Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The arts of argument and persuasion

July 6, 2020

This episode of William F. Buckley Jr.’s The Firing Line was broadcast on Sept. 10, 1981

In American political speech nowadays, we need more argument and persuasion and less denunciation.  I am reminded of William F. Buckley Jr., who was a master of both.

I considered Buckley’s political views were not only wrong, but reprehensible.  Yet I was a regular viewer of his PBS program, “The Firing Line.”

Buckley took the trouble to understand his opponents’ arguments.  He read their books.  When he invited them onto his program, although he was not above taking cheap shots, he tried to refute what they actually said.

He played fair.  He gave his opponent a chance to give their views.  That is why he probably changed more minds than Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity ever did.  I think there is much to be learned from his methods, whatever you think of his views.

I remember a program in which his guest was Ralph Schoenman, appearing on the show as the representative of the International War Crimes Tribunal, also known as the Russell Tribunal, and the issue was American atrocities in Vietnam.  Buckley’s claim was that Bertrand Russell, John-Paul Sartre and the other tribunal members were Communist sympathizers and should not be believed.

Schoenman expressed himself in a robotic, staccato manner that fit the stereotype of the dogmatic Communist.  Buckley, aware of this, let him go on at length, knowing his audience would be influenced more by his manner than by his actual argument.

A member of the audience argued that what mattered was the quality of the Tribunal’s evidence, not the views of its members.  Buckley listened respectfully, restated the argument and then asked what the questioner would think of anti-corruption investigators who were all Republicans and whose investigations were all of Democrats.  A bogus argument, but convincing.

I think it is possible to persuade people who strongly disagree with you politically.  Sometimes not, but people can be more open-minded than you might think.

It is important to distinguish winning an argument from successful persuasion.  I have lost many arguments, but I don’t recall ever changing my mind as a result.  My losing an argument only makes me rack my brains for what I should have said, but failed to think of on the spot.

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More of Adolph Reed Jr.’s greatest hits

July 2, 2020

Adolph Reed, Jr. in the classroom [Credit: Publicbooks.org]

Adolph Reed Jr. is a political scientist who, as much as or more than anybody I know of, cuts through BS and tells things as they are.  I put up some links to his writings and interviews in the previous post.  Here are some more.

I recommend bookmarking both pages and reading his writings whenever you have the time and interest.  I won’t say I completely agree with everything he says even now, but he saw through a number of things that I was fooled by at the time—starting with Barack Obama.

Here’s what he wrote in the Village Voice in 1996, when Obama was just getting started in politics.  I wasn’t able to find a link to the full article.

In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. 

His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance.

I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway.  So far the black activist response hasn’t been up to the challenge. We have to do better.

Source: Wikipedia

I think Reed’s analysis is correct.  The thing he does not explain is why his ideas have gotten so little traction.  Reed didn’t think Obama would be elected.  He didn’t foresee that Black Lives Matter activism would sweep the nation (nor did I).

If he is right, then a broad-based coalition, such as the one led by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. would be the key to constructive social change.  Maybe it will.  But, at least for now, it is the race-specific Black Lives Matter than has captured the public’s imagination.

LINKS

Liberals, I Do Despise by Adolph Reed Jr. in The Village Voice (1996)

The Case Against Reparations by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Progressive (2000).

Undone by Neoliberalism, by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Nation (2006)  About New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina.

Obama, No by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Progressive (2008)

Race and the New Deal Coalition by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Nation (2009)

Adolph Reed Jr. on Sanders, Coates and Reparations, an interview segment from Doug Henwood’s Behind the News (2016)

How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence by Adolph Reed Jr. for nonsite.org. (2016)

Splendors and Miseries of the Antiracist “Left” by Adolph Reed Jr. for nonsite.org. (2016)

Black Politics After 2016 by Adolph Reed Jr. for nonsite.org (2018)

The Myth of Class Reductionism by Adolph Reed Jr. for The New Republic (2019)

Adolph Reed Jr. on identity politics

July 1, 2020

This Bill Moyers interview with Adolph Reed Jr. was aired in 2014.

Adolph Reed Jr. is a retired professor of political science and a Marxist.  He thinks that what is called identity politics is a way of maintaining structure of inequality.  The purpose of this post is to call attention to his critique of identity politics and provide links to some of this work.

Identity politics is based on an analysis of how dominant groups oppress marginal groups.  Some examples:

  • Whites > Blacks  [racism]
  • Men > Women  [male chauvinism, mysogyny]
  • Native-Born > Immigrants [xenophobia]
  • Anglos > Hispanics [xenophobia]
  • Straights > Gays [homophobia]
  • Cisgendered > Transgendered [transphobia]

These are not made-up problems.  It is a fact that white job applicants or loan applicants get preference over equally-qualified or better-qualified black applicants.  It is a fact that shocking numbers of women are sexually harassed on the job.  No-one should be denied basic rights by reason of race, gender, national origin or LGBTQ identity.

The problem is when disparities between groups are used to distract from the structure of wealth and power in society as a whole.  According to economist Gabriel Zucman, one percent of Americans own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, up from 28 percent in the 1990s.

Reed says that, within the multicultural framework, this would be okay if the upper one percent were 50 percent women, 15 percent black and the appropriate percentages Hispanic, GLBTQ and so on.

