Saturday, November 17, 2018

#321 / Nationalized Politics

David Brooks has written a column about it, in The New York Times. Daniel J. Hopkins, who is a professor of political science at the University of Pennylvania, has written a whole book about it (see the picture to the left). 

You and I (I am betting you have had the same experience that I have) have been noticing our nationalized politics in the form of an email bombardment from every corner of America, as political candidates who undoubtedly do reflect our general political views send us heart-wrenching appeals for campaign contributions. 

These emailed appeals come to us despite the fact that we may never even have heard about these candidates, prior to receiving their emails, and despite the fact that they are seeking public office in states we may never have even visited.

Is the "nationalization" of our politics a good thing or a bad thing?  I haven't read Hopkins' book, so I don't know his views. The title suggests that he is writing as an "observer," more than anything else, reporting on a fact of our contemporary political life, rather than taking any specific position on whether this change in our politics is a good thing or a bad thing. 

Brooks definitely has a position, and he doesn't like it. In fact, Brooks believes that the nationalizing of our political life is leading to the "unraveling" of the United States as a political community, dividing the nation into two distinct, different, and irreconcilable camps. The "Venn diagram is dead," says Brooks. "There is no overlapping area."

I tend to side with Brooks. I think my favorite political theorist, Hannah Arendt, would do so, too. Arendt celebrated the "federal" nature of American government, which sets up lots of competing centers of political power, making authoritarian and totalitarian central government less likely. California's effort to fight the Trump initiatives on immigration and environmental policy are great examples of how our federal government is supposed to work. "Nationalized" government discards that conflict in an "all or none" fight for central political power. All political eyes focus on the federal government, the arena in which individual persons have the least likelihood to be able to influence political choices. 

Concern about the "nationalization" of our politics is not just a "modern" understanding, either. In a book review appearing in The New York Times on November 4, 2018, Jeff Shesol cites to Joseph J. Ellis, and his new book, American Dialogue: The Founders and Us, to remind us what James Madison thought: 

Along the way, as Ellis recounts, Madison was forced to part with his deeply held belief in federal supremacy and to embrace, instead, the blurrier concept of dual sovereignty — the idea of a nation caught, eternally, somewhere in the balance between state and federal authority. Madison came to see this tension as the genius of the Constitution.

Conclusion: there may be a reason to disregard those political pitches from North Dakota, Florida, Georgia, Texas and wherever. A nationalized politics is a surefire route to a more authoritarian and totalitarian future. 

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Friday, November 16, 2018

#320 / This Is Why

Click to enlarge

I am a big fan of Pearls Before Swine, the comic strip authored by Stephan Pastis. This cartoonist also happens to be a lawyer, which is not an automatic strike against him in my book. 

Pastis' cartoon on Friday, November 2, 2018, shown above, ran on the same day that The New York Times carried a major feature story titled, "'God Is Going to Have to Forgive Me': Young Evangelicals speak out." 

The Times' article is about how young, dedicated evangelical Christians are attempting to separate themselves from a politics that has become infused, in some evangelical churches, with their religious beliefs, to the point that the politics is now more important than the religion. That is not the way it is supposed to be!

Presuming that there is good reason for suspecting that the Constitution of the United States of America is a pretty good model, or template, for organizing our common (and hence political) life, it is not a fluke that the very First Amendment to the Constitution says this:

Amendment I 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...

Why is this the very first thing our Constitution says, after outlining the structure of our tripartite, federal system? Look at the list below, certainly only a partial list. Pastis has it right. All around the world, where religious beliefs have been allowed to become involved in politics, the result is death and disaster: 

  • Ireland
  • India / Pakistan / Bangladesh
  • Israel / Palestine
  • The Arab World 
  • China / Tibet
  • Indonesia
  • Malaysia

It is heartening to find young people in the United States learning this lesson, and putting into practice the "separation of church and state" that has, indeed, been one of "the blessings of liberty" that the Constitution has provided to "ourselves and our posterity." For any to whom these quotes are not immediately familiar, I am citing the Preamble to the Constitution.

Our Constitution is not a perfect document. It was built, after all, on a commitment to the institution of human slavery. We are still working to extricate this nation from the legacy of this horrible bargain. 

With respect to the role that religion should play in our civic life, however (none), the Constitution definitely got it right!

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

#319 / Go Light

This poetry reading begins at 6:00 p.m. this evening. 
Admission will be on a "first come, first seated" basis. 


The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us,
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light 

    - Gary Snyder

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

#318 / 4.0?

Monday's Wall Street Journal, which I read shortly after having written my "Do You Approve?" blog post, brought news from two of Hillary Clinton's political associates. They are stating, as a matter of fact, not supposition, that "Hillary Will Run Again." If you run into a Wall Street Journal paywall, trying to click through to that article, you can get the story here.

Apparently, there is going to be a 4.0 version of Hillary Clinton. That is what we are told:

Reinventing herself as a liberal firebrand, Mrs. Clinton will easily capture the 2020 nomination. 

