Blog #110a – Cultural Wars and a new Tribalism?


Blog 110a – Cultural Wars and a New Tribalism?

The Times Op-Ed page (on 3/2/18­­) was marvelously symbolic. On the left side, David Brooks reduces all the frightening disagreements about where our country is going, the battles over gun control , trade and tariffs, armaments, nuclear weapons, into manifestations of a “cultural war”,: in which the conservatives “have zero cultural power , but immense political power.” The big prize is not gun control. It’s “winning the cultural war, with the gun fight as the final battle.” Several days earlier (Feb 20,), he had written, “We don’t have policy debates anymore. We have one big tribal conflict…,” and the answer is, “just as the tribal mentality has been turned on, it can be turned off.” How? “Respect First, Then Gun Control.” If the Blues and the Reds simply respected each other, they’d settle their problems easily. His recommendation: Blues should stop shaming Reds.  Politics is not about who get what from whom and how they get it, but about how the left stupidly engages in “elite cultural intimidation , claiming “moral superiority.”

On the other side of the Op-Ed page, counter-symbolically the right side, Paul Krugman’s column is headed: “Taxpayers, You’ve Been Scammed.” It’s a straightforward contribution to a policy debate about the new tax law. It gives some facts about whom it will help, whom it will hurt, and how political and economic power are being wielded to achieve what those that possess it want, for their own benefit, at a cost to the middle class. Not a word about a “cultural wars.” It’s about who get what from whom and how they get it

And symbolically between these two column’s is Mat Glassman’s column, which explains the “larger problem” behind the White House Chaos,” blaming it on the weakness of Donald Trump as President to his inability to attract a competent staff to advise him.  It’s a management problem.

What the “culture wars” argument does, as does “lamenting the ‘roots of the problem’ in ‘management skills,’ ” is to completely side step the very real factual economic and social and political differences that divide the country. For cultural theorists, there’s no moral difference between advocating for teachers carrying guns in school and asking for a ban on assault rifles; no more weight to be given to logically grounded analysis of tax policies than to the hurt sensitivities of those that support them. Tranquility is what’s needed, above all; never mind who’s goring whose ox, whether some go homeless while others thrive in mansions using their labor. Such evenhandedness violates any effort to shape public policies that promote the values of social justice and human rights.

Indeed there are troublesome cultural differences that exacerbate the problems in our society, but the real issues aren’t differences of opinion or how they are expressed, but how the wealth that  society produces is shared. We don’t have “big tribal conflicts” because all of a sudden some “tribal instincts ” have emerged from some repressed deep identities, or because  we’ve suddenly decided to turn these instincts on, having turned them off all these years.  Focusing on the symptoms of conflicts shouldn’t obliterate recognition of their causes.

And it obliterates very specific causes: any reference to inequalities of wealth or power, or to their use in exploitation or domination, to create very hierarchical divisions not simply differences at the level of what the divisions are about, not “souls committed to the basic democratic norms–respect for truth, personal integrity, the capacity for deliberation and compromise, loyalty to nation above party or tribe,” up against other souls who believe “what matters is the survival of your nation and culture.” [David Brooks, “Worthy is The {Conor} Lamb,” New York Times, 3/17/p. A27] That something as mundane as class or race might be playing a role in the divisions that divide “us” never appears.

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Blog 106 – “winning” tax reform


TAX REFORM – WHERE WINNING IS FOR LOSERS

(Re: “The biggest winner in the tax code rewrite…” New York Times, December 6, 2017, p. 1 and A34)

Winning is for losers, in the case of tax reform, if principles or rationally defensible policy is the measure. Winning on tax reform is what you boast about when you’ve failed abysmally to produce anything of merit, and all you can claim is that you’ve defeated any alternative in a fight for something – whatever it is. You already have the support of the wealthy, who support you because your proposals are to their very material benefit; but you want to get the votes of a wider constituency.

With the outrageous process of drafting a bill that could at least be called “tax reform,” the Republicans have come up with a monster whose only virtue is that it cobbles together legislation that would garner one more vote over the bare minimum needed to pass something – anything whatsoever, anything, whatever its content, that could let the Party claim “victory,” and proclaim that they are “winners,” when in fact they have lost any claim to have accomplished anything worth doing.