Ideas of equity can be used to promote inequality.  Ideas about oppression of minorities can be used to divert attention from exploitation of the majority by the minority.  The ideology of multiculturalism can be used as a technique to divide and rule.

Honoring diversity doesn’t bring about full employment, living wages, debt relief or an end to America’s forever wars

Honoring multiculturalism can leave members of all the different groups divided among themselves and equally exploited, along with straight white cisgender males, by employers, bankers, landlords and corrupt politicians..

LINKS

Public Thinker: Adolph Reed Jr. on Organizing, Race and Bernie Sanders, an interview for Public Books.

An interview with political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. on the New York Times’ 1619 Project on the World Socialist Web Site.

Nothing Left: the long, slow surrender of American liberals by Adolph Reed Jr. for Harper’s Magazine (2014)

Adolph Reed: Identity Politics Exposing Class Division in Democrats, from an interview on the Benjamin Dixon Show (2016)

The Trouble With Uplift by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Baffler (2018)

What Materialist Black Political History Actually Looks Like by Adolph Reed Jr. for nonsite.org.

The old radicalism and the cultural revolution

June 24, 2020

The old-time left-wing radicalism, which sought economic change, is being replaced by a new radicalism, which seeks cultural change.

The old radicals thought the basic problem is that a tiny elite monopolizes wealth and power.  The new radicals think the basic problem is that dominant groups, such as whites and males, oppress marginalized groups, such as blacks and women.

The George Floyd protests show how the new radicalism has taken hold.  They are bigger and involve more people than anything in my adult lifetime, including the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A real and great evil, the abuse of black people by police, is opposed not only by black people, but by middle-class white people and, nominally at least, by corporate America as well.

Ross Douthat wrote a great column in the New York Times about Bernie Sanders as the last representative of the old-time radicalism and his eclipse by the new radicalism.

Here are some highlights:

[It was argued that a] left that recovered the language of class struggle, that disentangled liberal politics from faculty-lounge elitism and neoliberal economics, could rally a silent majority against plutocracy and win.  The 2016 Sanders primary campaign, which won white, working-class voters who had been drifting from the Democrats, seemed to vindicate this argument.

The 2020 Sanders campaign, however, made it look more dubious, by illustrating the core challenge facing a socialist revolution: Its most passionate supporters — highly educated, economically disappointed urbanites — aren’t natural coalition partners for a Rust Belt populism, and the more they tugged Sanders toward the cultural left, the easier it was for Joe Biden to win blue-collar votes, leaving Sanders leading an ideological faction rather than a broader working-class insurgency.

Now, under these strange coronavirus conditions, we’re watching a different sort of insurgency challenge or change liberalism, one founded on an intersectional vision of left-wing politics that never came naturally to Sanders.  Rather than Medicare for All and taxing plutocrats, the rallying cry is racial justice and defunding the police.  Instead of finding its nemeses in corporate suites, the intersectional revolution finds them on antique pedestals and atop the cultural establishment.

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Piketty’s stats and the problem with class conflict

May 28, 2020

The late Saul Alinsky used to say that politics is a struggle among the haves, the have-nots and the have-a-littles.  He said the outcome usually depends on which side the have-a-littles choose.

Reading Thomas Piketty’s big new book, Capital and Ideology,  reminded me I’d forgotten this important truth.

The USA and much of the rest of the world is governed in the interests of a political and economic elite and not a majority of the public.  I want a politics that represents the interests of the majority of the population.

But there are objective reasons why this is harder than it seems.  If you look at economic class in terms of a top 10 percent in income or wealth, a middle 40 percent and a bottom 50 percent, you see that there is a difference between the middle class (the have-a-littles) and the lower class (the have-nots)

I had come to think that the big problem of American politics is that so much of it is a conflict of the top 0.1 percent of income earners with the next 9.9 percent, leaving the rest of us behind.

The top 0.1 percent, in this interpretation, are the millionaires and billionaires that Bernie Sanders denounces.  The next 9.9 percent, very roughly speaking, are highly paid professionals, the “professional managerial class,” who tend to be more socially liberal, but whose economic interests are different from the majority.

Matthew Stewart wrote a good article about this in The Atlantic a couple of years ago.  The conclusion is that we the American majority have to stop thinking we have to choose between the plutocrats and the PMC and unite in our own interests.

That would make sense if economic inequality were the same as it was in Britain, France or Sweden around the turn of the previous century, as reflected in the chart above (taken from Piketty’s book)

But it’s not.  There is now a big middle class, in between the top 10 percent and the bottom 50 percent, as shown in the chart below (taken from an article co-authored by Piketty).

Click to enlarge.

In western Europe and the USA, the middle 40 percent aren’t doing too badly.  They’re open to the politics of a Margaret Thatcher or a Ronald Reagan.

Instead of claiming a larger share from the haves, they’re told they need to worry about the claims of the have-nots.  Even in parts of the world where economic inequality is greater than in Europe or the USA, there is a middle class with something to lose.

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Thomas Piketty and the politics of inequality

May 27, 2020

Reasonable people differ on the amount of economic inequality that is tolerable.  But I think almost anyone would set some upper limit.

In today’s USA, a single individual, Bill Gates, is wealthy enough to buy the city of Boston for the assessed value of its property.  The size of Jeff Bezos’ wealth is almost unimaginable.

