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Ralph Northam should read these books to better understand racism, historians say

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Ralph Northam says he refuses to resign but is willing to read some books instead. One of his picks is a novel. Hmm.

James Hohmann in his Daily 202 column in the Washington Post has some ideas. From that column:

First, however, Northam says he wants to read up on race. He told The Washington Post that he has reviewed “The Case for Reparations,” a 2014 article in the Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates, as well as a few chapters from “Roots,” by Alex Haley. “I have a lot more to learn,” Northam told my colleague Greg Schneider on Saturday. “The more I know, the more I can do.”

First lady Pam Northam, who has urged her husband to remain in office, is also tackling the subject. She’s reading “We Face the Dawn,” by Margaret Edds, which tells the story of two Virginia lawyers who were involved in Brown v. Board of Education.

— “Roots” is famous because ABC adapted the novel into a television miniseries in 1977, but it is a work of fiction. There are vastly better books to learn about the true history of race in America. I reached out on Sunday to some of the nation’s preeminent historians to ask if they would recommend a title or two for Northam. Several happen to live in the commonwealth. More than a dozen scholars sent suggestions for what the governor should be reading. Taken together, their inspired ideas form quite a strong syllabus for Northam to start his remedial studies.

“Virginia’s history has inspired some of the most powerful and searching works in the history of the United States,” said Edward Ayers, the president emeritus of the University of Richmond. “Historians have evoked, at a human scale and with careful research, every era from the two-and-a-half centuries of slavery through the Civil War and Reconstruction, into the generations of Jim Crow and disfranchisement, into the struggles of the 20th and 21st centuries. I think that grounding his understanding in particular Virginia places is the best way to begin to comprehend a history heartbreaking in its cruelty and inspiring in the resilience of those who were wronged.”

Ayers, who won the 2004 Bancroft Prize for “In the Presence of Mine Enemies,” an extraordinary narrative of the Civil War, recommends that Northam begin with Edmund Morgan’s “American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia,” which came out in 1975.

If Northam wants to learn about how slavery evolved during the 17th century on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where he grew up, Ayers thinks the governor should look to “Myne Owne Ground,” by Timothy Breen and Stephen Innes.

“Reading firsthand testimony from the narrative of Oloudah Equiano, an African man enslaved in Virginia, and from Thomas Jefferson’s ‘Notes on the State of Virginia,’ where he tries to explain away racial subjugation through the language of science, would be eye-opening,” Ayers added.

For a glimpse at the slave trade that ravaged families only a few hundred yards from the Virginia State Capitol, Ayers suggests “Slaves Waiting for Sale,” by Maurie McInnis. For an understanding of Richmond itself, the professor floats Gregg Kimball’s “American City, Southern Place: A Cultural History of Antebellum Richmond.

During the period between the Revolution and the Civil War, Virginia became the largest slave state and the state that saw the largest numbers of families devastated by the domestic slave trade. To understand that awful chapter, Ayers recommends Northam looks at “Life in Black and White,” which focuses on Northern Virginia, by Brenda Stevenson. He also suggests “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” by Annette Gordon-Reed.

— Gordon-Reed, a Harvard historian who earned the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for “The Hemingses,” suggests a book by Philip Morgan that might appeal to Northam: Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake & Lowcountry.” She also recommends “The Captive’s Quest for Freedom” about the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, by Richard Blackett, and “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832,” by Alan Taylor.

— Taylor, a historian at the University of Virginia who received the 2014 Pulitzer for “The Internal Enemy,” recommends that Northam read Coates’s full-length book “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy,” in addition to his magazine piece. Taylor also offered Edmund Morgan’s “American Slavery, American Freedom” and “White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812,” by Winthrop Jordan.

— “He has to start with W.E.B. DuBois’s ‘The Souls of Black Folk,’” said Columbia University historian Eric Foner, who received the Pulitzer in 2011 for “The Fiery Trial,” which tracks Abraham Lincoln’s evolving views on slavery. Foner also suggested Michael Honey’s recent book on Martin Luther King Jr., which “gives us a much better picture of the man and his ideas than the sanitized King trotted out on MLK Day,” and David Blight’s “Prophet of Freedom,” a biography of Frederick Douglass published last fall.

— New York University professor Steven Hahn, who won the 2004 Pulitzer for “A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South From Slavery to the Great Migration,” named an older book by Blight, Race and Reunion,” which explored the Civil War in America’s collective memory. He also suggested “The Strange Career of Jim Crow,” the C. Vann Woodward classic. “If anyone doubts how deep racism is in the country’s DNA,” Hahn said, “Northam, Herring and [Eastern Virginia Medical School] have shown us.”

