Thursday, June 29, 2017

#180 / Where Do I Sign Up?



Dave Lindorff is an American investigative reporter. He writes a column for CounterPunch, and is a contributor to Businessweek, The Nation, Extra!, and Salon.com

Lindorff's recent article, "We need a mass movement to demand radical progressive change," can be found on the Nation of Change website. His article is subtitled, "Is the Democratic Party beyond hope?"

Lindorff doesn't answer that question directly, but he certainly isn't optimistic that the Democratic Party can be transformed: 

Clearly to be a viable and genuine opposition party to the ruling Republicans, the Democratic Party would have to be thoroughly deconstructed and rebuilt. The millionaire-packed Democratic National Committee leadership – the lobbyists, the elected officials and the well-heeled donors – would have to be tossed out entirely, and replaced by genuine progressives, labor activists, environmentalists, representatives of various minority groups and (gasp!) socialists. It would need a platform that was unequivocal and unflinching in its call for expanded and more generous Social Security benefits, for a well funded Medicare for All program, for a new National Labor Relations Act that routinizes the forming of labor unions and that safeguards, through severe penalties on recalcitrant employers, the right to bargain for contracts. It would have to stand foursquare for an emergency mobilization against climate change, and it would have to renounce the debunked neoliberal approach of coddling the rich and tossing crumbs to the poor, by standing for much higher taxes on the former and well-funded programs to help the latter. And finally, it would have to call for dramatic cuts in the military (not defense!) budget, and an end to U.S. imperialism and militarism abroad.

Lindorff is also skeptical that any "third party" can step forward, successfully to advance a political program like the one he outlines above: 

As the Green Party and various socialist parties over the years have painfully learned, restrictive ballot and media access laws at the federal, state and local level, and a total lack of rules limiting corporate funding of campaigns, put in place by the two big parties, effectively give those two parties a lock on national elections, consigning third parties to the sidelines.

Lindorff concludes that what is needed is a "movement on the streets and in local communities." Such a movement, says Lindorff, "must present the political establishment with the untenable prospect of ongoing mass militant opposition to which it has to respond."

Lindorff argues for a movement that will be broad and inclusive, "built around demands that virtually all Americans, or at least a solid majority, can agree with." Here is Lindorff's list:


  • A Medicare for All health care system modeled on what they have in Canada.
  • An end to U.S. militarism abroad and at home, the closing of most if not all foreign bases, an end to all U.S. wars and arms sales to conflict zones, and a reduction in the U.S. military budget by 50%. As well, a call for the U.S. to return to negotiations with all nuclear nations to eliminate these weapons of mass destruction.
  • A fair, non-racist immigration policy that is generous in accepting political refugees, that doesn’t threaten with deportation those young people brought illegally into the U.S. not by their own choice, that, while securing borders to prevent illegal crossings, is humane and follows constitutional norms in dealing with those who sneak into the country seeking work, and that, finally, recognizes and works to end the role that U.S. economic and foreign policy plays in creating economic problems in neighboring countries that compel people to try and enter the U.S. seeking work.
  • A crash program to reduce U.S. carbon emissions, and to help other countries do so, particularly those developing countries that have limited resources and that are being most impacted already by global warming.
  • A program to shift funding for education away from its current reliance on local property taxes to federal funding on a per-student basis in order to equalize access to good public schools – an approach taken by most European countries — and a program of free college education to all who qualify for admission at public institutions of higher education. 
  • A jobs program modeled on the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, to create jobs for the jobless in needed areas like infrastructure repair, parks maintenance, environmental clean-up, school safety monitoring and the like.
  • A living federal minimum wage.
  • A break-up of the too-big-to-fail banks, re-passage of the Glass-Steagal Act separating banks and investment banks, and a reinvigoration of anti-trust law to prevent the creation of monopolies or oligopolies, and undo those that already exist. 
  • Elimination of the cap on income subject to the Social Security (FICA) payroll tax, and addition of a 0.25% transaction tax on all stock and bond trades except in tax-advantaged retirement plans, a much higher capital gains tax and a restoration of the inheritance tax to apply to all inherited wealth above $100,000. All these new revenues would be used to raise Social Security benefits sufficiently to ensure for the first time a decent income for all Americans in retirement.

The program Lindorff outlines makes me want to ask, "Where do I sign up?" But sign up for what, exactly? That's really the question. Here is how Lindorff sees it all playing out: 

I believe that a such national movement, which must be grass-roots, democratic and locally based, if it organized frequent mass actions both in Washington and in the states and municipalities, swarming of Congressional offices both in the capital and in home districts, and pressing candidates during election years, would compel at least the Democratic Party, and perhaps even many Republican office-holders, to act, even if they hold antithetical political views. 
The key is to avoid being co-opted by the Democratic Party, and to remain an independent movement.

My own sense is that marches like the one pictured above (this photo taken from Lindorff's posting)  and other "mass actions," are generally NOT "multi-issue" marches and actions, with demands running from cutting military spending to changing the rules for Social Security deductions from upper-income earners.