Meanwhile four in 10 Americans lack enough cash on hand to meet an unexpected $400 expense without going into debt.

Why is this acceptable?  I’ll describe the ideas of the great French economist Thomas Piketty in his new book, Capital and Ideology.  Then I’ll discuss some of the things Piketty left out.

Piketty said the fall of Communism in the Soviet bloc and China discredited egalitarianism and validated the market economy.  Leaders of Western capitalist countries felt they were in a position to tell the working class that there is no alternative.

Even before that, the economic stagnation of the late 1970s discredited the welfare state.  The USA had both high unemployment and high inflation, which was considered theoretically impossible.  One diagnosis was that the welfare state had reached its limit, that it was in a state of deadlock because of the inability to satisfy all claimants.  This had been predicted by Friedrich Hayek in The Road to Serfdom.  He said that only a fascist dictator would be able to break the deadlock.

Click to enlarge

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher presented a different answer.  Dial back to welfare state, cut upper-bracket tax rates and allow rich people and corporations to accumulate wealth.  They will invest that wealth and the workings of the free market will assure that this works for the benefit of all.

As Piketty pointed out, none of this worked out as promised.  Cuts in marginal tax rates did not result in job creation, economic growth or anything else that was promised.

So why do Reaganism and Thatcherism still prevail?

One reason is that the historic left-wing parties abandoned the working class.  The Democrats in the USA, the Labour Party in Britain and the French socialists came to represent an educated elite rather than laborers and wage-earners.

Politics in these countries has come to be a conflict of elites, between what Piketty called the Merchant Right and the Brahmin Left.  It is like the conflict between the nobility and the clergy in the European Middle Ages and the conflict between landowners and business owners in 19th century Britain.

In the USA, many progressives see today’s politics as a conflict between the plutocracy, whose power is based on wealth, and the professional-managerial class, whose power is based on their academic credentials and their positions in organizations.  Wage-earners are not represented.  Piketty showed that the same conflict exists in other countries.

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Joe Biden and the limits of NYRB liberalism

May 13, 2020

I get e-mails from a long-time friend in south Texas in which he shares his thoughts about politics and the passing scene.  With his permission, here is one of them.  I’ve added a couple of illustrations and a link.

The New York Review of Books was launched in 1963, during a newspaper strike (remember unions?) that temporarily shut down the anodyne New York Times Book Review, a feature of the Sunday Times.  

In high school, I read the electrifying first issue of the NYRB in my hometown public library.  It featured in-your-face, hyper-literate take-no-prisoners review-essays two or three thousand words long, written by the best writers in New York.  

One early review of a biography of Patton used the word “fuckings-up.”  A letter to the editor in the next issue pointed out that the correct plural is “fuck-ups.”  I was hooked.

It’s now more than half a century later, and I’m still reading the NYRB—after a lot of twists and turns, on their part, and on mine.

Their NYRB editor before this one, Ian Buruma—who got bumped after a couple of issues for printing something by some Canadian guy with #MeToo trouble—promised “a wider range” of authors.  I took this to mean: more conservative authors, more often—and I think I was right.

But the word “conservative” here needs a gloss.  NYRB authors are never hard-shell conservatives—like some of the reviewers (e.g., Edward Luttwak) who turn up occasionally in the Times Literary Supplement to give readers a bracing glimpse of how things look from the other side.

No, NYRB essayists are conservative only in the sense of wanting to get back (in the WayBack Machine?) to where we were on the Monday afternoon before Election Day 2016.  Let me explain:

The current issue, for instance, features an article on “rebranding” the Democratic Party by one Joseph O’Neill, a novelist who teaches at Bard College, an upstate-New-York haven for rich hippie-kids. (Bard art majors are provided with their own studios.)

O’Neill’s thesis is that the Republicans and Democrats are like Coke and Pepsi, or Bud Lite and Miller Lite–which makes sense to me.  But O’Neill DOESN’T MEAN, as I would, that they’re two essentially identical products.  (Have you actually looked at the stuff Joe Biden has supported—and opposed—during his long career?)

No, O’Neill means instead that Pepsi can gain market share only by getting Coke drinkers to switch, and vice versa.  So, according to O’Neill, what the Democrats need to do is REBRAND themselves (he quotes legendary Mad Man David Ogilvy from the 50s, a candid, entertaining writer) so as to pull over low-info, “ideologically squishy” swing voters. It’s all a question of PR.

O’Neill goes into the tall grass here, talking in considerable detail about how the Democrats need to devalue the GOP “brand,” with its connotations of strength and patriotism, rather than just attacking Trump.  

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The coronavirus pandemic in perspective

May 4, 2020

Over the weekend, I read an insightful five-part on-line series of articles on the coronavirus pandemic by Prof. Maximilian C. Forte of Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, on his Zero Anthropology Project web site.

He doesn’t think the pandemic is a temporary emergency that will soon blow over.  He thinks it is a major turning point in history.  So do I.  Of course we both could be wrong, but I don’t think we are.

Here is an excerpt from the first article.  Links to the full five-part series are below.

Max C. Forte

The plain fact of the matter is that until a vaccine is developed, and everyone on Earth has been vaccinated, the struggle against the virus will not truly be won.

