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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Friday, March 31, 2017

A QUESTION FOR MY READERS

I should like to raise a question utterly unrelated to Trump, politics, or the current world situation, a question about which I have strong but mixed feelings.  I would be interested in what folks think.

This afternoon Susie and I went to the movies [we cannot stay up late enough for evening shows].  We saw a new movie, The Zookeeper’s Wife.  Based on real people and events, it tells the story of a gentile husband and wife who ran the city zoo in Warsaw before World War II.  When the Germans come, the Jews are walled up in the ghetto [and eventually sent off to death camps.]  The zookeeper and his wife, at great risk to themselves, use the zoo grounds to hide several hundred Jewish men, women, and children, all but two of whom actually survived the Holocaust.  Some plot interest is provided by a Nazi with an interest in zoology and animal husbandry and the hots for the wife.  The husband is wounded in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but after the war he is reunited with his wife and two children.  There are lots of affecting scenes of cute animals and all, heartrending scenes of the Jews, and a happy ending [which, as I say, is actually true.]  It is not a great movie, but it is well done and well acted.

I hated it.

Why did I hate it?  Because I am deeply offended by works of art that use a horrific reality as the setting for a work of art that invites us to substitute aesthetic for moral categories of evaluation.

Am I making myself clear?  Am I philosophically confused?



FRIDAY LIST 9

Another week, another call for reports on actions taken this last seven days.  I called Richard Burr, urging him [or an automated recording device] to pursue the investigation of Russian interference and Trump's collusion.  Apparently my name carries great weight with the recording device, because he seems to be doing that.  :)  I also called my other Republican senator [living in North Carolina is a bitch!] but couldn't get through, and in a little while, I will call Representative Price, as Chris suggests.  I am still mired in the effort to sell our apartment.

Let's hear from you all, and how about some new names this week.

DML said...
Did some leg work for a solidarity workshop (concerning immigration) we are planning for later in April.
Attending a letter writing party this evening, where we will write letters about environmental issues to our state and federal reps.

David Palmeter said...
Another contribution to the Ossoff campaign,

TheDudeDiogenes said...
I called my State Senator and Representative once this week, and my federal Senators and Representative twice re: universal healthcare/opposing any weakening or repeal of the ACA, calling for an independent investigation into Trump/his administration and Russia, calling for Nunes to resign, and opposing Gorsurch/cloture.

howie b said...
Had slow week, as a New Yorker, most of my representatives are on board the right tracks Wrote Senator Gillibrand to lavish her with praise, all well deserved. Plus joined progressive groups on Facebook, and engaged in serious political banter. My inclinations are toward the center, but there is no viable center, as I see things and we see a choice between the left, which actually has regard to core human values and the right, which is insane if not fascist. This is a forced choice test, like in psychological lab tests for undregraduates and the answer is clear

David said...
1. Called Rep. Jayapal’s office to encourage her to speak out against Devin Nunes and to encourage her to oppose any so-called “tax reform” until Trump releases his taxes.

2. Called Sen. Murray’s office to encourage her to join Sen. Schumer in calling for Nunes to recuse himself on matters relating to the Trump-Russia connection.

3. Led a meeting to brainstorm ideas of how to integrate an ethnic studies curriculum into our history classes.

4. Participated in the debate about whether our union should strike on May Day.

Tom Cathcart said...
Just more money to Ossoff.

Charles Perkins said...
1. Called Richard Burr's Asheville office, left angry message about how answering machine in DC office doesn't work.
2. Called Burr's DC office later that day, and a person picked up. Asked Burr to protect title X.
3.Watch NC Gov Cooper's state of the state address. Had many things I thought i could send a thank you note for. Then he stabbed the people who elected him in the back: http://abc11.com/politics/gov-cooper-signs-north-carolinas-hb2-compromise-bill/1825584/
4.Called McHenry, asked for more information about something in his newsletter that I on't understand. (It was an unusually skimpy newsletter for the Congressman, he spent the week before on AHCA).
5. Took this opportunity to set four goals for next week: 1) Call the NCAA and ACA ask that they continue boycotting NC, 2) Call or write to Cooper and express my disappointment 3) Call McHenry and criticize his newsletter per usual, 4) Call Burr ask him to continue investigating Russia/Trump

Anonymous said...
Sent a donation to the ACLU.

C. Rossi said...

1. Increased my monthly contribution to Planned Parenthood.
2. Contributed to the Ossoff campaign
3. Wrote to Sen. Casey (D-PA) thanking him for his efforts against the Trump agenda and urging him on to greater efforts.
4. Wrote to Sen. Casey disagreeing with is position on BDS (what I called the Dishonor Rosa Parks Act) and the Obama administration's not vetoing the UN resolution on the Israeli settlement expansion.
5. Wrote to Rep. Meehan (a lost cause) strongly disapproving of his support for the American Health Care Act and urging him to have a town hall meeting.
6. Continued our chapter of Veterans for Peace's support of the New Sanctuary Movement.


CHRIS'S LIST

Chris linked to this list of 117 House Democrats not currently co-signing a call for Medicare for all.  I checked and my supposedly reliably liberal Rep, David Price, is, alas, on the list.  I shall call him today.  Thank you, Chris.

OTOH

Read this.  Boy, am I in over my head!

FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS

The request by former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn for immunity as a condition of testifying either before a Congressional committee or to the FBI instantly transforms the ongoing flap about Russian interference in the US elections into a full-blown crisis.  Quite obviously, I do not have any new information about this matter, nor do I even have any opinions that have not already been expressed many times by newspaper, television, and internet commentators.  Nevertheless, I do run a blog, so herewith my thoughts on the affair.

First, an historical comparison.  As I have several times observed, Watergate took twenty-four months from the bungled break-in to the resignation of Nixon.  In the interim, Nixon was re-elected.  Trump is just ten weeks into his presidency, and revelations are coming so rapidly that “daily” fails to capture the pace of the affair.  Every reporter in New York and Washington is poking about for information every waking moment, with dreams of Pulitzers, not sugar plums, in their heads.  Whatever there is to be found will be found.  That is now clear.

There are, I think, four distinct stories, interconnected though they may be, and I find it useful to think about them separately.  Let me sketch them, in ascending order of importance.

First, and most trivial, is the bizarre and bush league effort of the White House, in collaboration with Congressman Devin Nunes of California, to dredge up and put out something, anything, to offer some confirmation, however feeble, of Trump’s ill-considered tweet that Obama wiretapped him during the campaign.  This silly business has been driven by Trump’s inability to retract, to apologize, or even to simply let go of something once he has broadcast it.  The most interesting element of this story is the speed with which the NY TIMES was able to get to the truth.  On Monday of this week, Nunes said he would never, ever reveal who it was in the White House who gave him the information that he then made such a great show of taking back to the White House.  On Thursday, the TIMES published the names of the relatively low level staffers who gave Nunes the dope.  For those of us who cut our eye teeth on Watergate, that is, as many commentators have said, light speed.

The second matter, about which there is now no dispute, is Russian attempts to disrupt, influence, hack into, and otherwise muddy the waters of the U. S. election.  I am aware that some readers of this blog view this as unimportant, or at least adopt the pose that they do.  But I am not one of them.  I view this as very serious.  Why?  Well, let me put it this way.  We have been talking for months on this blog about the importance of generating support nation-wide for progressive candidates whose election could begin to move this country to the left.  In addition, all of us are outraged by the blatant voter-suppression efforts of Republicans at the state level.  Both foreign interference and voter suppression work directly against these efforts.  Therefore it is bad, and a cause for concern.  I do not rate this higher on my list of stories simply because thus far it does not appear that the Russian efforts have been terribly successful.

