Left-Wing TwitterGasms: If you don’t stop, you’ll go blind
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Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has been growing by leaps and bounds. Of course, that is from a microscopic base, relative to national politics ‘in the large.’ And it is still small in that sense, but the volume and energy of activism is moving in the right direction. At the same time, our small size commends the exploitation of alliances with those who are not on the same page as DSA on every issue.

More recruits means more political naifs. That’s who I want to talk about. They are full of moral conviction, and I’m not questioning their intentions. Their understanding of politics seems to consist of having a set of positions, perhaps backed up by extensive study or perhaps picked up casually. So neither am I questioning their intellectual faculties.

Given this set of views, their idea of politics seems to consist of berating anyone with contrary views. Sometimes the attack is justified on the grounds of some kind of moral deficiency on the part of the object of the attack. Sometimes there is an assumption that the target is motivated by corruption – an anti-social financial interest. Without doubt, this is often the case. People who depart from the consensus views of DSA may indeed not have the best of intentions.

But there are also people who are potential allies, if not on every item in the DSA platform. This is where logic seems to depart quite a few people. People who disagree may have open minds and be susceptible to persuasion. Politics is about 1) getting people to like you enough to be willing to listen to what you have to say; 2) using techniques of persuasion that include but are not limited to moral appeals; 3) accepting if only for the time being the achievement of partial agreements with some people that provide a basis for practical collaboration.

I can tell you from old experience that brow-beating and the exploitation of social sanctions works, but only in the short term. As Joan Robinson wrote,

“He who’s convinced against his will/
Is of the same opinion still.”

Then there are those whose own views are founded on deep intellectual work. They may not be persuadable, but they may still be allies on certain issues. It would be politically idiotic to shun them and reject their practical assistance, even if limited.

This brings me to the Liz Bruenig Twittergasm. Twitter exacerbates the worst aspects of “call-out” politics. Quite a few people have so little political sense that they think insulting others constitutes a constructive contribution to progressive politics. Just search for “Liz Bruenig” on Twitter (she has shut down her own account). It can certainly be emotionally satisfying, but the political impact is more negative than positive.

Please don’t bother regaling me with the moral case for reproductive rights. I’m as pro-choice as anyone. At the same time, there is a substantial body of political opinion that seeks to meld a pro-life perspective with the remainder of progressive views. For shorthand, we could call them Catholics. Yes I know there are pro-choice Catholics. I’m not talking about them.

The desire to preclude any working relationship with progressive, pro-life Catholics is not smart. That doesn’t mean tempering DSA’s commitment to choice. It means taking advantage of alliances where they are available.

Nobody is going to change the philosophy of LB or, say, “the nuns on the bus,” or Pope Francis. They have thought about the moral implications of their stance at least as much as you have. It remains the case that for the U.S., especially for a small socialist formation like DSA, a good working relationship with progressive Catholics should be a strategic objective.

It’s funny that this shunning campaign has sometimes been a stance of the leftier left. We could note that there is no precedent for any successful revolution rejecting alliances. There is a precedent for entryists using such divisive appeals to siphon off supporters to their own sectarian outfits.

In the past I haven’t always held my tongue on Twitter when it comes to the Bernie v. Hillary wars. But these days when I see something vicious from either side, a little light goes on over my head and I practice restraint.

The inescapable fact is that both sides need each other. Trumpists deserve every sort of excoriation that the mind can devise, but the rules for dialog between the left and the moderates within the Democratic Party need to be different. Some on each side seek to purge the other side, but this can only benefit the Right.

There are entryists within DSA who uphold certain left stances for the sake of driving the organization into the swamp of third party or no-party politics. Many years ago, I could have been one of these people, so I understand the mindset. I also know where it leads – to a big fat nowhere.

For DSA to keep growing, it needs to be inviting, not exclusionary, like some high school clique. Moral condemnation should be reserved for the Right, constructive and even bracing criticism for moderates.

Politics!

Limonov
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Fuck this guy. Really.

Who? That would be Eduard Limonov, co-founder of Russia’s “National Bolshevik” Party. He is the subject of a fawning biography by the prolific French writer Emmanuel Carrére. “National Bolshevism” is an abortive fusion of communism and fascism that is really just fascism with some communist symbols. Carrére’s book convinces me that this movement is central to an understanding of evolving European fascism. The similarities to Donald Trump’s following are more limited, but the fact remains that they are allied on different levels.

What’s hard to understand is Carrére’s affection for his subject, whom he at one point calls his hero. Limonov to my way of thinking is little more than a flaming asshole. Intelligent but intellectually perverse, and proud of it. Carrére is a prolific author whose mother is an eminent scholar of Russia. The family’s roots are White Russian, but the appeal is still elusive. Much of the book attempts to elaborate on it. It’s as much about Carrére as Limonov.

