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Wednesday, March 22, 2017


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.


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?


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


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.


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


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 …


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.


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


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!


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


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


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.


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...
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).

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


I have worked so hard and worried so much in the last two weeks preparing our apartment for the market that I have lost four pounds.  Every little bit helps.

I am simply skipping this past week's Friday List.  I shall return to it this coming Friday.

Meanwhile, Trump and his family are openly, unashamedly cashing in on the presidency with deals large and small, right down to Kellyanne Conway hawking Ivanka Trump's goods on national television.  It is clear now, if there was ever any doubt, that the Republican Congress will never act to call him to account.  This means that our only hope and recourse is to defeat as many Republicans as possible in upcoming elections.  

I see that another King Kong movie has been released.  If Google is to be trusted, this is the thirteenth film with "Kong" in the title [including Wasei Kingu Kongu in 1933.]  I have a personal attachment to the 1976 version with Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange, Charles Grodin and Rene Auberjonois [familiar to Star Trek aficionados as the shapeshifter from Deep Space Nine.]  I took my young sons to see it in a huge thousand seat theater in West Springfield, so jammed that in the minutes leading up to the showing, a sepulchral voice could be heard on a loudspeaker saying "there are now nine more seats available, none together."  It was a genuine event, and the boys loved it.  I mean, I do understand the sentimental attachment to Fay Wray, but each of us has his or her own memories.

Monday, March 13, 2017


It is only a strong sense of obligation that drives me to turn my attention from the fascinating work of preparing our apartment to be put on the market so that I may write a bit about the troubling matter of the out-of-work coal miner referenced by David Palmeter.  But first, a thank you to Kate for her kind words, which buoyed me during a difficult time in my life [although I put my foot down at baking bread each time a buyer comes through!]

The question is: What are we to think [and feel] about individuals who vote against their manifest self-interest?  More broadly, what ought we to expect of the citizens of a modern, putatively democratic state?  As always when confronted by troubling and difficult questions, I retreat into theory.

There are three classical answers to this question, which are customarily associated with Bentham, Rousseau, and Marx.  Bentham argues [in a manner that was shockingly revolutionary in its day] that the Good is Happiness, that Happiness is Pleasure, that each individual knows best what gives him or her pleasure, that a unit of the pleasure of a peasant counts for exactly as much as a unit of the pleasure of a lord, that the goal of a polity should be to maximize the Good, which is to say to maximize Pleasure, and therefore that each individual in society, high or low, should have an equal say determining the state actions that tend to increase pleasure and reduce pain.

Mill, too well-brought up by his father, James Mill, to stomach this elevation of the pleasures of the low-born, revised the simple dicta of his godfather, Jeremy Bentham, drew a distinction between higher and lower pleasures [which is to say the pleasures of the mind as opposed to the pleasures of the body] and concluded that the common folk, lacking experience of the higher pleasures, need guidance by people like himself.  Despite this revision, however, Mill stuck with the central thesis of Bentham’s teaching, which came to be known as Utilitarianism.  A good deal of Hippie, Countercultural, New Age, and other modern heresies can be understood as nothing more than proposals to reverse the relative evaluation of the higher and lower pleasures.

A modern variant of this old and durable teaching is the distinctively American doctrine of Interest Group Democracy [see my essay “Beyond Tolerance” in Wolff, Moore, and Marcuse A Critique of Pure Tolerance for a detailed analysis.]  According to this modern variant of Utilitarianism, a large complex society like the United States is not a mass of individuals but an assemblage of overlapping and intersecting interest groups through whose intermediation the interests of individuals shape the policies of the state.  At first glance, this theory may seem a long way from Bentham’s simple assertion that the Good is Pleasure and that each individual knows best what pleases him or her, but it is the same theory at base, despite all the transformations through which it has gone over the centuries.

Yet another modern variant of Bentham’s attractively simple doctrine, which corresponds to David Palmeter’s invocation of noblesse oblige, is the view that the educated elite [i.e., those who not merely finished college – 35% of the adult population – but went to a “good” school, a much smaller fraction] have the right and the duty to make decisions in the interest of and for those too benighted to recognize their own real interest.

