Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Something to Know - 31 December

Steve Breen

Yes, it it is that big evening before the New Year.   As the years have have passed on, we've given up going long distances to parties for the obligatory evening party to mark the end and the beginning of a new year.   It's not worth driving and exposing one's self to drivers who have had too much drink.   So, we and a couple of neighbors just walk to our next-door neighbor's.   I think this evening I will set up a lawn chair on our side walk and set up the bicycle strobe light and designate the spot as a DUI check point (or should it be called a WUI - walking while intoxicated).  In any event, be safe .   I ran across this article in the NY Times this morning, and send it your way as an example of the talent and direction that is out there for Progressives to look for.   The Governor of Rhode Island is one to watch:

The Opinion Pages | OP-ED COLUMNIST

A Democrat to Watch in 2015

Gina Raimondo's Approach to Income Inequality

DEC. 30, 2014

She just wrapped up four years as her state's treasurer, during which she successfully pushed an unusually ambitious overhaul of the pension system for state employees. It suspended cost-of-living adjustments, raised the retirement age by five years and left unions boiling mad. They opposed her in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. She marched to the governor's job in tension, not harmony, with a key element of the party's base.

Some in the party cast her as a pawn of the finance industry and big corporations, partly because she once worked in venture capital. She started Rhode Island's first venture capital firm.

She doesn't talk about plutocrats with Warren's angry fire, not because she thinks they're above reproach but because she deems vilifying them less fruitful than reminding them that they, too, have a profound stake in a healthier America with a fairer distribution of wealth and more social mobility.

"I fall into the camp that income inequality is the biggest problem we face," she said Monday night over eggplant parmigiana in a Providence restaurant. An Italian-American, she grew up just outside the city and lives here now with her husband and their two young children.

She said that she has told Wall Street titans point blank that they should be paying higher federal taxes and leveling the playing field, but with this message: "I need you to double down on America. We need you. We need your brains, we need your money, we need your engagement — not because it's Wall Street versus Main Street, but because you're some of the smartest, richest people in the world, and you need to be a part of fixing America, because you want to live in an America that's the best country in the world."

She said that Democrats must always prioritize the underdogs, the strivers. And she spoke admiringly of Warren: "She says things that make people uncomfortable but need to be said."

But, she added, "My own rhetoric is not so 'us versus them.' I don't like fighting."

And she has highlighted additional concerns, such as the Democratic Party's frequent fealty to organized labor and its reluctance at times to shake up the status quo in order to find the money needed for social spending.

Her pension-reform campaign was fascinating for its blunt talk of trade-offs, of sacrifices today for investments in tomorrow. She framed the cutbacks as progressive — as the only responsible liberalism — because without them, education, infrastructure, transportation and more would suffer.

She thus provided a template for how politicians in Washington could try to rein in Social Security and Medicare spending, if they wished. An article in National Journal framed her efforts and the pushback against them as "a battle for the Democratic Party's future," and Matt Miller later wrote in The Washington Post that she could transform the "national conversation about how to achieve progressive goals in an aging America."

She's small — just under 5-foot-3 — and intense. When she mentions that she played rugby in school, it fits. When she describes her advantage on the field, it sounds as if she's talking about more than sport. "It's good to be little and fast," she said.
She sometimes speaks a language of metrics that makes her as stirring to some business-minded centrists as Warren is to many liberals. And if she manages to improve Rhode Island's famously beleaguered economy, she's teed up to be a national player, thanks to her youth and back story: a working-class upbringing followed by Harvard, then a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, then Yale Law.

In focus groups, some Rhode Islanders called her "too harsh," she said, a judgment seemingly connected to her wardrobe of suits. "Then you show them pictures of me in casual clothes and they're like, 'Oh, she seems nice.' It's, like, if you're a strong woman, you can't also be nice. It's really that simple."

Will she be a strong governor? She starts out dogged by a sweeping court challenge to those pension reforms.

But this much is clear: She takes risks, colors outside the lines and seeks a tone all her own. That's worthy of note.

Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.
- -Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Something to Know - 30 December

Cartoon of the Day
Today's Los Angeles lead editorial is spot on about what is the matter with the USA.   As the decades have rolled on since the period of euphoria and post World War !! boom, particularly after the Korean "War", a decline in the understanding of our democracy and its workings of government has slowly declined.  What helped nourish our democracy, in an ironic way, was the Selective Service, which drafted people to serve in the Armed Forces.   However the discussion about "The Draft" and compulsory National Service is too long and requires more space than is available here.   As this op-ed points out, we are at the point where our younger people have no idea how our form of government works, how it evolved, or what it does, or what it is supposed to do.   The adult population who was the youth of the 70s and 80s is now those today in whose hands rests the minds and voting pencils that determine the outcome of our elections.   Keep on rolling on through the decades, and you will soon realize that we are running out of informed citizens.  One might point to our think tanks and TV talking heads as an example of today's teachers of democracy and systems of government, but those influences really are only small silos which preach to their choirs, and have little influence on the wide mass of the ill-or-non-informed.   The danger that we now face is that this dumbed-down citizenry is ripe for the bastions of great wealth (the benefactors of Citizens United) to pillage the system to buy, advertise, and usurp the powers that are supposed to be "of the people".   It's almost like we ceased to be a vibrant nation when Norman Rockwell ceased painting:


Citizenship 101: Too many Americans are ignorant of the basics of democracy

In 2012 only nine states required students to pass a social studies test to graduate from high school
Schools need to find a way to expose students to public officials and activists without seeming to take sides

In 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, Chief Justice Earl Warren emphasized the importance of public education as a crucible for good citizenship.

"Today," Warren wrote, "education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship."

But a growing number of critics charge that education in good citizenship is being shortchanged by an American educational system that is focused on other "core competencies." The result is that too many products of that system are ignorant of the basics of how American democracy functions, and lack the knowledge to participate fully in the society it sustains. One of the most prominent spokespeople for this view is retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the last member of the court to have held elected office.

In a 2008 article written with former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, O'Connor argued that "civic education has been in steady decline over the past generation, as high-stakes testing and an emphasis on literacy and math dominate school reforms. Too many young people today do not understand how our political system works."

Unfortunately, O'Connor is right. A survey of adults conducted in September by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found that only 36% could name all three branches of the U.S. government; 35% couldn't name even one. Only 27% of respondents knew that it requires a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a president's veto, and 21% wrongly thought that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision must be returned to Congress for reconsideration. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the Annenberg center, said the survey "offers dramatic evidence of the need for more and better civics education."

Education in good citizenship is being shortchanged by an American educational system that is focused on other 'core competencies.'-  

Civics education hasn't completely disappeared from American schools. Virtually all states require students to take at least one social studies course as a requirement for high school graduation, and most require some study of civics or American government. Often students are required to study foundational documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. In California, content standards for 12th-grade students include study of "the history and changing interpretations of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the current state of the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches of government." Even the much-maligned Common Core standards for English Language Arts & Literacy identify the Declaration of Independence and Constitution (along with Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address) as foundational documents that all students should be able to analyze.

Yet the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement found in 2012 that only nine states required students to pass a social studies test in order to graduate from high school. The same report found that such tests increasingly have taken the form of multiple-choice questions to the exclusion of essay questions or independent projects that might acquaint students with how democracy actually works. (A student can learn more about parliamentary procedure by taking part in a mock congressional vote than by reading an account of a real one.)

  • Obama would disagree with this article.
    AT 9:30 AM DECEMBER 30, 2014

That leaves ample room for improvement. At a minimum, students in all grades need to be taught about the American political system and the structure of government at the federal, state and local levels. Documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution should be studied not just as literary or rhetorical artifacts but as examples of political philosophy and guides to civic engagement. And civics education (like all education) should encourage participation and creativity on the part of students. Finally, students should be specifically assessed on how well they understand the operation of the political system in which they will play a role as citizens. Granted, students, teachers and parents already feel burdened by the proliferation of tests, and a good case can be made that too many tests are administered too often. But there should be room in any testing regime for an assessment of knowledge about civics.

These ideas figure in a report issued this year by the California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning, chaired by California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye and State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. Among other recommendations, the task force proposes that an emphasis on "civic learning" be incorporated in instruction beginning in kindergarten (a 12th-grade civics requirement is of no use to a student who leaves school earlier than that) and that civics instruction be "action-oriented" and "project-based." The task force also recommends that the state "integrate civic learning into state assessment and accountability systems for students, schools and districts." Finally, it suggests that schools reach out to "community stakeholders" who could assist in "civic education and engagement." That's a promising idea but also a potentially controversial one. Schools need to find a way to expose students to public officials and activists without seeming to take sides.