Limonov was born into a poor family, his father a low-ranked member of the Soviet political police. He goes through stages: a Russian bohemian poet lacking any notoriety, then a degenerate hustler in New York City. He makes it big as a writer with his autobiographical novel, “It’s Me, Eddie,” which I’ve not read. He acquires celebrity in France, then goes to Russia where he falls in with the opposition to Gorbachev, and then Yeltsin, in the company of a mixed gaggle of neo-Nazis and Stalinist nostalgics, if that isn’t the height of idiocy. He makes a side trip to commune with Serbian war criminals during the break-up of Yugoslavia. He writes many more books and in his old age strikes a kind of peace with the regime against which he postures.

The attention this story deserves is in the way it reveals the sort of personality that leads a person to fascism, as well as the kind of political stagnation in which it may thrive. It’s a Russian version of Scarface focused on politics rather than crime. Missing from the book is any clue as to the role of the U.S. and NATO in the catastrophic economic deterioration of Russia, under the watch of the Clinton Administration. Yet another angle from which to consider the role of the Clintons themselves in their own recent defeat.

I’ve described the international fascist front as affiliated with the Putin regime, as well as with the U.S. alt-right. One might wonder how to reconcile that with the national bolsheviks’ erstwhile opposition to their rulers. The answer is pretty simple. The homegrown Russian fascists are stooges for Putin, not unlike historic links between the U.S. ultra-right and law enforcement (sic). Their allies in Europe and the U.S. never criticize Putin, quite the contrary, and direct their energies at U.S. interests, including the European Union and NATO.

Carrére notes similarities between Limonov and Putin himself. At one point, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the current Russian autocrat was reduced to driving a cab. Putin and Limonov had similar, humble origins. The difference is that Putin realized his megalomaniacal dreams, and Limonov did not. For all the comfort he derives from his literary elder statesman status in Russia, in light of his fantasies of leading the masses, Limonov ends up a loser.

Hillary Unbowed
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(My most recent failure in online publishing. Wherein I tried to be fair and civil, to no avail.)

Hillary Clinton is not apologizing and not going away. And why should she? She got damn close to being president of the United States, closer than most aspirants for high office ever will. Twice! In What Happened? she offers a combination of autobiography, campaign history, and political analysis. I learned a few things, and you will too. I also got some confirmation and elaboration of what I’ve thought is fundamentally problematic in her politics, from a progressive standpoint. In the interests of disclosure, I should say I was a Bernie Sanders supporter from the start to the bitter end, though I have never had any role in his campaign or affiliated organizations.

Clinton continues her 2016 political campaign, both primary and general election, in her book. She pledges to stay in the game to the point of encouraging selected organizing projects and speaking out against the depredations of the Trump Administration. Given the political zeal on display in the book and in related television appearances, I’d say there are reasons to be skeptical of her abstaining from another try for the White House.

Her commitment to activism has been clear since 1992. It’s reflected in the workings of her family’s prodigious fund-raising and institution-building. I don’t believe such an intelligent person devotes herself to exhausting work building a fortune that neither she, her children, nor their children could ever spend away without some higher purpose.

In the case of the Clintons, the motive is not simply to accumulate wealth. It is political – to win friends and influence people. To perpetually expand their political machine and pursue their own version of the great society.

This machine, especially for its most financially-blessed members, is not, contrary to some naïve popular commentary from both left and right, founded on vulgar transactions. That’s not how the super-rich operate, except perhaps denizens of the New York real estate world. There are relationships, not horse-trades. People evolve to a congruence of world views and, since they are intelligent, know how to help each other – to work together — without any need for secret conspiracies.

This was the flaw in how many interpreted Bernie Sanders’ harping on Clinton’s speeches in front of bankers, and the truth of Clinton’s protestations over unsubstantiated imputations of corruption. The speeches were not a setting for the exchange of favors. They were a bonding exercise. Financial deregulation, for instance, was pursued because it was the right thing to do. Everybody said so!

The principal evidence for her ongoing political preoccupations is embodied in the language of the book itself. This is typified by an excerpt from her undelivered draft victory address, which sounds for all the world like the rest of the book:

This summer, a writer asked me: If I could go back in time and tell anyone in history about this milestone, who would it be? And the answer is easy: my mother Dorothy. . . .

The onslaught of Mom, the flag, and apple pie is unrelenting. Every chapter is introduced with a homily of some sort. Kahlil Gibran makes an appearance. Maya Angelou’s “And still I rise.” The Pope. This is how some people really talk, but it was also her style of campaign rhetoric, and as such it raises questions. The electorate is not a giant chapter of the League of Women Voters. (How much better off we would be if it were.)

For those who are given pause by my distrust of her treacly rhetoric, you might consider the stark difference in voice that is apparent in her interview with Chris Hayes on MSNBC. Here you can see a different Hillary: tough, analytical, and unsentimental. No sugarplums and puppie dogs.