Anything less than that is merely a temporary, selective and fragmentary means of approximating an end—something that is better than nothing, with each decrease in lives lost being something that is heroically gained by front line workers risking their own health.

Otherwise, anything short of total vaccination boils down to a way of indirectly apportioning the virus to some, while managing it for everyone else.

Unnecessary deaths will not be rendered any less unnecessary, they will simply be confined and reduced in number, for a while.  In other words, without vaccination it is absolutely inevitable that what comes next will be worse.

The main issue now for public officials appears to be how to ensure that what comes next will not be as bad as it could be—making worse less worse.

To be clear, the most recent estimates are that a vaccine for COVID-19, which has not yet been invented, would—to be optimistic—become available within the next year to 18 months.

Not only has a vaccine never been invented for any prior coronavirus (with previous research prematurely shut down), even discovering a vaccine before five years would be a record-breaking pace when compared with other vaccines.

Experts think it would be unprecedented.  Plus the coronavirus is apparently mutating profusely, which complicates efforts to develop a vaccine.

Without a vaccine or effective therapy, the assessment from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health is that “prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022,” and that there could be a resurgence of the outbreak as late as 2024.

Instead, from the UK to the US and Quebec, an understanding that is prevalent among officials involves foggy, even dangerous ideas about “herd immunity,” which assumes—with little conclusive evidence and despite some contrary evidence—that (a) immunity against COVID-19 can be acquired and (b) that the immunity is permanent or long-term.

To make matters worse, some researchers think a vaccine for COVID-19 may never be found and that the virus is likely not to be containable.

No matter which decisions governments take—whether to continue mass confinement and a closure of most of the economy, or to gradually reopen economic activity (though it was never fully closed) and loosen restrictions—it will seem like the wrong decision will have been taken.

It’s not even a matter of choice between the “economy” versus “health.”  Without health, there can be no economy.  Without production, distribution, and consumption, health may be undermined.

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How the 2020 election is already being rigged

April 28, 2020

Greg Palast is an outstanding investigative reporter.  For the past few years, he’s been working on voter suppression and election rigging.  He says the 2020 election is already being rigged in favor of the Republicans.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of us Americans will vote by mail instead of risking in-person voting.  But under present rules, Palast noted, mail voting is easy to tamper with.

Historically, 22 percent of mail ballots are thrown away and never counted.  This doesn’t happen at random, Palast said.  The ballots that are thrown away are disproportionately black and Hispanic voters.

Mail ballots are not secret.  The person counting your ballot knows who you are and how you voted.  If he or she says the ballot isn’t filled out correctly, they are not going to be questioned.

Voters don’t automatically get mail-in ballots.  In many states, the state sends postcards—postcards that look like junk mail—asking if you want a mail-in ballot.  Not every citizen gets one.  If some states, if you haven’t voted in the last few elections, you’re considered “inactive” and are stricken from the mailing list.

Then there are technical requirements for filling out the ballot correctly.  In some states, voters have to include copies of their photo IDs.  Try doing that if you don’t have a copier at home.  Kinkos and other copying companies are closed during the pandemic.

Eight states, including Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Carolina, require mail-in votes to be signed by a witness, Palast wrote. Three states, including Missouri, require the signature on the mail-in ballot to be notarized, he said.  Alabama requires a notary and two other witnesses.

All but six states, he wrote, check your signature on the mail-in ballot against your signature on the voter registration rolls.  Whether or not it matches is a subjective decision by a possibly partisan election official.

I’m not saying Democratic leaders are not inherently more honest than Republicans.  The Democratic Party has a long history of voter suppression and election rigging, especially to disenfranchise black voters in the South.

But at this moment in history, it is the Republicans whose power depends on manipulating the election process.

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Andrew Cuomo as pandemic fighter-in-chief

April 24, 2020

Gov. Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York—not Joe Biden, not Bernie Sanders—has emerged as the Democrats’ alternative to President Trump in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

He is like Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks—a reassuring symbol of leadership.  Of course many of us think differently of Giuliani now than we did then.

He has said he isn’t interesting in running for President this year.  But he would be a more electable candidate than Biden, so who knows?  Whether he’d do anything to end the forever wars, rein in Wall Street, negotiate nuclear disarmament or deal with climate change is another question.

LINKS

The Foundations of American Society Are Failing Us by Bernie Sanders in the New York Times.

Trump’s poor poll numbers trigger GOP alarm over November by Alex Isenstadt for POLITICO.

News media stoke Gov. Cuomo narrative as counter to Trump by Jeffrey M. McCall for Microsoft News.  Cuomo, not Joe Biden.

Gov. Cuomo’s speech to the New York National Guard on March 27, 2020.  Actually, a stirring speech.

Andrew Cuomo: Emergency Responder by Michael Greenberg for New York Review of Books.

There Are Worse Governors Than Andrew Cuomo, But None Who Are Responsible For As Many Coronavirus Deaths on Down With Tyranny!  [Added 4/26/2020]

Even in a Pandemic, Andrew Cuomo Is Not Your Friend by Akash Mehta for Jacobin magazine.

Photo via Rand Blog.

Could Bernie Sanders have won? (2) Probably not

April 21, 2020

Some Comments on the Sanders Campaign by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

Bernie Sanders Campaign: How He Lost the White Working Class by Dan McLaughlin for National Review.  [Added 4/15/2020]  From March.  Lots of interesting polling data.