The third matter is whether Trump and members of his campaign colluded with, or tacitly encouraged, the Russian interference in the election.  This is of great importance because if the answer is yes [and I think such evidence as we have makes it clear that it is], the public demonstration of that collusion will dramatically diminish Trump’s political power.  Since I think everything he is trying to do is just plain awful, I view with pleasure any diminution of his political influence.

The final matter, and potentially the most explosive, is whether Trump is in the tank financially with the Russians and as a consequence under their control.  This is impeachment territory.  As that great American patriot, Dick Cheney, observed, this is the stuff of treason.  [O.K.  I have learned from hard experience that no one in the cloud has a sense of humor, so let me assure everyone that my reference to Cheney as a patriot was sarcastic.]  Despite enormous amounts of evidence that Trump is deeply in hock to Russian oligarchs close to Putin, it is at this point entirely unclear whether anything rising to the level of a quid pro quo has ever occurred.

Which brings me back to Flynn.  I am, Lord knows, not the first person to observe that all these investigations gain traction by getting the goods on a low-level co-conspirator and then turning him or her into a cooperative witness against someone higher up.  I have been waiting with bated breath for news that some flunky has been turned.  Well, Flynn is no flunky, and the only person higher up than the National Security Advisor is the President.


Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

LET US MOVE ON

I am extremely loathe to exercise any sort of censorship on this blog, save for removing pointlessly obscene or abusive posts or blatant advertising, but the comments section seems to have been hi-jacked by a debate about Ayn Rand that really should be conducted elsewhere.   I have refrained from commenting because I simply do not wish to spend the time re-reading her writings that would be necessary to do the subject justice.  May we please just move on?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

HERE IT IS

Well, while you folks have been arguing about Ayn Rand, I have ben busy recording my first Freud lecture.  Here it is.

AN IMPORTANT STATEMENT FROM MY SON, PROFESSOR TOBIAS BARRINGTON WOLFF

Note:  Tobias was directly and intimately involved in many of the executive actions he enumerates.  He knows whereof he speaks.  Here he is on his FaceBook page:

"For eight years, the Obama administration approached LGBT people with one fundamental question driving their work: What are the ways in which LGBT people are treated unequally, and how can the administration address their needs? That was true from day one. For the first few years of the administration, many LGBT voices decried the slow pace of progress and criticized the President for the lateness with which he supported marriage equality. Their impatience was justified, but the fact is that the administration worked energetically from the moment they arrived. Serious public policy development takes time, and while there were some issues on which the President was slow -- his embrace of marriage equality, and an executive order protecting LGBT employees of federal contractors, for example -- other issues moved forward quickly and had a real impact on the ground.
By the end of his eight-year tenure in office, the President had fundamentally transformed the relationship of LGBT people with our national government. The policy advances are far too numerous to list -- from protections for transgender health under HHS regulations and the ACA to anti-discrimination protections for LGBT residents of HUD subsidized housing, from hospital visitation rights for same-sex partners and spouses to fully equal treatment for same-sex partners of foreign service professionals deployed abroad, from inclusion in the census questionnaire and data collection to inclusion in the U.S. military as fully equal participants, and on and on. Beyond the catalog of individual advances in law and policy, as important as every advance was, there was a change in tone and expectation. We were seen. We were heard. We were treated with conscious and enthusiastic respect. We had our humanity recognized with confidence, not as some duty to be fulfilled but as a genuine expression of the driving ethic of the administration.
We knew that the breathtaking progress of the last eight years was imperiled by this new administration. We knew that we would once again have to fight. In the face of the breezy and foolhardy assurances of people taken in by this grifter -- "He has said nice things about gay people. He put Peter Thiel on stage at the RNC. He held a rainbow flag one time." -- we adopted expressions of steel and began preparing for the struggle ahead. And that struggle was not long in coming.
Our government has been taken over by traitors, thugs and vandals who are destroying our patrimony and our national heritage as fast as their tiny grasping hands can reach it. The agenda of Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions, and who knows how many other anti-LGBT extremists is unfolding like a coiled snake. This week they are erasing us from the census, gutting requirements that federal contractors disclose any record of discrimination against LGBT people and other vulnerable groups, and decimating NIH funding for the PEPFAR global initiative on AIDS / HIV. One month ago, they eliminated the DOJ / DOE guidance for Title IX and deprived transgender students of safety and protection. It is a brutal, unrelenting march backward into a swamp of discrimination and second-class citizenship. As Kate Kendell aptly said, they are "like a fast-moving car stuck in reverse . . . , intent on chipping away at critical protections for LGBT and other vulnerable communities -- taking our rights and our country backward."
And we are not going to stand for it. You are coming after our families, our loves, and our equal citizenship, you bastards. We will fight you. And we will win."

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

EMBARRASSED

H[arry] Binswanger, in his comment about Ayn Rand, says that he took a course with me at Columbia circa 1970.  I have detailed records of every course I have ever taught, starting with my TF sections at Harvard in 1955.  I have just searched my files and I cannot find any record of his enrolment in one of my courses.  I am very embarrassed.  Dr. Binswanger, do you happen to recall which course it was?  I am very sorry.

SIGH

Forty-five years ago, I assigned some writings by Ayn Rand in an Introduction to Philosophy Course at the University of Massachusetts and lectured on her ideas for more than a week.  I found nothing in them worth pursuing or taking seriously, but that was a long time ago, and I simply do not have the energy to resurrect that critique and publish it here, so I cheerfully cede the terrain to the Rand supporters and promise not to mention her again.  Life is too short, or at least what is left of it to me.

WATER SPORTS

It has become commonplace to refer to a series of news reports concerning an investigation as a “drip, drip, drip” of revelations, and that metaphor [which conjures images of the fabled Chinese water torture] has certainly seemed apt during past investigations, most notably during the appropriately named Watergate, which, I keep reminding myself, took twenty-six months from the break-in to Nixon’s resignation.  But the development of the investigation into the possibility of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians to influence the outcome of the Presidential election has come to resemble a stream, not a drip-drip-drip.  Today we learn that Representative Nunes [CA 22] has unilaterally cancelled not only the scheduled appearance of former Deputy Attorney General Sally Nunes before an open meeting of the House Intelligence Committee but the meeting itself and all other meetings, open or closed, of the Committee!

We must of course all be mindful of Robert Shore’s admonition that everyone is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty [in a court of law, although he omitted that important phrase] but we are permitted to speculate, I trust, inasmuch as we are none of us sitting on a jury.  I for one find myself speculating that there is a network of secrets concerning Trump/Russian collusion that Trump and his closest circle are quite eager not to have revealed.  Early this morning, in a transparent effort to distract the media from a story taking on the lineaments of a genuine and possibly prosecutable scandal, Trump tweeted about the fact that the Clintons took big fees for speeches in Russia.  That smacks of desperation, I am afraid.

All of this is unfolding rapidly only two months into the new administration.  It reinforces the defeat on the health care bill, and allows us to begin to wonder how long it will be before on-the-record under oath testimony reveals manifestly illegal Trump/Russian collusion.

