Archive for October, 2018

Progressives play on a field tilted against them

October 31, 2018

Progressives face unfair handicaps in American politics today.  The playing field is tilted against them.  Their opponents are dealing from a stacked deck.  Their path to victory is narrow and perilous.

There’s nothing to be gained by complaining about this.  Instead progressives have to figure on ways to win against the odds—which has been done before and can be done again.  Here’s what they are up against:

>The Supreme Court has an anti-progressive majority.  Given the ages of the incumbent justices, this is likely to be locked in for a generation or more.

But this was also true during the Progressive era of the early 20th century and the New Deal era of the 1930s.  Progressives in 1913 pushed through the 16th and 17th Amendments to the Constitution, which allowed Congress to enact an income tax (previously declared unconstitutional) and requiring direct election of Senators, previously elected by state legislatures.

President Franklin Roosevelt failed in his proposal to change the makeup of the Supreme Court by enlarging it, but Congress does have the power to change the structure of the judicial system and the jurisdiction of the various courts.  I personally wouldn’t want it to come to that, but this would be a “nuclear option” if all else failed.

>The Electoral College and the Senate give over-representation to thinly-populated states, where anti-progressive forces rule.  The provision that each state has two Senators is the one provision of the U..S. Constitution that is un-amendable and it makes reform of the Electoral College a practical impossibility.

There’s nothing to be gained in complaining about this.  Progressives will have to carry their message to the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states.  The people of these states suffer at the hands of agribusiness monopolies and exploitative mining companies.  Progressives ought to have ideas to change this.

>Gerrymandering and voter registration purges block the democratic process.  This was part of a strategy called RedMap, implemented in 2010, to diminish voting by African-Americans, young people and others likely to vote Democratic.

So far federal judges have overruled some of the more blatant attempts to rig elections, but this will become less likely to happen now that there is a right-wing majority on the Supreme Court and Mitch McConnell and the Republicans push through appointments of right-wing judges.

The consolation here is that these tactics only work to tilt the balance in close elections.  The task of Progressives will be to get majorities too large to counteract, then to use their new power to reverse vote-rigging.

>Voting machines may be tampered with.  The solution to this is paper ballots, hand-counted in public.

>Progressives are fighting the power of big money.  Wall Street and Silicon Valley money flows mostly toward establishment Democrats, oil company and defense contractor money flows mostly toward establishment Republicans.  The Supreme Court has struck down restrictions on campaign spending, and is unlikely to change back.

(more…)

Will the Democrats make a difference this time?

October 30, 2018

Donald Trump is a bad presidenteven worse than I expected him to be.  So it will be a good thing if Democrats can gain control of the House of Representatives, leaving Trump and the Republicans in control of only 2.5 of the three branches of government.

The trouble with the Democrats is that they regard Trump’s election in 2016  as a black swan kind of event that nobody could have foreseen and wouldn’t ever happen again. This means that their vision is limited to raging against Trump and not to moving the country forward.

The November-December issue of Mother Jones—a magazine I subscribe to and admire because of its excellent investigative reporting—contains three articles that illustrate the Democratic lack of vision.

The first is an interview with the war hawk Max Boot on why he switched from Republican to Democrat.  I think there is something wrong with the Democratic Party if its leaders feel comfortable with somebody like him.

The second is an article praising the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for freezing out progressives and recruiting candidates on the basis of their ability to raise money. This is supposedly the way to success—despite continuing Democratic losses since 2008 while following this policy.

The third is an article by Kevin Drum quoting polls that indicate that Trump voters are motivated by racial anxiety, not economic anxiety, but that Trump’s racial views are unpopular with the country at large.  Drum says Democrats should campaign on both economic issues and racial justice issues (which I agree with), but the logic of his argument is that only racial justice issues matter.

What I take away from the three articles is that none of these writers think the Democratic Party needs to change.  All its leaders need to do is to remind people of how bad President Trump is.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says that if the Democrats regain the majority, she’ll push for a “pay as you go” budget.  Under Obama, this kind of talk meant a “grand bargain” in which the Democrats agreed to cutbacks in Society Security and Medicare in return for somewhat higher taxes in the upper income brackets.

Pay-as-you-go is certainly incompatible with a big infrastructure program or Medicare for all, both of which the country needs.

I don’t think the Democrats will get anywhere trying to reverse the results of the 2016 elections.  I don’t think they will get anywhere trying to reverse the Brett Kavanaugh appointment to the Supreme Court.  I don’t know what the Mueller investigation may ultimately turn up, but I don’t think Russiagate is a winning issue for Democrats.

The American people want medical care that doesn’t put them at risk of bankruptcy.  They want access to higher education that doesn’t put them at risk of lifetime debt.  They want a trade policy that benefits American workers.  They don’t want unending war.  They don’t want a tiny wealthy elite capturing an ever-greater share of U.S. income.

Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan don’t offer them any kind of realistic hope.  But what do the Democrats offer?

(more…)

Making a joyful noise

October 27, 2018

The enduringly popular Big Noise from Winnetka was created spontaneously by members of a band called the Bobcats performing at the Blackhawk restaurant in Chicago in 1938.  When some of the members of the bank were late getting back from a break, composer and bass player Bob Haggart and drummer Ray Bauduc started improvising.

It was such a hit that they made a recording, and performed it many more times through their careers.  According to Wikipedia, Haggart whistled the melody and play while Bauduc accompanied him on a drum.  About halfway through, Bauduc starting drumming on the strings of the bass.

