Blog #116 – Robert Mueller’s Report Song to Congress


The Robert Mueller song, as he presents his final Report to Congress.

 

To the Tune of the Chiquita Banana commercial:

I’m Chiquita Banana, and I’ve come to say

Bananas must ripen in a certain way….”[1]

——————–

My name is Robert Mueller and I’ve come to say,

Investigations must be undertaken in a certain way.

You can’t just claim that what so and so did was wrong

You have to have evidence that is clear and is strong.

You have to say what this man or woman did on a certain day

Violated a certain law at a certain place in a certain way.

This is what he did, and this is the person that saw him do it,

This is what he said he did, and this is why it’s obvious his story blew it.

These are the penalties that can be applied  that the law prescribes,

Only made more severe if you try to evade them with lies.

 

So here is my report:  I know that it’s 430 pages long

But what it describes was also very wrong wrong wrong.It’s the Congress that determines what’s wrong and what’s right.

My job is only to see how the facts fit what Congress set out, and how tight.

Now what happens, when, and to whom is up to the courts to determine

Whether those who did it were well-intentioned or were vermin.

I’ve finished the job I was hired to do,

Now it’s up to those that hired me to see the matter through.

 

If I can be of any more help, please do let me know,

Otherwise, I admit, I’m very happy to go.

Good bye, and best wishes.

Robert Mueller.

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFDOI24RRAE    It was a United Fruit commerciaI. If you have trouble finding it, it’s from 1940 and the oldest a google search for Chiquita Banana commercial produces; ‘ll try to get the exact url for it shortly. It;s great on its own.

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Blog #95a – Questioning “So-Called President” Donald Trump’s Mandate, Immediate Actions


#95a – Questioning “So-Called President” [1] Donald Trump’s Mandate:
Immediate actions, Long-Term Possibilities, Constitutional Questions.

This blog, and the blog before it, Blog #95 – “Given the Electoral College, who “won” the 2016 Election?” – summarize the findings of Blogs #92a to #95 on “so-called President” Donald Trump’s claim to have won the election as president of the United States, and suggests some Immediately practical reforms of the Election Process in the United States They raise some longer-term issues about the constitutionality of the Electoral College per se, issues whose results in the 2016 election deserve wide discussion. [1a]

IMMEDIATE ACTION POSSIBILITIES.

First and foremost, questions about the legitimacy of the 2016 election process and its results must become matters of wide-spread concern and debate. That means raising in the public debate the question of the legitimacy of Trump’s Electoral College “win,” challenging every boast that Trump or his positions represent a landslide, a majority, a popular consensus, a mandate, etc., every time such claims are made. It is in fact estimated at only 27.2% of all eligible voters at Blog #93.

Watching how the question is formulated is important.

It’s not “What did Trump do to win the Presidency, “ but “what aspect of the Electoral process enabled him to claim that office when he in fact only received a minority of the popular vote in the election for it?”

Nor is “what did Clinton do wrong that cost her the election?” the key question. She in fact got almost three million more votes than the nearest contender for the office. The question is rather, “Why, if Clinton got a significant plurality of all votes cast in the election, did she not get the Presidency?”

And it’s not, “How could Trump convince a majority of the voters of his ultra-conservative agenda,” but “How was it a relatively small proportion of the electorate (my estimate above was 27.2% of those eligible to vote} could impose such an agenda on the rest of the country?”

Perhaps even more important in the public discourse, a recurrent theme among those defending Trump and his policies, and many presumably “neutral” commentators” is that,” after all, he was elected the President of the country, and, whether you agree with him or not, you have to respect that he is the legally chosen representative of the people and must be recognized as speaking for them in what he says and does.” “He got elected; live with it,” goes the line.

But that’s precisely wrong, and runs against across the grain of the whole theory of democratic government Trump is not entitled, now that he has “won the election,” to impose his particular agenda on the country by executive mandate or administrative fiat. On the contrary; he was elected by the
votes of 62,980,160 voters out of a total population of eligible voters of 231,556,622, or 27.2 % of the electorate. He has an obligation to represent all of those 231,556,622, whether they voted for him or not, or didn’t vote at all. [1b]. His voters actually represent a minority of the American citizenry , and in fact not even a plurality of the actual voters.{See Blog #93} He not only has no over-riding mandate behind his policy positions, he in fact has a positive mandate to compromise, to consult, to listen, to bring people together. Supporters or interviewers who are content to stop at, “after all, he’s the President,” mistake how a real democracy functions.

LONGER TERM ACTIONS

Longer term but needing to be kept constantly on the table, is the National Popular Vote proposal (NPV}. It is simple. It would have every state have its Electors in the Electoral College allocate their votes in the same proportion as the national popular vote. If states with a majority of the electoral vote now adopted it, it would guarantee that the Electoral College result would be the same as the national popular vote.[2].