Meanwhile, Trump and his cabinet appointees are beginning a series of seriously malign attacks on workers’ rights, the environment, internet security, and scientific research, among many other things.  For the moment, Democratic Senators and Representatives are opposing Trump’s initiatives, but it goes without saying that most of them cannot be relied upon.  We have an opening here to push the Democratic Party firmly to the left, and we must seize it.



Monday, March 27, 2017

IN THE CAN

The first Freud lecture is "in the can"  [or more precisely in the camcorder], and should be up on YouTube in two days. On to Lecture Two!

BREAK OUT THE CHAMPAGNE BOTTLE

I launch my Freud lectures today.  Let me offer one lovely tidbit as a preview.   By common agreement, Freud's most important book is The Interpretation of Dreams, first published in 1900.  My copy of the translation by an important analyst, A. A. Brill, dates from 1913.  I got it secondhand for two bucks.  Today we tend to think of Freud as old news, outdated, a relic, and nobody, but nobody, is shocked by his theories of infant sexuality.  But it was not always thus.  Pasted to the flyleaf of my copy is the following notice:

                                      Publisher's Note

The sale of this book is limited to 
Members of the Medical, Scholastic, 
Legal, and Clerical professions.

At least it was not translated into Latin.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

DOES ANYONE KNOW?

I just got back from the supermarket where I was shopping for dinner.  As I was unloading the bags, I turned on Joy Reid on MSNBC [ I like her], and caught a bit of her interviewing two attractive young people [young to me!], a woman who is challenging Steve King in an Iowa House race next year and a man who is challenging Darryl Issa in a California race.  This is the sort of news I have been hoping to see.  Does anyone know anything about either of them?

LEVERAGE

Before taking my walk, I am spending some time reading on line, and I just came on this op ed piece from the Washington Post about what it is like to be on the receiving end of the calls flooding in to Congressional offices.  It seems clear that the groundswell of opposition to the Republican "health" bill, both at town halls and in phone calls, had a good deal to do with its failure.

As I read the column, what struck me was how much influence was exerted by a relatively small fraction of a Congressperson's constituent base.  There are 700,000 people in a Congressional District, more or less, but calls from only several hundred people a day -- say 2,000 over a ten day period -- can overwhelm a Congressional Office and create the impression of a tsunami.

Having read with awe your accounts of your weekly activities, I am moved to pledge that every day I will call Senator Burr's office. urging him to pursue more vigorously his rather lackadaisical investigation of Russian interference in the American election.  Who knows?  It might make a difference.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

REACHING FOR THE STARS

Well, I have been having my fun cackling at Trump’s incompetence as a negotiator and snickering at the embarrassment of the Congressional Republicans, and that’s all right, ‘cause politics ain’t beanbag, as Mr. Dooley observed.  But I like to preen and posture as a genuine philosopher, so it behooves me to take seriously the intellectual roots of the man who is universally acknowledged to be the deepest thinker on the other side of the aisle, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

I think we all know that Ryan draws his philosophical inspiration from the writings of a prominent Russian-American thinker, Ayn Rand.  Now, I imagine that most of you have spent your time reading the writings of Karl Marx and Immanuel Kant and Max Weber, and Karl Mannheim, and even Georg Friedrich Hegel, but you may have neglected the profundities of Rand, so I thought I would say just a very brief word about her contributions to the great tradition of Western Philosophy.  My aim is to encourage you to delve more deeply into the corpus of her writings, so that you will gain insight into the sources of the power of Paul Ryan’s thought.  It is, after all, unusual to have a serious student of Philosophy serve as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Rand, like all great philosophers, is known for a single core proposition from which she seeks to derive the particulars of her theories.  Descartes gave us cogito, ergo sum, Kant gave us The Categorical Imperative, Hegel gave us thesis, antithesis, synthesis.  What is Rand’s foundational principle, her claim to philosophical fame, as it were?

Here is a brief passage plucked from my copy of the 1961 summation of her thought, For The New Intellectual:
“To exist is to be something, as distinguished from the nothing of non-existence, it is to be an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes. Centuries ago, the man who was—no matter what his errors—the greatest of your philosophers, has stated the formula defining the concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A. A thing is itself. You have never grasped the meaning of his statement. I am here to complete it: Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.
Whatever you choose to consider, be it an object, an attribute or an action, the law of identity remains the same. A leaf cannot be a stone at the same time, it cannot be all red and all green at the same time, it cannot freeze and burn at the same time. A is A. Or, if you wish it stated in simpler language: You cannot have your cake and eat it, too.
Are you seeking to know what is wrong with the world? All the disasters that have wrecked your world, came from your leaders’ attempt to evade the fact that A is A. All the secret evil you dread to face within you and all the pain you have ever endured, came from your own attempt to evade the fact that A is A. The purpose of those who taught you to evade it, was to make you forget that Man is Man.”

And there it is:  A is A.  Who would be so foolish as to deny it?   A is A.  From there it is mere elaboration to derive the Republican health bill, “a task that is more an amusement than a labour,” as Kant says in the Preface to the First Edition of the Critique of Pure Reason.

If we on the left could cease our petty snarking and elevate ourselves to this plane of rationality, think what we might achieve in cooperation with our brothers and sisters on the Right!


WHITHER NOW?

In the aftermath of the enormous legislative defeat for Trump and the Republicans, now is the time to plan the way forward.  I think we can confidently anticipate more and more bad news for Trump and his crew on the Russian front, which will weaken their ability to get anything done.  They are on their heels, two months into their presidency, and we ought not to allow them to recover.  We shall of course meticulously follow Robert Shore’s advice and grant each and every one of them the legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

As I see it, with regard to health care, the Democrats ought to draft and put forward legislation calling for the transformation of the Affordable Care Act into a single-payer Medicare-For-All system.  They will of course not even be allowed to bring the proposal to the floor of the House – that does not matter.  What matters is to make this the ­de facto Democratic position.  Nancy Pelosi should “accept’ Trump’s facetious call for a bi-partisan approach and invite him to join with her in supporting a Single Payer plan.  [It goes without saying that I do not need to advise her on legislative tactics.  Nor do I need to teach her how to suck eggs, as the saying goes.]

Right now, we need to capitalize on the Republican defeat by doing everything we can to elect Ossoff to the House in the Georgia by-election.  He is apparently assured of surviving the first round, but after that it gets dicey. 

Can any of you tell the rest of us about other up-coming local elections to which we ought to be lending our support?  The idea is to try to create the reality, or at least the appearance, of a groundswell, a wave, a national uprising.  The general principle is, Hit ‘em when they’re down.


My natural Tigger has come to the fore and I am hopeful that we can turn this into some genuine advances.

THE REAL FRIDAY LIST 8

You folks are really astonishing.  Look at what poured in yesterday!  Well done, well done.  Let me just list all of the reports and then I will try to offer some thoughts on  the way forward.  Here goes:


Friday List 8
Chris said...
Gave some money to the TYT (the young turks) fund to hire more anti-establishment reporters. They just hired Dylan Ratigan, and David Sirota.

Slow week for me as well... Donated to Ossof and In These Times and did a few online petitions...

David Palmeter said...
Made my weekly donation to the Ossoff campaign--and get 15 or 20 emails a day from asking for more!

David said...
1. I attended and spoke at a union meeting about a potential strike on May Day.

2. In response to the testimony of a former student before the school board, I organized a meeting to discuss how we can integrate ethnic studies curricula into our social studies courses. (Is this a political act? If trying to help empower young people of color is a political act, then I will count this organizing as political.)

