Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Thursday, September 7, 2017

FREE LUNCHES, GIFT HORSES, AND OTHER IMPLAUSIBLE EVENTS

Several friends and relatives have contacted me, asking whether I am all right, seeing as how I have not blogged for several days.  I am fine.  I have just been so angry and depressed by Trump’s attack on the 800,000 or so young people protected by the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrival, or DACA, program that I could not gin up the animal spirits to write something.  That, together with the horrific news about these two hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, has left me hiding out a bit.  But the news has unaccountably taken a turn, and I wish at least to say a few words about the weird events of the past twenty-four hours.

First, however, I must take note of the reports of Hillary Clinton’s attack on Bernie Sanders in her forthcoming book about the election.  Apparently, if the leaked portions are accurate, she claims that Sanders’ criticisms of her during the primary season did “lasting damage” to her and “paved the way” for Trump’s victory.  I understand that one must be forgiving and charitable toward someone who has suffered a great loss, but this is a load of hogwash [what is hogwash anyway?].  It is transparently an effort by the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party to reassert its accommodationist politics and prepare the way, God help us, for a 2020 Clinton run for the nomination.  There is nothing especially surprising about this attack.  Despicable, to be sure, but not surprising.  Nobody said it was going to be easy.

Or so I thought.  But then came Trump’s bizarre, unanticipated, incomprehensible surrender to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi yesterday.  I have no idea at all why this happened, so I shan’t speculate, but I do think, as Willy Loman’s wife says in Death of a Salesman, that attention must be paid.

My American readers will all be aware of what took place [not what transpired – that means literally breathed about, or more colloquially, what came to light.]  But this is all a bit of inside baseball, and my overseas readers may be somewhat mystified, so a brief summary is in order.  The Congress has been unable actually to prepare, debate, and pass a budget for the Federal Government for longer than my younger readers have been alive, so periodically, to keep the government functioning [or pretending to function], they pass what is called a Continuing Resolution, or CR, which for a specified time authorizes the government to keep doing what it has been doing at the same level of expenditures.  The time has arrived for another CR.  Also, since the Federal Government regularly runs a deficit, periodically it approaches the limit placed on the national debt by previous legislation.  So long as the debt falls under that limit, the Treasury is authorized to borrow money by issuing Treasury Bills and other instruments of debt, thus allowing the government to pay its bills.  Once that debt limit is reached, as a consequence of the Congress failing to raise revenues sufficient to cover the expenditures it has already authorized, either the debt limit must be increased by the Congress or the United States government will be forced to stop paying the bills.  In short, the USA will default.  That time has also arrived.

This ought to be a no-brainer, and when the Democrats control Congress, it is.  But there is a sizeable minority of House Republicans who are desperate to cut government spending, and who use the advent of a debt limit increase to threaten to vote against the increase unless they get their way.  This is transparently self-destructive behavior, but they are convinced that they can work their will by threatening to hold their collective breath until they expire, as it were.  Because of this behavior, the leaders of the House Republican caucus are compelled to seek Democratic votes to pass a debt ceiling rise and a CR.  This gives the otherwise powerless Democrats a brief moment of leverage which they could theoretically use to win some sort of legislative concessions from the Republicans, such as, perhaps, a regularization of the DACA program.

Meanwhile, the devastation caused by Harvey [and about to be caused by Irma] creates a politically unstoppable demand for federal relief funding.

The Republicans, understanding all of this, proposed to combine the CR and the debt limit increase with hurricane relief funding in one grand package, to be passed this week.  They proposed an eighteen month CR and debt increase, figuring, quite rationally, that the Democrats would have to agree so as not to be seen as voting against hurricane help.  The 18 month extensions would take them past the midterm elections, leaving them free to work on such tasty items as tax cuts for the rich without there being any time soon when the Democrats would again gain leverage during a debt limit/CR crisis.  The Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, and the House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, publicly proposed a three month CR/Debt increase, obviously designed to give them leverage again, after the hurricane season is over, to get some concessions otherwise impossible to obtain.

O.K.  Got that?

So, yesterday Donald Trump, still nominally President, called all the Congressional leaders to the Oval Office to arrive at some sort of deal.  Schumer and Pelosi offered their three month proposal, which House Speaker Ryan had scornfully rejected in a public appearance before the meeting … and without blinking an eye, Trump agreed to it.  As the Republicans sat there, stunned, blindsided, betrayed, aghast, Trump invited his daughter, Ivanka, into the room, presumably as light entertainment and to signal the end of the “negotiations.”  It is not reported whether she performed a belly dance.

What is going on?  Nobody knows.  It is reported that as the Congressional Republicans left the White House, staffers who were caught as off guard as the Republicans quietly apologized.  Will the agreement stand, or is Trump, as I write, tweeting that he never said it?  Who knows?  Can the Dreamers be saved?  No one knows that either.

Should the Democrats accept a package of concessions in return for a vote to fund the wall?  I shall leave that debate for another day.





13 comments:

Jerry Brown said...

No doubt you have a better understanding of the political strategery behind the Democrats' proposal, but I am not sure it is ever good to use the ridiculous debt limit law to extort compromise at all. Perhaps they should have proposed a permanent repeal of that law in exchange for an 18 month CR. The 'debt limit' law is a cynical joke, given that Congress has always already authorized the spending that is subject to it. Of course an 18 month CR is also ridiculous to ask for because Congress is supposed to get a budget passed- it is one of their primary functions.

