10/23/2012 06:06 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2012

Get Active! Get Engaged! Get Informed!

As the November 6th presidential and congressional elections quickly approach us, voters have been searching for facts and figures to support opinions and beliefs about the critical issues of the past few years. Whether it was the war in Iraq, or the Occupy movement, the Great Recession, or the Affordable Care Act, citizens across the country have been dissatisfied with the level of substantive discourse between candidates and journalists about these issues.

The 24-hour news cycle is not always conducive to objective truth-seeking. Instead, it is often more proficient at focusing on surface generalizations and reaching premature and sometimes baseless conclusions. Not all mainstream journalists fall victim to this myopia. There are excellent mainstream and independent voices and resources out there, but many people do not have the time to filter through the 'noise' in order to find them.

While the rise of opinion journalism and the influence of social media may share part of the blame for this apparent deficit of quality information, the rise of new media also presents many opportunities. For instance: more timely access to unfiltered information, wider audience engagement, innovative peer fact-checking and accountability, and better coordination of social movements, are all made possible by smartphones, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Google+. In addition to connecting family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers, we can all choose to use social media as investigative tools that elevate the level of discourse about the issues that impact our lives in a manner that educates and inspires.

The purpose of this blogpost is to filter through the 'noise' and share a few easily accessible resources about a few of the noteworthy developments (there are, of course, many more critical issues, some of which will be discussed in future posts) of the past few years. While objectivity can never be fully achieved (acknowledgement of our inevitable biases is indeed more honest), I have chosen resources that provide rigorous analyses of the issues and empower the reader or viewer to reach informed opinions while learning more about the topics.

Bottom line: Regardless of your political views -- whether you are a Republican, Democrat, third party supporter, or a voice of dissent -- 'democracy' can only potentially live up to its meaning when we the citizens are active, engaged, and well-informed. Get active! Get engaged! Get informed!

The Great Recession

A fair bit of revisionist history has taken place with regard to the 2008 financial crisis. Some argue that the issues are too complicated for the ordinary citizen to understand. Others assert that no one could have predicted the crisis. These claims are simply untrue. For an honest assessment of what caused the Great Recession, please watch the Frontline PBS Special Four Part Series, Money, Power, and Wall Street on the global financial crisis. Also, be sure to rent or purchase a copy of Inside Job, the 2010 documentary from filmmaker Charles Ferguson (narrated by Matt Damon). Both films illustrate how and why the Great Recession came to pass in a clear, easy-to-understand manner. It may also be useful to read this summary of 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to learn about the steps that have been taken to address the root causes of the crisis.

The Affordable Care Act

Perhaps no issue in the past few years has aroused more passion in political divisiveness than the Affordable Care Act. This piece of legislation has been the victim of 'spin' and misinformation from both the left and the right, distorting the reality of what the bill does and does not do. Of course, there are many valid critiques of the legislation, but those conclusions should be reached after achieving a full understand of the content, not before. While the bill itself is not pleasant bedtime reading (it is 906 pages), this article from Peter Orszag in the July/August 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs, 'How Healthcare Can Save or Sink America' does a respectable job of outlining what exactly the bill aims to do and the changes that will take place if it is fully implemented. To access the article, sign up for a free account on the Foreign Affairs website. The New York Times also provides informative background information and opinion pieces about the healthcare reform law.

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Although the war in Iraq has ended and the conflict in Afghanistan is winding down, gross human rights violations in Syria, the uncertainty of the broader Arab Spring, rising tensions between Israel and Iran, and controversy over the use of drone strikes, all underscore the importance of engaging in a national conversation about the lessons learned from current and past conflicts. We must ensure that we have a serious national debate about potential military action before the decision to send brave young men and women to fight and sacrifice is ever made. It is imperative that citizens fully understand the consequences of military action. The Watson Institute and Brown University's Cost of War project is insightful because it is enabling the public to have that conversation by providing crucial data and analysis about the consequences of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Occupy" and Other Movements

There was a palpable indifference to the early iterations of the Occupy Wall Street movement on the airwaves until the movements grew in the U.S. and expanded globally to levels where they could no longer be ignored. Although 'Occupy' does not enjoy the momentum that it had one year ago, pockets of the movement continue to inspire a national conversation about economic justice, while protests in Spain and Greece provide an alternative to the narrative of austerity, and students in Quebec re-group after gains in the fight for tuition affordability.

Still, some are skeptical of these movements, disagree with their strategies, or dismiss them all together. Others do not perceive rising economic inequality a problem, or reject the idea of an 'equality of opportunity' gap. At a time when these movements are reemerging around the world and the austerity vs. stimulus debate has taken center stage with major electoral ramifications in the U.S. and Europe, it is important that we all seek to understand the impact that our decisions at the polls will have on individuals, families in the U.S., and millions across the world who have suffered (and continue to suffer) as a result of the Great Recession.

For those interested in the subject of economic inequality and its consequences (growing income inequality in the U.S. has produced the highest disparities since the Gilded Age), I suggest reading some of the work produced by The Tobin Project. Also, please take a moment to view this video from Rootstrikers. It explains the reasons why so many people in the U.S. joined or supported movements for economic and social justice. Be sure to purchase a copy of Robert Reich's new e-book, Beyond Outrage, for ideas on how to deepen democracy while advancing socioeconomic justice. Finally, these clips from Tavis Smiley's poverty tour illustrate the devastating impact that the Great Recession has had on the working poor in the U.S.