Farewell to the left

Note: This post has been edited for clarity and to refine certain points.

First, I wish to express support for the Standing Rock protest against the construction of an oil pipeline that places American Indian cultural sites and water at risk. Second, I have little doubt that the following has occurred as I have witnessed similar behaviors in other contexts:

Concerns have been raised by protestors on social media, who claim that people are arriving at the Standing Rock demonstration for the “cultural experience” and treating it like Burning Man festival.

Protestor Alicia Smith wrote on Facebook: “On my way back from the camps. Need to get something off my chest that I witnessed and found very disturbing in my brief time there that I believe many others have started to speak up about as well.

“White people are colonizing the camps. I mean that seriously. Plymouth rock seriously. They are coming in, taking food, clothing and occupying space without any desire to participate in camp maintenance and without respect of tribal protocols.

“These people are treating it like it is Burning Man or The Rainbow Gathering and I even witnessed several wandering in and out of camps comparing it to those festivals.”

Ms Smith observed that many protestors appeared to be living off the native American community, and were taking advantage of donations sent in for the cause. Another Twitter user said they had witnessed a protestor turn down tap water to spend donations on ‘fluoride free’ water.[1]

Continue reading Farewell to the left

  1. [1]Roisin O’Connor, “Standing Rock: North Dakota access pipeline demonstrators say white people are ‘treating protest like Burning Man,'” Independent, November 28, 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/standing-rockth-dakota-access-pipeline-burning-man-festival-a7443266.html

Open letter to Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton

David A. Benfell, Ph.D.
321 S. Main St. #12
Sebastopol, CA 95472
+1-707-824-1194

November 19, 2016

His Excellency, Ambassador David MacNaughton
Embassy of Canada
501 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001-2114
Fax: (202) 682-7619

Your Excellency,

It reaches my attention that you believe that “Canadians have to do a better job selling Americans on the benefits of our interdependence on issues like trade and security.”[1]

Perhaps you would like to explain to me just how it is that fifteen years of unemployment benefits me. Or, alternatively, perhaps you would like to invite me to Canada to partake of the social safety net you offer your own citizens while so carefully raising barriers to immigration from the U.S.

During my fifteen years of unemployment, I have returned to school, completed a B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D. I continue to be denied a right recognized in nearly every country in the world, including Canada, but conspicuously not by the United States, which is “the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts.”[2]

There are many in the United States with far less ability than I who are similarly denied this right. They have been increasingly resorting to suicide and drug abuse to ameliorate their pain.[3]

Perhaps you would like to explain to these people just how it is that so-called “free” trade, that is, trade that is free for the wealthy but not for the poor, benefits them. Perhaps you would like to open your doors to them, to guarantee them the rights that nearly the entire world recognizes, but not the United States.

I eagerly await your response.

Sincerely,

David Benfell, Ph.D.

  1. [1]Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, “Canada needs to do better job selling the U.S. on trade benefits, says ambassador,” November 19, 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/nova-scotia/canada-ambassador-trade-benefits-with-u-s-1.3858829
  2. [2]International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, December 16, 1966, United Nations, General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI), http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr.htm
  3. [3]Gina Kolata, “Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds,” New York Times, November 2, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/health/death-rates-rising-for-middle-aged-white-americans-study-finds.html; Paul Krugman, “Heartland of Darkness,” New York Times, November 4, 2015, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/04/heartland-of-darkness/; Paul Krugman, “Despair, American Style,” New York Times, November 9, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/09/opinion/despair-american-style.html; Josh Zumbrun, “The Economic Roots of the Climbing Death Rate for Middle-Aged Whites,” Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2015, http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2015/11/03/the-economic-roots-of-the-climbing-death-rate-for-middle-aged-whites/

Democrats must own Donald Trump

Note, November 14, 2016: This posting has been edited for clarity, grammar, and to add a footnote citing the article in the U.S. Constitution that establishes the electoral college.

Update, November 14, 2016: In the comments from cybernude.org, @VegOS posted a link to an Avaaz campaign with a bunch of question marks. Initially, I was as mystified as @VegOS and I’m still not sure it really makes sense.