Having failed to do anything that meets the meaning of the words “tax reform” in ordinary English, rather than admit failure, the Republicans are left with the hollow title of “winners” when in fact they have surrendered any objective that deserves use of the words. if you look at the content, not the form, of what they have actually accomplished, and judge by the standard of service to the common good, the Republicans are the real losers in the battle for true tax reform.

“Winning,” in fact, is a mischievous word. As Donald Trump or the Republicans or often some meila use it, it in fact means conquering, and “losers” are meant to surrender. But it can also mean being successful in a competition to solve a problem to achieve a noteworthy result, as in most sports competitions, where some do better than others, but one’s success does not negate what others have scored. Fair competition can leave the losers intact, to continue to strive; unfair competition, winner take all,  is aimed at eliminating “losers” entirely from the competition.

Blog #104 – – An Incomplete but Useful Inconvenient Sequel


Blog #104 – An Incomplete but Useful Inconvenient Sequel

Al Gore’s continuation of his An Inconvenient Truth is an important contribution to the effort to combat global warming and pay attention to what is and what is not being done to the natural environment by largely unregulated economic development. It is a bit too long, a bit too much Al Gore, but on the whole a striking antidote to climate change denial.

But it has unfortunate weaknesses.

It stresses the human contribution to climate change, but leaves it simply at showing there is such a contribution, and lamenting it. Yet this is perhaps the strongest argument that the deniers raise: admitting there is climate change, but arguing that the human contribution is a minor factor in producing it. Yet at the end there is the admission that, even in the best realistically possible set of public policies, there will be climate change, it can be slowed down but not stopped. That cries out for some facts and figures on the proportional contribution possible from better public and private policies, and leaves open what can be done about the residue that is apparently admitted to be inevitable, regardless of human counter-measures. Even if exactitude is not within reach, at least some orders of magnitude, some reasonable estimates with their biases, would be very helpful.

Even more important, it is woefully inadequate on the political and economic forces that affect public action on that human input. The implicit if hidden analysis is that what is needed is greater understanding of cause and effect, more public education, evidence more convincingly presented of the evils of present policies, and then state actions, appropriate public policies, will follow as the day follows the night. It is, in this way strangely non-political, no doubt to avoid being accused of being “politically motivated.”

But there is a difference between partisan party politics and fundamental recognition of the political/public policy determinants of public decisions. Trump is barely mentioned at the very end, and then simply by showing his name and citing briefly his skepticism. There is little discussion of who benefits and who suffers from the reluctance to confront climate change: only passing reference to oil company profit and power, to the role of lobbying in making the relevant decisions, to the Koch brothers or Citizens United or official scare-mongering about government take-over of private personal choices. It’s not that Gore is ignorant of or unconcerned about all this; it’s that the overwhelming weight of his argument is on understanding, convincing, educating.

The implication is there, if not intended, but insidious: reason will prevail when it is clearly presented. And the clear presentation of reason is surely an important contribution to putting its results into effect. And even the mas protest that Gore properly sees as necessary for change need to be informed by reason in what they do, what they demand, what the protest, what they see as required for change. But, when all I said and done, there are major forces, both economic and political, that are threatened by climate control measures and that profit from activities resulting in climate -changing consequences, that oppose change for very concrete, profit-connected and power-connected reasons. They need to be called out more sharply.

Gore recognizes this, but touches on it only gingerly. We need to confront the realities of power in public decision-making, and the importance of ideologies in undergirding inequalities. If we have to wait till Al Gore convinces Donald Trump “to come to his senses,” we face a bleak future.

The Sequel is sub-titled “Truth to Power.” It needs a second Sequel: “The Truth OF Power.”

APPENDIX

Al Gore on paths to climate change.