Like the teaching of American history, education about government can be delicate, raising questions about the distinction between instruction and indoctrination. Some supporters of expanded civics education believe it should not only inform students about the American system of government but also celebrate it as superior to all others — an unwise approach that would make civics class an extension of the Pledge of Allegiance. We believe that schools can inform students and engage them as citizens without imposing an official orthodoxy. After all, debate and dissent are also civic virtues.

This is part of an ongoing conversation exploring the meaning of citizenship in America today. For more, join us at and #21stCenturyCitizen. We'd love to hear from you. Share your thoughts, rebuttals and experiences with us

It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their own selfish purposes.
- - Andrew Jackson

Monday, December 29, 2014

Something to Know - 29 December

Rob Rogers

Economics is a science.  However, because of all the variables and ever-changing social inputs of the equation, it is very difficult to understand when trying to predict the future.  It does a better job in trying to explain the past.   Here, Professor Krugman is using a simple story line to explain and debunk some myth of the past:

The Obama Recovery

DEC. 28, 2014

Suppose that for some reason you decided to start hitting yourself in the head, repeatedly, with a baseball bat. You'd feel pretty bad. Correspondingly, you'd probably feel a lot better if and when you finally stopped. What would that improvement in your condition tell you?

It certainly wouldn't imply that hitting yourself in the head was a good idea. It would, however, be an indication that the pain you were experiencing wasn't a reflection of anything fundamentally wrong with your health. Your head wasn't hurting because you were sick; it was hurting because you kept hitting it with that baseball bat.

And now you understand the basics of what has been happening to several major economies, including the United States, over the past few years. In fact, you understand these basics better than many politicians and commentators.

Let's start with a tale from overseas: austerity policy in Britain. As you may know, back in 2010 Britain's newly installed Conservative government declared that a sharp reduction in budget deficits was needed to keep Britain from turning into Greece. Over the next two years growth in the British economy, which had been recovering fairly well from the financial crisis, more or less stalled. In 2013, however, growth picked up again — and the British government claimed vindication for its policies. Was this claim justified?

No, not at all. What actually happened was that the Tories stopped tightening the screws — they didn't reverse the austerity that had already occurred, but they effectively put a hold on further cuts. So they stopped hitting Britain in the head with that baseball bat. And sure enough, the nation started feeling better.

To claim that this bounceback vindicated austerity is silly. As Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford University likes to point out, if rapid growth after a gratuitous slump counts as success, the government should just close down half the economy for a year; the next year's growth would be fantastic. Or as I'd put it, you shouldn't conclude that hitting yourself in the head is smart because it feels so good when you stop. Unfortunately, the silliness of the claim hasn't prevented its widespread acceptance by what Mr. Wren-Lewis calls "mediamacro."

Meanwhile, back in America we haven't had an official, declared policy of fiscal austerity — but we've nonetheless had plenty of austerity in practice, thanks to the federal sequester and sharp cuts by state and local governments. The good news is that we, too, seem to have stopped tightening the screws: Public spending isn't surging, but at least it has stopped falling. And the economy is doing much better as a result. We are finally starting to see the kind of growth, in employment and G.D.P., that we should have been seeing all along — and the public's mood is rapidly improving.

What's the important lesson from this late Obama bounce? Mainly, I'd suggest, that everything you've heard about President Obama's economic policies is wrong.

You know the spiel: that the U.S. economy is ailing because Obamacare is a job-killer and the president is a redistributionist, that Mr. Obama's anti-business speeches (he hasn't actually made any, but never mind) have hurt entrepreneurs' feelings, inducing them to take their marbles and go home.

This story line never made much sense. The truth is that the private sector has done surprisingly well under Mr. Obama, adding 6.7 million jobs since he took office, compared with just 3.1 million at this point under President George W. Bush. Corporate profits have soared, as have stock prices. What held us back was unprecedented public-sector austerity: At this point in the Bush years, government employment was up by 1.2 million, but under Mr. Obama it's down by 600,000. Sure enough, now that this de facto austerity is easing, the economy is perking up.