Although the book is frank in many respects, but I saw no remark that would pose a problem in a future political campaign, not least after the nation has been subjected to the Trump Regime.

In the acknowledgments, we learn that Clinton had the assistance of speech writers and researchers in writing the book. The machine is still cranking. The Obamas are up to the same business. We’ll be living with Clintons and Obamas for decades to come. Bernie’s revolution has its work cut out for it.

While the Clintons pass the torch to their daughter and to the Obamas, what are we in for? My misgivings are twofold, one in the realm of political economy and the other in political practice.

Let’s start with the politics, since political constraints tend to shape ambitions for policy. The basic Clinton method is to start with a data-based picture of what is acceptable to public opinion but fail to consider its direction and its raw intensity. The picture is static and desensitized. Clinton has empathy for her supporters, but is repulsed by her deplorable opponents. Hence her fear and aversion to “populism” and why she could be caught flat-footed by Bernie’s revolution and Trump’s demagogy.

In its own way, this arguably excessive pragmatism is a photographic negative of the Bush II Administration’s infamous devotion to creating their own reality, in the process trampling the hapless “reality-based community.” Whatever you think about the Republican rejection of empiricism, it does make for some aggressive risk-taking that seems to have stood them in good stead, at least by their lights.

The instinctive caution typified by both Clinton and Obama also limits the scale of contemplated initiatives. Clinton is skeptical of ideas that make a political splash, though she does recognize how powerful such proposals, practicality aside, are for Sanders and Trump. She still falls back on the responsible crafting of tractable “solutions.”

Clinton’s view is that it is better to know many things and avoid risky commitments to any one big thing. The weakness of this approach can be illustrated by the paramount issue of national employment.

The intellectual problem goes back to Bill Clinton’s administration. The early years of that tenure were marked by what was then called “the jobless recovery.” Democrats’ political weakness in 1994 was compounded by Bill Clinton’s unpopular commitments to deficit reduction and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). After two years of Clintonism, the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952.

The economy turned around after 1994, resulting in a period of outstanding employment and income growth. The Clintons’ error was attributing it to their politically-disastrous deficit reduction. A case against their economic triumphalism was offered by no less than two Clinton economists, Alan Blinder and Janet Yellen, in The Fabulous Decade: Macroeconomic Lessons from the 1990s. The more likely suspect for the recovery was the low interest rate policy of the Federal Reserve. Democratic elites take it as an article of faith that critical commentary on the Fed is out of bounds.

These two mistakes remained at the heart of Democrats’ difficulties in stimulating the economy in the Obama years. The first is the notion that lower deficits are good for jobs, the second is that policies of the Federal Reserve are beyond the purview of elected officials.

The Obama Administration prevented a financial meltdown in 2009 but soft-peddled the subsequent weakness of the labor market. Yes there was substantial job growth, but little wage growth. Much wealth had been destroyed in the collapse. Employment, best evaluated by the employment-population ratio (not the official unemployment rate), never returned to pre-recession heights. Yes, the Republican Congress would have blocked any subsequent proposals to raise employment, but Obama failed to present the case with any vigor. In short, working people had many regrets and little reason to expect much in the way of change from Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Two reasons an economist can doubt her commitment to jobs was her lingering aversion to deficit spending and her indifference to Fed policy. On top of that, unwillingness to raise tax revenue, except on the super-rich, is confirmed explicitly in her account, when she describes rejecting an environmental dividend scheme because it would have meant raising taxes on upper income persons.

If you’re squirrelly about deficit spending and taxation, and you have nothing to say about the Fed, you’re not going to convince this economist that you are serious about jobs. For the average voter untutored in economic theory, the likelihood is that her failure to signal any significant change from the Obama Administration took much of the air out of her economic message. On top of that, she suffered by contrast to Sanders-the-socialist and Trump-the-builder (sic), whose full-throated dedications to big infrastructure sounded more credible.

It could not have helped that Clinton’s tepid defense of “free trade” policy, in which both her husband and President Obama were heavily invested, wilted before the thundering denunciations from Sanders and Trump. (The word NAFTA does not appear in the book.)

Clinton gives every indication that her campaign was aware of shortcomings in her economic story. She gives a nod to former Clinton pollster’s Stan Greenberg’s analysis, who charges that she “went silent” on the economy. Clinton cites some riffs from a speech to show that she didn’t. That sort of unserious rebuttal only works on Twitter or on a speaker’s platform.

Even so, the Clintons had every right to expect to win. Her account of the campaign is of one on cruise control until rocked by external events. The interventions of FBI Director James Comey, Russian cyber-warfare, and perverse coverage by the mainstream media are well-described. The reader can have little doubt that these shocks to our political system tilted the result.

The fact remains, however, that Hillary Clinton lost the election because she didn’t get enough votes. Cruise control was inadequate. Without some bad choices before and during 2016, she might have won anyway. She takes full responsibility for the loss, but she is not expansive about what she might have done differently.

