Sunday, February 7, 2016

Don’t Fight Mistrust; Deepen It

2/7/2016—Jeff Greenfield, described as “a seasoned political journalist and author”, delivered a short video essay Friday night on the PBS Newshour highlighting “the end of trust by Americans in this country’s institutions.” He titled the essay “In Nothing We Trust.”

Here is the website description: “Only 19 percent of American trust the government to do the right thing most of the time, according to a recent Pew Research poll, down from 77 percent in 1964. This lack of trust isn’t limited to the government -- Americans today distrust everything from churches to public schools. Journalist Jeff Greenfield offers an essay on how we became a nation of doubters.”

You can see the video essay here. I’m showing it to my students in a couple of weeks.

There are two questions to ask here. First, is such mistrust a bad thing? As Greenfield admits, Americans have always been skeptical about major institutions. Indeed, the slogan that he plays off of—In God We Trust—suggests that Americans have never trusted human institutions.

The framers of the Constitution, if asked whether they trusted government to do the right thing most of the time, might well have also answered no. So, aside from whether American institutions are actually more corrupt in some sense or whether Americans themselves are more suspicious, you would not necessarily be unable to function politically because of such mistrust.

Greenfield suggests that mistrust is a deep political problem. Maybe it is not.

This leads me to my second question. Why don’t the pollsters ask the obvious follow-up question: do you trust yourself to do the right thing most of the time?

The reason that Americans are so angry is that they feel betrayed. Greenfield may be right that we feel our institutions are failing us.

But the reason the framers were able to view corrupting forces without this feeling of betrayal is precisely that they did not exempt themselves the way we do today. This is a theological perspective founded on a Protestant view of a fallen world. Americans act as if we are innocent and are betrayed by others. Actually, as Protestant thinkers have always pointed out—most recently perhaps Reinhold Niebuhr--we are not innocent at all. We are easily just as corrupt as a President Clinton or a Volkswagen or any other example you would like. And that would be a much healthier starting point for political life. That starting point might help assuage the anger and self-righteousness that characterizes American political life today.

So, don’t fight mistrust. Deepen it.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Is This Weimar?

2/4/2016—Last night my wife and I went to see the revival of Cabaret playing here in Pittsburgh. Since I teach today, I could not stay to see the second act. But I saw enough.

For those of us raised on the movie, this production is raw. What is in the movie a hint of corruption is here transformed into full, bleak nihilism. The line in the play about it seeming that Berlin is little children playing ever more wildly, waiting for parents to put an end to it, must have been in the original production. So, this overdone decadence is not imposed on the musical. But the scene is bleak. Sex and money define everything in life and only the Nazis have any real force. Even the landlady who wishes to marry sings “So What” in the first act.

But now think about our musicals and how many of them highlight corruption. Chicago, of course, comes to mind. And there is some of the same theme in La Cage aux Folles (in fact you could think of Cabaret as La Cage meets the Sound of Music). Then there is The Angry Inch.

Not all or even many musicals are like this. There is the huge Disney contribution to Broadway. But those musicals are meant to be fluff. They tell us nothing of life. Literally, they are suitable for children.

What is missing is the serious musical that considers life and affirms it. For example, South Pacific. Would that be possible today? People still love that musical.

It’s amazing that Cabaret premiered in the confident 1960’s—-in 1966. But maybe then it was Germany that was the issue. Clearly now, at least, we are meant to feel the impending doom all around us.

Is this Weimar? Well, if it is, it is not nearly as much fun. It is not riotous disorder. It is a slow ebbing. After the show, my wife and I watched numerous instances of what looked to us like decline outside the theater.

But what is missing in the two contexts is quite similar—-hope. Where is hope for the future today?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Journalism Under Attach—Again

1/30/2016—See if this sounds familiar. Investigators with an ax to grind against an industry lie about their identities to expose practices that will embarrass the industry before the public. The industry fights back, claiming the reports are selectively edited and seeking criminal prosecution of the investigators.