Later more elaborate arrangements were made.  The version above was performed by the Midland College Jazz Ensemble in Midland, Texas, in 2014.

Winnetka is a suburb of Chicago.

A novelist for a multi-cultural age

October 26, 2018

I recently read two novels, Let the Great World Spin (2009) and TransAtlantic (2013), by the Irish-born writer Colum McCann that astonished me by his ability to imaginatively get inside the minds of people of different races, different social classes, different cultures and different historical eras, and give the reader an idea of what it was like to be them.

Thomas Wolfe wrote great novels by processing his own life experience.  I would take nothing away from respect for his achievement.  I think McCann’s achievement, in processing the life experiences of people very different from himself and from each other, is of a different order.  Reading his novels helps me feel more at home in a multi-cultural age, in which I rub shoulders with people whose backgrounds and assumptions are different from my own.

I don’t, however, recommend his novels because they are multi-cultural.  I recommend them because McCann is a good storyteller and literary stylist.

∞∞∞

Let the Great World Spin is about the destinies of a diverse gallery of characters in New York City, linked by two events of August 7, 1974—one real, one fictional.

The real event was a tightrope walker performing on a cable slung between the newly built Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  The fictional event, which occurs in the first chapter, is the death in a highway accident of John Corrigan, an Irish priest who is trying to live according to the precepts of Jesus among prostitutes and outcasts in the Bronx.

McCann had the ability to imagine himself inside the heads of people different from each other and different from himself—men and women, black, white and Hispanic, rich, poor and middle class, and, repeatedly, the mind of a death-defying tightrope walker.

He was a marvelous descriptive writer, both in his ability to portray human thoughts and feelings and his ability to depict life in New York in the 1970s.  His prose is a pleasure and an inspiration for anyone who cares about writing.

Corrigan is at the center of the novel, but is never presented in his own voice, but only through the eyes of others—his older brother from Ireland, a drug-addicted artist who attends his funeral, a prostitute whom he befriends, a nurse who is in love with him, and a judge who mistakes him for a pimp.

He is repeatedly beaten by pimps for showing kindness to prostitutes, such as letting them use the toilet in his apartment. He never fights back, but tries to return good for evil.  We get glimpses of how hard it must be to try to live by such a commitment, not to mention how hard it is to keep his vow of chastity.

I won’t try to summarize the book or list all its characters, but one of the most memorable consists of the reflections of Tillie Henderson, a 38-year-old grandmother and career prostitute, looking back on her life prior to hanging herself in a prison cell.

In her whole life, literally no-one has ever been kind to her except Corrigan and a Middle Eastern man who once paid her to spend a weekend with him so he could appreciate her beauty.   Her idea of love is the abusive relationships she has had with pimps.  She thinks that when she dies, she will confront God and demand to know why He treated her as He did.

(more…)

Good questions

October 26, 2018

Untitled Questions by Barbara Kruger was exhibited by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1990-1992 and is being reinstalled.  It will remain up until the 2020 elections.

What’s so great about freedom?

October 24, 2018

Liberalism is the belief that human rights are the most important value.  I have believed this for most of my life..

I just got finishing reading a book, WHY LIBERALISM FAILED by Patrick J. Deneen (2018) that says it is impossible to build a nation or a society on this basis.

And that most of the troubles of the United States today are the result of trying to build a society on this false basis.

Liberalism has failed because it has triumphed, Deneen writes.  Its triumph makes manifest the flaws that were there all along.

He has strong arguments for this (even though, in the last chapter, he halfway takes them back – I will get to this is due course).

He explores the same territory as Chris Arnade, Zygmunt Bauman, Matthew CrawfordRod Dreher and Pankaj Mishra. There’s a lot to think about.

Deneen defines liberalism as the philosophy that says the most important thing is freedom to choose.   One version is classic liberalism, which in the USA is called conservatism, that says freedom means government should not restrict individual freedom of choice.

Another version is progressive liberalism, that says government can and should empower individual choice by promoting education, public health, retirement security and the like.

Classic liberals have not succeeded in freeing individuals from control by a powerful government; progressive liberals have not succeeded in freeing individuals from control by powerful private organizations.  Deneen believes there are systemic reasons for his.

He says both forms of liberalism differ from the older conception of liberty as self-government.  In the older conception, free individuals were those who were in control of their passions, greed, anger and fears, and did not need external control, and a free community was likewise keeping itself in order without external control.

As a wise friend of mine, Michael Brown, once remarked, individualism used to mean self-reliance, and now means self-expression.

Liberal ideas originated in Western culture about 500 years ago with Francis Bacon, according to Deneen; he  thought that the advance of science and knowledge would enable humanity to control nature rather than being subject to it.  Individual people were separate and independent of nature, not part of a great chain of being.

These ideas began to be put into practice about 250 years ago, by thinkers who believed it would be more realistic to found society on the basis of rational self-interest rather than on ideals that were often ignored.

Adam Smith’s “system of natural liberty” was an economic system in which entrepreneurs acting out of self-interest competed to serve the common good.  James Madison’s idea of constitutional government was to set up checks and balances so that the conflicting ambitions of politicians resulted in a balance that served the common good.

When Smith, Madison and other early liberals wrote of people acting out of self-interest, they weren’t thinking of sociopaths.  They were thinking of the normal level of selfishness of respectable middle-class British subjects and American citizens.  But the British and American liberals of that day were the heirs of an older moral culture that they took for granted.

(more…)

Why Kodak declined and Fujifilm didn’t

October 24, 2018

It’s been said that no-one can succeed in business unless they understand what business they’re in.

