Thursday, February 21, 2019

#52 / Victory Speakers

The February 2019 edition of The Sun magazine featured an interview with Mary Christina Wood, an environmental lawyer from Oregon. Wood is the author of a 2013 book, Nature's Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age. In the book, Wood propounds a legal theory that is now being utilized in various test cases around the country, most successfully, so far, in Juliana v. United States (though any ultimate success in that case cannot be counted on). 

In short, Wood argues that the resources of the natural world are held in trust for the people, by the governments that have control over them, and that it is thus possible to sue the federal government for its failure to address the global warming crisis that is putting these trust assets in danger. The plaintiffs in Juliana are children, who will be directly affected by the government's failure to act to protect our "atmospheric assets," all part of the trust. 

Wood does not think that our human world can be saved by lawsuits - or certainly not by lawsuits alone. She believes that the entire population of the nation must be mobilized, much as it was during World War II: 

I believe strongly in the human capacity to change. In World War II this nation had to mobilize almost overnight. It was incredible. The U.S. became a different country in the course of just a few months. Families grew their own food. They stopped driving for pleasure. They recycled metal, rubber, and paper. Kids collected foil gum-wrappers and made them into balls for aluminum factories that produced aircraft and ship parts. Auto manufacturers stopped making cars for three years and just produced defense equipment. The glaring difference between then and now is that during World War II our leaders were loyal to the American public and inspired a patriotism that helped win the war. Today our leaders are loyal to fossil-fuel corporations and divide citizens, making neighbors into enemies.

We know that the kind of "maximum mobilization" undertaken by the United States during World War II is possible (in fact, we have done it, as Wood notes). I talked about the same thing just a couple of days ago, in an earlier blog posting. That kind of "maximum mobilization," however, does not happen automatically. One key mechanism used to mobilize the public during World War II was the emergence of "Victory Speakers," who helped encourage individuals to make the changes that could win the war:

Back in World War II citizens known as victory speakers helped mobilize the nation rapidly. They were average people who would give five-minute talks at bridge clubs, movie theaters, PTA meetings — anywhere. My mother and grandmother were both victory speakers and gave four to five speeches a day, telling people how to garden and can vegetables to conserve resources for the war effort.
People listen to trusted members of the community more than they listen to scientists or academics. Victory speakers can wake Americans up to our new reality and tell them what they can do about it. Neighborhood associations are tremendous for this. Churches are already organized through their committees and membership lists. I also see a role for the Internet and social media. A league of concerned citizens has to step up and say, “This will be my purpose. I can’t solve all the problems. I can’t plant all the gardens. But I’m going to take on the task of waking people up.”

Hitler was a threat to the continued existence of human civilization. Global warming is, too. Mobilizing "Victory Speakers" to speak out on our need to confront global warming in every way we can, both big and small, sounds like a good idea to me.

Should I send around a sign-up sheet?

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

#51 / Exegesis

Every once in a while, my one year of theological training resurfaces. The other night, it resurfaced as I was watching videos on YouTube. I started out to watch a video related to the legal studies course I am teaching at UCSC. I watched the video I had come to see, but then I was captured in the undertow of those autoplay recommendations that YouTube offers, based on the fact that YouTube knows exactly what you like.

I like Bob Dylan, and it is pretty clear that YouTube knows it.

My work commitments were forgotten, and my evening dissolved into video presentations of various obscure Dylan performances, one after the other, some with video components that made it hard to know what was even going on, onstage. One of those videos was what Elston Gunn (a Dylan YouTube publisher) described as "a Fantastically Beautiful version of that special song."

That "special song," as it turned out, was "Visions of Johanna," included in Dylan's 1966 album Blonde on Blonde. Here is that Fantastically Beautiful performance, as recommended by Gunn (and with erratic video on full display):

As I listened to Visions of Johanna, I realized that it had a distinctly Christian message. Dylan's "Christian albums" are generally attributed to a three-year period from 1979 to 1981. That's about thirteen years after Blonde on Blonde.

I, personally, have always thought that John Wesley Harding was Dylan's first "Christian" album. That album was released just at Christmastime in 1967, and only a year after Blonde on Blonde. I bought a copy of John Wesley Harding from a record store on Market Street in San Francisco, right after it was put on sale. Then, I picked up a drive-away car, and delivered it up to Seattle, where I had a genuine religious experience that has stuck with me ever since. That Seattle experience was related, I know, to JWH.

At any rate, "Visions of Johanna," coming out the year before John Wesley Harding, does show some Christian influence, as I realized when I was listening to that autoplay video. Here are the lyrics that come at the end of that special song:

And Madonna, she still has not showed
We see this empty cage now corrode
Where her cape of the stage once had flowed
The fiddler, he now steps to the road
He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed
On the back of the fish truck that loads
While my conscience explodes

The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain
And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain

The fish sign was the secret symbol of the early Christians, and it is basic Christian doctrine that all human beings are unworthy of salvation, and it is only through the grace of God, as evidenced by the birth, death, and resurrection of his Son, that the required payment for our sins (the wages of sin is death) is excused.

