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Friday, June 28, 2019


Although preoccupied with personal problems that necessitated my premature return from Paris, I have been following the lengthy discussion in the comments section concerning commodities, metaphysical entities, and opportunity costs.  Inasmuch as I have written two books, half a dozen lengthy journal articles, and tens of thousands of blog words about these topics, I shall refrain from repeating myself [even more than I am wont to do.]  So let me return to blogging with some observations on the political scene as it has unfolded since I went to Paris two weeks ago.

As we have just experienced the two-day long first debate among the two dozen or so folks competing for the Democratic nomination, I shall start there.  I did not watch the debates [past my bedtime], but I watched the morning after sound bites.  The conventional wisdom is that Warren shone on the first night and Harris scored big against Biden on the second night.  Whether this will hurt Biden remains to be seen.  It must be hard for him to repeat his customary claim as a lifelong champion for Civil Rights when an actual Black person is on the stage.  Not really fair, I imagine ole’ Joe is thinking.  He does seem to be as weak a campaigner as everyone says, but I do not know whether that will hurt him.

I remain convinced that it is existentially important to defeat Trump so that we can go back to fighting the endless battle for the marginal improvements that we are forced to substitute for our true goals.  We are currently experiencing an exhilarating moment of radical political energy at ground level, energy that has already elected some first-rate men and women to the House and may carry a number more to victory in 2020.  These victories, should they materialize, will fall far short of the fulfilment of our dreams, so I shall repeat the caution that I have voiced before.  It was said best by Paul Newman playing the legendary grifter Henry Gondorff in The Sting.  [Long time readers will know that I have invoked this reference at least twice here in the past ten years – I really only have about four strings in my bow.]  Newman is holed up in a whore house when he is sought out by the young and inexperienced Robert Redford.  Newman warns Redford of the difficulties and dangers of playing the Big Con against the gangster Robert Shaw, and then he says:

“I don't want a hothead looking to get even, coming back saying......"It ain't enough."  'Cause it's all we're gonna get.”

If you want to be active in the radical political lane for life, you must take this advice to heart, because it is the truth, bitter as the taste may be that it leaves in your mouth.  If we beat Trump, there will still be more than sixty million Americans who have voted for him and perhaps one hundred million who support him.  That is a terrifying fact, one that we must reckon with as we fight to accomplish some of the things we believe in.

Meanwhile, it looks as though Sanders, Warren, and Harris have a shot at the nomination.  Things could be worse.


Chris said...

The entire 2 hour debate last night took the following form:

"Unlike Sanders I would..." and "Like Sanders I would...".

In essence, Sanders WAS the debate, his shadow was cast over every candidate. Centrism was conspicuously dead, and progressiveness was on the offensive not defensive all night. I'm only in my near mid thirties, but it was certainly the most promising and optimistic political debate I've ever seen.

Also, anyone still thinking Joe is a wise choice to run against Trump (or at all), watch his opening statement, after you watch Sanders (which is the actual ordering of the debate). Biden was forming Trump style sentences, he's completely incoherent.

talha said...

Chris, completely agree with your analysis of the substance of last night's debate. And you know I'm completely in the Sanders camp with you. But I had a small concern regarding form: though, as you say, Bernie was the implicit organizing principle of much of the conversation, Bernie himself on a personal level I thought didn't "score" as many "hits" as he might have.

(I hope the scare quotes make clear my own view of such things; but whatever I think of their significance, such things do seem to matter to many watching the spectacle. To be clear, my own views are that almost nothing can happen in a debate that would change my views about what candidate(s) I support, which views are formed on completely other considerations, about the substance of their positions and their commitments to them, than anything to do with "performance" in a "debate.")

On that--the scoring of "hits" and "style points" more generally--I think it was clear that Harris emerged triumphant, Biden very badly and Bernie... well neutral. No?

s. wallerstein said...