NPV has three big advantages: It is intuitively fairer, more democratic, and is simple and relatively easy to understand. And it does not necessarily favor either major political party today. It has already bi-partisan support in at least 11 states, with more considering it. And it solves the constitutional problem that Electoral College votes are weighted in favor of small states, because however many electoral votes a given state has, they will be cast to accord with the national popular vote result.

And it does not require a Constitutional Amendment to be effective, just agreement of the states having entitled to the majority of Electoral College votes.

It has two disadvantages: It does not solve the plurality/minor parties’ problem. But to do that would complicate the initial reform effort substantially. And it might still permit a plurality to win the Presidency. Only adding even more complicated (although fairer) Proportional voting methods would solve that problem (and be fairer to minor party voters as well), but seems too cumbersome for at least the first effort at reform.

Politically, the National Popular Vote Proposal is however a positive demand, for four reasons:

First, it is both intuitively and logically right. It improves democracy in government, and is likely (although not guaranteed) to advance social justice in its substantive results.

Second, it is a unifying demand, putting the leftish, Sanders wing of the Democratic Party into contact with the mainstream, and facilitating communication and persuasion in on-going political work.

Third, it highlights Trump’s minority support status, accentuating how far he is from a mandate for his policies, how strong the argument is that he must recognize the needs and demands of the majority of the voters in what he does while still in office. And,

Fourth, it is achievable –.it has already been enacted into law in 11 states with 165 electoral vote, and has further been passed by one chamber in 3 Republican and 1 Democratic-controlled legislatures. Only 270 are needed for it to become effective.

Then, a problem with both short and longer term approaches. The proportion of actual voters casting ballots among present and potential voters is strikingly less in the United States than in other developed democratic countries. Part of the reason no doubt lies in the skepticism about the difference it makes, with neither major party offering a break-through in meeting voters’ deepest concerns. But a part of the explanation for the fact that 40% of those eligible to vote did not do so lies also in the obstacles placed in the way of registration to vote in many states, which the courts are partially remedying. Strong national legislation would help.

As this is written, Trump is maintaining that that perhaps 3,000,000 votes, even among the limited numbers actually voting, were illegal. That’s been met with wide-spread incredulity. In fact, if the winner-take-all provision part of the Electoral College voting process, adopted at the discretion of each state, were dropped, the number of actually effective votes might be increased by a least an equal number.

Restoring the “preclearance” provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act,”, requiring with appropriate language, advance approval by a federal court or the Department of Justice for questionable state changes to voting regulations under the Voting Rights Act would surely increase the number of eligible voters significantly, removing inappropriate barriers to participation by many.

And there is a simple non-controversial measure that would undoubtedly be helpful in increasing the number of voters actually voting:

Make Election Day a national holiday

Perhaps even provide that it be a paid holiday in covered employment, as many state laws and some government contracts now provide for sick leave—perhaps by requiring Election Day as a paid holiday under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Like NPV, the call for Election Day as a holiday is simply a good government measure, one that advances democracy, and should not become a partisan political issues. It would surely have a healthy, and progressive, impact both on how many vote and who votes; no one should object to it. And the country is surely rich enough so that it can afford one day a year of less production in the cause of better and more responsive government. And, for that matter , wouldn’t one day less of being required to go to work to make a living advance the quality of life for all our people?

CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTIONS

The constitutional questions surrounding the Electoral College are fundamental questions.
Article I of the Constitution as first adopted, provided

Article I

“…in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote.” [2a]

It has been almost unanimously implemented through state action since then to provide that the votes of a state shall be that resulting from a winner-take-all count, i.e. a state’s one vote shall be for whoever gets a plurality of that state’s votes,. Thus the votes of all losers in the state’s votes are disregarded in determining who has won the final vote in the Electoral College.[3]

But the Twelfth Amendment, Article II, adopted in 1804, provides:

Article II
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress
Under that provision all states have, a least since 1824, adopted a winner take all election procedure [4]. Its effect, of course, is to make the minority votes in any state irrelevant in the final count for Electors. While it might seem unfair to any party coming in second in any individual state’s race, any party winning a plurality will appreciate the rule, and thus, since winning parries make the rules it has apparently remained unchallenged over time.
But winner-take-all does seem to abridge the rights of a substantial number of voters in any Presidential election, and arguably to violates the intent of the 15th amendment.[3]
So the U.S. Constitution does not mandate that system, however. Instead, it is left up to the states to determine how they select their representatives in the Electoral College, and the states have followed the winner-take-all arrangement without serious challenged since its adoption in 1804. For the first 13 presidential elections, spanning the first four decades of the history of the United States, states experimented with many different electoral system. By 1836, all but one state, South Carolina, uses the winner-take-all method based on the statewide popular vote to choose its electors. South Carolina continues to have its legislature choose electors until after the Civil War. [4]

