Thursday, July 7, 2022

#189 / Voting For Our Leaders

 
 
That is Heather Cox Richardson, pictured above. Richardson is a history professor at Boston University, and writes a Substack blog called, Letters From An American. One of her postings arrives in my email inbox every day, usually just a little before midnight. Sometimes, her blog postings show up a little after. 
 
Mostly, Richardson provides a "rundown" of what has happened on the day she is writing about, always illuminated by her command of American history. I was an American history major in college, and I find Richardson's commentaries very much worth reading.
 
I had a thought, though, after reading Richardson's blog posting on June 13, 2022, that I want to share with anyone who may be reading my own blog. Richardson commented on the hearings that were held that day by the House of Representatives Committee investigating the events that took place in the nation's capital on January 6, 2021. Here is how she began her discussion of that hearing:
 
Today was the second hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. The day began with chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) laying out clearly and simply that what Trump and his minions did was to try to steal from Americans our right to vote for the leaders we want. That’s the heart of our system of government and central to the rule of law. The investigation of what happened in the last months of the Trump administration isn’t some abstract debate about a short riot, deadly though it was; it is an examination of an attack on the American people and an attempt to destroy our democracy (emphasis added).
 
While I completely agree with Richardson's point, that there was an orchestrated effort by the president and his collaborators to destroy our democracy, by seeking to negate the democratic choices made by Americans in the presidential election held in November 2020, I didn't really think that "leaders" was quite the right word to use in the sentence I have highlighted above. The "heart" of our system of government, to my way of thinking about it, is not really the right to vote for the "leaders" we want, but the right to choose the "representatives" we want.

The idea that Members of Congress (and even the President) are "leaders" seems to elevate those who hold office above the rest of us. "Leaders," after all, are always "in front," showing us where to go, and "leading" us there. 

I do believe that most Americans tend to think of our elected officials as our "leaders," but I suggest that we need to reevaluate. We need to question whether using that word, "leaders," may give us exactly the wrong idea about how our government is actually supposed to work.
 
I consider that our system of democratic self-government is based on the idea that "we the people" are the ones who are supposed to be doing the "leading," and that when we vote, we don't vote to decide who will "lead us," and who will "show us the way," but we vote to select the people, instead, who will "represent" our desires and choices. Our elected officials should always be called our "representatives," because their job is to "represent us," and to act as our agents, not as our "leaders." 

Some might find that the point I am making is just an inconsequential quibble over vocabulary. What do you think? Is the word choice I am complaining about actually of no major importance?

I don't think so!
 
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.bc.edu/bc-web/offices/office-of-university-communications/for-the-media/boston-college-faculty-experts/heather-cox-richardson.html
 
 

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

#188 / A House Divided?

 

I was genuinely thrilled when I saw the cover on the July 4, 2022, edition of The New Yorker magazine. I have reproduced the cover art, above, and you can get a better view by clicking this link. I thought the cover image truly captured what our national holiday is all about. Red letters on the left. Blue letters on the right:
 
On the left, "Black Lives Matter," and one of those "In This House We Believe" signs, like the one on my own front lawn. On the right, an admonition to "Back The Blue," and to "Thank A Veteran."

In front of the house on the right, there is a plastic, artificial lawn. On the left, prolific natural growth - a pollinator's paradise. 
On the left, there is a "Little Free Library." On the right, a home surveillance camera.

On both front porches, there is an American flag, and residents on both the left and the right are on their phones. 
We may have different views, and concerns, but we are all Americans, here!

That is how I "read" the front cover image, which is by artist/cartoonist Chris Ware. That is the message I got when I just looked at the picture as I pulled the magazine out of the mail.
 
It may well be, though, that Ware didn't intend his image in quite the way I saw it. He titled the cover, "House Divided." I found that out when I opened up the magazine.
 
The magazine has published a brief little interview with Ware, in which he indicates some trepidation about the nation's future. Ware said, in fact, that he "was buoyed by the brief flirtation with reality that the January 6th hearings have resurrected in a sliver of the G.O.P., but now the Texas Republican party’s vote to adopt a platform that asserts the illegitimacy of Biden’s electoral victory makes it feel as if something very, very, very bad is about to happen."
 
Well, something "very, very, very bad" could be about to happen, and if Abraham Lincoln is right (and he was a pretty smart guy), "a house divided against itself cannot stand."  

But let me suggest that the kind of divisions pictured in Ware's cover drawing are not the kind of "divisions" that mean our house "cannot stand." In fact, both the home on the left, and the home on the right, look pretty solid to me. We are "in this together," I hear them say, despite those different opinions and views about priorities and politics. This is exactly why I was cheered by the image.

I think we need to see our differences for what they really are: differences. Differences of opinion - not different truths! That's OK. Let's celebrate those differences, right? We have to learn to do that. Wait! Even better: we know how to do that!
 
All sides can fly the flag. That's what this picture tells us. We are all Americans here!
 
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cover-story/cover-story-2022-07-04
 
 

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

#187 / Redemptive Patriotism

 
 
"Redemptive Patriotism" is the title of an article in the July 2022, edition of Sojourners Magazine. At least, that is the title borne by the article in the hard copy version of the magazine that showed up in my home mailbox. 
 