— Caroline Janney, who runs the University of Virginia’s Center for Civil War History, recommends Northam begin with Robert Penn Warren’s “Legacy of the Civil War.” “It was written for the centennial of the war amid the civil rights movement,” she said. “It is an excellent, short place to start to understand the long arm of not only the war, but the tangled and complicated history of race and memory of slavery in the United States.” She also suggested “Making Whiteness,” by Grace Hale, a colleague at U-Va.

— The governor inadvertently underscored just how limited his starting knowledge of racial history is when he sat down with CBS. Gayle King started their interview with this open-ended question: “Where would you like to begin?” Northam replied: “We are now at the 400-year anniversary — just 90 miles from here in 1619 — the first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores.” The host interjected. “Also known as slavery,” she said. “Yes,” the governor replied.

“The first Africans brought to Virginia were captured in Angola and brought in a slave ship, but Virginia did not have a formal legal system for slavery in 1619,” Fenit Nirappil explains. “There appears to be some ambiguity over their legal status, with some still forced to work for life while others had a path to freedom, according to the National Park Service. Asked to clarify Northam’s remarks, a spokeswoman for the governor pointed to news accounts that said Africans were treated as indentured servants before slave laws were written.”

— After watching Northam’s interview, U-Va. historian Sarah Milov said two books came to mind that might help set him straight. In “Saltwater Slavery,” Stephanie Smallwood writes about the physical processes of enslavement — and the social dislocation it caused — from the Middle Passage to the Americas. “Gov. Northam would be unlikely to mistake slavery for indentured servitude after reading this book, which notes how Virginia decisively turned away from English indentured servants toward African captives in the late 17th century,” she emailed.

Milov was also struck by Northam’s rationale for refusing to resign. The governor emphasized that he was a doctor in the Army and a pediatric neurologist in Norfolk as a civilian. “Right now, Virginia needs someone that can heal,” Northam said on CBS. “There’s no better person to do that than a doctor.” She thinks Northam ought to read “Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of Gynecology,” by Deirdre Cooper Owens. “This book might help Dr. Northam better understand the history of medical experimentation on enslaved black women, including by the ‘father of modern gynecology,’” she said. “Perhaps the governor might see the irony in his claim … that ‘nobody better than a doctor to heal the wound.’”

Justene Hill Edwards, another historian at U-Va., suggests “The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class,” by David Roediger, and “Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life,” by Karen Fields and Barbara Fields.

— “It’s shocking to me that a white Democratic politician from a Southern state in the year 2019 — one who depends on massive turnout and political organization from black Virginians — was so in need of remedial education that he didn’t know what Rootswas all about,” said Cornell University’s Ed Baptist, the author of “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.” Baptist’s book focuses more on the internal slave trade than the importation of slaves from Africa, and he shows how the transportation of enslaved people from Virginia and Maryland fueled the cotton plantation economy of the Deep South. Baptist, who grew up in North Carolina, recommended three readable books by academic historians so he could understand how slavery shaped the United States, whites’ dependence on it and black resistance to it: “They Were Her Property,” by Stephanie Jones-Rogers; “Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance,” by Stephanie Camp; and “The Price for Their Pound of Flesh,” by Daina Ramey Berry.

Baptist also suggested three other non-historical accounts: Jesmyn Ward’s novel “Sing, Unburied, Sing”; Kiese Laymon’s memoir “Heavy”; and Tressie McMillan Cottom’s “Thick,” a new book of essays published last month about the impact of racism on black women’s bodies in contemporary America. Cottom is a sociologist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

— Former Spelman University president Beverly Daniel Tatum wrote the classic “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria,” which poignantly explores the psychology of racism. She recommends “White Fragility,” by Robin DiAngelo, which Tatum said “addresses why it is so hard for white adults to recognize their own complicity in the perpetuation of racism.” To better understand racial history as it relates to the current political moment, she also thinks Northam needs to read “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide,” by Carol Anderson, and “America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America,” by Jim Wallis. Tatum also suggests “Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” by Ibram X. Kendi, who directs American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center. “So many to choose from,” said Tatum. “I hope he does read some of these!”

Written by LeisureGuy

11 February 2019 at 10:06 am

The Green New Deal Takes Its First Congressional Baby Step, as Pelosi Mocks “Green Dream or Whatever”

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Not only have battle lines been drawn, apparently the battle has begun. I’m against Nancy on this one, regardless of whatever deal the Dems have struck with the medical industry (nurses, doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies—Democrats are to represent the interests of the public against those arrayed powers. It is supposed to be the Democratic party representing and defending the interests of the patients. Democrats are supposed to be serving the public: public servants. But I see many who are serving their own interests, not the interests of the public. Well, just look at Trump’s cabinet: industry lobbyists in charge of departments whose duties include regulating that very industry. I know how AOC would stand on this, and I’m pretty sure I can guess from certain subtle clues she’s dropped how Nancy Pelosi stands.

