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Thursday, March 5, 2020

LITERARY MUSINGS

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made …”  The Great Gatsby

This morning, I watched a bit of Joe Scarborough blustering and fulminating at Bernie surrogate Bill de Blasio about the positive things Sanders has to say about the Castro revolution in Cuba, and what came to mind was the passage above by F. Scott Fitzgerald from his most famous novel. 

I am old enough to remember the corrupt US-backed regime of Fulgencio Batista, with its intimate ties to the American mafia and its subordination of Cuba’s economy to US sugar interests.  When Fidel Castro and Che Guavara led a successful overthrow of the Batista regime, America’s response was first to plan a CIA-funded invasion of Cuba under Eisenhower and then to launch the disastrous abortive Bay of Pigs attack signed off on by Saint Jack in the first months of his presidency, two years before his 1963 martyrdom inspired a generation of cold war liberals. 

Having subordinated Cuba’s economy to that of America during the Batista reign, America now imposed a crushing embargo on the land “ninety miles off the American mainland,” forcing Castro to seek help from America’s cold war foe, the Soviet Union.  Despite the embargo, the Castro regime made great strides in building a diversified and independent Cuban economy, developing its medical sector so successfully that Cuban doctors actually traveled to other countries to bring medical assistance. 

Over time, the Castro regime became repressive and thoroughly undemocratic.  Indeed, one of the most famous political prison camps in the world is located on its territory.  Prisoners are held there for endless years without hope of trial or release.  It is called Guantanamo.

Having done its best to smash Cuba, America retreated back into its money or its vast carelessness or whatever it is that keeps Americans together, and let other people clean up the mess it had made. 

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Its the American way. I need to go out and live my life of careless luxury and put my two cents in wherever I can more out of boredom than anything else. I do not follow up because I need to retire to my whiskey, cheese, and crackers in my comfortable home. If everyone else was as smart as me they would be successful too so its on them and their stupidity. The idiots need to smarten up like me and the country would be a better place. Never mind my father was wealthy and I got a great head start, I leave that story out as I did it all by myself. My only regret is I'm not, more educated, more wealthy, more connected. My only worry is my bank account and letting you know if 5 million will be enough to put mother in a nursing home. When the blacks aren't around, I may or may not freely use the n-word with my fraternal friends. I will die in about 20 years.

David Palmeter said...

As if there weren’t enough to worry about, his from Paul Waldman in the Washington Post:

“Biden is simply terrible at running for president — even worse than in his disastrous runs in 1988 and 2008. Those who are on the campaign trail will tell you that he is showing his age — he starts sentences then can’t find his way out of them, he’s surly when challenged, and he says cringeworthy things on a daily basis. His debate performances have ranged from barely acceptable to abysmal.

“So how much confidence do you have that Biden wouldn’t find a way to screw this up?”

I for one have very little confidence that he won’t—that he’ll saddle us with four more years of Trump.

s. wallerstein said...

What you say above is very well-put and accurate.

Let me add that if Fidel had opened up Cuba, with a free press and free elections in the 60's, he would have faced the same kind of CIA sponsored "pro-Democracy" campaign that Allende faced in Chile, with millions of dollars of propaganda spent against him, with
sabotage of the economy, with right wing terrorist groups paid for by the CIA and his fate may have been that of Allende since as a country descends into "chaos", even if that chaos has been provoked by a foreign power, that is, by the USA, people abandon the sinking ship and seek security and order.


Lines worth memorizing:
"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new...Hence it is that all armed prophets have conquered and the unarmed ones have been destroyed". Machiavelli

David Palmeter said...

s. wallerstein,

On the relatively mundane level of a single issue, Machiavelli’s observation fits to a T the M4A as advocated by both Bernie and Warren. They had for enemies all who have done well under the old conditions—including, along with the multi-million dollar salaried CEOs of insurers private insurers, their many employees, such as the minimum wage minions who sit in their cubicles trying to earn bonuses by denying claims, and the many blue collar workers who have gold-plated policies obtained through collective bargaining and who don’t want to give them up. If either one of them had advocated affordable health insurance for all who wanted it via the right to buy into Medicare (with need-based subsidies a la Obamacare) we might have been smiling today. As it is, many of us aren’t smiling at all.

But you have to hand it to Bernie and Elizabeth: they stuck to their principles. Though many are hungry, no bread at all is better than a mere half a loaf.