She owns up to the “optics” of lucrative speeches to bankers. As I indicated, there was more to this than a bad look. She also suggests that she is not a very good politician. Still, I don’t think that Clinton had to be someone else to win.

She speculates about the appeal of “big and bold” proposals in the manner of Sanders but falls back on the responsibility to craft “solutions.” Solutions are kind of my stock-in-trade as a policy person, but they bore the average person, and not without reason. They are usually small-scale and technical.

The refusal to “go big” is one aspect of Clinton’s political malpractice. To be sure, she is a brilliant attorney and policy wonk in her own right, but wonks are no match for demagogues.

At one point, she says it’s hard to run against a demagogue. All I can say is, if you don’t know how to deal with demagogues, you shouldn’t be in politics. She could win debates but still lose the greater argument. She campaigned alternately in prose and sentimentality, but it was no match for Trump’s barbaric yawp.

The Clintons are staying in politics, and their constricted view of progressive reform, shared by the Obamas, continues to bedevil us. The weakness of her economic message was a feature, not a bug. Going forward, what Bill Clinton bemoaned as his administration’s devotion to balanced budgets and free trade – amounting to “Eisenhower Republicans” – is the cross Democrats will continue to bear.

That’s what’s happening.

 

 

Hurricane Maria update, 9/30
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A friend writes . . .     

Almost four years ago, I first set foot here, in the storm-battered airport from which many are leaving, maybe forever. It was love at first sight. Not of the island. Not of the beaches, although both are beautiful. It was love for Puerto Ricans. With that spirit of life. With that warmth. Of elevator greetings and “Buen

Almost four years ago, I first set foot here, in the storm-battered airport from which many are leaving, maybe forever. It was love at first sight. Not of the island. Not of the beaches, although both are beautiful. It was love for Puerto Ricans. With that spirit of life. With that warmth. Of elevator greetings and “Buen

Almost four years ago, I first set foot here, in the storm-battered airport from which many are leaving, maybe forever. It was love at first sight. Not of the island. Not of the beaches, although both are beautiful. It was love for Puerto Ricans. With that spirit of life. With that warmth. Of elevator greetings and “Buen

Almost four years ago, I first set foot here, in the storm-battered airport from which many are leaving, maybe forever. It was love at first sight. Not of the island. Not of the beaches, although both are beautiful. It was love for Puerto Ricans. With that spirit of life. With that warmth. Of elevator greetings and “Buen

Almost four years ago, I first set foot here, in the storm-battered airport from which many are leaving, maybe forever. It was love at first sight. Not of the island. Not of the beaches, although both are beautiful. It was love for Puerto Ricans. With that spirit of life. With that warmth. Of elevator greetings and “Buen provecho” to strangers. Of living, in many cases, a tough life, as a result of the crisis, but living!

I would continue to return here for work, sadness filling my heart each time I presented a boarding pass at SJU, headed back home. Two years later, the “one day” that I had said I would move to Puerto Rico came, and again I arrived, with two suitcases, and no return ticket, as this was finally my home.

Since then, I have spent the last two years getting to know my new home. From Cabo Rojo to Fajardo, from Aguadilla to Yabucoa. I lived in Gurabo. I lived in Puerta de Tierra, and now, Miramar. I went to Guavate for lechon. And found frituras, and mangos and the best piñas un the world on the side of roads. I went to the placita, and decided that I desperately needed some salsa lessons.

And then, I watched Maria beat up my beautiful island, and tear down its trees, and destroy the electrical grid. But that hijo de p*** madre Hurricane, will not break us. Look at the picture. The building fell, but the streamers are still there. She made life hard, but she didn’t take down our spirit.

Most of our lives these days are spent waiting in lines for basic necessities. Most of us have finally heard from loved ones throughout the island, but some still wait, and worry. We pray for their families safety. And most of us are not doing anything illegal. We’re not hurting our neighbors for a bit of gasoline. We’re not freaking out.

Maybe it’s because Puerto Ricans have always known the secret to life.
That it could be hard, but it is meant to be enjoyed. To be shared. To be celebrated. That it’s not what you have in your life, but who you have in your life.

That’s what I learned from my upbringing in Greece. And maybe that’s why, from the first time I came here, after more than thirty years up north, Puerto Ricans felt like family. That if you have a little, you share. That everyone around us is our brother and sister. Nuestros padres, y nuestros hijos.

And if you don’t believe me that Puerto Ricans know how to celebrate even a difficult life, you had nothing more to do than to be anywhere that sold cold beer yesterday, when Ley Seca was lifted. The electricity will return. New leaves and new trees will grow. And this Isla del Encanto will continue to be one of the most special places on this planet. Because of its people.

Wepaaaa, mi gente. Let’s show the world how we do it here in Puerto Rico!