3. I called Sen. Cantwell's office to thank her for her public opposition to dismantling the ACA and to encourage her to hang tough in her opposition to the nomination of Gorsuch.

Tom Cathcart said...
Tried to get a bunch of rural, conservative Lutheran leaders to explore ways to support sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. That went over like a fart in an elevator.

C Rossi said...
1. Called the office of Rep Patrick Meehan (PA-05) to urge him to votes against the execrable American Health Care Act (which alas was not voted on); each time I was told that the mailbox was full. I took this as a good sign.
2. Registered for the general assembly for the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia (anyone who has seen the movie "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" with Charles Laughton and remembers the scene in which Quasimodo [Laughton] holds Esmerelda and claims "Sanctuary, Sanctuary" cannot help but be stirred by sanctuary.
3. Called the office of the hopeless Pat Toomey (R-PA) (Mr. Club for Growth which would be better called the Club to Keep a Boot on the Neck of the Poor) urging him to oppose the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court ( I don't expect much from this effort)
4. Wrote to Sen Bob Casey (R-PA) (when did politicians became known as Bob and Pat and Bill and Jimmy rather than Robert, Patrick, William, and James) urging him to continuing his opposition of the Trump agenda.


Charles Perkins said...
1. Spent government money on queer theory. Went to a conference and talked about gender and gay men.
2. Tried to explain what queer theory is (who can say, really) to about four people on the way to the conference.
3. Donated to Jon Ossoff for the second time.
4. I joined stampstampede.org! It's a cool project, where people are stamping their cash, to protest money in politics. Regardless of whether or not it works, it is a lot of fun. http://www.stampstampede.org/
5. Sent the following postcards to my representatives a few days before the health care vote: https://vk.com/id313285303?w=wall313285303_139%2Fall
I'm very pleased with them.
6. Made nice with a friend I had previously shouted out about politics and alienated. Mistake. Corrected.
7. Called (last week) my city council and Chuck Edwards, NC state senator who is trying to promote an affirmative action program for Republicans in my hometown's city government. http://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2017/02/28/new-senator-says-asheville-forced-into-districts/98548786/
8. Received membership cards from NAACP and ACLU.
9. Continued making a monthly contribution to the NC state senate Democratic Caucus.
10. Continued toying with the idea of supporting or starting an NC non profit that would push a left-wing educational effort--counteracting these organizations: John Lock Society, Ayn Rand Society.
11. Participated in a successful fundraising effort for _Cellar Door_ the official undergraduate literary magazine at UNC, which does good work, but has been having trouble with austerity.
12. Took this opportunity to set two goals for next week:
Watch Roy Cooper's (NC Governor's) State of the State address and find two good things he is doing and write him a thank you note.
Respond to Rep. Patrick McHenry's weekly newsletter with a phone call.

I. M. Flaud said...
More money to Jon Ossoff. More emails to various senators.

DML said...

A little late on this, but actually did some stuff this week...

1. Went to a county level planning meeting for Our Revolution. Ended up on a small committee dedicated to promoting cross-solidarity with a local immigrant rights group. We are planning a "bystander training" for well meaning white folks in conjunction with the immigrant rights group. Also made plans for the May Day strike.

2. Spoke at my local city council meeting in favor of making our town a sanctuary city. I'm happy to report that it looks like this will pass when they vote on it, and it even has the support of the police chief.

3. Attended a letter writing party, wrote letters to my federal reps about NEA and NEH cuts, and letters to my state reps about the minimum wage.



Friday, March 24, 2017

FRIDAY LIST 8

Time to get your reports in.  For all sorts of reasons there has been a fall off in reporting, and maybe also in actions.  Quite natural.  Perhaps, whichever way the vote comes out later today, we can use the result as a springboard for local action and organizing.  I have signed some petitions but done little else because of my obsession with preparing my apartment to sell.  Now that work is done, so I should be able to become more active once more.

Let me hear from you, maybe from some new folks as well.

BUGGING ME

It seems that every TV commentator feels compelled, in talking about the vote now pending on the Republican "health care" bill, to make reference to the book that Donald Trump wrote, The Art of the Deal.  Except, as everyone in the world knows, he did not write that book.  Tony Schwarz did -- all of it.  Little things like that bug me.

INTERESTING

In a long and quite fascinating comment, I. M. Flaud alludes to a book by Herb Gintis, Human Evolution: A Behavioral Synthesis, on the hypothesized origin of human cooperative social intelligence.  I shall have to hunt it up and take a look.

EN PASSANT

If the Republican "health care" bill fails in the House, as now seems likely, it will be a big deal for three reasons:

First, it will stop the Republicans from doing a great deal of harm to a great many people.  That really matters.

Second, it will make it more difficult for the Republicans to advance other legislation on their wish list, including an enormous tax cut for the rich.

Third, it will markedly diminish Trump's political clout at the very beginning of his presidency.

This opens the way for progressives to nominate strong leftist candidates for the House and local offices.  It even creates an opening for a new discussion of a single-payer system, which looked dead not too long ago.

I honestly did not see this coming.  We must take such victories as we can wherever we can find them.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

SWEET SIXTEEN

Back in the forties, when I was a boy, I was a Dodgers fan … A Brooklyn Dodgers fan.  Those were the days when there were eight teams in each league, none of them, for God’s sake, on the West Coast, one hundred fifty-four games a season, and no need for asterisks next to records.  Football and Basketball meant nothing to me, I had never heard of soccer, and save for the two occasions on which I actually went to a game [in one of which I saw Rex Barney pitch a no-hitter against the Giants at the Polo Grounds], my connection to baseball was the little radio on which I could listen to the play-by-play after I had gone to bed.

Well, the Dodgers moved to LA, the Giants moved to San Francisco, and nobody I knew rooted for the Yankees.  That would have been like rooting for General Motors.  In the Sixties, when I was teaching at Columbia [or, as it calls itself, Columbia University in New York City], I had a brief fling with the Mets, and rooted for Cleon Jones the year he hit 340.  I even sat in the bleachers at Fenway and watched Yaz during my years at Harvard.  But real serious fandom died in me when the Dodgers left town.

Nine years ago, after I retired, Susie and I moved to Chapel Hill.  I had dragged her north from here in ’87 to marry me, and it seemed only fair to return the compliment twenty-one years later.  I knew Chapel Hill was a college town, so the first thing I did was to go downtown looking for a bookstore.  I figured there had to be one, what with UNC Chapel Hill being a big deal State University and all, but when I found it, it seemed to be selling nothing but Tar Heels memorabilia in a sickening shade of light blue.  I very quickly learned that the university and the entire town were basketball crazy.  Michael Jordan could have been elected mayor unopposed if he had not considered it beneath him.  Instead he opened a Nissan dealership in the next town over.

Which brings me to the Sweet Sixteen.  Every American, even those consumed by radical politics, knows that the annual NCAA men’s basketball championship, known as March Madness, is a six round sixty-four team elimination played over three weekends.  On the first weekend, the sixty-four are winnowed down to sixteen – the Sweet Sixteen.  The next weekend, which begins tonight at 7:30 Eastern Time, reduces the survivors to four, The Final Four.  On the final weekend, the semis and finals are played and a champion is crowned.

UNC Chapel Hill has won five championships, far and away the greatest boast of this supposedly educational institution.  Not even a horrific scandal involving twenty years of phony grades awarded to basketball players [and frat boys, but nobody seems to have cared about them] could weaken the loyalty of the entire town.  It tells you pretty much all you need to know that the coach makes two and a half times as much as the University Chancellor.

