Category Archives: General

Ferndale protest

Large protest this late afternoon in the modest town of Ferndale, Michigan. We started downtown, walked along Nine Mile Road and ended at Geary Park where a high school student and the mayor spoke eloquently on the need to come together and welcome all. I tried to estimate the size of the crowd: I would say a couple thousands, which is about 10% of a population of a bit over twenty thousand. Some of the signs: LOVE TRUMPs HATE; RƎVO⅃UTION.

trump trust

I’ve just been made aware by some science professors at UCSC that a petition is circulating to ask our president-elect to separate himself completely from his business interests via a blind trust. The petition can be signed at https://wh.gov/ie80r. I copy below the argument for the petition:

Over the last few days, the following transpired:

  1. Donald Trump claims ownership interests in numerous and anonymous companies, many of which proudly owe millions of dollars to foreign banks, have holdings in foreign countries as well as the United States, and that depend on government leases, contracts, and relationships. Several of his companies bear his name as its brand;
  2. In the past, Presidents have placed their assets in “blind trusts” during their Presidency or divested (sold) their interests in the companies. In a true blind trust, the beneficiaries (here, Mr. Trump) would have no knowledge whatsoever about any of the companies during his Presidency and would have no ability to intervene in any business decisions of those companies during his Presidency. This makes sense, right? If otherwise, the potential conflicts of interest are in every single Presidential decision;
  3. Two days ago, very quietly, and hidden behind all the hate filled rhetoric and media, Mr. Trump announced that he will ignore decades of precedent and prior Presidents’ sound practice of placing their assets in a true blind trust [not one merely denominated as one] or an equivalent arrangement or otherwise divesting their holdings in a manner that would avoid both actual conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety;
  4. Instead, Mr. Trump announced on November 10, 2016 that his adult children will run and/or own and profit from his assets during his Presidency, many of which bear his name and which involve the licensing of his name;
  5. Mr. Trump has also declared the same adult children will be on his Transition team, in charge of selecting his Cabinet and staff members;
  6. These decisions have the effect of improperly and corruptly monetizing the Office of President of the United States for the benefit of Mr. Trump’s immediate family and expose that Office and President-Elect Trump to an unprecedented potential for conflicts of interest;
  7. Further, the decision to place all of his adult children on his Transition Executive Committee makes each political appointee in his administration beholden to Mr. Trump’s children for his or her job (the same adult children who will be running his businesses);
  8. Worse, Mr. Trump’s complete refusal to release any personal or business tax returns and their supporting documents leaves State Electors unable to conduct the appropriate “due diligence” on Mr. Trump that he himself would demand in his own businesses. Because of his flat refusal, we and the State Electors have no idea who he owes money to (and he brags about borrowing millions of dollars, from whom?), what foreign financial institutions have leverage or control over his businesses, or any other financial conflict of interest. We are only left to guess; and
  9. Once the Electoral College has voted (currently set for December 19) and the Presidential vote is certified and announced (currently set for January 6, 2017), there will be no formal check on President-Elect Trump’s inevitable conflicts of interest short of impeachment and a constitutional crisis.

These potential conflicts of interest are unprecedented. We need to act now.

Here is where we currently stand:

Each state has state Electors responsible for casting that state’s electoral votes. On Tuesday, November 8, the country voted to provide guidance to their respective state Electors on how to cast the state’s electoral vote (i.e., Colorado has 9 electoral votes; California has 55; Texas has 38). The electoral vote is currently scheduled for December 19, 2016. The constitution does not require adherence to any popular vote, state or federal, although Electors could surely be informed by it. However, in an election like this one, where 2 million more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton nationwide (estimated that she will end up winning national popular vote by 5 million votes), the state Electors need to be informed voters now more than ever. Tellingly, no state Elector has ever been fined, prosecuted, other otherwise formally censured for failing to follow his or her party’s direction as to a vote or his or her State’s law requiring a certain vote.

OK — SO — NOW WHAT?

This evening, I filed a formal White House Petition asking that VP Joe Biden, as President of the Senate require that Mr. Trump provide to state Electors his federal income tax returns and supporting documents for 2006-2015 by December 12, 2016, to enable Electors, before they vote, to
1. assess his qualifications to serve as President without impeachable conflicts of interest or the appearance of impropriety given his adult children’s continuing association with his companies and Transition and his failure to release tax returns; or
2. switch their vote unless he places his assets in a true blind trust or otherwise properly divests them by December 19, 2016.