“…the pathway to solving the climate crisis is through the building of a massive grassroots army of men and women who will go out there and win the conversation on climate, and persuade businesses, and universities, and towns to switch to renewable energy and to reduce emissions. We’re gonna win this regardless.”
LEE COWAN: When you met with the president-elect at Trump Tower — and I know you don’t want to go into the specifics of the meeting — did you find him receptive, Mr. Trump, to your argument?
AL GORE: I found him attentive, and you can misinterpret that for being receptive. And I think he’s probably pretty good at that as a businessman. But yes, I did think that there was a real chance that he would come to his senses on this.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/al-gore-on-environmentalism-trump-and-solving-the-climate-crisis-full-transcript/

Blog 98 – Winners and Losers in Trump’s World


Blog #98 – Winners and Losers in Trump’s World

There are winners and losers in life, says Donald Trump; that’s just the way it is. Everyone can’t be a winner; some people just inevitably have be losers. That’s certainly true of chess, or the javelin throw, in the Olympics, or budding young entrepreneurs in information technology. But is it true of the game of life? Indeed, is life a game? What is at the heart of his appeal to his following is: “You can be rich just like me, you shouldn’t be a loser, stick with me and someone else will be the loser. Is speaking of “winners” and “losers” in the game of life simply an unthinking application of a metaphor, or does it have a practical political meaning when those like Trump use it, a meaning that is heavily conservative and morally and ethically questionable?

I believe using the terms “winner” and “loser ” as Trump uses them is indeed direct and insidious propaganda to justify a particular economic, political and social system in which in the winners, defined as the successful wealthy and powerful, appropriately are entitled to that wealth and power, and the losers may be commiserated with, perhaps even helped out if they have lost too much or been left with too little in the inevitable struggle for survival, but the arrangements that produce winners and losers are simply accepted as inevitable by anyone who is willing to be a realist and not a starry-eyed-idealist. The language is even more insidious when it uses “born losers,” those who are born to lose, who do not lose because of any action of the winners, winners who have no responsibility for the losses of he losers. Winning and losing is a matter for having the right dna. It has nothing to do with justice or fairness.

Challenging a concept such a Trump’s of winning and losing in fact raises critical questions of public policy, of the just distribution of wealth and power, of how values are manipulated, of how the society functions and could function.

“Winners,” in Donald Trump’s sense (from here on that sense is in quotes) describes individuals who have gained at the expense of others, others who have correspondingly really lost –in reality as well as in Trump’s sense of losers “losers,” gamers who are the worse off for having been forced to play the game and surrender something of what they had to the winners .

Winners, in a social justice sense (no quotes) should be those who end up justly better off. If there were social justice which governed who won and who lost, everyone one would be a winner (no quotes) and none would be a loser (no quotes). there would be Losers. As even most honest conservatives today acknowledge, our society is rich enough to provide adequately for all of its members with no one having to suffer because of absolute shortages of goods or services.

“Winners” are socially unjust because their actions are taken at the expense of and with no regard for the consequences for the losers. Losers really lose, although in limited cases losers may gain some disproportionately small benefits accompanying their loss. Clément Théry, for instance, describes the relationship between winners and losers in the housing market as “adversarial bargaining bordering on predation.”
A classic example is the winning/losing relationship between landlords and tenants.

Concretely:

Relationships between landlords and lower-income tenants reflect] asymmetries accompanied by adversarial bargaining bordering on predation. Similar practices exist in other segments of the rental housing market. In low-income minority neighborhoods, they are not marginal, but one of the central forms of economic behavior. [1] Recognition of cliques’ predatory strategies reshapes our understanding of landlord–tenant conflicts, predator and prey, gentrification, and even subsidized housing.” “the incivility of tenant–landlord relationships. Landlords display their unbending forcefulness in pursuing their interests through verbal violence with tenants).” “Predators look for rich, fat objects of prey, not deprived and skinny ones. There are more resources to be seized by preying on a landlord or a bank than by targeting low-income minority tenants.”

A socially just society, as here understood, would be a society in which in reality – that is, under the existing dominant social economic, political and social arrangements of the prevalent society, no one was deprived of their fair share of the resources of society, in which some winning would not have to be to the detriment of others who lose. Such n ideal society of course postulates enough for all, but that is situation which is easily within range of achievement in advanced industrial societies such as Trump’s United States even now, even if spread over all countries on the globe.

This blog is one of the set:
Blog 98 – ‘Winning’ and ‘Losing” n Trump’s World
Blog 99 – “Winning” – Really Desirable?
Blog 100 – Competition and Socially desirable Winners and Losers

Blog #93 – Election figures show Trump with only 27.2% of eligible voters: What Mandate?


