Tuesday, January 17, 2017

#17 / The Origination Clause And Then Some

The so-called "Origination Clause" in the United States Constitution, found in Article 1, Section 7, Clause 1, reads as follows: 

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

In an article published in the January 3, 2017 edition of The New York Times, Rebecca M. Kysar, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, poses this question: "Is Trump's Tariff Plan Constitutional?" President-Elect Trump has said that he plans to raise tariffs by unilateral, executive action, to carry out his commitment to protect American jobs. Kysar suggests that the Origination Clause would make it unconstitutional for Mr. Trump, when he becomes our President, to do what he says he wants to do about tariffs. 

Tariffs raise revenue; therefore, new tariffs cannot be set by Executive Order; they must be the result of legislation enacted by the Congress, and that legislation has to begin as a Bill in the House of Representatives.

That's Kysar's conclusion, based on the Origination Clause, but she goes on from there to give Mr. Trump some good advice on how to do pretty much the same thing, in a different way.

Kysar's article is interesting, in and of itself, so if arcane arguments about relatively obscure parts of our Constitution tend to get you going, click the link to read her article. I am citing to the article for another reason, because of a more general observation that Kysar makes about the Constitution. Talking about taxes, Kysar says: 

The founders thought about this issue a lot: After all, taxes, as every grade schooler knows, fueled the colonies’ push for independence. So they wrote the Constitution, and its Origination Clause, to give the taxing power to the part of government that is closest to the people, thereby protecting against arbitrary and onerous taxation.

In a few days, when Mr. Trump gets to delete the hyphenated "Elect" from his current title, we are all going to find out whether or not our new President is really going to try to set our national agenda on the basis of unilateral, executive action, or whether he is going to respect that "separation of powers" idea. 

That part of the Constitution, by the way, is neither arcane nor obscure. I like to think that grade schoolers are still being taught that our elected Representatives (in the Congress) are the ones who are empowered make most of the decisions about what we, as a nation, are going to do. That's a rule applicable to tariffs and taxes, and to everything else, besides!

Here's my point, and I think we all need to start thinking about this. IF we find our new President really thinks he's a King, with some kind of right to make national decisions unilaterally, resistance is going to be required. And resistance will be forthcoming, too; I'm pretty sure of that. After all, we did dispose of that King thing once before, about 241 years ago. We know the drill!

What sort of specific actions of resistance will be needed, though? That's an extremely pertinent question, and beloved former San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll is trying to get some focus on what turns out to be a rather difficult inquiry.

Here's my contribution. Let's remember that we have elected Representatives because they are the part of our government that is "closest to the people," as Kysar notes. That's important because, being relatively "close," it's relatively easy for us to make them do what we want. As we look for ways to apply pressure, in resistance to presidential claims of unilateral power, we can insist that our Members of Congress interpose themselves between unconstitutional and unconstrained claims of executive prerogative, and those who would be affected by it. We must be prepared effectively to demand that our Members of Congress, not the President, make the big decisions. We must, in other words, insist that our Constitutional democracy work as it is supposed to. If people don't seem to get that (if they missed it in grade school) then we can roll out those "teach in" strategies that have worked before. 

Having been an elected official myself, I can testify from my own experience. Elected officials are easily terrified if the people who get to elect them are mad, and demand that they do something. That "close to the people" thing means that the people need to be close enough to our Congressional representatives that those representatives can see the whites of our eyes. When the people get that close, elected officials can be harried and threatened into action. Trust me, I've seen it work. Remember, it is possible to throw them all out of office every two years. 

Of course, the people have to care enough to deliver their demands in person, and they have to be persistent.  Snap Chat and Facebook "resistance" isn't going to cut it, if it turns out that our new President wants to be King. We are going to have to demand that our Members of Congress start doing their jobs, and the best way to assure that they do is to organize in such a way that we can convey, clearly, that if they don't do their jobs, and oppose the kind of "arbitrary and onerous" actions that contradict American values, we will be able to take their jobs away from them at the next convenient opportunity, which is always no more than two years away. 

Worried about authoritarian and totalitarian commandments from on high? We need to make our Members of Congress fight them. We might be very pleasantly surprised how effective we can be, as motivated constituents, in making elected representatives understand that they had better start representing us (the majority) if they don't want to be thrown out of office. 

This system, which is actually what has always been called "American democracy," works in Red States, and in Blue States. And my bet is that very few voters in any kind of state are going to want what we are guessing may be coming down the line from our new President and his Administration. 

IF things are as bad as we suspect they might be we've got to make that representative democracy system perform.

Or else!

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Monday, January 16, 2017

#16 / The Thiel Spiel On Freedom And Democracy

Peter Thiel is a Silicon Valley billionaire. He is now advising our billionaire president-elect, Donald J. Trump, and Thiel is apparently arguing for "authoritarian government." Furthermore, rumors have it that Thiel would like to import the Trump brand of politics and government into California. Business Insider says Thiel may be planning to run for Governor in 2018

The following is what Thiel has to say about freedom and democracy. Let's consider what this all might mean for our state, before we get too enthusiastic about a "Thiel for Governor" campaign. I am quoting, below, from a comment by Thiel published in Cato Unbound, the journal of the right-wing Cato Institute:

I remain committed to the faith of my teenage years: to authentic human freedom as a precondition for the highest good. I stand against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives, and the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual ... But I must confess that over the last two decades, I have changed radically on the question of how to achieve these goals. Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible (emphasis added).