Rousseau offers a dramatically different analysis of democratic polities.  A state is legitimate, he asserts, only when its citizens set aside their private interests [or private wills, as he calls them] and instead take as their goal the achievement of the General Good.  When they do this, then and only then can they be said to have a General Will.  In a famous argument [which, alas, is wrong – see my In Defense of Anarchism], he claims that when the citizens all take the General Good as their goal, what they collectively legislate, directly and not through representatives, must be the General Good.  The fundamental conflict between this view and that of Bentham and his successors is that whereas Bentham thinks the people must individually aim at what gives them pleasure for the laws thus enacted to be justifiable, Rousseau thinks that the people must not aim at what gives them individually pleasure if the laws are to be justifiable.

Marx, as we might have anticipated, advances a view that is at one and the same time a fusion and a transformation of these two positions.  First of all, he argues that the good for human beings is not pleasure per se, but the pleasure of unalienated collective production, by means of which human beings transform nature to satisfy their true needs and desires, not the desires that have been foisted on them by ideological mystifications.  This, as opposed to Benthamite Utilitarianism.  Second, he denies that the conflicting interests of the several major components of a capitalist society can be amalgamated successfully through any political mechanism because Capital and Labor are fundamentally and irreconcilably opposed.  This against the modern theory of Interest Group Democracy.  Finally, he argues that only through the organization and self-conscious understanding of the Working Class can the injustices of Capitalism be overcome, either through violent revolution or through non-violent political action, and the true General Good be identified and pursued.  This against the purely formulaic theses of Rousseau.

It will come as no surprise to the readers of this blog that my heart and mind are with Marx, not with Bentham, Mill, or Rousseau.

From the perspective of this analysis, the last forty years or so have seen a disastrous retreat in American politics from the ideals and hopes of the Marxian perspective.  When I grew up, the Labor Movement to which my grandfather dedicated his life was vibrant and powerful in this country and gave every hope to an optimist like myself of eventual victory.  Now, unions are diminished, feeble, and reduced to fighting rearguard actions against a triumphant and brutally unmediated capitalism.  I have no doubt that if Paul Ryan’s Ayn Rand fantasies are enacted into law, scores of millions of Americans, if not more, will suffer life-threatening losses.  But even a natural Tigger, which I am, is hard put to believe that this will result in a dramatic movement to the left.

What am I to think of the unemployed mine worker and the millions like him?  Well, the simple answer is: It is not for me to decide what I think about them.  It is for them to decide for themselves what they think and then to ask me to join them, if they want me to.  That is the way things ought to work.   If they do ask, I will respond with all my ability.  But what shall I do when, instead of asking me for help, they turn to Trump, in effect giving me and all those like me the finger?  I genuinely do not know.  You do not make progressive revolutions from above.  You make them from below.  I cannot fight for great medical insurance for myself and my wife.  We already have it.  All I can do is vote my conscience and hope that those who do need medical insurance will come to their senses and vote out of self-interest

Saturday, March 11, 2017


My idle speculation about Trump’s Russian connection, posted before I took a break to deal with packing and such, provoked an outpouring of comments and cross-comments.  It even offered Robert Shore another opportunity to insult me, something that seems to give him a perverse pleasure and perhaps feeds his sense of superiority.  I confess that I grow weary of his insults, especially since I rather imagine I was publicly attacking American Cold War policy roughly when he was graduating from diapers to big boy pants.  Give it a rest, Bob!

Meanwhile, really really bad stuff is happening, stuff that threatens to deprive ten or fifteen million Americans of health care and to kill a goodly number of them.  So far as I can tell from the reporting, our best chance to stop this is the Senate.  All we can do is to continue to protest as loudly as possible, in hopes of giving a few Senators or two handfuls of Representatives pause.  The media seem to be making a good deal of noise about the harm these measures will cause, but that may not have an effect.

Much has been made of the fact that Trump’s favorite demographic will be hard hit by the unravelling of health insurance.  Indeed so.  All those deaths seems a rather high price to pay for the opportunity to say “I told you so.”

This country may be the Greatest Nation on Earth, but it is currently a really hateful place to live.

Since preparing to sell our apartment and move has robbed me temporarily of my natural good spirits, perhaps I might offer one more complaint [which I do not mean either in the medical or in the Metaphysical Poetry sense]:  when I write a post that is patently intended as humorous, if you must respond, as indeed I hope you will, please find something to say other than to quibble about singulars and plurals.  As stand-up comics say, you are a hard room.