I read the article in Sojourners shortly after having written my blog entry for July 4th, in which I proclaimed myself an "unabashed American patriot." Since I believe that professions of "patriotism" are properly suspect, I was happy to find that the article saw the Fourth of July holiday (and patriotism) exactly the way I portrayed them in my blog post yesterday:

It is imperative [says Sojourners - and me] that we resist destructive forms of patriotism that bleed into nationalism. Instead, we should embrace a redemptive patriotism that celebrates the noble promises the country was built upon, even while we acknowledge and repent for the ways the country has fallen so short of living up to those ideals and extending them to everyone.
 
Citing Frederick Douglass (in whose company I would be honored to be counted at any time),  and particularly Douglass' famous speech, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?", Sojourners frames the Fourth of July, and "redemptive patriotism," this way: 

The U.S. Constitution stated the mission of the framers as forming “a more perfect union,” which continues to be inextricably linked to building a more perfect democracy and a more just nation. This and every Fourth of July, let’s celebrate by rededicating ourselves to doing just that.
 
We have a whole year until the next Fourth of July comes around - and a major set of elections in the meantime. Let's each of see what we can do to redeem our patriotism between now and then!
 
 
https://sojo.net/magazine/july-2022/frederick-douglass-prophet-isaiah-and-healthy-patriotism

Monday, July 4, 2022

#186 / Celebrating The Fourth

 

I have been making daily blog postings for over twelve years, and in almost every case my blog postings are stimulated by some article or book I've read, or some movie I have seen, or some song that has come into my mind, or some conversation I have had, or some email or letter I have received - or, as in the case of this blog posting, because the day itself has some special collective or personal significance that calls forth my comment. 
 
My "Last Day (Songs Included)" blog posting, from December 31, 2021, is an example of such a blog posting. So is what I am writing today. The Fourth of July has always been of special significance for me. 

I was an American history major in college, with a special focus on the American Revolution. My favorite book, by Hannah Arendt (though I love them all), is On Revolution, which compares the American Revolution to the French Revolution, and to the Russian Revolution, with the American Revolution coming out "on top." One of my favorite activities, during the early part of my twenty years in office as a Santa Cruz County Supervisor, was making an annual Fourth of July speech at the celebration sponsored by the City of Santa Cruz, and held in Harvey West Park. I was truly sorry when the City stopped arranging for those annual Independence Day gatherings.

I celebrate the Fourth of July as an unabashed American patriot. I do believe that the United States of America has a message for all people, everywhere, and it is a message about self-government. That message is most of all a message to ourselves, to which we must never forget to pay heed.

Though we have failed in much, those who declared a new nation, in 1776, should be honored and celebrated for having bestowed upon us what has been our nation's birthright commandment:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
 
That we must make an enduring commitment to self-government, involving every one of us in the enterprise, is our birthright commandment. It is a "commandment," not a suggestion. To respond to that commandment I dedicate whatever time and talents I still have left, whatever energies I am still able to deploy. So must we all.

Self-government is always in peril - it was only an idea in 1776, and it is still a "good idea" today. Whatever perils confront us, our birthright commandment is still our obligation and our highest calling. 

I celebrate, today - and you should do the same - not "accomplishment" but "ambition." It must be our ambition, always, to accomplish what we promised to the world would be our cause. 

Never a greater cause, this side of Heaven. The Founders still call to us. Let us hear them, again, today. 

Come celebrate the Fourth! Remember, with Lincoln, the task to which we have promised our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor: 

That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

oooOOOooo
 
 
 
Image Credits:
https://www.britannica.com/story/why-do-americans-celebrate-independence-day-with-fireworks
 

Sunday, July 3, 2022

#185 / We Are The Majority

  

A claim that "We Are The Majority" is advice that comes from Michael Moore, who is pictured above. Among his other endeavors and accomplishments (click this link to get a Wikipedia listing of some of them), Moore publishes a regular Substack blog
 
On June 12, 2022, Moore's blog posting was titled, "I Was Elected, 50 Years ago Today." Since what Moore says goes to our understanding of what "democracy" is all about, I thought it made sense to highlight Moore's advisory as our national holiday celebrating the democratic origins of our nation draws near. 
 
Until I read all about it in Moore's blog, I had no idea that Moore had ever been an elected official, but he provides some rather convincing proof, by way of a picture of a June 14, 1972, news article, demonstrating that Moore was elected to the Davison, Michigan school board, at the age of eighteen. It appears that he was the top vote-getter, too. 

Rather than reproduce the entirety of what Moore has to say, I invite you to click this link, to get the full story direct from Moore's blog. 
 