Thiel's statement has been much repeated, and to great applause from those who see life as a contest between "freedom" and the tyranny of the majority. The illustration at the top of this posting, for instance, appears in an online comment by Derek Balling, who was seeking to answer this question: "What did Peter Thiel mean when he said, 'I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible?'" 

Here's Balling:

Democracy is the tool of a majority to enforce their will upon a minority. It gives an illusion of "say in the decision," but ultimately those who control the votes control the outcome. 
Freedom is about a lack of encroachment of others into one's own affairs. This means that - for example - freedom is about a majority not being able to tell you "you can't marry this person," or "you can't smoke this plant," or "you can't own this gun." It also limits your ability to encroach on others, which is why you have no freedom to, say, walk up to someone and punch them in the side of the head. 
Democracy on the other hand is the opposite of that, it is a majority of folks saying, "We don't care if you have made a decision for yourself, you're not allowed to poison yourself with that plant," or "We don't care if both of you are in love and happy, we say you can't be joined together in marriage," or "We don't care if you're not actually harming someone with that gun, we say you aren't allowed to have it." 
So I can't pretend to know what Peter Thiel was thinking about with that quote, but that's the sense that it evokes in me. I can't, in fact, understand how anyone ever consider them compatible.

To me, it is pretty clear that the resolution of this debate hinges on how we see ourselves. If we are each to understand ourselves as radically separate and individual, then "democracy" really does impose on our individual ability to do whatever we want.

If however, we see ourselves as connected, and believe that we are, in the end, "together in this," if we have a self-conception that recognizes our  mutual interdependence, and if we believe that our interdependence is at least as important as our "individuality," then it should be obvious that we need to have some mechanism for making collective decisions about what we are going to do.

An "authoritarian government" is certainly one way to solve the problem of collective governance. One person is the "decider," and he or she tells everyone else what to do. Maybe we will soon be calling this the "Trump/Thiel" model. It used to be called "Monarchy."

"Democracy" takes the opposite approach (the United States did have an entire revolution about this), and it requires us to get along and to make decisions in common that (generally speaking) are agreed to by the majority. I would hasten to note that in the American version of democracy there are some constitutional guarantees that prevent the majority from burning up the "Straw Man." The illustration at the top of the posting, in other words, is truly a "straw man" argument!

I try not to miss a chance to insert a Bob Dylan reference into these blog postings, if I think there is a plausible excuse. On the question whether we should see ourselves as radically individual, or as part of a whole, I'm with Bob. As he says in one of his album titles, we are "Together Through Life." 

If that's our basic reality, and we really are "together in this," then I think Winston Churchill beats Peter Thiel, hands down: 

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…

Thiel for Governor?


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Sunday, January 15, 2017

#15 / An Airy Dismissal Of Discernible Reality

Jonathan Mahler, writing in The New York Times Magazine, discusses "‘Self-Investigation’ in a Post-Truth Era." It's a good article, and worth reading. You can read it by simply clicking the link.

I particularly enjoyed Mahler's inclusion of the following commentary by a "senior adviser" inside the administration of President George W. Bush. Mahler characterizes these remarks as an "airy dismissal of discernible reality."

In 2002, a “senior adviser” inside the Bush administration told the journalist Ron Suskind (for an article later published in this magazine) that the mainstream media were part of “the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” But that’s not the way the world works anymore, the adviser explained. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

Now, I definitely dislike, and disagree with, and object to the reference to "empire." Nothing that is in the remotest degree "imperial" has any place within our system of representative democracy. A couple of weeks ago, in fact, I noted with disapprobation that our soon-to-be-President, Donald J. Trump, does not seem to have the kind of aversion to "imperial" references that ought to be built-in to anyone who serves as President of the United States.

However, let me put in a good word for the "senior adviser," and his or her idea about how our "political world" actually works. There is a way to understand the comments quoted in a positive light - and I think they make an important point.

If, by "discernible reality," we mean what apparently seems to be the current situation (and I think that's what the term conveys), then the "senior adviser" is totally correct that we should not be looking for solutions in what currently exists.

In politics, we create our own "realities" by having an idea, or a dream (it's that "vision thing"), and then doing the work necessary to convince others that they should join with us to create a new "reality." The "realities" of the human world that we create through politics are not "givens." We decide. We decide what we want, and then we act, and we transform "discernible reality" as we do.

Any surrender to the "discernible realities" of the current situation, granting such "realities" a status that puts them beyond any challenge or change, is precisely the opposite of what "politics" is actually all about.

In the political world, WE make the realities. We forget that at our peril.

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

#14 / And Now ... A Word From Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens
Having decided, a couple of weeks ago, to rename this blog, to emphasize the importance of "politics," let me nonetheless allude to my former title, by passing on an observation from the poet Wallace Stevens, bearing on the "Two Worlds" nature of the reality we inhabit. 

On New Year's Day, The New York Times Book Review ran a column by Daniel Halpern, "A Few Questions for Poetry." In that column, Stevens was quoted by Halpern to this effect:

The imagination is man's power over nature

Precisely so! The World of Nature is the reality into which we are born, and all living things are ultimately constrained by the limits that Nature imposes. 