I just watched the first half hour of the second debate in YouTube and Biden is too old and fumbling. Sanders has aged a lot since I first saw him 3 or 4 years ago. Kamala Harris impressed me as a candidate: she hits hard and hits again and again. I assume that in order to win we have to get people to vote who don't normally vote and to win over the swing vote, and in both cases they are people who vote for the person, not the issues. Harris has the force to knock-out Trump in a debate even if Trump plays dirty, which he will. I don't see Sanders as having that force any more. And I believe that the undecided in many cases will vote for the most forceful and vigorous candidate, the one who "dominates" the campaign.

You (Professor Wolff) say that there are probably 100 million Amerikans who support Trump. Today in another blog I came across a species of Amerikan who probably does not support Trump, but would never support anything "socialist" or even "social". I "met" a woman who homeschools her child, with complete contempt for public schools and for the teachers union. She and her husband work 24/7 from their home in some kind of ultra-high-tech venture. Lots of people in Chile also scorn public schools, but they put their kids in private schools. This women scorns private schools too. The Chileans who put their kids in private schools do so for academic reasons (not always good reasons since there are good public schools here) and above all, to network their kids in the upper middle or upper class. However, this woman has no interest in her child socializing with and getting to know members of her class. Unlike wealthy Chileans, she doesn't even have class solidarity with other wealthy people. She probably would emigrate to the Virgin Islands if asked to pay more taxes to support Medicare for all or better public schools. When I talk to people like her, I realize how completely out of touch I am with the reality of Amerika.

howard said...

Did they support "Trump" out of a palpable ideological and temperamental reason, or did were they just reeled in by "Trump's" so-called charisma to join the fun?
Is this a permanent stain on the American body politic that even Lady Macbeth could not get out even with Shout Wipe's To Go? Or are some "Trump" supporters remediable if not redeemable?

Chris said...

Talha, per usual we are in complete agreement. Last nights debate proved that Progressivism is winning the war, even if Sanders did not win last nights battle (although he certainly didn't lose it either!). He casts the largest shadow, which everyone had to confront, and I suspect over the coming months he'll have plenty of salient debates. And Progressivism would not be winning the war had the indefatigable Sanders not fought persistently for the last several years (the lack of respect he gets for that, especially around here, is a travesty).

I also agree with you that Harris probably performed the best, and call me a sucker, but I actually believed her animosity towards Biden. She seemed sincere, it wasn't just grandstanding (unlike Biden invoking the death of everyone close to him). I really can't imagine what it would be like to be a young black girl in a busing situation, and to face someone like Biden who tried to deny you racial equality. So yeah, maybe it was a genuine moment, maybe, unlike Clinton, there's some homo-sapien left in her? I haven't done enough homework on Harris, but what I do know is as a prosecutor she was the very opposite of a Marxist, went after the poor and downtrodden and ignored the crimes of the bourgeoisie. So at this stage I don't trust her, and I don't like her, but if someone has some set of reasons why I should, I'm more than open to them.

s. wallerstein said...


From what I've read, you are correct about Harris's performance as a prosecuting attorney. She won me over with her attack on Biden, which seemed authentic to me. It's a long time until the primary elections, and before then she may say something which will turn me off completely. In addition, I haven't watched the first debate yet so I've nothing to say about Warren's performance. I agree with you that there is some homo sapiens left in Harris, but I'm just speculating on who seems more likely to be able to defeat Trump.

Trump is just toxic. As you undoubtedly saw, a few day ago a woman claimed that Trump had raped her, and all Trump could answer is that she wasn't "his type".

As for Sanders, I agree that he deserves respect and gratitude for beginning the struggle to get certain types like Medicare for all on the political agenda. We should all be thankful for that, but he does seem to have aged a lot in the last few years and to have lost some of his moxie (do people still use that word?), moxie that will be needed to defeat someone as aggressive as Trump.

Chris said...