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

Fine, but are you willing to accept the conclusion of your argument?

Let's see: two politicians, Bernie and Elizabeth, honestly and forthrightly present their proposals to the voters, proposals that lead to a public good, equal healthcare for all, and ran into vested interests. That is, being honest and forthright in a democratic society with vested interests doesn't work and it would have been wiser to have lied about their goal in order to get elected and then to have waited for just the right moment, maybe an economic crisis with high unemployment, to propose Medicare for all. What's more, we see that Fidel, using his power as Cuban dictator and his willingness to jail dissidents, has few problems instituting free quality healthcare for all in Cuba (the last time I checked Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than the USA). Thus, it seems to follow that as always, nice guys finish last and that if you want to institute a system of quality healthcare for all, it probably is better to use deceit or force. Do you agree?

jgkess@cfl.rr.com said...

A wonderfully apposite literary analogy, Prof. Wolff. Also, "Morning Joe", has been a train wreck for years and I think that's why the producers of the program defer more and more to the steadier questions and analysis of Willie Geist. Have you noticed as well that, whenever Joe is finished bloviating about this or that, the inevitable preface to a guest's comment is, "Oh, I think you've got it right there Joe"?

David Palmeter said...

s. wallerstein
I believe you are posing an unnecessary choice between lying or doing without.
According to Wikipedia, there are approximately 235 million people of voting age in the US. There are probably close to 235 million differing views on policy. You suggest that there are only two ways Bernie could have proceeded: deliberate lying or jailing dissidents. There’s a third way, however: looking for what a majority of such a diverse group could agree on and seeking to get that for starters, and then moving on.

I would prefer a single payer system, but I have never seen any knowledgeable plan of action for overcoming the current opposition and enacting that system. If the opposition cannot be overcome, the practical choice is between settling for less than you prefer or getting nothing. There’s no need for Sanders to have to lie. He could say candidly that, if we lived in a more perfect world, we would have M4A. But we don’t live in such a world. He could have gone on to say that the most important thing is for everyone to have affordable health insurance—and we can do that.

If experience is any guide that itself could lead—one day—to single payer. Consider that the coverage of Social Security has expanded significantly since it was first enacted in the 1930s. If the right-wingers on the S Ct. don’t shoot it down, the same thing could happen with Obamacare. In 2009/10, when Obamacare was enacted, Obama couldn’t get a public option through Congress even though the Democrats had a majority in the House and 60 votes in the Senate. Today, that might well be doable. That would improve Obamacare significantly.

Our founders discovered, soon after the shooting stopped in the Revolutionary War, that voters were not, as the founders assumed, motivated by the kind of civic republicanism or civic humanism that Machiavelli believed was so essential for a republic. They were motivated by interests, and to get them to vote for you, unless you could convince them otherwise, you had to respect their interests as they saw them.

I believe that the job of a politician in a democracy is to accomplish as much good as is possible, given the circumstances of the time and place. To do this, with so many diverse interests, without compromise, is impossible.

The fact that Cuba—among many other countries—has an infant mortality rate below ours is a disgrace to the U.S. Bernie might have been able to do something to improve this situation, but chose to reject such a half loaf. This helps nobody--especially the infants.

s. wallerstein said...

We could see this whole issue in consequentialist terms: we're trying to maximalize the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Healthcare for all seems to be a greater good than whether politicians lie a bit or not. If the cost of healthcare for all is lying a bit, it seems OK to me.

I value freedom of speech a lot. You can see that I have a big mouth and I like to speak my mind. I was worse when I was younger. However, my big mouth is full of teeth (not all natural at this point in life) cared for by good dentists. If I had never had the money to pay for a dentist for myself and my children, I might well value free dental care for everyone over free speech. That's worth pondering, I believe. Dental care is free in Cuba for example.

All in all, my political experience teaches me that being nice and behaving well only preserve the status quo. For example, some 5 months ago social unrest broke out in Chile: half the Santiago subway stations were burned and/or trashed, city buses were burned, supermarkets and pharmacies were looted, etc. The social unrest has continued although with less intensity and less massiveness.

The result: in a month we're going to begin the process of voting for a constituent assembly to replace the 1980 constitution drawn up by the Pinochet dictatorship and ratified by a phony plebiscite. The left has been demanding a constituent assembly since the return to formal democracy in 1990, and no one with power ever paid any attention until angry mobs began to burn subway stations. A new constitution could change our healthcare system and establish public healthcare as a human right.