Donald Trump aimed his New Year’s Eve tweet at “my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do.” Leaving aside the incredibly childish gloating over “his enemies,” from someone who occasionally talks about “bringing our nation together,” has Trump’s staff succeeded in keeping from him all knowledge of the actual vote counts in the 2016 election, in which his leading opponent, far from “losing badly” to him, in fact got 2,000,000 popular votes[1] more than he did?

Or has his staff not let him learn that, out of some 232,000,000 persons eligible to vote [2] in 2016, only 62,000,000 actually voted [3] for him, not only less than for Clinton , but also only 27.2% of those who were eligible [4]. 79% of those who were theoretically eligible to vote for him did not do so– less a glorious victory for Trump than a rejection of his candidacy by a large majority of Americans, a failure of the Trump campaign, hardly a victory.[5]

Or has his staff not let him learn that the roots of the compromise that resulted in Article Ii of the Constitution creating the Electoral College, was the founders’ distrust of grass-roots democracy and later white leaders concerned to hold down freed black voting impact, coupled with the gerrymandering of Republican-led legislatures o distort their states’ votes?[6] Or is Trump simply incapable of acknowledging facts that undermine his claims to have a broad popular mandate in this election?

The argument in defense of the Electoral College, now sometimes made, that it did not affect the outcome in the 2016 election, even though a national popular vote shows Hillary Clinton winning over Donald Trump now by over 2,000,000 votes; if the rules had been to have the popular vote determine the result Trump would have campaigned differently and won anyway. Indeed, Trump may have campaigned differently and gotten a different result; but so would Clinton. There is no reason to believe it would have made more of a difference in the number of voters voting for Trump than the in the number of those voting for Clinton.

Conclusion:

So on the figures, it was Donald Trump who “lost so badly” in the 2016 national election, who often seems not to know what he will do, whose mandate, if he has one, is a negative mandate, a mandate to follow the wishes of the electorate and serve all of the people of the country, not just his friends, ignoring those who disagree with him as “his many enemies.” Susan Douglas lists multiple cases in which opinion surveys clearly reveal the majority differing from Trump on key police issues, speaking of them as an “anti-mandate” to his claims.[7] His true mandate, from the figures, is one to unite and to seek compromises and unity for the good of all Americans, inclusively.

[1]So on the figures, it was Donald Trump who “lost so badly” in the 2016 national election, who often seems not to know what he will do, whose mandate, if he has one, is a negative mandate, a mandate to follow the wishes of the electorate and serve all of the people of the country, not just his friends, ignoring those who disagree with him as “his many enemies.” Susan Douglas lists multiple cases in which opinion surveys clearly reveal the majority differing from Trump on key police issues, speaking of them as an “anti-mandate” to his claims.[7] His true mandate, from the figures, is one to unite and to seek compromises and unity for the good of all Americans, inclusively. > “Trump’s Antii-Mandate,” I These Times, January 2017, p. 8.
[2] The actual figure is “almost 3,000,000”: 65,844,954 – 62,979,879 =2,865,075
(http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=2016).
The actual figure is 231,556,622 (http://www.electproject.org/2016g).
(http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=2016).
[4](62,979,879 / 231,556,622) = 0.2719847891026844
[5] Why for whom they would have voted had they voted must necessarily remain speculation, logic suggests categories:
a. prevented from voting by deliberately restrictive provisions;
b. dissatisfied with all the alternatives , or
c. happy to let the then predicted if mistaken expectations of majorities for Hillary Clinton become effective without needing heir vote .
If a, they would hardly be likely to vote for the Republicans who by and large were behind the increasing voting restrictions ;
if b. believing their inaction would result in the victory of the predicted for Clinton, were satisfied with that second-best non-Trump result ; or
if c. supporting a Trump defeat, believed their votes not necessary to ensure that result.
In any of those cases, non-voting voters were logically more likely Trump critics than supporters
But ignore these speculations, the broad parameters of the argument that Trump has only minority support in the electorate, still stands.
[6] A good summary of the history is at http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/columnists/stephen-henderson/2016/11/19/electoral-college-race-problem/94079504/. For a more extended discussion see: . Perhaps it is now time to rid ourselves of the last constitutional vestige of the peculiar institution: the electoral college.” P. 1155, 1156. Finkelman, Paul, “The Proslavery Origins of the Electoral College” (2002). Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 23, 2002. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1447478. The author concludes: “Over one hundred and thirty-five years ago the United States rid itself of slavery. Perhaps it is now time to rid ourselves of the last constitutional vestige of the peculiar institution: the electoral college.”
[7] “Trump’s Anti-Mandate,” I These Times, January 2017, p. 8.