Kate Aronoff reports in the Intercept:

THE FIRST HAND of the Green New Deal has been dealt. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., on Thursday unveiled a five-page, nonbinding resolution that frames a 10-year “national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization” to confront the climate crisis.

The plan envisions the creation of millions of “good, high-wage jobs” and will serve to “counteract systemic injustices.”

The resolution sets a framework for legislation to be hashed out over the next two years, and gives Ocasio-Cortez, Markey, and climate groups something to organize around.

Their goal is to meet 100 percent of the demand for power in the U.S. with “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources,” in line with the scientific consensus on climate change, as well as to provide “all people of the United States” with clean air and water, “healthy and affordable food,” high-quality health care, “affordable, safe, and adequate housing,” and economic security.

As part and parcel of this transition, the resolution calls for a federal jobs guarantee, a massive infrastructure build-out, building efficiency upgrades and robust investment in public transit, to name just a few of the measures listed. It would ensure a dignified quality of life for workers and communities that rely on coal, oil, and natural gas jobs (“a fair and just transition”), and says that steps toward reaching zero-emissions — such as building new wind turbines — should not impose on indigenous peoples’ land rights or abuse the power of eminent domain. A full plan, the resolution states, will be developed “in transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.”

The resolution provides the most detail yet of what Ocasio-Cortez and company mean by a Green New Deal, but it does not map out precisely what a Green New Deal will entail. If the House had created a Select Committee on a Green New Deal, per Ocasio-Cortez’s original resolution, that would have been the two-yearlong mandate of a team of policymakers and experts. In laying the groundwork for an eventual legislative package, the document will create pressure on the select panel created by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in lieu of the one called for by Ocasio-Cortez. Dubbed the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, it will be chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla.

Pelosi on Thursday morning announced Ocasio-Cortez would not be on that select committee, though she was approached for a seat and declined to join. In a separate interview with Politico, Pelosi mocked the notion of a Green New Deal. “It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive,” she said. “The green dream or whatever they call it — nobody knows what it is but they’re for it right?”

Ocasio-Cortez, at a press conference unveiling the resolution, was asked repeatedly about Pelosi’s dig, but . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 February 2019 at 12:23 pm

Top Nancy Pelosi Aide Privately Tells Insurance Executives Not to Worry About Democrats Pushing “Medicare for All”

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This indicates that corporations and the wealthy maintain a firm grip on the US government and can easily bend it to their will. We really need more like AOC in Congress, who clearly are willing to fight for the public good against entrenched power. Many more, and soon.

The aptly named Ryan Grim reports in the Intercept:

LESS THAN A month after Democrats — many of them running on “Medicare for All” — won back control of the House of Representatives in November, the top health policy aide to then-prospective House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Blue Cross Blue Shield executives and assured them that party leadership had strong reservations about single-payer health care and was more focused on lowering drug prices, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

Pelosi adviser Wendell Primus detailed five objections to Medicare for All and said that Democrats would be allies to the insurance industry in the fight against single-payer health care. Primus pitched the insurers on supporting Democrats on efforts to shrink drug prices, specifically by backing a number of measures that the pharmaceutical lobby is opposing.

Primus, in a slide presentation obtained by The Intercept, criticized single payer on the basis of cost (“Monies are needed for other priorities”), opposition (“Stakeholders are against; Creates winners and losers”), and “implementation challenges.” We have recreated the slides for source protection purposes.

. . .

Democrats, Primus said, are united around the concept of universal coverage, but see strengthening the Affordable Care Act as the means to that end. He made his presentation to the Blue Cross executives on December 4. “We don’t discuss private meetings, if there was such a meeting,” said a BCBS spokesperson. Primus said that he did not discuss any kind of deal with the insurers. Henry Connelly, a spokesperson for Pelosi, said that the assessment of single payer was not related to any dealmaking with the industry. “We’re not going to barter lower prescription drug costs for inaction in the rest of the health care industry. The presentation was a broad look at the health care environment and some of House Democrats’ legislative priorities over the next two years in a period of GOP control of the Senate and White House,” Connelly said.

The debate over Medicare for All is playing out on a number of different levels, with no clear consensus over how the government-run, single-payer health plan ought to take shape. Presidential candidates are arguing over whose plan is stronger and gets to full Medicare for All faster, with a debate raging over whether private insurance should be banned outright or operate in addition to universal Medicare coverage.

In the House, even as the idea has picked up momentum with voters and members of the Democratic caucus, Democratic leadership has remained deeply skeptical. Pelosi’s consistent messaging, instead, has been around protecting the Affordable Care Act and lowering prescription drug prices.

“Speaker Pelosi has ensured that Medicare for All will have hearings in the House and tapped Congressman Brian Higgins to take the lead on Medicare buy-in legislation. For the first time, House committees will be seriously examining and tackling some of the questions and possible solutions raised by Medicare for All legislation,” said Connelly.

