Some Historical and Social Antecedents of Trumpistan

August 6, 2017 § 2 Comments

Dangerous Loyalty

Recently the media has noted a declining percentage of our neighbors who cling to their faith in the rectitude and promise of President Trump.  The number is estimated to be 35%.  I derive no comfort from these revelations for two reasons:  First, an even lower percntage of our neighbors express faith in the government of our country, the only institution with the power to limit the authority of the President to continue his discredited policies.  Second, in a population estimated to be 326,000,000, that means that 141,100,000 of our neighbors cling to their enthusiasm for President Trump.

These facts, to me, describe a country adrift, without effective guidance, in a perilous world.  Multinational corporations and the United States military complex seem to be the only sources of effective power, a circumstance I regard with anxiety.  It describes Germany in the 1930’s.  It describes Egypt and Turkey, both of which are sinking into the hands of  military-backed totalitarian governments.

Even our Supreme Court, the institution charged with the preservation of our Constitutional republic, appears to be in the hands of a majority who seek the ressurection of legal principles which opposed  Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Justices like McReynolds and Field, in the 1920’s and ’30’s,  sought to superimpose on the Constitution the limitations of what they referred to as “Natural Law” which, in practice always coincided with and favored the interests of business corporations and thwarted the collective efforts of the people, acting through their government

The Nature of Mass Delusions

Dangerous nonsense thrives when one or more of the following is true:

First, there is widespread disparity of access to accurate and pertinent information.  For the first few centuries of life in our country, this disparity prevailed between the majority of our citizens who lived in generally isolated small villages and settlements and a minority who lived and did business in cities.  Our literature and folk lore is replete with stories of the “rube” from the country who is the victim of manipulation by a “city sliker”.  This phenomenon prevailed until the 1920’s when the automobile and the radio significantly erased this isolation.

Second, there is general access to many sources of information but no filter to insure its reliability.  Britebart and numerous similar sources offer carefully crafted misleading and false information equally accessible with CNN, CBS, NBC and BBC.  The Internet and the ubiquity of smart phones leave individuals no way to distinguish lies and baloney from truthful  information.

Third, significant disparity of knowledge between the originator of information and its consumer and target.  “Insider trading” and commercial advertising are  examples of this kind of trolling for suckers.

Fourth, the educational background and store of knowledge of the consumer of information determines his or her ability to evaluate and choose sources of information.

To summarize:  Our technology, a potential asset for the dissemination of knowledge, has, instead become a treacherous vehicle for demagogues to peddle their messages of hate, division and chaos and to undermine the fail-safe protections of our Constitution.

The Intellectual Ancestors of Trump

The self-absorbed  buffoon, supremely oblivious of his own stupidity and groossly unsuited for the task he has chosen, is a character famously protrayed by talented writers and playrights.

Don Quixote

The first great novel, Don Quixote de La Mancha, Cervantes’ two volume masterpiece, featured a hero who, after reading tales of dashing knights, fair maidens and thrilling exploits, failing to understand they were fictional, embarked on his own  quest for fame and fortune.  His efforts were, like our similarly self deluded President, fraught with a series of pratfalls and misadventures.

John Falstaff

A few decades earlier, Shakespeare enlivened four of his plays with the antics and absurd exagerations of John Falstaff, who, like Trump, shamelessly misrepresented his accomplishments, ignored his critics and never acknowledged his errors, regardless of how plainly they were perceived by others.

Elmner Gantry

Our own Nobel Prize winning novelist, Sinclair Lewis, immortalized a religious huckster who, again like Trump, transfixed large crowds with emotional performances, promising salvation and happiness to his listeners while offering them protection from threatened harm from their enemies, the devil, in Gantry’s tents personified as Democrats in Trump’s.

Major Hoople

For a few decades, beginning in the 1920’s, a couple of cartoonists, Gene Ahem and Bill Freyse,  entertained readers of the funny papers with the puffery and exaggerated exploits of Major Hoople in a comic strip named Our Boarding House.  The Major, who was a sargent in the Civil War, promoted himself with endless bragging about his bravery, just as Trump never tires of regaling listeners with accounts of his financial successes, artfully omitting mention of his bankruptcies and the legal settlements of suits brought by victims of his tortious misconduct and desperately refusing disclosure of his income tax returns.