Blog # 83 – Housing Approaches in New York City: 5 Points in a Long View.


Housing Approaches in New York City: 5 Points in a Long View:[1]

The five points, in brief:

  1. Democratic government has to be big government

Because of the size and hostility of big business

  1. Privacy has two meanings. One meaning is “personal,” private as opposed to “open.”

It should be respected both by government and business.

  1. The other meaning is “private” as opposed to “public.”

Private in that usage means profit-motivated on behalf of individual beneficiaries.

It should give way to the public   sector in housing policy.

  1. “Public –private partnerships” are a hoax.

They are a partnership like that between a gladiator and a tiger in a Roma circus,           or between a hungry lion and a lamb in the wild.

  1. The current housing system is deeply flawed.

It distributes housing based on wealth, not on need, and requires strategic  change, perhaps sectorally focused, but with a vision for the whole.

The five points, in detail:

  1. Democratic government has to be big government[2]

Because of the size and hostility of big business

In the election campaign, there’s a fear of saying that on both sides. Even Sanders seems to accept the idea that government sold be as limited as possible, only where necessary to remedy failures of the private sector.

But the economy is by nature private, private is more efficient, private is the default way of providing goods and services, socially necessary good and services and luxury goods and services.

In the case of housing, private means the real estate industry, the complex  of land and building  ownership; public means public housing, which can include housing owned publicly by decentralized in management to its occupants.

  1. Privacy has two meanings. One meaning is “personal,” private as opposed to open.

It should be respected both by government and by business.

Privacy is a requirement for human dignity and individual freedom: areas of life in which each individual may decide for him or herself what kind of life to lead, what kind of relationships to have, what kind of priorities to pursue.

In the case of housing, a person home, in that sense, is his or her castle, personal, inviolate, private in the sense that most people understand home ownership [3]. In multi-family housing, coops, etc., it means full resident participation and decision-making in building matters.

  1. The other meaning is “private” as opposed to “public.”

“Private” in that usage means profit-motivated on behalf of individual or  non-resident corporate beneficiaries.

In the case of housing, that means it should give way to the public sector in housing policy. If the goal of public policy in a democracy is the general welfare distributing essential goods and services should be on the basis of need, not on the basis of ability to pay.

There should be a right to housing, as a human right.

  1. “Public –private partnerships” are a hoax.

They are a partnership like one between a gladiator and a tiger in a circus, or between a gladiator and a tiger in a Roman circus, or between a hungry lion and a lamb in the wild.

In such a partnership, it is in the private interest to reduce the number and quality of any benefits to workers (to residents, in the case of housing) to the minimum, and increase the costs that government will pay to the maximum. The interest of government is to increase the benefits to the occupants to a reasonable maximum, and to do it by lowering the costs it must cover to provide profits to the private partner to the minimum.

It is a permanent conflict of interest between the partners, where most benefits to one is a cost to the other. (Pure efficiency savings are an exception but are rare; each side will be striving for efficiency in what it does regardless of partnership or not.)

Legally, in a partner, each partner is personally liable for all the debts of the partnership. Hardly the case with public-private “partnerships.” Public-private partnerships are functionally essentially a cowardly way of not raising taxes for a necessary and publicly desired approved purpose.

  1. The current housing system is deeply flawed.

It distributes housing based on wealth, not on need, and requires strategic change, perhaps sectorally focused, but with a vision for the whole.

The housing system as a whole is today distributed on the basis of wealth, not of need, based on its exchange value as a commodity, not as a use value and necessity of life. It benefits the rich much more than the poor, the 1% more than the 99%.