In fact, single-issues mobilize the crowds. And so do candidates!

Who is running for President (and Congress, and the State Legislature, and local offices) on a platform like the one outlined, above? I think we are going to have to have something more than protests in the street. There will need to be credible candidates, seeking to take power away from those who won't sign on for these kind of changes.

Where do I sign up?


Image Credit:
https://www.nationofchange.org/2017/06/26/need-mass-movement-demand-radical-progressive-change/

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

#179 / The Fear Factor



The New York Times ran an article in its Sunday, June 25th edition that made a comparison between President Trump and Senator Joe McCarthy. That is where I found the picture(s) above. 

The Times' article highlighted McCarthy's reliance on lies to advance his political objectives, but The Times didn't spend a great deal of effort in pushing the point that our current president seems to have a very similar tendency towards mendacity. Instead, The Times highlighted another similarity between Donald Trump and Joseph McCarthy, and I agree that this is the more important, and more consequential basis for comparison:

Mr. Trump now practices Mr. McCarthy’s version of the politics of fear from the White House. The two figures, who bear striking similarities — and who shared an adviser, Roy Cohn — both mastered the art of fear politics.

Fear politics is killing this country! We are investing our energies, and our resources, in activities that make sense only because we are so "afraid." 

Apparently, a 1986 horror film called The Fly was the source of a phrase that seems to sum up the political message that we are hearing from everyone (and not just from our McCarthy-like president): 

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

You know, maybe we should just forget about that fear thing! That would mean forgetting about: 

  • Radical Islam 
  • Rapists From Mexico 
  • Police Violence 
  • Etc.!

I am not saying there aren't problems. I am not saying that the list above (and the much longer list any one of us could produce) doesn't contain items of genuine concern. 

It's just that FEAR doesn't really help us to deal with the problems. It actually immobilizes us. We should tell those fears to "fly away home."

And here's a good reminder of how getting together with our friends and neighbors, outdoors, singing along, is probably the best way to escape our fear-filled worries for the future: 


I mean it. Staying home, and watching the news, is a prescription for being "afraid." For being "very afraid."

Out in the streets. With friends and neighbors?

A good way to beat the fear factor!



Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/22/opinion/sunday/donald-trump-joseph-mccarthy-west-virginia.html

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

#178 / Service Jobs Of Love



I have been writing, recently, about the problems caused by replacing human beings with machines. I am not the only one concerned. Kai-Fu Lee, formerly the first president of Google China, is now the chairman and chief executive of Sinovation Ventures. Sinovation Ventures is a venture capital firm that invests in start-ups in China and the United States. Kai-Fu Lee is the president of its Artificial Intelligence Institute. 

In an Op-Ed in the June 25, 2017, edition of The New York Times, titled, "The Real Threat of Artificial Intelligence," Kai-Fu Lee said that economic inequality (and unemployment) are the most likely results of advances in Artificial Intelligence:

Bank tellers, customer service representatives, telemarketers, stock and bond traders, even paralegals and radiologists will gradually be replaced by such software. Over time this technology will come to control semiautonomous and autonomous hardware like self-driving cars and robots, displacing factory workers, construction workers, drivers, delivery workers and many others. 
Unlike the Industrial Revolution and the computer revolution, the A.I. revolution is not taking certain jobs (artisans, personal assistants who use paper and typewriters) and replacing them with other jobs (assembly-line workers, personal assistants conversant with computers). Instead, it is poised to bring about a wide-scale decimation of jobs — mostly lower-paying jobs, but some higher-paying ones, too. 
This transformation will result in enormous profits for the companies that develop A.I., as well as for the companies that adopt it. Imagine how much money a company like Uber would make if it used only robot drivers. Imagine the profits if Apple could manufacture its products without human labor. Imagine the gains to a loan company that could issue 30 million loans a year with virtually no human involvement. (As it happens, my venture capital firm has invested in just such a loan company.)

Kai-Fu Lee suggests that the way to deal with these impacts is to create what he calls “service jobs of love.” These are "jobs that A.I. cannot do, that society needs and that give people a sense of purpose. Examples include accompanying an older person to visit a doctor, mentoring at an orphanage and serving as a sponsor at Alcoholics Anonymous — or, potentially soon, Virtual Reality Anonymous (for those addicted to their parallel lives in computer-generated simulations). The volunteer service jobs of today, in other words, may turn into the real jobs of the future."

Kai-Fu Lee is proposing exactly the same idea that I have advanced, and I was happy to see that my idea has been validated by one of those "venture capitalist" types. I do want to say, though, that the "Masters of the Universe," which is how the high-tech, venture capitalist types tend to think of themselves, won't necessarily try to make this happen on their own. They are mostly content to "move fast and break things," and to think that their job is "disruption," pure and simple, and as an end in itself. After all, it works for them!

Politically speaking, if we want to create the "service jobs of love" that will be the real jobs we really need, we had better get organized politically. 

I think it's going to be up to us.



Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/24/opinion/sunday/artificial-intelligence-economic-inequality.html?_r=0

Monday, June 26, 2017

#177 / Whee, The People!



Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times, was asked, recently, what he "fears the most these days?" One of his responses was that he feared "the end of truth." 

Friedman's encounter with the Canadian gentleman who posed that, "what do you fear the most?" question led to a column in The Times. I guess I'm turning that encounter into a blog posting. 

Still pondering the "what do you fear most?" question, Friedman asked a friend, Dov Seidman, what Seidman thought was "happening to us." Siedman said that we are experiencing "an assault on the very foundations of our society and democracy - the twin pillars of truth and trust." Furthermore, Seidman apparently suggested that authority is supposed to come from "We the people," but that there "is no 'we' anymore, because 'we' no longer share basic truths."

I think Friedman's discussion is well worth reading, and I like his conclusion, which is that the "We," as in "We, the people," includes everyone: 

In the long run, the only thing that will save us is if more people — no matter what age, color, gender or faith — build moral authority in their respective realms and then use it to do big, meaningful things. Use it to run for office, start a company, operate a school, lead a movement or build a community organization. And in so doing you can help put the “We” back in “We the people.”

In other words, I'd like to suggest, let's not operate out of "fear." Instead, let's put the "Whee" back in "We, the people." 

Instead of being immobilized by fear, we can be exuberant in our creativity, because everything that is, begins first as an idea, or as a hope, or as a dream in some individual person's heart and mind. The human world that "we" inhabit, and this does mean all of us, is the result of our past and present creative actions. In the human world that we create, nothing is "inevitable," and nothing is "impossible." That means "bad" things are possible, just as "good" ones are, so deciding whether we should "fear" the bad possibilities, as opposed to being energized by the good possibilities, is really a question about whether we can trust the truth that reality is, in the end, what we first envision and then create. 

The world we inhabit is going to depend, in the end, on what WE do, and Friedman's right, that means every one of us is going to get to help paint the picture. 

WHEE!!!!!



Image Credit:
https://confinedbythemind.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/the-two-ts-truth-and-trust/

Sunday, June 25, 2017

#176 / Be Sad, Be Glad, Turn Around And Get Mad



I am a really proud father and a very proud son. I have tried to make that clear. Looking at the image above, you'll see a Father's Day present I got this year. 

Bob Dylan on the cover? It's an easy bet I'll like that book! I liked it so much that I am now hoping that others will take a look. 

This is U.S. history, actually. That's what this book is all about. You'll learn a few things you didn't know, of that I have no doubt.

We all love Woody's "This Land is Your Land." I think you know that song. Who knew it was an answer to "God Bless America," and a vision that was wrong?

Check out the story. It's in the book. It's on Page 131. Hit the first page; keep on reading; you won't stop until you're done!

If you want to know what I think, there's good reason to get mad. They were throwing disabled people in jail the other day for protesting what was bad

Let's grow up and get a little bit angry, folks. You know freedom isn't free. Keep it in your mind what Woody said: "This land was made for you and me."



Image Credit:
https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062451699/grown-up-anger

Saturday, June 24, 2017

#175 / Cashiered



Right after posting my blog offering yesterday, the one in which I urged some reflection on the trend, everywhere apparent, to replace human beings with machines, I opened up The New York Times to find an opinion piece by Stacy Torres, who pretty much echoed my argument. Torres is an assistant professor of sociology at the University at Albany, and her piece in the June 23, 2017, edition of The Times was entitled: "Save America's Cashiers."

I agree with Torres when she says, "No one really wants to buy groceries from a robot." Torres also documents how the human interactions that occur at the checkout counter provide a kind of interactional "glue" that can help hold us together, socially, and that can be of great importance to particularly vulnerable individuals. I certainly recommend her article

Good sociology, however, will not necessarily prevail, as long as we delegate decisions about our economy to the corporations that own and control capital. This is our current system, and as events make clear, human beings will be deleted from the equation whenever possible, because that will save money. And, to be honest about it, there is a good argument that economic "efficiency" is a worthwhile objective, in many situations. We just need to think about "efficiency" from a larger, whole systems perspective.

How "efficient" is an economy that reduces human interactions (and eliminates jobs) when the impact of this economically driven transformation results in thousands of homeless persons, living on the streets? Make no mistake, replacing humans with machines does deprive the replaced humans of the income that they need to pay for their expenses, and we don't have much of a "safety net." What we do have is disintegrating around us, too.

Rather than trying to impose democratic, community control over what are now private economic enterprises (a good idea, "theoretically," as Marxists have always contended, but not an idea that has proven very successful in real life), I'd like to suggest another way of dealing with the issue. 

We assume that our economy is supposed to be based, virtually entirely, on private economic activity. That "capitalism" model has produced some very positive results, too, along with the problems, some of which have just been discussed, above. 