Huey Long

Another example of an earlier model of the Trump was Huey Long, the rags to riches Louisiana politician who epitomized Edgar Lee Masters’ warning through one of his characters in Spoon River Anthology:  “Beware of the man who rises to power on one suspender.”  Long was a demogogue who, like Trump, built an empire with extravagant construction projects.  Less fortunate than Trump, Huey’s governorship was cut short by assassination.  Also, unlike Huey, Trump had a handsome inheritence, not one suspender, to assist his rise to power.  A novel about a character like Huey Long, also the basis for a movie, is All The Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren.  Despite the similarities, Warren has stoutly denied his novel was a roman à clef .

Extraordinary Popular Illisions and the Madness of Crowds

Just as the Trump character has several fictional and real identifiable ancetors,  his ability to mesmerize large numbers of people with his outsized promises of prosperity has similar historical examples.   Several of  these have been described in a fascinating book by Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Illusions and the Madness of Crowds.  The book can be read online as a PDF file at https://vantagepointtrading.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Charles_Mackay-Extraordinary_Popular_Delusions_and_the_Madness_of_Crowds.pdf

[Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, Bernard Baruch said that what he learned from reading this book,, prompted him to sell all his stock before the crash of 1929.]

The book invites skipping around among chapters listed in the table of contents.  Unfortunately I was unable to find any way to skip directly to a particular chapter, so scrolling is required.

This book was published in 1841.  I contains a well written account of about a dozen instances when greed motivated crowds of otherwise sane and sensible people to hand over their money to promoters of schemes so bizarre as to challenge the imagination.   The events occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries when education levels varied significantly according to class and communication technology was primitive by our standards, thus leaving ordinary people without any means of checking the accuracy of tales of foreign lands or in places inaccessible to the public, like laboratories, mines and business offices.

The circumstances were, as a result, ripe for promoting promises of wealth based on incomplete and sometimes deliberately false information.

Here are a couple of examples:  Tulipmania:  descibes the obsession of British citizens with tulip bulbs from Holland and the amazing marketing of different colors of tulips, leading speculators buy and sell popular species at inflated prices until the market collapsed, leaving a wreakage of lost fortunes.

The South Sea Bubble is a more famous example.  Tales of gold located in Peru and Mexico served as a basis for a partnership between the British government and some private investors in ventures promising great profits from access to those mines.  Shares were marketed in the project and crowds of English men and women risked fortunes competing for those shares, whose value inflated significantly until the scheme collapsed, leaving prominent members of Parliament and countles private citizens victimized and impoverished.  This occurred before limited liability laws protected investors to the extent they do now.  The consequences were, therefore, more catstrophic than they would be today..

The South Sea Bubble, like public confidence in the financial prowess of Trump, is an amazing exemple of publc gullibility because:  (a) At the time of the Bubble, Peru and Mexico were part of the empire of Spain and, hence, not available for exploitation by the British.  and (b) Trump’s claims of financial prowess depend entirely on the claims by him and his family, all made while vigorously opposing  efforts to enable public access to his income tax returns.

Conclusion

This morning I watched Fareed Zakaria’s program on CNN.  He is, for me, close to   Paul Krugman as a source of intelligent information about what is happening.  During his opening remarks he spoke of a new book by Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics.  I have ordered a copy.

Lilla’s message is, according to Zakaria:  The Democratic Party needs to broaden its appeal beyond the issues of race, ethnicity and abortion.  He does not argue that these issues should be abandoned, but those who disagree, for example, with abortion rights should not be excluded from the appeal of the Party.  Lilla is a Catholic and is not a supporter of abortion rights but he regards himself as a liberal .

I am not making any judgment, obviously, because I haven’t read the book. I have, however, expressed before my frustration about the Democratic Party’s indifference to the rights of unions.

