here, and healing slowly.
Tuesday, August 29, 2023
Judge Chutkan, God bless her, has set the January 6 trial for March 4, 2024! Assuming that slips no more than a few days or weeks, Trump should be found guilty well before the Republican nominating convention in July. He will by then have wrapped up enough delegates to win the nomination. The Republicans cannot afford to nominate him and they do not dare not nominate him.
Meanwhile, Mark Meadows has testified under oath that he repeatedly violated the Hatch Act. This is shaping up to be a politically enjoyable fall and spring.
Monday, August 28, 2023
When my sons were very little, my first wife and I had a wonderful doctor for them named Dr. Gribetz. Patrick, who was 3 ½ when we moved from New York to Northampton Massachusetts was upset by the move and spent all of his time outside riding in a little pedal car doing what he called “going back to New York.” After two weeks of this we got worried and called Dr. Gribetz. He asked how long we had been in Northampton and when I said “two weeks” he replied, wait two more weeks and if he is still doing it call me. A little less than two weeks later, Patrick stopped “going back to New York.” I was enormously impressed by our doctor’s ability to pinpoint just when Patrick would settle down.
Ten days ago, I fell in my bathroom and hurt my side. ThatAll Sunday I had an x-ray done and they found nothing wrong structurally. When I got home from the x-ray, my right knee started to hurt and over the following days, it has gotten worse and worse. I had sent a message to my own doctor, who reminds me very much of Gribetz, to tell him about the x-ray and he called me Monday morning. When I told him that my knee was hurting very badly, he said “if you had broken something it would have hurt right away, so it will get better.” Well, as the days went by last week my knee got worse and worse until I could barely walk. I decided that I would wait until today and then go to the same day clinic in order to get it x-rayed. But when I got up this morning, it was markedly better and so now I will wait to see whether it repairs itself as my side did.
This is the same doctor who diagnosed me with sciatica over the phone. When you get old, it is nice to have a magician as a doctor.
Saturday, August 26, 2023
One of the odd things about the voting system used in all but a handful of American elections is that it is capable of taking account only of ordinal and not of cardinal preference. The vote of a fanatically devoted partisan who is willing to sacrifice time and money to support his or her preferred candidate counts for exactly as much as that of an apolitical individual who, on a whim, decides to goes out to vote on election day. One of the consequences of this fact, which is of course understood by all political professionals but is for the most part forgotten by television commentators, is that it is usually much more efficient to devote your time and resources to turning out those who will vote for your candidate then it is to try to persuade supporters of your opponent to change their minds.
I have from time to time on this blog invented little numerical examples to illustrate this fact. For example, suppose that a congressional district is, according to polling in previous results, a 52/48 Republican district in which, in an ordinary presidential year, perhaps 400,000 people can be expected to vote, breaking for the Republican candidate 208,000 to 192,000. Suppose also that there are an additional 150,000 eligible voters who do not vote, and that they also break down 52/48. There are two ways in which the Democrats can win the seat: by persuading 8,000 Republicans who are planning to vote to vote Democratic, or by dragging 16,000 of the 72,000 nonvoting Democrats to the polls. In most cases, the latter is clearly the preferable alternative.
It is for this reason that I find most of the commentary on television unhelpful. It is also why the issue of abortion is, I believe, what will give the Democrats a victory in 2024. There is now a great deal of state-by-state evidence that abortion access drives people to the polls more than either hatred of Trump, love of Biden, or the various economic issues that commentators place such great emphasis on.
I should also point out that all the talk about the impossibility of a president reversing a decision by a state court is irrelevant. If Trump gets the presidency in 2024, that will be the end of the American Constitution as we have known it, with all its manifest flaws.
Friday, August 25, 2023
Thursday, August 24, 2023
One of the often overlooked benefits of television advertisements is their ability to reassure one that one’s physical inadequacies are widely shared. For example, as I approach my 90th birthday, I have more and more difficulty putting on and taking off my socks, thanks to the fact that I continually lose flexibility. Even in a Continuing Care Retirement Community like the one in which I live, these problems are not the subject of casual conversation so that would be easy to suppose that they afflict me alone. But then I see an advertisement for a device that is designed to help put one socks on, and I realize that if it is worth advertising this gadget than the problem must be widespread. Curiously, that is reassuring.