The Fifteenth Amendment, passed during Reconstruction, contradicts , in spirit if not in terms, this Electoral College provision. Adopted in 1870, it reads:
Amendment XV
Section 1.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2.
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation

In adopting the 15th Amendment, the intent was to grant all citizens, including the recently liberated black slaves, a full “unabridged” right to vote, implicitly with a vote equal to that of all other voters. The Electoral College procedure favoring some voters over others {See Blog #94} distorted – abridged — that result. If 65,845,063 Clinton voters in the 2016 popular election had their vote discounted by 29% [See #blog 95} compared to the vote of the 62,980,160 Trump voters there is clearly something wrong. Such a discounting is an “abridgement” of their right to vote, in the terms of the 15th Amendment.

But it did not make any practical difference in the outcome then, and when it much later did, the 15th Amendment argument seems not to have been made to challenge it.

It might be argued that the language of the 15th Amendment created a class of particularly protected citizens: “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” and that category of voter is not affected by the current procedures in either the national popular vote nor the votes in the Electoral College. But it should not be hard to demonstrate factually that those whose votes have been abridged in 2016 by the Electoral College winner-take –all system were indeed disparately voters who individually or as a group were disparately of a particular race and had suffered then or earlier by conditions of servitude of members of the group.. The minority voters, many of the 65,845,063 Clinton voters, were in a minority in their states although in a majority in the national vote, should be entitled to the protection of this language of the 15th Amendment

The Fourteenth Amendment’s language, with its equal protection language, does not single out any particular group for special protection, but applies to all. Its reach protects “citizens of the United States” and extends to “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.”
While not directly referencing voting rights it contains a broad edict:

Amendment XIV, Article I

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The Supreme Court ruled in Bush vs. Gore.

Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another. See, e.g., Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, 383 U. S. 663, 665 (1966). “…once the franchise is granted to the electorate, lines may not be drawn which are inconsistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment”.”[5]

Ironically, Donald Trump himself left the door open to a challenge of the legitimacy of the results of the ‘Electoral College vote when, in the course of the election campaigning Ohio, he flatly refused to commit himself to respect the vote, whatever it would be. Trump told supporters that “the bottom line is we’re going to win.” He would “accept a clear election result,” but he would also “reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result.[6] Presumably, if he were to consider rejecting the vote of the Electoral College because it was rigged, he would object whether the rigging was in his favor or in Clinton’s. He simply wanted to reserve the right to challenge the results when the appropriate time came.

The public needs to engage with these questions, and the courts and the legislature should now be asked to address them directly. Until they are resolved, a dark cloud will hang over any claim of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States.

————————-

[1] I would never have thought it appropriate to use this phrase had not Trump himself spoken of the recent decision of Federal District judge Roberts of the Federal District Court in Washington state, with which he disagreed, as the decision of ”this so-called judge.” It may however not be inappropriate in this case; see our conclusion below.
[1a] The six most relevant recent blogs, all at pmarcuse.wordpress.com, are:
#91 – Explaining the Election in 10 Sentences – Preliminary
#92a – Electoral Reform: Outing the 1%
# 93 – Election Figures Show Trump with Only 27.2% of Eligible Voters-What Mandate?
#94 – In What Ways is the Electoral College Illegitimate Today? #95 – Given the Electoral College, who “won” the 2016 Election
#95a – Questioning “So-Called President Donald Trump’s Mandate+
[1b]https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1VAcF0eJ06y_8T4o2gvIL4YcyQy8pxb1zYkgXF76Uu1s/edit#gid=2030096602 https://twitter.com/totalogic
[2} http://www.nationalpopularvote.com.
[ 2a] Somewhat ambiguous language, but interpreted as meaning all the Electors from each state share one vote, that plurality in that state’s vote, and it shall be for both President and Vice President, so that those two offices will be filled by the same party..
[3] See “The Equal Protection Argument Against Winner Take All in the Electoral College: The Constitution doesn’t require the Electoral College to count votes the way it traditionally has”. By Lawrence Lessig | December 12, 2016,, available at http://billmoyers.com/story/equal-protection-argument-winner-take-electoral-college/ and Blog #94,“In What Ways is the Electoral College Illegitimate Today
[4] http://www.fairvote.org/how-the-electoral-college-became-winner-take-all.
[5] http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/531/98.html
[6] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/10/20/donald-trump-election-results-debate-hillary-clinton/92450922/

Blog #95 – Given the Electoral College, who “won” the 2016 Election


#95 – Given the Electoral College, who “won” the 2016 Election

This blog, and the blog after it, Blog #95a – Questioning “So-Called President” [1] Donald Trump’s Mandate: Immediate actions, Long-Term Possibilities, Constitutional Questions,–summarize the findings of Blogs #92a to #95. [1] on “so-called President” Donald Trump’s claim to have won the election as president of the United States, and suggests some Immediately practical reforms of the Election Process in the United States They raise some longer-term issues about the constitutionality of the Electoral College per se, issues whose results in the 2016 election deserve wide discussion

This blog argues that the figures as to who would have won the national election in 2016 if that election procedure had been fair are clear. If every vote was counted fairly, so at every non-Trump vote counted for the same Electoral College vote as every pro-Trump vote, if, for instance, the election were simply decided by the results of the present national popular ,Trump would not have won that election {See Blog #94}.