Here, however, is an excerpt from that blog posting, providing the "lesson" that Moore draws from the story he tells about his own experience. As with virtually all of Moore's stories, it's a good story, so do read the entire blog posting: 
 
I tell this story mainly to encourage some of you, all of you, that it doesn’t take much to be engaged, to get involved. Even a kid can do it. We are at a point that if we all don’t push through our cynicism, dump our hopelessness and get off the couch, we are going to witness the end of our Democracy and the chance to turn that thing we call “life, liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” into a reality for everyone (emphasis added). 
It starts by going to a March For Our Lives Rally yesterday, or a Women’s March the day the Supreme Court extinguishes one more right. 
It starts by you running for local office. What are you waiting for? 
It starts with watching the prime time January 6th hearing from last Thursday night (C-Span link) and telling everyone you know what you learned. 
It starts with you understanding the power you already have — and using it....
We Are The Majority
 
Moore is oh, so right about that. We are either citizens or subjects. 

You choose!


 
Image Credit:
https://www.businessinsider.com/michael-moore-donald-trump-voters-legal-terrorist-2016-10
 

Saturday, July 2, 2022

#184 / Water And Growth (Santa Cruz Style)



California is experiencing an unprecedented drought. The water year that ended September 30, 2021, was the second driest on record, due to extreme heat and lack of rain and snow, and all fifty-eight counties in California are now under a drought emergency proclamation. That definitely includes Santa Cruz County, where I live. The image above comes from the City of Santa Cruz Water Department. The Water Department does seem to acknowledge that we face a potential crisis - especially if drought conditions continue. Those who take global warming seriously not only believe that continuing drought conditions are possible; they think continuing drought conditions are likely - and that continuing drought conditions will have dramatic effects!
 
A recent bulletin from the City of Santa Cruz Water Department seemed significant to me. Here is what this June 2022, bulletin said: 

One thing that hasn't changed since 2014 is the community average daily water use. We're still using about the same amount of water per cap per day as we were then (a little less, in fact, we're at 44 gpcd). This is both wonderful an startling. It's wonderful because it's a testament to our community's commitment to use water resources wisely. It's startling because when we have another significant drought, there is very little left to cut from our system with[out] affecting health, safety, and commerce. In fact, in a recent survey of our customers, 76% agreed with the statement, "I've already cut back water use in my home as much as I can; there's not much more I can do to save water." Simply put, unlike prior to the drought of 2014-2015, our customer[s] are already using water very conservatively - we won't be able to conserve our way out of the next significant drought (emphasis added).
 
Despite a couple of typos in the Water Department's bulletin, the message seems crystal clear. We are in potential trouble with respect to our long term water prospects. This is particularly true when we realize that, unlike many other communities, we have no "outside" source of water. Santa Cruz County is completely dependent on water supplies from within the county.

Given this, one might think that our local community should be circumspect about encouraging new growth, since new growth places increasing demands on a water supply that is limited, and that is already being used "very conservatively." Plans to increase our storage capacity, thus augmenting effective supply, are, at this point, just plans!
 
BUT.... the approach actually suggested by the City Water Department and the City Planning Department is anything but circumspect. They tell existing residents that there is "no problem" with the dramatic new growth proposed for the City. No problem with traffic impacts! No problem with parking impacts! No adverse impacts on existing neighborhoods, and NO WATER IMPACTS, EITHER!

If you are a resident of the City of Santa Cruz, and if you think that the Water Department's approach to water and growth is a problematic and probably short-sighted and erroneous approach, then you had better pay attention to upcoming Supervisorial and City elections. A majority of the current elected officials on the Santa Cruz City Council are blithely planning for new twenty-story buildings in an expanded downtown, and high-density developments along the City's major transportation corridors. That is true even as the state of California has made it possible to convert single family lots into lots with four homes, and as the University of California is planning for mammoth new growth, too. 

Will there be water for all that new growth? Not if drought conditions continue! Take it from the Water Department: 
 
We won't be able to conserve our way out of the next significant drought.
 
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.facebook.com/SantaCruzWaterDepartment

Friday, July 1, 2022

#183 / Not So Sure

 

Cassidy Hutchinson, pictured, gave damaging testimony against our former president, Donald J. Trump, in a Congressional hearing held on Tuesday, June 28th. If you have been paying attention, you already know that. 

In a column published in The New York Times on Thursday, June 30, 2022, columnist Frank Bruni called Hutchinson's testimony "A Ruinous Portrait of Narcissism." That is the title on the column I found in the hard copy edition of the paper delivered to my door on Thursday morning. If you click the link, above, you will find that the online headline is different. Online, Bruni's column has this title: "If Only Trump Had Been Stopped From Grabbing America’s Steering Wheel." 
 
Bruni also wrote another column, online, and that second column was also dated, June 30th. That second column is titled, "Was Jan. 6 Really ‘Un-American’?"
 
In fact, the online title used for that second column would better convey the topic that Bruni was pursuing in the "Narcissism" column I read on Thursday morning. Here is how Bruni concluded his "Narcissism" column: 

Hutchinson’s testimony contradicted Meadows’s earlier claim that the president never intended to go to the Capitol that day. And Peter Alexander of NBC News tweeted late Tuesday that a source of his was raising doubts about Hutchinson’s steering-wheel story. 
Maybe she has it wrong, though Trump himself at one point gave an account to The Washington Post that in part matches hers. She seemed to me entirely credible, largely because the Trump she depicted is the only Trump I’ve ever observed: tyrannical and temperamental, heedless of the wreckage all around him, brimming with resentment, swollen with rage, fixated on his own glory and perverse in his definition of that. 
She was clearly appalled by his behavior and chilled as she watched, in her words, “the Capitol building get defaced over a lie.” 
“It was un-American,” she said, and that was the only part of her testimony that gave me pause. I’d like to agree with her. But after these past years — and all the ugliness that the Jan. 6 committee has illuminated — I’m just not so sure (emphasis added).
 