I was not always thus. Seventy-five years ago, when I was a teenager at Forest Hills high school, I was actually a member of something called the Captain’s Corps. We had special uniforms (long red pants and a T-shirt) and during gym did simple gymnastics exercises on the parallel bars and such like. In those days, I could actually press up into a handstand and walk about on my hands, accomplishments which, though not very impressive, strike me now is incomprehensible. Indeed, it was while showing off my gymnastic abilities that I suffered my one bone fracture. I was doing a handstand at a party on the arms of an easy chair and when I came down I banged my right foot on a wooden chair, cracking a bone in my big toe. My uncle Anoch, who was an orthopedic surgeon, put a big cast on my foot, forcing me to stay home for several weeks while the toe healed. Having nothing better to do while I sat on a chair with my foot on a hassock, I spent the time learning trigonometry, and managed to pass the Regents examination at the end of the semester, thereby excusing me from taking the course on the subject.
Wednesday, August 23, 2023
There is a TV commercial that speaks to me. It shows a young woman and her mother sitting and talking. The young woman makes a recommendation (the point of the commercial) and the mother says, “oh, I will put a note on my phone.” She then picks up her cell phone, on which are a number of little post-it slips, and says “there, I put it right on the top of my phone.” The young woman is aghast, and says “mom…”
Because of the tremor that is a minor consequence of my Parkinson’s, I find it very difficult to type things on my iPhone. Yesterday, I discovered that if I tap the microphone symbol at the lower right of the phone, I can dictate to my phone. Who knew? Answer, everyone under the age of 70.
Well, I guess, better late than never.
Monday, August 21, 2023
A while back I commented on the fact that Noam Chomsky now has a beard and I wondered why he had grown it. A reader sent me the following information: some while back Noam got sick and for one month or so did not shave. He discovered that he liked the beard that grew, because when he was five years old, he played Moses in a preschool play and liked the way he looked with the false beard so he decided to let it grow. I love that story.
I continue to mend, slowly. One reader cautions me to be more careful. Alas, I am very careful, but as they say about terrorist attacks, the terrorist only has to be successful once and the police have to be successful all the time.
It is actually interesting why Parkinson's makes one freeze and stumble. Apparently, or so I have been told (I could of course be wrong), the brain sends messages to the muscles and at the interface between the nerve and the muscle messages are transmitted with the aid of a substance called dopamine. People with Parkinson's have a lack of dopamine which makes the message short-circuit. It seems that when one is walking smoothly and steadily on a perfectly flat surface, the messages go through all right, but as soon as one gets to a doorway or to rug on the floor that looks different or when one enters a bathroom or kitchen and has to turn this way and that, the messages get screwed up. The neurologists who treat Parkinson's cannot in fact do much of anything for the patients except to tell them little tricks for overcoming this failure of the interface between nerve and muscle. For example, they suggest using a laser light to point where one wants to put one's foot as a way of helping the message to get through. I have discovered, on my own, that when I am walking with a roller and come to a doorway, if I pull the roller back and then step forward with it I move smoothly. Otherwise, I may freeze as my foot flutters and I am unable to move at all. If it were not for the fact that this is my life, I would find all this quite interesting.
Meanwhile, like everyone else in America, I obsess over each detail of the progress of the various cases in which Trump is enmeshed. I am eagerly awaiting Friday, when the judge in the January 4 case will respond to Trump's proposal that his trial be put off for 2 1/2 years.
Sunday, August 20, 2023
Wednesday, August 16, 2023
Tuesday, August 15, 2023
I am now read the 98 page indictment filed by Fanni Willis in Georgia. It is tedious, but extraordinarily detailed. What struck me most forcefully was that as part of the RICO indictment, Willis charges a great many acts by Trump, Eastman, Giuliani and others in states other than Georgia.The general opinion from experts who know about such things is that it will take years for this trial to be completed. I may not live long enough to see that, but I have lived long enough now to see Trump indicted four times! Sufficient unto the day…
Monday, August 14, 2023
My response to the extended and quite interesting comments on yesterday’s post will be scattered, I am afraid, because I still do not see my way into this subject very clearly. There are two different questions that it would probably be well to distinguish: why is there any distinction at all in the compensation paid to persons doing different tasks in the economy, and why is the pyramid of salaries so steep?