“The biggest obstacles facing Medicare for All right now are Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump,” he added.  “But in the near term, there is a window for Democrats to press Trump to help pass aggressive legislation to negotiate down the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs.”

Primus concluded his presentation with a bullet point that summarized Pelosi’s mission on health care: “Lower your health care costs and prescription drug prices.” . . .

[another slide show – LG] . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. I can see why people feel powerless: Corporations and politicians divvy up the power and the loot. The public is the mine.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 February 2019 at 12:14 pm

John Dingell: My last words for America

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From the Washington Post:

John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. He dictated these reflections to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), at their home in Dearborn, on Feb. 7, the day he died.

One of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts.

In our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition.

And much as I have found Twitter to be a useful means of expression, some occasions merit more than 280 characters.

My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.

Think about it:

Impoverishment of the elderly because of medical expenses was a common and often accepted occurrence. Opponents of the Medicare program that saved the elderly from that cruel fate called it “socialized medicine.” Remember that slander if there’s a sustained revival of silly red-baiting today.

Not five decades ago, much of the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth — our own Great Lakes — were closed to swimming and fishing and other recreational pursuits because of chemical and bacteriological contamination from untreated industrial and wastewater disposal. Today the Great Lakes are so hospitable to marine life that one of our biggest challenges is controlling the invasive species that have made them their new home.

We regularly used and consumed foods, drugs, chemicals and other things (cigarettes) that were legal, promoted and actively harmful. Hazardous wastes were dumped on empty plots in the dead of night. There were few if any restrictions on industrial emissions. We had only the barest scientific knowledge of the long-term consequences of any of this.

And there was a great stain on America, in the form of our legacy of racial discrimination. There were good people of all colors who banded together, risking and even losing their lives to erase the legal and other barriers that held Americans down. In their time they were often demonized and targeted, much like other vulnerable men and women today.

Please note: All of these challenges were addressed by Congress. Maybe not as fast as we wanted, or as perfectly as hoped. The work is certainly not finished. But we’ve made progress — and in every case, from the passage of Medicare through the passage of civil rights, we did it with the support of Democrats and Republicans who considered themselves first and foremost to be Americans.

I’m immensely proud, and eternally grateful, for having had the opportunity to play a part in all of these efforts during my service in Congress. And it’s simply not possible for me to adequately repay the love that my friends, neighbors and family have given me and shown me during my public service and retirement.

But I would be remiss in not acknowledging the forgiveness and sweetness of the woman who has essentially supported me for almost 40 years: my wife, Deborah. And it is a source of great satisfaction to know that she is among the largest group of women to have ever served in the Congress (as she busily recruits more).

In my life and career I have often heard it said that so-and-so has real power — as in, “the powerful Wile E. Coyote, chairman of the Capture the Road Runner Committee.”

It’s an expression that has always grated on me. In democratic government, elected officials do not have power. They holdpower — in trust for the people who elected them. If they misuse or abuse that public trust, it is quite properly revoked (the quicker the better).

I never forgot the people who gave me the privilege of representing them. It was a lesson learned at home from my father and mother, and one I have tried to impart to the people I’ve served with and employed over the years.

As I prepare to leave this all behind, I now leave you in control of the greatest nation of mankind and pray God gives you the wisdom to understand the responsibility you hold in your hands.

May God bless you all, and may God bless America.


Written by LeisureGuy

8 February 2019 at 1:14 pm

Social Democracy described

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Social Democrats believe in Social Democracy, and Sheri Berman Associate Professor of Political Science at Barnard College of Columbia University has a PDF that explains what it is. Her explanation begins:

For the first half of the twentieth century, Europe was the most turbulent region on earth, convulsed by war, economic crisis, and social and political conflict. For the second half of the century, it was among the most placid, a study in harmony and prosperity. What changed?

Two narratives commonly emerge in answer to this question. The first focuses on the struggle between democracy and its alternatives, pitting liberalism against fascism, National Socialism, and Marxist-Leninism. The second focuses on competition between capitalism and its alternatives, pitting liberals against socialists and communists. Democratic capitalism is simply the best, indeed the “natural” form of societal organization, these stories assert, and once Western Europe fully embraced it, all was well.

This account obviously contains some truth: the century did witness a struggle between democracy and its enemies and the market and its alternatives. But it is only a partial truth, because it overlooks a crucial point: democracy and capitalism were historically at odds. An indispensable element of their joint victory, therefore, was the discovery of some way for them to coexist. In practice, that turned out to mean a willingness to use political power to protect citizens from the ravages of untrammeled markets. The ideology that triumphed was not liberalism, as the “End of History” folks would have it, it was social democracy.