A business writer named Oliver Kmia says that the reason Eastman Kodak failed and Fujifilm succeeded is that Fuji’s executives understood what business they were in and Kodak’s didn’t.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Kodak was the world leader in making photographic film  and paper and Fuji was its chief competitor.  Executives of both companies foresaw that this business would be threatened by the rise of digital photography.

Kodak’s executives defined Kodak’s business by its market—imaging.  They attempted to transition to digital photography, in which they actually gained a decent market share, but were unable to make a profit.

Fuji’s executives defined Fuji’s business by its capabilities—chemistry, especially coatings.  They transitioned to other businesses in which they could use these capabilities.  One was coatings for LCDs (liquid crystal displays) essential for TVs, computers and smartphones.  Others included pharmaceuticals and even cosmetics.

There’s lesson here, both for corporations and for planners of national economic policy.

LINK

Why Kodak Died and Fujifilm Thrived: A Tale of Two Film Companies by Oliver Kmia for PetaPixel.

A growing China reboots totalitarianism

October 22, 2018

Source: Dissident.

My great fear during the Cold War was that the totalitarian USSR would outlast the democratic USA.  I was afraid that a dictatorship would be able to take a longer view than a democracy, and would be better able to prioritize military and diplomatic power.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell, for one, scoffed at these fears.  He said that a democracy would always be able to outlast a dictatorship because dictators insulate themselves from bad news, while, in a democracy, contested elections and a free press provide a reality check.  The fall of Communism in Europe in 1989-1991 appeared to prove him right.

Now the Chinese government has created a new and more effective totalitarianism.  It uses social media and other new techniques to control the population more effectively than Mao ever dreamed of—while keeping the old Communist police state as backup.

When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, Western leaders hoped that as China made economic progress, it would become more liberal and democratic.

China has made enormous economic progress.  Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been raised from poverty.  China is a major manufacturing nation.

Economic historian Adam Tooze said Chinese economic expansion was the main force pulling the world out of recession after 2008 and today contributes as much to world economic growth as the USA and Europe put together.

The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, aka the New Silk Road, involves investing more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years to create a railroad, highway, pipeline and electrical grid extending over the whole of the interior of Eurasia, creating an integrated economy centering on China.

But if there was a possibility that this would make China more liberal and democratic, President Xi Jinping has moved to head it off.  Since 2013, China has been cracking down not only on corruption, but also on human rights lawyers, religious believers and critics o the government.

Xi Jinping has abolished the term limits that bound his predecessors and encouraged a Mao-style cult of personality.  There are even Institutes for the Study of Xi Jinping Thought.

Social media in China are monitored, and the Chinese government is in the process of implementing a scheme by which every Chinese citizen will be given a social credit score, based on an algorithm that takes into account credit history and good citizenship, but also opinions and associations, which can determine access to education, health care, credit and even public transportation.  This is powerful, because there is no individual against whom you can protest or to whom you can appeal.

In Xinjiang, members of the native Muslim Uighur population can be sent to Mao-style reeducation camps for the least little thing, even wearing a beard.  Surveillance cameras using facial recognition technology are everywhere.

China’s leaders have found a way to harness capitalism to the service of a capitalist government—much as Lenin tried to do with his New Economic Policy in the 1920s, allowing limited private business but maintaining ultimate control.  Maybe the USSR would have become like today’s China if not for Stalin’s forced collectivization drives.

There is a possibility that much of the rest of the world may come to regard China as a better example to follow than the United States.  Unless things change, the Chinese totalitarian model may prevail not through subversion or military force, but by force of successful example and as a price of doing business with China.

(more…)

Strandbeests still on the move

October 20, 2018

.

A couple of years, I posted videos about a Dutch physicist turned artist named Theo Jansen, who created self-moving, wind-powered sculptures called Strandbeests, which he called a new form of life.  As these new videos show, he is still at work.  Click on Strandbeest for his web site.

Pro-family vs. anti-family conservatives

October 18, 2018

The conservative blogger Rod Dreher put up an interesting post this morning quoting an evangelical Christian man who says he and his wife can’t afford to have children because of corporate business practices and neoliberal economic policies supported by both Republicans and Democrats.

He and his wife are both employed in STEM fields and earn six-figure incomes, but their employers constantly remind them that they can be replaced at any time by immigrants from India willing to work at one-third their salaries.  Losing a job would mean losing health insurance, which might mean bankruptcy.

A cousin actually went bankrupt because his newborn had a rare disease, and his insurance company decided that the medical staff on duty that day were not in its network, even though the hospital itself was in-network.  Then there is the cost of education, which can bankrupt even an affluent family.

The most interesting part was his contrast of European and American conservatives.

Europe’s conservatives actually are pro-family there and support pro-natalist policies. The US media as usual is embarrassingly confused about populists like Matteo Salvini, Victor Orban, the AfD in Germany, the NF in France, Vox in Spain, the Sweden Democrats and the conservatives in Denmark, Poland, Austria and the Netherlands.

These aren’t racists like the media claims, in fact quite the opposite, they are not the ones calling for invasion of foreign countries, but rather for the preservation of their own native European Christian cultures, Christian values and distinctive identities within their ancient homelands. And above all for supporting the family unit. [snip].

Europe’s populist conservatives all favor universal healthcare, low-cost childcare, free or low-cost tuition for colleges, 6 weeks of vacation (great for bonding with the family) and protection of the local labor market and wages. When I worked in Europe all Americans and other foreigners (including many tech workers from India) were paid the same or higher wages than locals, and if any employer tried to undermine the local labor market and wages, he’d be greeted with a prison term.