Friday, March 10, 2017


All politics is local, as Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously and ungrammatically observed.  Which is my way of saying that I have been absent from this blog because of a very local matter – preparing our apartment to be shown to prospective buyers.  The market is very weak just now, so our real estate agents [a mother and daughter combo] have made it clear that the apartment must be made to look pristine, which is to say uninhabited.  Susie and I have spent a frantic five days throwing things out, taking vast quantities of clothing to Good Will, and generally clearing from surfaces every tschotshcke, every memento, every half-empty box of tumeric or cilantro, in short everything that makes a house a home.  We shall not be here when the apartment is “shown,” as they say, which is just as well because I would be hard pressed to restrain the urge to shout “If you don’t like it the way it is, you can just get the hell out of here,” which is not, as I have learned from reading that great work, The Art of the Deal, the best way to close a sale.

This experience has given me some insight into the behavior of our prehistoric ancestors, who, Archeologists tells us, buried their dead with weapons and cooking implements.  This has rather sentimentally been interpreted as an expression of love for the dearly departed, sending them to the next world with a starter kit for their new homes.  But I now have a rather more realistic interpretation of the evidence.  I think what happened was this:  The living dug a hole for the dead, and then thought to themselves, “Why waste a good hole?  Let’s get rid of some of the stuff that has been lying around in the back of the cave cluttering up prime sleeping space.”

Are Susie and I done?  As if!, as the young, I am told, are wont to say.  But we can anticipate a moment, several weeks from now, when the apartment will be ready to show.  At that point, we shall start living like Tinker Bell, without making a mark or leaving a stain on anything we touch.  I hope the buyers, God willing there are some, appreciate our efforts.  But probably not; they will just have gone through the same exercise themselves.  There has got to be a better way to handle this business of changing homes, but I cannot for the life of me see it.

Monday, March 6, 2017


When the Watergate scandal developed that brought down Richard Nixon, I was living in Northampton, MA, having moved from Columbia to UMass in 1971.  This was well before the widespread use of personal computers, of course, and prior as well to the introduction of cable television, with its explosion of channels.  On any given day in Northampton, there were three moments when I could get news:  the early morning, when the NY TIMES arrived on a truck from Boston and could be bought at the State Street Market down the hill from Barrett Place; the middle afternoon, when the local paper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette came out;  and the early evening, when the three major news channels, NBC, ABC, and CBS put on competing news programs featuring such anchor personalities as Walter Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley [Chet and David].  Political stories unfolded in stately fashion, with the network anchors – among the most respected people in America – soberly explaining to the country the significance of each new snippet of information.  If it led the half hour news program, it was important.  If it did not make it into the program at all, it had not happened.  Life was simple, orderly, and predictable.

The political scandal named “Watergate,” after the Washington DC apartment complex where an office of the Democratic National Committee was burgled at the direction of the President, was not an exception to this generalization.  It is difficult now to recall, but the entire scandal, from the break-in to Nixon’s resignation, took a week less than two years and two months!

We are now only forty-five days into the Trump Disaster, scarcely enough time for the West Wing staff to locate the bathrooms, and already a National Security Advisor has resigned, an Attorney General has been forced to recuse himself, The Director of the FBI has publicly called on the Justice Department to brand the President’s statements as false, and the narcissistic sociopath masquerading as President of the United States has been reduced to tweeting school-yard accusations at his predecessor.

All of us have been outraged by what we see as the spinelessness of the press, but reflect:  it has taken little more than a month for news anchors on network and cable news channels to say publicly and repeatedly that the President is lying and that his baseless accusations are transparent attempts to distract attention from the burgeoning reports of connections between his campaign and White House and the Russian government.

To someone of my age who is a stranger to the instant gratification of snapchat, the speed with which the story is maturing is vertiginous.  Now, if you will excuse me, I must surf the web to see whether any new news has broken.  It has been at least thirty minutes since my last politics fix.  Is this what it is like to get hooked on heroin?