If this sounds surprising or overblown it is because social democracy rarely gets either the respect or in-depth ideological analysis it deserves. As a result, a force that has altered the course of European politics in the past and could do so again in the future remains strangely obscure. 3 One reason for this neglect is a simple confusion of terms. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many socialists adopted the label “social democrat” to differentiate themselves from other socialists who did not accept democracy. But these figures often agreed on little beyond the rejection of an insurrectionary or violent route to power, making their grouping of limited analytical use. Today the situation is similar, with a wide range of individuals and very different political parties identifying themselves as social democratic and having little in common save some vaguely leftist sentiments and fervent desire not to be identified as communist.

Modern scholars, meanwhile, have often failed to appreciate social democracy’s ideological distinctiveness. Most work on the subject in recent decades adopts one of two perspectives. The first, often espoused by critics, sees social democracy as an unstable halfway house between Marxism and liberalism, cobbled together from elements of incompatible traditions. In this view social democrats are socialists without the courage of revolutionary conviction or socialists who have chosen ballots over bullets.1 The second perspective, often held by supporters, sees the movement as an effort to implement particular policies or uphold certain values. In this view social democrats are basically the champions of the welfare state, or “equality,” or “solidarity.”2 Each of these views contains some truth, but both miss the larger picture. Correctly understood, social democracy is far more than a particular political program. Nor is it a compromise between Marxism and liberalism. And neither should it apply to any individual or party with vaguely leftist sympathies and an antipathy to communism. Instead, social democracy, at least as originally conceived, represented a full-fledged alternative to both Marxism and liberalism that had at its core a distinctive belief in the primacy of politics and communitarianism. The key to understanding its true nature lies in the circumstances of its birth.

The Story of Social Democracy

With the onset of the industrial revolution, liberalism emerged as the first modern political and economic ideology. As capitalism spread across Europe during the nineteenth century, liberalism provided both an explanation of and a justification for the transformations the new system brought. Liberals promulgated a faith in progress, a belief that the market could deliver the greatest good to the greatest number, and the conviction that states should interfere as little as possible in the lives of individuals. Indeed, there was such a match between the times and the ideology that the nineteenth century has often been called the “age of liberalism.”3

Yet by the middle of the century the bloom was already off the rose. The practical consequences of early capitalism—especially the dramatic inequalities, social dislocation, and atomization it engendered—led to a backlash against liberalism and a search for alternatives.4 The most important and powerful challenge on the left came from Marxism and by the last decades of the nineteenth century, a scientific and deterministic version of Marxism (which was largely codified by Marx’s collaborator and leading apostle, Friedrich Engels, and popularized by the “pope of socialism,” Karl Kautsky) had established itself as the official ideology of much of the international socialist movement.5

The most distinctive features of this doctrine were historical materialism and class struggle which combined argued that history was propelled forward not by changes in human consciousness or behavior, but rather by economic development and the resulting shifts in social relationships. As Engels put it, “The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that…the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in man’s better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy but in the economics of each particular epoch.”6 As one observer noted, what historical materialism offered was an “obstetric” view of history: since capitalism had within it the seeds of the future socialist society, socialists had only to wait for economic development to push the system’s internal contradictions to the point where the emergence of the new order would require little more than some midwifery.7 And in this drama the role of midwife was played by class struggle and in particular by the proletariat. As Kautsky put it, “economic evolution inevitably brings on conditions that will compel the exploited classes to rise against this system of private ownership.”8 With each passing day, ever larger would grow the group of “propertyless workers for whom the existing system [would become] unbearable; who have nothing to lose by its downfall but everything to gain” 9

As time passed, however, orthodox Marxism began to run into trouble. To begin with, many of Marx’s predictions failed to come true. By the fin-de-siècle European capitalism had developed renewed vigor after a long depression and bourgeois states had begun undertaking important political, economic, and social reforms. Just as Marxism’s failings as a guide to history were becoming clear, moreover, criticism arose within the international socialist movement regarding its inadequacy as a guide to constructive political action. Parties acting in Marx’s name had become important political players in a number of European countries by the end of the nineteenth century, but orthodox Marxism could not furnish them with a strategy for using their power to achieve any practical goals. Orthodox Marxist thought had little to say about the role of political organizations in general, since it considered economic forces rather than political activism to be the prime mover of history.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, therefore, many on the left faced a troubling dilemma: Capitalism was flourishing, but the economic injustices and social fragmentation that had motivated the Marxist project in the first place remained. Orthodox Marxism offered only a counsel of passivity—of waiting for the contradictions within capitalism to bring the system down, which seemed both highly unlikely and increasingly unpalatable. Orthodox Marxism’s passive economism also did little to meet the psychopolitical needs of mass populations under economic and social stress. The last years of the nineteenth century, like those at the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twentyfirst, were marked by a wave of globalization and rapid and disorienting change.This caused immense unease in European societies and critics, not just on the left but increasingly now on the nationalist right, increasingly railed against the glorification of self-interest and rampant individualism, the erosion of traditional values and communities, and the rise of social dislocation, atomization, and fragmentation that capitalism brought in its wake.10 Orthodox Marxism had little to offer those interested in actively responding to capitalism’s downsides (rather than merely waiting for its collapse) and little sympathy or understanding for growing communitarian and nationalist sentiment. It was against this backdrop and in response to these frustrations that the social democratic movement emerged.