So to go back to Machiavelli, if you want to get things done, if you want to change the status quo, scare people a little, disrupt business as usual, shout so loud that it disturbs the tranquility of elites.

Sparks said...

@David Palmeter,

Forgive me for cutting in. I know it can be annoying to be in discussion with two interlocutors on the internet, so feel free to ignore my lines and continue your discussion with s. wallerstein.

I just wanted to reply to your very pragmatic points on M4A.

First, your more modest policy suggestion seems to be in line with Pete's suggestion, "Medicare For All Who Want It". And, of course, Joe Biden supports a public option as well. It doesn't seem necessary, then, for either Bernie or Warren to shy away from their goal, a single payer system. There are already (or were already) candidates who supported various forms of a public option alternative, and for either Bernie or Warren to have switched would have flattened the field, narrowing the choices available to the voters. Indeed, the voters seem to have decided they want Biden's version of health care reform, so the public is hardly left with no loaf at all.

Second, on the point of passage, I believe the alleged (I'll explain why I say 'alleged' in a bit) difficulty in passing a single payer system is why Warren changed tracks and suggested that she would first attempt to pass a transition plan (the details of which, I must admit, I'm still not very certain), and then build on it with later legislation.
You may agree with her here, or you may not, but I'll give a word on why I disagree with it. Simply, we've seen already that passing healthcare reform, even a reform as modest as the ACA, is difficult enough to do once. To suggest that, after two years, and after your party has taken the traditional shellacking in the midterms, you'll then be able to pass another reform is, if I may be blunt, politically inept on her part. As difficult as you might think one healthcare reform bill is, two healthcare reform bills must be near impossible, at least in a single administration. This takes me to my third point.

Third, I'm sure you've seen the kind of advertisements and the messaging coming from the healthcare industry itself--the entrenched, vested interests of which you and s. wallerstein speak. They say clearly: whether Medicare for All, Medicare for All Who Want It, or single payer, it's all an unwanted government takeover of healthcare. In other words, those who profit most off the current system are going to fight like hell no matter what reform we fight for!
This takes me back to my use of the word "alleged" in my previous point. I don't mean to deny the difficulty of passing reform. Of course, it will be difficult! What I deny, though, is that seeking passage of a more modest reform is less of a fight than going right for the goal. Again, I direct your memory to the ACA. As you rightly say, even with a near super majority, the Democrats barely squeaked through the ACA. It's reform itself that the opponents of healthcare reform oppose. Whether the reform is more or less substantial is a trifle to them.

Therefore, I think it is right pragmatically to, without reservation, fight for M4A. Democrats have had a bad habit in recent years of abandoning their negotiating positions before negotiations have begun. You're right, it's possible that in an actual push for M4A, we'd be forced to compromise on something less. But, if I'm right in my reasoning above, we are threatened with finding ourselves with no loaf at when we don't begin negotiations earnestly stating what we want; when we surrender before the fight has begun.

David Palmeter said...

s. wallerstein,

I agree that in repressive societies violence is usually, if not always, the only way to get reform. That first happened in this country in 1775. In our own times, the civil rights movement and the Viet Nam war protests were needed to achieve change. But the preferred method is the vote, and that's what has been going on in the Democratic nomination race. Simply because violence has sometimes been necessary, it doesn't follow that it should always be the rule. Ideally, it would never be necessary. I would not want to live in a country in which the losing side on every issue could be expected to resort to violence. What Bernie has nonviolently offered has appealed to many voters, but apparently not to as many who disagree. In a democracy, that's all she wrote.

Since 2016, Bernie has been instrumental in moving the party to the left. There is much that Bernie could accomplish as president with a Democratic Congress. M4A is not one of them. But beyond what he could accomplish legislatively, he'd have the bully pulpit and the opportunity to begin to make the case for even more reforms in the future.

Harry Truman tried to get single payer health care after WWII. He failed. "Socialized medicine" they screamed. When LBJ was able to get Medicare through Congress, he presented the first Medicare card to Truman. Progress is agonizingly slow. That's why I think it's important to get what you can when you and then go back for more.

David Palmeter said...

Sparks,

By all means feel free to chime in. It's done all the time on this blog.