Probably most concerning to me is that Trump agreed with the Democrats here. That is never a good sign that you might be doing the right thing. He probably will say something different next week though.

Ed Barreras said...

Clinton isn't wrong, exactly, about Sanders's attacks hurting her and paving the way for the current occupant of the White House. I recall something someone here (David Palmeter?) said to the effect that you could list any number of factors -- Sanders attacks, Russia hacks, misogyny, media malfeasance -- and ask which one led to Clinton's defeat. The answer is isn't "all of the above" but "any one of the above".

The question is whether Sanders run was worth it in order to move the Democratic Party leftward. I think that it certainly was. However, I do regret that Sanders kept up the strident rhetoric even after it became apparent he had no chance of clinching the nomination. If you think of politics as strategic power seeking, then that was a bad move because it was the wrong strategy. I also think there's no chance in hell Clinton runs again.

My best guess about the debt ceiling deal comes down to the fact hat Pelosi and Schumer are simply smarter, more charming negotiators than Wormy Ryan and McTurtle. These people are all real chummy with each other behind the scenes, though it seems T***p has lately soured on the the Republican leaders. So the Democrats made a persuasive case and he listened.

It's been said over and over that T***p is dumb and easily manipulated and that he has no firm political commitments save to the rhetoric of White resentment. We just saw evidence that both those charges are true.

Ed Barreras said...

By the way I laughed out loud at the comment about Ivanka doing a belly dance to signal the end of negotiations.

s. wallerstein said...

Ed Barreras,

Why is the answer "any one of the above" instead of "all of the above"?

Jon Culp said...

"We have yet to confirm the report that Ms. Trump performed the dance only on condition that she receive the head of Steve Bannon on a platter."

Ed Barreras said...

S Wallerstein,

It's because the margin was so thin.

s. wallerstein said...

Ed Barreras,

I understand now. Thanks.

David Palmeter said...

I’m among those who were getting concerned by your silence. Glad all is well.

In addition to North Korea, hurricanes, Trump, and all the rest, I’m also very concerned that progressives are losing the momentum that began with the Women’s March in January. We’re great in the big picture issues department, but not so good in the nitty gritty. The race is a marathon but we on the left tend to be sprinters. Notice how we no longer post our Friday log of what we’ve done in the past week to resist Trump.

This November, Virginia and New Jersey are the only states that will have elections. Presently, Democrats hold all statewide offices in Virginia: Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General--and both US Senate seats. However, the gerrymandered legislature is in Republican control. They have a 21-19 advantage in the state Senate, and 66-34 advantage in the House of Delegates--two to one in a State where they hold nothing statewide! The result is that Virginia’s House delegation consists of 7 Republicans and just 4 Democrats.

The candidate OurRevolution supported in the Democratic gubernatorial primary lost, and I fear that’s diminished progressive enthusiasm.

However, Bernie is supporting a number of candidates at the state legislative level. I’ve been giving small donations to one of these, Elizabeth Guzman who is challenging an incumbent Republican for a seat in the House of Delegates. These are the people who will be redistricting the State in 2020. They are the source of candidates for higher, Federal offices..

Small donations have a very positive effect--not only financial. Donors of any amount tend to vote at a very high rate (an important consideration in low-profile, off-year elections). The fact that significant sums are being raised from many small donors also leads to positive press coverage and general enthusiasm.

Perhaps I’m Cassandra. But I worry that the air is going out of the balloon, that the enthusiasm of January 21 is melting away.

s. wallerstein said...

Cassandra's predictions were accurate.

David Auerbach said...

1. Sanders is still out there stumping for good candidates and ignoring Clinton.
2. The important thing, as Corey Robin has been pointing out forever now, is that the Republican party is a non-functional incoherent mess which the scotch tape of white resentment isn't quite holding together.
3. The Clintonistas are a dangerous threat seeking to undermine a popular sentiment FOR big government.
4. Just as with Obamacare, supporting the Dreamers is a small-'d' democratic winning position.

RobinM said...

With respect to "What is going on? Nobody knows." Maybe the problem is that people are trying to understand Trump according to a frame of reference that he, Trump, does not live by? (He did, after all, say and do a lot of un-Republican as well as un-Democratic things during the election campaign and since.) Trump's frame of reference may well strike most of us as bizarre, but surely it remains important to try to understand what it might be and not just dismiss it as bizarre?

Jerry Fresia said...

Yes, pleased to find you blogging once more.

...and thanks for the explanation; I couldn't figure out why the Democrats were proposing
3 months....

Regarding, "any of the above," here's another: Clinton's campaign was a giant middle finger to the "non-successful"
part of the populations, ie, the bottom 60%.

And, readers here might want to take a look at William Polk's (occasionally a blogger in this space) excellent piece on
the possibility of war with North Korea:

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/09/07/america-on-the-brink-of-nuclear-war-what-should-we-do/

mesnenor said...

I propose a new nickname for Senator Schumer. I think he should be known as Chuck "Sluggo" Schumer, so that instead of "Chuck and Nancy" or "Nancy and Chuck" the duo can be referred to as "Nancy and Sluggo".