As the nineteenth century drew to its close, several socialists realized that if their desired political outcome was not going to come about because it was inevitable (as Marx, Engels, and many of their influential followers believed), then it would have to be achieved as a result of human action. Some dissidents, such as Lenin, felt it could be imposed, and set out to spur history along through the politico-military efforts of a revolutionary vanguard. Others felt that it could be made desirable, and thus emerge through the collective efforts of human beings motivated by a belief in a higher good.

Within this latter “revisionist” camp, two distinct strands of thinking emerged. The first was revolutionary and epitomized by the work of Georges Sorel.11 For Sorel, a radical and perhaps violent overthrow of the existing order seemed the surest path to a better future. Socialism, in this view, would emerge from “active combat that would destroy the existing state of things.”12 The second strand of revisionism was democratic and epitomized by the work of Eduard Bernstein. Like Sorel, Bernstein believed that socialism would emerge from an active struggle for a better world, but unlike Sorel he thought this struggle could and should take a democratic and evolutionary form. Where Sorel’s work would help lay the groundwork for fascism, Bernstein’s would help lay the groundwork for social democracy.

Bernstein attacked the two main pillars of orthodox Marxism–historical materialism and class struggle–and argued for an alternative based on the primacy of politics and cross class cooperation. His observations about capitalism led him to believethat it was not leading to an increasing concentration of wealth and the immiseration of society, but rather was becoming increasingly complex and adaptable. Instead of waiting until capitalism collapsed for socialism to emerge, therefore, he favored trying to actively reform the existing system. In his view the prospects for socialism depended “not on the decrease but on the increase of…wealth,” and on the ability of socialists to come up with “positive suggestions for reform” capable of spurring fundamental change.13 Bernstein’s loss of belief in the inevitability of socialism led him to appreciate the potential for human will and political action. Orthodox Marxists’ faith in historical materialism, he felt, had bred a dangerous political passivity that would cost them the enthusiasm of the masses. He felt the doctrine of inevitable class struggle shared the same fatal flaws, being both historically inaccurate and politically debilitating. There was actually a natural community of interest between workers and the vast majority of society that suffered from the injustices of the capitalist system, he argued, and socialists should regard dissatisfied elements of the middle classes and peasantry as potential allies ready to be converted to the cause.

Bernstein’s arguments were echoed by a small but growing number of dissident socialists across Europe, who shared an emphasis on a political path to socialism rather than its necessity, and on cross-class cooperation rather than class conflict. During the last years of the nineteenth and the first years of the twentieth century . . .

Continue reading.

The footnotes are included with the text at the link. Since we are seeing Social Democrats (Bernie Sanders, Alexadra Ocasio-Cortez, et al.) emerge as influential political actors, it seems a good idea to understand their outlook.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 February 2019 at 2:19 pm

A Onetime Rising Democratic Star Faces Questions About Voter Privacy

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Democrats have their own bad actors, but I think Democrats tend to expose (and in this case possibly prosecute) them. Jessica Huseman, ProPublica, and Daniel Desrochers, Lexington Herald-Leader, report:

This story, the first of a three-part series, was co-published with the Lexington Herald-Leader.

In an appearance on MSNBC in July 2017, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes expressed her vehement opposition to giving voter data to President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission, which had requested it from election officials in all 50 states. The privacy risks were simply too high, she said.

“There is not enough bourbon here in Kentucky to make this request seem sensible,” Grimes said. “Not on my watch are we going to be releasing sensitive information that relates to the privacy of individuals.”

But beginning months before she made that statement, Grimes’ own staff had been looking up hundreds of voters in the very same registration system. One of her former staffers first revealed the practice last summer but provided little detail.

Now, an investigation by ProPublica and the Lexington Herald-Leader shows that the searches were extensive and targeted prominent state politicians, including gubernatorial candidate Rocky Adkins, who could have been Grimes’ opponent in the Democratic primary. Grimes, who had been considering a bid, announced last week that she has decided not to run for the governorship.

Grimes’ luster has dimmed of late. She was seen as a rising Democratic star when, at age 35, she ran a doomed race against Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2014. Now, three state agencies are pursuing investigations against her office — a result of complaints filed by numerous state employees and officials. At least four have quietly filed complaints with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission; two others have complained publicly. (In addition, Grimes’ father was indicted on federal charges for allegedly making illegal campaign contributions to her 2014 Senate campaign; he has pleaded not guilty.) Grimes has defended her conduct.