Under present procedures of the Electoral College:
For Trump, his actual popular vote 62,980,160, produced 304 Electoral College votes
Or one popular vote produced 0.0000048 Electoral College votes.
Thus it took only 207,172 actual votes to produce each of his Electoral votes.

But for Clinton, her actual popular vote, 65,845,063 produced only 227 Electoral College votes,[2]
Or one popular vote produced only 0.0000034 Electoral College votes.
Thus it took all of 290,066 popular votes to produce each of her Electoral votes.
Each of Clinton’s popular votes was worth only 34/48, or 71%, of what one of Trump’s popular votes was worth.

Result: Trump wins 2016 Electoral College vote Trump 304 Clinton 227, and gains the Presidency.

But if every actual vote cast by a voter counted for as much as every other vote, not the 34/48 ratio above,–if all persons’ votes were equal)[3] , Trump would come in a clear second, behind the first place winner by over 2,5000,000 votes. If each vote actually cast for Clinton carried the same weight in the Electoral College as each vote cast for Trump, the Electoral College vote would have been Trump 304, Clinton 314;[4]

Result: Clinton would have won the Presidency.

Trump “won” the Presidency in a procedurally unfair election. Only the distortions of the Electoral College, specifically its abandonment of the one person –one vote principle, permitted his victory.”
What difference do all these numbers (e.g, 71% weight given to a vote in one camp compared to 100% weight given to to the other) make, now that Trump has been inaugurated?
See Blog #95a – Possible Actions for Democratization and Questions of Constitutionality of Trump’s electoral “victory.”

[1 ] The six most relevant recent blogs, all at pmarcuse.wordpress.com, are:
#91 – Explaining the Election in 10 Sentences – Preliminary
#92a – Electoral Reform: Outing the 1%
#93 – Election Figures Show Trump with Only 27.2% of Eligible Voters-What Mandat
#94 – In What Ways is the Electoral College Illegitimate Today?
#95 – Given the Electoral College, who “won” the 2016 Election?
#95a – Questioning “So-Called President Donald Trump’s Mandate, Immediate Actions+
[2] Calculations based on http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=2016 . http://www.270towin.com/news/2017/01/06/donald-trump-officially-wins-presidency-as-electoral-votes-counted-by-congress_440.html#.WIQkTn2kyio.
[3] As they are in the popular vote .
[4] Actually, the totals have to add to 538, so this would be 45.94%*538 = 247 Trump and 48.03%*538 = 258 Clinton . In either event, Clinton would have won .I thank Aaron Marcuse- Kubitza- for the point, and help generally on the calculations

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 77b Why is Trumpeting Trump so Appealing


Blog 77b Why is Trumpeting Trump so appealing to so many (including himself)?

The facts of Blog 77a seem very clear, and ought to be the matter of much greater public knowledge and analysis than it is. But there is another aspect to the relationship between the Trumpeting Trump and Real Trump, one that is more speculative, but worthy of reflection. Granted that those talks and ides directly benefit Real Trump in his fundamental business activities, which in turn define his life, there is still a vehemence in the way in which Trumpeting Trump is conducting himself in public which goes beyond play-acting or deliberate self-deception.

This all deserves exploration

Real Trump may even believe at least a part of what Trumpeting Trump is telling him. But Real Trump is smart, understands the world, can see what he is and is not doing. Can he really believe that terrorism is responsible for all of what ails the world, or that keeping Muslims and Mexicans out is a good direction for public policy in the United States (he employs many Mexicans himself)?

And how can it be that so much of what he trumpets receives such an enthusiastic welcome from so many Republican voters and even some Democrats, when the evidence and logic both show that it does not serve them well. Trump says little that would help poor people or non-union workers or the elderly, or student, and yet demographic studies of his supporters show many support him Why?

****

One answer may be that those ideas appeal particularly to those who are discontented with their own positions in real life, who see Trump’s withering complaints about the status quo as reflecting and indeed justifying their own situations. Bigotry is thus a possible reaction to material problems: laying the blame on others, different from themselves, immigrants, black and brown people, intellectuals, and government administrators, for their own difficulties. Having a candidate for President articulating similar views legitimates their own reactions. Hence Trump’s apparent success in the polls so far. (Although rich people also support Trump because he’s good for them.)