You may be thinking of the indictments in Texas of the two individuals who were involved in making secret recordings of Planned Parenthood that were released to publicly discredit the group. David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt were indicted for tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony, and Daleiden was also indicted on the count of prohibition of the purchase and sale of human organs, a class A misdemeanor, according to the Harris County district attorney.

But I’m thinking of the efforts by Agribusiness to get undercover employees indicted for taking videos of what goes on inside factory farms. See Agribusiness Wants Cruelty Investigators “Prosecuted to the Fullest Extent of the Law”.

Daleiden and Merritt insist the actions they took, including the creation of false identities, were part of a legitimate journalistic investigation of the “abortion industry.” The charges against them are flimsy. A felony charge for altering a driver’s license? And how can anyone be charged with procuring human organs when they had no intent to actually procure them? They were pretending.

The same people ready to cheer the indictments of the Planned Parenthood investigators presumably understand the threat of the agribusiness campaign to get investigators prosecuted. But these are basically the same cases. Criminal law is no way to treat people who are trying to inform the American people about abuses in government, business or any other important sector of American life.

Businesses that have nothing to hide—have nothing to hide, including Planned Parenthood.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The End of Trump

1/27/2016—There are more important things going on, but I must comment on the demise of Donald Trump. Now, Trump was never going to be President. He is a creature of television and celebrity culture. There was always going to be a time when people got serious. That time seems to have arrived with Trump’s walking away from the next Republican debate over the presence of a moderator with whom he has feuded.

We can assume that Trump is not as out of control as to actually be walking over this. He probably has decided that he does not need or cannot control the debate format. But the action looks bad in every sense. I don’t think ordinary people will like it and that will begin his unravelling. He won’t win Iowa. He won’t win New Hampshire. Suddenly everyone will wonder why he was an issue.

For me, that won’t improve matters much. Ruth Ann Dailey wrote in the Post-Gazette that there is a good reason why the Republican establishment is more worried about Senator Cruz than Trump. Cruz is a perversion of the conservative position—I think she called him brutal. Trump is irrelevant to conservatism.

So, if the demise of Trump leads to Cruz, it is perhaps not much improvement. But Trump had to go away eventually and now that he is going away, maybe others can emerge.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Secular Rites

1/24/2016 – – I attended a memorial service yesterday. It was billed as a kind of wake. But it turned out to be a small religious service in a VFW Hall.

The event was presided over by an Episcopal priest who was a cousin of the wife of the deceased. It was surprising how orthodox the small service was. The liturgy was taken directly from regular Episcopal rites. It was particularly surprising given that, as far as I know, the deceased was not a churchgoer.

The memorial service reminded me of the three things I have noticed in death related matters along more or less secular people. First, no one knows how to do these things except the clergy. And this was shown again yesterday. The presence of the priest lent a real solemnity to the event. He handled it very well and was very satisfying to everyone. So, the clergy do not impose themselves on non-churchgoers. Instead, they are sought out. This is one of the great failures of secular civilization.

Second, once they are installed, the clergy go into their usual liturgy. I don’t know why I would think otherwise, but how many of the people in the room believe in or understand anything about the resurrection of the dead? About a third of the room knew the responses that the service requires. A VFW Hall is just not a church. However, as my wife says, this bothered no one but me. No one else was listening.

Finally, I am struck by how the Christian clergy move immediately to life eternal. It is as if the whole purpose of life is to inherit eternal life, which from a certain point of view you might say is the case. But it is such a peculiar theology. Here you expect something about living. And all you get is this proposal that death is not what it seems. The deceased is now with God and the Saints.

To me, this theology of the afterlife is the best reason of all to be secular. If there is a memorial service for me I hope someone says, well, Bruce is dead. You soon will be too. Better get moving.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Push Back Against Ending Campaign Contribution Limits

1/17/2016—I now understand better why there is such a reaction against my proposal to end campaign contribution limits. The pushback I am describing is continuing exclusion of my ideas from books on campaign finance reform and symposia on the same topic. I thought my presentation at Cleveland State last spring was the end of that problem but I now see that that is not the case.

