Wednesday, June 20, 2018

#171 / Cronyism In Action



I am trying to lisen to political voices that I do not expect will tell me things I already believe. Sometimes, I am surprised!

As part of my mind-broadening program, I subscribe to bulletins put out by the American Conservative website. Amazingly, I often agree with the messages it dispatches. Most recently, for example, I received an invitation to attend a conference to be held in Washington, D.C. on June 21st. The conference title is "Cronyism in Action: Government's Cozy Ties to Big Tech & Big War."

Ralph Nader will be talking about President Eisenhower's speech about the military-industrial complex. His title? "Eisenhower's Warning: Prophetic and Presently Understated." It appears that Nader's presentation is going to be quite consistent with the rest of the program, too. Here are a couple of introductory paragraphs from the program notes:

In recent years, lists of the wealthiest counties in the U.S. have predominately featured two regions: Washington, DC and Silicon Valley. The relative prosperity of these regions reflects that of their prominent industries, technology and military contracting. Indeed, the relationship between big tech and the nation's capital has come to the fore recently with Amazon's HQ2 search, which includes all three DC-area bids on the list of twenty finalists. 
So what's driving the success of technology firms and defense contracting? Are these industries models of modern economic success--or have they benefitted from the government tilting the market in their favor? Join us as we debate the role cronyism has played in shaping Big Tech and Big War!

"Free market conservatives" allied with anti-military activists? Could that be true? Ralph Nader seems to think so. His latest book is titled: Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State."


Hey! That's good news in my book. Sign me up!!




Image Credit:
(1) - https://www.eventbrite.com/e/cronyism-in-action-governments-cozy-ties-to-big-tech-big-war-tickets-45139797349
(2) - https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18492513-unstoppable

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

#170 / Positive Sum



As I revealed in my blog post yesterday, I attended a couple of graduation ceremonies at UCSC over this past weekend. Pictured is Crown College Provost Manel Camps, welcoming graduating students, families, and friends to the commencement program recognizing graduating students at Crown College. David Brin, astrophysicist and science fiction writer, gave the keynote address. Anyone who reads this blog regularly will remember that I advertised Brin's then-upcoming appearance.

Among other things, Brin urged graduating students to learn a little bit about "game theory," and specifically to become acquainted with the idea that it is possible to achieve "positive sum" results in our social, political, and economic efforts. "Zero sum," in other words, is not the only way to play the game. It's definitely not the best way to play it, in politics, unless you're shooting for oligarchy!

Because Brin has done a great deal of thinking about "privacy" in our contemporary, highly-technological world, I was anxious to hear him speak. I do, after all, teach a course at UCSC entitled, "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom."

Brin didn't disappoint. I encourage you to click this link to read a fairly short article that provides some important ideas on how we might be able to structure our ever more "transparent" society to wind up with a positive sum result. Brin argues that attempts to obtain or retain personal privacy by denying the government and others access to our personal information is likely to fail as a strategy, urging us to be creative in making sure that we, as individuals and citizens, have transparent access to the very governmental and corporate information that is now used, or is available to be used, against us. 

"Postive sums" are possible, he claims!

It's worth thinking through every option, because the current situation is definitely reflective of a "zero sum" approach, and individuals and a free politics are losing out!


Image Credit:
Gary Patton personal photo

Monday, June 18, 2018

#169 / Found In A Footnote



I am reading a new book containing essays by Hannah Arendt. Published in 2018 by Shocken Books, this collection of essays is titled, Thinking Without A Banister: Essays in Understanding 1953-1975

Among other essays, the editor has included a "Letter To Robert M. Hutchins," who is pictured above. In a footnote found on the very first page of Arendt's letter, the editor has added some information about Hutchins, because not everyone reading this new collection of essays will necessarily know anything about him. 

In describing Hutchins, the editor quotes what Hutchins once said about the purpose of a university. I think Hutchins' observation is worth passing on. What Hutchins said reminds me of Page Smith, another great educator, and the first Provost of Cowell College at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The quote from Hutchins, in fact, well states the original ambition of UCSC, and since I have just attended a couple of graduation exercises this past weekend, in which a number of my UCSC Legal Studies students took that official "walk across the stage," celebrating and memoralizing their undergraduate accomplishments, it seems appropriate to highlight what a university education should be all about:

The purpose of  university is nothing less than to procure a moral, intellectual, and spiritual revolution throughout the world. 




Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.slideshare.net/JeraldineCabayaran/perennialism-and-essentialism
)2) - https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Without-Banister-Understanding-1953-1975/dp/0805242155

Sunday, June 17, 2018

#168 / News Celibacy



ZZ Packer has written an excellent "First Words" column for The New York Times Magazine. Her column is titled, "Boiling Over," and in it, Packer strongly suggests the practice of "news celibacy." By that she means that we need to "set limits" on our addictive dependency on the news. If you don't do that, she warns, "you'll find yourself distracted by alert notifications, or looking up the history of Qatar, or wondering if the name Avenatti appears anywhere in Dante's The Divine Comedy."