Bernie Sanders Offered Us the Future | Why Did He Fail—and What Did We Forfeit? by Moshik Temkin for Newsweek [Added 4/15/2020]

#DemExit Now: How the Democratic Party Cheated Bernie Sanders Out of the Nomination by Anis Shivani for Medium [Added 4/18/2020]

Reflections on the Bernie Campaign by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs [Added 4/21/2020]

Bernie’s Campaign Strategy Wasn’t the Problem by Paul Headman and Hadas Thier for Jacobin [Added 4/23/2020]

Trump’s guidelines benefit him no matter what

April 20, 2020

Doug Muder, on his The Weekly Sift  blog, pointed out that President Trump’s Opening Up America Again guidelines are different from what he says they are.  His handling of the guidelines enables him to say he was right no matter what happens.  Here’s some of what Muder wrote—

Thursday, the White House released the long-awaited guidelines Opening Up America Again.  It was rolled out in a quintessentially Trumpian way, one that will allow him to claim credit for any successes and blame someone else for any failures.  

This sleight-of-hand is achieved by a simple trick: What the document says is very different from what Trump says about it.

He says it’s a plan by which parts of the country can start relaxing stay-at-home orders almost immediately — even before his previously stated goal of May 1.  

But if you read the document (and how many MAGA-hatters will bother?) it lists a set of criteria not much different from those put forward by public-health experts all over the world — or by Joe Biden a week ago: a downward trend in cases, a rebuilt stockpile of medical equipment, extensive testing even of those with no symptoms, and exhaustive contact-tracing of those who test positive.

Since no state is anywhere near achieving those criteria, none can use these guidelines to justify opening up anytime in the near future.

You might expect all this open-up/stay-closed confusion to hinder both the economy and the fight against the virus — and you’d be right — but jobs and lives are not the point. The primary goal is to allow Trump to claim vindication no matter what happens.

  • If a state reopens its economy soon and everything works fine, then Trump takes credit for all the jobs gained, because he told them to reopen.  Even better, he overruled both Democrats and scientists, who were wrong when he was right.  The stable genius wins again!
  • If a state relaxes its lockdown rules, sees a spike in infections and deaths, and has to lock down again, it’s not Trump’s fault that the governor misapplied what was clearly written down in the guidelines.  Blame that loser, even if he’s been a loyal Trumpist like Ron DeSantis or Greg Abbott.
  • If a state doesn’t reopen soon, then any economic or psychological distress caused by the continued lockdown is also the governor’s fault, and Trump is the champion of the suffering people trapped in their homes.  Liberate Michigan!

It’s a neat trick.

LINKS

Trump’s Guidelines Aren’t What He Says They Are by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.  Read the whole thing to get the highlights of the Opening Up America Again plan..

“It’ll all be over by Christmas” by Charles Stross for Charlie’s Diary.  A Scottish science fiction writer on the hard facts.

Anti-authoritarianism in a time of pandemic

April 15, 2020

James C. Scott, in his wise and witty book, Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity and Meaningful Work and Play, reviews ways we the people would be better off if we were less submissive to authority than we are.

He isn’t a full-fledged anarchist.  He understands the need for government.  That’s why he gives two cheers for anarchism instead of a full three cheers.

But he says the anarchists have a point.  Governments, corporations and other big institutions are more repressive than they need to be, and we the people have given up too much of our self-reliance and self-determination.

I read and liked Two Cheers when it first came out, and later read and liked two of Scott’s weightier books, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed and The Art of Not Being Governed: an Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia.

I recently read it again, one chapter a month, as part of a philosophy reading group hosted by my friend Paul Mitacek.  We stopped meeting before we finished the book because of the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing requirements.

The pandemic makes the issues Scott raised all the more important.  In times of pestilence, famine and war, we the people submit to authority as we never would normally, and concede rights that we might or might not get back after the emergency is over.

Alternatively, we have a rational fear of anarchy in the bad sense—a war of all against all for the scarce means of survival.

Here are Scott’s six arguments.

Chapter One: The Uses of Disorder and Charisma

Scott wrote about how anonymous individual defiance of law sets limits to government authority and sometimes is a prelude to revolution.  His examples include desertions from the Confederate army, English poachers violating the nobility’s game laws, armed farmers in the U.S. Midwest stopping foreclosures during the Great Depression, wildcat strikes in the same era and spontaneous civil disobedience of U.S. segregation laws in the 1960s.

He also pointed out how “charismatic” leaders, such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin D. Roosevelt, acquire their popularity by noting carefully how their audiences respond, and adapting their message to their audience.

Scott recommended the practice of “anarchist calisthenics”—harmless disobedience of pointless laws and regulations.  He says this will mentally prepare you to resist actual tyranny if tyranny comes.

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Joe Biden’s newest problem

April 13, 2020

Krystal Ball First On-Camera Interview With Tara Reade On Joe Biden Sexual Assault Allegation.

Evaluating Tara Reade’s Allegation Against Joe Biden by Nathan Robinson for Current Affairs.

Time’s Up Declines to Fund Joe Biden #MeToo Allegation by Ryan Grim for The Intercept.