The petition is addressed “[t]o state lawmakers in Oregon, Connecticut, New Mexico and across America.” It urges legislators to pass a National Popular Vote bill which would presumably allocate electors by popular vote rather than according to a winner-take-all system currently in place in all but a couple states. Apparently “it only needs the support of enough states to equal 270 electoral votes to pass. 10 states are on board, and 4 have pending legislation, so it’s already 3/4 of the way there!”[1] Oregon, Connecticut, and New Mexico all voted for Hillary Clinton under the winner-take-all system; there’s no way she can get more electoral votes from these states than she already has, but I guess the idea is that if all these states’ electoral votes and the electoral votes of the states that either have already adopted the plan or are considering it were allocated proportionally, that would push Clinton’s electoral college total to 270 or better. I don’t know if these numbers actually come out or not but it has the look of a “Hail Mary” pass.


The good and bad news is that “[Hillary] Clinton won the popular vote — the second time in 16 years that the Democratic candidate had gotten more votes than the Republican, but lost the electoral college. A switch in three states of only about 50,000 votes out of some 120 million cast nationwide would have been enough to give her the victory.”[2] I exaggerate a bit because there isn’t much good news here other than that neither of these awful candidates can claim a mandate. Continue reading Democrats must own Donald Trump

  1. [1]Avaaz, “Our last chance to stop Trump,” n.d., https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/national_vote_full/
  2. [2]Cathleen Decker, “For reeling Democrats, now what?” Los Angeles Times, November 10, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-clinton-democrats-20161109-story.html

Making enemies of the white working class

As I reflect further on Tuesday’s election result, in which Donald Trump has won the electoral college resoundingly, I am remembering a particular Facebook conversation in its wake. A white woman (in Utah, of all places) expressed bewilderment at the rise of hatred. I responded by posting a link to Michael Lerner’s excellent article on the damage neoliberal policies have wrought, especially to the working class, and how the working class needed to be included in social justice movements (this summary does not do anything like justice to his essay).[1] Another of her friends, a Black woman, responded to the effect that she was sick of hearing about poor whites. Continue reading Making enemies of the white working class

  1. [1]Michael Lerner, “Psychopathology in the 2016 Election,” Tikkun, November 3, 2016, http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/psychopathology-in-the-2016-election-3

Why Donald Trump won

Donald Trump has been elected to be the next U.S. president.[1] His Democratic Party opponent, Hillary Clinton, has conceded.[2] And on Facebook, I’m being accused of schadenfreude. Continue reading Why Donald Trump won

  1. [1]Tierney Sneed, “Trump wins in stunner,” Talking Points Memo, November 9, 2016, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/trump-wins-the-presidency
  2. [2]Lauren Fox, “Reports: Clinton Conceded To Trump Over The Phone,” Talking Points Memo, November 9, 2016, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/clinton-conceded-to-trump-over-the-phone

Rabbi Michael Lerner: Psychopathology in the 2016 Election

Republished from Tikkun by permission.

Psychopathology in the 2016 Election

by Michael Lerner
November 3, 2016

IT’S NO SECRET that the past several decades have witnessed
growing economic inequality and deepening economic insecurity for a
very large section of working people both in the U.S. and other
capitalist countries around the world. Yet what most analysts miss
are the hidden injuries of class that become dramatically
intensified when the underlying psychological and spiritual
dysfunction of global capitalism interacts with economic
insecurity. Right-wing, ultra-nationalist, fundamentalist, and/or
racist movements gain support as more people begin to lose faith in
the efficacy of democratic governments and turn to authoritarian
leaders in the hope that their own fears and pain can be
alleviated. This has been happening around the world, not just in
the U.S. As a nonprofit we are prohibited from endorsing any
political candidate or party, so the reflections here are not meant
to influence your voting in 2016, but to shape an agenda for how to
build a healthier and more just society in the coming decades.

In his presidential campaign, Senator Bernie Sanders addressed
some of these economic inequalities by advocating for New Deal-type
reforms, but he shied away from any systematic critique of the
capitalist order itself. Unfortunately for his supporters, in his
televised debates at least, Sanders failed to address the
psycho-spiritual pain in people’s lives caused by the hidden
psychic injuries of class and globalized capitalist ideologies.

This pain operates on two levels. On a psychological level
people are suffering because they have absorbed the capitalist
message: “You live in a meritocracy, so you get what you deserve,
and if you haven’t achieved the level of success you want, it’s
your fault. Moreover, everyone is out for him or herself so you
have to maximize your own self-interest, regardless of the impact
on others.”