In that way, I feel like Lilla:  I find no comfortable place in political efforts which, in my opinion, fail because  they treat the working class as in need of education, deserving rebuke for their lack of enthusiasm for racial justice, and as a group  having limited relevance in this age of technological sophistication.  I attribute the loss of the recent election to these policies and to the fact that neither the Clinton nor the Obama administration paid any attention to the rights of working people.

Welfare programs and training school scholarship programs do not empower the beneficiaries.  We are suffering because the only empowered force is corporate wealth.  Hiring more experts in money raising and TV ad design is not going to solve our problem.Empowering the working class is the only weapon that will change the political dialogue.  That will take years and it’s way past time for the Democratic Party to awaken and begin the process.

In the meantime, I have enjoyed a few hours of placing our present embarrassment in the White House in some kind of historical and sociological context.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Revolutionary Democratic Party

April 7, 2016 § 2 Comments

The Democratic Party’s Fear of Change

Last February, I expressed my despair in an essay that viewed Bernie Sanders’s heroic  effort to convert the Democratic Party into a relevant organization as foredoomed.  His continued successes during the past six weeks have re-kindled some of my excitement but I still regard his chances of becoming the nominee of the Democratic Party as unlikely.  The Democratic Party’s past struggles with Communists in the 30’s, Dixiecrats in the 40’s and “Reagan Democrats” in the 70’s have prompted it to insure against fundamental change by adopting procedural barriers designed to limit change.

As a result, it is virtually impossible to make radical changes within the Party in its present form.

Can Violent Revolution Succeed?

I have spent some time considering the nature of the people whose lives inspired me.  Leon Trotsky, Mao, Emiliano Zapata, Poncho Villa, Patrick Pearse, Che, Malcolm X – I read about these men and their violent lives.  They acted out my anger and thrilled me with their reckless courage.  The poetry and the music that celebrated their efforts as well as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and SNICK – these were the sources of the emotional part of my life during several decades of unsuccessful efforts as a political organizer and a few individual episodes of private law practice.  The key word in that sentence is “unsuccessful”.  I never turned any of my dreams into reality.   Like Bernie Sanders, I was often counseled to be “more realistic” and “practical” but, somehow, that advice was never seductive for me.

I never actually met any of the men who inspired me.  I did meet a few people  who had been involved in some of the exciting history in America in the 30’s.  I knew and was enthralled by a woman who was involved in some of the Trotsky-inspired efforts of the Communist Party.   Like thousands of others, her heart was broken when Stalin signed the Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler’s Germany.   I had a long chat with a man who rode a boxcar into Seattle to join an IWW strike there.  I became friends with Magdaleno Dimas, whose participation in the Farmworkers’ Strike in Starr County changed him from a violent man with a criminal past to an idealist willing to sacrifice himself on behalf of the campesinos who were trying to improve their lot through collective nonviolence.  Magdalena’s life ended tragically after he was arrested and jailed in Torreon after trying to make a marijuana deal to raise money to finance the Starr County huelga.

The Lessons of My Past

As I look back over the decades of my life, I see that those who actually sparked changes that changed the lives of thousands of people suffering the injustices of capitalistic greed and thievery were nonviolent people whose lives, while they were not typical of the society in which they lived, were only lawless in ways that were designed to invoke moral outrage and never in ways intended to physically injure anyone:  Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Ralph Yarborough, e.g..

My Proposal

If Bernie Sanders is not the nominee of the Democratic Party this year, I think he should continue to organize and speak in support of a new organization within the Democratic Party.  Its name should proclaim its allegiance to the Party, but it should also identify it as a haven for people who yearn for and demand fundamental change in the Party and the United States of America.  It should focus on a statement of goals and principles, not on a hierarchical  organizational structure.  It should make full use of technology to build a web of like-minded people in the U.S..   The designers should study Alcoholics Anonymous as a model.  It should be built around colleges and universities, but it should use the energy found there to expand into diverse neighborhoods.  It should avoid any alliance with any religion.  Anyone willing to conform their efforts to those consistent with the statement of goals and principles should be empowered to create local “study groups” or “action pods”.  An appropriate name would be the Bumble Bee Group and local groups could be organized around “Hives” and “Cells”.