And what this bounce tells you is that the alleged faults of Obamanomics had nothing to do with the pain we were feeling. We weren't hurting because we were sick; we were hurting because we kept hitting ourselves with that baseball bat, and we're feeling a lot better now that we've stopped.

Will this improvement in our condition continue? Britain's government has declared its intention to pick up the baseball bat again — to engage in further austerity, which does not bode well. But here the picture looks brighter. Households are in much better financial shape than they were a few years ago; there's probably still a lot of pent-up demand, especially for housing. And falling oil prices will be good for most of the country, although some regions — especially Texas — may take a hit.

So I'm fairly optimistic about 2015, and probably beyond, as long as we avoid any more self-inflicted damage. Let's just leave that baseball bat lying on the ground, O.K.?

Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.
-- Plato

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Something to Know - 27 December

Jeff Danziger

The Executive and Legislative branches of government are often the receivers of critical scorn and real citizen pressure.   However, our Judicial branch gets an easy pass as a result.  Here is an article of real concern.  The Supreme Court is an insular group, operating in its own ether, its own rules, and is a highly valued supporter of the elite corporate agenda.  In short, this branch of our government is sadly said - The Best Justice Money Can Buy:


The Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL

The Best Lawyers Money Can Buy

By DEC. 25, 2014

CreditFred R. Conrad/The New York Times

The United States Supreme Court decides cases involving the nation's most pressing legal issues, affecting the daily lives of hundreds of millions of Americans — and yet so much about its functioning is shrouded in mystique and exclusivity. The court's front doors are locked and its vast "public" plazais off-limits to protesters. Alone among the branches of government, itrefuses to televise its proceedings, even though its gallery can seat only 250 members of the public.

As a new report by Reuters shows, this exclusivity extends even to the types of cases the court agrees to hear.

The justices accept about 75 of the 10,000 petitions they get each year. And of that already minuscule fraction, a stunning proportion is argued by an extremely small and well-connected group of lawyers. All of these lawyers — among the top litigators in the country — have argued often before the court and almost all of them work mainly for corporate clients. Many have clerked for the justices, know them personally and socialize with them.

Those are the central findings of The Echo Chamber, a comprehensive analysis of about 10,300 petitions filed by private attorneys between 2004 and 2012. Reuters found that the lawyer's name on the brief was among the strongest predictors of whether the justices would take a case.

While the 66 lawyers Reuters identified represented less than one half of 1 percent of all lawyers who petitioned the court during that period, they were involved in 43 percent of the cases the justices heard.

That elite cohort is as homogeneous as it is powerful: 63 of the 66 lawyers were white, 58 were men, and 51 worked for firms with primarily corporate clients.

An even more elite group — eight lawyers — made almost one of every five arguments the court heard from private attorneys during those years. One of these lawyers, Paul Clement, has argued 75 cases before the court.

Top corporate firms have long understood how lucrative and prestigious a Supreme Court practice can be. But as those firms continue to draw the cream of the crop, there are fewer top lawyers available to other litigants — particularly those challenging a business's labor or environmental practices. Such lawsuits often pose conflicts of interest for firms with multiple corporate clients.

As a result, the court's docket has narrowed over the years. And when cases involving labor issues or consumers' rights do reach the court, they lose more often than not; the Roberts Court is the most business-friendly since at least World War II. The Reuters report highlighted a 5-to-4 ruling in 2011 that threw out a multibillion-dollar class-action suit against Wal-Mart alleging gender discrimination. Wal-Mart was represented by Gibson Dunn, which has one of the most successful Supreme Court practices in the country.

J. Michael Luttig, a former federal appeals judge appointed by former President George H. W. Bush, and now a corporate counsel, said this cloistered group of lawyers and justices has become "detached and isolated from the real world, ultimately at the price of the healthy and proper development of the law."

As troubling as the court's shrinking bar is the justices' matter-of-fact acceptance of it. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told Reuters: "Business can pay for the best counsel money can buy. The average citizen cannot. That's just a reality." Justice Antonin Scalia admitted to rejecting cases based on the quality of the briefing, not on the legal issue they raised. "I have voted against what would be a marginally granted petition when it was not well presented," he said.

It's not unreasonable for the justices to want to spend their time on arguments made by the best advocates. Nor is there anything wrong with the country's top lawyers demanding top dollar for their skill and hard work. And corporations surely may spend what they wish to litigate on behalf of their interests. But when these forces are combined, the biggest cost of all may fall on regular Americans, for whom justice at the highest court in the land becomes less accessible every day.

Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.
-- Plato

Friday, December 26, 2014

Something to Know - 26 December

Joel Pett
Viewing the on-line Internet release of The Interview last night was weird.  Weird in the sense that this goofy, low-brow, sophomoric, and sophisticatedly trashy movie was/is the object of an international crisis.   All I can say is that I was on the leading edge of a viewing audience of a future cult classic.   In my opinion, we have all been Honey-Potted into falling for the most daringly brash public relations conspiracy instigated by Sony Pictures.  What a way to end a weird year, which Mr. Krugman now addresses:

The Opinion Pages | OP-ED COLUMNIST

Tidings of Comfort

DEC. 25, 2014

Maybe I'm just projecting, but Christmas seemed unusually subdued this year. The malls seemed less crowded than usual, the people glummer. There was even less Muzak in the air. And, in a way, that's not surprising: All year Americans have been bombarded with dire news reports portraying a world out of control and a clueless government with no idea what to do.

Yet if you look back at what actually happened over the past year, you see something completely different. Amid all the derision, a number of major government policies worked just fine — and the biggest successes involved the most derided policies. You'll never hear this on Fox News, but 2014 was a year in which the federal government, in particular, showed that it can do some important things very well if it wants to.

Start with Ebola, a subject that has vanished from the headlines so fast it's hard to remember how pervasive the panic was just a few weeks ago. Judging from news media coverage, especially but not only on cable TV, America was on the verge of turning into a real-life version of "The Walking Dead." And many politicians dismissed the efforts of public health officials to deal with the disease using conventional methods. Instead, they insisted, we needed to ban all travel to and from West Africa, imprison anyone who arrived from the wrong place, and close the border with Mexico. No, I have no idea why anyone thought that last item made sense.

As it turned out, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, despite some early missteps, knew what they were doing, which shouldn't be surprising: The Centers have a lot of experience in, well, controlling disease, epidemics in particular. And while the Ebola virus continues to kill many people in parts of Africa, there was no outbreak here.

Consider next the state of the economy. There's no question that recovery from the 2008 crisis has been painfully slow and should have been much faster. In particular, the economy has been held back by unprecedented cutsin public spending and employment.

But the story you hear all the time portrays economic policy as an unmitigated disaster, with President Obama's alleged hostility to business holding back investment and job creation. So it comes as something of a shock when you look at the actual record and discover that growth and job creation have been substantially faster during the Obama recovery than they were during the Bush recovery last decade (even ignoring the crisis at the end), and that while housing is still depressed, business investment has been quite strong.

What's more, recent data suggest that the economy is gathering strength — 5 percent growth in the last quarter! Oh, and not that it matters very much, but there are some people who like to claim that economic success should be judged by the performance of the stock market. And stock prices, which hit a low point in March 2009, accompanied by declarations from prominent Republican economists that Mr. Obama was killing the market economy,have tripled since then. Maybe economic management hasn't been that bad, after all.

Finally, there's the hidden-in-plain-sight triumph of Obamacare, which is just finishing up its first year of full implementation. It's a tribute to the effectiveness of the propaganda campaign against health reform — which has played up every glitch, without ever mentioning that the problem has been solved, and invented failures that never happened — that I fairly often encounter people, some of them liberals, who ask me whether the administration will ever be able to get the program to work. Apparently nobody told them that it is working, and very well.

And there's more. For example, at the end of 2014, the Obama administration's foreign policy, which tries to contain threats like Vladimir Putin's Russia or the Islamic State rather than rushing into military confrontation, is looking pretty good.In fact, Year 1 surpassed expectations on every front. Remember claims that more people would lose insurance than gained it? Well, the number of Americans without insurance fell by around 10 million; members of the elite who have never been uninsured have no idea just how much positive difference that makes to people's lives. Remember claims that reform would break the budget? In reality, premiums were far less than predicted, overall health spending is moderating, and specific cost-control measures are doing very well. And all indications suggest that year two will be marked by further success.

The common theme here is that, over the past year, a U.S. government subjected to constant bad-mouthing, constantly accused of being ineffectual or worse, has, in fact, managed to accomplish a lot. On multiple fronts, government wasn't the problem; it was the solution. Nobody knows it, but 2014 was the year of "Yes, we can."