Was Trump's behavior on January 6, 2021, "un-American?" Or, to the contrary, did Trump's actions accurately reflect what America "is," or "has become?" 
 
Bruni is "not so sure," and his doubts are certainly reasonable. If you decide that we best understand "reality" by observing what happens - if you mainly think of yourself as an "observer" - you'd pretty much have to agree with Bruni that it is not at all clear that Trump's behavior was "un-American." As Bruni puts it in that other column:

From the moment of Trump’s election to the present, I’ve been captivated not only by his profound amorality and his perversely gleeful determination to pit our country’s denizens against one another, but also by the tens of millions of Americans who applaud or shrug their shoulders about that.
 
I would like to urge us all to understand that who we "are" (both collectively and individually) is not best discovered by what we "observe," but that it is our own affirmations and actions that really determine and state what is true. 

As I have said before, who "we are," in the end, is who we choose to be. We define ourselves by the "actions" we take, not by the "observations" we make about what we have done in the past. And let us remember, always, that our "actions" are never preordained or determined. What we do depends upon the choices we make, and "possibility" is the definition of the options available. Nothing about any one of us, or about any human reality, is inevitable.
 
I am, thus, in agreement with Cassidy Hutchinson, in her evaluation of Trump's conduct - and the conduct of all those who have aided and abetted his behavior. I affirm, with Hutchinson, that this behavior is "un-American." We should reject Bruni's "not so sure" conclusion. 
 
It is my view that we should not concede that our national (and personal) failures define the essence of who we "are," either collectively or individually. If our understanding of reality is, truly, the "lowest common denominator," the worst that we have done in the past, let's start digging our graves right now, for there is no promise in the future when the past defines and limits us.

The past does not define. It only informs us about what has been. What we "will be," and thus who we "are," depends on what we do.

Right now.
 
 
https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/06/cassidy-hutchinson-shows-trumps-complicity-in-capitol-riot.html

Thursday, June 30, 2022

#182 / Slow Riot

 

David French, writing for The Atlantic, says that we don't have any strategy that is likely to stop the cascade of mass shootings that seem to have been occurring  around the country in ever greater frequency:

A Rand Corporation review of studies of the effects of 18 policies designed to address mass killings... "found no qualifying studies showing that any of the 18 policies ... investigated decreased mass shootings.” To be clear, for nine of the policies (including red-flag laws and arming teachers), there were no studies that met Rand’s standards for quality and rigor. We don’t know the effects of those policies on the present crisis. It’s too soon to tell.

But nine policies were rigorously studied, and they include many of the most popular gun-control proposals in America, including background checks, bans on the sale of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, minimum age requirements, and waiting periods. This finding is consistent with a famous fact-check by The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, where he found that neither enhanced background checks nor assault-weapons bans would have prevented recent, deadly mass shootings. 
 
Here is what French concludes. We have, in fact, a "slow riot," as described by Malcolm Gladwell some years ago:

In 2015 Malcolm Gladwell wrote the single best, most insightful, and most sobering work yet written about mass shootings. The piece is complex, but the thesis is relatively simple—the United States is in the midst of something like a slow-motion riot, where each mass shooter is lowering the threshold for the next. The Columbine murders kicked off the “riot,” and we’ve been living with the consequences ever since.
Gladwell relied heavily on the work of Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter, and Granovetter argues that it’s a mistake to view each incident on its own: In his view, a riot was not a collection of individuals, each of whom arrived independently at the decision to break windows. A riot was a social process, in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around them. Social processes are driven by our thresholds—which he defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them. 
 
The "slow riot" theory is another example of the idea that we tend to do what is expected. French makes clear that something pretty much like what Granovetter describes is, in fact, exactly what is happening. The example provided by one mass shooting helps stimulate the next one. It's hard to know exactly how to turn the principle in a positive direction, in the case of mass shootings. 

Still, hard as it may be to know how to accomplish what we need to do, we do need to be working on turning a "vicious circle" into a "virtuous circle." We need to "expect" something different from each one of us, and one way to try to generate a new dynamic is to start "expecting" social solidarity and support, as opposed to our expectations that it's "every person for themself." 

When we think it's acceptable for poor people to sleep in drainage ditches, and along freeways, and on the banks of the river - and that's what we expect to see when we leave our own homes - we are telling everyone that no one cares about anyone's personal problems - even when they are dire. We are telling everyone that no one should expect any help or assistance, with any problem that a person might have.

That could lead people to cease caring about others, since caring about others is not what anyone should expect. That could lead people to kill other people, since.... Why not?

Social solidarity - providing "mutual aid" until everyone actually "expects" it - could help change the direction of the cumulative and circular causation now making things, every day, worse. Mutual aid could help "bend the arc." At least, maybe it could. Maybe it would help reduce the examples of mass shootings, until the "slow riot" simply dies away.
 