Presently I can't be won over to someone for their momentary campaign cunning, relative to their history as being a straight up villain. Yes she scored points against Biden (easy target). Yes she did it will. Does that un-arrest these people? No. Does it put capitalists who committed systemic fraud in jail? No. So it's hardly a reason to be won over to someone who, otherwise, is wicked. No? If I made Biden look like a fool in public, but prior to that you knew I systematically abused the downtrodden, would I really 'win you over' ?

I don't see what you see in Sanders. Although this wasn't his best debate, the fact we all agree it was his indefatigable and relentless effort OVER YEARS to move things in a progressive direction, suggests he's perfectly fine regarding age! I don't have that mans energy levels (despite exercising regularly), or work schedule, and he's over twice my age! And outside this one debate, his moxie is still there.

Moreover, I don't see how he's at some deficit to beat Trump. He speaks better than Trump, he looks better than Trump, he understands the political landscape better than Trump, and he has more energy than Trump. And his constituents love him in unprecedented numbers, unlike Trump. So what's the problem?

To be blunt, why is everyone on an anarchist-marxist blog, other than Talha, constantly, and desperately, looking for reasons to write off the first democratic socialist to ever be a viable candidate in Government? To be even more blunt, let's assume age is a serious issue and Sanders is a walking corpse. I still don't care. 1 day of a Sanders presidency is better than no days a Sanders presidency, and he's hardly going to pick Mike Pence as his VP. Absolute worst case scenario, we get an amazing 1 day of Sanders as president, followed by 4 years of a Warren-figure. I can deal with that.

Chris said...

Turns out Harris takes corporate lobbyist money both before her campaign, and after, even though she promised she wouldn't. Screw it, back to completely not trusting her, we know what class she works for:

s. wallerstein said...


First of all, I wouldn't say that Harris is wicked. In fact, I don't generally use the word "wicked".

The reason that everyone except you and Talha in an anarchist-marxist blog (I've never been an anarchist and I'm more of a semi-marxist than a marxist) write off Sanders as a presidential candidate, not as a human being or as a senator, is that we're looking for the candidate who has the best possibilities of beating Trump. We (I presume to use the first person plural) believe that Trump is so toxic, so noxious that our main concern is to assure that he is not re-elected.

Sanders is evidently more intelligent, more honest, more eloquent, more ethical, more empathetic, more compassionate than Trump. He has all the virtues, Trump has none.

However, I don't think that the election will be won by the most virtuous candidate. It will be won by a candidate who beats Trump at his own game, who makes it clear that Trump's hands are small, that Trump is a loser, who can humiliate Trump, etc. I believe that Harris can do that and Sanders cannot.

By the way, I've run two political campaigns, for city council, for a candidate (from the Chilean communist party) who nobody expected to win and she won both times. So maybe while I don't understand Marx as well as you do, I do understand something about political campaigns and about how irrational they are.

talha said...

Chris, four emphatic agreements:

(1) "Progressivism would not be winning the war had the indefatigable Sanders not fought persistently for the last several years (the lack of respect he gets for that, especially around here, is a travesty)."

Could not agree more. And *especially* on the parenthetical. The elaboration of which you offer later I also completely concur with ("To be blunt, why is everyone on an anarchist-marxist blog, other than Talha, constantly, and desperately, looking for reasons to write off the first democratic socialist to ever be a viable candidate in Government?").

(2) Might Harris have some homo-sapien left in her? You put your finger precisely on it. In every other performance of hers that I've seen, she has completely seemed the empty-shell of a person that all neoliberal Democrats come across as. This was the first time, I agree, that she did not. My guess for why is similar to yours: her genuine animosity toward Biden. But I think to a considerable extent that is fueled by anger at Biden being at all supported by Obama-establishment Dems--she's no doubt furious that anyone might elevate him above her as the better neoliberal Dem to back (as I think Cory Booker must also be similarly furious--and he's also been pretty blunt in his ire toward Biden).