As someone who reads five newspapers each morning, reads the local weekly newspapers,  reviews the ten or so magazins I subscribe to, and pays attention to the hundreds of email alerts I get each day, I  know whereof she speaks! 

Packer's main concern, however, is not that we are overwhelmed by cascading information, but that our fanatic fascination with "the news" has made us overly susceptible to "outrage," the reaction that is routinely suggested to us, as the news is delivered. 

It is true that I am often invited to be "outraged," and by things that shouldn't really prompt such a response. I like to think that I am pretty good at resisting this temptation, because even more than a habit of hypertrophic newsreading, feeding oneself with invitations to outrage is demonstrably damaging to the kind of civil discussion and thoughtful actions that we need to rely on, as citizens in a democracy. 

So, even in the face of the insults and and provocations perpetrated upon us by our president, let's eschew "outrage." That's good advice. 

That said, I still need to find a way to that "news celibacy" Packer is talking about!



Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/23/magazine/news-of-an-outrage-used-to-mean-something-very-very-different.html

Saturday, June 16, 2018

#167 / The Coming Collapse



Chris Hedges is "a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a New York Times best selling author, a former professor at Princeton University, and an ordained Presbyterian minister. He has written 11 books." That description comes from Hedges' Truthdig column, which I read on a regular basis. You can subscribe for free, and I recommend you do so. 

The illustration at the head of this blog posting comes from Hedges' May 20, 2018, column, entitled, "The Coming Collapse." While our president is pictured, the focus of the column is the Democratic Party, not Donald Trump. Hedges argues that the Democratic Party has failed the country:

The leadership of the party, the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Tom Perez, are creations of corporate America. In an open and democratic political process, one not dominated by party elites and corporate money, these people would not hold political power. They know this. They would rather implode the entire system than give up their positions of privilege. And that, I fear, is what will happen. The idea that the Democratic Party is in any way a bulwark against despotism defies the last three decades of its political activity. It is the guarantor of despotism.

Hedges also warns us that what lies ahead is a major financial collapse that may transform what Hedges calls "inverted totalitarianism" into the real thing.

The "antidote?" Hedges' prescription is one I endorse, too:

We must invest our energy in building parallel, popular institutions to protect ourselves and to pit power against power. These parallel institutions, including unions, community development organizations, local currencies, alternative political parties and food cooperatives, will have to be constructed town by town.

The idea that genuine "self-government," based on local efforts, is the only kind of government that can withstand and defy tyranny and totalitarianism, is exactly what political philosopher Hannah Arendt always argued. Arendt wrote a book called The Origins of Totalitarianism, and another book called On Revolution

In my opinion, it's going to be one thing or the other. 

We decide!



Image Credit:
https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-coming-collapse/

Friday, June 15, 2018

#166 / Brin



David Brin, pictured above, has been named one of the "world's four best futurists" by Urban Developer Magazine

If you click this link, you can find out more, and learn about Brin's latest books. On his website, in the calendar section, you might also note that Brin will be speaking at the Crown College graduation ceremonies, at UCSC, at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 16th. That is two days from now. If you are local, and can figure out how to get up to the campus, since I think that parking up there will be pretty tight, you can hear what Brin has to say for free. You won't have to pay any of those fancy "futurist" fees.

I have almost finished one of Brin's earliest novels, Earth, published in 1991. So far, Brin's book is making a pretty good case for the Gaia hypothesis

Maybe Adam Frank has been reading Brin, too. Frank is a physicist and an astronomer, and his column, in the June 13, 2018, edition of The New York Times is headlined as follows: "Earth Will Survive. We May Not."

I am looking forward to finding out whether or not Brin agrees. If he does, that graduation speech on Sunday could be pretty depressing: "Hello, graduates! Welcome to the world. We're doomed!"

As my favorite Nobel Laureate says (no, not the one with a prize in physics): 

It's not dark yet, but it's getting there!



Image Credits:
(1) - http://www.davidbrin.com
(2) - Gary Patton personal photo

Thursday, June 14, 2018

#165 / Drilling Down



Yesterday, I cited to social science research showing that reading good fiction could "increase empathy." 

In the June 2, 2018, New Yorks Times, I read an article about "drill" music (a kind of rap music that originated in Chicago, and that has has now appeared in London, and that seems to be stimulating violence on the streets). That article, "London Police Take Aim at a Bleak Style of Rap," helps confirm the idea that art can affect our actions. That's just in case you hadn't ever noticed that!

The picture above is of a victim of violence inspired by "drill" music. Immediately below, you can watch a video example of "drill" music, from London. This is just what The Times' article was talking about. 


At the bottom of this posting, you can view a picture that depicts how our government carries out officially-sanctioned executions in other countries (with no "due process" getting in the way of the killing). 

I tend to think that this kind of glorification of violence, given a seal of approval by our government, helps promote violence in all its forms, and extending everywhere. "Drill" music, in other words, may not the the only way, or even the most effective way, to promote violence in the world. I think the United States government wins the prize for that.