Grimes’ staff made questionable use of its unprecedented access to the voter registration system, or VRS. They looked up applicants for non-political positions with the seeming purpose of discovering their party affiliation. State law prohibits inquiring as to whether such applicants are Republicans or Democrats.

Her staff searched for hundreds of voters, mostly state employees outside the secretary of state’s office, for no discernible reason. Documents show they looked up current and former employees, a federal judge, the Kentucky education commissioner and every member of the Kentucky Board of Education.

They even searched for members of the ethics commission who are investigating Grimes herself.

Presented with questions from ProPublica and the Herald-Leader, Grimes took a two-pronged stance: She cast doubt on the accuracy of the logs that revealed the searches while defending her right to engage in such searches.

Grimes asserted that the search logs had “not been verified” despite the fact that similar logs were provided last August to the agencies investigating Grimes’ conduct, including the ethics commission, the state personnel board and a special prosecutor appointed by the Kentucky attorney general. She also said it “boggles my mind” that anyone would criticize her access to the system given that she is the state’s “chief elections official.”

On Jan. 24, six nights after ProPublica and the Herald-Leader posed questions about the VRS searches, Grimes went to Franklin Circuit Court in Frankfort. She filed a pre-emptive action requesting that a judge declare her right to gain access to the VRS. The suit names as defendants the executive director and assistant executive director of the Kentucky State Board of Elections or SBE, which is charged with overseeing the state’s elections and maintaining the voter rolls. (The executive director has filed an ethics complaint against Grimes.)

The filing asserts that Grimes’ office is “legally entitled to access the VRS pursuant to federal and Kentucky law. Indeed, access is necessary to perform the duties imposed on the Secretary of State by federal and Kentucky law.” The filing describes assertions that Grimes’ staff used the VRS to uncover party affiliations as “inaccurate” but goes on to assert that the office has the right to that information because Kentucky law requires the SBE staff to be bipartisan.

At least one Democratic election official in Kentucky takes a different view. “It’s inappropriate for the secretary of state’s office to have access at all,” said Don Blevins Jr., the clerk for Fayette County. “The fact that they’re abusing that privilege is no surprise.”

Grimes runs the first secretary of state’s office in Kentucky history to have such access. Trey Grayson, who held the position from 2004-11, said he could not think of a reason he or his staff would have needed it. Any need to access the system, he said, could have been accomplished by consulting the SBE. (The SBE is separate from the secretary of state’s office but closely linked to it; it’s chaired by the secretary of state.)

In fact, when Grayson served as secretary of state, Kentucky’s ethics commission ruled he could run for a Senate seat without recusing himself as chief elections officer expressly because he had no access to the rolls, which could have given him an advantage. The ethics commission has since said that opinion no longer stands in light of Grimes’ access.

Grayson said such separation “provided comfort for Kentuckians that no one person — specifically, the secretary of state — had too much authority over elections,” he said, adding that he and his predecessors “had the good sense to maintain that setup.”

State Sen. Damon Thayer introduced a bill several weeks ago that would block the secretary of state’s office and the board members of the SBE from accessing the VRS. The searches “make you pause,” Thayer said. “You wonder, is she conducting some sort of witch hunt?”

Grimes’ use of the VRS first raised questions in early 2017 when Matt Selph, then assistant executive director of the SBE, noticed that a voting precinct had been deleted from the system. He found that Grimes and seven of her staff members had administrative access to it.

It allowed her staff to see, and change, extensive personal data, though there’s no indication that they did so. One state official called the information “a starter kit for identity theft.” That access was then reduced to “read-only” in February 2017.

Pieces of the voter roll contained in Kentucky’s VRS have always been accessible. The public has the ability to search for a person’s party affiliation and voting precinct if they can supply a first name, last name and year of birth. Anyone can also buy a more extensive version of the voter roll for a fee. That version includes each voter’s full name, birth year, party affiliation, address, precinct and whether the voter has cast a ballot (but not for whom) in the past five years.

Internal access to the system reveals far more. Administrators can view voters’ drivers license numbers, every address ever linked to a voter, full birth dates, phone numbers, email addresses, Social Security numbers for some voters, disability status, military status and the addresses of voters — like domestic violence survivors — who have petitioned to have their address kept off the public roll.

Relatively few people have full access. County clerks and their deputies  . . .

Continue reading.  There’s more. Later in the article:

. . . Grimes says she no longer has access to the system, but her assistant secretary of state and elections director have maintained read-only privileges. Months after his discovery, Selph submitted a detailed 12-page complaint to the ethics commission and the board of the SBE, explaining his objections to her staff’s access to the VRS, among other things. The board voted to fire him shortly thereafter. (Selph has since filed a whistleblower suit against the state.)

Selph’s concerns have been echoed by current SBE Executive Director, Jared Dearing, and multiple county clerks, who say there is no legitimate reason for Grimes to have access to the database.