With regard to the first question, I am reminded of the delightful controversy that I read about some years ago that took place, I believe, in the contract negotiations of the members of the Berlin Philharmonic. The first violin section was arguing that because it played so many more notes than, for example, the tympani player, they should receive more money. On that theory, catchers should be paid more than left fielders, and guards, who take part in every play, should be paid more than tight ends. However, I digress.
The steepness of the pyramid is quite striking, and somewhat more difficult to make sense of. I have always been struck by the fact that among the really large employers in the United States economy – employers as large as Amazon or Walmart – there is one in which the spread of compensation between the top executives and the ordinary employees is tiny by comparison with that of all the others. In that one firm, which employs well over 1 million men and women, the top executives of the different branches make only about five times as much as the ordinary employees, not 50 or 500 or 1000 times as much, and yet that firm has a splendid record of efficiency in production and is admired around the world. I am referring, of course, to the United States military.
Some of the jobs in the American economy – electricians, welders, carpenters and so forth – require a great deal of skill that cannot be acquired quickly. But many of the relatively high paid white collar jobs require no more than the degree of literacy and numeracy that would be acquired in the course of a good high school education.
Invocations of marginal utility are all but useless in making sense of these phenomena. In a large corporation, it is virtually impossible to ascertain the marginal utility of someone in one of the various positions. I have written about this at length before, and will not repeat what I said there unless somebody wants to hear it again.
Now I must stop writing and return to the television set to catch the latest news out of Georgia. These are terrible times, and one must find one’s pleasures where one can.
Sunday, August 13, 2023
I am not sure that I have succeeded in making clear the source of my puzzlement. Let me begin again slowly, going all the way back to Marx’s observations about the development of early factory production and the new capitalist arrangements emerging in England. I shall concentrate on the production of woolen cloth, in part because that played an important role in the early stages of capitalist development and in part because, thanks to a teenage experience at a work camp, it is one of the few aspects of production about which I have any knowledge whatsoever.
After the wool was sheared from the sheep, it was washed and dried. Then it was carded, which is to say brushed between two pieces of wood with many nails stuck in them, “bats” as they were called, to sort out and straighten the woolen fibers. Next the carded wool was spun into thread. This process of spinning required a good deal of skill if the thread produced was to be fine and even without knots or kinks. The woolen thread was then woven on looms, producing cloth that was, when produced by skilled weavers, even and tightly woven. This entire process demanded a good deal of skill which it took the workers who did it years to develop.
When capitalist entrepreneurs inserted themselves into the wool producing process, they began by buying the wool and bringing it to the cottages of the peasants, who, using their own carding bats and spinning wheels and looms, turned it into cloth which the capitalists took, paying the peasants for their labor. The first capitalists who conceived the idea of gathering the peasant workers into factories provided the wool, the carding bats, the spinning wheels, and the looms but the workers hired in the factories brought with them their skills. And since these various activities require different levels of skill, the capitalists discovered that they could increase their profits in two ways: first, by rationalizing the entire process so that the numbers of carders, spinners, and weavers were adjusted to produce a continuous process without waste time; and second, by paying the relatively scarce skilled spinners and weavers more money to attract them while paying the carders and those who carried materials from one worker to another much lower wages.
Eventually, the invention of such mechanical devices is the Spinning Jenny made it possible to build the skills of the workers into the machines, as it were, so that unskilled or semiskilled workers, some of whom did little more than tend machines, could replace the costlier skilled spinners and weavers.
Observing this process, Marx drew the conclusion that this was the wave of the future in capitalist production and that the traditional skills of the working class would be replaced by machinery, with the result that the working class would be reduced, in effect, to a mass of interchangeable semiskilled machine operators whose commonality of skill and activity and consequent wage levels would, ironically, result in a rise of class consciousness leading to their organization and the overthrow of capitalism.