We currently have a president whose major preoccupation is himself. Hillary Clinton appears to be manifesting similar propensities. 

In my view, the voters should not really be considering any politician who is mainly focused on winning for herself or himself, as opposed to advancing a particular set of policies for the constituents that the politician is seeking to represent. I do not think that the nation is hungering for a candidate who will "reinvent herself" for political advancement (i.e., portray herself in whatever way will be necessaary to gain support). 

Maybe it's just me, but I am not looking forward to a Hillary 4.0.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

#317 / Do You Approve?

An email with the above question popped into my inbox shortly after the November 6, 2018, midterm elections. I bet a number of my friends got similar inquiries. Friends registered as Republicans might have received an inquiry like this from the Republican Party, too, but with the question rephrased to read: "[First Name Last Name] Do You Approve of Republicans?" The pictures of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi would have been substituted out, of course, replaced by pictures of Donald J. Trump and Mitch McConnell. At least the Democrats have a woman to include in this kind of political mailing! That is surely one point in favor of the Democrats.

My reaction upon receiving this email was as follows: What is the real question here? Does the "Progressive Takeover" group, which sent me the email, want to know whether I approve of all Democrats, no matter who they are and what they do? Is the question about Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama, specifically (and does the "Progressive Takeover" group think that Pelosi and Obama are progressive?). Is it about the Democratic Party, in general? How about Bernie Sanders, does he count as a Democrat?

As those with even a passing familiarity with the United States Constitution know, the document "constituting" our government, and outlining how it works, says absolutely nothing about political parties. In fact, the concept advanced by the Framers posited a system of representative government in which voters from specific geographic areas picked individual persons to represent them in the Congress. Quickly, parties did appear on the scene, and a candidate's decision to identify himself (and, later, herself) with a particular party affiliation was information that the voters might well use to make a decision about who they wanted to represent them. The scheme was emphatically not that the voters would decide what party they wanted to represent them. Political systems based on that principle, and there are lots of them, are either parlimentary in nature or totalitarian. We are supposed to be working on the basis of a different approach, one that does not suggest that members of a political party cede their individual views to the party leadership. Read all about where that goes (with a Republican Party Member of Congress as an example) in a recent edition of The New Yorker.

So, here is my answer to the "Progressive Takeover" group that sent me this [offensive to me] email: "No, I do not 'approve of Democrats.'" I approve of candidates and officials who are working for the kind of government I think we need, and to advance the policies that I think would help the nation (and me personally). There are many "Democrats" who do not advance positions that I think are correct. Take Hillary Clinton, for instance. I do not approve of her commitment to American military intervention in the affairs of other nations, and her all-too-cozy relationship with the billionaire class. In November of 2016, I voted for Hillary Clinton because I disapproved of the other candidate, who called himself a "Republican," a whole lot more. My vote, however, was not on the basis of party. In the primaries, I voted for Bernie Sanders. In fact, I was a Sanders' delegate to the Democratic National Convention, where I witnessed in person how Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee betrayed Democrats all around the nation, as it violated its own rules to hand the nomination over to the candidate who lost to Donald J. Trump. 

If Democrats want to take back our country from the clutches of the narcissistic and irresponsible person who now "leads" it (and someone who calls himself a "Republican," of course), then I suggest that the Democrats should make an appeal to the nation that is not based simply on party allegience, or on feelings of personal repugnance for our president. That's just not persuasive, to me and to lots of other people. 

Study up on how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez managed to win her Congressional District election. It was because of how she campaigned and what she campaigned for. That's why she won. Incidentally, Ocasio-Cortez (like Bernie Sanders) doesn't primarily self-identify as a Democrat, but it wasn't the fact that she had a non-Democratic Party label that led to her electoral victory. It was how she conducted her campaign and what she stood for. Democrats could do the same thing if they wanted to; they could run that kind of campaign!

Democrats (I'm still registered as a Democrat, but with little allegience to the label) had better take heed!

PS: Speaking of The New Yorker, the cover of the next issue illustrates the kind of changes in our national politics that we (and I do include the "Democrats") are going to have to make if we hope to leave our current politics behind. Furthermore, some of those figures now outside the door of that "Democratic Party" going on in the foreground are going to have to be representative of the voters in those "Red States" who also want a transformed national politics: 

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(1) - Personal email solicitation from:
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Monday, November 12, 2018

#316 / Do U?

On June 23, 2018, India Today ran an article that focused on the criticism of Melania Trump that followed her appearance in public wearing a Zara jacket with the following words painted on the back: "I really don't care, do u?" That's where I got this picture.

The First Lady chose to wear this particular jacket on her way to a detention center in Texas, set up for migrant children separated from their parents. It seemed like a gratuitous insult. Just yesterday, in another gratuitous insult, the president blamed California's "gross mismanagement of the forests" for the two major wildfires now blazing in the state, one of which is the deadliest wildfire in the state's history.