Bernie Sanders: a politician who never sold out

April 10, 2020

Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Denver. Via Common Dreams

Bernie Sanders is a rare example of a politician who cared more about the people he represented than his personal ambitions.  He compromised, but he never sold out.

While Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden spend their early years in climbing the American political success ladder, Sanders spent his youth in apparently doomed campaigns against established power.

It was only at age 47 that he won a narrow victory as mayor of Burlington, Vermont.  Against the opposition of the City Council and many city employees, he was able to rally the public and impose reform on the city government.

I don’t know whether he could have done the same with the government in Washington.  The corruption and dysfunction runs much more deeply there.  But it would have been interesting to see him try.

He was respected for his honesty and sincerity even by his political opponents, whereas somebody like Newt Gingrich or Karl Rove is mistrusted even by his political allies.

I remember an article about Sanders in the 2016 campaign that I thought showed what he was all about.  I searched for on the Internet, but was unable to find it.

A reporter traveling with Sanders had hoped to rise with the campaign staff from the airport to the hotel where they all were staying.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t room in the vehicle for all, and it seemed as if the reporter was going to have to find his own transportation.

Sanders noticed what was going on, and started trying to figure out a way to rearrange the luggage so there would be room for the reporter.  He was surprised at Sanders’ concern, because he hadn’t been especially friendly on the flight.  He decided it was a reflection of a sense of justice that encompassed everybody.

If you were going on an ocean cruise, the reporter said, Sanders wouldn’t be a particularly congenial companion.  But he would be the one who noticed if you fell overboard.

I think one reason Sanders ended his campaign when he did, instead of going all the way to the convention the way Hillary Clinton did in 2008, is that he didn’t want to expose his supporters and other voters to the risks of voting in person.

I never would have dreamed, in 2015, that somebody like Sanders could come as close to winning the presidency as he did.  But, as somebody said, “close” only counts when you’re playing horseshoes.

The question for the future is whether Sanders was unique or whether others can follow, building on what he achieved.  His campaign was always as much about building a movement—maybe more about building a movement—than it was about winning office.  I hope his campaign is a beginning and not an end.

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Could Bernie Sanders have won?

April 9, 2020

I was disappointed, but not surprised, that Bernie Sanders conceded defeat in the Democratic presidential primary.

To have won the Democratic nomination, he would have had to have gotten an absolute majority of the delegates to the nominating convention, and he never got an absolute majority in any state.

Many Sanders’ supporters blame him for running too gentlemanly and restrained a campaign.  I myself would have like to see him be more aggressive, but I don’t think that would have brought him victory..

The system was rigged against him.  I think it is remarkable that he got as far as he did.  But there were two political dilemmas that he failed to resolve, and that nobody may have been able to resolve.

One was how to win the votes of loyal Democrats while appealing to independents and non-voters who were disgusted with the leadership of both parties.

The other was how to win the votes of both the old-time New Deal liberals and the “woke” progressives.  I haven’t seen much written about this, so I’ll go into this aspect a little more.

The first group are populists.  They side with the struggling majority who are being exploited by the financial and corporate elite.  The second group is suspicious of populism.  They side with minorities who are being oppressed by the dominant majority, which is defined by race, gender and sexual orientation.  For this group, a poor and unemployed straight white male can still be an oppressor.

These two perspectives aren’t necessarily in opposition.  You can be opposed to monopoly business and opposed to discrimination against black people or gay people.  The question is the balance between the two .

An example of the problem was the controversy over Sanders’ accepting the endorsement of Joe Rogan, the popular on-line talk show host.

Rogan appeals to a mass audience who don’t necessarily follow politics closely, so his endorsement was golden.  But to some Democrats, he was unacceptable because he opposes transgendered women who are biological males competing in women’s sports, especially mixed martial arts, and he opposes puberty blockers for gender-confused children.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez opposed Sanders’ accepting Rogan’s endorsement  She reportedly dialed back her support for the Sanders campaign for that reason.  If this is so, it is not an attitude that wins elections.

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The mysterious appeal of Joe Biden

March 23, 2020

Why is Joe Biden apparently the last man standing among the Democratic candidates?

He did virtually no campaigning and he wasn’t even able to raise enough money to carry on a major campaign until Super Tuesday.  His public image has always been that of a good-natured bumbler.

Joe Biden

Yet he led in public opinion polls all through the campaign.  Bernie Sanders never quite caught up to him.

More than any politician since the late Robert F. Kennedy, Biden got the votes of both African-Americans and white blue-collar workers—despite never having been a strong supporter of either civil rights or organized labor.

I think most people who voted for him would have a hard time identifying any major achievement of his or any cause that he stood for.

Part of Biden’s appeal is that he appears to be a genuinely nice person.  He was nice to Bernie Sanders, nice to Barack Obama and, in an earlier era, nice to the white supremacist Strom Thurmond.

He is nice to elevator operators and to the Amtrak workers he meets in his shuttles from Washington, D.C., to his home in Delaware and back.  He’s also friendly with the corporate lobbyists, particularly for the credit card industry, which is concentrated in his state.

Everybody likes him.  Unlike with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, nobody is passionately loyal to him, but nobody hates him and nobody fears him.

In the 2008 vice-presidential debates, the worst thing that Dick Cheney could find to say against him was that he couldn’t understand why he was running on the same ticket as Barack Obama.