This year, UNC Chapel Hill was seeded first in its bracket, and having won its first two games, will participate tomorrow evening in the Round of Sixteen.  I have been compelled by irresistible social pressure to pretend to root for the Tar Heels.  My wife, who is a fanatic basketball lover, actually divides her loyalties between UNC and the Duke Blue Devils, but since Duke was obliterated last weekend by a lower rated opponent, she is free to put all her considerable support behind the Tar Heels.


So don’t try to reach me tomorrow evening.  I shan’t be picking up the phone.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

MEA CULPA

Chris chastises me for being dismissive of the arguments advanced by him and others.  Fair enough.  I shouldn’t do that.  I apologize.  Let me address one or two of them directly and seriously.

First, he says: “Some of us have REAL fears that this MAY BE a witch hunt, which MAY blow up in the face of the Democrats, which MAY embolden Trump. Those are legitimate fears, they share with you a fear of Trump, and they need not be considered with disdain, straw man representation, and silencing of diversity in opinion.”   Obviously, I cannot tell whether the FBI investigation is a witch hunt, because I do not know what evidence, if any, triggered it.  There is so much information in the public domain about past, recent, and present contacts between members of the Trump campaign and administration and the Russians, and the behavior of Trump with regard to Putin and the Russian government is so odd, that it certainly does not look like a witch hunt at this point.  I quite agree that if the FBI turns up nothing at all, that will embolden Trump and make it more rather than less difficult to attack him on other grounds.  I continue to believe that the FBI investigation is going to prove explosive.  By the way, whatever our disagreements, there is nothing any of us can do advance, curtail, or shape that investigation.  But let me be clear:  I do not for a moment suggest that we should relax, lean back, and let Director Comey do our work for us!  The investigation just seems to me a potential blessing.

Chris continues:  If we want Trump out of power that means we MAY want Democrats in power. If we want Democrats in power there has to be a strategy to do that, and right now we fear this is not a tenable strategy. CRITICISM OF DEMOCRATS IS NOT SUPPORT FOR TRUMP IT'S PREDICATED ON FEAR OF TRUMP OR THE NEXT CHARISMATIC RIGHT WING ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT TRUMP (not yelling just emphasizing).”

Here I think there is a real disagreement between me and Chris [and perhaps Robert Shore and Jerry Fresia as well].  I may be wrong, but it seems to me to concern essentially the best way to advance a genuinely progressive or even radical agenda in the American political situation as we find it.  I am extremely skeptical, as I have said on occasion, of third party efforts of any sort.  They just seem to me to be doomed on the national level [although not at all at the local level.]  I think taking over the existing machinery of the Democratic Party is the way to go.  That is why I supported Bernie, why I supported Keith Ellison, and why in general I think our best shot is fighting first to return the party to the ideals and principles of the old New Deal and then to work to push it further to the left from there.  Progressive forces in America are now in really bad shape, for all the noise we make.  In state after state, we have suffered devastating losses.  The Clinton wing of the party is not just well-financed – money is the least of our problems, as Bernie demonstrated.  That wing is filled with full-time professionals with experience, practical knowledge of how the system works, and a willingness to make the party their careers.  That is why they are so difficult to displace, and why they keep coming back, even though we have won many of the policy arguments in the party.


What do I think we should be doing?  Just what I have been suggesting.  Be active locally in support of any progressive candidates who lift their heads up.  Encourage friends and neighbors to run for local offices, and maybe even do it oneself, if that is feasible.  Work very, very hard to get out the vote at every election, no matter what.  This last is the most important.  If we show that we can turn out the votes, I think progressive candidates will appear.

BEWITCHED, BOTHERED, AND BEWILDERED

I have been somewhat bemused by the comments on this blog lately.  Let me explain.  First, with regard to North Korea.  I am not entirely sure the readers who commented quite understand either what I was saying or the gravity of the situation.  Howie B, it is quite true that North Korea would have to develop sophisticated guidance systems to be confident of striking San Francisco [or any other specific target] with a nuclear armed ICBM, but the technology is what is sometimes called “old technology,” it has been around for several generations, and I am fearful that North Korea would be able to develop it.

S. Wallerstein, if North Korea develops nuclear weapons for the purpose of protecting itself against a U. S. attack, that is rational -- not good, not a positive development, not something to be hoped for, just rational, hence predictable.  But I am fearful that Kim Jung-un will behave irrationally, self-destructively, and hence in a manner that produces death and destruction on a massive scale in the United States or elsewhere.  That is the same fear that grips me when I see that the U. S. has nuclear weapons, or that Great Britain, France, Russia, China, Pakistan, India, and Israel have nuclear weapons.  Is North Korea more likely than those countries to behave irrationally, i.e., not in accord with its self-interest?  Well, that is hard to say.  John F. Kennedy behaved irrationally during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and we were saved by the fact that Nikita Khrushchev behaved rationally.  Thus far, India and Pakistan have behaved rationally in their dispute over Kashmir, but who is to say they will continue to do so.

Perhaps even more frightening is the possibility that Kim Jung-un will miscalculate, will think he can threaten nuclear attack as a way of getting the United States to back off and incorrectly estimate how much provocation he can get away with.  Is Trump less likely to respond rationally to such provocation than Clinton, Bush 1, Bush 2, or Obama?  I don’t know but my impression is that the answer is yes.

Short of an infallible anti-missile defense, which, Ronald Reagan to the contrary notwithstanding, seems not to be technically feasible, we are confronted with a constant threat as great in its magnitude as the threat of global warming.  That is what I thought sixty years ago when I agitated for nuclear disarmament, and that is what I think now.

With regard to the reactions to my lengthy post yesterday, let me address the rather odd comments of Robert Shore.  Here is what he wrote:  “Prof. Wolff, while you are exulting over March 20, 2017, you might want to recall October 28, 2016 as the day James Comey announced that the FBI was investigating Hillary Clinton's email server and its use. You know what came of that! And April 22, 1954, the day that Senator Joseph McCarthy began his hearing investigating the United States Army as being "soft on Communism" and you know what came of that! I know how much you hate President Trump but you might at least remember that a man is innocent until proven guilty and not go rushing headlong into your own premature judgment about Trump's possible collusion with Putin.”

I am mystified by these remarks.  I “exulted,” as Shore put it, over March 20, 2017, because I thought, and still hope, that it would cripple Trump’s presidency, which I view as malign, not benign.  [By the way, I was not exulting;  I was telling my readers to mark the day because in years to come they might look back on it as having been as consequential as the day Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of a taping system in Nixon’s Oval Office, but let that slide.]  I did not “exult” on October 28, 2016, because I was fearful that it would help Trump get elected.  I was right about that.  As for April 22, 1954, I actually watched some of that on the television set in the Graduate Dorm lounge at Harvard during breaks from studying for my doctoral exams.  I had no idea at the time what might become of that event, but as it happens it led directly to the diminution of Joseph McCarthy’s influence, so in retrospect I “exult.”

Robert Shore’s last sentence is fascinating.  I would never have known from his previous comments that he was such a prim and proper stickler for the rule of law.  But in fact, if you will go back and read what I wrote, I did not rush to judgment.  Instead, I laid out four logically discrete alternatives, made it clear I did not know which one was correct, and then engaged in the time-honored right, guaranteed under the U. S. Constitution, to speculate.  I am not sitting on the judicial bench in judgment on Trump.  I am just one of the spectators in the crowd, and I freely confess that I really hope Trump is found” guilty,” whatever that means, whether he actually is or not.  There, I said it, go sue me.