If my petition gets 150 signatures, the petition goes public on the White House website. BUT, if I get 100,000 within 30 days, the White House has to respond. Here is my concern, the White House says it will respond within 60 days of reaching 100,000 signatures. By that time the vote will have passed and we will have missed our opportunity to determine the depth of the conflicts of interest. My hope is that if we crush the threshold (at least 1 million signatures) the White House will require transparency prior to the vote. Because it is an official White House petition, after you sign, you have to verify your signature with the e-mail you used.

Sign the Petition.

We deserve to know this information before he is elected President by the electoral college.

Please forward this e-mail and link to all of your social and professional networks and also forward to media.

Thanks for your action,

Aimee Wagst

Et maintenant?

J’ai le sentiment ce matin d’être dans un nouveau monde sans majuscules. Quelques impressions, après avoir mal dormi.

Wall Street ne s’est pas effondré et donne l’impression de récupérer rapidement. La grande nouvelle est que le gouvernement entier est à droite ou à l’extrême-droite. Je n’ose l’appeler républicain car ils sont très divisés. Il est à craindre que la surveillance de la grande banque se relâchera, l’assurance santé va retourner au Wild West (plus de vingt millions d’assurés sous cet Affordable Care Act, méprisé sous le nom d’Obamacare, mais aussi des augmentations brutales des contributions santé cette année dûes aux assurances privées), les jeunes immigrants vont perdre le peu de protections qu’ils avaient, le salaire minimum va rester très bas, allocation chômage très bas aussi, l’industrie pétrolière et charbon va reprendre sans considérations intempestives sur les effets climatiques, l’immobilier va pouvoir gonfler sa bulle, le mouvement de privatisation de l’éducation s’accélérera, etc…

J’espère que l’administration Trump n’osera pas toucher à la Sécurité sociale ou à Medicare à cause du danger électoral, mais les pressions d’un parti républicain même divisé seront fortes. Quant aux autres dossiers sociaux (avortement, mariage, homosexualité, drogue et prison), il reste à voir ce qu’une administration Trump acceptera de tolérer (Trump lui-même paraît indifférent à ce genre de questions). Je doute que les grands traités internationaux en préparation pour le Pacifique ou l’Atlantique nord ne soient pas signés, et vite, malgré l’opposition au “globalisme” du candidat Trump, car c’est le seul dossier sur lequel Obama était soutenu par le parti républicain et on peut penser qu’une entente sera vite conçue entre intérêts industriels, financiers et politiques (que ceux-ci soient d’un parti ou de l’autre).

Le fond du paysage économique reste le même: plus grande automation des tâches, rationalisation de la gestion plus extensive, création d’emplois précaires. Et donc faiblesse de la demande globale, timidité des investissements à longue durée, stagnation de la productivité, accélération continue des différentiations de revenu et de statut social.

Quant à la politique politicienne, il est difficile de prévoir ce qui va se passer dans nos deux grands partis. Quelle leçon vont tirer les membres du parti républicain de cet événement? Qu’ils doivent faire un réarmement moral (comme le suggéraient récemment les Douthat, Brooks, Wehner, et al dans le New York Times)? Ou bien que la démagogie larvée des trente dernières années ne paie que si pratiquée en grand et sans souffrir aucune hésitation de leur part? Le parti démocrate lui aussi devra monter au créneau et se demander ce qu’est une société de justice et de paix, au delà des discours qui ne coûtent rien sur l’intégration sociale, au lieu de faire une confiance aveugle à une rationalité et un calcul utilisés comme instruments de pouvoir.

Je crois qu’on va à la catastrophe un peu plus vite qu’on ne l’aurait fait sous Clinton. J’ai voté pour elle sans enthousiasme. Le Federal Reserve n’a plus d’instrument de contrôle avec le taux d’intérêt de base à zéro. Discours courageux mais lénifiants de Clinton et Obama ce matin sur le transfert de pouvoir et la bonne volonté de tous dans “notre” grande tradition démocrate. C’est de résistance qu’il s’agit maintenant.