Scrawling "ev'rything's been returned which was owed," on the back of a fish truck, is a pretty clear allusion to this fundamental religious tenet. And Dylan is still making that same religious point many years after Blonde on Blonde, and long after his "Christian albums." In Dylan's song, "Pay in Blood," on his Tempest album, released in 2012, the singer acknowledges that he pays in blood, but it's "not his own."

The article I linked above, talking about Dylan's "Christian albums," and giving them a three-year run, from 1979 to 1981, seems to have overlooked what came before. And overlooked what has come after, too.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

#50 / For Stephen Hawking, Scientist

I can explain the world
But not the why
Physics defines
Our bluest sky
Laws define
Both space and time
And I know how 
To make a rhyme

Life cascading
Can be observed
Describes the bird
The bird in flight
Is an equation
Still, I find,
I have a question

I can show 
How birds can fly
I can explain the world
But not the why

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Monday, February 18, 2019

#49 / Extinction Rebellion

I learned something from yesterday's New York Times. Actually, I probably learned several things, but I am sharing this one! Here is what I learned: There is, in Britain, an activist group called "Extinction Rebellion." Click the link to visit its website. Extinction Rebellion has also created a website specifically designed for those from outside Britain. Click right here to join up with the international branch

I had never heard of Extinction Rebellion, but I am sympathetic to its message. We are facing a global crisis, caused by human activities (my apologies to those friends who disagree - and I do have a few of those). We need to take immediate, dramatic, and drastic actions, and our failure to do so puts human civilization in peril. 

Any individual action will be inconsequential, so it is hard to get too enthused about lowering the setting on your thermostat during a cold snap, or walking to the drugstore, even in the rain, instead of driving. The kind of action we need, action on a national and international scale, is hard to come by. The right kind of action is particularly hard to muster in a world in which politics, in virtually every nation, is dominated by the oil companies. 

The Times article, written by David Wallace Wells, is titled, "Time To Panic." Wells suggests that "fear may be the only thing that saves us." 

Generally speaking, fear tends to have an "immobilizing" as opposed to a "mobilizing" effect, but what we do need to understand is that "business as usual" is the equivalent to rowing a bit harder, upstream, as your canoe is heading for Niagara Falls. 

I think Wells got his title right. "Panic" might get us moving. Something needs to! The most recent report from the United Nations gives us twelve years to avoid a total catastrophe

Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill, politicans are starting to talk about a "Green New Deal." As this concept is most typically explained, the main focus of the program is "economic stimulus." The appeal is to those who have been left behind as the wealth of the world gravitates, almost entirely, to those in the top 1%. 

We do need to address income and wealth inequality, but there is a problem with trying to deal with the global warming crisis through a program that is basically aimed at economic stimulus. Economic stimulus, typically, results in more consumer demand, which means more consumer expenditures. In fact, we need the opposite of more consumer consumption. We need less! We are burning energy to produce too many unnecessary things that we purchase, online and off, the proliferation of these things then forcing us to "declutter" our lives as a new form of human self-realization. Really! Think about how many packages were piled up under the Christmas trees in so many of our homes. We need to cut consumer consumption, radically, and our program to confront climate change needs to understand that, and not stimulate more consumption, even unintentionally.

What we actually need, it seems to me, is not so much a "New Deal" approach to our crisis, but another program from the Roosevelt era. We need to mobilize Dr. Win The War

In World War II, in which the future of human civilization was definitely and definitively at stake, our economy was transformed, almost overnight, into an economy in which consumer consumption was ruthlessly slashed; individual efforts to "save," actions like turning down the thermostats, were universally embraced, and the government steered almost all of the nation's economic activity into producing (not consuming) the material needed to win the war. 

Similarly now. We need to transform our economy from a consumer economy into an economy that ruthlessly cuts back on consumer consumption, and that redirects our human energies to production. We need to produce not more guns, tanks, and bombs, however, as in World War II, but more solar panels to go on every rooftop where enough sun strikes. We need to plant millions of trees. We need to transform every building we inhabit, as much as possible, into a "zero net energy" building. We need to move from individual transportation modalities to collective transportation modalities. These are the kind of projects mentioned by those promoting the Green New Deal, and these projects will lead to jobs for everyone who can work, of course. This kind of program will also lead to very high taxes, to fund the activities needed to "win the war," with the added benefit of reducing the ability to engage in more consumption.

After Pearl Harbor, Americans turned panic into productivity. Can panic save us now? We do face "extinction." It is a real threat. When billions lose access to water and food, which is what is in store for us, the "immigration" problems we confront today will seem small. When we realize how many nuclear bombs are ready to be launched - and some on "autorespond" settings - the total extinction of human life is not improbable. 