Each cell should meet once a week or once a month.   Dues should be $2, payable at each meeting.  A treasurer should open a bank account and keep $1 to finance the Cell expenses (literature or rent for a meeting place); and $1 should be sent to a national office.   The national office should be limited to a skeleton staff authorized only to maintain orderly books of account.  A newsletter should be created and circulated to all Cells.

Those financially able to do so should be encouraged to support these efforts, but their contributions should not entitle them to any authority to dictate policy or procedure.  Contributors should be entitled to choose whether or not to be identifiable.  Contributions would not be tax deductible.

Anonymity should be optional but members should be encouraged to establish a digital connection to the National Office and to other Cells and Hives in a city or county.  All communication should be by email or iMessage.  Hacking would become a constant threat and some kind of security and password protection would have to be designed.

These groups should become active participants in the governance and affairs of the Democratic Party and members should become candidates for precinct chair positions and executive committee positions.  Democratic Party candidates should be supported if their goals and principles conformed to those of the Hives and Cells.

Conclusion

I offer this as an alternative to allowing the organizing done by Bernie Sanders to be wasted and embalmed in the dustbins of the Democratic Party.  Bill Clinton hobbled the Democratic Party with his Democratic Leadership Council.  Bernie offers a way to respond with an organization to make the Democratic Party an agent for change, not a permanent role as the lesser of two evils.

 

 

The Winners’ Choice

January 19, 2016 § 2 Comments

The Endorsements

Democrats are faced with a choice:  Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.  [I do not believe Martin O’Malley has a chance to be the nominee.  I will ignore him in the following discussion.]  I have discovered a resource online I believe provides significant information relevant to that choice.  I urge my readers to review carefully the information posted there.  Here is a link:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorsements_for_the_Democratic_Party_presidential_primaries,_2016#Hillary_Clinton

This site consists of 10 or 15 pages of tightly packed lists of people who have formally endorsed Hillary Clinton.  They are separated into labeled categories:  Former Presidents (one listed); Governors and former Governors; Senators and Congressmen; State Legislators; Local Officials; Members of the DNC; Celebrities; Actors; Musicians; Writers; . . . .  On and on and on and on….

This is a list of the status quo winners in all categories.  It is indeed an impressive list.  It obviously is the result of a major recruitment effort.

After you have been suitably impressed by Hillary’s supporters, you might be interested in Bernie Sanders’ list of endorsements.  It is sparse and brief.  Here is a link:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorsements_for_the_Democratic_Party_presidential_primaries,_2016#Bernie_Sanders

My Reaction to The Endorsements

I believe this information is important because it suggests a basis for choosing between these two candidates.  It seems obvious to me that those who have been winners in our present system of distributing and exercising political, social  and economic power probably have limited enthusiasm for making fundamental changes in those arrangements.  The terms “incrementalism” and “tweaking” seem appropriate to describe the policies they will likely find comfortable and satisfying.  So, if you share those ideas of what the Democratic Party should seek for the next four or eight years, Hillary is your logical choice.  If elected, she will become the “Tweaker in Chief”.

If, instead, you are dissatisfied with the status quo and want some significant changes in the balance or power between the powerful and the powerless – some re-defining of the proper role of government as a shield and a weapon against the impoverishment of workers and the enrichment of the rentier class – then you might be less impressed by the winners’ choices and might choose a candidate whose history and rhetoric is less attractive to the present winners.  Bernie may be a little hazy about guns, but his intentions about the status quo are crystal.  And the difference between him and Obama is that he will spend all his energy mobilizing the grass roots behind his policies.  The campaign will never end for Bernie.  His vision is of a movement, not a campaign tent show to be dismantled the day after election day.

But What About Electability?

I was born at night, but not last night.  I suffered through the debacles of McGovern, Dukakis and Mondale.  I have plenty of past political deals and compromises of which I am not proud.   So I understand that some honorable liberals are thinking, “Sure, I like Bernie and he’s right, but I’m afraid he can’t win.  Half a loaf is better than none.”  I suggest that this is a situation in which, as the stock market disclaimer goes:
“Past performance is no guarantee of future success.”  So, here is my pitch:

The previous failures occurred when two  powerful political forces were active:

One, racism was rampant and powerful.  Remember the GOP’s “Southern Strategy”?