Source: Rod Dreher | The American Conservative

If somebody like that doesn’t think he can afford to live what used to be considered a normal life, what about the rest of us?

I’m reminded of Chris Arnade and his contrast of the “front-row kids” and “back-row kids”—the ones who get ahead because they value education, adaptability and individual success most, and the ones who are left behind because they value family, tradition and community more.

This is a good example of the coming together of the cultural conservative critique and economic radical critique of our current political economy.

(more…)

China’s geopolitical strategy is economic

October 17, 2018

There is an old saying, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”  While U.S. government tries to impose its will through threats of military action, covert action and economic sanctions, the Chinese have a long-range strategy based on offering economic incentives.   These two videos from Caspian Report give a good idea of what that strategy is and how it works.

The key parts of the strategy are the Belt and Road Initiative (aka New Silk Road) for extending roads, rail lines and oil and gas pipelines across the interior of Asia to connect China with other Asian nations, Russia and Europe, and also for buying rights to key seaports in the Indian Ocean and beyond.  Another is to finance infrastructure projects to Asian and African nations that can’t get credit from European and U.S. banks.

This is not altruistic.  It is a means of making China more powerful and secure, and giving the Chinese access to the world’s natural resources.  In the long run, leaders of small Third World nations may regret having got into debt to China.  But what do the USA—or, for that matter, the European Union—have to offer as an alternative?

The new New World Order

October 16, 2018

Following the collapse of Communism in eastern Europe in 1989, the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the emergence of China as a capitalist nation, American leaders declared the United States the world’s sole superpower.

After nearly 30 years, the U.S. government is still struggling with Russia and still struggling with China.

Following the 9/11 attacks, American leaders declared a worldwide “war on terror.”  After going on 20 years, that war is still going on, with no clear goal that I can see except to not admit defeat.

It’s time for our leaders and also we, the people, to consider that we may have made a mistake, painful and shameful as it may be to admit that.  It’s time to face facts, which are that (1) the United States isn’t and can’t be the world’s sole superpower and (2) continuous economic warfare and actual warfare is not sustainable.

I read two good articles this morning about the current international situation.  One is a survey by Pepe Escobar, a Brazilian who’s a roving correspondent for Asia Times.  The other consists of constructive suggestions by Col. Andrew Bacevich, a career military officer who served in combat in Vietnam, who had a second career as a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

Both articles will tell you things about the changing balance of power that, if you’re an American, you won’t find in your daily newspaper or evening network television broadcast.

LINKS

Welcome to the G-20 from Hell: World leaders wrestle with a maelstrom of complex, burning issues as they prepare for November 30 summit by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren by Andrew Bacevich for TomDispatch.

Why did the 1968 French student rebellion fail?

October 15, 2018

Last Friday I saw a remarkable movie, “In the Intense Now,” about the French student uprising in May, 1968, showing why at the time all things seemed possible and what went wrong.  I didn’t go to the movie with the intention of posting a review of it, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

The filmmaker, João Moreira Salles, is a Brazilian who, in 1968, was a small boy living in Paris with his parents.  The movie consists of archival footage mainly from France, but also from Czechoslovakia and Brazil and home movies his mother took on a visit to China in 1966.

He captures the joy the students felt in breaking free of the constraints of a mediocre bureaucratic society and their hope that all things were possible.

He shows their leader, the cocky, smart-alec Daniel Cohn=Bendit and I can share their pleasure is seeing him in a TV panel show, telling off the pompous intellectual authorities.

The student riots were followed by a series of strikes by factory workers all over France.  I always thought that the students and workers in France, unlike in the USA, were comrades in arms.

But Moreira Salles showed a delegation of students marching to a factory occupied by strikers to show their solidarity, only to have the workers mock them as “future bosses.”

The striking workers, he contended, were revolutionary in a way that the students were not.  He contrasted a graffito saying (approximately – I didn’t make an exact mental note at the time) “All power to the workers,” with a graffito (again – I don’t remember exactly) saying something about following the desires of your heart and not advertising slogans.

The first graffito was a revolutionary slogan.  The second was not.

He contrasted political demonstrations that are intended to bring about revolutionary charge with political demonstrations that are merely intended to express emotion.  Holders of power feel threatened by the first, but can tolerate the second.

He showed footage from August, 1968, showing the Soviet occupation of Prague, which shot furtively, mostly from behind curtained windows, and the later footage of the funeral of Jan Palace, a student who committed suicide in 1969 by setting himself on fire in order to protest the re-imposition of dictatorship, which was shot openly.

Moreira Salles said the difference was that, in August, the Soviets were fearful of a real uprising, and, the following January, they were not threatened by allowing the Czechs to vent their grief.

He showed three funerals in France—one of a student killed by police, one of a worker killed by police, and one—never before shown in documentaries of the 1968 uprising, of a police officer murdered by rioters, who was crushed against a wall by an empty truck aimed at him with bricks on the accelerator.

He also showed a funeral of a worker killed while protesting the new Brazilian dictatorship.  The funeral was a political demonstration; burial of the worker was almost an afterthought.

Moreira Salles showed a conciliatory speech by President Charles De Gaulle on TV, which was followed by the largest student riot so ar, and then a radio broadcast a ew days later, taking a hard line against breakdown of law and order.

The second broadcast was followed by a pro-government demonstration, consisting mainly but not entirely of members of the prosperous classes, which drew more people than any of the student demonstrations.