For human beings, though, as opposed to all other living things, the World of Nature is only "ultimately" constraining. Most immediately, we inhabit a "human world" that we create ourselves. It is our glory and greatness, as human beings, to be able to go beyond the necessities that are immediately imposed by Nature on all other living things. Because of the twofold gifts of freedom, and our ability to act, we can create our own world, within the World of Nature. Our world, the "human world," is a world that first we dream, and then accomplish. 

In the world that we create, there is no limitation but our imagination. Let us never forget that. The world we create for ourselves is, in fact, a "political world," and there is nothing we cannot accomplish in that world, if we mobilize both our imagination and our will.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

#13 / Next Year In Sugar Land

The New Yorker has chosen the statute pictured to the left as one of the "nine objects" that the magazine has determined best symbolize last year. 

You can read the entire article, and find out about the other eight iconic objects selected by The New Yorker, by clicking this link. The magazine's commentary on the selfie statue is found below.

This year, I'm suggesting a focus on more "collective" activities, as opposed to individualistic efforts. But keeping the focus on governmental buildings, and governmental issues, should still be right in the center of the picture!

The Selfie Monument. Recent discussion of public statues and monuments has tended to focus on the removal of those that invoke a divisive past. But at least one new public sculpture was also notable this year: a rendering, in bronze, of two young women and a smartphone, which might be the first public monument to selfie culture. A resident of Sugar Land, Texas, evidently paid for the object, which was installed in a public plaza in May—and proved divisive. “I’m embarrassed for everyone,” one citizen tweeted. Others, however, simply took selfies with the object.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

#12 / Expectation Transformation (Metanoia)

Unless you routinely read The New Yorker from cover to cover, obsessively, with particular attention to those "Talk Of The Town" items at the front of the magazine, you have probably missed Daniel Smith's commentary, published under the following two headlines: "Brotherhood Of Man Dept." / "First Time Caller."

My advice is not to focus on that somewhat sexist first headline, printed in red. The content of the actual commentary is pretty exceptional, and because I think it's worth reading, I've reprinted Smith's commentary in its entirety (see below). You can also click this link to see Smith's commentary online. Online, the second headline reads: "A Friendship For A More Tolerant America." 

Smith's commentary tells what I believe must certainly be a true story about how Heather McGhee (black) and Garry Civitello (white) became friends, based on Civitello's sincere effort to overcome his racial prejudices. 

The Greeks called what Civitello has achieved "metanoia." In the theological use of the term, "metanoia" denotes a "spiritual conversion."

Maybe there could be an "app" that could facilitate the kind of expectation transformation that Civitello has been achieving, using what I think is a rather wonderful way of changing his own mind. 

How about a multi-function "transformer app" (maybe something like Tinder, with a twist). The app could work in multiple situations, and in both directions: 

White ==> Black
Black ==> White
Democrat ==> Republican
Republican ==> Democrat
          You get the idea! 

No "app" is really needed, of course. But how do we get people to do what Civitello has done? Unless we find an effective way for people to learn how to "change their minds," the debate and discussion, the dialogue and disagreement that comprise the very first stage of a healthy politics, will be aborted from the start.

In fact, isn't that exactly where we are now? I think it is, and if we're worried about totalitarian political solutions being imposed upon us (which lots of my friends are), the only way we can avoid that eventuality is by making real democracy work, and real democracy means that people must be able to change their minds, based on their real interactions with real people.

Smith's commentary suggests to me that we ought to be looking for a methodology for metanoia.

And we had better find such a methodology fast, too, before it's too late! App or not, Civitello's idea is worth pursuing:



In late August, just as Donald Trump was making his improbable pitch to black voters (“What the hell do you have to lose?”), an unusual and tender video began to make the viral rounds. It showed Heather McGhee, the president of the progressive think tank Demos, responding to a caller on C-span’s “Washington Journal.” McGhee is black. The caller was white, and, he said, prejudiced against black people, because of things he’d seen in the news. But he didn’t want to be. “What can I do to change?” he asked plaintively. “You know, to be a better American?” McGhee, moved, offered some advice: get to know black people, read up on black history, stop watching the nightly news. Eight million people viewed the video, leaving comments like “Hear, hear, hear every sweet, nourishing drop of that!”

Not long ago, the caller, a fifty-eight-year-old disabled Navy veteran named Garry Civitello, flew to Washington, D.C., from his home in Fletcher, North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, to spend a little time with McGhee.

Since their on-air exchange, McGhee has spoken frequently about “Garry from North Carolina,” presenting him as a counter-Trumpian symbol of decency, hope, and racial reconciliation. The two have developed, they say, a genuine relationship. Civitello joined Twitter to establish contact with McGhee. They have talked on the phone about a dozen times. Civitello describes his prejudices, and McGhee suggests ways to transcend them, talking to him, he says, “the way a doctor would talk to a patient.” They’ve covered personal matters, too: McGhee, who is thirty-six, got married last fall; Civitello lives alone with a parti-colored border collie named WoWo.