It requires  radical change, including change in the capitalist system of which it is apart,  but only incremental change is politically possible today politically in New York City or on the necessary national level; the power of the real estate industry and the profitability of land speculation are too great. Incremental change needs to be pursued, perhaps best on a sectoral level.[4]

Brad Lander’s efforts on the City Council of New York may be close to the outer limits of what is politically feasible today. Such change should be part of a broader vision of what is fundamentally necessary desired.

If this leads to a pretty basic criticism of the capitalist   system under which we are working today, so be it. Listen to the pronouncement of one hardly vulnerable to being accused of being a socialist. Might it, or an equivalent statement of a general principle, serve as the preamble to any serous proposals even for modest reform?

“”the machinery of the current globalized economy [constitutes] …a system of commercial relations and ownership which is structurally perverse. [where] the limited interests of businesses [and] a questionable economic mindset [take precedence,] an instrumental logic that holds the maximization of profits as its only objective….the principle of the maximization of profits…. reflects a misunderstanding of the concept of the economy.” It results from a “global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effect on human dignity and the natural environment. [5]

—————————

 

[1] Expanded from and influenced by a panel discussion on “privatize!” atthe exhibit If You Can’t Afford to Live Here, Mo-o-ve!, in New York City on June  23, 2016.

[2] An expansion of this point will be found at pmarcuse.wordpress.com, Blog #84: Big Business Requires Big Government, Contra Republicans and..

[3] For a discussion of legal aspects, see Peter Marcuse, “Homeownership for Low Income Families,” Land Economics, May 1972.

[4] Blog #60, Towards a Housing Strategy for New York, at pmarcuse.wordpress.com, although from 2014, might also be of interest.

[5] Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis, May 24, 2015.

Blog #82 – Is “Radical – Islam” all Islam? A Grammatical Confusion Is Made Political


Blog #82 – Is “Radical – Islam” all Islam? A Grammatical Confusion Is Made Political

The trouble with Donald Trump’s use of the two words “radical” and “Islam” together is that he means them as a single noun: Radical-Islam. Not as an adjective describing one part of Islam, to differentiate it from another part, moderate Islam, or egalitarian Islam, etc. Two quite different meanings,and quite different political implications.

.When one acknowledges, “’Muscular weight-lifters’ make poor models for clothing fashions. You rarely see ‘weight-lifters’ in ads,” one recognizes that it’s not because ad agencies are looking for non-muscular weight-lifters, but because they assume all weightlifters are muscular. “Muscular weightlifters” in the sentence is simply an expanded word for “weightlifters,” not a subcategory of the group of weight-lifters. When one says “’dark-skinned Africans’ frighten Europeans because of the color of their skins,” and adds: “They shouldn’t; ‘Africans’ commit no more crimes than Europeans,” you’re implicitly assuming all Africans are dark-skinned. If someone writes: “God –fearing Christians and God –fearing Islam abhor violence; unlike God-denying  atheism ; Christianity and Islam are both  like  other mono-theistic religions in that regard,” the reference isn’t  to a sub-category of Christianity or Islam, but a uniform characteristic of each of them. But “American Christians are prone to violence” implies the opposite: non-American Christians also exist, and are not prone to violence.

So when Donald Trump says, “radical Islam is a violent religion and must be fought tooth and nail as the radical thing it is,” he means, and the language implies, all Islam is radical. If Obama says “radical Islam is antithetical to key pacifist currents in Islam,” he means, and the language implies, there is a non-radical Islam that is not prone to violence.

So when Donald Trump complains that Obama doesn’t  use “radical Islam,” it’s because Trump sees all Islam as radical; for  him,” radical Islam” refers to the same single object, Islam; all Islam is radical, in Trumps’ view. If Obama were to say “Radical Islam” indeed can be violent, but he would be intending to differentiate the Islam that is radical from the Islam that is neither. Trump is tarring all Islam with one stroke; Obama is describing a part of a complex reality.

Perhaps a knowledgeable grammarian could identify the two different formulations formally. Grammarians are knowledgeable about such things. (All of them? Or only the knowledgeable ones? Or are all grammarians assumed to be knowledgeable?)