(3) And it is for that reason--the source of Harris' authenticity here--that I don't put too much stock in it. Because, as you later report, in fact she's a full-on, through and through neoliberal corporate Dem, from head to toe, start to finish. As is Booker. With both providing "identity" cover for (a) sidelining socio-economic justice AND (b) being brutal on questions of race as well (e.g., prosecuting parents for student absences; privatization of education).

(4) Finally, not only do I think Bernie is perfectly able to take on Trump (as you rightly say Chris, re his moxie), I think he will be a much MORE effective person to share the stage with Trump and defeat him in that spectacle than anyone else in the race. For two reasons: First, Bernie is not vulnerable to genteel-manners baiting of the sort that Trump does so effectively, to stoke the resentment his base feels toward "coastal elites." No one perceives Bernie that way. Second, there is not one thing Trump can pick on to Bernie's disadvantage. For virtually every other candidate there is some *perceived* Achilles heel that may through them off balance: e.g., "Pocahontas" with Warren, "sleepy Joe" with Biden, lack of socio-economic populism for Harris/Booker (recall that Trump stole a few pages from Bernie against Clinton last time). With Bernie, it'll be his "socialism" but the point is Bernie has already shown he's ready to embrace rather than run from that and will effectively frame it as his strength--a "return" to FDR's second bill of rights, etc. (Whatever one may think of that as a way of specifying democratic socialism.)

Chris said...

Which is why it's good there's never been a single poll that shows Bernie doing anything other than DOMINATING Trump. Couple that with his fox news town hall, again I don't see the issue here. People are going out of their way to write off Sanders.

(My comment regarding the marxist anarchist blog was that it's likely to attract fellow lefties, not that everyone reading the blog must also be a marxist or an anarchist)

Chris said...

p.s. Wallerstein, if not wicked, what would you call someone who uses the coercive and violent power of the state to protect the wealthy in the face of criminal evidence, and also uses that same power to incarcerate those most desperate and downtrodden?

s. wallerstein said...

What would I call someone like Harris?

Normally opportunist....

Sonic said...

I thought he debated really poorly, but I'm the hothead who's gonna throw a pissy fit when my socialist president doesn't, like, at least ban private property.

Talha made me excited to see Trump v Bernie though. Forget who's the best candidate, that's the best show.

I think someone before mentioned that we shouldn't be trying to nominate a candidate that can beat trump, but someone who, if elected, wouldn't cause a worse Trump-esque reaction from the right (so absolutely not Biden or any other establishment types). I thought that was a really strong argument. Are we just not comfortable with making forecasts 8 years out?

TheDudeDiogenes said...

Your question is an excellent one. I've been convinced by Benjamin and Aimee of the "What Is Left?" podcast, that all of the candidates save Bernie are simply aesthetically repackaged 30-year old neoliberalism and identity politics.

TheDudeDiogenes said...

Oops, *simply selling aesthetically repackaged

TheDudeDiogenes said...

Benjamin Studebaker made an argument like this on his blog, that I find all too plausible to easily dismiss: A Second Term for Trump is Better Than Beto.

Chris said...

Talha, definitely agree.

Wallerstein, I get opportunism, but on the backs of imprisoning the least fortunate!? This isn't skipping someone in line to be interviewed first, or slightly lying on your resume, this is imprisoning people and protecting actual thieves, to advance in society. It's wicked opportunism, no?

s. wallerstein said...


I assume, unless you can show otherwise, that Harris, as a prosecuting attorney, followed all the normal legal proceedings and only prosecuted people who were guilty of crimes according to the legal system. I don't have any evidence that she "protected thieves" (your words), only that she followed a legal system which favors white collar criminals over people who commit street crimes.

Now you and I can criticize the legal system for its class nature, but most people don't. Most people follow the rules (and the rules are rigged against the poor) and try to advance to as high and as well-paying position as they can within the system. That's why I say that it's "normal opportunism".