Nobody smoothed his way for him.  He was in the bottom half of his classes at the University of Delaware and Syracuse University Law School.  He had to overcome a stutter.

He has not taken on the attitudes and speech habits of the cultural and financial elite, even though he is defends their interests.  He never went to Harvard or Yale.  I can’t imagine him using the expression “those people.”

He is what white Southerners used to call a “good old boy.”  A good old boy is good-hearted, extroverted and masculine, and able to get along with almost anyone.  He is somebody you can go to if you need a favor.  A good old boy doesn’t rock the boat.  He accepts the world as he finds it and makes his way in it as best he can.

He is everyman.  After 20 years of upheaval and disappointed hopes, he offers the promise of stability, safety and healing.  That’s what Dwight D. Eisenhower offered in 1952; it’s also what Warren G. Harding offered in 1920.

Will this be enough to get him elected?  Maybe not.  Aside from Biden’s lack of cruelty and vindictiveness, there are few bright-line distinctions between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

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Voter suppression in the Democratic primary

March 11, 2020

The line to vote in the Democratic presidential primary at 9:25 p.m. March 3 at Texas Southern University. Photo: Texas Observer

I don’t blame voter suppression for Bernie Sanders’ losses in the Democratic primary.  Not entirely.  There were a lot of reasons he lost and Joe Biden won.

Sanders appealed to young, first-time voters, and registering to vote for the first time can be complicated and time-consuming, even under normal conditions.

Voter registration is especially difficult for renters, because you have to re-register every time you move to a new district.  Young people, poor people and minorities are disproportionately renters.

In most states, you have to register by a certain deadline.  Michigan had same-day registration, but there were long lines of would-be new voters yesterday several hours after the polls closed.

Some state governments have closed polling stations in places where there are high concentrations of college students, minorities and poor people.  This is mainly a result of a Republican effort to discourage voting by core Democratic constituencies, but it worked against Sanders.

Also, voting in most places is done with electronic voting machines that can be tampered with.  I’ve been writing about this for years.  There are suspicious discrepancies between exit polls and the actual vote.

The only way to guarantee this won’t happen is with paper ballots counted by hand in public.  In New York state, where I vote, there are paper ballots scanned by machines.

In principle, these ballots could by hand-counted if there was a question as to whether they were scanned correctly.  But in practice, the verification would almost certainly be done in a second scanning by a different machine.

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Joe Biden’s other problem

March 6, 2020

Stop Calling It a Stutter — Here Are Dozens of Examples of Biden’s Dementia Symptoms by Caitlin Johnstone.

Democratic primary: It’s not over until it’s over

March 4, 2020

Click to enlarge.  Source: CNBC.

The Super-Tuesday primary results were a disappointment to the Bernie Sanders campaign, but the primary campaign is far from over.

We won’t know the full results until the votes in California and Maine are counted, but Vox news service reports that Joe Biden only got 60 more delegates than Sanders in Tuesday’s primary vote, and only has 57 more pledged delegates than Sanders overall. Other news services count differently.   I’ll post the full delegate count when the full results are in.

Biden will undoubtedly get the 26 delegates pledged to Pete Buttigieg and the seven pledged to Amy Klobuchar, and probably will get the 44 pledged to Mike Bloomberg.  And if no candidate gets a clear majority on the first convention ballot, he’ll undoubtedly get the 771 superdelegates who are chosen by the Democratic party establishment.

There’s no denying his advantage.  But it’s early times yet.  The Democrats have chosen 1,344 convention delegates, but there are 2,635 yet to go.

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Going beyond the American political binary

February 15, 2020

The fundamental fallacy … committed by almost everyone is this: “A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad.”  [Bertrand Russell]

When people hear a story, they ask: Is it really true?  When people hear two stories, they ask: Which one is true? [Author unknown]

The smart way to keep people obedient and passive is to strictly limit the spectrum of debate, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.  [Noam Chomsky]

In the USA, political partisanship can be bitter nowadays.  Pew Research reported that nearly one in two Americans have stopped talking politics with someone because of something they said.  Among liberal Democrats, the figure is six in 10.

The most obvious explanation for this is polarization on certain issues—abortion rights, gun control, gay marriage or affirmative action, for example.   The alignment of the two parties is clear, and I don’t talk to many individuals who mix and match issues.

But studies show that many Democrats and Republicans decide on issues based on party, affiliation rather than choosing their party based on issues.  Pollsters find that they get different answers to their questions when they say where Obama or Trump stands on a certain question than when they just state the question.

What all this hides is the fundamental agreement of top Democratic and Republican leaders on fundamental questions of peace and war, and of economic and political power.

Democratic and Republican administrations of the past 20 years have agreed to a state of war waged by invasions, bombings, assassinations and economic blockade with no expectation or even definition of victory.

In the name of war, they have normalized universal warrantless surveillance, detention without trial and torture, and have prosecuted whistleblowers who reveal the government’s crimes.

Democratic and Republican administrations of the past 30 years have given free rein to financial speculators who have crashed the economy and enriched themselves.  Neither party when in power has prosecuted financial fraud.  Neither has enforced the anti-trust laws.  Neither has stood up for the right of workers to organize.