Today, violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as pictured. Tomorrow, coming to a neighborhood near you!




Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/01/arts/music/drill-music-london.html
(2) - Video: https://youtu.be/ihZ8iwkH8xs
(3) - https://tribune.com.pk/story/133842/drone-strike-kills-8-in-datta-khel/

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

#164 / Booking It



An article in Aeon, the online magazine, cites recent social science research to suggest that "reading novels is good for you."

Literary fiction takes the reader on a journey into other worlds, other lives, other minds. A new study shows that this has an immediate effect on the reader’s powers of empathy, as judged by simple lab tests. The same benefit was not found for popular fiction.

I tend to think that's right. If you're not reading a lot of good novels, get right on it! That, by the way, is exactly what "booking it" means!


Image Credit:
http://scoutwrites.com/2018/02/21/hello-world/

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

#163 / Bad Manners



We call our elected officials "representatives" for a reason. They do, in fact, "represent" us. At least, they're supposed to. 

Last week, President Donald J. Trump went out of his way to be personally rude to the leaders of the European nations that are usually called "allies" of the United States.


Whatever the policy merits (and I tend to think the president has it wrong on trade) do we really want our president to be rude?

I don't.


Image Credit:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/going-it-alone-trump-increasingly-relies-on-unilateral-action-to-wield-power/2018/06/11/6124866a-6a80-11e8-bbc5-dc9f3634fa0a_story.html

Monday, June 11, 2018

#162 / A Sweet Swan Song



Pictured is N.R. Kleinfield. He is just ending a forty-year career as a reporter for The New York Times.  Kleinfield's last story, on the Brooklyn Housing Court, was published on the front page of The Times on May 27, 2018. 

Also in that paper was a nice "goodbye" column by Kleinfield, which discussed the fact that his entire career was almost entirely spent as a feature writer, "chronicling the unnoticed."

"Most of the people I wrote about," said Kleinfield, "weren't famous or powerful. They were anybody and everybody. They were people working through the rust to answer their imagination, their experiences incidental to the amplified news of the day."

So many of my subjects get labeled ordinary people. I find that diminishing. To me, they are extraordinary. An authentic richness fills their souls, and they have a keen sensory awareness of the way the world works ... To these people I came to admire, their lives felt like whispers. To me, they were glorious songs.

Be inspired, as I was, by what Kleinfield had to say about his subjects. They were "extraordinary," not "ordinary."

Kleinfeld is talking about us, about you and me. He is talking about our neighbors, about each "ordinary" person we pass in the streets.

Our self-evaluations quite often understate the reality of who we are, about who we are individually, and about who we are collectively. Our lives are not mere whispers; they are glorious songs!



Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/27/insider/kleinfield-40-years-of-chronicling-the-unnoticed.html

Sunday, June 10, 2018

#161 / Shocking!


The Federal Palace in Bern
In Switzerland, voters are being asked to reconsider how "money" will be defined. The issues are discussed in a Wall Street Journal  article published in the June 2-3, 2018, edition. The article is titled, "A Shocking Challenge to the Banking System."

As I understand the proposition, the Swiss will be deciding whether or not to establish a "sovereign-money system." Joseph Huber, Chair of economic and environmental sociology at Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, Germany, is a proponent of such a system. He was written an explanation of how "Sovereign Money" would work, outlining the arguments in favor. You can read Huber's article by clicking right here

As best I can tell, The Wall Street Journal is not enamored with the idea of "sovereign money," presumably because establishing such a system would constrain banks and bankers. 

Those people in the United States who lost all their assets in the still-remembered 2007-2008 financial crisis might like to put a few restraints on bankers. The Wall Street Journal, though, seems to think that bankers have been treated badly by the Congress and the Obama Administration, which established new rules, tightening up controls over banks. Of course, the Obama Administration is now history, and the so-called "Volker Rule" is now being watered down, to the end, as Ry Cooder says, that "no banker will be left behind."

The "sovereign money" system doesn't rely on government regulation to make sure that bankers don't precipitate a crisis by ill-advised decisions to generate "bank money," a kind of "fiat money" that our current financial system allows. Instead, the sovereign money system involves the government directly in the creation of money; this is another way to maintain public control. I, personally, think that the sovereign money system is worth exploring, even granting that there may be some problems in making "money" the direct creation of the government. 

Let's see what the Swiss say, in their election. I think it's scheduled for today. Meantime, click the links in this blog posting to learn more about "sovereign money." 

You might also like to refresh your remembrance of Ry Cooder's perspective: 




Image Credit:
(1) - https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/495396027735306695/
(2) - Video: 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

#160 / Delaney Drottar: Shooting Star



Bob Dylan's "Shooting Star" almost always moves me to tears. Click here to listen to the version from Dylan's Oh Mercy album. 