These were not stupid conclusions by Marx, but they were wrong and that is not the way in which things developed. Instead, as I have been observing, there developed a permanent hierarchy of wage levels so steep that it undermined the unity of the working class and led to the situation which we now observe in advanced capitalist economies.
This in a nutshell is what I am trying to understand. There is clearly a vast amount of functional differentiation in the productive activities engaged in by workers these days, but assuming that employers have no interest in paying workers more than they need to, it is unclear to me why the pyramid of wages is as steep as it is and it is especially not clear at all why a liberal arts college degree should serve as a prerequisite for access to jobs at the higher reaches of the pyramid.
I shall return to this subject tomorrow.
Saturday, August 12, 2023
All of us who are obsessed with the Trump affair have heard countless times the recording of the telephone call in which Trump says "I only want you to find 11,780 votes." The full impact of that statement, I believe, would be much increased if the television commentators would point out that Biden won the state by 11,779 votes. Trump concludes that request by saying "which is one more than we have." What he means, of course, is "which is one more than they have." My guess is that when that phone call recording is played at the trial, the prosecutor will make the connection for the jury.
Most of the comments on my blog post yesterday concerned explanations for the exorbitant salaries at the top of the pyramid. I find those relatively easier to understand (not, needless to say, to justify), especially as they have soared in the last half-century while the basic structure of American capitalism has not seriously altered. What puzzles me is the intractability of the pyramidal structure of the lower reaches of the pyramid. There is a good deal of data available on the web about the distribution of household income. This is a somewhat indirect measure of of wages and salaries, inasmuch as household income depends on the total brought in by all of the wage earners in the household. Nevertheless, the figures are useful in portraying the basic structure of income in the United States. If we list the more than 100 million households in ascending order from the household with the least income in a year to the household with the most income in that year, and then divide the list into tenths, marking the maximum income in each tenth, we get a pretty good picture of the pyramid. Here are the figures from 2022.
Maximum income of poorest tenth: $15,600
Maximum income of second tenth: $28,002
Maximum income of third tenth: $40,501
Maximum income of fourth tenth: $54,945
Maximum income of fifth tenth: $70,181
Maximum income of sixth tenth: $89,673
Maximum income of seventh tenth: $113,191
Maximum income of eighth tenth: $149,212
Maximum income of ninth tenth: $212,110
To put some meat on these bones, consider a household in which the wage earners are a North Carolina high school teacher in one of the larger cities of the state and his wife, a police officer, both of them having held their jobs for 15 years or so. Their combined income will put them somewhere in the middle of the eighth tenth of households in the United States. That is to say, three quarters of all households in the United States will have less annual income than they do. A single mother with two children working at a full time job that pays $15 an hour will be the head of a household with a larger income than one-fifth of all households in the United States.
By the way, the median household income in 1980, adjusted for inflation, is equivalent to an amount of money that would put that household in the 56th percentile in 2023. In short, in the past 43 years, the median household has actually lost a bit of ground and is somewhat poorer now than it was then. Although the economy as a whole has grown in real terms rather dramatically, all of that growth has gone to the upper 40% of the society.
The dramatic accumulation of wealth in the hands of the rich, as chronicled by Thomas Piketty, does not surprise me. Say what you will about Marx, he does explain that. But why is the compensation of working people so intractably unequal?
Friday, August 11, 2023
And so it comes. Jack Smith proposes January 2, and I expect that the final date will be not much later than that. It will be an interesting spring.
With regard to my possible course at Harvard, this is very much in the early days yet and I have no idea whether it will actually happen. And yet, as is my way, I have already started giving the lectures in my head. We shall see.
Apropos, there is one feature of modern capitalism that puzzles me and that I cannot make sense of either by thinking of it as Marx would, or as the neoclassical economists would. That feature is the extremely steep and seemingly permanent inequality in wages and salaries. The even greater inequality in the distribution of wealth I can understand quite well with the help of Marx, but not the steep pyramid of wages and salaries.