More social solidarity as a way to stop mass shootings? I'd say it's worth a try!
 
 
 
Image Credit:
https://newsletters.theatlantic.com/the-third-rail/629a49b29503360021895e95/gun-control-debate-uvalde-school-shooting/
 
 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

#181 / "Truth" Versus "Opinion"

 

I am writing this blog item on June 10, 2022, but it is scheduled to appear online on June 28th. Consider this blog posting to be a cordial invitation to make a contribution to the Hannah Arendt Center, and then to join the "Hannah Arendt Virtual Reading Group," which will be meeting this coming Friday, on July 1st, and which will have a discussion on that day about the book pictured above. The Virtual Reading Group is led by Roger Berkowitz, the Academic Director and Founder of the Hannah Arendt Center For Politics And Humanities, located at Bard College, in upstate New York.  

This note has been stimulated by the Virtual Reading Group discussion that took place on June 10th. That session also discussed The Last Interview, and one of the central discussion points was the difference between "philosophy" and "political theory." Arendt refused to be categorized as a "philosopher," and, in fact, criticized philosophy for having some rather destructive effects. Why?
 
Arendt believed that "philosophy" makes an implicit claim that it is supposed to, and can, discover the "truth" about things, and that this is a mistaken quest. Much mischief can ensue when those in power think they know the "Truth." In fact, Arendt says, there is no "Truth" in the political world we most immediately inhabit; there are only various "opinions." The proper work for us all, including specifically intellectuals, is not to try to discover what is "right," and what is "wrong," what is "true" and what is not, but to seek out ways to "reconcile" the various opinions that are inevitable in this world of plurality, with the objective of finding ways that we can live together (which is our inevitable fate).
 
My "Two Worlds Hypothesis," points out that all human beings live in, and have access to, what amount to two different "worlds." First, of course, we live in the "World of Nature," into which we have been most mysteriously born. At the same time, we most immediately inhabit a "Political World" that is the result of human action and choice. Sometime after I came up with this way to trying to explain our human situation (what Arendt calls The Human Condition, in one of her most important books), I realized that I had actually gotten this idea, in large part, from Arendt, although my familiarity with and love for her work was not the immediate cause of my formulation. 

In the "World of Nature," there is, in fact, a "Truth," with a capital "T." The "Laws of Nature" do state what must and will happen. The Law of Gravity does not change, depending on one's opinion. In our "Political World," though, the "Human World" that we create ourselves, "anything is possible" (both wonderful and horrible things), and our opinions about what we should do, when backed with action, establish the "realities" we then confront both individually and collectively. 

Anyone seriously thinking about "what should we do, now?" (and we all definitely need to be thinking about that) would benefit, I believe, from hearing what Hannah Arendt has to say about this primary question. Her voice is still speaking to us in the Virtual Reading Group.

So, to repeat myself, here is a cordial invitation to become a member of the Hannah Arendt Center, and to join the conversation that the Virtual Reading Group provides!
 
 
 
Image Credits:
https://hac.bard.edu/programs/vrg/
 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

#180 / Sheryl Sandberg's T-Shirt Slogan

 

Sheryl Sandberg is pictured to the left. That is Mark Zuckerberg on the right. I presume that you know who they are, and that my identification was actually unnecessary. We used to be able to call Zuckerberg and Sandberg the "first family of Facebook," but times are changing. "Facebook" has now become "Meta Platforms," which means that my nice little piece of alliteration is gone. Besides, Sheryl Sandberg will soon be gone, too. 
 
As we have been told by The New York Times, "Ms. Sandberg, 52, has increasingly lowered her profile as Mr. Zuckerberg has taken over more of her responsibilities and reorganized the company for its new chapter. On Wednesday [June 1st], Ms. Sandberg said she was leaving Meta — which also owns Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger...."

The picture I have at the top of this blog posting can't be found in the online version of that June 1, 2022, article I just quoted, though it accompanied the hard-copy version of the article. I tracked the picture down, online, in an earlier Times' article that ran on October 5, 2021. That earlier article reported on a weekslong scandal that engulfed the company after a whistle-blower leaked documents showing that the social network had studied and understood the harmful effects of its products. In that 2021 article, The Times' told its readers about a video that was intended to make Facebook/Meta look good, without ever directly responding to what the whistleblower said. 
 
Considering the context in which it first appeared, that "Just Love" advisory on Sandberg's T-Shirt does seem like an appropriate adornment for an article about how the massive corporation was trying to divert attention from informed allegations that it intentionally visited harm on its users, in its never-ceasing quest to maximize profits. "Just Love!" A clever diversion! Just chalk it up to another maneuver by that "billionaire class" I have been highlighting, most recently

At any rate, I did notice the "Just Love" slogan when I read the June 1st article about Sandberg's departure from Meta Platforms. The photo made me think whether I agreed that "Just Love" is enough. The Beatles would seem to have signed on to that assertion. You remember, I am sure, that the Beatles have famously told us that "all you need is love." But is that true? The Beatles repeat the claim almost excessively as the song fades out
 
Love is all you need
Love is all you need
Love is all you need
Love is all you need
Love is all you need
Love is all you need
 
I am not sure that we can trust either The Beatles or Sandberg to have given us the real truth in their claim that "love is all you need." We definitely need love! But is it really enough, all by itself? Is it really "all we need?"
 