We need, of course, to "care" about the world, and everything in it, but maybe we should "care less" about what the president and his family do and say. 

I was in Spain once, and saw a bullfight. If you were the bull, "not caring" about that irritating red cape could be the route to a different kind of life. Do you remember that story about Ferdinand? Think about it! We don't have to charge to our death every time some member of the Trump family, including the president, waves a blood-red rag in our face.

We don't, actually, really have to try, one more time, every time, to kick that stupid ball that the president keeps tempting us to kick!

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Sunday, November 11, 2018

#315 / The Demise Of Sears (And The Sears' Idea)

An article in the October 24, 2018, edition of The New York Times carried this headline (as the article appeared in the hard copy version of the newspaper; online sources differ): 

In Its Heyday, Sears Spread the Wealth. Companies Today Don't.

This article is worth reading. It makes the point that Sears (and other corporations) used to "share the wealth," making certain that their workers participated in the company's prosperity and success. According to the article, "Half a century ago, a typical Sears salesman could walk out of the store at retirement with a nest egg worth well over a million in today’s dollars, feathered with company stock." As the article pointedly notes, "A warehouse worker hired now at Amazon who stays until retirement would leave with a fraction of that."

Just in case this might have escaped our notice, it happens to be true that we can MAKE corporations share. We do not, actually, have to wait around for spontaneous benevolence. Corporations are legal persons created by government, operating under rules that the government establishes. We can, through the political process, impose requirements that we determine are appropriate. Not so long ago, I referenced a plan being advanced by the Labour Party in Great Britain that is intended to give the workers who produce the wealth some claim to a share of the ownership in the organizations that make it all happen. This is just one example of the general principle. 

Instead of waiting for the one-percenters to get generous, the ninety-nine-percenters need to get organized!

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Saturday, November 10, 2018

#314 / Analog

Jaron Lanier, pictured above during a recent appearance at UCSC, is the author of Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Wikipedia describes Lanier as "an American computer philosophy writer, computer scientist, visual artist, and composer of classical music." Lanier is also considered to be a founding father of the field of virtual reality.

Lanier's UCSC appearance was reviewed in an article in The Mercury News. According to this report, some of the college students whom Lanier addressed were reluctant to unplug themselves from the social media sites that Lanier argued are a major threat to democracy. These sites, an algorithmic simulacrum of reality, are the places where we increasingly spend our time (and thus our lives). 

"Real" reality (as opposed to "virtual" reality) is analog, not digital. Digital is a distortion. It is chopping up into little bits a unified whole that is, in its reality and integrity, not susceptible of division. 

Our bodies are not digital abstractions but living tissue. As I advised in another blog posting, we should listen to our bodies. Our bodies do know! In terms of politics, this means "precincting," meeting real people, door to door and in face-to-face meetings, not thinking we can connect in any political potent way through the mechanisms of social media. The distortions of our democratic process in the 2016 presidential election, whether the product of "Russian tampering" or not, make clear that Lanier is on to something!

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Friday, November 9, 2018

#313 / Tyrone Hayes

Pictured is Dr. Tyrone Hayes, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Hayes spoke at an evening banquet held during the 27th Annual Environmental Law Conference at Yosemite, the conference I mentioned in my blog posting yesterday. Hayes is a consumately engaging speaker. He described himself as "a little boy who loved frogs."

Hayes still loves frogs, and he seems to have a great love for people, too. He is best known, as Wikipedia notes, for:

Research findings concluding that the herbicide atrazine is an endocrine disruptor that demasculinizes and feminizes male frogs. He is also an advocate for critical review and regulation of pesticides and other chemicals that may cause adverse health effects. He has presented hundreds of papers, talks, and seminars on his conclusions that environmental chemical contaminants have played a role in global amphibian declines and in the health disparities that occur in minority and low income populations. His work has been contested by Syngenta, the Swiss manufacturer of atrazine and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. It was used as the basis for the settlement of a multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit against Syngenta.

Hayes received three standing ovations from the audience at the Yosemite Conference as he described his efforts to tell the truth about atrazine, and the damage it does to both frogs and humans. You can read a compelling story about Hayes in The New Yorker, "A Valuable Reputation," documenting how Syngenta, which manufactures atrazine, pursued an active effort to discredit Hayes and his work.

In all litigation based on demonstrating the harms caused by chemicals, proving "causation" is almost always very difficult. Consider the long course of the tobacco litigation needed to establish the fact that cigarette smoking is bad for human health. Chemical pesticides and herbicides pose an extreme danger to human and environmental health. By litigation or legislation, it's time to stop undermining the integrity of the Natural World that sustains us all.

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Thursday, November 8, 2018

#312 / Giving Nature A Right Of Action

Should trees have standing? That is the title of a rather famous book by Christopher D. Stone, who is an Emeritus professor at the USC Gould School of Law. The book was first published in 1996 and is now in its third edition.