I wonder, as I have before:  What on earth is it about me that makes Bob Shore so mad?

NORTH KOREA

I first became deeply and earnestly involved in large questions of public policy in the Spring of 1958.  The issue that engaged my energies was the threat of nuclear war.  There was a movement then to ban nuclear weapons worldwide, led by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, an organization formed in Great Britain the year before and headed up by my old teatime companion [hem hem], Bertrand Russell. 

The invention of nuclear weapons had fundamentally altered military strategy and international affairs because there was no effective defense against them.  [I explored all of this at great length in a book I wrote four years later and failed to get published, The Rhetoric of Deterrence.]  Overnight, the age old concept of defense had been replaced by the new, untested, and fundamentally different concept of deterrence.  Since it was in practice impossible for a nation to defend itself against the devastation of a nuclear attack, there were only two alternatives:  either all the nations that possessed nuclear weapons or were capable of producing them had to agree – unanimously – to destroy the weapons they had and to not produce any more, which is to say nuclear disarmament; or else a nation, to defend itself, had to produce and maintain an arsenal of nuclear weapons capable of being deployed even after a nuclear attack with sufficient effect to make it not in the rational self-interest of any other nation to initiate a nuclear war, which is to say deterrence.  It took no brains at all to see that deterrence was a very risky option, because either accident, or miscalculation, or – worst of all – a failure of rational self-interest on the part of a nuclear armed nation could very well result in the deaths of scores or hundreds of millions of the residents of one’s homeland.

Which brings me to North Korea, which apparently now possesses nuclear weapons and is actively engaged in trying to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM] capable of reaching the West Coast of the United States, a distance of maybe 5000 miles.  Should the North Korean development efforts prove successful [and it is difficult to see how they could not be], it would then be possible for Chairman Kim Jong-un to launch an attack on, let us say, San Francisco that the United States would have no ability to stop.  Such an attack would be suicidal, it goes without saying.  I think it is pretty certain that in response the American military would obliterate North Korea with a flood of megaton weapons, killing the Chairman, his government, and most of the North Koreans.  But that would not save San Francisco.

For sixty years, we and the rest of the nuclear armed nations have been relying for our lives on the rational self-interest of all.  It is not for nothing that this state of affairs, usually referred to as mutually assured destruction, goes by the acronym MAD.

Let us assume that Kim-Jong-un is not suicidal, that all he wants, like Henny Youngman, is a little respect.  [If this is not true, then San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or Beijing is doomed.]  The problem is that he is engaged in a very dangerous game, making threats he does not actually intend to carry out in an attempt to bluff the United States and other nations into lifting sanctions, increasing aid [in the case of China], and ceding him a seat at the councils of the nuclear nations.

Since every knowledgeable civilian and military figure in the American government [with the possible exception of the President] understands all of this quite well, there will be enormous pressure on them to launch a first strike to destroy North Korea’s military establishment before Kin Jon-un is in a position to carry out his threats -- threats which, I repeat, cannot be defended against.


We are in dangerous waters.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A BELATED ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Nine days ago, Nick Pappas posted a comment, but I have been so obsessed with preparing our apartment to sell that I passed over it.  My bad.  He reminded me that in 1983 he was my TA.    Indeed he was, during one the summers when I supplemented my income and escaped boredom by teaching in Harvard's summer school program. [He was actually my TF = Teaching Fellow -- Harvard's term for a TA.] He was then a young man, of course, but time being what it is, he is now presumably approaching sixty.  Greetings, Nick. Are you teaching?  If so, where?  [Lord, I feel like Mr. Chips.]  This is one of the greatest pleasures of old age.  Nick prepared an extremely neat grade sheet, by the way.  I wonder what all those students are now doing.

REMEMBER THIS DAY

Yesterday was an historic day.  Not since Alexander Butterfield, responding to an apparently innocent question, revealed the existence of an audio taping system in the Oval Office have we heard such explosive Congressional testimony.  No self-respecting blogger could pass this by without extended comment, so here goes.

A word of advice to my younger readers from an elderly gentleman with a long memory.  I know that some of you will hesitate to acknowledge the importance of anything that so nakedly benefits Democrats and harms Republicans.  Too establishment, you will feel, not sufficiently infused with the awareness that the whole kit and caboodle of them are as guilty as sin of much greater transgressions.  True, true, but entirely beside the point.  When you reach something approximating my age, you will look back on this day and tell your grandchildren what it was like to hear the Director of the FBI testify that he and his organization were investigating a sitting president and his aides for what can only be construed as treason.  Recall the words of Prince Hal, become King Henry V, on the eve of the battle of Agincourt:

                        This story shall the good man teach his son,
                        And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
                        From this day to the ending of the world,
                        But we in it shall be remember├Ęd—

As Comey testified and Representative Adam Schiff laid out the prima facie evidence during his questioning, the Republicans, echoing Gertrude Stein [who was speaking, let us recall, about Oakland, CA], kept saying, there’s no there there.  The circumstantial evidence of active collusion between Trump and his campaign on the one hand and Russia and its agents on the other is quite astonishing, when one hears it laid out quietly and dispassionately.

It is well established and uncontroversial that the Russians sought to influence the election.  Inasmuch as every great imperial power since the glorious days of Louis XIV has acted in this manner, up to and notably including the United States, this is not at all surprising.  The news, of course, is that Trump and his campaign may well have been active participants in the effort.

Elementary logic tells me that there are four possibilities:

1.         There was no collusion, merely what Mike Nichols and Elaine May, in an early comedy skit, described as “proximity but no relating” [they were talking about an uptight couple in bed, but no matter.]

2.         Trump’s aides – Manafort, Flynn, and the rest – actively colluded with the Russians, but Trump was ignorant of their efforts and was uninvolved.

3.         Both Trump and his aides actively colluded with the Russians.

4.         Trump colluded with the Russians, but his aides were ignorant of his efforts and were uninvolved.

Quite obviously, I have no knowledge which of these is the case, but I am, after all, not brain dead, so I have opinions.  Numbers 2 and 4 strike me as least likely.  Number 4 is unlikely because, unless there were back channels of which we have had no word, it is implausible that Trump could have struck a series of explicit deals with the Russians without any awareness on the part of, or collaboration with, his aides.  Number 2 is implausible because Trump so visibly and loudly and repeatedly proclaimed his affection for Putin, his disapproval of NATO and the EU, and even called during a campaign speech for the Russians to hack Clinton’s e-mails and release them.

So either they were all in it together, or else there was no it at all.

Since I am deeply engaged in the expensive business of moving, I am unable to offer a Romney bet on the matter [$10,000, for those of you who do not recall the 2012 Republican primary debates], but I am willing to wager a dollar that the truth is behind Door Number 3.

All of this is entirely distinct from the question whether sufficient evidence can be uncovered to justify indictments or, beyond that, to secure convictions.  The FBI will of course follow the time honored procedure of nailing the small fry and then offering them immunity to rat on their superiors.  But as the outcome of the New Jersey Bridgegate affair shows, even when it is transparently obvious that the person at the top is guilty, it may prove impossible to bring him or her to justice.

There is, so far as I can see, one striking fact that speaks to Trump’s innocence:  If he is in fact in cahoots with the Russians and wishes to keep this fact secret, his behavior is so mind-numbingly stupid as to seem completely unbelievable in someone who is presumably at least minimally capable of dressing himself and using the toilet.  Let me offer just one example among many.