In the age of #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, it’s important to think about the difference between a serious politics with a strategy to bring about change, and a psychodrama politics limited to expressing emotion.

Then again, what good is a revolution without spontaneity and joy?  Emma Goldman, who was a true revolutionary if anybody ever was, said she didn’t want to be part of any revolutionary movement in which she couldn’t dance.

And, after all, it wasn’t the students who tamed the French workers’ movement.  It was the Communist-dominated trade unions, whose leaders had long ago compromised with the status quo.

I don’t draw a simple moral from the movie, but I find a lot to chew over in my mind.

(more…)

Patrisse Cullors’ Black Lives Matter memoir

October 14, 2018

Patrisse Khan-Cullors, an artist and activist from Los Angeles, was one of three black women who started the Black Lives Matter movement.   She co-wrote WHEN THEY CALL YOU A TERRORIST: a Black Lives Matter Memoir (2017) to tell what it’s like to grow up and live in a world in which black lives don’t seem to matter.

She wrote about her childhood and coming of age, about her mother struggling in multiple low-age jobs to allow her four children to survive, about her vocations as an activist and a performance artist, and about finding love as a Queer person who doesn’t recognize gender boundaries.

The over-riding theme of the book is surviving as a poor black person in an unforgiving society, in which employers, governmental institutions and especially the police were indifferent or hostile.

When she was nine, she saw her older brothers, Paul, 13, and Monte, 11 (her third sibling is baby sister Jasmine), set upon and humiliated by police for no reason.  All they were doing was hanging out with other boys, none over 14, in an alley because they had no playground or vacant lot or any place else to so.  Police screamed at them, forced them up against a wall and half-stripped them in public—just for being boys with nothing to do.

The same thing happened to her when she was 12 years old.  Police entered her classroom, handcuffed her, took her to the dean’s office and had her searched, just like her brothers, because somebody had reported she’d smoked marijuana.

Later she visited a rich white friend, whose brother was a drug dealer was a high school student who kept marijuana in garbage bags.  He said he never was stopped by police, and never feared police.

The main thing she had going for her were sympathetic and supportive teachers, in elementary school and in a social justice-oriented charter high school she was able to attend.

Every time she writes about something awful that happened to herself, her family or her friends, she refers to some news article or academic study that indicates it was not an isolated event, but part of a pattern.

Her older brother Monte, was actually called a terrorist.

(more…)

Black Lives Matter and the real terrorists

October 14, 2018

My dictionary’s definition of terrorism is “the use of terror and violence to intimidate, subjugate, etc., especially as a political weapon.”

If there is any group of people in American history who have been terrorized, it is African slaves and their descendants.  When they were theoretically emancipated, a terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan, arose to intimidate and subjugate them through the use of terror and violence.  The Klan was a predecessor and role model for Nazism and fascism in 20th century Europe.

I can remember when white people could kill black people with impunity in certain parts of the country. Patrisse Cullors, pointed out in her book, When They Call You a Terrorist, written with Asha Bandele., that white people are still killing unarmed black people out of fear, and often getting off with no punishment or token punishment.

Yet when she joined with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi to form Black Lives Matter, they themselves were accused of terrorism, even though Black Lives Matter neither practices nor advocates violence.

The FBI has added “black identity terrorism” to its categories of terrorism.   There could be such a thing, I suppose, but most domestic terrorists, including those who attack police, are white racist terrorists.

Cllick to enlarge

.

Click to enlarge

(more…)

Patrisse Khan-Cullors and liquid modernity

October 14, 2018

Patrisse Khan-Cullors

When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele is an eloquent and just outcry against injustice.  It also reflects a world and a way of thinking that I’m not comfortable with.

A few months ago I learned a new phrase—”liquid modernity.”  The idea is that we no longer live in a world of fixed structures—political, economic, social and moral—that we can either cling to or fight against.  Everything is fluid and ever-changing, and individuals have to continually reinvent themselves and start anew.

I can best explain what I mean by comparing and contrasting Patrisse Cullors today and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago.

I make the comparison not to rank them or nor to denigrate Cullors.  She has overcome difficulties I can barely imagine and accomplished orders of magnitude more in 30-some years I have in 80-some.  The comparison is to show how thinking about justice and society has changed in 50 years.

Black Lives Matter and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are not opposites.  They both engaged in non-violent protest in order to bring about social justice.  Although most Americans now venerate Dr. King, it is through a golden haze of amnesia that makes us forget he and his movement were as controversial and as hated in their day as Black Lives Matter is today.

The SCLC was tightly organized and highly disciplined.  Dr. King was highly protective of its image.  People who wanted to participate in SCLC protests had to submit to training in the discipline of non-violence and provide assurance that they would not do anything to harm the cause.

Although Dr. King had a low opinion of the average white American’s sense of justice, he was concerned about white public opinion and sought out white allies, including journalists, labor leaders and Christian and Jewish clergy.

Which is not to say he was subservient to white opinion.  His opposition to the Vietnam War, while justified in the light of history, cost him the support of President Johnson and many white allies.

Black Lives Matter is loosely organized.  In its early days, it consisted of people following a meme on Twitter and Facebook, and there was confusion as to who had a right to speak for Black Lives Matter and who didn’t.   It’s now a more formal organization with authorized chapters.  I’m not familiar with its inner structure, but my impression is that it still is not highly centralized.

This has advantages, of course.  Individuals and local chapters are able to act on their own initiative without getting permission from a central governing body.

Black Lives Matter does not rely on the mainstream press to get the word out.  Communication is by means of social media, which did not exist in Dr. King’s time.