At the 27th Annual Environmental Law Conference at Yosemite, held during the last week of October, Judge Margaret McKeown, who serves on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (the federal appeals court that handles appeals from federal district courts located in Alaska, Hawaii, and California, plus other western states) spoke to the idea that "Nature" should be given the right to come into court to complain on its own behalf about the insults and injuries visited upon the Natural World by human activity.

"Standing" is a word of art, and means the legal right to come into court. You can't maintain an action in any federal court unless there is a demonstrable "case or controversy" in which your interests are directly affected. If you can demonstrate that kind of direct impact upon you, then you have "standing" to raise your issues and to have them judged.

Nature couldn't represent itself in court directly, of course. Trees, rivers, mountains, and deserts are impressive and sometimes imposing, but they can't move around a courtroom and speak up when needed. On the other hand, it is the rare litigant in federal court who is not represented by an attorney. If trees had "standing," there would be lots of attorneys willing to represent them.

At a time when extinctions are occurring at horrendous rates, and as irreplaceable natural environments are being laid to waste by human activity, let's give Nature its day in court.

Check out Stone's book. I hope you'll agree that trees, and the Natural World in general, should be able to litigate and defend its existence. It's a matter of life and death.

Including our own!

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

#311 / Against Impeachment

At 8:19 p.m. on election night (last night), I got an email from Tom Steyer, who has founded and funded a group called "Need to Impeach." The group is promoting an online petition asking the House of Representatives to impeach President Trump. Over six million people have signed this petition so far.

Steyer is identified by Wikipedia as "an American billionaire." Here was Tom Steyer's election night message to me:

Gary, you did it. The polls just closed on the West Coast, and it's official: You and 6.2 million members of this movement made the difference in electing Democrats to a majority in the House of Representatives.

We voted against Donald Trump’s inhumane, destructive policies and for a Congress that will hold him accountable.

Tonight is a step forward not just for Democrats, but for the future of America.

This is your moment — thank you for all you did to help.

This is what we set out to do. With control of the House, Democrats can release Trump’s tax returns, subpoena his family members, and, yes, launch impeachment proceedings.

Now, we need to keep the pressure on. In the coming weeks, I’ll be counting on you to call on your representatives to actively support impeachment.

Savor this victory, but know that the fight continues. Ask your friends to sign the petition and demand that our new Congress impeach Donald Trump.

Thanks again,

Tom Steyer, Founder
Need to Impeach

I do not much like overfamiliar emails, which assume a relationship not existing in fact. I do not like deceptive and manipulative emails, either. I consider this email to me from Tom Steyer to have been both "overfamiliar," and "deceptive," and "manipulative." I am not one of the six million plus persons who have signed the "Need to Impeach" petition, and I don't know Tom Steyer personally. That reference to my name, "Gary," and his statement that I am part of "this movement," along with the complimentary "you did it" assertion, assumes a relationship that does not exist in fact. Steyer is clearly operating in just the same way that Kirsten Gillibrand is operating. I have complained about this kind of politics before. I am complaining again.

Furthermore, since Steyer's email referenced the closure of the polls on the West Coast, and reached me only nineteen minutes after the polls closed, I have deduced that the message was actually prepared ahead of time. It was not (as it presents itself) a quick note to supporters from someone who is feeling very good about the results of the November 6th midterm elections, written when those results were known.

Most importantly, while, I do happen to agree with Steyer that the policies being pursued by President Trump are both inhumane and destructive, an immediate move towards the impeachment of the President is not, in my opionion, a good way to show Mr. Trump to the door. In fact, I think that approach would quite likely have exactly the opposite effect. Pursuing impeachment in the way proposed by the "Need to Impeach" group is to turn the public into the bull, charging a presidential matador who will put the sword to its heart after driving the poor animal insane. Frank Bruni, columnist for The New York Times, has written an article, recently, talking about how best to beat the president politically. The following image, from the article captures exactly how the president is playing his opposition:

It probably did not escape Mr. Steyer's notice, though he did not mention it, that the results of the election mean that the President's support in the Senate has grown, even as the President's support in the House of Representatives has declined. The Senate is the body that must try the President, if Articles of Impeachment against the President are ever adopted by the House. It is also true that Mr. Steyer probably knows that a judgment against the President, that would actually remove him from office, requires the Senate to convict the President by a two-thirds vote.

In other words, if the impeachment of the President is to be successful, the process needs to be based on something more than the fact that six million people and more would really like to replace President Trump with someone else (presumably with Vice President Mike Pence).

I would like to suggest that the new House of Representatives not spend time trying to prove that the President should be impeached, but instead pass a series of bills that would address, directly, the main concerns of the citizens of the United States, which include a secure system of health care for the people, income inequality, confronting the climate change crisis, and providing adequate housing for every person who lives in this country. The House might also propose ways to end the never-ending wars that presidents of all parties seem so fond of pursuing. It could even address the dysfunctional laws that relate to aslyum and immigration. Is the Senate likely to agree with such initiatives? Highly doubtful, but perhaps more possible than getting the Senate to agree to convict president Trump on Articles of Impeachment.