Dylan's song appeals to our memory of those we have loved and lost, those left behind. It is charged with a celebration of the fleeting beauty of this life, and it is filled with both appreciation and regret. "Shooting Star" invariably makes me think about my friends and acquaintances long gone, and perhaps about my parents most of all. 

That second verse has always been the real killer verse for me:

Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of you
You were trying to break into another world
A world I never knew
I always kind of wondered
If you ever made it through
Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of you
Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of me
If I was still the same
If I ever became what you wanted me to be
Did I miss the mark or overstep the line
That only you could see?
Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of me
Listen to the engine, listen to the bell
As the last fire truck from hell
Goes rolling by
All good people are praying
It’s the last temptation, the last account
The last time you might hear the sermon on the mount
The last radio is playing
Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away
Tomorrow will be
Another day
Guess it’s too late to say the things to you
That you needed to hear me say
Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away

Yesterday, at the Fifth Grade graduation at the Main Street School in Soquel, I heard a completely different song, sung by the graduates, but with that same title, "Shooting Star." Here's a picture, taken at that graduation. That's my granddaughter Delaney Drottar with the mike, which was passed on down the line, so all took part!


The "Shooting Star" song sung yesterday, like Dylan's song, is a celebration of the fleeting nature of this life, and of how important each one of us is to the other persons whose lives touch ours. We are all so important to each other, though we may not really know how true that is until we find ourselves looking back. It is nice to know that they are teaching them young!

I especially like the chorus:

And I was thinking maybe somewhere later down the road
After all our stories have been told
I'll sit and think of you, the dear friend I once knew
Shot through my life like a shooting star.


I happen to remember, quite well, my Fifth Grade class: First friends, I'd call them, just like in "Bob Dylan's Dream."

How many a year has passed and gone?
Many a gamble has been lost and won
And many a road taken by many a first friend
And each one I've never seen again

Full lyrics for the Main Street School "Shooting Star" song are shown below. I am going to remember how it sounded as my granddaughter sang it. She and those other shooting stars.

For those not privileged to have been at that Fifth Grade graduation, here is how it sounded. Just like the Dylan song, it brought me to tears:





SHOOTING STAR
Please won't you catch a shooting star for me
And take it with you on your way
Though it seems that we just met, you're the one I won't forget
Hope some kind wind blows you back my way 
CHORUS:
And I was thinking maybe somewhere later down the road
After all our stories have been told
I'll sit and think of you, the dear friend I once knew
Shot through my life like a shooting star. 
Sometimes I know, that a part of you will show
Deep in my eyes or in my smile
There will always be a part of you deep inside my heart
And I'll know just when to let it show  
CHORUS:
And I was thinking maybe somewhere later down the road
After all our stories have been told
I'll sit and think of you, the dear friend I once knew
Shot through my life like a shooting star. 
You are so dear, you're my light and shining star
You brighten up my each and every day
You are so near, but soon you'll be so far
So why not just hold my hand today.  
CHORUS:
And I was thinking maybe somewhere later down the road
After all our stories have been told
I'll sit and think of you, the dear friend I once knew
Shot through my life like a shooting star.


Image Credits:
(1) - http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-20/shooting-star/8360820
(2) - Gary Patton personal photo
(3) - Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utk5w0sI0Zg 


Friday, June 8, 2018

#159 / Forgive Us Our Debts



Meet Mike Meru, pictured above. Meru is an orthodontist, practicing in American Fork, Utah. 

If you click the link on Meru's name, you can see his webpage. Click this link to read about the $1,000,000+ school loan debt that Meru accumulated in becoming an orthodontist. 

That's right, Meru "made a big investment in his education." As of May 24, 2018, he owed $1,060,945.42 in student loans. He pays only $1,589.97 a month - not enough to cover the interest - so his debt from seven years at the University of Southern California grows by $130 a day. In two decades, his loan balance will be $2 million.

We learn these details of Meru's personal finances from The Wall Street Journal, which published an extensive story about Meru in its May 25, 2018, edition. The article used Meru as a "case study," and it suggests that this massive debt isn't all that big a problem for Meru:

Mr. Meru [has] entered into a government-sponsored repayment plan based on income. He agreed to monthly payments at 10% of his discretionary income, defined as adjusted gross income minus 150% of the poverty level. Any balance remaining after 25 years is forgiven, effectively covered by taxpayers. The forgiven amount is then taxed as ordinary income ...
The government repayment plan affords the Meru family a comfortable life. Their home is on a mountain with panoramic views of the snow-capped peaks surrounding Salt Lake City. They take vacations, including a recent trip to Havana. He drives a used Tesla. 