Two, Democratic Party candidates were anti-war when wars were politically powerful issues.  The “Communist Menace” and “Viet Nam”.  Remember?

Today neither of those dogs will hunt.  We have elected a black president and the demographics of America have changed and are changing.  It is no longer smart politics to “play the race card”.

The only war politically relevant now is the war against ISIS.  Obama has done a good job waging that war and the recent experience with GW’s war in Iraq has cured the public’s gullability about sending American troops to war.  Also, “trickle down” economic policy has been tried and proved to be a fairy tale.  The white people over 40 who have had the “American Dream” snatched from them will be hard to convince that rewarding the rich will be helping the “job creators”.

This may be the “tipping point” we have been waiting for and Bernie Sanders may be the “tipper” whose time has come.

But What About All Those Hillary Endorsers?

So far as concerns the Wall Street tycoons who have endorsed Hillary, Bernie will never get their support if he is the nominee.  Most of the rest of those Hillary supporters, however, will fall in line, led by Hillary and Bill Clinton and Barak Obama, to support Bernie for president.  And if the GOP is suicidal enough to nominate Trump or Cruz, Bernie will look like the epitome of rationality to both Democrats and independents.

Conclusion

Well, that’s my argument.   If I turn out to be right, it may prove the old East Texas saying that “Even a blind hog finds an acorn sometimes.”  My record for picking winners is abysmal but maybe this is my year.

 

 

Hillary’s Dark Night of the Soul

December 19, 2015 § 4 Comments

Hillary Clinton, whether she realizes it or not, is faced with what St. John of the Cross, writing in the 16th Century,  poetically called “the dark night of the soul”:  A moral flexion point or experience when one must choose between good and bad, just and unjust, moral and immoral.  F. Scott Fitzgerald, several centuries later, wrote, “In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning”.

The mystic poet couched this as an opportunity to seek a relationship with God.  I am neither religious nor learned enough to analyze that level of his teaching.  I have, however, spent  significant parts of my life involved in the desperate and stressful combat of political campaigns.  I understand how often those contests confront participants with moral choices.  I bear the scars of many of them.  Some I think of with satisfaction.  Many I remember with regret and shame.  “The guilt of human action” expressed in the quotation posted in the sidebar of this blog comforts me.

Hillary’s Opportunity

I think, in tonight’s debate, Hillary should distance herself from the unjust decision by the DNC to suspend Bernie Sanders’ campaign.  It was a blatant overreach and Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s repeated TV appearances justifying it by slandering the Sanders campaign have been an outrageous attack completely inappropriate for the DNC chair.

This episode could have been handled quietly and swiftly by the DNC without attacking Bernie Sanders.  The phony claptrap by DWS that she “admires Senator Sanders” while accusing him of stealing is nauseating.

Hillary has two choices:  She can stand by while DWS wages an unjust attack on her rival for the nomination.  That is the obvious one. “Don’t blame me.  I’m not the one saying you are a thief.  It’s your problem.” Or she can say, “I have some policy disagreements with Senator Sanders.  I think I should become the nominee of the Democratic Party.  But, I don’t believe it was fair or right for the DNC to suspend his campaign.  He has assured me that his campaign did not retain any information about my campaign and I believe him.  The firewall has been repaired.  That should end it.  Senator Sanders has been in public life for many years.  He has a well earned reputation for courage and integrity.  I intend to win this race, but I want to win it based on the issues that affect Americans, not because of unfounded efforts to attack Senator Sanders.  That is the kind of politics characteristic of the GOP, as we have all seen during the past few weeks.  It has no place in the Democratic Party.”

If she chooses the second alternative, she will erase the perception that she is a “anything to win” politician who can’t be trusted.  It will be good politics because it is the right thing to do.