Nor do Black Lives Matter leaders frame their statements or their actions with an eye to what white people think of them.   Its emphasis is on solidarity among black people, whether male or female, native-born or immigrant, straight or LGBTQ, and unity in pressing their case.

(more…)

The Cowboy Hávamál on video

October 13, 2018

About three years ago, I linked to the Cowboy Hávamál, a translation of an ancient Norse book of wisdom into the idiom of the American West.  Prof. Jackson Crawford included it as an appendix to his translation of The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes.

Prof. Crawford took the written translation down from his web site, but provided this oral translation instead.  Click on Jackson Crawford’s Old Norse Channel for his complete YouTube videos.

He saw a link between the ethic of the Viking warriors of the pagan Norse sagas and the pioneers of the American West in the time of his grandfather.  Both cultures honored courage, loyalty and the sense of honor.

I think young men today need such teachings, along with affirmation of the more civilized virtues of sportsmanship and chivalry toward the weak, more than they need lectures about the toxicity of masculinity.  I think the longing for such teaching is one reason for the popularity of Dr. Jordan Peterson.

(more…)

The right wing’s winning long-term strategy

October 11, 2018

Appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is part of a disciplined long-term strategy by the American right wing to lock in its power for generations to come.

It means the rest of the corporate Republican power play—gerrymandering, voter suppression and virtually unlimited campaign spending—is unrepealable.

The Supreme Court has become a House of Lords—a legislature of last resort.  During my lifetime, it abolished school segregation, legalized abortion, legalized gay marriage, blocked campaign finance reform, and reshaped Obamacare.  It has a potential veto power over virtually anything Congress might do.

Progressive and Democratic leaders have no long-term strategy of their own for the Supreme Court or anything else.  Instead they merely react to events, often in ways that are obviously futile—asking the Electoral College to overturn the results of the 2016 election, hoping Russiagate will drive President Trump from office, planning to impeach Kavanaugh in the future.

Even if the Democratic leaders got a strategy and stuck to it, it could take 10 or 20 years or more to undo what the right-wing corporatist movement has accomplished.  It took decades for the corporate right to bring the United States to where it is today, and changing things back will not be done overnight—if ever.

∞∞∞

You could say there is “a vast right-wing conspiracy” except that it is not secret.  It has always been out in the open for anyone to see, if they care to look.  I wrote about this at length in a previous post.

The strategic corporate movement began with the Lewis Powell memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in which the future Supreme Court justice argued that American business had to act strategically to protect its own position in society.

The result was the creation of a media, research and lobbying infrastructure, such Fox News, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which was tightly integrated with the corporate wing of the Republican Party.  The Federalist Society, founded in 1982, grooms reliably pro-corporate lawyers for judicial appointments.

It is true that there are many institutions with a built-in left-wing bias.  But the bias is unconscious and not a party line based on a planned, coordinated strategy.

The corporate movement crossed an ethical line with the REDMAP campaign.  In a targeted campaign, they gained control of both houses of 25 state legislatures in 2010, and proceeded to re-draw their congressional and state legislative districts so as to lock in a Republican majority.

At the same time they enacted laws making it more difficult for racial minorities to vote and canceling voter registrations, mainly of racial minorities, for bogus reasons.  The main obstacle to this strategy was the federal courts, which overruled the more obvious attempts to rig elections and disenfranchise voters.

Mitch McConnell (AP)

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader since 2007, has removed this obstacle by his partisan and successful effort to give stack the judiciary in favor of the Republicans.

He made it his priority to hold up appointments to the federal bench when Barack Obama was President  and then to push through appointments after Donald Trump took office.

When the Republicans were out of power, they took advantage of the “blue slip” tradition, whereby Senators have the right to block a judicial appointment in their states.

They used procedural rules to slow down President Obama’s judicial appointments, creating a backlog of vacancies.

During the last year of the Obama administration, McConnell simply refused to permit consideration of Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland, a moderately conservative but non-partisan judge.  There is no basis for such a refusal except partisanship.  It is an example of politics as a moral equivalent of war.

Now that Donald Trump is in the White House, judicial appointments go through quickly, and “blue slips” are a thing of the past.  Thanks to McConnell, the corporate movement has achieved its goal.

(more…)

Left-wing parties win college grads, lose workers

October 10, 2018

Click to enlarge

Left-wing parties in the UK and France, as well as the USA, are gaining support of the educated classes while losing support of blue-collar workers.

The French economist Thomas Piketty said politics in these three countries is a conflict between the “Merchant Right” and the “Brahmin Left,” a high-incom elite vs. a high-education elite.

I don’t know about the specific situation in France, but it’s clear to me that the leaders of Democratic Party in the USA and the Labour Party in the UK care more about the material interests of a professional class than they do about the material interests of workers.

LINKS

Brahmin Left vs. Merchant Right: Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict by Thomas Piketty.

How the left stopped being a party of the working class by Simon Wren-Lewis for his Mainly Macro blog.

U.S. rings Russia with bio-warfare labs

October 9, 2018

[Update 11/19/2018]  The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published an article debunking these charges.  Click on The Russian disinformation attack that poses a biological danger to read it.  Somebody’s not telling the truth.

An investigative journalist, Dilyana Gaytanzhieva, has uncovered evidence of deadly tests of biological substances in a Pentagon-funded research laboratory in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The US Embassy to Tbilisi transports frozen human blood and pathogens as diplomatic cargo for a secret US military program. Internal documents, implicating US diplomats in the transportation of and experimenting on pathogens under diplomatic cover were leaked to me by Georgian insiders.