Both Trumpeting Trump and his followers are using their rhetoric – let us call it, admittedly oversimplified, bigotry – as a substitute for revealing other feelings, reactions, circumstances with which they are deeply unhappy. It may be a stretch, but is it not possible that, deep inside, Real Trump has doubts about what he is doing, about how satisfying pursuing ever more wealth accumulation is, what he can do with all that money except acquire more? Is it not possible that ultimately he has a need, as a human being, for feelings of solidarity, of support, of compassion, of kindness, perchance of love, values that go beyond the brute pursuit of wealth, of greed, which one might unkindly term the dominant value being pursued by Real Trump and endorsed and validated by Trumpeting Trump?

And might not Trumpeting Trump ’s vehemence in the expression of his ideas be, oddly enough, an upside-down form of the same bigotry and scapegoating, blaming all he looks down on for his own having to be so hurtful, so scathing, to those that make him act as he does, legitimating his own self-serving exploitation of others?

Or, perhaps less naively, might it not be that, just as Trump’s bigotry serves him as a legitimation of greed and the power that successful greed brings, .e.g. to say “you ’re fired” to even more people, by escalating the quest for not only private but also public powerIn a society in which the open defense of wealth accumulation – “greed is good” – is frowned on by most, the pursuit of political power is still accepted asa perfectly natural driving force for aggressive action, can serve as a moral cover for actions that, in reality, are driven by greed, a greed for money and for both as inseparable twins?

As to the Trumpeters enthusiastic followers, might it not be that they find in it an explanation and legitimation of their own difficulties, real difficulties in making a living, in finding rewarding work, in finding security, in finding desirable housing, getting an affordable education, enjoying life as they would like to life it? Then hearing Trumpeting Trump blame blacks, or Mexicans, or those of minority sexualities, for what is keeping America from being great is in a sense a validation of their own fears of others, of the way things are, of the government, validating their own tendencies at the blaming bigotry because here this eloquent forceful widely heard and shown and listened to leader, is saying what they are themselves tempted to say but are afraid to?

Material conditions, specifically the facts of class, race, gender, determine what Trump does in real life and has his façade say, and they produce a need for a legitimating vision, a rationale, for doing what he does: blame it on the world. In parallel fashion, the facts of class, race, gender for many of Trump’s followers underlies own their frustrations and insecurities, and hearing Trump express his views legitimates their own holding of those views as a way to endure and justify their position –blame it on the world. . Trump’s bigotry covers his need to defend the greed and lust for power, with their lack of morality in Real Trump’s real life , and Trumpeting Trump’s follower’s bigotry covers their need to a rationale for why they do not have the lives that their own visons would lead them to desire.

The material and the social-psychological come together to produce what we see every day on our screens. It is not the product of an aberrant mind nor are his followers stupid, but what both he and his followers say and do results from a very painful and very real material historical logic.

 

 

 

Blog #39 – Participatory Budgeting – Potentials and Limits


Participatory Budgeting – Potentials and Limits in New York ‘City               Peter Marcuse

Participatory budgeting, by which in New York City open public assemblies, in the district of each city councilperson choosing to participate meet and hear and debate proposals for the use of those limited capital funds allocated at the discretion of the council person. Their recommendations to him or her are in practice largely effective. It is a major approach to the difficult question of how to make governmental decisions both reasonably efficient and well structured, and at the same time really democratic, participatory, and transparent, all at the fundamental grass-roots level. [1]

The approach underling participatory budgeting can have, if fully pursued by a comprehensive Participatory budgeting system, a fundamental and quite radical impact on the nature of local government.  In two distinct ways: democratic participation, and democratic decision-making. As to participation it is a method of permitting input from citizens in a detailed, concrete, transparent fashion, open not only to essentially reactive public reactions to governmental proposals, but also permitting the injection of citizens own ideas and proposals into the political process. As to decision-making, it represents a degree of decentralization from the larger city-wide urban level to the districts of the 51 council members (the discussion here focuses on the program in New York City, now , thus approaching  its third year of use), a degree of decentralization approaching the old town meeting forms of direct democracy widely used at that much smaller scale in the early days of the United States in a largely rural society..

Participation could thus be much broader, more direct, and democratic. And decision-making could be much more directly open, grass-roots, and transparent.

In practice, the implementation of such a fully pursued comprehensive approach in New York City is very much more constrained and piece meal, very limited as to the subjects of participation and not pursued very far in the in decision-making process. . The scope of participation limited to the amounts in any council persons’ discretionary budget, typically around     $1,000,000[2] out of a total city budget of $100,000,000,000, including capital expenditures, typically about $20,000,000,000.  The council persons’ discretionary budgets are today limited to capital expenditures; operating costs of programs whether for job creation, job training, early childhood education, planning of transportation routes, zone changes, land use planning senior programs, etc., etc. are not included. Typically, city agency capital budgets are not reviewed, although they vastly exceed council discretionary budgets. The results of the neighborhood assemblies are not binding on council persons, and indeed open to being manipulated by them with an eye to solidifying a political base of support in the district.