On peut penser qu’une petite moustache ne siée pas à Trump et que nous sommes encore en démocratie. D’autres suivent dans l’ombre cependant. Que se passera-t-il quand les employés de l’industrie et des services qui ont voté pour lui dans les grandes zones industrielles défoncées s’apercevront que rien n’a été résolu, au contraire, et qu’ils ont été floués? Au Wisconsin, Michigan, en Pennsylvanie, Ohio, etc., là où on votait démocrate au temps des syndicats malgré les promesses non tenues? Mais ils le savent déjà. Ce vote de colère ne résoud rien et je crains qu’il n’annonce de plus grands mouvements.

civility

Post-trump political gurus and shills were hard at work this morning: the two Brooks of the NYT, both self-defined moralists who are busily spending their time separating and protecting the “conservative movement” from the crowds. They are revolted by Trump’s “grabbing”, mud-slinging, and total lack of civility. It allows them to talk up the soft side of conservatives: a social concern, a sense of connectedness and responsibility, even compassion for the poor (in moderation). This goes with systematic criticism (silence at best) of the Affordable Care Act—their own production—, no raise or adjustment of minimum salary, all out globalization, privatization of education by vouchers (at best), systematic rewarding of capital in all forms, and destruction of any semblance of fairness in the tax system as well as of any social goal in it, aggressive foreign policy without political aims, simply a machinery that provides rich contracts to armament, electronic, and surveillance industries.

These opinion writers feel pressure to externalize Trump as a “pityable” object beyond redemption. How much easier it is to treat Trump as a deranged outlyer in the capitalist system than recognize the much deeper and broader corrosion that threatens to engulf everyone. It is the profit making at the heart of capitalism that wrecks civil society and one of its expressions, civility. To quote a comment on David Brooks’ opinion article:

Trump is a sort of human embodiment of an un-parented, unregulated free market capitalism that runs over everything in its way, externalizes costs to everyone else and makes a “killing” for its practitioners.

Trump is not a lonely, single narcissist, but the truth of our conquering capitalistic culture. Attempts to paint this culture as potentially humane and compassionate are illusions if not lies. What will happen in the next election cycle, four or eight years from now, when much worse and organized than Trump may surface? As another comment says:

This election shows just how close we are to a fascist government in this country, and it will not take much to bring it into being, a bad down-turn in the economy and the right demagogue and we’ll be on our way.

gloria

[8 Oct 2011] On the way to Sabba’s place, I am on Delaware, in and of the world, yet in dire need of its compassion. I move, I live, do I do more than replicate and explicate. It is ad majorem dei gloriam, glory and exultet. The reeds along the San Lorenzo river wait for the breeze to brush against each other. Glory. Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be…. Sabba is in a circle of a dozen people in wheelchairs, listening to Jan who is leading the group through puzzle questions. Which country did Mother Teresa work in? What’s the name for a group of military officers who take power by coup d’état? I walk with Ben who is responsive today and whose hands are relaxed. He extends his arms more easily than Thursday and is able to hold the walker. I ask myself why it is different today. Questions take me away from the world. Is it the time of the day, my being more receptive, or a myriad other reasons? Questions are duplications, unfolding and refolding, how to conjure things to be other than they are. Back to the world. I learn the names: Mina, Herman, John… I forget other names. Hallowed be…. Dorothy thinks Ben is her departed Jack, Lorice sits near Ben. Her brother directed Catholic labor organizations. We speak of Dorothy Day. Your kingdom come. Ben is able to grab and hold the piece of fresh, sticky bread I give him. He gnaws at it. Drink: he slowly puts his fingers around the cup, lifts it, shapes his lips to drink, is able to tilt the glass with some assistance. I help with bits of pasta, turkey, zucchini. Their shape and size preoccupy me as does the dignity of this ninety-year-old man. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We share the sour dough bought at the market this morning. A piece of the still warm bread, with peanut butter, not only to Sabba but also to the neighbors. Apple sauce and yogurt for dessert, after the pills to help control the tremors. Comment allez-vous Mr. Kleinstein? He repeats. Then: מה שלוםך? It takes a while, but he repeats and perhaps means to continue, בסדר. Special day today: sabbath and Yom Kippur. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our debts. Our trespasses. Our breaks and heartbreaks. Yom Kippur. אבינו מלכנו חננו ועננו… חטאנו ופשענו ואין בנו מעשין… שלח לנו…

We sing, correction, I sing. Lorice: “You have a nice voice.” This leads to stories of Lent, old liturgical habits, Asperges me, thoughts of the hyssop that was used on the altar of the temple, et mundabor (“and I’ll be made pure”), and on to the paschal vidi aquam egredientem…. with a latere dextro on my mind, or is it my heart ?

philosophy questions

This year, French students were offered the following choice of questions on the menu of the philosophy section of the French baccalauréat (end of high school exam):

  • Are our moral convictions based on experience?
  • Is desire inherently unlimited?
  • Do we always know what we want?
  • Why should we study history?
  • Does working less mean a better life?
  • Does knowledge require proof?
  • Does obeying the law make you just?
  • Can we always justify our beliefs?