In Washington, they met for a drink at the Willard InterContinental hotel, a block from the White House. They sat on a red love seat, next to a busy staircase festooned with tinsel.
“I’ve been reading a lot,” Civitello said. He wore khaki pants and sneakers, and spoke with an easygoing drawl. Shortly after calling C-span, Civitello went to a used-book store. “So I go to the girl at the cash register—a little hippie girl in Asheville,” he said. “I’d found a couple of these black-studies books, and I go, ‘I’m practicing to not be prejudiced!’ And she’s on the register, like”—he softened his voice—“ ‘Well, that’s a good thing.’ ” He bought an 1843 account of the African slave trade; the autobiography of the civil-rights leader J. L. Chestnut, Jr.; “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to African American History”; and three books by Cornel West, whose work he now adores. A week before the election, McGhee visited Civitello in North Carolina and brought him two more books.

“It was ‘Just Mercy,’ by Bryan Stevenson,” McGhee said. “And also ‘The New Jim Crow,’ ” Michelle Alexander’s book about mass incarceration.

Civitello’s reading, he says, has transformed him. “My fears, my anxieties—those still linger. But I’m starting to see root causes. I was assuming people were being lazy. Or they didn’t care. They were being irresponsible in society. Now I’m finding out, no, they can’t get loans in banks—they have to use pawnshops. And I inherited a house!”

McGhee touched his arm. “Garry, I’m so proud.”

Civitello has employed a number of methods to realign his thinking. He avoids TV shows that focus on inner-city crime or traffic in minority stereotypes, like “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” (“It doesn’t portray black women very well at all.”) He has begun taking iPhone photos of the many Confederate flags that fly near his home town. (“I wasn’t paying attention to it before.”) And he has a system to transform his social interactions. Using a scale of one to ten—one being awful, ten being great—he grades his expectation of how friendly a black person will be toward him. Then he grades the reality. His main laboratory is the V.A. hospital in Asheville.

“At first, I was giving people threes,” he said.

“These are your prejudgments of them,” McGhee said.

“Right. My prejudgments. Then I have a little conversation with them, like, ‘Wow, the traffic really got bad out this way,’ and they’ll say, ‘Yeah, it really did. How long you been living here?’ All of a sudden, I’m having a laugh with them, and I’m giving them eights and nines!”

“This was not a system I recommended,” McGhee said. “This is Garry’s invention.”

In the lobby above them, a group of carollers from a local girls’ school began to sing. McGhee mentioned that Martin Luther King, Jr., finished writing his “I Have a Dream” speech at the hotel.

“I read that,” Civitello said. “He finished it, then he walked over to the Lincoln Memorial. He could have sat somewhere around here, man. He could have come down these steps. Who knows? It’s really a privilege to be here. I thank you, Heather.”

“Absolutely, Garry,” she said.

They walked upstairs to listen to the singing.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

#11 / They Are Not Your Daddy And Mommy

I kind of liked a recent column by E.J. Dionne, Jr., one of those Washington Post pundits. That's where I found the picture above. If you would like to read the column yourself, which was published on December 28th, click the link. The column was titled, "The good that could come from a Trump presidency."

If I can make a general characterization about the "good" that Dionne is suggesting might arise during the upcoming Trump presidency, it is that the American people are going to have to get more politically engaged:

Let us consider what good might come from the political situation in which we will find ourselves in 2017. Doing this does not require denying the dangers posed by a Donald Trump presidency or the demolition of progressive achievements he could oversee. It does mean remembering an important distinction President Obama has made ever since he entered public life: that “hope is not blind optimism.” 
“Hope,” he argued, “is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it.” ... 
It is this spirit that began to take hold almost immediately after Trump’s election. Americans in large numbers, particularly the young, quickly realized that the coming months and years will require new and creative forms of political witness and organization.

I agree with what Dionne has written, above, and particularly with his last paragraph. And here is another way to think about it: To the degree that we, as citizens, have let elected officials (including the President) run our lives, based on a feeling that they have our best interests at heart, and are generally doing the best they can, we have been making a mistake. Let's be clear. This is NOT how self-government works. 

Elected officials are NOT your "Daddy and Mommy." No matter who they are, you cannot ever assume that they are going to be doing the right thing, and doing their best. You need to stay on top of them. They are working for you (not vice versa). 

The relationship between citizens and those who have been elected to represent them is a power relationship, and WE, as citizens, need to remember who is supposed to have the power - and who does have the power, if we are willing to mobilize it. 

The role of citizen is not an easy assignment. 

That's what Dionne's column reminds us. 

Even though we may love them, the beloved elected officials we look up to and admire are NOT our Daddy and Mommy!

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

#10 / A Righteous (And Resolute) Anger

The December 19/26 edition of The Nation carried a book review by Amia Srinivasan, who lectures in Philosophy at University College, London. Her review was titled, "A Righteous Fury." To be strictly accurate, that is the title used in the print edition of the magazine. Online, the title asks, "Would Politics Be Better Off Without Anger?

The book that Srinivasan reviewed for The Nation is titled, Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice, by Martha C. Nussbaum. Nussbaum is Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago Law School. Based on what I gather from the review, Nussbaum appears to argue that politics would be better off without anger. 

Srinivasan is clearly not convinced, though Srinivasan does concede that "in a non-ideal world like ours, the right to voice justified anger will inevitably be abused by those without justification, [and] this is perhaps the most plausible case for restricting the place of anger in our public discourse, and for praising the virtues of civility and calm." 

Anyone who has watched a "Trump rally," and who has been disturbed by the manifest hostility, boiling within the crowd, ready to lash out, would understand the argument against letting anger prevail as a main ingredient of our politics.