The issues involved in the expansion of participatory budgeting as it now exists in New York City, to what a full-fledged comprehensive approach might be, are substantial, both politically and conceptually. Politically, the simple fact that only 9 of 51 council persons have agreed to participate, despite a multi-year effort, speaks volumes: active “outside” participation is seen as an infringement on their discretion even as to the expenditure of their limited discretionary funds; the concept of expansion to other budgetary decisions, and even policy decisions, may well not be greeted enthusiastically by most elected officials. A mayor’s position may be more open. Wider participation may be seen as a limitation on his discretion also, presenting new political problems. It may also be seen  as a substantive shift of power towards the mayor, as the original establishment of the 59 community boards in New York City was seen by then Mayor Wagner.

But to the conceptual problems. Simply to list them:

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  1. How should the scope of assembly-type participation be defined? All capital expenditures taking place in or affecting a district? The district operating budgets of all city agencies operating in the district? Some set proportion?
  2. How can city-wide, as well as district-level, interests be taken into account? In the early models of participatory budgeting, e.g. Porto Alegre, sectoral assemblies were established, which included representatives of every district but examined the distribution of expenditures among districts to insurance equity.
  3. How should districts be defined for purposes of participation? As it is, they are city council electoral districts. But electoral districts are notoriously defined by political result. Community district lines, postal Zip codes, school and operating agencies boundaries (already subject to a mandate for limited congruity). The process of defining electoral boundaries has resulted in massive data that could result in new district definitions. How should the problem be handled?
  4. There is a history of expanding democratic participation in the City which needs to full reviewed. Perhaps most critically is the nature and role of Community Boards. They are an explicit move in the direction of decentralization of decision-making power and participation in public deliberations, including already a specific if limited role in budgeting. The present arrangement in effect creates a competing line of organization of local participation. Can the two be merged? Could they be integrated, by mutual consent, in deliberations? Should there be an effort to make the logical but even bigger move, to merge the boundaries for council districts and community boards, a logical but potentially treacherous political goal?
  5. Can the innovative procedures for democratic participation pioneered by participatory budgeting movement be expanded to affect the city as a whole? Could the grass-roots strength of the existing assemblies be marshaled in a joint form, perhaps borough-wide (as community boars now are) or an assembly of assemblies, in any event ins such fashion that support for the process can be politically marshaled?
  6. What should the city government’s role in the process be? Clearly, independence is sine qua non. But wouldn’t funding without control except for graft be a major support for the process? How far can volunteer and foundation-funded staffing go, what role should city agency employees be asked to play or be limited to playing?
  7. How should participation in expenditure decisions be related to revenues derived from decisions as to taxation and handling of city economic development policies? Should not, for instance, the sale of city-owned property, or the privatization of service it is the city’s responsibility to deliver, e.g. garbage collection, security, building code inspection, park maintenance, be subject to participation?
  8. Are there any structural changes in the organization of city government that might enhance the participatory budgeting process? For example, history the City Planning commission had the responsibility to review and act on the city’s capital budget before it went to the City Council. Might restoring its role provide a non-partisan and expert overview of local decisions that would be of benefit to all concerned? It might not be greeted enthusiastically by a mayor fearing diminution of his (or her?) own power—unless, that is, it is in fact seen as a  move towards further modernization and efficiency,  as well as a democratically related improvement in a difficult and complex process?
  9. Participatory Budgeting is grounded in the desire to expand the scope of democracy in local government. That demand is sometimes in tension with the demand for social justice; often the two are seen as parallel but separate demands aiming at the creation of the Just City. But sometimes it is frankly generally recognized that the two can be in tension with each other, and one can be pursued without necessarily a commitment to the other. Where does the participatory budgeting process in New York stand on the issue? Is social justice a major element in its philosophy and practice? Can there be general guidelines for the objectives a proposal considered in the participatory budgeting process should follow (see 10. below?)
  10. Should there be a set of principles expected to be followed by all decisions made through the process, e.g. non-discrimination, affirmative action, weighing of environmental consequences, social impact statements, inequality reduction?
  11. How politically controversial should advocates for the participatory budgeting process get? Should they only promote the policy where those in power are friendly to it, or should they see it also as a part of an effort to further democracy where those in power are reluctant to potentially weaken their power by its introduction? Should proponents of the process be willing to be critical of the opposition to it, take on their arguments against it directly at their home base as well as commenting on it internally? Should they advocate for the City Council to adopt policies encouraging participatory budgeting in all districts, regardless of individual council members desire? Or format formal procedures for participatory budgeting that could be adopted by any council member at his or her option – perhaps creating controversy in some non-adopting districts? Or should they shrink back even from that?