My goal is to end independent political spending. I consider independent spending, rather than contributions to political parties and candidates, to be the real problem of money in the United States. Once contribution limits are ended, candidates and voters can demand that independent money go to candidate campaigns instead.

Now, many people would agree that, given the current context of unlimited contributions to Super PACs, politics in the US would improve if all this money went to candidates instead. So, my plan would be better than the current situation. But promoters of campaign finance reform absolutely refuse to consider my plan as even a temporary move. Why?

I now realize that many people who share my view of the domination of public debate by the interests of the 1% expect to return to a legal regime of general contribution limits and maybe even spending limits (although we have never really had that). So, David Cole, Georgetown Law Professor who now seems to have the old Ronald Dworkin gig at the New York Review of Books, writes in a letter exchange with Burt Neuborne in the December 17, 2015 issue, “When the Supreme Court revises First Amendment doctrine to permit greater regulation of campaign finance—and I do mean when, not if… .” And the Brennen Center has just released a report entitled “5 to 4” that shows how different the law of campaign finance would be if only one vote had changed on the Supreme Court.

People in this mind frame are like Christians expecting the second coming. They cannot be convinced to do anything that would detract from utopia. Ending contribution limits would therefore amount to “surrender”—another term that has been used in excluding my work.

There is a lot going on here and it is hard for me to describe it simply. For one thing, partisans in the finance wars have never specified just what the end game actually is. Forgetting free speech protections for the moment, just what would be the ultimate system of campaign regulation? It is easy for me to see that no structural innovation can end the power of wealth—-what David Cole calls in his review of Neuborne’s Madison’s Music book, “big money.” The only hope for doing that is a political response. Revitalizing politics by making the candidates the focus is a first step in that direction. Any structural change will just turn independent ads into “issue ads.” The same people who now run independent campaign ads would be running independent issue ads against Obamacare and the Iranian deal. There needs to be a place for this money to go where it participates in the political process rather than replaces it.

And that is why ending contribution limits is a better way forward than any other innovation. The fact that it is the one step that is consistent with current law just means it is also the easiest step to take. But I doubt I can convince campaign finance reform proponents of that.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Fix Our Politics

1/15/2016—Last Tuesday, in the State of the Union Address, President Obama plaintively said, “Fix Our Politics,” (Or so I read. I don’t watch these things).

I talked about this last night with my students in Philosophy of Law. We probably mostly agree about what’s wrong with our politics now. A long-time Republican wrote in the New York Times this week that he could not vote for his Party’s leading candidate for President and that the leading Democratic candidate was an ethical train wreck. The problem has to do with the kind of people who are running, the spirit that supports them no matter what, and the distrust, even hatred, that prefers paralysis to cooperating with “the other side.” Something along these lines.

Of particular concern to me is the inability to act on global warming, which threatens our children and grandchildren in particular and obvious ways. Once upon a time, we would have been able to act. We did rearm during the 1930’s, after all despite deep divisions over isolationism, for example. (though we helped kill the League of Nations).

But if we could reach some agreement about what is wrong, we cannot agree about what to do about it—how to fix it. President Obama did not offer to be less activist in using executive power where Congress is supposed to lead, for example. Nor did his supporters criticize his gun control initiative on that ground. That would have been a first step.

Instead, the Parties blamed each other. Or, they spoke in generalities—how there is much blame to go around without suggestion.

The call to fix our politics has already disappeared.

What if our problem does not have a fix? I told my students that according to Martin Heidegger, these matters proceed at a deeper level. At the level of stimmung—the German word often translated “mood”, but which better means overall orientation. What I am open to. Fix that. That is not any easier, but it is in a better direction.

Robert Taylor used to ask his students, in what mood do you have to be to study law? I would now answer, a mood of anger and distrust. We need, instead, the kind of openness that once would have been called piety, but which you could call serious, hopeful expectation.