 

Talk is Cheap

June 20, 2015 § 3 Comments

Jon Stewart last night got it right.  We will grieve and pray about the murders in Charleston, but we won’t make changes that address the racism that produced them.  I just listened to a CNN program featuring three commenters on Hillary Clinton’s speech in which, among other things, she called for gun control legislation and changes in the criminal justice system that makes a mockery of our claim of “equal justice under law”.   One of the commenters was Brian Morgenstern, billed as a “GOP strategist”.  He said he thought it was a mistake for Hillary to include a “divisive issue” like gun control in her speech.  He is an appropriate representative of the GOP.  Every single idea for changing racism in this country is opposed by the GOP.

Blacks don’t have equal health care:  don’t mention it; too divisive.

Blacks don’t have equal employment opportunities:  don’t mention it; too divisive.

Blacks don’t  receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system:  don’t mention it; too divisive.

Blacks are harassed, beaten and killed by racist cops:  don’t mention it; too divisive.

Black median incomes are about ten percent of the value of white median incomes:  don’t mention it; too divisive.

In other words, in the words of an old Woody Guthrie song:  “Watch and pray; Live on hay; there’ll be pie in the sky when you die.  That’s a lie!”

Our system of government does not make dramatic change difficult.  It does  not require long delays or cumbersome processes.  The Twin Towers in New York were bombed on September 11, 2001.  On October 2, 2001, the President signed the Patriot Act which fundamentally changed the balance between government power and individual liberty.  When the will is there, the way is no problem.

Gun control and all of the above listed effects of racism have been debated, analyzed, politicized and pondered for decades.  We all know there are too many guns in too many hands in this country.  We know the 2d Amendment is compatible with reasonable regulation of gun ownership.  Reasonable legislation has been drafted and proposed for decades.  If  politicians in Washington wanted to do something about hateful bigots shooting innocent people, they could have enforceable federal laws on the books by July 4th.

The same thing is true of the other problems.  We know how to solve them.  The problem is twofold:  First, the corporate oligarchs that own our political system don’t want any significant changes that involve money because they are winning the game according to its present rules.  Second, there are too many American voters whose attitude toward the plight of black citizens is neatly expressed in an old expression from the 1940’s:  “F___ you buddy; I’ve got mine!”

When I listen to pontificating jackasses like Brian Morgenstern, my imagination begins running film clips of how it would feel to smash my fist into his smug face.  And don’t lecture me about the First Amendment.  It doesn’t apply to private action.

We’re. Not. Crazy.

May 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

Last Thursday evening I read three articles. two new and one old, that, for me, were like being in the woods at night, lost and lonely, stumbling over fallen tree branches, feeling fear that began in the pit of my stomach and ended in  my throat, then emerging on to a clearing where, a half mile away, a coal oil lamp cast a pale yellow glow from a window.  Sometimes the future and the past loom so dark that the friendly light of intelligent hope is more comforting than stimulating.

Bernie Sanders

One of the articles was a biographical character study of Bernie Sanders, the man with a distinctive accent and usually unkempt hair; the socialist candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination to become president of the United States.  Here is a link:  Sanders .  It was easy for me to identify with him, not only because of his political beliefs but also because of his personal history.  He spent the early years of his adult life engaged in futile political efforts.  He wrote articles advocating policies that were generally ignored by his fellow citizens of Vermont.  He lost four statewide races, two for state senate and two for governor.  He was finally elected mayor of Burlington, his first job with a salary sufficient to finance a middle class life style.

I can identify with that history, although, instead of losing statewide races as a candidate, I worked on the staff of candidates who lost statewide races.  My record was 0-6.

I found the title for this essay in a vignette from Bernie’s early life.  When he was without a job, which was often, his friends took him in.   One was Richard Sugarman, who shared many of Bernie’s beliefs.  Every morning Bernie would greet his friend, not with “Good Morning”, but with “We’re.  Not.  Crazy.”

Albert Einstein’s Gentle Socialism

The Bernie Sanders article included an embedded link to a 1949 essay written by Albert Einstein entitled “Why Socialism”.  Here is a link:  Einstein  Like the Bernie Sanders story, Einstein’s essay was a beckoning lamplight seen from a dark place.    It is the only reasoned argument for abandoning capitalism I have read that did not assume violent revolution would be necessary.