Participatory budgeting can be a significant step forward in the exploration of ways of achieving real democracy at the grass-roots level, immediately in capital budget planning (by itself a key element in the shaping of the built environment and social structure of cities), but also more generally in the search for the mechanisms by which truly democratic planning and decision-making  might be accomplished, keeping in mind the legitimate needs for efficiency and the practical needs for political realism.

But participatory budgeting can also be a will-o-the-wisp, or worse. It can be used simply as a sophisticated way for those already in position of political power and influence to get information about what some active among their constituency think and want, akin to polling, but with the added advantage of giving the respondents the feeling they are participating in decision-making, While in fact their participation if at a minimal level of power over a minimal range of decisions.  Thus it can be a co-optive mechanism using sophisticated technical forms to reinforce existing patterns of conduct by those in power. The devil is both in the details and, perhaps even more, in the broader perspective in which it viewed.


[1] The process, and a quite general statement of its goals, are at: http://www.participatorybudgeting.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Rulebook.pdf. What follows may be seen as a commentary addressed to those goals and the strategic issues involved in their possible implementation.

[2] A minimum. See http://council.nyc.gov/downloads/pdf/budget/2014/14budget.pdf for a simplified presentation. Some of the funds further have specific restrictions, e.g. for non-profit social service agencies, senior services, youth programs, etc.

Blog #30 – Transformative Proposals in Nine Areas


Blog #30: Beyond Immediate Proposals: Some Transformative Provocations

The last blog, Blog #29 began with the puzzle that the United States faces deep-seated problems today: problems of poverty, inequality, discrimination, poor education, unemployment, unaffordable housing, unaffordable health care, social aggressiveness and exclusion, insecurities of all sorts, all in a country that claims the values and has the  resources to remedy them.  The answer suggested was that the situation was partly the result of shortfalls of democratic procedures, partly the result of inequalities of wealth and power, but that both of these rest on an ideologically and culturally blocked awareness of fundamental causes and available alternatives – a blocked consciousness that needs to be directly addressed.

That blog  argued that, in dealing with the tea party (as a stand-in for the defenders of the status quo}, it would be most effective to combat those blockages by starting with the problems that are generally acknowledged, pushing some immediate steps towards solutions, but constantly linking those steps to a critique of a frame in which they ought to be embedded, showing how logically the immediate leads to more and more radical and even utopian visions of what in the long run needs to be done.

Some examples, not presented as developed proposals for the formulation of demands or platforms, but as examples of the approach that might be taken, follow. [1]

A: Efficiency-only reforms: reforms that simply make existing programs or policies more efficient, eliminate waste, trim costs, but change neither the thrust of the program not the power relations in which it is enmeshed.

B: Liberal reforms: reforms which expand or modify a program, using market mechanisms wherever possible, and without challenging its structural causes or the power relations in which it is embedded.

C: Radical reforms: reforms which drastically modify programs and expand their aims, challenging the power relations in which they are embedded

D: Transformative Claims: claims, going beyond specific reform proposals which address their structural causes and links to systemic issues, directly challenging the power relations in which they are embedded and serve.

[These examples are suggested only as illustrative, and are thus far really only perfunctorily sketched. For each, there are groups and individuals who have gone much further in working out demands and claims, at all levels, who should be consulted on each issue.  The point here is only to suggest the kind of differences to be found on each, and in each case running along a non-exclusive spectrum from dealing merely with efficiency-only to presenting the need for full-scale transformation. More detail and other examples would be welcome.]:

        Higher education:[2]

A: Efficiency-only reforms: Standardized conditions of private loans

B: Liberal reforms: Provide a public option for loans; provide substantially increased public grants

C: Radical reforms: Limit scope of private for-profit institutions.

D: Transformative Claims: Make higher education free.

2.      Mortgage foreclosures[3]:

A: Efficiency-only reforms: Higher reserve requirements of banks; judicial review of sloppy paper work.

B: Liberal reforms: Expand opportunities for voluntary renegotiation of loans; subsidize lowering of interest rates and writ-downs of loans; regulate rents taking into account landlords’ finances.

C: Radical reforms: Require write-down of loan principals; mandate continued occupancy at reasonable rents after foreclosure; facilitate non-profit ownership; regulate rents taking into account occupants’ finances.

D: Transformative Claims: Remove housing from the speculative market through public acquisition or facilitation of conversion to private non-profit, limited equity, cooperative, or community land trust ownership, with adequate subsidies to cover maintenance and utilities at levels affordable to lower-income occupants; confiscatory taxation of speculative profits; aggressive expansion of public housing. Housing should be treated for its use value, not its exchange value.