I’m not saying there is absolutely no difference between the two parties’ leaderships.  I’m saying that neither party’s leadership has strayed from what is acceptable to Wall Street, Silicon Valley or the military-industrial complex.

Nor am I criticizing you if you think abortion rights or gun ownership is more important to you than any of the issues I’ve mentioned.  I just say the public deserves a chance to vote for advocates of peace and economic justice

A lot has been written by Jonathan Haidt and others about fundamental value differences between progressives and conservatives.  But what set of progressive or conservative values justifies financial fraud?  Or waging war against countries that do not threaten us?   Or an economic system in which income is continually redistributed upward into the pockets of the superrich?

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Michael Bloomberg as a presidential candidate

February 7, 2020

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg’s emergence as a major Democratic presidential candidate reminds me of a saying attributed to Harry Truman.

If you run a Republican against a Republican, the [real] Republican will win every time.

LINKS

Michael Bloomberg Wikipedia page.

A Republican Plutocrat Tries to Buy the Democratic Nomination by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs [Added 2/9/2020]  This says it all.

Michael Bloomberg’s Right-Wing Views on Foreign Policy by Mehdi Hasan for The Intercept.

Mike Bloomberg’s $ymbiotic Relationship With NY’s GOP: ‘We Agreed With Him on So Many Issues’ by Ross Barkan for Gothamist.

Bloomberg Has a History of Donating to Republicans—Including in 2018 by Bobby Cuza for Spectrum News NY1

Iowa caucus mess: maybe it’s more than stupidity

February 6, 2020

The Myth of Incompetence: DNC Scandals Are a Feature, Not a Bug by Caitlin Johnstone.

Are Clinton and Obama to blame for Trump?

February 5, 2020

Secretary of Labor Robert Reich

Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor during the Bill Clinton administration, is an honest man whom I respect.

When he left public service, he went back to his old job as a college professor and author.  He didn’t become a millionaire by joining corporate boards of directors or collecting consultants’ fees.

I also respect Reich, who is 4 feet 11 inches tall, for making his way in a world in which most people unconsciously take tall people more seriously than they take short people.  This is a form of prejudice I seldom think about.

He wrote an interesting article in The Guardian about how working people no longer feel represented by either the Democratic or Republican parties.

In 2015, he interviewed working people for a new book he was working on.  He’d talked to many whom he’d met 20 years before when he was in government, and many of their grown children.

Almost all of them were disillusioned with the “rigged system,” which they thought Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush represented.  The only presidential candidates they were interested in were Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.  Reich thinks they had a point.

Democrats had occupied the White House for 16 of the 24 years before Trump’s election, and in that time scored some important victories for working families: the Affordable Care Act, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit and the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example.  I take pride in being part of a Democratic administration during that time.

But Democrats did nothing to change the vicious cycle of wealth and power that had rigged the economy for the benefit of those at the top and undermined the working class.

As Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg concluded after the 2016 election, “Democrats don’t have a ‘white working-class’ problem.  They have a ‘working class problem’ which progressives have been reluctant to address honestly or boldly.  

“The fact is that Democrats have lost support with all working-class voters across the electorate.”

In the first two years of the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.  Yet both Clinton and Obama advocated free trade agreements without providing millions of blue-collar workers who consequently lost their jobs any means of getting new ones that paid at least as well.  

Clinton pushed for NAFTA and for China joining the World Trade Organization, and Obama sought to restore the “confidence” of Wall Street instead of completely overhauling the banking system.

Both stood by as corporations hammered trade unions, the backbone of the white working class. They failed to reform labor laws to allow workers to form unions with a simple up-or-down majority vote, or even to impose meaningful penalties on companies that violated labor protections.

Clinton deregulated Wall Street before the crash; Obama allowed the Street to water down attempts to re-regulate it after the crash. Obama protected Wall Street from the consequences of its gambling addiction through a giant taxpayer-funded bailout, but allowed millions of underwater homeowners to drown.

Both Clinton and Obama turned their backs on campaign finance reform. In 2008, Obama was the first presidential nominee since Richard Nixon to reject public financing in his primary and general election campaigns, and he never followed up on his re-election promise to pursue a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United vs FEC, the 2010 supreme court opinion opening wider the floodgates to big money in politics.

Although Clinton and Obama faced increasingly hostile Republican congresses, they could have rallied the working class and built a coalition to grab back power from the emerging oligarchy. Yet they chose not to. Why?

Source: The Guardian

Before I respond to Reich’s question, I want to take him to task for saying unions are the backbone of the “white working class.”  All workers, regardless of race, ethnicity or, for that matter, gender, need the protection of labor unions.

Black and Hispanic Americans are a larger percentage of union members than they are of the U.S. population as a whole.  When you use the expression “white working class,” you ignore the existence of a huge number of American wage-earners.

I don’t think Reich had bad intent, but one of the Democratic Party’s big problems is the successful Republican effort to drive a wedge between native-born white Anglo working people and black, Hispanic and immigrant working people.  It’s a mistake to use language that plays into that.

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The Iowa vote count mess

February 4, 2020

The late Robert A. Heinlein, a great SF writer, once said you should never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.

Iowa, Democrats and Elite Incompetence by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

Iowa Caucuses, the Blob and the Democratic Party Cartel by Matt Stoller.

Of course malice and stupidity are not mutually exclusive.