Massive debt, much of it student debt, may be a problem for the national economy, even if debtors like Meru seem to be doing fine. In an article referenced in one of my recent blog posts, "The Coming Collapse," Chris Hedges cites Nomi Prins, who is predicting that a massive financial collapse is coming our way:

Wall Street banks have been handed $16 trillion in bailouts and other subsidies by the Federal Reserve and Congress at nearly zero percent interest since the 2008 financial collapse. They have used this money, as well as the money saved through the huge tax cuts imposed last year, to buy back their own stock, raising the compensation and bonuses of their managers and thrusting the society deeper into untenable debt peonage. Sheldon Adelson’s casino operations alone got a $670 million tax break under the 2017 legislation. The ratio of CEO to worker pay now averages 339 to 1, with the highest gap approaching 5,000 to 1. This circular use of money to make and hoard money is what Karl Marx called “fictitious capital.” The steady increase in public debt, corporate debt, credit card debt and student loan debt will ultimately lead, as Nomi Prins writes, to “a tipping point—when money coming in to furnish that debt, or available to borrow, simply won’t cover the interest payments. Then debt bubbles will pop, beginning with higher yielding bonds.” 
An economy reliant on debt for its growth causes our interest rate to jump to 28 percent when we are late on a credit card payment. It is why our wages are stagnant or have declined in real terms—if we earned a sustainable income we would not have to borrow money to survive. It is why a university education, houses, medical bills and utilities cost so much. The system is designed so we can never free ourselves from debt. 
However, the next financial crash, as Prins points out in her book, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, won’t be like the last one. This is because, as she says, “there is no Plan B.” Interest rates can’t go any lower. There has been no growth in the real economy. The next time, there will be no way out. Once the economy crashes and the rage across the country explodes into a firestorm, the political freaks will appear, ones that will make Trump look sagacious and benign.

Chris Hedges is politically left-wing. He is predicting a massive social breakdown, based on the collapse of an economy based on unsustainable debt.

Porter Stansberry is the opposite of Hedges. He is politically right-wing, but he, too, is predicting a total economic and social breakdown, based on the fact that our economy is now laboring under unsustainable debt.

Stansberry, who is a financial advisor, has written an entire book documenting his predictions (and providing advice about what to do to protect yourself). Stansberry's book is called The American Jubilee: A National Nightmare Is Closer Than You Think. Among the items of Stansberry's sage advice is that you should stock up on guns and ammunition, invest in silver and gold, and buy yourself a place to which you can flee when everything comes crashing down. He, personally, suggests Switzerland.




I have already endorsed Hedges' suggestion about how to prepare for the coming collapse. It does not involve buying guns and ammunition. Instead, it involves preparing ourselves to act, together, to restore genuine self-government as our current government self-destructs. I missed the Great Depression, but my parents didn't, and I heard a lot about it. It is generally thought that "Roosevelt and his New Deal saved the country from socialism."

Next time, let's be ready to save ourselves!




Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.wsj.com/articles/mike-meru-has-1-million-in-student-loans-how-did-that-happen-1527252975
(2) - https://www.amazon.com/American-Jubilee-National-Nightmare-Closer/dp/0997833343/ref=sr_1_1

Thursday, June 7, 2018

#158 / Summer Reading



The latest edition of The New York Times Book Review, available online by clicking the link, provides plenty of suggestions for your "summer reading." Or for reading anytime, in fact. There may well be a lifetime's worth of important reading in that sixty-seven page listing of good books (at least for someone, like me, who is in his seventies).

As I paged through the hard copy edition last Sunday morning, I felt overwhelmed. Almost every book reviewed seemed to be a "must read." Former President Bill Clinton has suggestions, for instance, many of which books I haven't read. How could I not follow up on his recommendations?

As I worked through the sixty-seven pages, I began to resent the fecundity and creativity of all the authors featured. The editors seemed to be like one of those high-school teachers who assigns way too much reading, by way of a homework assignment. The value of the assignment is clear, but my capacity is simply not up to the challenge.

I'd actually like to write a book, sometime. How could I ever find time for that, or for anything else, for that matter, if I tried to follow up on all this wonderful reading, featured by The Times?

Isn't that the way life is? So many options; so many possibilities! All important. All worthwhile! Many things seek to convince us that we are inadequate, and that we are failing, since we are not doing everything we can see ourselves doing. 

Hey, let's relax! It's just "summer reading." 

It's just life, and life only!


Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/books/review/summer-reading.html

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

#157 / Presidential Powers



I probably should have titled this blog posting, "Pardon Me? II." On June 3rd, I commented on President Trump's pardon of right-wing political commentator Dinesh D'Souza, using the title, "Pardon Me?

On June 4th, the president asserted his "absolute right" to pardon anyone, and specifically said that he could pardon himself. Ralph Guliani, a "legal advisor" to the president, claims that the extent of this authority would include the right of the president to pardon himself for anything, up to and including murder. 

The New York Times has written extensively on the president's latest claims. Here is a quick index to some of its articles: 

  • In a June 2, 2018, story, The Times presents the full text of the memo from the president's lawyers, annotating it, and indicating some of the problems with the president's assertion that he has unlimited presidential power. 

In view of the president's assertion that he is, literally, freed from all legal constraints by virtue of the fact that he is the president, it would be worthwhile for citizens of the United States to review the arguments. If the president were right (which, I guess, means if the Supreme Court didn't contrdict him, and if the Congress didn't do anything to assert its own authority), we would be living in a very different country from the one most of us have assumed we inhabit. 