Maria update, Friday 9/29
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A friend writes . . .

Well, once again, the pump for the water is not working properly, which means that even the few hours of water we had are gone. After an uplifting day yesterday, where xxxxx got some hopeful news about his flight today, and I got to see yyyyy and the kids, the reality is again seeping in.

I know I am a peevish prick, but when I see one of the calmest people I have ever met display signs of angst and aggravation, I know it’s not just me who is bothered by the situation.

The shelves in the supermarkets near me are starting to look bleak. Nothing fresh. The convenience store near me is getting some things, most importantly BEER! Alcohol sales have resumed. So once xxxxx found out that his flight was cancelled, 😩😩😩, we went to the store to get cold beer 🍻.

Now, in the second hour of our gas line, we are passing the time as best as we can. My best hope estimate for electricity, given how central my location in San Juan is, is at least another month…

I have no idea how long before this becomes a chore. I don’t own a car, so the rental is a luxury. It has allowed us to explore the damage, to check in on loved ones (Not my BFF), buy food, and try to get information about xxxx’s flight.

Returning to my pedestrian/cycling life means one less line, but also will create some limitations. Still, I really hope that soon, things start getting better. In the meantime…

Maria Update 9/26
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It was the heat that woke me up. As I expect it will be the heat that keeps me awake until the power returns. Exhaustion, a good meal, a bit of wine and a shower right before bed at least allowed me a solid four hours last night. Coffee on the camping stove, a cigarette by the window, a charged phone to occupy my time. It should have been a good morning.

And then it wasn’t. Checking the information on some Facebook sites on what is open, banks, ice plants, gas stations, Supermarkets, I came across several articles and personal posts talking about, and sharing pictures of, the destruction in Puerto Rico. The pictures of the broken homes, didn’t do it, as luckily they are fewer than we first feared. The pictures of lines for everything didn’t do it.

No, it was a post from a man, living in states, thanking us on the site for the support he received after posting earlier that his father had passed, and how he could not get to Puerto Rico to see him before he died, or to bury him now that he had.

And then the pictures of leafless, broken trees revealing behind them buildings, or even entire communities previously shielded from view by a curtain of green, so beautiful and verdant that for me, the beach loving city boy, was the definitive trait of this beautiful speck of land in the middle of the ocean that became my home from the moment I set foot on it four years ago.

This morning, while enjoying the quiet before the lifting of the curfew, was the first time I actually cried. I came close once before. “Puerto Rico is no longer green,” is how I said it to a neighbor waiting in line with me at the supermarket the other day. And watching his eyes water almost did it, but a hand on the shoulder, and a bad joke about trimming bushes, spared both of us.

Today, I hope to go help a friend clean out their home, deluged not by the storm, but by a release of water from a dam that caused flooding in places spared by the hurricane. I need the distraction, and to see him and his family in person. To do something that feels like it helps the process of rebuilding, of healing.

Many of you have asked how you can help. Put pressure on the powers that be to act and to act quickly. While it lost its green heart, Puerto Rico has not lost its soul. People still smile, and share, and end every recounting of their personal losses with Gracias a Dios (thank God) in realization of the value of what they didn’t lose, of how much worse it could have been.

But, the lines, the deprivation of things we all normally take for granted like running water, or the ability to talk to loved ones, to get in the car and check on your elderly parents, or being able to just walk into a supermarket without having to wait, will take their toll.

We still share, but how long before we have to stop helping those without cash get something to eat, because our own supplies are running low? How long before the lines become unruly? We, and those in surrounding islands devastated by Irma or Maria, need help.

While nature dealt us a severe blow to our island, our society, our spirit, remains wonderful, life loving, warm. I hope that the actions, or inactions, of men don’t damage that. Because the trees will grow back.
#puertorico
#hurricanemaria

Maria update. Wednesday 9/27
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A friend from PR writes . . .

I have a favor to ask. Please don’t ask me to confirm or comment on news about Puerto Rico these days. Especially from the people at Univision.

We all know that news focuses on the sensational, but the descriptions of Destruction and violence, while accurate for their specific instances, should not be taken as an indication of what’s happening widely.

There have been robberies. There have been people who died. There have been homes that were actually destroyed. But this is not what has happened to all of us.

We’re not, yet, murdering each other for a loaf of bread or tank of gas. There’s still a lot of laughter in lines, and there are still people helping each other left and right, from family, to neighbors, and even strangers.

The guy offering to let xxx and I use the shower when we didn’t have water. The people buying two dozen eggs and giving one to their neighbor, who wanted three for her family. The people walking through the lines giving everyone updates on when the gas might start flowing. The civilians directing traffic in the first couple of days after the storm. The people who post pictures and names of strangers on Facebook so that those people’s families can know that their loved ones are well.