Time to rebel against extinction! Setting aside our normal lives, we need to take action that will profoundly change the direction in which human civilization is moving now. 

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

#48 / Returning to Royalty (The Elected Kind)

The picture is from Dick and Sharon's LA Progressive, found atop an article titled, "Dear Mr. President: The Royal We." The article, as you might suspect, focuses on the president's recent declaration of a national emergency, related to the president's desire to build a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico. 

The point made by the article is that the language used by the president, in justifying his declaration, is "personal." The president's statement that "I am unhappy..." betrays what is really going on. The individual distress of a president is not, in a democracy, a national emergency, however much it may be a personal or political one. The tendency of our current president is to see himself in a "royal" frame, and this goes back to the 2016 campaign, when he sometimes commented on earlier presidencies by talking about the "reign" of this president or that. 

At any rate, it's a striking picture. At least that's what I think. I also think that we might, justifiably, start worrying about an "emergency," but that our focus ought to be on whether or not our institutions of government are prepared to reject the idea that governmental powers are subservient to the personal predilections of the president. That is not the way the Constitution says it works. 

An article in The Atlantic, published in 2017, raised concerns about whether or not our current president would "destroy the presidency" by failing to follow what are the unwritten, but real, rules governing presidential conduct. An article published by the Brookings Institution, on Valentines Day this year, takes the Atlantic's general concern and makes it specific to the recent presidential declaration. 

If a president can declare a national emergency based on what that president personally believes is a major national problem, and can thereafter use government money and resources to accomplish what the president personally believes is the right thing to do, then the idea that the congress, not the president, is primarily in charge of determining what is done in the name of the "nation" will be ended forever. 

Congress is not an inspiring body, mostly, but it is composed of persons elected by the voters, and is thus, theoretically, representing the "national" will, not an individual or "personal" agenda. The President's job, as outlined in Article II of the Constitution, is to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." The President, in other words, is supposed to "execute" the policy decisions made by our representative Congress, not decide what the nation should do based on the president's personal priorities. However, we do need, as a nation, to allow our president to act for us in emergency situations, and that brings us to the precipice upon which we now find ourselves.

The article referenced above, published by the Brookings Institution, notes that what is a national emergency is in the "eye of the beholder." In fact, our designated national "beholder" is the president, and the Supreme Court almost always defers to presidential decisions on issues of national security. 

As one for instance, in a decision only recently repudiated by our current Supreme Court, the Court held, during World War II, that President Roosevelt's feeling that persons of Japanese ancestry were potentially traitorous allowed the president, by issuing an Executive Order, to imprison tens of thousands of such persons, with no proof, whatsoever, that any of the people so imprisoned, and who lost their property and livelihoods as a result of this imprisonment, had ever done anything to justify this confinement.

In Trump v. Hawaii, decided last year, the Supreme Court upheld the "travel ban" that accomplished one of President Trump's campaign promises, to "ban Muslims." Using its normal analysis, the Court deferred to the president on an issue of national security. Now, a new Executive Order has been issued, also carrying out a Trump campaign promise to "build that wall." National security is advanced as the reason for the action (an action that was explicitly considered by the Congress and rejected by the Congress). As the Supreme Court considers this matter, as it ultimately will, the Court will be deciding upon the future of American democracy.

The "normal" thing for the Supreme Court to do is to uphold the president's decision on what is, and what is not, an emergency. That is exactly what the Court did in Trump v. Hawaii, and while the Court explicitly repudiated the Korematsu decision (never before repudiated), it did so by stating that Korematsu was completely unlike the "Muslim ban" case, which was not based on race but on an "entry suspension that is well within executive authority..." Here is an excerpt from Chief Justice John Roberts' decision in the "Muslim ban" case:

Finally, the dissent invokes Korematsu v. United States, 323 U. S. 214 (1944). Whatever rhetorical advantage the dissent may see in doing so, Korematsu has nothing to do with this case. The forcible relocation of U. S. citizens to concentration camps, solely and explicitly on the basis of race, is objectively unlawful and outside the scope of Presidential authority. But it is wholly inapt to liken that morally repugnant order to a facially neutral policy denying certain foreign nationals the privilege of admission. See post, at 26–28. The entry suspension is an act that is well within executive authority and could have been taken by any other President—the only question is evaluating the actions of this particular President in promulgating an otherwise valid Proclamation. 
The dissent’s reference to Korematsu, however, affords this Court the opportunity to make express what is already obvious: Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and—to be clear—“has no place in law under the Constitution.” 323 U. S., at 248 (Jackson, J., dissenting) [Emphasis added].

The American Revolution was fought to create a democratic political order, and to reject the monarchial form of government that then prevailed. Reading The Declaration of Independence makes that clear. 

Monarchial rule can take root with an elected monarch, too. Unless the Supreme Court does what would really be something different from what it usually does, deference to this president will return us to those pre-revolutionary times!