3.      Public Space:[4]

A: Efficiency-only reforms: Administer to protect surrounding property values.

B: Liberal reforms: Provide, expand, and administer to protect surrounding property values and quality of life of neighbors; regulate use by reasonable police measures; give zoning bonuses where privately provided.

C: Radical reforms: Provide, expand, and administer taking into account needs of surrounding community; Protect use against police repression, Require private provision in connection with new construction.  Protect right of use by homeless.

D: Transformative Claims: Provide, expand, and administer adequately to satisfy the needs of the population as a whole; give priority to uses appropriate for the exercise of political democratic rights; mandate public use for these purposes of private property where necessary. Provide supportive permanent housing for homeless users.

4.      Health

A: Efficiency-only reforms: Planned decentralization/consolidation. Computerize records; permit cross-jurisdiction private insurance in a transparent marketplace.

B: Liberal reforms: Finance Medicare and Medicaid properly. Permit unified bargaining with pharmaceutical companies; subsidize insurance, providing a public option.

C: Radical reforms: Medicare for all. Buy out private hospitals and care facilities at asset, not income, values. National Health Service

D: Transformative Claims: Eliminate fee for service provision, comprehensive national health care system, without access restrictions, paid for routinely as a public service, like police and fire protection.

5.      Jobs and Labor Relations

A: Efficiency-only reforms: Full appointments to NLRB; adequate information to workers;

B: Liberal reforms: Adequate inspections and enforcement of FLSA, health and safety standards; facilitation of discrimination cases. card checks for elections; indexing minimum wage levels

C: Radical reforms: Living wage requirements for all jobs; expanded public service jobs; ceilings on management and ownership incomes and benefits

D: Transformative Claims: Requirement of worker participation in decisionmaking in ownership; public provision by public employees of all essential services.

6.      City Planning:[5]

A: Efficiency-only reforms: independent technically qualified City Planning Commission with adequate staff

B: Liberal reforms: Advisory community planning boards

C: Radical reforms:  Community Planning Boards with decision-making powers

D: Transformative Claims: Public ownership of land, city-wide Assembly of Planning Boards with decision-making power over all land use issues.

7. Homelessness

A. Efficiency-only reforms: Screen applicants for shelter eligibility; track applicants; police supervision of shelters;

B. Liberal reforms: Expand shelter system; provide social service consultations.

C. Radical reforms: Provided expanded affordable housing opportunities; staff transitional housing where needed; provide homeless persons input into policy and administration.  Policy;

D. Transformative reforms: Establish and implement a legal Right to Housing for All, including direct public provision and stringent rent controls.

8. Municipal Budgeting

A. Efficiency-only reforms: Putting the capitol budget within the jurisdiction of the City Planning commission.

B. Liberal Reforms: Giving Community Boards or Councilmanic District assemblies a decision-making role in expenditures within their districts.

C. Radical Reforms: Providing a comprehensive city-wide Participatory Budgeting process affecting both operating and capital budgets

D.Transformative Reforms: Expanding a Participatory Budgeting proeess to cover revenues/tax policies locally and adopting national legislation prohibiting tax evasion by cross-border evasion and prohibiting local-level competition in tax programs.

 9. Worker Ownership and Co-operatives

A. Efficiency-Only Reforms. Permit NLRB-supervised elections for union representation

B. Liberal Reforms. Permit Card-check Voting. Aggressively enforce rights to organize and bargain.

C. Radical Reforms. Provide for majority worker ownership, in stock or co-operative form, of individual firms.[6]

D. Transformative Reforms. Strengthen or transfer to democratically controlled public ownership entire sectors of the economy and of production and services provision. [7]

Many other examples could be given, and the above certainly need further development. The point is that, at whatever level of reform is strategically immediately attainable, the principles behind the further levels should always be on the table, including the arguments for the most transformative. They may seem utopian goals here and now, but there is no historical or material reason why any of them are not reachable. Insisting that they be acknowledged even in the midst of the more immediate objectives is at least a small step in the direction of getting there.

Blog #31 will hesitantly suggest some New Rules for New Radicals as possibilities for moving to implementation of such transformative reforms.


[1] My debt to Andre Gorz and the concept of reformist and non-reformist reforms should be clear.

[2] See Andrew Ross’ discussion, described in Dan Schneider, “Occupying Student Debt,” Dollars and Snse, Jan-Feb 2012, p. 6

[3] See further Marcuse, Peter. 2009. “A Critical Approach to the Subprime Mortgage Crisis in the United States: Rethinking the Public Sector in Housing.” City & Community, vol. 8, No. 3, September, pp. 351-357.

[4] See my blogs #3, 4, and 5.

[5] Tom Angotti, New York for Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011, provides excellent background.

[6] Gar Alperovitch,

[7] See Alliance for a Just Society.