But why should we assume that we can't have "public" economic activity, as well? In the health care field, many are starting to think that "self-insurance" is the way to go. Usually, that comes out as "single-payer," but the key idea is that we, as a society, are "in this together," and that since everyone's health is incredibly important, both to individuals and to society as a whole, we should, collectively, decide that we will simply "insure ourselves." If any one of us has a health problem, the community at large will pay for necessary care. In fact, that is the lowest-cost and most stable kind of health care system possible, looking at things from an overall perspective. All that is needed is funding, and there are lots of corporations, and individuals (that 1% crowd), that have the wherewithal to provide the necessary financing for a system of healthcare based on the "self-insurance'"principle.

So, what about "self-employment?" We are, in fact, "all in this together," and there are lots of jobs that our private economy is not really addressing. What if we, acting collectively, could offer employment to anyone who wanted it, to help provide basic, and needed, community-level services?For instance, and just by way of example:

  • Childcare
  • Eldercare
  • Tree-Planting
  • Park Maintenance
  • Street Cleanups
  • Public Art Projects...
  • You get the idea

Our nation did, in fact, adopt exactly this approach during the Great Depression. The effort was overseen by a federal agency, the Works Progress Administration, and the system worked, too, until waging World War II absorbed all our excess labor supply. Nowadays, even military spending isn't really filling the bill!

Of course, this "self-employment" idea would only work if we, collectively, had the money to pay for the work that we would be commissioning. The system, like self-insuring for health care, would require funding, but that's where those 1% folks come in. They've got lots of money, generated from the economy of which we are all a part. Those 1% folks have to be good for something, don't you think? 

How about funding work for everyone, that makes our collective lives better? 


Image Credit:
http://blogs.seattletimes.com/monica-guzman/2013/06/29/seattle-app-follows-self-checkout-machines-in-bid-for-your-groceries/

Friday, June 23, 2017

#174 / Just A Thought



The picture above comes from an article in the June 22, 2017, edition of The New York Times. Music critic Jon Pareles has done an album review of Radiohead's 1997 album, "OK Computer," which Pareles calls "prescient" for having predicted government coercion related to technology, and for having suggested that our newest technologies might result in the surrender of individuality to the "power of the machines."

On the same day, June 22nd, The Wall Street Journal ran an article on driverless cars. Unless you are a subscriber to The Journal, you may not be able to get very far using the link I have just provided, since The Journal has a paywall; however, the point of mentioning the article in The Journal is not, really, to get you to read it. I was just struck, having read The Times' article first, that there could not be a better example of individuals ceding power to "the machines" than the idea that drivers will relinquish control over their own automobiles, letting autonomous systems "drive them," rather than having the owners drive their own cars.

It is taken for granted, sociologically and psychologically speaking, that one incredibly important factor in establishing both the idea and the reality of American "individuality" has been the fact that the individually owned (and driven) automobile provides individuals with immediate access to incredible power and freedom.

And now we're giving that up? What's going on here?

I think something is going on, and that we had better start paying attention. Our growing willingness to replace human beings by "technologies" that are "more efficient," and "work better," is a tendency we need to resist. 

Here are a few areas in which technology seems poised to take over from humans (and this is most certainly only a "partial list"):

  • Driverless cars
  • Self-checkout in retail stores
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Robots in factories (and everywhere else) 

Every time "technology" is mobilized to replace "human" activity, "capital" is replacing "labor." Those who control capital? The rich. Those who have only their "labor value?" Everyone else. Let's call them the 99%, and as "capital" beats out "labor," those people (most of us, in other words) are being driven ever deeper into poverty.

I suggest that this is the huge, underlying reality that is shaping today's politics. Those who follow politics wonder if the Democratic Party will survive. Well, the Republican Party has pretty much sewed up the "capital" side, and so far, the Democrats aren't really saying that they'll stake everything they've got on "labor."

Why not? Because the individuals within that 99% category, looked at as individuals, don't have very much money, and money is what drives politics. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are "banking" on those with wealth, and then the Party, naturally, must deliver for the wealthy who are funding its efforts. That's the Golden Rule of politics. Those who have the gold make the rules. 

So, here's a thought: What about a "People's Party," whose commitment is to stop the transformation that is replacing people with machines and technology? It would have to be funded by the 99%, and to raise the money necessary for success, from all those individual contributors. To be able to raise that kind of money, the new party would have to be credible. This is, of course, what the Bernie Sanders' campaign portended. Reading the paper yesterday, my sense that this is an urgent task was reaffirmed.

Honestly, we can see where it's all going, can't we? 

Do we really want a world in which you can't talk to the check out clerk about why it's so hot outside (global warming, you say?), and why you didn't buy the store brand, and in which manufacturing jobs don't exist anymore? Do we really think that "machines" are better than individual people? If all you care about is money, of course, a good case can be made that people are the problem, and that "machines" and "technology" are the solution.

I don't buy it. We need a world of, by, and for "the people," not of, by and for money.

Succumbing to "technology," when it replaces people with machines, is the wrong thing to do, if "human values" are supposed to come first.

Human values are supposed to come first, aren't they? 