In August 2018, as part of his own complaint letter, Dearing first publicly accused Grimes and her staff of not only having inappropriate access, but also of searching for employees as well as job applicants in order to identify their political affiliation. . .

See also the second of the three-part series, co-published with the Lexington Herald-Leader. It begins:

The September 2018 meeting of the Kentucky State Board of Elections was strikingly contentious. There was shouting, cross-talk and threats to eject staff — all playing out in a public forum in front of TV cameras.

But the most unusual moment, perhaps, was this: Two board members moved to rescind the votes they had cast at the previous meeting, only three weeks before. They claimed that Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, whose position also makes her chairwoman of the State Board of Elections, or SBE, had essentially misled them into granting her unprecedented day-to-day power over the SBE. The board members’ efforts to void the resolution failed. Grimes cast the deciding vote.

Today, Grimes wields that new power over the SBE — and she’s facing a revolt by some staff as well as a loss of trust from many of the county clerks who administer elections, according to interviews with more than 30 people involved in the election-administration process, as well as documents and emails. “Alison has just got so much more access to things than any other secretary of state I’ve known,” said Julie Griggs, the clerk of McCracken County, who has worked in that office for 30 years. (Like Grimes, Griggs is a Democrat.) “It’s too much control for one person to have.”

Tension between Grimes’ office and the SBE has “turned our office upside down,” longtime SBE employee Sheila Walker wrote in an email to the board in August, adding that the agency had “never experienced anything like this in past years.”

Meanwhile, Grimes has slowed the process of cleaning the state’s voter rolls. That could put Kentucky out of compliance with an agreement it signed with the U.S. Department of Justice to improve the accuracy of its rolls. In an interview, Grimes denied the state was out of compliance.

Grimes asserts that as the state’s chief elections officer, it’s only natural that she exercises close control of both the secretary of state’s office and the SBE. She has cited the SBE’s resolution granting her day-to-day control of the agency as an endorsement of the breadth of her power. Consistent with the resolution and Kentucky law, Grimes has “taken an active role in the operations of the SBE,” according to a statementprovided by her legal team. The statement denied that she has introduced partisanship into the SBE.

Kentucky has long split election oversight between two agencies to reduce the possibility of partisan control, according to experts. The secretary of state manages the candidate nomination process, while the SBE handles almost all other state election functions, such as maintaining voter rolls and coordinating with the 120 county clerks in the state who oversee polling sites.

In keeping with the goal of nonpartisanship, past secretaries have presided over the board meetings of the SBE but allowed its staff to run day-to-day operations unfettered. “It appears that Grimes views the SBE as an arm of her office,” said Trey Grayson, who served as secretary of state from 2004-11. “I certainly didn’t.”

Three state agencies are now investigating what multiple SBE staff members have called a “power grab” by Grimes. The investigations largely originated with complaints by those staffers, who charged that Grimes was encroaching on the SBE’s responsibilities.

One aspect of the secretary of state’s response to the investigations suggests how closely the agency oversees the SBE: An assistant secretary of state, Erica Galyon, requested the right to sit in when investigators question SBE staffers, as did Luke Morgan, a lawyer that Grimes retained to represent the SBE.

That proposal did not go over well with the Kentucky Personnel Board, one of the agencies investigating Grimes. A lawyer for the Personnel Board emailed Galyon and Morgan, rejecting their request to be present. The email quoted messages from unnamed SBE staffers. One noted, “Our staff has been intimidated enough…is it possible to request that they not be there?” Another employee wrote, “We all just want to do our job and not be in constant fear of SOS staff retaliation.” (Grimes’ statement defended Morgan’s right to be present for the investigative interviews but did not address Galyon’s role.)

The power struggles have led to a stalemate. SBE staff is unwilling to trust the secretary of state’s office, which they’ve been told to report to, and Grimes has been stymied in her attempts to remove the SBE’s two top executives.

SBE employees say Grimes’ team is controlling even basic tasks. For example, they say they’ve been barred from meeting with third parties — including the Department of Homeland Security, which regularly assists states with cybersecurity services — without consulting the secretary’s office.

The SBE has been barred from having staff meetings without someone present from the secretary’s office. The SBE is also no longer allowed to handle its own public records requests. Document requests made to the SBE for this article were decided by the office of the secretary of state.

Asked what’s driving Grimes’ efforts to expand the scope of her role, her communications director, Lillie Ruschell, said, “I think  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. I sincerely hope Grimes is finished politically and professionally.

Update: Here’s the third report in the series: “The Curious Case of a Kentucky Cybersecurity Contract.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 February 2019 at 2:38 pm

Could President Sherrod Brown Revive the Labor Movement?

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A very interesting post by Kevin Drum, worth reading. And I agree: a vigorous and strong labor movement could help the working and middle class a lot, which is why Republicans fear, hate, and fight such a thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 January 2019 at 2:14 pm

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