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

#47 / More Than A Critic, More Than An Observer

I would like, in the end, to be more than a critic, and more than a mere observer of what "is." In other words, I would like to be someone who does something more than simply describe the nature of the reality in which I find myself. That reality, of course, is the reality we all inhabit.

Good observation and description is powerful (see those "Sunbeams," below). There is no doubt about that, and being able to describe and delimit the realities we confront is of critical importance. Changing the world, though, is what I would really like to help accomplish.

Because I believe that the world we most immediately inhabit is, in fact, infinitely malleable, I would like to help create a new version that better reflects our hopes and dreams - and I mean the hopes and dreams of all of us, the ones we share, in our deepest selves. I believe that any analysis that ends with the contemplation of the purely individual misses the most important thing: we are all in this together.

One of my favorite Bob Dylan songs is from this album, Together Through Life. Click to listen!

One of my favorite magazines, The Sun, provides its readers, each month, with the kind observations of our human condition that can inspire us to the kind of actions we need to take. The magazine calls these observations "Sunbeams." Click the link for the full menu from the January 2019 issue. I have provided a sample below:

Incontestably, alas, most people are not, in action, worth very much; and yet, every human being is an unprecedented miracle. One tries to treat them as the miracles they are, while trying to protect oneself against the disasters they’ve become. 
          - James Baldwin

Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before — more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle. 
          - Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Empathy is the antidote to shame. . . . The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too. 
          - Brené Brown

In the end, I would like to help change the world. I think we need to do it, and now is the time, and I think there may be a lot of us who feel that way.

I feel a change coming on!

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Friday, February 15, 2019

#46 / White Lies

Ijeoma Oluo, pictured above, has written a book called, So You Want To Talk About Race, which has been a New York Times bestseller. I found out about Oluo's book from the December 2018 edition of The Sun magazine, which ran an interview with her that the magazine titled, "White Lies." Click to read it. Particularly if you are white!

Based on the interview in The Sun, I feel confident in recommending Oluo's book. And of course, I truly do recommend The Sun, a late-in-my-life discovery that brings me joy and tears each month. You can click this link to subscribe

What did I find so powerful in the interview published in The Sun? Passages like this: 

Leviton: You say you didn’t write So You Want to Talk about Race explicitly for white people. 
Oluo: No, although I always have to write knowing that the majority of my readers will be white. I find that frustrating, by the way. White readers slow me down! [Laughs.] It’s hard being a writer who just wants to explore words and instead has to find different ways to explain the most basic things about race to white people. I couldn’t do that for an entire book. 
Leviton: What has the reaction been from white readers? 
Oluo: I find that the amount of white anger I get in response to my writing is inversely related to the number of words. A five-hundred-word essay online will get more criticism than a book of many pages — because, you know, who’s going to read several hundred pages of something they hate? 
I’m not really interested in receiving thanks from white people, but I am interested to know what they are doing with the information. I don’t need white people to toss their privilege out, to disempower themselves. What I need them to do is look for where their relative power lies and use it for my benefit. What I want is for them to speak up in boardrooms, where policies are being made; to have a tough conversation with a Republican congressman who wants their vote — and who’s working hard to make sure I can’t vote. I only have a few ways of being heard, and you have hundreds: Go use that power.

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

#45 / Hostage Taking

Marzieh Hashemi

TEHRAN — A prominent U.S.-born journalist working for an Iranian state-run satellite television channel has been arrested in the United States, the broadcaster said Wednesday. 
U.S. officials have not confirmed the arrest of the journalist, Marzieh Hashemi, who has lived in Iran since 2009 and is an anchor at Press TV. 
Press TV said Hashemi, 59, was arrested at the St. Louis airport Sunday and was then transferred by the FBI to Washington, where she remains in custody. No charges have been filed against her, the channel said.

The report of Hashemi’s detention comes a week after Iran confirmed it had detained a U.S. Navy veteran, Michael White. White’s family said he was arrested in July while visiting his Iranian girlfriend, and he has been in custody on unknown charges since then.

A relatively brief news story about the incarceration of Marzieh Hashemi (a born-here citizen of the United States) appeared in the January 16, 2019, edition of The San Francisco Chronicle. If a paywall doesn't intercede, and I can't promise it won't, you can read the full article by clicking right here. Here is a link to a follow-up story that describes Hashemi's treatment during a ten-day detention (now ended) which was terminated without any charges being filed.

I think I am noticing a trend. Nations, in engaging in conflicts with other nations, are now starting to take individual people as "hostages," to use them as bartering chips in those international conflicts. China has been doing it, and it appears that the United States is right with them. Iran takes someone hostage, so our country does the same.