Just a thought! 


BONUS ADDENDUM:
If you're not familiar with Radiohead's "OK Computer" (I wasn't), you can listen right here to the songs that Jon Pareles calls "prescient." In the new album, which Pareles was reviewing, the old songs are remastered and some new songs are added. 







Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/21/arts/music/radiohead-ok-computer-reissue-review.html

Thursday, June 22, 2017

#173 / Horserace Politics



When the media and the press treat politics like a horse race it is called "horse race journalism." Wikipedia describes the practice as follows: 

Horse race journalism is political journalism of elections that resembles coverage of horse races because of the focus on polling data, public perception instead of candidate policy, and almost exclusive reporting on candidate differences rather than similarities. For journalists, the horse-race metaphor provides a framework for analysis. A horse is judged not by its own absolute speed or skill, but rather by its comparison to the speed of other horses, and especially by its wins and losses.

I think it is fair to point to the recent House runoff election in Georgia, pitting Democrat Jon Ossoff against Republican Karen Handel, as a good example of the practice. All sides treated the election as a "horserace," and there was lots of betting going on. That election, as it turns out, was the most costly House of Representatives election in history. Most of the contributions came not from the District, or even from Georgia, as partisans from all over the country put their money down on the horse they liked best. Ossoff, for instance, is said to have received nine times as much money from California contributors as from contributors hailing from Georgia, where Ossoff was seeking office

A story in The Hill, following up on the Handel-Ossoff race, gave me a chuckle. The Hill quoted New Jersey Congress Member Bill Pascrell as follows: “Close is only good in horseshoes." Pascrell is a Democrat, and he definitely wasn't pleased by the outcome of that Georgia election. In a "horse race" election, his horse lost! He was wishing that the election had been some different kind of contest (let's say horseshoes), in which "close" could win

The Hill's article is worth reading, since it focuses on a big question for the Democratic Party. Is running against our current President the best way to win seats, or do the Democrats need to have some positive program, going beyond being the "non-Trump" alternative? 

Granted that electoral politics is not "horseshoes," in which close can be good enough, "horserace"  politics tends focus on personalities, not policy. 

I think the Democrats will start getting more "ringers" (that's a horseshoes term) when they have a program and a policy that credibly promises to do something concrete for those not belonging to the 1%. 


Image Credit:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horseshoes

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

#172 / I'm O.K. - And You're Pure Evil



The image above is from a New York Times column. Frank Bruni titled his column on Sunday, June 18, 2017, "I'm O.K. - You're Pure Evil." 

That's about the shape of it, right? If you don't happen to like someone's politics, pull out your gun! Of course, that is what Bruni's column was all about, the baseball diamond shootings on Wednesday, June 14th, that wounded Republican Congress Member Steve Scalise and four others.

An essay published in The New York Times Book Review on June 18, 2017, addressed the same topic from a more elevated and philosophical perspective. Adam Kirsch, an American poet and literary critic, titled his article: "The Hardest Lesson of a Liberal Democracy? How to Live With Critics."

Kirsch compares "criticism" in the realm of the arts with "criticism" in the realm of politics, and he rightly concludes:

The artist can look away from criticism, sometimes even has to do it, because the creative act involves a difficult self-assertion, which might be compromised by even a small degree of doubt. Politicians who set themselves up as artists of reality, however, who demand the total appreciation an artist longs for, are extremely dangerous. By suggesting that all criticism of their ideas and plans is invalid, nothing but the product of malice, they make public deliberation impossible. We will always need political dreamers; but for the sake of our democracy, we must hope that the future belongs to the critics.

The political world is a world in which "anything is possible," and in which "nothing is "inevitable." Unlike the World of Nature, which exists independently of what we think about it, the political world in which we most immediately live is a world that we create.

And what kind of world should that be?

"Politics," the process by which we decide on exactly that question, is a process of debate and discussion, conflict and controversy, capped by a decision which is typically written down as a "law," but which, unlike the "laws" that govern the Universe, is itself susceptible to change - always after more debate and discussion.

In the political world, this process of debate and decision is all. We need our opponents, so we can debate them and ultimately prove, to the public at large, that our ideas are the best, that our argument should win. Eliminating opponents eliminates politics, and this undermines the world that we create out of debate and discussion.

The contrary approach proposes a world that is not "political" but "theological," where allegiance is demanded for an absolute truth handed down....by someone, somehow, sometime.

Let's not go there!

The attack on the baseball field was, in some ways, symbolically important. "Politics" can be analogized to a baseball game. And here is the rule. You "play ball!"

You don't kill your opponents.



Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/17/opinion/sunday/im-ok-youre-pure-evil.html

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

#171 / Where We Live





























I have always liked those pictures of Earth from space, with the designator: "You are here." In fact, this is, ultimately, our human situation. Our lives are wholly dependent on the World of Nature, a world we did not create, and into which we have all been so mysteriously born.