So, what is Srinivasan's argument for the place of anger in our politics? I think it might be characterized by the saying found in the image at the top of this blog posting. When we consider American history, a history that includes outrageous examples of racial and economic injustice and oppression, how could anger not be legitimate? When we contemplate the destruction of the Natural World, and the mass extinctions that human actions are now causing everywhere, how could anger not be necessary? If you are not outraged and angry at the state of our political reality, you must not  be paying attention. You must not know what's going on.

Here is what Srinivasan says: 

Politics ... is about conflict as much as consensus. Anger can be a motivating force for organization and resistance; the fear of collective wrath, in both democratic and authoritarian societies, can also motivate those in power to change their ways. The question of whether, on the whole, anger has been politically productive or counterproductive in the long struggle against oppression is an empirical question, and one that cannot be settled from the philosopher’s armchair. Certainly it cannot be settled by a handful of historical cases that are all too easily treated as liberal fairy tales about the power of civility.  
Nussbaum is also unimpressed by the thought that anger can be psychically important for the victims of injustice. Strikingly, she doesn’t discuss the many feminist and black thinkers who have argued for the emancipatory features of anger, most notably Audre Lorde, who described women’s anger as “a liberating and strengthening act of clarification.” Nor does she mention Frederick Douglass, who wrote of the moment when he finally resisted the violent attack of a slave breaker that it “rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood. It recalled the departed self-confidence, and inspired me again with a determination to be free.”  
It is not quite that Nussbaum overlooks the possibilities suggested by these thinkers; she concedes that getting angry can sometimes help restore a victim’s sense of self-worth, and can sometimes signal to the victim and others that an injustice has occurred. But she doesn’t register the full weight and shape of anger’s psychic importance. It is not merely that anger can make one feel better or prompt one to see the badness in one’s situation. Rather, anger is sometimes and for some people the only way of recovering a lost sense of agency. And sometimes, and for some people, it can be the only way of registering the full injustice of the world.

For me, Srinivasan's argument hits closest to the mark when she discusses the idea that anger is related to one's sense of "agency." My experience has been that feelings of anger are directly related to a sense that one is powerless against unfairness, and injustice, and other things that are wrong. Srinivasan is dead on right about that. 

And that is exactly why eliminating "anger," in politics, is just as dangerous as celebrating and brandishing it. We cannot have a healthy politics unless those engaged in politics, and affected by it, feel a sense of their own power, of their "agency," to use that modern term. Politics, by its very nature, is nothing other than our collective effort to make the world be the way we think it ought to be. And conflict is built in, because we have different ideas of what would be best, and politics is our mechanism to decide upon, and then carry out, a collective course of action. To be "political," in this sense, you must feel "powerful." You must have the idea that you can change the world. A resolute confidence in one's personal power is the first requirement for one's successful participation in politics.

And if you don't feel powerful, then (it is my experience) you feel angry!

Centering our politics on anger, as a way to validate the genuine, and legitimate sense of outrage that can motivate change, is potentially dangerous and debilitating. Anger spins quickly into violence. Violence begets more violence, anger more anger. Angry and violent confrontations can quickly destroy everything, as they spread, like wildfire, ready to combust, burning down everything before them. The degeneration of anger into violence, and its consequences, should be convincing that putting anger at the base of our politics is misguided. 

But we cannot suppress "anger" at the expense of justice, without destroying our politics in another way. There are many outrageous insults to both the human and the Natural World that cry out for a solution, and if we refuse to confront those outrages, because of a fear that to do so might let loose an uncontainable anger, then we abandon any chance for our politics to confront and overcome the real challenges we face in this world.

So, what should we do?

I found that an article by Bill McKibben, from that same edition of The Nation, provides us with a solution. McKibben's article is titled, "How the Active Many Can Overcome the Ruthless Few: Nonviolent direct action was the 20th century’s greatest invention—and it is the key to saving the earth in the 21st century."

In short, McKibben cites both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. as examples of how anger may be directed, with both resolution and dedication, to create a powerful, transforming political force. 

I haven't read Nussbaum's book. I have read McKibben's article. I commend it to you. Click the link. The picture below tells the story:

Image Credits:
(1) - http://lambonthealtar.blogspot.com/2010/07/trinity-6-devotional-commentary.html
(2) - https://www.thenation.com/article/how-the-active-many-can-overcome-the-ruthless-few/ 

Monday, January 9, 2017

#9 / Lots Of Post-Election Commentary

It seems that many of us are still trying to "decode" the meaning of the recent election. I know I am, and I am following what the commentators are saying, too.

The observations coming from professional pundits, and other politically savvy types (even including our current President), constitute a kind of "mixed bag" of explanations, as we all ponder what happened. How in the heck can this election have gone to Donald J. Trump?

The New York Times reported on December 27th that President Obama is "sure" that he would have defeated Donald Trump, had the President been able to run against him, and to seek a third term. Here are the President's exact words, as quoted in The Times

"I'm confident that if I ... had run again and articulated it, I think I could have mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it." 

The "it" the President was talking about was his "message of inclusion and helping middle-class Americans." If he had been the one delivering that message, the President said, he is pretty certain that he would have beaten Donald Trump.