I don't think a candidate has an obligation to avoid flattening the field for the voters. There's nothing wrong, as I see it, to saying that you agree with your opponent on an issue and still argue that you'd be better at making it happen, or that you are better on other issues.

People vote on more than a candidate's position on the issues; at least some of them understand that without getting legislation passed through Congress, Presidents can do very little that affects domestic policy. Consider, in addition to health care, the other big domestic issue, the unfairness of the tax code. No president, Bernie or anyone else, can do anything substantive in those two areas without Congress.

What voters consider as well is how much confidence they can have in candidate when it comes to the area in which Presidents have real power and that's foreign policy, war and peace. Bernie doesn't have much of a record in that area. Apart from Biden, none of them did. But I'd have confidence in his judgment when those unpredictable issues arise, when the crises occur. On paper, Biden has more experience, but he has made bad decisions in the past (e.g., the Iraq war). More important, I fear that his proneness to gaffs could create a lot of problems.

You're right in saying that the heath care industry will fight against a public option. They did before. But they won't have the union workers who have those gold-plated insurance policies on their side if M4A is not the issue. I think Bernie plus the experience of Obamacare thus far has moved the Democratic party to the left on that issue. I wish Bernie had grabbed that opportunity.

A final point about Bernie: I wish he hadn't described himself as a socialist. He's admitted that he isn't. He doesn't advocate government ownership of the means of production. He's described himself as a New Deal Liberal. In European terms that's a Social Democrat; in US terms, he's a liberal. Socialist is a word that scares a lot of voters--particularly older ones who associate with Stalin and the USSR. Younger voters aren't hung up on the issue very much. But we saw Tuesday which group votes and which doesn't.

Jerry Fresia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jerry Fresia said...

How admirable it is that scholars such as yourself and Chomsky both have been able to avoid sinking into the swamp of Camelot. But I'll say this, had it not been for Saint Jack - had the less reckless Nixon been elected in 1960 in his stead for example - there would never have been a Castro's Cuba to evaluate. Personally, I prefer Saint Jack over Saint Obama any day of the week. Any president who fires the top three directors of the CIA along with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in one fell swoop for having been lied to (about what the intention of the Bay of Pigs actually was) deserves a nomination for sainthood. I also wonder why this special mocking brand of vitriol is reserved for a single president all the while charisma challenged, adult's-in-the-room types, say Eisenhower, who presided over genuine overthrows that resulted in decades of butchery and who was responsible for getting the US seriously into Vietnam, and who personally order the hit on Lumumba, seem to skate through history and the nuance riddled scholarship of titans as though they were honorable statesmen.

R McD said...

In relation to the deployment of his quite Obamaesque favorable remarks on Cuba to try to bring down Sanders, surely it is no accident, when there is so much Russophobia in the Democratic Party, that today’s NYT has a headlined piece: “As Bernie Sanders Pushed for Closer Ties, Soviet Union Spotted Opportunity. Previously unseen documents from a Soviet archive show how hard Mr. Sanders worked to find a sister city in Russia when he was a mayor in the 1980s. Moscow saw a chance for propaganda.” I guess they’ve decided to try to kill off his candidacy. Or am I being a paranoid conspiratorialist?

RFGA, Ph.D. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Palmeter said...

R McD

The "they" who decided were a lot of Democratic voters. Bernie's problem is the Left's problem: it's a minority, even among Democrats. That seems to be changing slowly as the demographics of the party change, but we're along way from the Left's winning a majority of Democratic votes. When Mayor Pete and Klobuchar dropped out, their voters didn't go to Bernie. Ditto Bloomberg's. Warren's likely will, but I doubt if that will be enough.

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

Voting for the Iraq War, as Biden did, was not just a "bad decision". It was a crime.

All of us were aware that Bush's claims about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction were unproven and probably false. I'm sure you recall Hans Blix and the UN weapons inspection team, which found absolutely nothing in Iraq.

At the time of the Iraq War Chile was a member of the UN security council and not even Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, a Tony Blair 3rd wave progressive and the best friend big business could hope for, believed Bush's lies and in fact, Chile voted with France in the security council against the war.

So it's hard to believe that Biden voted for the war in good faith and in fact, that anyone voted for the war in good faith. The U.S. invasion of Iraq was no more a bad decision than Hitler's invasion of Poland was a bad decision.