Let us suppose, purely hypothetically, that Trump took several hundred million dollars [or perhaps less – he may be, in the world of spycraft, a cheap date] to soften the Republican Party Platform language on Russia and Ukraine.  How would any ordinarily intelligent person go about this?  Well, the obvious answer is something like this:  Make a big fuss about the importance of the platform; present to the Platform Committee a lengthy document, with much fanfare, as Donald J Trump’s Plan to Make American Great Again; hide in an obscure clause of the document the bought and paid for softened language on Ukraine; and then put on an all court press to win approval of the platform, making whatever concessions are necessary on any clause not related to Ukraine.  The odds are great that no one would even notice the Ukraine language.

What did Trump actually do?  He completely ignored the Platform Committee, exhibited no interest whatsoever in the drafting process, and then sent his minion to demand that one and only one clause be changed, namely the clause on Ukraine.  Nobody engaged in a treasonous conspiracy to do Russia’s bidding in an American election could possibly be this stupid, right?

But then I remind myself of Karl Marx’s famous opening words of his brilliant monograph, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon:  “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”




Monday, March 20, 2017

TRUTH IN ADVERTISING

Several quite enthusiastic comments on my forthcoming lectures on Freud have made me fear that I have been guilty of bait and switch advertising.  Inasmuch as I am a philosopher given to easy allusions to Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt School, one might reasonably anticipate that the lectures would be a fruity mixture of kulturkritik and dire predictions of the Untergang des Abendlandes.  Alas, nothing could be further from the truth.  After some opening remarks about the dangers of our current political situation, I shall devote the remainder of my time to a focused examination of the core of Freud’s professional work:  the discovery of the unconscious.  There will be some, but really not very much, sex talk, and absolutely no reference to Civilization and its Discontents or Moses and Monotheism.  On the other hand, there will be a great deal on primary and secondary thought processes, countertransference, resistance, and overdetermination in the dreamwork.

Why shall I be behaving in a manner apparently deliberately designed to disappoint?  Because I find Freud’s discussion of the unconscious conceptually fascinating, and his musings about Western Civilization not very interesting at all.


Lord, what have I done?  As you may have noticed, I am obsessed with how many “views” my video-ed lectures get, and here I am driving potential viewers away.  It is enough to make one suspect that I am engaged in neurotically self-defeating behavior.  But I digress …

WAITING FOR FREUD

If you are really into Freud, I can recommend two books to look at before or during my lectures.  The first is by Freud himself, the classic work The Interpretation of Dreams.  The second is an old 1971 book by the philosopher Richard Wollheim, called simply Sigmund Freud, which I found enormously helpful.   Aside from that, just keep a pad by your bedside and jot down what you recall of your dreams.  I work cheap, since I do not have a medical degree:  $1.50 an hour and all the blintzes you can eat.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN FRANCE

My good friend, Philip Minns, has launched this blog called Interpreting France.  It is well-written, very well informed, and I think a great addition to out information about the world.  I strongly recommend it.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

CHECK OUT THE FRIDAY LIST AGAIN

I have updated the latest Friday List with a number of very interesting reports.  Go back and check it out.  It continues to astonish me how many and varied are the things you folks are doing.

Well done!

ANTICIPATION

The truth is, I don’t much like politics.  It is desperately important, and I have devoted a good deal of my life to thinking about it, writing about it, and even, in small ways, doing it, but I would much rather spend my time thinking about the arguments of Plato, Kant, Hume, Marx … or Freud.  For that reason, I am looking forward with great anticipation to the start of my four part videotaped series on The Thought of Sigmund Freud.  I find Freud’s work genuinely interesting, and trying to make clear what I see as its core ideas gives me considerable pleasure.  It is not really important to me that viewers [or readers of my books] agree with me, only that they find the ideas as fascinating as I do.  A week from tomorrow I shall deliver and record the first lecture.  I hope that a few of you will take a brief break from the painful but compelling events of the public world and devote some time to watching.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

TAKING STOCK

Tomorrow will bring to a close the first two months of the Trump presidency, so this is a good time to sit back, review the whirlwind of events and non-events that have characterized this disaster, and ask what we ought to be doing in the days, weeks, months, and – God help us – years to come.  Several of you have commented on a loss of intensity and urgency – Tom Cathcart called it “resistance fatigue.”  DML remarked, “Life intervenes.”  Lord knows this is true of me.  I have been utterly consumed for the past two weeks with such important decisions as where to hide the can of spray cooking oil so that our kitchen countertops are pristine when potential buyers walk through.  [For those who are curious, this is this the fifth dwelling I have put on the market.  I broke even on the first, made a modest profit on the second, made out like a bandit on the third, took a bath on the fourth, and will lose my shirt on this one.  I am doing my best to leave this world with the same net worth I had when I entered it.]

The launch of the Trump era has been hideous in every way imaginable.  Some of the bad things are atmospheric, some are really bad but are pretty much beyond of our ability to affect, and some are already showing signs of the effect of the nation-wide grassroots activism sparked by the election.

The most immediately visible and egregious of Trump’s doings are in some ways the least serious, at least in the short term.  Trump is a narcissistic sociopath who is constitutionally unable to distinguish truth from fantasy.  He is a vulgar braggart who cares about absolutely nothing save his self-image and his ability to bully and humiliate others.  He and his family are using the presidency to enrich themselves as openly, blatantly, and quickly as they can.  Quite apart from policies and governmental actions, the Trumps are the polar opposite of the Obamas.  That our former First Family should be graceful, restrained, educated, utterly free of all scandal, and BLACK, while the current First Family is boorish, corrupt, mired in scandal, and WHITE, is an irony almost too delicious to credit.  But if that were the worst of it, we could easily survive the Trumps.  Bad manners are a venial sin, the amount of money the Trumps are pocketing is chump change on a national scale, and his compulsive lying is more visible, more manic and uncontrolled, but in the end not markedly more dangerous than that of previous presidents.

A good deal more serious is the character of the administration Trump has assembled, more serious because Cabinet Secretaries are in a position to do real harm to millions of vulnerable people.  Trump has chosen an opponent of public education as Secretary of Education, a climate denier as head of the EPA, a neo-Nazi as his principal advisor, a flaming racist as Attorney General, a Secretary of State fresh from central casting who seems utterly clueless about any country that does not have oil in the ground, a Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs who can do brain surgery and little else – this is a right-wing Republican’s wet dream.  These people will, by their actions and inactions, cause a vast amount of misery and death, and at least in the short run, there appears to be very little we can do about it. 

A third cause for concern is Trump’s conduct of foreign and military policy, a sphere in which presidents have come over time to exercise almost unchecked power.  A number of commenters on this blog seem simultaneously dubious about Trump’s link to the Russians and sanguine about his apparent desire to exchange the European Alliance for an American-Russian world duopoly.  I confess myself to be rather puzzled by these attitudes, but I am weary of arguing the matter, inasmuch as neither we nor our fellow activists on the left can do much at all to affect Trump’s behavior in this regard.  Someday, someone will explain to me, without yelling at me, why Trump chose just one clause in a Republican Platform in which he showed absolutely no interest, that concerning Ukraine, to have his campaign representatives change.  Those same folks will also, I am sure, explain why we should weaken our ties to England and France in order to strengthen our relations with a failed kleptocracy propped up by oil.  But there is no point in dwelling on the matter because, as I say, we can do virtually nothing about it so long as Trump is president.