In some ways my least favorite columnist, David Brooks, wrote today that we “accidently” abandoned beauty in our current way of life. But there was nothing accidental about it. We paid a lot of money to abandon beauty. We watched a lot of advertising. Capitalism is not beautiful. Nor is it pious. If you want a better comment about beauty, look at John Rago's comment on this blog from two days ago.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Lessons from New York

1/9/2016 – – Greetings from the annual meeting of the American Association of Law Schools. I have been here a few days, which has limited my blogging.

The annual meeting of a powerful and influential organization can teach lessons about the state of American political life, as well as about the morale of the law profession. In terms of law schools, this meeting illustrates the small recovery going on among law schools. The sense of panic from a couple of years ago is absent. A few more frills have returned to the meeting. On the other hand, the experience of the economic downturn in law schools has sharped class divisions within legal academia. There is an undercurrent that perhaps some law school should close and perhaps other law schools should be teaching students for lesser legal activity. The opening session, for example, expressly dealt with the role of “leading” law schools.

Another lesson from within legal academia is the bourgeois and conventional aspect of American law professors. So, for example, in a session entitled On Resistance and Recognition, which was the session title for the important constitutional law section, I expected to hear about illegal activity undertaken to promote a constitutional and/or political vision of some kind. I expected to hear about Occupy Wall Street and the current armed occupation in Oregon of federal property. I expected to hear about classic examples of civil disobedience.

But I heard about nothing of the kind. The closest one got to resistance was something like the celebrated dissent by the late Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, Judith Kaye, in New York’s gay marriage case a few years ago.

The political lessons from the annual meeting are two: the recognition of the decline of American public life into political polarization and paralysis and the growing economic inequality in society.

The best example of the recognition of the decline of American public life came in that same constitutional law session. Josh Blackman, a professor of law at South Texas College of Law, even joked about recent surveys that show the decline of Americans’ opposition to interracial marriage by their children. Years ago, there was overwhelming opposition but now just 5% or so. In contrast however, years ago only around 5% of Americans objected to the marriage of a child to a member of a political party other than that of the child’s parents. But today, around 43% of Americans object to such a marriage.

But no one wants to think about why this is has happened.

The best example of the growing concern about income inequality is a topic yesterday at the parallel meeting of The Federalist Society, which takes place every year at the meeting of the AALS. One session aimed to consider “to what extent the disproportionate increase in income among the very wealthy is due not to market forces but to rent seeking and government policies that are the product of rent seeking. It will also discuss possible solutions.”

So conservatives – – The Federalist Society is very much the embodiment of a certain form of conservatism – – are worried. And I would judge that this worry is not just concern about a political problem of spin. I would judge that it represents a genuine concern with the phenomenon of inequality itself and its implications for democracy and the fear, conscious or not, that capitalism and democracy might not be so compatible after all. How very reassuring then to conclude that active government, rather than the market, is the source of the problem.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Is Life Inherently Tragic?

1/3/2016—The most important questions are sometimes easy to pose. One such question concerns the meaning of a human life. Rather, I guess you could say that the question is whether there is any such meaning or could be?

Apparently alone among animals, humans know that we die. As I age, the slow breakdown of the functions of my body in my 60’s heralds that coming end. I will never be as energetic and flexible as when I was younger. As I get older, there will be more functions that break down and daily pains will grow. Eventually I will weaken and then die. As I do, my loves and friends will die along with me. If I live long enough, I will die without contemporaries.

And this is if I am lucky. Life can be, and often is, a lot worse than that at the end.

Is knowledge of this reality tragic? It can feel tragic. Many people feel that it is tragic and don’t want to think about it. If they thought about it, they could not answer the question, "What then is the point of living?"

Traditional Christian thinking saw human existence differently. As I wrote on this blog at Christmas, the Christian view is one of comedy—-the term used essentially for happy endings. We reunite on the day of resurrection of the body or in heaven before that. Many religions find ways around death as final—-as in reincarnation in Hinduism and Buddhism.

For those who view death as the end of consciousness—the end of me—is there anything but bleak despair?