Most immediately, though, we do not live in the World of Nature. We live primarily in a world of our own creation, a world that we often call our human "civilization." Everything that we create continues to be dependent, ultimately, on the World of Nature, but our daily experience is with a life that takes place inside a human-made world: 


Our human "civilization" is a collective creation in which we all inevitably reside, as if it were a giant apartment complex. Looking even more closely, we discover that we live most directly neither in the vast World of Nature, upon which we all ultimately depend, or even in the immensity of our human-created civilization, upon which we also depend, but which is susceptible to changes that we direct.

In fact, we each live, most directly, in some individual place, behind some single door. We first identify ourselves as individuals:


And that identification is accurate, of course. We are, in fact, individuals - each one of us. But we are enmeshed with others. We do not live alone. We live together, first, in the jointly created human civilization that makes possible our individual existences, and we live ultimately in the World of Nature that sustains all life. 

That's where we live.

As a former politician, when I see a door like that blue door above, a door behind which lives some individual person, I think about "precincting," about going door to door for some political project. The human world that we create by our collective decisions and actions is a world that responds to "politics." We live in that "political world."

Because we do, because that "political world" is where we most immediately find ourselves when we open up our individual doors to venture out, we need to embrace, and not disdain, the "politics" that shapes our most immediate experience. 

Together, we can "redecorate" the apartment complex, and set up whatever systems we like. We can shape our human civilization as we collectively determine. That is what "politics" is all about, when you think about it. 

However, we can only shape our human civilization in a way that will make things good for us, and for everyone else, as long as we don't forget where we ultimately reside: 




Image Credits:
(1) - https://geopolicraticus.wordpress.com/tag/space-science/
(2) and (3) - http://www.oregonmetro.gov/news/you-are-here-snapshot-how-were-growing
(4) - http://www.cafepress.com/mf/69638391/alien-location-on-planet-earth-you-are-here_tshirt


Monday, June 19, 2017

#170 / Welcome To All



Yesterday, I attended the graduation exercises for Crown College at the University of California, Santa Cruz. John Laird, former Santa Cruz City Mayor, former State Assembly Member, and current Secretary for Natural Resources of the State of California, gave the commencement address. John celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Crown College, and gave graduate students both practical advice (begin saving for retirement now) and called them to political action (the global warming crisis we confront is "existential," and we must respond). 

It was a day of real celebration, sobered by an understanding, by all who took part, that the challenges ahead are daunting.

For me, one of the most moving parts of the ceremony was the "Multilingual Welcome" provided by Crown College graduating students:

Aykezar Adil welcomed those in attendance in Uyghur.
Kimberly Amy Gee welcomed attendees in Cantonese.
Study Thao provided a welcome in Hmong.
Keuren Parra Moreno provided a welcome in Spanish.
Julianne Pham spoke in Vietnamese for her welcome.
Arian Rahbar welcomed everyone in Persian.
Chelsea Walker's welcome was in American Sign Language.

Yesterday, there was a welcome for all. 
That welcome message was clear. 
There is a welcome for all, in America,
Because all are welcome here!


How different that message was than the welcome event I read about in an article in this morning's New York Times. In Willard, Ohio, the Chamber of Commerce was planning a welcome-back party for the migrants who come to Willard each summer to plant, and weed, and harvest crops. Protests, which The Times said were related to "the vigorous national debate over illegal immigration that brought President Trump to office," led to the cancellation of that celebration.

The future, we must hope, was revealed more clearly by students in Santa Cruz, California than by the disgruntled residents of that Ohio town. Willard has failed to understand, it seems, what the UCSC students know so well: we are in this life together! The Times' article made it pretty clear: "Without the Hispanic labor force, we wouldn't be able to grow crops, said Ben Wiers, a great-grandson of the pioneer Henry Wiers, who fought five acres here in 1896."

Or, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools."


Image Credit:
Gary A. Patton, personal photo

Sunday, June 18, 2017

#169 / D-Day



In my line of work, I am often responsible for proposing meeting schedules for various community-based groups. In this capacity, I am charged with sending out a proposed list of meetings, usually based on some suggested rule, like a rule that the group will regularly meet on the "third Monday of every month." Invariably, when I do this, some member of the group alerts every other member that I have completely ignored the fact that there are holidays that conflict with my proposed schedule. I am just not that focused on holidays, because I generally pay no attention to them in my own life.

In particular, I have never been a fan of what I think of as the "commercial" holidays: Mother's Day and Father's Day. With a certain degree of tolerance, I acknowledge both the "religious" holidays, like Christmas and Easter, and the "patriotic" holidays, like the Fourth of July, since they do seem to commemorate events of truly historic importance. The "Hallmark Holidays," though, have always seemed to me to be less worthy of recognition, given that they appear to be part of a business-sponsored scheme to benefit restaurant bookings and greeting card sales.

This year, despite my prejudices, Father's Day has reached out and touched me.

The picture above comes from a Wall Street Journal commentary, "I Just Called to Say, ‘I Love You, Dad,’" which somehow penetrated my down-on-holidays defenses. Facebook, today's way of keeping in touch with the people you love, sent me a "Facebook Memory," reminding me of my own past acknowledgment of how much I love, and miss, my own father. 