If someone is alleged to have committed a crime, it is appropriate to arrest and try that person, but it is not appropriate to detain anyone without bringing them immediately before a magistrate, in public, and making clear what the government claims that the person has done wrong. That didn't happen here, presumably because the government was relying on provisions in the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that allows the United States government to incarcerate "terrorists" without ever proving any such charge.

If "we the people" are in charge (and I'd like to think we still are), we need to say: "no more hostage-taking."

If you'd ever like to contact your Member of Congress, on any topic, you can click right here for some assistance on how to do that.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

#44 / Extremely Online

The pictures above, of two well-known political figures, come from a column in The New York Times,  "Trump vs. Ocasio-Cortez: Who Will Win the Internet?" The columnist, Kara Swisher, covers technology for The Times, and sums up the discussion this way: "They both know how to control the narrative. But one of them comes across as a human being and the other as a cartoon bobblehead."

I'll let you guess which one is the bobblehead, in Swisher's estimation!

Swisher says that President Trump has been quite effective in using the Internet (and specifically Twitter) to govern the nation. In an earlier column, "All Text and No Subtext," Swisher says, in fact, that "we are now a government of the Twitter, by the Twitter, and for the Twitter." 

Swisher's recent column advises that Trump has more than met his match in Ocasio-Cortez, because Ocasio-Cortez is "extremely online," and President Trump isn't. 

What does it mean to be "extremely online?" Here's Swisher's definition: 

“Extremely Online” — typically capitalized — is usually defined as conducting as much of one’s life online and having as little human contact as possible. But Ms. Ocasio-Cortez embodies and morphs the concept like the digital native she is, meaning simply that she speaks the language of the internet fluently. 
That was made clear by her ability to turn a video of her dancing in a “Breakfast Club” homage at Boston University — posted to hurt her — into a transcendent meta-meme last week. It was accomplished by her offering an expertly rendered bookend, a decade later, as she danced to “War (What Is It Good For)” right by the plaque with her name on it outside her Capitol Hill office. 
And more: Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has done live conversations that include both cooking tips and policy pronouncements, has posted stories of her congressional experience the way others post vacation or holiday or food photos and has clapped back expertly in pithy tweets at whatever gets dished out at her by the right. 
What she is doing is significant for politics, because of one key thing: She has made digital depictions of herself seem very analog. In other words, she is perfectly human online.

Any genuine politics, ultimately, does not take place "online." Life (and politics) is "analogue." I am glad that Ocasio-Cortez is "winning the Internet," in her contest with our bobblehead president, but I am most concerned that we don't all think that "winning the Internet" is what we need to do to maintain an effective system of democratic self-government in these United States!

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

#43 / The Hyper-Cooperative Human

“Becoming human”—the phenomenon—is a protracted and extraordinary process that anyone can witness if privileged to observe a child growing up: maturing not just physically but emotionally, socially, cognitively and morally. But before that, of course, becoming human was also an evolutionary process, one that cannot now be witnessed directly but has been intensively studied. Thanks to Michael Tomasello, both processes are, more than ever, becoming demystified and revealed as wonderfully interconnected.

By setting out the quotation above, I intend to refer readers to a book review that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on January 11, 2019: "‘Becoming Human’ Review: The Defining Neediness of Humans."

The author of Becoming Human, Michael Tomasello, is "an American developmental and comparative psychologist... He is co-director of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, co-director of the Wolfgang Kohler Primate Research CenterGermany, honorary professor at University of Leipzig's and at Manchester University's Department of Psychology, and professor of psychology at Duke University."

According to the review in The Wall Street Journal, Tomasello argues that what makes us human, and what has made humans evolutionarily successful, is our ability to cooperate. 

We are all individuals, in other words, but we are also connected together. It is through that connection, collaboration, and cooperation that we have created, and continue to create, our human world. There are certainly different styles and methodologies in which human collaboration - essential for human survival and success - can manifest itself. Whatever style and method we employ, I say it's "politics," and we "live in a political world."

Tomasello's book sounds good. The review is worth reading.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

#42 / Joy To The World

The January 2019, edition of Sojourners magazine had a nice article on "The Aesthetics of Joy." The article referred the reader to a TED Talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee, which you can watch by clicking this link. I thought her talk was pretty good. 

Lee is arguing for the incorporation of joyful design into every part of our communities. That means soft and round shapes, and lots of color. Interior spaces that look like this: 

Not like this: 

I think Lee has a point. Works on outside spaces, too. 

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

#41 / Modern Monetary Theory

I have written about modern monetary theory before (it is called MMT for short). Maybe I should be embarassed about repeating myself, but points worth making are worth making twice. 

This time around, I am recommending an article from In These Times. The article is titled, "PAYGO Is Based on a Fallacy." Pavlina R. Tcherneva, who wrote the article, is an associate professor of economics at Bard College. Tcherneva is arguing that the United States government can dramatically increase spending without raising taxes. That's MMT. 