Considering the President's approval rating (57%, according to a recent Gallup Survey), compared with the 38% of the voters who said, right before the election, that they had a favorable impression of Hillary Clinton, I think the President is probably right. Voting for a person you "like," as opposed to someone you don't like, could have well been a big factor in determining why so many people who didn't "like" Hillary Clinton either stayed home or voted for that other guy.

That thing about who the voters "liked," however, isn't necessarily the key to how the vote went. Another article in the December 27, 2016 edition of The Times is well worth reading. I am referring to David Paul Kuhn's opinion piece, "Sorry, Liberals. Bigotry Didn't Elect Trump." 

Maybe the voters didn't "like" Clinton, but Kuhn says the voters didn't like Trump, either, and that most of Trump's voters weren't bigots. Here's a short excerpt (again, the whole article is available online, and I think it's on point):

Figures from the heights of journalism, entertainment, literature and the Clinton campaign continue to suggest that Mr. Trump won the presidency by appealing to the bigotry of his supporters ... This stereotyping of Trump voters is not only illiberal, it falsely presumes Mr. Trump won because of his worst comments about women and minorities rather than despite them. 
In fact, had those people who agreed that Mr. Trump lacked “a sense of decency” voted for Mrs. Clinton, she would have been elected the next president. 
Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump equally won over party loyalists. Yet about one in five voters did not have a favorable view of either candidate. These voters overwhelmingly backed Mr. Trump. Exit polls demonstrated that if voters who disapproved of both candidates had divided evenly between them, Mrs. Clinton would have won. 
Several weeks before the election, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 51 percent of white working-class voters did not believe that Mr. Trump had a “sense of decency” and ranked Mrs. Clinton slightly higher on that quality. 
But they were not voting on decency. Indeed, one-fifth of voters — more than 25 million Americans — said they “somewhat” disapproved of Mr. Trump’s treatment of women. Mr. Trump won three-quarters of these voters, despite their disapprobation. 
Bluntly put, much of the white working class decided that Mr. Trump could be a jerk. Absent any other champion, they supported the jerk they thought was more on their side — that is, on the issues that most concerned them.

Any fair evaluation should give Hillary Clinton some well-deserved credit for what she did. She did what President Obama said he would also have been able to do, had he been the candidate. Clinton definitely did "mobilize a majority" in favor of her candidacy. There were over two million more votes for Hillary than for the winner.

The problem for Hillary's candidacy, as we now so clearly understand (if we didn't before), is that a popular majority does not mean a political victory in a presidential race, considering that the actual selection of the President is by the Electoral College, not by the national popular vote. Those were the rules in effect from the start, so "mobilizing a majority" wasn't quite enough. The states that ended up deciding the election were ones in which, as Kuhn says, white working class voters felt particularly disregarded and left behind by the Democrats. President Obama might have had some problems in those venues, too.

What I think is most pertinent in the Kuhn discussion is this point: Voters cast their vote for the candidate whom they think is going to do what they want to see done. To the degree that political campaigns focus on personality, rather than policy, they are apt to lose focus, and go off track.

That seems to have happened, this time around. Fewer military involvements around the world, and more attention to jobs for working families; less deference to financial elites; more income equality - those are the things that many, if not most, Americans have been trying to get their government to pay attention to.

So, the guy who said that he'd pay attention to those issues won. Not necessarily a surprise, thinking back on it!

Image Credit:

Sunday, January 8, 2017

#8 / Visiting The I-Doctor

As promised, I am especially trying to think about "politics" this year, and about how we might be able to make our politics better. It's my thought, as I suggested yesterday, that we need to start making our elected representatives do the hard work of policy-making. We shouldn't allow the Congress to let itself off the hook. 

Congress has essentially decided to govern by delegating a large part of its own powers to the President. That is not supposed to be the way we decide, collectively, what our nation is going to do.

From trade wars to real wars, let's make our elected representatives, who collectively represent the entire country, do the work they are supposed to do. Let's make them make the basic policy decisions.

The current concept seems to be that the President is "the decider" (maybe that came in with George W. Bush). In terms of how the Constitution lays out the various responsibilities, this is just plain wrong. Given that we are going to have a President, as of January 21st, who meets the DSM description of a narcissist, and who manifests an evident lack of personal self-control, and who doesn't object when he is called "his Excellency," this is of particular importance.

And here is another point, maybe a little bit different, but related. Our elected representatives can sometimes get carried away with themselves, assuming personal credit for collective achievements. Too much self-congratulation by our elected representatives should result in a consultation with the "I-Doctor." 

We are in this together, and whatever gets done, for good or ill, it's a "we," and not an "I" who does it. Who should get the credit or the blame?

"We," not "I."

"We," not "Me."

Image Credit:

Saturday, January 7, 2017

#7 / Krugman Makes A Point

Paul Krugman's column in the December 26, 2016 edition of The New York Times was titled, "And The Trade War Came." Krugman is a pontificator par excellence, and I usually find his predictive pronouncements just a little bit pompous, because they always seem to be just a little bit too self-assured and a little bit too self-congratulatory. I particularly felt that way during the presidential campaign, last year, which did not, actually, turn out quite the way that Krugman thought it would. 