The degree of inequality differs considerably from one advanced capitalist economy to the next, and that I think I understand. It is common to explain the inequality in compensation by appeal to something like the marginal productivity of individuals in the various positions, but I think that is really wrong. I think I can make sense of the inflated compensation of top corporate executives as a partial diversion of the corporation’s profits into their salaries, a diversion that is made possible by the modern separation of legal ownership of corporate wealth from practical control of it (a separation first explained long ago by Berle and Means.)
As I prepare my possible course in my mind, this is the one major important fact about modern capitalism for which I have no satisfactory explanation at all.
Thursday, August 10, 2023
I am warmed and somewhat abashed by your kind responses. One of the anonymati had it right when he wrote:
“I quit. (Please tell me you love me.)”
“We love you!”
“I am here.”
Consider it my Sally Field moment.
I have been absorbed by three things ranging from the purely personal to the world historical. My Parkinson’s grows worse, and although I have not fallen since I use my roller everywhere in the apartment and out, it is more and more of an effort to get about, to look after Susie, even to do such simple things as making the bed.
At the same time, I have been thinking endlessly about the possibility – only, at this point, a possibility – that I will teach an advanced seminar in the Social Studies program at Harvard in the spring semester. It would be an intense historical, philosophical, economic, political, mathematical, and literary encounter with volume 1 of Capital, for perhaps no more than a dozen students. I would have to teach it by zoom, of course, but I proposed that things be set up so that the students gather in a seminar room as in a regular course while I appear on the screen before them. As I observed to the person with whom I have been talking about this, I know this can be done in Star Trek on the Enterprise but I do not know wWeatherwisehether it can be done at Harvard. This would very probably be the last course I teach and it would be a very nice way go out. As I say, it is at this point only a possibility. We shall see.
Meanwhile, like everyone else in America, I am absorbed by the unfolding of the several legal cases against Trump, the various responses of the Republican Party and others, and the implications for America. As Niels Bohr and Yogi Berra observed, prediction is difficult, especially about the future. Nevertheless I shall offer my predictions for the next 15 months or more.
I think Trump will be tried and convicted in the District of Columbia before the Republican nominating convention next July. At that point, he will have won enough delegates to be the nominee of the party. Because of appeals and one thing another, he will not be in jail but he will be a convicted felon. The timing of the other trials is unclear at this point. If the Republicans do not nominate Trump, they will lose the election because he will do everything in his power to defeat them out of spite. If they do nominate him, I believe he will lose, both because of his status as a convicted felon and because the abortion issue will significantly alter the pattern of results. All of this assumes that Biden will continue to be reasonably healthy. As the assassination in Ecuador reminds us, the possibility of history altering acts of violence is always present in our lives and cannot be predicted.
I apologize for having reacted so powerfully and inconsistently to the comments section of this blog. The norms and expectations of social media are still largely a mystery to me, as they are to many others of my generation.
Wednesday, August 9, 2023
I quit. I freely confess, the medium has defeated me. It was fun blogging while it lasted, but it is no longer fun so I am just going to quit. I am not going to shut this blog down; I will simply stop posting. Those of you who have taken it over can do what you wish with it.
Monday, August 7, 2023
For many years now, this blog has drawn between 1000 and 1800 visits per day. Sometimes it dips below 1000, on rare occasions it goes above 2000. Suddenly, about eight days ago, the Google stats app showed that the blog was getting between 6000 and 8000 visits a day. What is up?
Thursday, August 3, 2023
Yesterday I put up a post on this blog about what seemed to me to be an important question concerning the eventual trial of Trump, a question that none of the lawyers on the television talk shows were discussing. The question was this: if Trump’s principal defense is that his actions are protected as free speech, how can the defense make that case what it is their turn without calling Trump himself? There have only been five comments on that post, and they are mostly about Emile Durkheim. Now I like Durkheim, I have read him, I have commented on his classic book Suicide. But he has absolutely nothing to do with the question I raised, and since I think it is actually important, I will talk about it again.