Nancy Pelosi shows up because Pelosi has told Republicans that she will keep the Democrats in line for "Paygo." Paygo is just the opposite of MMT. The Paygo idea is that before you spend money for one thing, you must raise more taxes or you have to defund something else. Generally speaking, Republicans like the Paygo idea (except where military spending is involved). Democrats? Maybe not so much, though as Pelosi demonstrates, Democrats are not necessarily willing to forsake Paygo for MMT.

Here is what Tcherneva has to say on this topic: 

How will you pay for it? is the wrong question to obsess over. The right question is the more difficult and important one about the impact of government spending on the economy. Did it generate income inequality? Did it cause inflation? Or did it help build an economy that works for all? MMT economists favor policies for shared prosperity, like a federal job guarantee, a Green New Deal, tuition-free college and Medicare for All.

Personally, I think it would be good if our elected representatives were to adopt an MMT approach to government spending. If you really want Paygo, however, let's think about balancing the Paygo equation by adding a job guarantee, a Green New Deal, tuition-free college, and Medicare for all and "paying" for all that additional expenditure by reducing our amazingly bloated military budget.

That idea is worth making even more than twice!

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Saturday, February 9, 2019

#40 / Shepherded, Not Sovereign

In a recent article, published in truthdig, Paul Street is recommending that Americans engage in vigorous and sustained nonviolent civil disobedience. That is the best way, he suggests, to remove President Trump from office.

If you would like to see what vigorous and sustained nonviolent civil disobedience looks like, check out "Bridge to Freedom," Episode VI in the Eyes on the Prize series, a fourteen-part documentary on the Civil Rights Movement, which I just watched, again, a week or so ago.

Eyes on the Prize was originally shown on PBS. In fact, let me recommend that you check out any, or even all, of the episodes that are part of the Eye on the Prize series. They are generally available on YouTube.

In making his recommendation in truthdig, Street cites to Sheldon Wolin. That's pretty good authority, in my book: 

Released in the early spring of 2008, Sheldon Wolin’s classic study “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” revealed that the U.S. was no longer a “democracy,” if it ever had been. America, Wolin found, had mutated into a new sort of totalitarian regime wherein economic power and state power were conjoined and virtually unchecked by a demobilized, atomized and politically disinterested populace, conditioned to stay that way. “At best,” Wolin determined, “the nation has become a ‘managed democracy’ where the public is shepherded, not sovereign.”

I don't know about you, but I'm not feeling much like a sheep, these days!

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Friday, February 8, 2019

#39 / A Little Friction Might Be Good

Of all the buzzwords in tech, perhaps none has been deployed with as much philosophical conviction as “frictionless.” Over the past decade or so, eliminating “friction” — the name given to any quality that makes a product more difficult or time-consuming to use — has become an obsession of the tech industry, accepted as gospel by many of the world’s largest companies.
The above quote, from an article by Kevin Roose, appearing in the December 12, 2018, edition of The New York Times, suggests that slowing down might actually be better! Delayed gratification instead of the internet equivalent of the "zipless fuck" made legendary by Erica Jong.

It's something to think about.

Do you think we could convince our president that a little more "friction" might be good before he sends out that next Tweet?

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

#38 / The B.B.I.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is ranked number one on the B.B.I. That is the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, for the uninitiated. It appears that the handsome couple above, Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, are having marital problems. Or maybe not. Their incipient divorce is supposed to be friendly.

The main concern, as far as I can tell, seems to be what happens to that #1 ranking on the B.B.I. after they split up the assets and the divorce is final!

Wow! Now that really is a problem!!

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

#37/ Cross v. Gow

Ray Cross, President University of Wisconsin
Chancellor Joe Gow
It is the official position of the University of Wisconsin that the University should respect and promote "free speech" on all of the University's campuses. This commitment to free speech (and how it is being implemented in practice) was the subject of an article in The Wall Street Journal on December 5, 2018:

After disruptive student protests over Milo Yiannopoulos and Ben Shapiro caught the attention of the state Legislature, the Board of Regents enacted a policy last year guaranteeing free speech on the university’s 26 campuses. UW-La Crosse’s chancellor, Joe Gow, took that renewed commitment to free speech seriously. His office distributed pamphlets on the policy to students, faculty and staff and planned the campus’s first-ever Free Speech Week. “Every day is free speech day on our campus,” he tells me. “That’s what we’re about. That’s the mission.”

Unfortunately for Chancellor Gow, he actually believed that the University was serious about this policy: 

As Mr. Gow considered a subject and speaker for Free Speech Week, he asked students for input. Title IX reform, the #MeToo movement, and Stormy Daniels have all been in the news, so the students wanted to talk about sex. The chancellor invited Nina Hartley, an adult-film performer with a nursing degree who’s spoken on sexuality and pornography at Harvard, Dartmouth, Berkeley and other elite schools.

The upshot was this. After Ms. Hartley had appeared, President Cross sent a Chancellor Gow a reprimand, and threatened to deny him a normal salary increase.