If we want a new president (and we definitely need a new president), we are only going to get there if our elected representatives (and the political candidate who eventually opposes president Trump in 2020) are able to offer up a positive set of programs and policies that will persuade the voters that someone else ought to be running our government.

Attacking the president personally, which is what pursuing impeachment would do, helps the President politically, not the opposite. Let's get serious. That's my thought. Beat the president and his supporters on policy, instead of attacking the president on personality. He loves to be the victim!

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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

#310 / Today

The "Insight" section of The San Francisco Chronicle that arrived on my front porch on Sunday, October 28, 2018, had a cover that posed this question: "Voters can make a difference - but will they?" The Chronicle expressed some skepticism, especially with respect to the so-called "Millennials," those born in the years between the early 1980s and the mid-to-late 1990s. 

I hope people do vote. I am joining the chorus! Today is the day. The Chronicle is certainly correct that "voters can make a difference." 

Let me provide an additional comment, however. If voters are much less enthusiastic about voting than the pundits and the publishers would like, I do think there is a reason for that. What can excite us about political participation, in my view, is not so much "voting" as the experienced reality of our personal and direct involvement in "self-government." This means a government in which we, ourselves, are directly and personally involved. 

To get a feel for what I am talking about, check out that fairly recent blog post on Gandhi (The Cure) for a hint about the kind of self-sacrifice that is a necessary part of a truly participatory politics. 

Think a little bit, too, about Lincoln's famous speech, and understand that a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people," needs to be, first and foremost, a government that is "of" and "by" the people. We tend, more and more, to think that we should understand government by evaluating whether or not it is properly delivering its services and benefits for the people. "For" is important. But that is not "self-government." 

For "self-government" to exist, we must be involved ourselves. The government must be both "of" and "by" the people. Otherwise, we are simply voting for the people who will hire the people who will run our lives for us.

That's not very inspiring. It's not very motivating. And that is also one of the central objections to government that motivates the populist "right."

Get out and vote. Please! But let's not forget that what we really need is more self-government, a government of and by ourselves. That is what we actually need. That's going to require us to get involved, personally, way before we get to the ballot box.

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Monday, November 5, 2018

#309 / Refreshing Our Recollection

Ben Franklin Who?

These days it’s popular to lament that immigrants are destroying America’s national identity, but maybe we’re getting it backward. When the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation recently put questions from the U.S. Citizenship Test to American citizens, only one in three could pass the multiple choice test.

It’s embarrassing. According to the foundation, only 13% of Americans knew when the Constitution was ratified, and 60% didn’t know which countries the United States fought in World War II. Most couldn’t correctly identify the 13 original colonies, which at least is something of a teaser. But only 24% could identify something that Ben Franklin was famous for, and 37% thought it was for inventing the light bulb.

Even with a highly contested Supreme Court nomination in play in the Senate, [at the time the survey was taken], 57% of Americans couldn’t say how many Justices are on the Court. Older Americans did much better than younger Americans—only 19% of the under-45 crowd passed—which probably reflects the declining state of American public schools. None of this augurs well for the future of self-government. 

We’ve always thought it important that immigrants must pass a test on the basics of American history and civics before they can be sworn in as citizens. Immigrants who are motivated to become citizens will take the time to learn. The real threat to American freedom is the failure of current citizens to learn even the most basic facts about U.S. history and government.


The statement above is a brief editorial copied from The Wall Street Journal, which ran this statement in its October 4, 2018 edition. I agree that the facts presented do not "augur well" for the future of democratic self-government in the United States.

During the Vietnam War, patriotic Americans, opposed to what the governent was then doing, participated in "teach ins" all around the country, which made clear to all those who participated what the involvement of the United States in that conflict was really all about. Between now and 2020, when voters in the United States are either going to ratify or reject the kind of government now prevailing under the Trump Administration, it might be well to reinaugurate a movement of nationwide "teach ins," to make us realize how just how wonderfully precious our political legacy really is.

If "immigrants" get it, and "natives" don't, it's time for all of us to reacquint ourselves with the three fundamental documents listed below. In them, I contend, is the entirety of what our system of democratic self-government is all about:

  1. The Declaration of Independence
  2. The Constitution
  3. The Gettysburg Address

Everything we need to know about democratic self-government is found right there. It's time for us to refresh our recollection!

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Sunday, November 4, 2018

#308 / No Time To Think

If you could throw a dinner party and invite anyone, living or dead, to show up for good food and good conversation, who would you invite? I think it is the New York Times Book Review that poses that question, on a weekly basis, to the various famous authors it profiles. The Times has never asked me, but Hannah Arendt and Bob Dylan would definitely be on my list. 