As I started thinking about this question, prompted by the picture of the slogan on Sandberg's T-Shirt, I started focusing on that very first word, "just." That word, of course, can mean, as the dictionary tells us, "only," which is pretty clearly the way The Beatles would have understood the slogan. "Just Love" is simply another way to say that "Love is all you need." This is the thought, I am pretty sure, that the Sandberg T-Shirt means to convey.
 
But there are a lot of other meanings for "just," too, which you can find if you click this link to review all the definitions that the dictionary lists. "Just" love could mean "righteous" love; it could mean "deserved" love; it could mean "proper" or "reasonable" love. 
 
If could mean, the way I see it, a love that results in a "just" result. Read that way, the slogan tells us that what we really need is not only love, but justice. That's where I am going with the "Just Love" slogan.
 
So, here's my thought: let's not be fooled! We can't really have love without justice! Love and Justice: they are both required!

With apologies to The Beatles (I'm sorry, you guys), love is not "all we need." Love and Justice. That's what we need. That's what we need to insist upon when we deal with the billionaire class.
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/05/technology/mark-zuckerberg-sheryl-sandberg-facebook-whistleblower.html

#179 / Organizing Around Demands

 

Yesterday, my blog posting suggested that we could improve our politics, economy, and society by getting rid of those "different rules for the rich guys." I am not the only one who has had that thought. 

Here, for example, is a link to an item by Chris Hedges, as featured in Consortium News. Hedges is a journalist (and a Presbyterian minister), and his article provides some ideas on "how to defeat the billionaire class."
 
What does Hedges suggest?
 
Well, Hedges suggests that local government is a good place to start making the needed changes. He points, specifically, to what is happening in Seattle, Washington. 
 
Having served as a local government official for twenty years - and having been involved in some successful efforts that made some pretty major changes in Santa Cruz County - I want to say that I believe that Hedges is on to something. In fact, local officials are our most "powerful" governmental officials, since it usually only takes a rather small number of them to do whatever the local government can do. 
 
Local governments can do a lot, too, since the basic power of any local government is to provide for the health, safety, welfare, and morals of the local community. In Santa Cruz County, we did it with just three votes! You needed four votes at the Santa Cruz City Council. Three or four is an attainable number. The odds aren't nearly as good at the state level, where if you want to change the law you need at least forty-one votes in the Assembly, and twenty-one votes in the State Senate, plus the approval of the Governor. The odds are really bad at the federal level!

Hedges also has another very good piece of advice. He quotes Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant as follows:
Campaigns need to be organized around demands, not around personality politics.  
The way to run a strong electoral campaign is to completely reject personality politics, completely reject careerism, and build political organizations like Socialist Alternative. Except we need far bigger organizations where we can hold our elected representatives and other leaders in the organization accountable in the program of demands that we are fighting around. This becomes the central focus, not those individuals who could then use those positions to build their own careers by making themselves useful to the ruling class. That’s what we need to reject.
 
Building political power by "organizing around demands," and starting at the local government level, is a good prescription for achieving significant, fundamental change. Those precepts are a couple of good first steps towards making the billionaire class subject to democracy, as opposed to the largely prevailing current situation, in which democracy is subject to the billionaire class!
 
 
 
Image Credit:
https://consortiumnews.com/2022/05/31/chris-hedges-how-to-defeat-the-billionaire-class/

Monday, June 27, 2022

#178 / Different Rules For The Rich Guys

 

No big surprise, I suppose, that the "rich guys" get treated differently (and better) than the rest of us do. The rules that we have to follow don't always apply to them. We all know that, right? No big surprise! Still, don't you think it's infuriating?  
 
According to The Wall Street Journal, in an article published on Thursday, May 12, 2022 ("SEC Reviews Musk's Twitter File Lag"), the Securities and Exchange Commission (the SEC) is likely to give Elon Musk a "pass," after discovering that he violated SEC disclosure rules with respect to the stock purchases he made in connection with his efforts to get control of Twitter. 
 
Musk is, reportedly, the "richest guy on the planet." No surprises! When the richest guy on the planet manipulates the stock market, our official regulatory agencies just marvel at his genius. What is called "prosecutorial discretion," in the criminal law context, is likely going to be mobilized on behalf of our billionaire rule breaker. 

Here is the story: SEC rules say that persons who buy move than 5% of a company's shares must file a public form that lets the rest of the world know about that. As The Journal says, "the disclosure functions as an early sign to shareholders and companies that a significant investor could seek to control or influence a company." This is relevant because when one of those "rich guys" starts trying to buy up all the shares of a company, the value of those shares goes up. It's "supply and demand," in the stock market context. The number of shares in a company is fixed, as of any specific time, and so if there is a new "demand" for those shares (the "supply"), the price should increase. 

If Musk starts buying up Twitter shares, the price should rise, under the well-known supply and demand principle, but that's only true if those holding the shares know that there is now a new "demand" factor that could increase the value of their own holdings. 