And the laughter. It continues to echo throughout our endless lines. With people running out of cash, there are now huge lines at the few banks that are open to get money. You then take that money and go wait in line for gas, or food, or , God help you, if you need to buy ice or water.

As we were sitting downstairs last night, sharing stories and food with a young couple from my building, who had been heating food by candlelight-and yes I did mean heating not eating, the woman described this as an exercise in patience.

Moving here helped me find that patient, calm kid I once was again. But I’m really starting to lose my patience with sensationalist stories that put this, my adopted homeland, in a negative light.

The situation is bad. Our electrical infrastructure is destroyed. It will take a lot of time, money, and help, for Puerto Rico to return to what it was a week ago. Getting basic necessities takes effort these days.

Our sense of community continues to be strong. And I have to tell you, no other place I’ve ever been defines community as an entire country as much as Puerto Rico does.

There is a pride in being Puerto Rican, that you hear in half of the songs, in conversations all of the time, that you see everywhere you go.

So, while life here is anything but a party these days, please do not let the news tell you that our society has disintegrated in the chaos.
If anything, most of us are behaving as our better angels.

Puerto Rico, USA (2)
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A friend on the island writes . . .

Maria update whatever, Monday 9/25

So what is life like?

We spend hours hanging out with neighbors that we would otherwise just say hello to on the elevator.

We start conversations with strangers everywhere we go. Unfortunately, most of these meetings occur while waiting in line.

Some wait in line for the few functioning ATMs to get cash because none of the card machines are working. You then take that cash, go wait in line at the supermarket so you can buy whatever food remains on the shelves. Which for the time being is still okay. We wait in line for $10 worth of gasoline.

There is traffic, although given that traffic lights are out, I am surprised it’s not worse.

We wait in line in the hopes of catching a flight, for some of us back home, for others like [xxxx], to school, and for me, to a wedding twenty years in the making that I missed, and a trip to Greece that is delayed until?

And after days of using precious gasoline to go to the airport, you finally get told that it will be days before there is even a chance of flying out. So, you let go, after also checking other airports and even the boat marina, and go to the beach, to cool off, and hug the shade of the few remaining trees there.

And by 7 pm, the curfew kicks in, and we are expected to remain in our darkened residences, sober, because of a temporary ban on sales of alcoholic beverages.

Luckily, we have a very healthy relationship with rules here, and occasionally, a cool Medalla quenches our thirst.

For now, that wonderful spirit of chillness that I love in my fellow islanders remains fully intact.

In the coming days, I hope that some things will start improving so that people are least able to get gasoline and visit the remaining relatives from whom they may not have yet heard from.

Pretty much everyone I know on this island has been accounted for and is well.

#puertorico

Puerto Rico, USA. 9/24/17
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A friend on the island writes . . .

More and more buildings are going dark.

As the reality of the situation becomes better known, people are starting to conserve, and even those with generators are only using them a few hours a day.

The roads are starting to let up a little now as the curfew was lifted at 5 a.m., and people are starting to line up outside of closed gas stations for the chance to get some fuel for their cars. One more cigarette, one more sip of coffee, and I will be joining them.

And yet, I’m one of the lucky ones.

Flights off the island are either fully booked or canceled. For weeks.
I live here, I have a home here, so I don’t have to be at the airport every day with, all of my belongings, trying to return from a vacation that turned out to be anything but. I’m fairly sure that all the people that I care about here are safe, even if their homes and possessions are damaged. My own home while by no means comfortable remains intact.

And I pray, for us, the people in Mexico, and in thanks for all the things that I have.

Which definitely includes a kick-ass support system, in the form of all of you who’ve reached out to various methods to make sure that I’m okay, that my spirit’s okay, which it is.

#puertorico

Notes on Coates
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In The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates (TNC) uses the election of Donald Trump, “the first white president,” to offer a blockbuster portrayal of the politics of race and white supremacy in the U.S. As political analysis, it is disputable and fair game. Out of respect for the erudite, eloquent, and accomplished Mr. Coates, let’s not hold back, okay?

The victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election was founded on a positively tiny margin of votes in just three states. As such, a change in any number of factors could have brought about a different result. Such factors include but are not limited to: the 11th hour “Comey letter” suggesting malfeasance on Hillary Clinton’s part, Russian interventions via the Internet, suppression of African-American and other voters, bizarre mainstream media coverage, Bernie Sanders’ blistering primary challenge, and an assortment of questionable decisions by Hillary Clinton prior to 2016, and by her campaign in 2016. Here are 37 reasons that could explain the outcome. And don’t forget Facebook.

In the inevitable post-mortems, many tend to fixate on the factor that is most congenial to their own pre-existing political views. The same was true after the 2000 election, one with a ridiculously narrow margin of victory. Monocausal explanations, especially those founded on analytical biases, ought to be rejected. With such a narrow margin, it would only have taken a reversal of one factor to change the outcome. The counter-factual is unknown.