Recently, a posting on Medium caught my attention, since it featured a picture of Arendt, showing her emphatically making a point. I seldom pass up a chance to see what Hannah Hannah is talking about, so I clicked on through. The article was titled, "Tragic Action, Tragic Judgment," and was written by Elizabeth Barringer, who is the Klemens von Klemperer teaching fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

While I found the article pretty "academic," it did make some points worth thinking about. Barringer comments on Arendt's observation that the meaning of one's life can never really be known until that life has ended and says the following, referencing Aristotle:

Living well, attaining eudaimonia, requires more than simply following the right rules. This is because “the accidents of fortune are many:” regardless of our intentions, we do not control the circumstances, or consequences, of our deeds. When Aristotle speaks of ‘sound’ character he means a person who makes judgments while recognizing “that justice does not prevail in the world.” A person might struggle to do everything right and nonetheless come to disaster. Aristotle therefore insists a life can only be called eudaimon in hindsight, viewed as a complete whole....
But these accounts place the living actor in a pickle: How is one to make sound judgments about their own life, or the actions of others, while still caught up in that contingent and hazardous ‘flux’ of action? What orientation is appropriate for navigating this kind of reality? Or, in more Arendtian terms, how is one to think what they are doing? In her writings on judgment, Arendt frequently turns to Aristotle and Kant for answers to this question. She argues for an ‘enlarged mentality:’ learning to think from the plural perspectives of others about particular questions or objects appear to them; or about how one’s own actions might appear to others. But what does this learning entail? One answer, I propose, may be found by looking more closely at Arendt’s turn to Aristotle’s Poetics in her description of action.

Instead of turning to Aristotle's Poetics, I turned to my other dinner guest, Mr. Dylan, and asked him if he wouldn't be willing to play one of his songs, which seems to speak to the issue that Arendt is raising. The song is called, No Time To Think. Click this link for access to the lyrics. Click right here to listen to the song.

Thinking is great, Dylan seems to be saying (and Arendt says that, too), but we must, in the end, do more than "think" about the world and what we are doing here. We are observers, of course, but actors as well, and when we act, we can never really know, in advance, what the results of our action will be. That's tough, but get used to it. I think that Arendt is pretty clear about that, and I do think Bob Dylan agrees: 

No time to choose when the truth must die 
No time to lose or say goodbye 
No time to prepare for the victim that’s there 
No time to suffer or blink 
And no time to think

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Saturday, November 3, 2018

#307 / Real Clear Politics

The "Real Clear Politics" website doesn't think that a "Blue Wave" is going to wash our political troubles away in the election this coming Tuesday. In fact, Real Clear Politics is opining that the Republican Party will not only continue to hold the Senate, but will continue to hold the House, as well. Vice President Mike Pence says the same

An article in The New York Times on Wednesday, October 24, 2018, also casts doubt on the idea that the American people are now, inevitably, going to understand who we are dealing with and make political changes accordingly. Not necessarily!

The references cited should provide an inducement for anyone who does not like what is going on in our national government to vote. There are four days left. 

Whatever the outcome, Timothy Egan's opinion column, also published in The New York Times on October 24th, makes clear what is actually needed. Democrats should pay heed:

Democrats used to be known for love of the Little Guy. Franklin Roosevelt won Texas, Oklahoma and Montana — for that matter, most of what is now Red State America — through four elections, while campaigning on behalf of “the forgotten man.” This dandy from a Hudson River Valley estate connected words to a political revolution that changed millions of lives for the better. 
That message has been lost to history’s vapors. When 4,035 working-class voters in battleground states were recently asked to name an elected official who was fighting for them, the top answer was “no one.” 
After attending the Democratic National Convention two years ago, Kellyanne Conway offered this summary of what she heard: “Their message is Donald Trump is bad, and we’re not Donald Trump. The rest of the message was race, gender, L.G.B.T.”

Just to put it into words, what we need is political populism for the people, not the plutocrats!

A rally for Bernie Sanders is pictured above (a rally for our president is pictured at the bottom). The picture on the top proves that the Democrats, too (at least some of them) might be capable of motivating the people to get involved in politics.

For their own good!

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Friday, November 2, 2018

#306 / That Title Is Half Right

Trudy Rubin, who writes a regular "Worldview" column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, recently published her list of "beach reads on Putin." Everyone is entitled to her or his own opinion, I guess. I don't think that books on Vladimir Putin are the kind of recreational reading I would want to take along on a beach vacation. 

Among Rubin's suggested Putin "beach reads" is Peter Pomerantsev's 2014 book, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible. Pomerantsev is a Soviet-born British journalist, author, and TV producer. I have mentioned his book in a blog posting once before

If you would like a short description of Pomerantsev's book, read this article by Peter Conradi of The London Times. Conradi's article provides a little background on the Magnitsky Act, which plays an important role in the story that Pomerantsev tells. The Magnitsky Act also played a significant role in the collusion that either did, or did not, take place between Trump representatives and Russian government agents during the 2016 presidential campaign. Russia really wants to get rid of that Magnitsky Act!