French version:

  • Nos convictions morales sont-elles fondées sur l’expérience ?
  • Le désir est-il par nature illimité ?
  • Savons-nous toujours ce que nous désirons ?
  • Pourquoi avons-nous intérêt à étudier l’Histoire ?
  • Travailler moins, est-ce vivre mieux ?
  • Faut-il démontrer pour savoir ?
  • Pour être juste, suffit-il d’obéir aux lois ?
  • Pouvons-nous toujours justifier nos croyances ?

extremism

Orlando: fifty dead, including the killer who came from a US family of Afghan background, had been married, was separated from his wife who accused him of beating her, had extreme opinions he may have learned in his home and religious milieu, and worked for a security firm. He had been suspected twice of having ties with Islamic extremists but nothing came out of it. He was able to buy more guns very recently. Needless to say, politicians were quick to draw their own conclusions from the disaster. Trump took advantage of it and tr(i)ump(hantly) claimed he had been right all along. About what? His shouts and egotistic appeal to visceral feelings, I suppose. Clinton was prudent, too prudent probably. She and her team are wondering how tough she should look? In his NYT op-ed, Roger Cohen managed to attack Obama again for his alleged pusillanimity in Syria in the past five years. As if it is possible to destroy Islamic extremist movements after our long recent history of military aggressivity in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, East Africa, Afghanistan and Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The list is very long of places where we have supported leaders on the dark side and our perceived interests have relentlessly been pursued without regard for the cultures and religious feelings of societies with enormous demographic and economic problems.

value of art

Art objects are amassed by the thousands in Geneva port and kept under heavy security. They are owned by some wealthy individuals, banks and other companies as a form of appreciating capital, a hedge against the erosion and erasure of values. A genuflecting bow to the spirit by the immense, jealous accumulation of material power? It is likely that very few of these works will come out and be seen by anyone for decades. In effect, it is a huge Tutankhamon’s tomb, a hundred times or a thousand times bigger, crammed to its ceilings with objects meant to be treasured and not seen. No myth of eternal life accompanies or surrounds these drab buildings defended by barbed-wire, except a perpetual sacrifice of human spiritual capacities to the gods of envy.

story and presence

Our stories tell of the loss of a place and hearth—home and temple—by which we imagine and structure an original, unmediated presence as being lost. Our dancing liturgies endow it with power (cre-do), name it our god(s), send some of us to approach the hidden monuments of that presence. The place was also the temple, the fire its sacrificial cult, the prayers the consolidation or condensation of this no-name “presence.” The temple and its (hi)story are remembered and rebuilt as a dreamy capacity to get near the presence and keep up the possibility of visitation and renewal. It is part of the dynamic capacity all human beings are thrown into and have at their disposal. We are capable of recognizing we are in “circles” that can be described as distant points from something that ipso facto gets figured as a center. And so we keep re-imagining and reinventing our history, both individual and macro-social. The history of the mapping of, or distance from, this center at the beating heart of the person, its consuming life, gets things accomplished in ways more and more distant from and yet articulated on an improbable center. This, amici, was a comment on the polished story of Baal Shem and successors, quoted by Gershom Scholem (where? I don’t have a copy) and requoted by Martha Himmelfarb:

When the Baal Shem had a difficult task before him, he would go to a certain place in the woods, light a fire and meditate in prayer—and what he had set out to perform was done. When a generation later the “Maggid” of Meseritz was faced with the same task he would go to the same place in the woods and say: We can no longer light the fire, but we can still speak the prayers—and what he wanted done became reality. Again a generation later Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov had to perform this task. And he went into the woods and said: We can no longer light a fire, nor do we know the secret meditations belonging to the prayer, but we do know the place in the woods to which it all belongs—and that must be sufficient; and sufficient it was. But when another generation had passed and Rabbi Israel of Rishin was called upon to perform the task, he sat down on his golden chair in his castle and said: We cannot light the fire, we cannot speak the prayers, we do not know the place, but we can tell the story of how it was done. And, the story-teller adds, the story which he told had the same effect as the actions of the other three.

From Himmelfarb’s Ascent to heaven in Jewish and Christian apocalypses (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 113.