The other inescapable implication of the tiny victory margin is that it is problematic to associate any great, purported shift in the zeitgeist to such a small difference. To be sure, the implications of unified Republican control of the Congress, White House, and Supreme Court are malignant and momentous. But our subject here is the thinking that informs and misinforms voting behavior.

The cause that TNC adds to the mix is racism. My claim is that Coates’ analysis is both unsupported and destructive of progressive politics. His erudition and literary talent are not in question. I don’t fault his intentions. Some think he is facing hard truths and call his view realistic. That is the question, isn’t it? How real is it? What’s in question is not TNC’s experience of racial oppression, of the psychology underlying it, or his ability to bring it to life in a text. I’m talking about a political analysis.

If I felt under constant, homicidal threat as a person of Jewish descent, or if I had personally witnessed the deaths of relatives in the Holocaust, I don’t doubt that I would tend to dwell on my Jewishness, such as it is, and ponder the endurance of anti-Semitism through the ages. On this level, I can hardly fault TNC for centering race and white supremacy in his account.

Coates’ text still deserves rigorous criticism. It makes explicit reference to political events and persons. It embodies a political stance. Whether you call him a politician or public intellectual, TNC is interested in politics, and his politics are interested in you.

The stand-out feature of Coates’ analysis is the timelessness of racism in the U.S. In his telling, it begins when America’s white indentured servants are socially promoted into a racially-superior class. The psychological dependence of white people of lesser status on their allocated privilege, which hinges on their enjoying a position superior to that of black people, becomes the ineradicable obstacle to working class unity and social-democratic transformation.

The poster boy for the ascendance of whiteness as the fundamental governing principle in U.S. politics is of course the 45th president, a man so manifestly inferior in all respects that it is truly impossible to imagine an African-American with any subset of his deficiencies going nearly as far in the world.

Trump’s racism is explicit. It has been documented to be a long-standing component of his outlook. Perhaps Coates’ most powerful assertion is that his millions of voters were okay with it. There is no getting around that. A President Trump is prima facie proof of racism at large. So far, so good.

The problem here is that as matter of electoral dynamics, Trump’s victory was not necessarily the result of an uprising by the white working class (WWC). Coates himself makes clear that Trump won more white votes than Hillary Clinton in all types of economic and demographic groups. Trump’s white coalition transcended class.

Coates does not show any movement of WWC voters from Democratic to Republican due to Trump. That could be called a kind of uprising, if it had happened. There is some evidence for it, if we define WWC as those with no college. In this sense TNC sells his analysis a bit short. Even so, WWC voters were trending Republican before Trump ever put his face into presidential politics.

An alternative hypothesis is that the Democrats suffered from a multiracial working-class uprising, one in which white voters bolted for Trump, while non-white 2012 voters stayed home. That leads to a different narrative, one that proposes a Democratic Party failure in the realm of class politics.

Please, let’s not recoil as if I’m blaming black folks for Trump. The responsibility lies with the Democratic Party for not keeping voters of all colors on board. But if the race factor is more about Democrats than Republicans, that goes against the grain of TNC’s focus on Trump’s explicit, vicious, unforgivable racism. The white supremacy rap doesn’t fly nearly as smoothly when applied to Hillary Clinton, whatever her faults.

If there wasn’t a WWC uprising, maybe it was more generally a white riot. Again, to cite the 2016 election as a sign of something new, we need to compare it to prior elections.

When it comes to turnout, the salient fact in 2016 was a modest increase in white turnout, and a significant decline in non-white turnout. This doesn’t debunk Coates, since his thesis would be supported by evidence of a great shift from D to R among white voters, but it takes us a step closer to some illumination which Coates provides himself, when he says “Trump’s share of the white vote was similar to Mitt Romney’s in 2012.” Actually, Trump did somewhat worse with white voters than Mitt Romney did in 2012, particularly with women. But we don’t need to quibble.

Little change in overall white turnout combined with little change in Trump’s share of the white vote blows up the white riot theory. Yes, we’re drowning in a sewer of racism, thanks in part to the Trump cultural revolution, but that doesn’t explain the ascendance of the “first white president.” Trump ran against the Republican establishment in the primaries, but these same worthies closed ranks around him at the convention. Only recently have some fault lines appeared. The 2016 Republican electorate was the usual gang of idiots.

Ironically, TNC’s one-dimensional focus on whiteness glosses over a genuinely new element that Trump has introduced into our politics: the elevation of the most racist elements of the population. We now have outright Nazis and Klansmen achieving social media celebrity and drawing crowds to speeches and marches. These deplorables were never going to vote Democratic, so their electoral significance in 2016 vs. 2012 can be discounted. However, in this regard TNC’s whiteness frame is too broad: it obscures the progress of U.S. neo-fascism.