Einstein, instead, describes a dichotomy of needs and influences that shape our lives:  The drive for individuality, what Abraham Maslow later called “self actualization”,  and an equally competitive identification with and support for the needs of society.  He contends that those different forces can be accommodated and acknowledged without sacrificing either one.  The secret is awareness of and respect for those forces in others and willingness to mobilize government’s power to support them.

This essay  captivated me.  Einstein acknowledges his limited background in social science but he insists that the same rigorous discipline required by physics and astronomy can be applied to social and economic issues.  He charmed me with evidence that he had studied Thorstein Veblen and relied on Veblen’s evolutionary analysis of our progress, or not,  from what Veblen called the “predatory phase” of human development.  Einstein contends that the democratic socialism he advocates would facilitate emerging from that “predatory phase” to one less brutal, more intelligent and more capable of satisfying our need for security and contentment.

Einstein also, having observed the results of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, acknowledged the problem it poses.  Here is the somewhat sad and plaintiff penultimate  paragraph of his essay:

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

How indeed.  I know the answer.  We have it in our hands.  It is our Constitution.  It may require an amendment or two but the concept has been left to us by our forefathers.  With two amendments and commitment to rigorous enforcement our Constitution would be an adequate response to Einstein’s question.

The two amendments?  First, “The words ‘person’ and “people’ in this Constitution apply to living natural persons.  They do not apply to any legally created entity.  Neither do they apply to a person not yet born.”  Second, “In this Constitution the protection of freedom of expression does not apply to the spending or investment of money.”

With those two amendments, our Constitution is, I believe, entirely adequate to prevent government bureaucracy from becoming a threat to individual freedom.  Political vigilance and common sense would be required and an independent federal judiciary would, as always, be essential but those requirements apply to any government scheme.   Soviet Russia had an admirable constitution but it was useless because the judiciary was powerless to enforce it and the police were allowed to ignore it.

Dean Baker’s Demolition of TTP

The third article that illuminated my dark feelings was a critical analysis of the arguments for the Trans Pacific Partnership by Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research, a Washington DC think tank.  I have expressed my own hostility toward this “Partnership” in a previous essay posted here.  Dean Baker adds authority and devastating contradictory data to support his identification of this proposal as a threat to the fair distribution of international trade benefits.  Here is link:  Baker 

The House of Representatives will vote on “fast tracking” this abomination within the next couple of weeks.  The Senate has failed to kill it.  We can only hope that the Democrats in the House will save Obama from being responsible for burdening our working class with this unjust agreement for the next two or three decades.  If he succeeds, he will join Bill Clinton on the list of presidents who betrayed the hope and promise that motivated those who voted for them.

Conclusion and a Personal Note

I feel I owe an apology for the emotional language in this effort.  I have been affected by the bombardment of hopelessness that has pelted me recently.  Netanyahu’s re-election followed by his empowering the most passionate politicians determined to convert Israel into a theocratic bully was a disappointment.  David Cameron’s Conservative Party wipe-out of the British Labour Party in the recent election was another.  The growing strength of ISIS and the apparent unwillingness of Iraq’s military forces to effectively oppose it is another.  The dismemberment of Syria accompanied by the threat of ISIS involvement there is another.

My real nightmare is the probable symbolic terrorist attack in the United States or a mass beheading of Americans broadcast in living color.  Other countries, Britain, Spain, Holland – bear such attacks and react with mourning and redoubled efforts at prevention.  In America our leaders choose endless war and thousands of needless deaths as the  appropriate response.  I’m sure ISIS is aware of this grotesque fact.  I fear they will use it to their advantage.

All this bad news comes at the beginning of what promises to be an extravaganza of hateful stupidity from a jackass choir of Republicans eager to compete for the allegiance of the lowest common denominator tranche of the American right wing.  And who will be our St. Jeanne d’Arc?  Why Hillary from the House of Clinton of course!  Her head is already bloody but unbowed and her baggage, packed in a truckload of trunks just waiting to be unpacked by reporters, political archivists and GOP flacks, follows her everywhere.  But, having spent a billion dollars, she may become our next president.  And if not, we will be led by Jeb the Timid or  Brash Young Rubio or, worst of all, by the union scalp hunter, the Bible thumper from Wisconsin, Scott “Bring ’em On” Walker.