Let me repeat what I said yesterday. When the trial begins, the prosecution will put on its case first. The prosecution will present witnesses who will testify to things that Trump did and said; the prosecution will present documents and other materials that they will enter into evidence. The defense lawyers will cross-examine the witnesses and raise questions about the materials presented in evidence. Eventually, the prosecution will rest. Then it will be the turn of the defense. That is the way trials are run in the United States.
All the discussion on television that I have heard focuses on the claim that Trump’s defense will consist of arguing that what he said and did was the expression of his belief that he really was elected and that there really was massive voter fraud, and that what he said was protected by the First Amendment. The defense will not argue that this is a case of mistaken identity, that the person who was in the Oval Office was not Donald Trump but someone else, that Donald Trump was not in fact the President of the United States during the time of the events in question. I know it sounds silly to say these things, but that is the sort of argument that is typically presented by a defense in a trial.
How can the defense attempt to establish that Trump genuinely believed that he had won and hence that what he said and did was protected by the First Amendment? The answer is obvious. They must call them to the witness stand and ask him what he believed at that time.
But everyone agrees that it would be a disaster to put Trump under oath and have him testify, thereby opening him up to cross-examination. So I will repeat the question I asked yesterday to which I have yet to hear any kind of coherent and sensible answer: when it is the turn of the defense in the trial, what sort of defense can they put on?
Wednesday, August 2, 2023
The talking heads on TV all say the same thing about the latest Trump indictment. His defense, they say, will be that he really believed that he had won the election and it was been stolen from him. Never mind whether that is true or false. Almost nobody ever asks the obvious question, How would that defense be presented in the trial? Look, the prosecution and the defense will offer opening arguments. Then the prosecution will present its case: witnesses will be called and questioned and then cross-examined, exhibits will be introduced, etc. This will take two weeks, four weeks, however long. Finally, the prosecuting attorney will say “The prosecution rests.” Then it will be the turn for the defense to present its witnesses, documents, and other evidence. Let us suppose that the aim of the defense is to demonstrate that Trump really believed he had won the election. How would they establish that in court? So far as I can make out, all the people who were talking directly with Trump during and after the election are either witnesses for the prosecution or co-conspirators (and, we may presume, eventually defendants and their own trials.)
The defense is not permitted to introduce into evidence statements that Trump made to the press or on his Twitter account or elsewhere. I think they may not even be permitted to enter into evidence statements he made to other persons directly about his beliefs. They are only permitted to enter into evidence his beliefs if he takes the stand and testifies. And the opinion of everybody I have heard talk about this case is that that would be a total and complete disaster for Trump.
When this finally goes to trial, I think it is quite possible that Trump will have no defense. He is not required to offer one, of course, but just imagine the situation. His lawyers in the document case face the same problem. The only way they can establish that he believed that the Presidential Records Act give him a right to take the documents that he took, even though that is obviously false, is if they call him to the stand and once again, that would by universal agreement be a disaster.
It is clearly possible that he will be
reelected, although I genuinely believe that his chances are rather slender,
but I do not see how he can win any of these cases in a court of law
And so it is done. I have just finished reading the 45 page indictment. It seems clear that Jack Smith has chosen to indict only Trump at this point in order to increase the likelihood that a trial can be completed before the election.
I was born in December of the year in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt first took office as president. I was a senior in college before a Republican was elected to the presidency. I now believe that I will live long enough to see Trump tried and convicted. Appeals will almost certainly delay Trump's incarceration until after the election but he could of course run while in jail. (One of the little benefits of this disaster is that has compelled commentators to recall Eugene Victor Debs, the head of the Socialist party in the first part of the 20th century, who ran for the presidency while in jail and got almost 1 million votes.)
Direct quotation in the indictment of statements alleged to have been made by Trump make it clear that Pence and others have testified fully before the grand jury.
Tuesday, August 1, 2023
The latest issue of The Nation has a long, detailed, perfectly appalling story called "How Jeffrey Epstein Captivated Harvard." I cannot give a link to it because in this case I actually read it from a real physical copy held in my hand – very retro. If you have nothing better to do while you are waiting for the next round of indictments to come down, it is worth a read.