Nor does the often-remarked on movement of Obama 2012 voters to Trump make any sense in the context of Coates’ analysis. After voting for a black man, maybe twice, you say, “The guy I really want to be president is the big racist”? To explain that, we would need to theorize an upsurge of raging misogyny, but that’s not in TNC’s wheelhouse.

In a television interview, TNC invoked the Jackie Robinson example – racists cheering for black sports heroes. That analogy to a presidential election is strained. As everyone knows, Jack Johnson and Jesse Owens disproved to the least-educated minds the premise of a white race superior in all respects. Racism has transitioned to the view that non-whites can run and jump, but they still don’t deserve the respect of their fellow citizens.

To say racism has always been with us, not least with the benefit of Coates’ historical examples, is not to say the condition of racism’s victims has been frozen since time immemorial. And that is not to say progress has always been swell and will surely continue. There has been progress, and there could be more. In this sense, Coates’ use of history is ahistorical. Pessimism is certainly justified, but it need not be taken to the nth degree.

Hopes to the contrary are stigmatized by TNC as blindness to the intensity of racism, if not to racism itself. There is a strain of emotional blackmail that runs through Coates’ essay, not to mention in much less edifying Twitter spats on this question. If you don’t buy what he’s selling, your perception of the dominance of racism in all of American life falls somewhere in the range between malign neglect and malevolence.

I am not here to enthuse a post-racial paradise, that things have gotten much better and progress is inevitable. The former is incontrovertible. On the latter, I’m afraid not. The arc of history bends every which way.

As a policy guy, to me another off-putting dimension of the TNC view is its gloss on Republican economics. His implication is that racism is the fundamental motivation for the GOP legislative agenda, personified by Trump’s intense, personal hatred of our first black president. To the contrary, Republican political economy is all about exploiting the working class for the sake of the 1%. Racism is a political tool. Racism is constructed for the ulterior motive of class domination. It’s all about the money. I don’t really think TNC would disagree, but such considerations get utterly lost in his story.

When it comes to Democrats, class politics – a focus on programs of universal benefit to the working class is the question. How big to go. (In DP-speak, for “middle-class working families.” They play by the rules!)

TNC claims that social-democratic proposals cannot overcome the depth of racism in the white working class. He goes so far as to describe their advocacy as “escapism.” If you take exception, he will remind you that “working class whites had been agents of racist terrorism since at least the draft riots of 1863.” This can be an intimidating assertion to a white reader, but it is also rubbish. It visits the sins of some on an entire racial-economic class, for all time. It’s like Trump and his ‘Mexican rapists.’

Such a standpoint lends cold comfort to the predominantly minority workers striking McDonalds, “Fighting for Fifteen,” and battling Walmart for union representation, or to minority youth financially blocked from a post-secondary education. Neither is there much hope for the Black Lives Matter movement, if it is doomed to eternal rejection by an irredeemable white majority.

The postulate of ineradicable racism is vulnerable to two criticisms:

1) It is not necessary to convert the WWC wholesale to progressive politics to win elections. Remember the tiny margins of defeat in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Only a few to whom class politics can appeal are needed. Even some who voted in response to Trump’s racial cues may be redeemable. Democratic politicians have been winning elections with the benefit of some racist votes for a long time.

2) Social-democratic proposals can motivate greater turn-out among people of color, who are overwhelmingly working class.

Either could have reversed the November outcome.

It is undeniable that ‘universal programs’ are not a sure-fire political winner. If they were, by now we would have full-spectrum social-democracy. More important, they do not go as far as desirable in addressing race-specific (and gender-specific) disparities. When a rising tide lifts all boats, it does not necessarily narrow the gaps between them. So more than class politics is needed for social justice. This is the truth of Coates’ disapproval of “raceless anti-racism” on the left. At the same time, there should be no doubt that social-democratic programs disproportionately benefit minorities and women. Not for nothing did Martin Luther King Jr. come to this view. Recognizing the needs of the white working class, those indeed held in common with minorities, doesn’t neglect the black working class. It magnifies its political salience. Some of the major injuries of black workers are also the injuries of all.

Social-democratic programs sound great and poll well, but they are hard to actually implement. Inconvenient practical problems arise, usually on the financing side. Higher taxes are a buzzkill. Race-specific remedies of any scale are harder still. Both should be pursued. Personally, I would fault both Clinton and Sanders for falling short in this respect. Hillary Clinton’s purported advantage over Sanders in this dimension was mostly hot air. She knew how to “say their names,” but she didn’t go much further than that.

Still, one shortfall of critiques along the lines of TNC is their failure to propose remedies that scale and that have any claim to political realism. Reparations founders on the latter count. These critiques attack progressive, class politics but provide little in the way of practical alternatives. They encourage defeatism.

TNC’s voice is strong. We might hope that his account, by shocking the conscience, acts like a gateway drug to a more constructive, activist political outlook.