An opinion piece, also from The Times, takes on the president's claims quite forthrightly: "President Trump Thinks He Is a King."

Pardon me, folks, but whatever the president may think...

He's NOT a king!

It may turn out, if Congress and the Supreme Court don't act, that we will all have to take action ourselves, as citizens, to prove the president's non-royal status. Americans have, as you will recall, been through that movie before!



Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/04/us/politics/trump-executive-power-russia-investigation.html

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

#156 / Luxury Living?



The picture above shows a photo taken during the construction of a new apartment complex located in the City of Santa Cruz. This new structure is actually a lot bigger than it appears here. The development is about twice as long as what is shown and contains ninety-four units. The developer calls it Five55

The development is located at 555 Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz (right where Pacific Avenue runs into Front Street), and this street address accounts for how the developer came up with the upscale name. The new apartments are being presented as "luxury living." The photo below, from the news story reporting on this new development, shows the kind of glamour look that the developer is counting on to market his rental units.


As for the rental units themselves? Well, they are not exactly big, and they are certainly not "low rent." The prices, at least, if not the actual apartments, are definitely found at the "luxury" level.  Here is some data from the news story in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

The monthly rent for a 440-square-foot studio: “$2,400 ... and “about $2,800” a month for a 636-square-foot one-bedroom unit.

Apparently, the website for the development actually quotes higher prices. If you are thinking that a 440-square foot studio apartment is a bit small to qualify as "luxury" quarters, the developer's spokesperson says "not to worry."

“It feels bigger,” said Leah Boone, Redtree Partners’ project manager ...  [And furthermore, said Boone], "nobody in Santa Cruz spends that much time indoors.”

Right! That's it! Nobody actually spends much time indoors! In fact, it seems that lots of people are choosing to live on the streets!

So, who can afford to live at Five55? Let's quote the Sentinel article again: "If you go by the longtime rule of thumb to pay no more than 30 percent of your income for housing, you’d have to earn $108,000 a year. We need to get on the bus to Google,” said Donna Musselman, a workplace consultant who lives in Santa Cruz. 

The average wage in Santa Cruz County is $50,440 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the average wage in Santa Clara County, home to tech giants Google, Facebook, and Apple, is $133,952 a year. The median pay at Facebook is over $240,000 a year. The Sentinel headline got it right: "Five55 complex offers 94 units at rates beyond reach of average wage earners."

The Santa Cruz City Council eliminated a requirement that the new complex had to provide affordable, "inclusionary" units that average wage earners could afford. It's clear that this development is not aimed at addressing the City's affordable housing crisis. The housing is aimed at high-tech workers in the Silicon Valley, who don't live here now, not our local workforce. John Burroughs, Lighthouse Bank chairman, says, “Must be a lot of people want to live here.”

Well, Duh! So, let's build housing for all those upper-income people who would like to relocate to our community, instead of providing for our own local residents and their kids? Is that our plan?

In fact, the City of Santa Cruz doesn't need "luxury living." The City needs price-restricted units that will be permanently affordable to persons with average and below average incomes (as measured by the average income in Santa Cruz, not in the Silicon Valley).

Some people claim that "more housing" is the answer to the City's affordable housing crisis. Just build more high-rise apartments and everything will get better. Prices will come down! Isn't that what the "law" of supply and demand says will happen?

Well, based on what we're seeing here, that isn't the way it actually works. If you adhere to the "let's just build a lot of market rate housing" view, why don't you just hop on over to "Five55?" Maybe you can pick up one of those 636-square foot "luxury" models. 

If you can afford $2,800 per month, that is!




Image Credit:
(1) - Gary Patton personal photograph
(2) - http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/article/NE/20180601/NEWS/180609970

Monday, June 4, 2018

#155 / What Is "Our Revolution" All About?



The Wall Street Journal, bastion of our corporate and capitalist culture, published a book review on Saturday, May 26, 2018, that commented on Bernie Sanders' book, Our Revolution

Barton Swaim, the reviewer, is the opinion editor of The Weekly Standard, which bills itself as "unapologetically conservative." As might be expected, Swaim's commentary raises doubts about Sanders' political efforts, with Swaim's key point being as follows: 

The book ... dwells mostly on his 2016 presidential run and his political vision: a $15 minimum wage, fully subsidized higher education, a nationalized health system and so on ... His writing, much like his talk, is clear and direct. 
There is in my view a fatal contradiction at the heart of Mr. Sanders’s worldview: He holds democratic self-rule to be sacred and inviolable, but he’s prepared to transfer enormous power to a coercive and impersonal government that cares little for the people’s will. Near the beginning of the book Mr. Sanders recalls the “profound lesson about democracy and self-rule” he learned as a boy on the streets of Brooklyn. “Nobody supervised us. Nobody coached us. Nobody refereed our games. We were on our own. Everything was organized and determined by the kids themselves. The group worked out our disagreements, made all the decisions, and learned to live with them.” 