Sunday, March 5, 2017


Force Ten From Navaronne is an old 1961 WW II movie about a group or soldiers, including Harrison Ford and Robert Shaw, who are sent to Yugoslavia to blow up a bridge.  The munitions expert of the team, Edward Fox, determines that although the bridge is too firmly rooted in the gorge it spans to be blown up, it can be destroyed by a flood of water from a reservoir upstream if the dam creating the reservoir is destroyed.  Ford and Shaw sneak into the interior of the huge dam and plant explosives where Fox tells them to, but at first nothing seems to happen.  Downstream, Fox and Carl Foreman, another member of the team, are waiting, and when the dam does not disintegrate, Foreman yells at Fox that he has bungled the job.  But Fox, who understands these things, counsels patience.  Finally, a tiny crack appears in the face of the dam and some water trickles through.  Then, with excruciating slowness, more cracks appear as the enormous water pressure behind the dam starts to do its work.  Eventually the entire dam collapses and the bridge is destroyed.

That is what this Russia/Trump story is beginning to resemble.  To those of us impatient for a flood of revelations that washes away the Trump presidency, we must take heart from Edward Fox.

Saturday, March 4, 2017


This is getting interesting.  Trump's hysterical attack on Obama strikes me as a desperation effort to distract attention from what is a worsening scandal.   I remember Watergate.  It took months for that one to ripen.  we are still only six weeks into the new presidency.


Friday List 6

Good grief, this is the sixth Friday List!  How time flies when you are fighting fascism.  A slow week for me.  Aside from blogging and egging you all on, I donated a bit more money, signed a few petitions, and after a lovely lunch at a Mexican joint in the boonies outside Chapel Hill, took the proprietor aside, gave him my name and phone number, and told him if he knew anyone having trouble with immigration, I would be happy to help if I could.

David said...
1. Bought a subscription to the online New York Times. (Given the recent exclusion of various news outlets from Trump administration press conferences, I will count this as a political act.)

2. Attended a march to support immigrants sponsored by our Neighborhood Action Coalition.

3. Contributed to campaign of Manka Dhingra for an open state Senate seat that will be filled in a fall special election.

4. Represented three educators in a grievance meeting. Called a special lunchtime union meeting to discuss support for these educators. (After reading articles by Marshall Ganz and Jane McAlevey, I’ve decided to include union activities on my list.)

5. Phoned Sen. Murray’s office to encourage her to join Sen. Schumer in calling for Sessions’ resignation.

Howie Said...
Contributed to democratic national committee, postponed donating to Israeli peace group benefiting attacked Muslim community center in Florida and planned to email my senators about Friedman, speaking as IDF veteran, (in a way), plus pledged to doctors without borders and witnessed having to rush to emergency room in Brooklyn, just what the doctors and other professionals do heroically on the front lines and what is at atsake
Tom Cathcart said...

Went to the "Town Hall" for No Show Faso along with 760 other people in the small city of Kingston, NY. Lots of press coverage. Gave some more money to Ossoff.

Will said...
Went to a rally last week asking Senator Shelby to hold a town hall in Tuscaloosa. His main Alabama office is in the city.

Went to Montgomery with several other members of Alabama Arise to lobby the state legislature to end judicial override, the practice in which judges may impose the death penalty despite a jury's decision to give life without parole.

I. M. Flaud said...
I renewed my membership in the Union of Concerned Scientists, who have been claiming in countless emails, ever since I responded to one of their email actions, I was a lapsed member. I have no recollection of ever having joined. The ruse, if that's what it was, worked. Then I contributed another $5 to Our Revolution, in a valiant effort to counteract the relentless banal evil of big money (other than mine) in politics.

Friday, March 3, 2017


All right, now, let us all take a deep breath and relax.  In the intellectual and political neighborhood where I live, calling someone a fascist is not a forceful way of making a point.  It is a conversation ending insult.  Nobody who has been contributing to this discussion [is this what is called a thread?] is a fascist, nobody.  This kind of language, or its analogue, may be appropriate in sectarian religious feuds, where one’s immortal soul is literally at stake, but it has no place in disagreements among men and women who by any plausible measure occupy very nearly the same rather narrow segment of the political spectrum.

Let us recall that all of this was provoked by my remarks concerning Trump’s Russian connection.  Inasmuch as I know nothing at all firsthand about the subject, I was merely idly speculating.