The official policy, as adopted by the Regents, says this: 

It is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they, or others, find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Exploration, deliberation, and debate may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the university community (or those outside the community) to be offensive, unwise, immoral or wrong-headed.

I think the Regents are right about what kind of debates and discussions should be held on university campuses, and in the case of Cross v. Gow, I am voting for Gow!

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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

#36 / Updating Socrates?

Charles Krauthammer, pictured below Socrates, was a "leaning right" political pundit who apparently compared President George W. Bush to Abraham Lincoln. Krauthammer died in June, 2018. Abraham Lincoln died in April, 1865. George W. Bush is still alive. 

Krauthammer left behind a set of essays, now published in book form under the title, The Point of it All. I have not read Krauthammer's book, but I have read a review, published in my local newspaper on Sunday, January 20th. The review, by Daniel Oppenheimer, contained a line that Oppenheimer said was "core" to Krauthammer's worldview: 

Beware the too-examined life.

According to Oppenheimer, Krauthammer believed that "introspection, self-counsciousness [and] deconstruction...were more likely to be vices than virtues, corrosive to the good life, sound political judgment and global leadership."

Socrates was one of the founders of Western philosophy. He had a different idea. Here is one of Socrates' most famous sayings:

The unexamined life is not worth living. 

Krauthammer did have an advantage that Socrates did not. Krauthammer lived post-Shakespeare, and can be expected to have pondered Hamlet's agonized ruminations about how we often fail to take action, as we ought, when our resolution becomes "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought."

Another pundit, Thomas Friedman (still alive), has "debriefed" the Iraq War, one of the main initiatives of President George W. Bush, whom Krauthammer thought was a Lincoln-like hero. Considering the Iraq War, which has been disastrous in virtually every way, Friedman poses this question to past-president Bush:

What were you thinking?

Now, I guess, with the Krauthammer book, we know the answer. Influenced by the kind of "worldview" espoused by Krauthammer, our president wasn't thinking at all!

As far as I am concerned, Krauthammer's comparison of Bush to Lincoln is not convincing. With all due respect to Krauthammer (and to Shakespeare), when I think about what sort of leader I would like to have guiding our national policy, it strikes me that it would be an advantage, not a fault, to have a leader who "thinks" before that leader acts.

Just to be clear, in other words, as between Krauthammer and Socrates, I am sticking with Socrates!

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Monday, February 4, 2019

#35 / The Shortest Distance

I have come to have a paticular fondness for the pamphlet form of publication.

Pendle Hill, the Quaker retreat center located near Philadelphia, publishes a series of "Pendle Hill Pamphlets," and I subscribe. Every couple of months I get one of these pamphlets (or sometimes two). Each one is on a Quaker-related subject. They are on the order of thirty pages apiece, more or less, and that means that I can promptly read them, in one sitting, and then file them away for future reference.

I have been a subscriber to the Pendle Hill Pamphlet series for years. Each pamphlet must be no more than about 1/8th of an inch in thickness, and my past editions take up just over three feet on the shelf. In checking, I find that the first pamphlet I have is No. 47, titled "The Nature of Quakerism," by Howard Brinton. This is a revision of Pamphlet No. 9, originally published in 1949. The one I have was publsihed in 1962, which is probably when I started subscribing.

Much more recently, I have come across "One Story," a publishing enterprise that delivers one short story each month. Again, this pamphlet style of publishing makes it easy for the reader. You sit down, read the story, and you never lose your place or forget what you were reading because you have had to put down your longer book to go have dinner, or to get some work done, or to take a walk. One sitting is now about the full stretch of my memory; at least, so it sometimes seems to me. The stories are pretty good, too!

The latest Pendle Hill Pamphlet (No. 454 - "The Healing Power of Stories" by Michael Bischoff) had a line which really caught my attention. It's worth repeating:

A story is the shortest distance between two people. 

That does sound about right to me. And according to Bischoff, telling healing stories to oneself (and to others) is actually an avenue to healing itself. 

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Sunday, February 3, 2019

#34 / The Politics Of Work

The Nation magazine, reporting on a new book by Sarah Churchwell, explores what the so-called "American Dream" is all about. 

The Wall Street Journal, in a column by Jason Willick, addresses the "politics of work." 

Both publications (almost polar opposites in their politics) seem to agree that decent and meaningful "work," and not just "money," is what Americans want. That's what those (American) dreams are made of. 

One solution, of course, is to "be your own boss." This is increasingly the only option for many of us, as even major corporations are more and more intersted in hiring contract workers, and less and less interested in providing the type of long-term positions, within a stable business, and with health and other benefits, that were the rule, and not the exception, when I was young. I have made fun, before, of the so-called "gig economy," pointing out that one definition of the word "gig" is a "pronged spear for catching fish." "Gigged," indeed, are the many caught within the "gig economy."