At any rate, Krugman's self-important style aside, the issues about which Krugman writes are usually important ones. In the December 26th column, Krugman said this: 

Relevant legislation gives the occupant of the White House remarkable leeway should he choose to go protectionist. He can restrict imports if such imports “threaten to impair the national security”; he can impose tariffs “to deal with large and serious United States balance-of-payments deficits”; he can modify tariff rates when foreign governments engage in “unjustifiable” policies. Who determines whether such conditions apply? The executive himself.

Now, in case anyone needs a refresher course in the Constitution, here is what that document says about the powers of the President (Article II, Section 1):

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.

The Constitution does go on to give some specifics (about treaties, making appointments, being commander in chief, and things like that), but there is not much detail in outlining what the "executive Power" given to the President is supposed to include. A hint can be found in Article II, Section 3, however, which reads as follows:

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

The basic idea in the Constitution, which we all learned about in high school, is that the Congress makes the laws, and the President "executes" them, i.e., carries them out. 

In the case of the President's duty with respect to trade, Krugman points out that the Congress has decided to let the President do pretty much whatever he wants. I believe that Krugman is quoting the law correctly, and based on the text of the law, given that the basic charge in the Constitution is that the President is to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," President Trump can do all the (bad) things that Krugman is predicting. 

What if the law had read something like this?:

The President can restrict imports if such imports threaten to impair the national security; he can impose tariffs to deal with large and serious United States balance-of-payments deficits; and he can modify tariff rates when foreign governments engage in unjustifiable policies, when and if, in each case, he is specifically authorized by the Congress to do so.

That kind of approach, leaving the key judgments about national policy in the hands of members of Congress, would prevent the kind of "imperial" Presidency that may be a temptation for our new president-elect. 

Congress has, in fact, and not only in the arena of trade, delegated basic policy-making authority to the President, and this kind of policy-making delegation to the President now includes what amounts to a Congressional delegation of the "War Power," which the Constitution specifically reserves to Congress. Congress has determined to let the President decide when to engage in military actions, and Congress doesn't even have to be informed, must less authorize such military interventions. 

These delegations from Congress to the President represent a complete betrayal of what the Constitution envisioned, and if we are to recapture our government, in the name of democracy, we need to insist, going forward, that our elected representatives in Congress must make the laws that determine what our nation does. The President's job is not to set policy. It is to execute the policy decisions made by the Congress! 

If there is dissatisfaction with our government (and I think that's pretty much a given), let's consider whether or not that dissatisfaction might largely come from the fact that we no longer have the kind of "representative" democracy we heard about in high school.

That's just a thought! No predictions about whether it's possible to change things back. 

Getting back to a democratic and representative government, if we really want to take on that task, is going to require quite a lot of political work!

Image Credit:

Friday, January 6, 2017

#6 / Let's Resist The Rush To Fear

I get daily bulletins from EcoWatch, and these bulletins often alert me to stories about the environment that I might otherwise have missed. EcoWatch has a Facebook page, too. You can sign up for daily bulletins from EcoWatch yourself, if you'd like to. There is a little box to do that at the bottom of the EcoWatch main page

Recently (this happened after November 8th), EcoWatch set up a special page on its website called "TrumpWatch." On December 24th, when Christmas cheer might well have been in order, I got a bulletin that informed me, "Trump's Call for a New Nuclear Arms Race: 'Absolutely Frightening'." The picture accompanying the article was pretty frightening itself. I have put a copy at the top of this blog posting.

The EcoWatch headline is an example of many similar headlines I have been reading since the Trump election. I would like to suggest that we not rush to fear as our first reaction to the stupid statements (and dangerous ideas) coming out of the mouth of our President-Elect. 

Fear gets the political adrenaline flowing; I definitely admit that. I suggest, though, that it's way too early to stimulate ourselves with fear. In fact, "fear fatigue" is at least as much of a political danger, I think, as any of the President-Elect's stupid statements and bad (and dangerous) ideas. 

I suggest we meet stupid statements and dangerous ideas in the spirit of a calm certainty that we, as citizens, will simply not abide any such outrageous proposals. After all, we only have to be "afraid" if all these bad ideas have been made into realities, because genuine danger comes not with Twitter postings, but with real action in the real world. 

We have a lot of ability to stop stupid actions. That will take substantial political work, of course, but let's focus on that. I really do think that calm determination, not a "Chicken Little" fear dance around the barnyard, is going to help us as we resist. 

As I have earlier opined, we should not "expect" that our political institutions are going to cave in and fail. 

Let's just be certain that they don't.

Image Credit:

Thursday, January 5, 2017

#5 / What Is Said And Not Who Said It

"Ali was the only person born in the sacred sanctuary of the Kaaba in Mecca, the holiest place in Islam." This is according to Wikipedia

The Wikipedia article also says, "Ali was the first young male who accepted Islam." Sunnis consider Ali the fourth and final of the Rashidun (rightly guided) caliphs. Shias regard Ali as the first Imam after Muhammad.

Looking for an illustration for today's posting, I came upon Ali, and the quotation above. The headline for the posting is my own construction, and was all typed in before I found out what Ali had to say about this subject. I am happy to see that my thinking has an ancient lineage. 

In fact, I have been thinking for some time that a healthy politics is being undermined by an apparent unwillingness, on all sides, to consider the substance of what someone might say, by way of a political comment or argument, without first deciding if the person who makes the comment is someone whose politics you "like."