This is an important question for secularists, who view human life as at least premised on natural, material existence. When the brain dies, we die, and nothing of us could survive.

But not all natural religion shares a tragic outlook. One surprising example is early Judaism. This is Judaism before the notion of a Messiah and the end of history took hold. In Genesis, Abraham is told that the meaning of his existence is to produce blessing for all the world through his descendants, who will introduce the world to the one true God and will live in accordance to God’s will. He can die secure in the knowledge that his life is the beginning of that chain. He dies knowing that he lived in accord with the truth.

You don’t have to be religious to see things this way. In an essay on the whig history of science in the December 17 issue of the New York Review of Books, Steven Weinberg, whom I judge to be among the hardest of atheists, shows that he is dedicated to “the slow and difficult progress that has been made over the centuries in learning how to learn about the world… .” Weinberg is part of that chain in just the way that Abraham is part of the chain of blessing. Indeed, both consider their ways to be blessings for future generations. Marxists used to see things this way--history was the unfolding of the utopia of communism.

On the other hand, the same NYR issue, in a review of Selected Poems by John Updike, shows Updike as increasingly bitter as his life is ending. Updike writes, “Is there anything to write about but human sadness?” He writes this even though, as the reviewer, Jonathan Galassi, points out, Updike had earlier urged us all to excel to perfection in our lives.

The difference between an Updike and a Weinberg or Abraham is an understanding of, and commitment to, truth—-enduring truth. For Updike, his writing had not been in the service of any form of truth, but instead, had been his “own brand of magic.” He called his life in all its parts “The whole act.” And now that beautiful act, that amazing performance, simply ends.

Updike could not even commit to believing that his act was worth imitating. He could not rest in the assurance that he had taught truths to future generations. He could not even believe that he had performed as a human being should. Naturally he died in despair.

The deeper problem for Weinberg is his disdain for purpose. For him, the mistake of early thinkers in trying to learn about the world was the search for purpose. Aristotle and Plato thought “that it is only possible to understand things when one knows their purpose. These ideas stood in the way of learning how to learn about the world.”

But Weinberg himself acts like a man who knows the purpose of human life. The purpose of human life is to learn about the world. Not everyone becomes a scientist, but everyone participates somehow in this endeavor. And knowing the world is not just something to do. Knowing the world is valuable in itself. His version of human life is true in just the traditional religious sense. Knowing the world is not just a hobby. Maybe it is not the truest thing a human being can do, but it is one of the true things a human being can do.

We experience our own lives in just such purpose laden ways. In retrospect, our lives feel preordained. Joan Friedberg uses the Yiddish term "bashert" today in the Post-Gazette to describe her chance meeting with her future husband in 1949: something that was meant to be. She knows it did not have to happen. But this life she has known is part of her purpose.

Weinberg’s problem is that he also believes that reality has no purpose. Reality is just blind forces. But if that is the case, then his belief that his life has purpose is an illusion. Humans just try to impose purpose on meaningless matter. We fool ourselves in order to live without despair.

But this view that we are just fooling ourselves, which Weinberg ought to share but cannot quite accept (I am guessing here), just masks a deeper mystery. Why did humans evolve this way? If the universe is without purpose, why are we purpose seeking in the way we are? How could such a universe produce us?

It is comforting, but I believe also reasonable, to reject this view and to conclude instead that the universe is fit for us. That our searching for meaning can produce worthwhile and lasting results. That the universe is not cold and indifferent but warm and welcoming to us. No, there is no invisible being arranging all this—-no God in that sense. But there is some larger whole into which humans and all nature are meant to fit. And if one spends a lifetime searching and studying that whole, one has lived properly. One can even then die with satisfaction. That life is not tragic.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Ross Douthat’s Critique of Modernity

12/30/2015—Last Sunday, New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat, published an op-ed entitled Cracks in the Liberal Order. The column was widely republished, including appearing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The point of the column was that in the twenty five years since the fall of the Berlin Wall in November, 1989, there has been a liberal consensus about capitalism, the rule of law and democracy. (Douthat does not actually describe the prevailing consensus). But now, all that is under pressure and even if it survives, it will not look impregnable.