If we cannot be civil to one another, I shall have to go back to talking about Marx, which at least does not get people upset.   J  


I have been so absorbed by the prospect and complications of moving, that I totally forgot to assemble the Friday List.  Post some comments telling us all what you have been doing.


We have all been wallowing in schadenfreude over Jeff Sessions’ discomfiture.  I say, in wartime, you take your pleasures where you can find them.  But if I may, I should like to wax at least semi-serious for a moment regarding the Russia connection.  It is genuinely weird, and for someone like me who remembers the Cold War vividly, truly bizarre.  That American politicians and their advisors should be playing footsie with Russians is strange enough, but that the politicians should be Republicans is really Alice-Through-The-Looking-Glass cognitively unsettling.  The Russians?  Not the Germans, or the British, or the French, or even the Chinese, but the Russians?  North Koreans would be even weirder, but only a little.  What on earth is going on?

I can think of only three plausible explanations, ranging from scrimy to Manchurian Candidate.  Here they are:

Explanation 1:   Trump got wind of Russian hacking and with a wink and a nod intimated his willingness to talk up the delights of Putin, the legitimacy of the invasion of Crimea and Ukraine, and the outdatedness of NATO in return for help in winning the election.

Explanation 2:    Trump out and out cut a deal with the Russians to do all of the above, no winks and nods involved, just a straight-up deal by the pseudo-author of The Art of the Deal.

Explanation 3:     Trump is a bought and paid for Russian asset, purchased by loans from Russian Oligarchs [I love that phrase], and kept in line in return for debt forgiveness for the six hundred million or more that Trump has borrowed from the Oligarchs to prop up his perpetually failing business.

Where lies the truth?  My guess, based on the available evidence and strained through the tea leaves, is door number three.

Any opinions?


As you might imagine, my mind has been occupied with the minutiae of moving.  After an initial walk-through of the apartment we shall move into, I can report that it appears that I shall actually end up with more bookshelf space than I have now, which means that I can reunite the complete German edition of the works of Marx and Engels, which graces my Paris apartment, with the complete English edition of the works of Marx and Engels, which sits atop my bookcases here in Chapel Hill.  This puts me in mind of a dinner to which my first wife and I were invited in 1964 on the occasion of my ascension to a tenured Associate Professorship in the Columbia Philosophy Department.  Our hosts were Professor and Mrs. Randall.  The grand old man of the department at that time was John Herman Randall Jr., a legendary figure who was, in my eyes, ancient [he was in fact then 65, some eighteen years younger than I am now.]  As Cindy and I walked into the big old pre-war apartment on Claremont Avenue, an apartment completely filled with bookshelves, my eye caught a complete set of the Prussian Academy edition of the works of Kant.  To a young Kant scholar such as I was then, this was the gold standard, the Holy Grail, an original Ty Cobb baseball card.  I knew I would never have enough money to buy a set for myself [it is now online], and I recall thinking, “This is what it was to be a professor in the old days!”

Thursday, March 2, 2017


For the next four months or so, I shall be quite distracted.  How is that any different from the norm? you may ask.  Indeed so.  At any rate, yesterday, my wife and I learned that our name had come to the top of a waiting list, and we shall, roughly four months from now, be moving from our present apartment into something called a continuing care retirement community, or CCRC.  A CCRC is an upper middle class cross between an old people's home and a spa, complete with dining rooms, a mini-golf course, and assisted living facilities for those no longer able to look after themselves.  It is, for many of the residents, their last home.  As my characterization probably communicates, I am profoundly ambivalent about the move, but I believe that it is the right thing for the two of us at this point.  The CCRC to which we are moving is only about six miles from our present apartment, so not a great deal will change for me, save that I shall no longer be making dinner every evening.  In particular, I shall be quite close enough to UNC Chapel Hill to give my projected series of lectures next Fall on Marx for YouTube.

Needless to say, the blog will go on unruffled.  There is no escaping the Cloud.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


I have just had a request for permission to translate IN DEFENSE OF ANARCHISM into Turkish [it already exists in French, German, Croatian, Korean, Malaysian, Italian, Spanish, and Hungarian.]  A harbinger?  Or an outlier.  Who knows?