Swaim clearly brings a built-in set of blinders to his evaluation of what Sanders has to say, since Swaim seems to believe that it would be impossible to achieve the kind of policies Sanders is advocating without transfering enormous power to a "coercive and impersonal government." 

But is that true? Sanders, after call, comes from Vermont, where small-scale, citizen-based government is an actual reality. It may be that Swaim is missing what the real "revolution" that Sanders is calling for would be all about. In my opinion, our current government (to which Swaim notes no objection) is both "coercive" and "impersonal," and it "cares little for the people's will." 

I agree with Swaim that entrusting "enormous power to a coercive and impersonal government" would be terrible. However, that is precisely what has already happened in this country, and any genuine "revolution" will be achieved only by the restoration of what Sanders is calling "self-rule," and what I like to call "self-government," a government in which we (ordinary people) are engaged ourselves

That kind of government is what Sanders says he wants, and reestablishing that kind of government in this country would be a real "revolution." 

If you are concerned about "ceding enormous power to a coercive and impersonal government," it's clear that "revolutionary" changes are required right now. The big, impersonal, and coercive government already in place in the United States, a government that is of, by, and for the corporations, must be dismantled and discharged!



Image Credit:
https://www.wsj.com/articles/blue-states-red-diapers-white-hair-1527276670

Sunday, June 3, 2018

#154 / Pardon Me?



Pictured is Dinesh D'Souza, a right-wing political commentator. As Wikipedia reports: 

On May 20, 2014, D'Souza pleaded guilty in federal court to one charge of using a "straw donor" to make an illegal campaign contribution to a 2012 United States Senate campaign, a felony. On September 23, he was sentenced to eight months in a halfway house near his home in San Diego, five years probation, and given a $30,000 fine. On May 31, 2018, D'Souza was issued a full pardon by President Donald Trump.

Stephen Vladek, a Professor of Law at the University of Texas School of Law, made an immediate comment on this presidential pardon. In a May 31st posting on the NBC News Think website, Vladek confirms that the Trump pardon was "legal," but he also says that the president's "willingness to subvert the process is dangerous."

What "process" is Vladek talking about? After all, as Vladek admits, the president "has the clear constitutional authority to pardon just about anyone (perhaps other than himself) for prior federal crimes." I don't think that this statement comes as a surprise. You don't have to be a law professor to understand that a virtually unlimited power to pardon goes with the presidency. 

So, what "process" may the president have "subverted?" Vladek explains it this way:

What’s different about the D’Souza story — like each of the president’s four prior pardons, to Joe Arpaio, Kristian Saucier, Scooter Libby and Jack Johnson — is that the president is reportedly going it alone, issuing his executive reprieves without going through the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, or following its regulations for pardon applications.

There is, in other words, an existing set of regulations, promulgated under earlier presidents, and followed by them. These regulations establish specific procedures and a "process" for determining how pardons should be evaluated and acted upon. Vladek's point is this:

By bypassing the well-settled rules and guidelines for pardons, the president is not just turning his back on a process that is designed to insulate pardons, as much as possible, from being abused for the president’s personal gain; he is ... “sending an extremely clear signal to his confederates and associates with his pardons of politically connected convicts that they will get their reward if they stay strong.” That’s a signal he is unquestionably allowed to send as a constitutional matter, but it’s also a signal that ought to be ringing a lot of alarm bells — especially on Capitol Hill.

In other words, our current president is again letting us know that he believes that his election to the presidency has granted him a kind of personal prerogative to do whatever he wants, and that the set of powers granted to him, as president, are his to exercise as he personally decides.

Constitutionally, that's probably right, in lots of ways. However, that view of the presidency suggests that the nation will not be operated according to what is often called the "rule of law." Instead, actions affecting the nation will be made, on a personal basis, by the president, unconstrained by rules and regulations. 

Pardon me, but doesn't this sound more like a traditional monarchy than how government is supposed to work in a democractic republic?

That is what I think.

Check out Vladek's article. That seems to be pretty much what he is thinking, too.



Image Credit:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinesh_D%27Souza

Saturday, June 2, 2018

# 153 / We Had Better Start Cleaning Up



The Bizarro cartoon, above, makes a profound statement about our real situation. The import of the cartoon, in other words, goes beyond the obvious reference to the Republican Party, and the messes that the Republican Party has made and is continuing to make.

There are lots of elephants in the room (and they are trampling around everywhere), and we just don't want to acknowledge any of them: racism, sexism, income inequality, plastic pollution, crushing personal and collective debt, the subversion of our politics by money, autocracy trumping democracy, the loss of personal privacy, global warming, and an economy built on military destruction. 

This is what the politicians call a "partial list....."

We can ignore the elephants, but we still have to clean up after them. Maybe we ought to get started! 

The huge herds of elephants that we have been ignoring are on the move. They are demanding some action! They're heading right for where we live!