And.... in the case of Musk's purchase of Twitter shares, the disclosure form he ultimately filed was filed at least ten (10) days after the trigger date the rules say he should have given public notice of his purchasing activities. 

NOT filing the required notice when he should have filed it means that "Musk likely saved more than $143 million." That amount of money, effectively, was transferred from the holders of the shares that Mr. Musk obtained, and basically went to benefit Musk alone, instead of being more equitably distributed to the then-current shareholders. Who were those shareholders? The Wall Street Journal doesn't name any names. After all, they may not be "rich guys," like Musk. It could be, in fact, that you and I were among the victimized. Many very ordinary, non-rich people have retirement accounts that include stock holdings, including in the somewhat more risky "tech sector." So, Musk definitely benefited by breaking the SEC rules. You and I, or people like us, were the $143 million losers. 

You are reading this blog posting (if you are) because of the following statements made in The Wall Street Journal story:
 
“The case is easy. It’s straightforward. But whether they’re going to pick that battle with Elon is another question,” said Dr. Taylor, referring to the prospect of a regulatory lawsuit against the outspoken entrepreneur. 
The SEC could drop its investigation without bringing civil claims, as not every probe results in formal action. An SEC lawsuit against Mr. Musk would be unlikely to derail the Twitter deal because the company’s board of directors has endorsed it and the SEC generally lacks the power to stop mergers or take-private transactions, said Jill E. Fisch, a securities and corporate law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. 
Regulators could seek a court order preventing Mr. Musk from voting shares he acquired without proper disclosure, but the SEC generally hasn’t pursued that remedy, Ms. Fisch said. 
 
The article goes on, to detail more of Musk's stock market machinations. It may be that The Journal's investigative journalism, in this case, will mean some penalties for Musk. But, frankly, it doesn't look like that's going to happen, based on what I deduce from The Journal's reporting. 

So, the rules seem to be different for the "rich guys." No surprises, right?

No surprises, but don't you think it's infuriating? 

Don't you think we should be doing something about it?
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2022/05/elon-musk-multibillionaire-friends-buy-twitter
 
 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

#177 / "Everyday Patriotism" And Democracy

  
 
 
In an article in the April 16-17, 2022, edition of The Wall Street Journal, Yascha Mounk talks about "diverse democracies." What Mounk is talking about, in using that term, is societies that are attempting to maintain democratic governmental systems, despite the fact that the society is characterized by significant ethnic or religious differences. Mounk thinks that this is a challenge, and that there is a problem upholding a commitment to "democracy" when "diversity" is the rule. As he frames his concern, "Do the citizens of deeply diverse countries like the United States even have enough in common to sustain a meaningful form of collective solidarity?"
 
The United States, as we all know, is a "Nation of Immigrants." Americans have no ethnic "common descent" to keep us together, and there is no common heritage or belief system that helps keep our society together, either. That poses a challenge to democratic government, the way Mounk sees it. 
 
Mounk advertises himself as "one of the world's leading experts on the crisis of liberal democracy and the rise of populism," and he has written a book entitled, The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure. Mounk's prescription? "Everyday Patriotism." His Wall Street Journal article, in fact, is titled, "The Everyday Patriotism of Diverse Democracies." 
 
Here is how Mounk outlines his "Everyday Patriotism" argument:

In the most despairing months of World War II, when the planes of the Wehrmacht were raining bombs upon London, and the Nazis seemed destined to rule vast swaths of Europe, George Orwell set out to write about a surprising subject: the virtues of patriotism. 
Orwell was as aware of the destructive potential of nationalism as any of his compatriots ... 
But it is precisely because Orwell knew how powerfully such emotions drive politics, and how destructive they can become when they are allowed to fester, that he defended a constructive form of patriotism. “What has kept England on its feet during the past year?” he asked. In the main, he answered, it was “the atavistic emotion of patriotism.” 
Orwell’s ambivalent case for patriotism is of renewed relevance today. When cruise missiles first homed in on their targets in Kyiv, much of the world assumed that Russian troops would soon reach the Ukrainian capital. But to the astonishment of both Western intelligence analysts and the war’s architects in the Kremlin, Ukraine has so far managed to resist. Fueled by a collective determination to defend their homeland, however poor the odds, Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have been able to withstand brutal attacks by a much larger invading force. 
So how can defenders of democracy summon the power of patriotism without opening the door to prejudice and chauvinism? ... 
Forever hailing the achievements of one part of the population, ethnic nationalism doesn’t acknowledge the extent to which immigrants and their descendants shape most countries. 
The most traditional form of nationalism emphasizes common descent. Advocates of an ethnic conception of patriotism argue that most nations are rooted in the history of particular peoples and should continue to recognize those who descend from its original inhabitants as having special standing. 
But the changes of the past half-century, especially in democracies that experienced a high level of immigration, have made such an ethnic conception of nationalism impractical and destructive. Forever hailing the achievements of one part of the population, ethnic nationalism is unable to acknowledge to what extent most countries are now shaped by immigrants and their descendants. It fails to give members of modern democracies who belong to minority groups full credit for their contributions, making it far more difficult to sustain genuine solidarity in countries undergoing rapid demographic change. 
Philosophers and politicians who recognize that ethnic nationalism cannot provide a sensible basis for a diverse democracy, but don’t want to give up on patriotism altogether, usually make the case for a time-tested alternative: civic patriotism. To be proud to be an American, they say, is to love the ideals and institutions to which the country committed itself in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. 
The advantages of civic patriotism are significant. Unlike ethnic nationalism, it allows anybody who is willing to embrace a set of shared political values to become a full member of the community. So long as immigrants from such different places as Morocco, Thailand, Zimbabwe and El Salvador agree to abide by the Constitution, they should be able to live together in peace—and become as American as a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant whose forefathers arrived on these shores hundreds of years ago. 
There is also some reason to think that civic patriotism is less likely to draw countries into international conflict than ethnic forms of nationalism. A love of country that is based in a belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own ethnic or racial group provides an easy excuse for those who want to dismiss the legitimate interests of other nations. But a nation that is founded on the importance of self-determination should be able to recognize that other countries also have a legitimate interest in ruling themselves. Civic patriotism should be better able than ethnic nationalism to welcome newcomers into the fold and sustain meaningful international cooperation. 
For all of those reasons, the idea of civic patriotism strongly appeals to me. It defines nations by their highest ideals rather than their basest instincts. And it gives citizens a way to take pride in their country without indulging in bigotry or chauvinism. If I didn’t hesitate to swear an oath of citizenship when I became an American citizen five years ago, it is, in part, because I love the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the inspiration they have provided for civic patriotism, both at home and abroad. 
Even so, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that civic patriotism is at best a partial answer to the question of how contemporary democracies can sustain a common national identity. Patriotism is one of the most universal sentiments in the modern world. Most citizens of democracies feel it at least to some extent. But an interest in high-flown civic ideals and civic documents remains the preserve of a politically minded minority. 
Noble though the idea may be, civic patriotism will never fully describe what most people feel when they think of their country with love or affection. In putting abstract political principles at the center of our collective sentiments, the notion of civic patriotism runs the danger of mischaracterizing a sentiment that is, at least as much, about our emotional attachment to real people and places. We need to complement the civic conception of patriotism with another dimension—one which recognizes the key role played by everyday culture... 
When people say that they love their country, they aren’t necessarily celebrating the ethnic links that unite members of the majority group. Nor need they be thinking about politics or the constitution. While politicians might, for lack of better words, invoke a lot of clichés or historical symbols when making patriotic speeches, most people arrive at their cultural patriotism by a more direct and unpretentious route. Their love of country is deeply imbued with their appreciation of its everyday sights and smells and sounds and tastes. Their affection is for the things that make up everyday life: their fields and cities, dishes and customs, buildings and cultural scripts
There is a way to invoke culture that excludes newcomers and minority groups, that values purity over inclusion. For cultural traditionalists, Italy would cease being Italy if a greater number of Italians chose not to celebrate Christmas, and India would cease being India if most Indians started to celebrate Halloween. But in a diverse democracy, culture bears the mark of many different groups. When asked about their favorite foods, Germans are now more likely to mention a “foreign” dish like spaghetti Bolognese or Döner kebab than they are to go on about a “local” dish like Schweinshaxe. And when Americans think about dishes they love, they are as likely to list pizza and tacos as they are to talk about meat loaf or apple pie (emphasis added).

I don't want to get into a disputation with Mounk, but it strikes me that he is talking about two related, but slightly different things. "Democracy" and "patriotism" can definitely be related - particularly in the real world, as opposed to the world of political theory - but while hot dogs and apple pie are a kind of "patriotic glue," as Mounk argues - and let's follow his lead and throw in tacos, and pizza, and baseball, and football, and basketball, and soccer, as well - it is what Mounk calls "civic patriotism" that I am thinking about when I consider the future of "democracy" in America.

"Everyday Patriotism" is certainly positive, and helps us learn to live together, but far more important for the future of "democracy," I think, is a widely-shared understanding of and commitment to the political principles that define that democracy. Primary among these is the principle that "all persons are created equal," and that this "self-evident" truth about our human situation requires us, both collectively and individually, to be dedicated to the protection of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for everyone. 
 
A deep understanding of that idea, and a commitment to that idea, the statement that established the very "purpose of our nation," from the very beginning, is what that gives us our greatest chance to achieve and maintain the "democracy" that we are so properly worried may be slipping away. 
 
Hot dogs, baseball, and apple pie, and all those other "sights and smells and sounds and tastes that make up everyday life," are also really good! They help bring us together out of our human diversity, but as for "democracy," we need a commitment to the political principles, and the political practices, proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and made operational in the Constitution. These, I believe, are on a different level from "everyday patriotism." It is on that deeper, more profound level, that our democracy will either sink or swim. 

 
POSTSCRIPT:
For more from Yascha Mounk, consider reading "Sticks And Stones: Yascha Mounk On The Erosion Of Good-Faith Discourse In America," an interview in the April 2022 edition of The Sun magazine.
 
Image Credits:
https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-everyday-patriotism-of-diverse-democracies-11650034319