And then, on Friday evening, my son, Philips, and my daughter, Sonya, sponsored a dinner for me at a very upscale Santa Cruz restaurant, with a card from Philips, addressed to "Daddio," in which he used words from Bob Dylan to recount his own entrance into this world - a world that we are all so privileged to share - crediting me with a significant and important role:


So I came in from the wilderness, 
A creature void of form 
"Come in," you said, I'll give you 
Shelter from the storm.

I am inclined to give more credit to the mothers than to the fathers, but Philips is certainly correct. Our parents, both mothers and fathers, prepare a place for us in this world, in whatever way they do it, making it possible for us to initiate our own lives, as we go from "creatures void of form" to those mysterious creatures, full of life (and this means all of us), who have the ability to act and to create, and to make a "new order in the world."

This is where a salute to mothers and fathers does make sense to me. It is the role of parents to open up this world to new souls, who can strive and struggle themselves, who will "pick up the torch," and carry it on, in the same way their parents did, or in a whole new direction. 

"Father's Day," or "Dad's Day," and I'm calling it "D-Day," here, definitely commemorates that historically important day for every child, the day that a new person truly "hit the beach." Once they are born, formed up on dry land, our children will be advancing up the beach, to take new territory, to create new life. 

It's good, as children, to remember those who have played a small, but important part, in making our own existence possible. 

Thank you, Dad (and Mom). And blessings to those who are moving on down that line my father and mother helped to establish:

Philips B. Patton

Alma Bracken Patton
Gary A. Patton at my Father's Day Dinner, 2017

Marilyn Dilworth Patton
Sonya Patton Drottar

Philips D. Patton
Dylan And Delaney Drottar
Jay Muccelli

Image Credits:
(1) https://www.wsj.com/articles/i-just-called-to-say-i-love-you-dad-1497570465
All other photos are personal photos of Gary Patton.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

#168 / The Bourne Identity




With a title like the one I chose for today, "The Bourne Identity," you might expect a picture of Matt Damon at the top of the blog. If you want to look at Matt Damon, and see a graphic celebrating the movie called "The Bourne Identity," check the bottom instead!

Today, my purpose is to alert you to the identity of Randolph Bourne. David Brooks, The New York Times columnist, talked about Bourne in his column dated June 13, 2017. The column was titled, "Is Radicalism Possible Today?" It's worth reading. 

Even more worth reading is Bourne's book (which I read in the 1960's, when no one doubted that radicalism was possible - though probably they should have). Bourne's book is titled, War Is The Health Of The State.

In fact, the United States has been involved in perpetual military conflicts since the end of World War II. Bourne's warning came during World War I. You don't have to love Peter, Paul & Mary to wonder "when will they ever learn?"

It's not too late to pay attention to pay attention to Randolph Bourne, and to leave the movie dreams of spies and military victories far behind. I think Brooks is right: 

Bourne was the least important radical a century ago, but with his fervent embrace of a decentralized, globalist, cosmopolitan world, he is the most relevant today...

Most of the 20th-century radicals were wrong to put their faith in a revolutionary vanguard, a small group who could see farther and know better. Bourne was right to understand that the best change is dialogical, the gradual, grinding conversation, pitting interest against interest, one group’s imperfections against another’s, but bound by common nationhood and humanity.

























Image Credits
(1) - http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3410673-forgotten-prophet
(2) - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0258463/

Friday, June 16, 2017

#167 / RoseAnn Meets Harry



An article printed on the first page of the June 12, 2017, edition of the Santa Cruz Sentinel said this: "Nurse union boss does not play nice." 

Look above! There she is, RoseAnn DeMoro. DeMoro is the head of the California Nurses Association, and I guess that her nice smile, as pictured in this blog posting, wouldn't seem so friendly if you were one of those 1% people from Wall Street and didn't like her "Tax Wall Street" message. 

The people complaining about DeMoro most recently, though, at least the ones mentioned in the Sentinel article, were not Wall Street 1%ers. They were Democratic Party politicians from California. Why were they so upset? How did DeMoro demonstrate that she doesn't "play nice," as far as those Democratic politicians are concerned?

Well, DeMoro actually informed the public, by name, which Democratic Party legislators failed to vote for SB 562, a bill sponsored by the California Nurses Association, and legislation that seeks to establish a "single payer" health care system in this state. 

It seems to me that the complaints against DeMoro are an example of the thing President Harry S. Truman talked about. Truman was known as a "straight shooter," and his supporters used to yell at him, "Give 'em Hell, Harry!" Truman's classic response was this:

"I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it's hell."

The California Nurses Association has been working for decades to overhaul the health care system in this state, and is currently supporting Senate Bill 562. SB 562 would establish a "single payer" health care system in California. If you want to read the current version of the bill, entitled, "The Healthy Califoria Act," just click the link. 

