love, though, so some optimism is warranted.”

As the provocateur of all these sentiments, I hope I have earned the right to say that “we can learn to love” is the most optimistic – and hopeful -- statement on this page. If all of us work to that end, next year’s good news column will be easier to write.