According to these documents, Pentagon scientists have been deployed to the Republic of Georgia and have been given diplomatic immunity to research deadly diseases and biting insects at the Lugar Center – the Pentagon biolaboratory in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi.

The work at the laboratory is part of a $2.1 billion program of the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency that operates in 25 countries, including the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as well as nations in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa.

U.S. officials have said the research is aimed at promoting public health, and not on ways to spread disease to crops, animals and people.  If that is so, why is the research being done under a secret military program?

(more…)

Does American labor need its own party?

October 5, 2018

Organized labor in the United States is committed to the Democratic Party, but, as the late Tony Mazzocchi came to realize, the Democratic Party is not committed to organized labor.

TonyMazzocchibiogralph51GaK-Gub-L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Les Leopold’s biography, The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor, tells how Mazzocchi’s final days were devoted to trying to create a Labor Party in the United States.

The dilemma of any labor party is that by taking votes away from a Democratic candidate that is indifferent to the needs of workers, it risks throwing the election to a Republican who is actively hostile to workers.

Mazzocchi’s answer was that a Labor Party should refrain from running candidates for at least 10 years, or until it had a realistic chance of winning.

Meanwhile it should continue politics by other means—supporting strikes and boycotts, educating workers on the issues, pressuring and lobbying politicians on the issues and holding them accountable.

Running candidates in elections is only one part of politics, Mazzocchi said.

He was a strong supporter of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy in his younger days, and helped build the Democratic Party on the Republican stronghold of Long Island.

But, as he noted, it was Richard M. Nixon, not John F. Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson, who signed the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  That was not because Nixon was pro-labor, but that labor unions in 1970 exerted enough power to bring him around.

He was disappointed with the Carter administration, which failed to enact modest pro-labor legislation despite Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.  But the impetus for a Labor Party came with the Clinton administration, which openly turned its back on the union movement.

The Labor Party made a good start in the 1990s, when there was a temporary upsurge in union membership and militancy.  At its peak, according to organizer Mark Dudzic, its affiliates comprised six national unions and 500 local unions and associated groups, representing 20 percent of union members.

But many labor activists turned against third-party movements after the 2000 election, when Mazzocchi’s friend Ralph Nader ran for President on the Green Party ticket and was blamed for throwing the election to George W. Bush.  Support for the Labor Party leveled off and then declined.

U.S. labor unions still have little voice in the Democratic Party.  President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, famously said they “have no place to go.”  And the movement is even weaker than in 2002, when Mazzocchi died.

Mazzocchi’s long-term fear, according to Les Leopold, was the emergence of a right-wing American working-class movement organized around issues of race, immigration and nationalism.  If progressives can’t or won’t protect workers’ economic interests, somebody else will fill that void.

LINKS

Party Time: an excerpt from The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor.

What Happened to the Labor Party? An interview with Mark Dudzic in Jacobin.

American labor and the environmental movement

October 5, 2018

Down through the years, corporate polluters have told their employees they have a choice of working under toxic conditions or not having any jobs at all.

All too often workers accepted this tradeoff, and treated environmentalists as their enemies.  It is a kind of Stockholm syndrome—hostages identifying with their captors.

Environmentalists for their part have often neglected workers.  Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and Barry Commoner’s Science and Survival (1967) warned the public of the danger of pesticides, but had little to say about the danger to workers who manufactured these pesticides.

Few workers understood the dangers of the chemicals to which they were exposed.  Few environmentalists knew the extent of worker exposure to dangerous chemicals.

The great accomplishment of Tony Mazzocchi, whose life story is told in Les Leopold’s The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Laborwas to bring environmentalists and workers together.

He never criticized environmentalists as being privileged people who failed to understand the realities of workers’ lives.  Instead he tried to bring the environmental movement and the labor movement together.

He had Commoner give eye-opening talks to members of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers’ union on the medical effects of chemicals they worked with.

Mazzocchi helped organize the coalition of labor unions and environmentalists that is credited for enactment of the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) Act of 1970.

The OSHA law gave the Secretary of Labor the power to set health and safety standards and to enforce them through workplace inspections.  It gave unions and other interested groups the right to petition for new or stronger standards, and the right to call for inspections in the face of “imminent danger.”  It required employers to provide a work environment free from hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

But as he soon found, having these legal rights was one thing, and getting the federal government to enforce them was another.   As I read accounts in the book of how the government tolerated blatant hazards, I remember my experience in reporting on business in the 1980s.  Small business owners complained of being put to great expense to fix problems that seemed picayune both them and to me.

At the same time big corporations continued to endanger the lives and health of their employees in blatant ways, and, as Les Leopold reported, the government inspectors weren’t interested.

Tony Mazzocchi said more is needed—a workers’ “right to know” what chemicals they are being exposed to and their properties, and a “right to act” to protect themselves.  The ultimate goal, he said, should be to eliminate hazardous chemicals altogether.

(more…)

Communism, American labor unions and the CIA

October 4, 2018

One thing I learned from reading Les Leopold’s biography of the visionary labor leader Tony Mazzocchi was the great harm done to the labor movement by the anti-Communist drive of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

It drove out some of the most effective and dedicated labor organizers, created lasting bitterness and division within labor and led to a secret alliance with the Central Intelligence Agency.

This was not just something imposed on labor by the anti=Communist oath required under the Taft Hartley Act of 1947.  It was part of a drive by liberals such as Walter Reuther, who organized a purge of the United Auto Workers, and Hubert Humphrey, who did the same for the Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota.