David Palmeter said...

s. wallerstein,

I’m not sure what your point is. If you want to call Biden’s Iraq vote a crime and not a bad decision that’s fine with me. Trump is also a criminal, in my book. And it appears likely that Biden will be the only practical alternative. Getting Trump out of office is to me the most urgent requirement. Who gets him out is secondary. There is far more difference between Trump and both Biden or Sanders, than there is between Biden and Sanders.

Just one isolated difference: the Supreme Court. Neither Hillary nor Biden would have put a Gorsuch or a Kavanagh on the Supreme Court. There is likely to be at lest one and possibly two Supreme Court vacancies during the next President's term (Ginsburg and Thomas). Who fills those seats is crucial. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

You yourself used the phrase "bad decision" above in your reply to Sparks.

I just listened to this interview with Branko Marcetic, author of a book about Biden, "Yesterday's Man". If half of what he says is true, Biden is not a particularly admirable human being. There's a transcript available in the link too.

https://www.democracynow.org/2020/3/5/joe_biden_s_history_of_selling

R McD said...

David:

The "they" in my previous remark, David, was intended to refer to the NYT. I actually agree with you, that the "Left" is a minority among Democrats and an even smaller minority among the US popn. as a whole. I hope you're right, that changing demographics may be pointing towards it becoming a larger minority than it is at present--though I painfully recall Jerry Rubin saying back in the early '70s something along the lines of "If you think we're bad, just wait until you see what those in our high schools will be like a few years from now." So I'm unwilling to believe changing demographics will bring about the sort of changes we might desire without a helping hand. While I'll concede that winning elections is an important part of democratic electoral politics, it also seems to me that democratic politicians worthy of the title would also recognize that part of their function is contribute to the education of the public and so to shift a bit the ideological spectrum. Thatcher, Reagan, Trump have done that in one direction, Sanders, Warren, Corbyn have had some success, I think (though maybe that's more of a hope), in pushing it in another direction.


I don't see Biden politically educating anyone in any particular direction. Indeed, it seems to me that the US Presidential Election is going to somewhat mirror what happened in the recent British Election, where "getting Brexit done" became almost all it was about. And then one ended up with a government floating free of any other voter-validated/democratic direction, a government that can pretty much do what it likes. So where will we be after/if Trump has been dumped? Rather in the same boat as the UK, I fear, since dumpimg Trump is becoming the sole criterion.

As to Trump v. Biden, should it come to that, were I hungry and faced with the choice between a piece of rotten chicken and a piece of stale bread, I'd eat the latter, but without much relish and with the understanding that it might also make me sick.

Danny said...

It’s worth noting that Sanders is clear today on his opposition to dictatorial and corrupt regimes. The real problem now with Sanders’s left-wing sympathetic past, and his occasional reminders of it, is that it’s horrible politics.

But also, I see the Mafia being mentioned here, as if the Cuban opposition on the island didn't bigger fish to fry. he Mafiosi were unceremoniously kicked out of the country in the very early stages of the successful revolution. I am skeptical of this what seems to be the American perception of Mafiosi decadence.

Also, I view with mirth the notion of 'forcing Castro to seek help from America’s cold war foe, the Soviet Union.' Fidel became a communist as early as 1948 or 1949, well in advance of the Cuban Revolution. Though I admit I am no Castro expert, I don't believe that Fidel Castro's life story is the story of the leader of a poor underdeveloped nation struggling to survive against the fierce opposition of the United States. He managed to turn his island into a launching pad for the projection of his leadership throughout the world. See his guerrilla armies betrayed by Soviet-run Communist parties the world over (also defeated by U.S. counterinsurgency forces, of course). Note Che Guevara Castro's chief instrument of world revolution. Also, Angola launched Castro onto the world stage -- 15 years after the triumph of the Cuban revolution.

And what is this about 'the Castro regime made great strides in building a diversified and independent Cuban economy'. This is where I give up.

Danny said...

David Palmeter : 'The fact that Cuba—among many other countries—has an infant mortality rate below ours is a disgrace to the U.S.'

Cuba's much praised infant mortality rate. Surprisingly, Cuba’s IMR in 2017 was lower than that of both the U.S. and Canada. This seems counterintuitive. I have a simple explanation: data manipulation. That Cuba’s dictatorship manipulates self-reported statistics shouldn’t come as a surprise.