Without trying to argue the pros and cons of the bill in its current form (and there are definitely arguments on both sides), I want to suggest that it is never "unfair" to deny politicians the ability to hide their votes and their actions. The voters often lack information about what politicians and elected officials actually do, and this lack of information screens those elected representatives from having to account to their constituents for what they are doing on behalf of the constituents. Representing those who elected you, of course, is actually what elected officials are paid to do, and it does seem pretty "fair" to let those who are paying the bills know what you are doing (or not doing) in their name. 

If an elected official can't stand behind his or her vote, or doesn't want the voters to know about some other action or inaction, then Harry Truman has another piece of advice:

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!

Why do so many people hate politics? I think it is because so many politicians and elected officials are fundamentally dishonest, and try to disguise their genuine views and their actual actions. These politicians and elected officials seem to think that "being nice" to them is what politics should be all about. Or, in the alternative, they pretend to think that this is what politics is all about, hoping to avoid scrutiny and disagreement.

Guess what? Being "nice" to elected officials is NOT what it's all about. Making our representatives actually do what we want them to do is what politics is all about - or what it ought to be all about. That's Rule #5 in those "Five Simple Rules" that I keep mentioning.

My advice to RoseAnn DeMoro? Keep smiling, RoseAnn! And, please, let me introduce you to my old friend, Harry.


Image Credit:
http://www.nationalnursesunited.org/press/entry/national-nurses-director-rose-ann-demoro-one-of-just-10-on-most-influential/

Thursday, June 15, 2017

#166 / Reflecting Nature



This striking (and temporary) piece of art, installed in Tbilisi, Georgia by a Brooklyn-based artist duo, Icy & Sot, was titled, “Nature’s Reflection.”

It would be good, I think, if the works of our hands did, in fact, "Reflect Nature." 

But they do not! 

Click the link for hundreds of photos like the ones below, from the powerful book, Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot



Image Credits:
(1) - http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2017/06/a-human-shaped-pool-reflects-the-sky-over-tbilisi-by-icy-sot/
(2) - http://issuu.com/globalpopulationspeakout/docs/final_over_book/1?e=12385403/10500444

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

#165 / People Like Us


William (Bill) McGurn, pictured to the right (and that is where he is, politically), is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal

McGurn's "Main Street" column on June 6, 2017, was titled, "Why Elites Hate." The point of the column was that "identity politics," which is associated for McGurn solely with the Democratic Party, is based on a "baked-in contempt for Middle America."

As McGurn sums up his column: "So good luck with the idea that the Democratic Party can restore its relationship with Middle America without addressing the identity politics that fuels it. Especially when it starts from the premise that the Americans they are condescending to will remain too stupid to figure it out."

McGurn never actually defines exactly what he means by "identity politics," though he gives examples. The Hillary Clinton "deplorables" quote leads the list, and it appears that the key feature of the kind of "identity politics" that McGurn decries is typified by condescension towards those who have different political views, with such condecension then transforming itself into a kind of political aggression against all those who may differ with the condescending Democrats:  

When Mrs. Clinton labeled Trump voters deplorable (“racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it”) she was simply following identity politics to its logical conclusion. Because identity politics transforms those on the other side of the argument—i.e., Americans who are pro-life, who respect the military, who may work in the coal industry—from political opponents into oppressors.

Which is precisely how they are treated: as bigots whose retrograde views mean they have no rights.

I don't think that "identity politics" is a good way to describe the phenomenon that McGurn is writing about. I also disagree with McGurn that the phenomenon he describes is exclusive to the Democratic Party. I think that condescension and contempt, leading to something that comes close to "hate," for those with whom one differs politically, is a typical, almost "default," approach to politics as currently practiced by both the "right" and the "left."

The phenomenon that McGurn discusses, in other words, is a real and accurate description of our contemporary politics and political discourse (again, on both sides of the political spectrum), and that kind of approach to politics profoundly undermines any hope that our democratic (with a small-d) political system can recover itself, and help to maintain a system of self-government in the United States of America. 

McGurn cites to an interview between Hastings law professor Joan C. Williams, whose latest book is called, White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America and Isaac Chotiner, a staff writer at Slate. Here is one of Chotiner's questions to Williams:

But as for people like us, we should have some commitment to honesty. What attitude should we be taking toward people who voted for a racist buffoon that is scamming them?

The idea that those with whom we disagree are in a completely different category (and that this is an inferior category) is typical of politics today. The idea that those with whom we disagree are fundamentally different from "people like us," makes any kind of genuine politics impossible. McGurn is right to decry this phenomenon. By assigning the problem to the Democratic Party, alone, he proves that he has not escaped its gravitational pull.

Slate and McGurn are both addressing their comments to those they have identified as "people like us." 

We had better work harder to escape this black hole of political discourse. If we don't, our politics will be crushed even further into lifelessness. 

Go hug a "deplorable!" 

They're "people like us."





Image Credits:
(1) - http://www.wsj.com/news/author/5470
(2) - https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-elites-hate-1496702030