We forge the chains we wear in life.
-- Charles Dickens

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Something to Think About - This Day, Christmas 2014

I have had a lot of saved articles and pieces of news and op-eds to read.  The day is about done.  The presents are all presented.   The refreshing bike ride through the empty campus of the Claremont Colleges is done.   It was a nice day.   Of all the stuff I have read today (about 15-20 pieces), this is one that I find the best, and I want to share it with you:


An Atheist's Christmas Dream

DEC. 24, 2014

I've spent much of my life trying to ignore Christmas. As a secular Jew, an atheist and a progressive, my reasons are common. It's a commercial, obnoxious, even dreaded holiday. But it's not changing anytime soon and we should make the best of it. (Hanukkah, I might note, is no better, although it gives us an excuse to eat latkes.)

Nothing is as simple, though, as it seems when you're young, when my dislike of Christmas was more intense. In fact this is a good week. The winter solstice, by definition the gloomiest day of the year, represents optimism: The days do nothing but get longer and brighter from now on. Sweet-smelling trees can turn a cramped apartment into something exotic.

And then there's the dream of peace.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the "Christmas truce" of World War I, when soldiers from both sides left their weapons in the trenches and met in neutral territory to embrace, play soccer and no doubt drink to excess in the spirit of humanity. Although the acts were officially condemned, these "live and let live" moments were repeated throughout the war.

There was no reason for those men to hate one another, let alone to start the mechanized killing that created a lost generation and ultimately left some 16.5 million dead. (In France and Germany, the countries with the most casualties, around 4 percent of the total population died. Tiny Serbia may have lost 20 percent of its people.)

Despite the occasional spontaneous truces, the killing always resumed, and real resisters were sometimes executed. That the war was one of the great failings of "civilization" is beyond question, especially since it spawned World War II, during which an estimated 55 million were killed worldwide.

But what if they gave a war and nobody came? A hundred years ago, the most viable alternative to state-declared mass killing was armed revolution, which is difficult to pull off — especially in industrialized states. One could argue that for the rulers of the imperial nations, a not unwelcome consequence of the war was to quiet the working classes' revolutionary zeal.

In the United States, voting for the left didn't have much impact: The labor organizer Eugene V. Debs ran five times for president as a Socialist, the last time from jail — where he was serving time for "sedition," that is, being antiwar — and twice (in 1912 and 1920) received nearly a million votes (more than 5 percent of the total in 1912, which makes a good argument for parliamentary-style representation). His 10-year sentence was commuted to time served as of Christmas 1921.

But nothing slowed the killing, certainly not religion. Though you wouldn't know it from the rhetoric, logic demonstrates that a benevolent God played no role. This, of course, is one of the reasons to dislike organized religion; each person thinks God is on his side. Perhaps turning the other cheek is too much to ask.

Then there's Christmas, and that odd spontaneous truce, "organized," as it were, without leadership.

What is it about Christmas that gave those men an excuse? What's a core value of Christianity that we might turn to? I asked my friend Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary and one of the few people I know who can sensibly defend Christianity. Her answer: "Christians would all say 'love your neighbor as yourself.' They just can't agree on what love entails and who your neighbor is."

The so-called golden rule — do unto others — is ostensibly a core principle of every major religion. Though it's widely ignored, we all know what love is and who our neighbors are. If every day were Christmas, if we lived as if the golden rule mattered, if every day were a truce — well, that is a reality we have never approached, but should aim for.

Is that silly? Only if you disagree with Martin Luther King Jr.: "I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality."

Everyone believes their time is the most tumultuous; for all of its challenges, ours probably is not. Violence is on the wane, there's widespread peace, abundance and progress, and the opportunities for real democracy and understanding have never been greater. If efforts toward progress seem halting, it's in part because the oligarchs running the United States and most of the rest of the world are desperate to remain in control, because progress threatens the concentration of wealth.

But if we talk among ourselves and properly love one another the best we can, we will prevail. A just and wonderful world can be ours, as long as we do not relinquish our citizenship.

The historical Jesus was a nonviolent revolutionary. Let's celebrate that. And the lengthening of our days.

Gail Collins is off today.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on December 25, 2014, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: An Atheist's Christmas Dream. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe

I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant.
-- H.L. Mencken