I came of age in the 1950s and, as I became politically aware, I became a Cold War liberal myself.  I thought of Communists as followers of a kind of cult, blindly following a leader, who in this case happened to be Joseph Stalin, one of history’s bloodiest tyrants.

The Mazzocchi biography shows this view had some truth in it, but it was not the whole story.  Some American Communists were among the bravest fighters for civil rights and labor rights.

They ran African-Americans for public office at a time when no Democrat or Republican dared to do so.   The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most trusted white adviser was a former top Communist fund-raiser.

It seems like a paradox that fighters for democracy and freedom in their own country could be mesmerized by a totalitarian foreign ruler, but it was so.

The writer Doris Lessing, who was a Communist in Rhodesia as a young woman, said the idea, however illusory, that she was being backed up by a powerful country where ideals of justice gave her spiritual strength.

Tony Mazzocchi was never a Communist and never followed any party line, Communist or otherwise.  He thought many of the Communists he knew were unrealistic and overly ideological.   He didn’t hate, fear or shun them, but he was held back—for example, when he considered running for Congress from Long Island—by the fear that these associations could be used to discredit him and the labor movement.

The Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, like the United Auto Workers and the AFL-CIO itself, worked closely and secretly with the Central Intelligence Agency to support anti-Communist unions in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

If I had known about it at the time, I would have thought it was a good idea.  Moscow supported pro-Communist unions, so what would be wrong with Washington supporting anti-Communist unions?   I would have seen this all in the context of a great struggle of democracy against totalitarianism.

The problem with the way I thought back then was the assumption that the CIA, which had engineered the overthrow of democratic governments in Iran and Guatemala, could be trusted as an ally of either workers or democracy.

In the 1950s, there was a fear of Communist infiltration and subversion of left-wing and progressive movements.  But the really effective infiltrators and subversives were the FBI and the CIA.

(more…)

Tony Mazzocchi, a working-class hero

October 4, 2018

Organized labor in the United States has been in decline for decades.  If labor unions are to make a comeback, they should learn from the example of Tony Mazzocchi (1926-2002) who was vice-president and then secretary-treasurer of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union

Mazzocchi sought an alliance between the labor movement and the environmental movement and the peace movement, which have all too often regarded each other as antagonists.  President Nixon credited him with inspiring the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

He was a friend of Karen Silkwood, the whistle-blower who revealed the toxic working conditions at the Kerr-McGee

He fought for equal rights for African-Americans and pay equity for women before these were headline issues.

He thought the labor movement made a big mistake in its unconditional loyalty to the Democratic Party, whose leadership has taken workers’ support for granted, and in the years prior to his death in 2002 was trying to create institutions to give labor an independent voice.

I confess that I knew nothing about him until my e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a copy of THE MAN WHO HATED WORK and Loved Labor: the Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi by Les Leopold (2007).

This book is well-written and thoroughly researched.  Although Les Leopold was a friend and protegé of Mazzocchi’s, he depicts his mistakes and failings as well as his successes.

Mazzocchi really did hate work as it is organized in American industry, and he didn’t think anybody ought to have to work under existing conditions.

He believed that no wage-earner need work for more than 20 hours a day, and that workers should have the final say in how work is organized.

I read somewhere that the average chemical worker lives less than 10 years beyond his retirement date.  In contrast, I spent my work life on newspapers, and I have enjoyed 20 years of a pleasant retirement and may well enjoy four or five or even more to come.

This is not because I exercised or ate a healthy diet, but because I had a job that didn’t kill me.  Workers in the oil, chemical and nuclear industries have as much right to live out their natural life span as I do.

(more…)

Why Kavanaugh should not be confirmed

October 3, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh

Brett Kavanaugh is a political hack who should not have received the Court of Appeals appointment he has, and should have been rejected by the Senate committee as a nominee for Supreme Court without calling Christine Blasey Ford to testify,

He got his start helping special prosecutor Ken Starr investigate Bill Clinton, was part of the legal team that challenged the voter recount in Florida in 2000 and then worked for White House Special Counsel Alberto Gonzalez in the George W. Bush administration.

There are questions as to whether he was involved in discussions of warrantless surveillance, warrantless detentions and torture, and George W. Bush’s sweeping assertions of presidential authority in signing statements. Kavanaugh has said these issues weren’t part of his job, while the Trump administration has held back on releasing the documentary record of Kavanaugh’s service.

What Kavanaugh thinks about these questions goes to the heart of his understanding of the Constitution and the rule of law.  At the very least, he should be questioned closely about what he thinks about these issues.

As for Dr. Ford’s allegations, I’ve not followed the committee hearings closely, but it seems to me that she is telling the truth she says that at age 15, she was in a room with Kavanaugh, he grabbed her and she thought he was trying to rape her.  She was traumatized by something.

We’ll probably never know that Kavanaugh thought he doing.  He may not remember himself.  All we do know is that he has not been frank about what happened.

Should this, in and of itself, be a disqualification for serving on the Supreme Court?

This is not a case like Ted Kennedy after Chappaquiddick, Bill Clinton in 1992 or Donald Trump in 2016, in which supporters of a candidate had to choose between overlooking reprehensible conduct or letting the bad side (as they saw it) win.

The position could be filled by one of many right-wing judges who’ve never been credibly accused of sexually abusing women.

The Trump administration has nothing to lose by withdrawing Kavanaugh’s name and proposing another conservative.  Kavanaugh’s life will not be ruined.  He’ll remain in his plum job as Court of Appeals judge.

(more…)