Image Credits: 
(1) - http://bizarro.com 
(2) - https://www.pinterest.com/pin/323274079474999552/

Friday, June 1, 2018

#152 / Good Policy



The cartoon above (click for a larger version, more easily readable) appeared in my newspaper on Thursday, May 31st. It came a couple of days too late for Roseanne Barr

Reacting to the termination of her television series, in response to her racist Twitter post comparing an African-American woman to an ape, Ms. Barr was all over the map in followup postings. Barr apologized multiple times for her racist statement, excused it, blamed it on Ambien, and issued further vituperative remarks. Among this barrage of followup Twitter postings, Ms. Barr made the claim that, “My whole life has been about fighting racism. I made a terrible mistake.”

Let's stipulate to the accuracy of that second sentence. I am not familiar with Ms. Barr's record on racism, and so I am not able to evaluate the truth of the first one. I tend to have my doubts. 

Despite my complete unfamiliarity with Roseanne Barr (except for recognizing her name), I do have an observation prompted by what Ms. Barr said, and a reflection on the good advice provided by Stephan Pastis

In my opinion, many, if not all of us, have made "stupid remarks" that we almost immediately regret, as we listen to the words that have just come out of our mouths. Because that is true, there is much wisdom in the "good policy" recommendation made in the Pastis cartoon. 

The fact that "random" remarks are now, quite often, broadcast to a huge audience (an audience of millions who follow our president on Twitter, for example) makes the cartoon's advice even more pertinent. Think before you speak. Censor yourself, mentally, before spouting off, and REALLY think and censor yourself before firing off a social media posting by way of Twitter, Facebook, or some other platform. Very good policy advice, indeed! 

Having definitely made the same mistake that Barr made, on a number of occasions (though not with respct to any racist remark), I can affirm that such statements can be, in fact, genuine "mistakes," and that such stupid remarks do not always reveal deeper truths. Sometimes, of course, they do. But not always. 

The "reality" we create, and ultimately inhabit, is brought into existence by what we "do," by our actions. We need to be aware, though, that what we "say" is often "performtive." In other words, by "saying" something, we bring it into the world, and actually create a reality by our words. If we take seriously this truth about how we bring realities into the world, we will understand that the cartoon's advice is actually a profound statement about how we must try to live. We must, always, speak "truth," as we know it, because what we speak, in fact, does transform itself into the realities in which we will have to live. 

How to decide what we want to advance as "truth," before we "speak" that truth into the world as a performative statement that will help create a human reality, is a profound human responsibility.  "Thinking," an internal dialogue that should precede any serious statement, verbal or written, is an obligation imposed by our human condition. That is really what Pastis is talking about, it seems to me.

A corollary, I also think, is this. Let us try to forgive others, when we can, for the mistakes they make.  If we want to live in an inclusive world, not a factured and divided one. That, too, is demanded of us.



Image Credit:
https://www.gocomics.com/pearlsbeforeswine/2018/05/31

Thursday, May 31, 2018

#151 / Now More Than Ever


Hannah Arendt
























Now more than ever we need to adopt Arendt’s standard for honest collective exchange, a standard enunciated quite clearly in the “Nation-State and Democracy” radio address, published in this inaugural issue of Arendt Studies: 


Just as today in foreign policy we are everywhere confronted with the question of how we can organize relations between states to eliminate from them the possibility of war as an ultima ratio, so in domestic policy we are everywhere confronted with the problem of how we can reorganize and split up modern mass society to allow for the free formation of opinion, a sensible exchange of opinions, and thus to the individual taking active responsibility for public affairs.

From Cold War to endless war, much has changed in the fifty years since Arendt wrote this text. And yet the question still remains, can we find a way beyond endless war, so that we can connect with the many countries we have identified as our enemies in a non-violent and productive manner?

The quotation above is from the Editor's Introduction to the inaugural issue of an online journal "dedicated to the study of the life, work, and legacy of Hannah Arendt." The Editor, James Barry, suggests that finding some way to get beyond "endless war" is an imperative necessity in our times. 

As should be clear from my posting on Saturday, May 19th, I absolutely concur. 

While it may seem fanciful to suggest, as I did in that posting, that we should contemplate the reinstitution of the military draft as a political mechanism to force our nation to confront what our military apparatus is doing in the name of American citizens, I tend to think that Arendt would count that suggestion as an idea to be welcomed, as part of what ought to be an "honest, collective exchange" about an important topic: namely, what we should allow the military forces of the United States to do, allegedly on our behalf.

It is always good to read Hannah Arendt. One of her insights, worth thinking about, is that the political realm is a realm of "miracles," with something never imagined or ever thought of before being a constant possibility. That politics can produce miracles is true because politics is the realm of human freedom. We are constrained by nothing but our own imaginations, and by the limitations of our own personal courage. 

It is always good to consult with Bob Dylan, too. I think Dylan would agree with James Barry and might choose to highlight Barry's message in that first line, calling upon his lyrics in "Soon After Midnight."


And isn't that always true!




Image Credit:
http://hac.bard.edu/