A model not much noted, but with which our nation has actually had some positive experience, is based on the idea that we can be our own boss, but "collectively," not "individualistically." I am referring, of course, to the Works Progress Administration (WPA), deployed as an antidote to the Great Depression during the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Millions of people were employed, in decent and meaningful work. In my view, reviving this model would be one good way to achieve not only economic security, but to achieve "social security," too, in the very broadest sense of that term.

There is nothing impossible about this, of course, just like there is nothing impossible in providing universal health care and a college education to every young person in the country. 

That would require, I must admit, that the wealth of the nation, created by our collective efforts, would have to be deployed to benefit 100% of the people, not just 1%! That is my "American Dream" solution. It's a collective approach, not an individualistic one. It kind of goes along with that suggestion from one of those early Bob Dylan songs“I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours.”

Maybe some presidential candidate, or maybe even two, will talk about that next year.

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Saturday, February 2, 2019

#33 / Changing Of The Guards

Here is a question posed by the New York Times columnist David Brooks, in his column published on Tuesday, January 8, 2019. Brooks' column was titled, "Washington's New Power Structure."

There’s one question ... I’d like to ask of practically every member of Congress. Why are you so dispossessed? 
You take all the trouble to run for public office and, against all odds, you actually get in a position to wield influence. But then you accede to a thousand small decisions that you and your predecessors have made, and you give it all away.
There are 535 Americans elected to Congress, but the way things are arranged now only three have real power — Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer. Only a handful of others — in leadership — have a whiff of power. The rest of you have rendered yourselves less powerful, in a way never envisioned by the founders. 
You Senate Republicans are in a double bind because what power you didn’t give to the majority leader you gave to Trump.

Now, that is a good question, David! On January 31, 2018, I pretty much asked the same question, though I posed the question to each one of us, individually, in our capacities as citizens of a democratic country, and thus persons in whose hands governmental power is supposed ultimately to reside. 

I had an answer to my question, as well, and it may be that this same answer would provide a correct explanation for what puzzles Brooks. He wants to know why Members of Congress aren't really trying to deal with the nation's problems, even though they are, of course, officially designated as the persons who are supposed to represent the citizens who elected them, and who are thus supposed to serve as the mechanism by which we, the citizens, achieve self-government. 

Here is my answer from that January 31, 2018 column:

I tend to think that one reason we do not assert our democratic control over our government more than we do is because we would prefer not to be implicated in any admission that we are in charge of what the government is actually doing.

My son recently discovered one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, "Changing Of The Guards." My favorite line from that song goes like this:

Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination 

Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards

It does require courage to assume responsibility for the way things are - and then to assume responsibility for trying to change things, when things are unacceptable. Dylan's lyrics are a poetic way to convey just this point. If "Eden is burning," then we need to have the courage to try to change the unacceptable realities we confront. We will need courage to insist upon a "changing of the guards."

Politically, courage must always come from the "bottom up" (that means us, folks). Eden is burning, and if we lack courage now, then Dylan tells us exactly what to expect.

David Brooks' column and Bob Dylan's insights: same message!

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Friday, February 1, 2019

#32 / More Facts

Are more facts "more better?" Not necessarily, according to Henry Kissinger (pictured above). 

In a column titled, "There goes Jerry Brown, the most interesting man in Sacramento," John Diaz, editorial page editor of The San Francisco Chronicle, tells this story, based on Diaz' conversation with Brown: 

“I think back on something that Henry Kissinger told me, sitting on a beach in Malibu in the ’70s,” Brown recalled. “Kissinger said, ‘You have the most flexibility to act when you have the least amount of information. When it’s very clear, your options are highly limited.’"

Kissinger's observation strikes me as an important one. Knowing "the facts," and having lots of "information," can actually be a disadvantage for a policy maker, as the policy maker tries to decide what to do. Since citizens are the ultimate policy makers, in a democracy, we all need to pay attention to Kissinger's advice. 

But how could it be that what Kissinger said is true? Intuitively, people tend to think that the more information you have, before making a decision, the better off you'll be, and the better decision you'll make. Kissinger is suggesting quite the opposite. 

Here's my thought. We all tend to subject ourselves to the tyranny of the "is." Once we believe that we know "the truth" about something, and that we know what "is," we translate that "is" into an inevitability. In fact, in the human world in which we most immediately live, what "is" will ultimately depend on what we do, because we create all the human realities that then confront us from outside, and seem to be so fixed, firm, and immutable. 

If you "know" something is impossible, becauase you are so certain that you know what "is," you will never be able to do the creative thing that will establish a new reality in the world. 

I am not a big fan of Henry Kissinger, and I am virtually certain that he didn't want ordinary people exercising that creative ability to esacpe what "is" and to make something new happen. He wants the elite (himself and Jerry Brown) to know this magic. In fact, the power that comes from Kissinger's insight is available to us all. 

Right now!

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