I was interested in the Rubin column because it featured the title of Pomerantsev's book, which I think has a significant lesson to impart. I absolutely believe the "everything is possible" part of the title. In the human world in which we most immediately reside, "everything," in fact, is possible. 

Normally, we are not much focused on this aspect of our human reality. We tend to assume and expect that what usually happens, or what has "always happened" in the past, is what will happen in the future. We allow ourselves to believe that what "is" is inevitable.

In the World of Nature, of course, this is actually correct. The "laws" that govern the World of Nature describe what must and will happen. As long as we are standing on the Earth, to take one example, we are subject to the law of gravity, and there is simply zero possibility that if we throw a ball into the air it will float away and never come down. In terms of the physical laws that define the Natural World, "everything" is definitely NOT possible.

Our human world is a world created by human choice and action; it is what I call a "political world." Our human world is not a world in which things will inevitably happen as they have always happened before. There are no "laws" that describe and define what must inevitably come to pass. Unlike the laws that govern the World of Nature, the laws in our world are "prescriptive," not descriptive. Our world is a realm of freedom and possibility, and everything is, indeed, "possible."

I believe that this truth about our human world became most clearly apparent when Hitler's Germany set up and implemented a system that murdered six million people, and accomplished this so successfully that Hannah Arendt, surely an acute observer of political realities, could describe the behavior of those who implemented this horror as "banal."

The fact that human beings could create this horror of mass murder, and make that horror into a routine social activity which was previously beyond imagining, made clear that "everything" is, truly, possible in the world we create. Good things are possible. And bad things. Whatever the nature of the realities we create, "everything" is possible in the political world which is our most immediate home.

But while everything is "possible," nothing is inevitable. Stalin's Russia created horrors that were similar to, though different from, the horrors created in Nazi Germany. The point is, after this history, we must now all realize that "everything" is within the realm of possibility. If we an imagine something, we can accomplish it (at least, it is not impossible for us to accomplish something that we have imagined). Maybe we should start having some "good" thoughts! 

But what about the other half of Pomerantsev's title? I think that is vastly more problematic. Do we really want to concede that there is no "truth," and that nothing is true? I don't.

I think there is a good argument that the horrors perpetrated by totalitarian states are largely based on the acceptance by large parts of the society that there is, in fact, no "truth," or that the truth "doesn't really matter." Within Russia, a condition might exist that conforms to Pomerantsev's title: "Nothing is True and Everything is Possible." If such a place exists, then this is a warning that we must never concede that there is no "truth."

"Everything" really is possible, so if we can no longer test human action against the truth, the "everything" we will encounter (and create) will become a house of horrors, indeed. 

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Thursday, November 1, 2018

#305 / Donald Trump: "I Am A Nationalist"

Patriots put love of their own people first, while nationalists put hate for other people first.
          - Charles de Gaulle 

And this from our first President, George Washington, in a letter he wrote, after a visit to Newport, R.I., where he was enthusiastically received by, among others, members of the local Jewish community. It was dated Aug. 18, 1790: 

Gentlemen: While I receive, with much satisfaction, your Address replete with expressions of affection and esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in my visit to Newport, from all classes of Citizens. 
The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet, from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security. If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and a happy people. 
The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

Credit for this blog posting goes to Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times, writing in a column that appeared in the Wednesday, October 31, 2018 edition of the paper. 

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

#304 / Town And Gown

In "Merry Olde England," relationships between those attending Oxford University and the residents of the town of Oxford were, apparently, none too good. In fact, according to an engaging article appearing on the BBC website, physical confrontations between the residents of town and gown were common; murder was not unknown. Military intervention was sometimes required.

Aren't we so much better off, today?

Well, there haven't been any town-gown murders yet, here in the City of Santa Cruz, and the National Guard hasn't been turned out, but feelings between town and gown are certainly strained. In a recent Santa Cruz City election, almost 80% of City voters said the University should stop accepting any more students, in view of the incredibly negative impacts that growing student enrollments have had on the local housing market, traffic congestion, and water security. Fact is, those growing enrollments have undermined the quality of education at the local campus, too.

So far, the University has given no significant indication that it would be willing to terminate future student enrollments at UCSC and maintain the current enrollment level, which is approximately 19,000 students. The Chancellor's semi-official proposal, which has not yet been made final, and which has not yet been subjected to environmental review, is to add about 10,000 more students to the local campus, on top of the 19,000 students currently enrolled. That number doesn't count faculty and staff, of course. The local community is officially not pleased with the Chancellor's number of 10,000 new students (in fact, you could say the community is "outraged"). Unfortunately for the City, which otherwise does get to plan for its future growth, decisions about student enrollment are not made by the community. Outrage won't be enough.