Continue reading Rabbi Michael Lerner: Psychopathology in the 2016 Election

A false dichotomy view of politics

Voters in the United States have become accustomed to voting for “the lesser of two evils,” that is, the major party candidate they dislike the least in a two-party system. There are a number of problems with the two-party system, including as Howard Zinn pointed out, that “[t]o give people a choice between two different parties and allow them, in a period of rebellion, to choose the slightly more democratic one was an ingenious mode of control.”[1] That the system would allow “reform that would not yield too much,”[2] that is, “reform” that does not threaten the elites, in “[t]he Jacksonian idea . . . to achieve stability and control.”[3] The system prevents alternative ideas from being considered, so if you oppose war or neoliberalism, or if you favor serious efforts to protect the environment, you have no candidate to vote for. Continue reading A false dichotomy view of politics

  1. [1]Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: HarperPerennial, 2005), 217.
  2. [2]Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: HarperPerennial, 2005), 218.
  3. [3]Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: HarperPerennial, 2005), 217.

Yes, Hillary Clinton must answer for Bill Clinton’s sexual assaults

Dylan Matthews at Vox has written an ‘explainer’ in which he accepts that Bill Clinton raped Juanita Broaddrick but doubts that Hillary Clinton meant to intimidate her into silence.[1] The article is prompted by Donald Trump’s appearance with “three [emphasis added] women who allege the former president sexually assaulted them” preceding his debate with Hillary Clinton.[2] Continue reading Yes, Hillary Clinton must answer for Bill Clinton’s sexual assaults

  1. [1]Dylan Matthews, “Juanita Broaddrick’s case against Hillary Clinton, explained,” Vox, October 9, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/10/9/13221340/juanita-broaddrick-hillary-clinton-rape
  2. [2]British Broadcasting Corporation, “US election: Trump says obscene remarks were ‘locker room talk,'” October 10, 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-us-2016-37604151

Congress didn’t go far enough in overriding Barack Obama’s veto of JASTA

Note, September 30, 2016: This post has been updated in line.

On learning that Congress had overridden Barack Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a law limiting sovereign immunity for Saudi Arabia against lawsuits in connection with the 9/11 attacks,[1] I wondered how one defends sovereign immunity.[2] Continue reading Congress didn’t go far enough in overriding Barack Obama’s veto of JASTA

  1. [1]Ted Barrett, “Congress overrides Obama’s veto of 9/11 bill,” CNN, September 28, 2016, http://money.cnn.com/2016/09/28/news/override-obama-veto-911-bill/index.html
  2. [2]David Benfell, “‘Sovereign immunity’ threatened as 9/11 victims may now sue Saudi Arabia,” (Almost) Daily Bullshit, September 28, 2016, https://parts-unknown.org/reading/2016/09/28/sovereign-immunity-threatened-as-911-victims-may-now-sue-saudi-arabia-daily-bullshit-september-27-28-2016/

Education for robots

This is a misleading excerpt:

Class of 2020, welcome to college… Building a bridge to the 16th century must seem like a perverse prescription for today’s ills. I’m the first to admit that English Renaissance pedagogy was rigid and rightly mocked for its domineering pedants. Few of you would be eager to wake up before 6 a.m. to say mandatory prayers, or to be lashed for tardiness, much less translate Latin for hours on end every day of the week. It would be hard to design a system more antithetical to our own contemporary ideals of student-centered, present-focused, and career-oriented education. Yet this system somehow managed to nurture world-shifting thinkers, including those who launched the Scientific Revolution. This education fostered some of the very habits of mind endorsed by both the National Education Association and the Partnership for 21st Century Learning: critical thinking; clear communication; collaboration; and creativity. (To these ‘4Cs,’ I would add ‘curiosity.’) Given that your own education has fallen far short of those laudable goals, I urge you to reconsider Shakespeare’s intellectual formation: that is, not what he purportedly thought — about law or love or leadership — but how he thought. An apparently rigid educational system could, paradoxically, induce liberated thinking.[1]

I found this passage in Prufrock, a traditionalist conservative literary newsletter. But if the intent, and how could it be otherwise, was to entice me to read the original article, it succeeded brilliantly. I was drawn to the article from which it is drawn out of both a sense of horror and curiosity as to how one might justify such an approach. Continue reading Education for robots

  1. [1]Scott L. Newstok, quoted in Micah Mattix to Prufrock mailing list, August 30, 2016, http://us9.campaign-archive1.com/home/?u=09f1740da57f3d9169001129e&id=e676795940