At the moment, I am genuinely terrified that Trump is going to launch a preemptive strike on North Korea’s nuclear facilities.  This would result in scores of thousands of South Korean deaths, a consequence that would not concern Trump at all and would also result in a big jump in his tanking approval rating here in America.  It would also result, probably, in a great many deaths of American service personnel [and American civilians in South Korea], which would also not trouble Trump.  Please, please, do not respond that Obama has ordered drone strikes, as though that were comparably evil.  I am still enough of an old school Benthamite utilitarian to believe that the violent deaths of twenty thousand count more heavily than the violent deaths of several hundreds.

One rather interesting consequence of a Trump presidency appears to be that America will lose its role as a world leader [as they say.]  Already, European nations are apparently re-thinking their habitual ceding of pre-eminence to America.  Whether exchanging the American president for Angela Merkel is trading up or down remains to be seen.

Which brings me to the one sphere in which we can have a measurable effect, indeed in which we already have had a measurable effect, namely domestic legislative action.  The current attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a Republican dream act threatens genuine human harm on a national scale.  I think it is clear that the protests against the effort in the home districts of Republican Representatives and the home states of Republican Senators are dramatically weakening the chances that the bill will become law.  This really is a place where we can all do something to change our world.  The same is true of the budget the Republicans may get around to proposing, if they can ever get the health care anvil from around their necks.

Now, let me address the problem of resistance fatigue.  I have many times written about this problem on this blog, and I have written and spoken about it for decades in a variety of venues.  It is relatively easy to motivate crowds of people when excitement is running high, the wolf is at the gate [if you will forgive me], and the blood stirs.  Witness the astonishing Women’s March just eight weeks ago.  But then the lights are turned off, the blood pressure drops back to safe levels, and, as DML reminds us, life intervenes.  What to do?

The wrong thing to do is to intensify the appeals, hit the bold button, make accusatory demands designed to shame the weak-willed into maintaining their previous pitch of resistance.  That simply never works, not even in the short run, and certainly not in the long run.  Very soon, we delete the urgent messages unread and go about our business.

The secret, as I have so often said, is to find something useful to do that one enjoys doing.  A mass movement is a landslide, not brain surgery [and in this case the brain surgeon is on the other side.]  It takes organizers and followers, fund-raisers and sign carriers, writers of chain letters and brave souls who will chain themselves to the gates of a State Legislature.  It requires a few who will stand for public office and a few more who will help to organize an election campaign.  Even something as trivial as my Friday Lists may encourage a few folks to pick up a phone or make a donation or go to a meeting, if only to have something to report.


Perhaps we should take our lead from fitness gurus who always say that it is better to find some sort of daily exercise you will stick with than to make episodic trips to the gym for a workout that leaves you crippled for a week.  The body politic requires no less than the body physical.

Friday, March 17, 2017

FRIDAY LIST 7

It is time to return to the Friday Lists.  I have been so involved with preparing my apartment to sell that I have done very little besides callING my senators, Burr and Tillis, to try to get them to oppose the repeal or gutting of the Affordable Care Act.  The assault now under weigh [as in, weigh anchor] on the poor, the old, the sick, the infirm, and those seeking a decent education is of course not vintage Trump.  It is vintage Republican.  I am hopeful that with continuing ground level protests across the country, enough representatives and Senators can be peeled away to block the full-scale bill from passing, but great harm is already being done to tens of millions of Americans, and a great deal more harm will almost certainly be done.

It was the prospect of precisely these actions that led me to support Clinton, despite my dismay at her political orientation.  Whether we can climb out of the political hole we are in remains to be seen.

Now, SEND IN YOUR FRIDAY LIST REPORTS.

Here is the first, offered last week despite my failure to post a list:

I. M. Flaud said...
There has been no Friday Post, but in the spirit of indefatigable solidarity with the cause, I contributed $5 to Social Security Works, added my name to a few petitions, and--I don't know if this counts--purchased an expensive piece of Japanese electronics whose price will likely skyrocket once the trade wars commence. Perhaps this counts: I began re-reading Epictetus, who taught during a period of political oppression not wholly unlike our own. My uncle used to read Epictetus to me as a boy. The works of Epictetus aren't mentioned in Professor Wolff's "THE 25 MUST READ PHILOSOPHY BOOKS FOR GRAD STUDENTS," but the Enchiridion and the Discourses would find their application beyond the often pointlessly competitive, backbiting, judgmental, rank- and pedigree-conscious world of contemporary academic philosophy. And they might be must read books for those who tried and, for whatever reason, failed to join that world.


After a hiatus, I have resumed contributing to Our Revolution.

I sent some emails and made a few calls to my "representatives". Also called a Florida representative's office (I can't remember her name) to thank/support her for promising to vote against the Trump and Ryan Don't Care Plan.

Read "On Tyranny" by Timothy Snyder as well as some of Emma Goldman's essays and other Anarchism books. Also read The Shipwrecked Mind (Mark Lilla) which was a good series of essays about reactionaries.

Got the paperwork to get my children passports,, just in case...http://img1.blogblog.com/img/blank.gif
howie b said...

I donated money to the muslim center in Tampa Bay that was attacked and I, as an IDF veteran, sent Senator Gillibrand a strongly worded email against Trump's pick for ambassador to Israel, plus there was a survey for the democratic party I completed

Chris said...
Gave money to the ACLU.

David Palmeter said...

Donation to Ossoff campaign

David said...
1. Continued drumming up support for three educators in their grievance against the district. This includes encouraging building staff to sign a group letter addressed to the head of labor relations in our district.

2. Donated again to Jon Ossoff.

3. Discussed with our union President and building staff the prospects of a May-Day strike.

4. Called Rep. Jayapal to thank her for her vocal opposition to the decimation of the ACA.
DML said...
I honestly have not done anything this week or last. Life intervenes, and a little fatigue has set in. But breaks are good too. Tomorrow I am attending an organizing meeting for our county's Our Revolution, where we will presumably set some plans in motion for protesting ACA repeal.
I. M. Flaud said...
This week I sent money to the Jon Ossoff campaign. A warning: I did this through Daily Kos, which splits the money evenly with itself and Ossoff. The desktop site makes this clear just before you contribute, but the mobile site, which I used on my phone does not make this sneaky default obvious at any stage of the transaction, at least as far as I remember. I tried checking on the mobile donation site for Ossoff through Daily Kos and seemed to be unable to find the link to change the allocation. Perhaps I need a new prescription. Perhaps in my zeal I overlooked the obvious. In any case, be warned. I was not pleased.
C Rossi said...

I signed a bunch of petitions. I demonstrated outside of congressman's Pat Meehan's office demanding that he hold a live town hall meeting (he has phone meetings on which any contrarian rarely gets to speak--I've tried--he is a rather ineffectual republican deep back-bencher, a kind of go-along guy who is a reliable party-line vote). I wrote to Senator Casey agreeing with and celebrating his votes against all (or almost all) DT's nominees and cheering him on (he has been a rather weak democratic force against the right wing tide but seems to have grown a spine of late). I worked with other members of our chapter of Veterans for Peace to support the New Sanctuary Movement to defend undocumented immigrants from the predations of ICE. I increased my monthly donation to the UN High Commission for Refugees. I sent a shipment of books to a Facebook friend in Gaza who is trying to establish an English language library for students in Gaza. Alas, the Israeli customs refused to accept the shipment and returned the books to me (minus $250).