I have a long-time woman friend who is a lawyer, coincidentally in California, who claims that she has never defended a client who can pay for her services. She works with juvenile offenders and has worked for various organizations which specialize in the legal defense of low-income juvenile offenders. That's what I call a virtuous person, but I don't expect most people to live up to such high standards.

I myself have not tried to advance to as high and as well-paying position as I can in life, but in my case, it's not even a question of virtue. I've just never had the slightest interest in becoming rich and famous. I prefer to take long walks, to read and to converse with friends.

Anyway, I won't call someone who follows the normal "bourgeois" rules to success as "wicked". They're normal, they're conventional, they're "just doing what they've been told to do". (lines from Bob Dylan)

Chris said...

Talha, more evidence she's a total fraud:

If I remember correctly Wallerstein, she literally did not prosecute wall streeters who she had copious evidence had in fact committed crimes. Moreover, she used her department to target poor parents working more than one job, who were unaware their kids were truant. That was a decision she made in how she executed her position as prosecutor. So no this was not following all the normal proceedings, this was choosing which path to take in the normal legal proceedings, of which she could have gone after one or the other class of criminal, and opted AGAINST going after capitalist criminals in favor of working class and destitute ones.

Dean said...

That's why it's called "prosecutorial discretion." It defers to the judgment and strategic designs of the prosecutor. Hence, it isn't merely "following the system."

s. wallerstein said...

Then "prosecutorial discretion" is part of the system. You people would really have to show that Harris as prosecutor was egregiously more lenient with corporate criminals and egregiously more harsh with street criminals than "normal" prosecutors in the U.S. are.

Dean said...

I had a suspicion that reply would be forthcoming. That's why I wrote, "merely..." It manages to empty "discretion" of any meaning. Whether or not the baseline for judging abuse of discretion is the norm is, I suggest, an empirical matter. What if we discover most prosecutors abuse discretion, i.e., what if prosecutorial misbehavior is systemic? That would relieve a presidential candidate who was a former DA of having to be accountable for her own decisions?

s. wallerstein said...


Of course she's responsible, but that's not what Chris and I were arguing about.

He claimed that Harris is wicked and I replied that she is normally opportunistic. I still stand by that claim.

David Palmeter said...

Kamala Harris, as I understand it, was DA in San Francisco and then AG of California. They don't prosecute many Wall Streeters there. That's usually done in New York, where she's never served.

Chris said...

Wallerstein, this makes no sense to me. Everyone has discretion, and it's the exercise of that discretion that determines whether or not they're wicked or just. Moreover, there are also certain forms discretion can take, that even having access to them already renders you wicked. For instance, 'gas chamber discretion', pimp discretion, hang man discretion, mafia discretion, etc., is nearing inherent awfulness.

DP, try these. She actually had quite a lot of leeway to rescue California homeowners from their underwater mortgages, and go after banks that sold them transparently fraudulent loans, that were interconnected to Wall Street, and she often opted against such practices:

She also went out of her way not to prosecute Steve Mnuchin

Chris said...

This also covers her relation to finance crimes DP:

s. wallerstein said...


We're wearing this topic out, but I'll say something here to clarify my position and let you have the last word.

I have trouble with the word "wicked". It seems like something out of fairy tales that my mother used to read to me over half a century ago: so and so had a wicked stepmother, etc. I tend to use descriptive ethical words: x is cruel, y is compassionate, z is honest, a is considerate, b is fair, c is racist, d is misogynistic, etc.

I rarely say that a person is bad or evil or good since almost all of us are strange ethical mixtures. I might say that Hitler is evil, but that is an extreme case.

I already said that Harris is an opportunist, which is a negative term in my book. I would not call her "evil" because obviously she is not in the same ethical category as Himmler or Manuel Contreras (chief of Pinochet's secret police).

It's been fun. Enjoy your Saturday night.

Chris said...

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, okay. I don't think we disagree much actually. Now that you move the conversation into virtuous terminology, I think we actually see eye to eye.