We are all too anxious, in other words, to evaluate statements not on their own merits, but in the light of who is making the statement. I'm with Ali. That's the wrong way to do it.

In the Autumn 2016 edition of the Panetta Institute Update, Leon Panetta wrote an article entitled, "The Need Now: Restore Trust In Our Democracy." This observation from Panetta's article rang true to me: 

This year's bitterly divisive presidential election shook the faith of many Americans in the democratic process itself...But this decline in public trust didn't start in 2016. We're seeing the results of decades of hyper-partisanship in Washington....

One of the characteristics of hyper-partisanship is to give credence only to statements made by someone from one's own party, from one's own "side." That is contraindicated, if we care about the truth, and if we care about making our politics respond to what the majority wants.

In these blog postings, and otherwise, I often find that when I refer to a statement made by somebody, a reader will make a comment along these lines: "Well, X-person (whose statement I have mentioned approvingly) did such and such, or is a member of such and such a group, or said this other thing on some other occasion."

The idea conveyed by such criticism is clear. Whatever might be the merits of the statement I'm quoting, the person whom I have quoted is unworthy or unreliable because of past or present affiliations or actions. 

In that situation, I'm with the Imam.

We cannot ever have a healthy politics, and the kind of robust debate we need, if we refuse even to consider (much less to applaud) remarks, or observations, or suggestions made by someone who comes from "the other side."

The division between the Shiites and the Sunnis have driven Islamic nations into incredibly destructive civil wars.

Let's not let political (or religious) divisions do that in the United States.

We need to pay attention to what is said, not who is saying it!

Image Credit:

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

#4 / Tell Me This Isn't True!

The lovely picture, above, accompanies an article in the December 9, 2016 edition of The New York Times. In the print edition, the headline reads: "Giraffes Are Vulnerable to Extinction, Study Says." 

The picture, below, from my personal files, is titled "Giraffe Watching," and shows my grandson Dylan doing exactly that. The giraffe itself didn't fit in the frame.

Dylan is now considerably older, but I believe that he still loves giraffes just as much as ever. They were his favorite animal by far when he was just a little boy. 

Human beings are wonderful, but we, and our works, are not the only things of wonder in this world. Take, for example, the giraffe. 

Unless we, as human beings, step away from our desire to be in charge of everything, and unless we stop trying to make everything be about "us," we will lose the giraffe, and every other part of the World of Nature, too. And the World of Nature is what sustains not only our spirit, but our lives. 

When everything else has been lost, because we have always put ourselves first, it will be our time to go, too.

Dylan, Watching A Giraffe

Image Credits:
(1) - http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/08/science/giraffe-extinction.html?_r=0
(2) - Gary Patton Personal Photo

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

#3 / That Letter From Putin

On December 23, 2016, I found a bulletin in my email inbox from The Hill, which provides news and information about the operations of the federal government. The article I found, when I clicked the link provided, was titled, "Trump shares letter from Putin: 'His thoughts are so correct.'"

December 23rd also happened to be the day that both President Putin and president-elect Trump made statements that could be interpreted as suggesting that the United States and Russia should return to the days of the nuclear arms race, when the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. each tried to develop, and deploy, more nuclear weapons than the other side. The Soviet Union's efforts to match the United States in this area is generally thought to have contributed in a major way to the ultimate failure of the U.S.S.R. as a superpower, with President Ronald Reagan trumpeting its collapse as the "end of the Evil Empire."

This "imperial" terminology is actually somewhat related to the point I'd like to make about President Putin's letter. I have reprinted it, in its entirety, below. As president-elect Trump said, it was a "very nice letter," basically calling for bilateral cooperation and collaboration.

While in some ways the letter is "nice" enough, I think it's pertinent to see how President Putin addressed his letter, a topic not mentioned, as far as I know, in the news coverage given to it. Salutations can be important!

President-elect Trump didn't choose to comment on the salutation used by President Putin, as he called the letter "very nice."

I, personally, think it's important that we let president-elect Trump know that he was addressed incorrectly, and that how the President of the United States is addressed is important (just so nobody gets confused about what role a president plays in our democracy).

I'd like to think that president-elect Trump would let President Putin know that future communications should conform to the practices that our democracy has determined are proper, with respect to how we address the President. Salutations are important, and the way we do it reflects the kind of role we expect our President to play. Things may be different in Russia, but that's not the model we follow.

President Putin addressed president-elect Trump as "His Excellency."

At the time our nation was brought into existence, there was actually a very serious debate about the proper salutation to be used when addressing the President. The question was both debated and decided, long ago. "His Excellency" was rejected. The proper salutation is: 

Mr. President.
(Saying "Your Excellency" is intolerable, and it's just plain wrong)


Unofficial Translation
Washington, DC
Moscow, Kremlin
December 15, 2016
Dear Mr. Trump,
Please accept my warmest Christmas and New Year greetings. Serious global and regional challenges, which our countries have to face in recent years, show that the relations between Russia and the U.S. remain an important factor in ensuring stability and security of the modern world. I hope that after you assume the position of the President of the United States of America we will be able -  by acting in a constructive and pragmatic manner – to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation in different areas as well as bring our level of collaboration on the international scene to a qualitatively new level.
Please accept my sincere wishes to you and your family of sound health, happiness, wellbeing, success and all the best.
V. Putin

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