In my view, since the people have spoken locally in such an emphatic way, this would be a good time for some local political leadership to take this issue to the UC Regents and the State Legislature. A claim that the University should be permitted to do whatever it wants to with respect to increasing student enrollments, without any responsible reference to the adverse impacts that the University's actions might have on a local community, is a claim that needs to be disputed. There is no reason to abandon hope that such a dispute can be resolved in favor of the local community. No murder or military intervention should be necessary. It won't be easy, however, to win this debate.

If our local political leaders will commit time, money, and energy to an effort to achieve what 80% of the local voters said they want, I think they can win the battle for us. It is irksome to have to expend lots of energy to achieve what should be obvious, but such is the way of the world. Unless the community mounts the effort, mobilizing every community resource we have, future student enrollment growth will give us an even bigger housing crisis than we already have, a housing crisis on steroids, and we will all be spending our time on gridlocked streets. 

As James Herndon, who writes on education, has put it: that is not "The Way It Spozed To Be."

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

#303 / God Talk

Jonathan Merritt is a contributing writer for The Atlantic, and he is the author, most recently, of “Learning to Speak God From Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing — And How We Can Revive Them.” What I assume is a shorthand version of his entire book appeared in a newspaper column in The New York Times on Sunday, October 14, 2018. Click the link provided in the next sentence if you'd like to read it. The column was titled, "It’s Getting Harder to Talk About God." 

I think Merritt is right about that. It is getting harder to "talk about God." That judgment is based simply on my own observations, but Merritt has statistics to back up his assertion. 

I do these blog postings mainly for myself (to "take notes" about my thoughts and observations and to be sure that I write something each day, which I think is a good discipline). I do know that some people read what I write, and of course, I am delighted if they do. For any of those, and especially for those who would resist "talking about God," which includes a number of my closest and dearest friends, let me say that I think it is imperative that we all start "talking about God" a lot more - and particularly in the way that Merritt defines "talking about God," since he focuses on the use of "sacred words" in our ordinary conversations.

By our use of "sacred words," we admit, ipso facto, that there is a "sacred" reality that is different from the down and dirty realities we live in day by day. Recognizing this, in my opinion, is profoundly important. The future of human civilization hangs on our ability to make contact with that sacred realm and to call others to it.

Any long-term reader of this blog will remember my "Two Worlds Hypothesis." I suggest that we live in two worlds, simultaneously. Most immediately, we live in a human world that we create. This is a "political world." In the world we create, "possibility" is the watchword. All human arrangements, like all human laws, can be changed, thus transforming the realities of our immediate existence. So often, we disempower ourselves by acting as though what "is" is somehow "inevitable." And in the political world, the opposite is the case.

However, we live not only in the "political world" that we create; we live also, and ultimately, in the World of Nature, A WORLD THAT WE DID NOT CREATE. This is the world that God created. As marvelous as we are, and as wonderful as our human creations are, we are not self-sufficient. We are absolutely and utterly dependent on the World that God made (that is, the world that existed before us, the entire universe, all of reality). The world that we did not create is a mystery, and it is, thus, sacred. The outrages of religion, through the ages, perpetrated by human beings who assert that they are somehow in charge of the world of mystery, are all duplicitous efforts to acquire power within our human world. 

The outrages of religion, in other words, are blasphemies against the genuine world of mystery that has, very mysteriously indeed, determined that there will be life at all. 

That world is sacred. That is the world in which Nature is to be respected and worshipped, not plundered for our projects. That is the world in which we know, despite all our human divisions, that all humans are related, and that life is sacred, individually and collectively.

We must find the words to talk about this sacred reality, upon which we depend. The latest report says we have twelve years to change the course of human civilization and to recognize the reality of the World of Nature as the ultimate truth, and to acknowledge the world of human interconnection and love as the ultimate reality. 

We need to learn to talk about God. 

Really, really soon.

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Monday, October 29, 2018

#302 / Jane Fonda On Citizen Activism

I shared a stage with Jane Fonda once. It was at the Louden Nelson Center, in Santa Cruz, California, and I forget the exact occasion. Jane was visiting Santa Cruz in connection with a campaign of some sort, and I think I introduced her to the audience.

As a draft resister during the Vietnam War, I have always been deeply grateful to both Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden for their efforts to stop that horrific conflict. 

In the New York Times article from which I captured the picture to the right, Jane quotes a veteran who said, during a recent gathering in New York City, “If I had a Congressional Medal of Honor, I would present it to you. I am so grateful that you helped end the war.” 

My sentiments, precisely!

The Times article announced a new HBO biopic covering Jane Fonda's life, Jane Fonda in Five Acts. What struck me most in the article was the following exchange:

What’s the focus of your activism today? 
Grass-roots organizing. The organizations that are going door to door and helping people understand that the white working class is not the enemy of people of color, and vice versa.

Jane is right on target, once again! My sentiments, precisely!

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