I plan to stay sober for the next seventeen or eighteen months but only by many repetitions of the Serenity Prayer.

A Sunday Afternoon Comment

November 9, 2014 § 5 Comments

On October 20th I woke up and discovered that my eyesight had malfunctioned and, as a result, everything I looked at was a double image, one atop the other.  When this problem persisted and my effort to ignore it proved to be too taxing, I finally went to a neighborhood hospital center.  After a CTscan, an MRI, an EKG and a thorough series of blood tests,  the message from this premier medical center was: ” Good news!  You don’t have diabetes; you didn’t have a stroke; one of your cranial nerves has malfunctioned; we don’t know why, but it will probably correct itself and your eyes will return to default condition sometime in a few weeks.  Put a patch on one eye and you’ll be fine.  And, if that doesn’t happen, we’ll fit you with a pair of glasses with an embedded prism that will correct the problem.”

So, now I have a clue about how pirates feel, except I don’t have a peg-leg and a parrot.

This mishap has curtailed my reading and my attention to this blog.  But, I do have one comment on last Tuesday’s “Republican Sweep” and the “Top to Bottom Assessment” that the Democratic Party has now launched.

I find myself agreeing with Bruce Bartlett, a conservative writer and former adviser to HW Bush and Ronnie Reagan.  He recently wrote an article in American Conservative magazine entitled, “Obama Is A Republican”.   He supported Obama in 2008, because he was furious at GW Bush because of GW’s fiscal policies.  In his article, he cites chapter and verse to explain his contention that Obama forgot his Saul Alinsky roots and governed like a moderate Republican.  Here is a link:  Bartlett

I commend the article to you.  Bartlett is a right-wing true believer in some economic policy fairy dust, but he has produced a thoughtful reminder of some of Obama’s policies.

I mention this article now because I think it offers a clue about why the Democratic Party voters did not vote last Tuesday.  Maybe it was because they were no longer convinced that Barack Obama’s policies promised the kind of relief and change they needed.  Their wage levels were dwindling.  The jobs they lost were not being replaced with work that enabled them to support a family.  They needed policies that targeted the excessive greed of the rentier class.  They were looking for Elizabeth Warren and what they were offered was a now-fully-disclosed Barack Obama and the future prospect of Hillary Clinton.  They didn’t perceive Obama as an enemy.  What they perceived was indifference, not in his rhetoric, but in his actions.

I don’t think those voters were thrilled by speeches about women’s reproductive rights and gay marriage.  There were three groups of potential supporters for Democratic Party candidates:  Chicanos who want legalization and a path to citizenship; young people who want relief from oppressive debt and prospects for decent jobs; and working class wage earners who wante decently paid jobs.  I didn’t see or hear many campaign speeches talking about those issues.

I hope the post election assessment convinces the Democrats to forget about “reaching across the aisle” and foreswearing “class warfare” and “populism”.  We live in divided country.  There are two sides.  When the Republican side talks about “compromise” and “getting things done”, they mean “agree with us”.  The voters are not sophisticated.  They do not understand how the nuts and bolts of government work.  But they do understand discussions of their fears and their desperation.  If we want to preserve our democracy, we better begin to offer some solutions even if the solutions don’t please the tiny fraction of our population that furnishes most of the money that corrupts our politics.

I have zero confidence that my proposal will even be discussed at the high-level strategy sessions that are probably now occurring.  The hallmark of political expertise in America is recognition that political policies that displease those who furnish the money in political campaigns are “tilting at windmills’ style notions and Sancho Panza is not a viable political mentor.

I have mentioned Dan Carlin before in posts on this blog.  He has a channel called “Common Sense”, in which he discusses various current issues.  In a recent one, he discussed what he perceives as a real threat to our democracy:  Pent up rage and frustration in response to government’s indifference to the economic problems facing working class Americans.  If you would like to hear his reasoning on this subject, here is a link:  Common Sense

This link takes you to the home page of his blog.  Scroll down and click on “The Specter of Dissent”.

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