In Europe especially, the elites of modernity have pushed continental integration, which is now under pressure from violent Islamic extremism, on the one hand, and massive immigration, on the other. No longer can these elites keep political movements of the right and left at bay.

Another part of the crack up is the decline of the Pax Americana, which has never looked so weak.

In America, Trump on the right and the new New Left of Black Lives Matter and the socialism of Bernie Sanders, shows that also in America, extremism is on the rise. Illiberal politics is growing.

Now, quite aside from the slipperiness of all Douthat’s terms—modernity goes back a long way and all but Islamic extremists are quite modern—this is a very irresponsible column. I don’t mean it is inaccurate. I don’t mean that Douthat should have kept such bad news under wraps. And I don’t mean that Douthat had a responsibility to come up with some alternatives.

No. By irresponsibility, Douthat should have acknowledged his own guilt. How has he contributed to all this? That is the responsibility all of us have. For example, the real source of the crack up in America is not Black protest and flirtations with socialism, but the inability of capitalism to deliver benefits to most people. It’s the growth of the 1% that Douthat is not particularly bothered about. And in Europe too, the deal was wealth to the rich as well as security to everyone else. The deal has broken down.

Now, how do I practice what I preach? How do I contribute to the crack up? Well, part of the crack up is the weakening of organized religion and I left Judaism. Part of the crack up is the inability of secularity to imagine flourishing social structures for people or to develop even understandings of hope and transcendence that would make sense in a secular world. I certainly have not solved that problem.

Yes, undoubtedly a crack up. Much more needs to be said that Douthat is willing to say.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015

12/25/2015—Readers of this blog know that hallowed secularism will have close connections to traditional, organized religion—especially what might be called the mythic life of our religions. Thus, hallowed secularism in India will be strongly influenced by Hinduism, in the Islamic world, by Islam.

The Christian West bears already the strong marks of religion in its secularism. The whole idea of “good without God,” for example, is Christian to its core.

At the heart of the mythic life of Christianity, its rhythm, is the movement from Advent/Christmas to Good Friday/Easter. From promise to event, from tragedy to resurrection. It is this rhythm that hallowed secularism in the West must learn from.

The major thrust of the Christian myth is its inherent meaningfulness. And that meaningfulness is not negative but positive. The ultimate optimism of Dante’s Divine Comedy or Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained is absolutely true to Christian life and thought. The creative power of the Christian West historically can be placed here—at the point of meaning and optimism.

It is at this point that the struggle of hallowed secularism with nihilism occurs. It is not clear how that struggle will go. Even Heidegger, the thinker of western post-Christianity, is not clear to me on this crucial point. On meaning, yes. But I have seen him read as a tragic thinker.

I believe not. When Heidegger holds out for the West an other beginning, he seems to me to be doing just what hallowed secularism must do—adapting to the myths of its religious origins. Christmas is always an other beginning. The Christ child is always coming. Advent is Heidegger’s emphasis on preparation.

That is enough for today. For Christmas Day. How Easter will go is another issue for another day.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Underlying Consensus?

12/17/2015—Perhaps a consensus is growing underneath the partisan breakdown in American public life.

I had a talk with a conservative friend about matters yesterday and I noted real change in both our positions. On global warming, I was told that movement on this issue is irreversible, Republican Party rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding. Now, I have my doubts about this, but this is a sea change. I don’t know whether this is about Pope Francis on global warming or the overwhelming planetary consensus in Paris on warming, but it seems the debate about whether there is global warming, whether human contribute and whether it is serious, is about over. (What to do is another matter).

I was even more surprised about terrorism. We agreed that once individuals begin shooting people at random in the name of religion, you no longer really have a police or military issue. You cannot station police everywhere. Nor, as France shows, can you keep such people from obtaining guns. You no longer really have a gun control issue. (France has strict controls and this did not stop the Paris attack).

At this point, matters proceed on two fronts. First, there is a theological issue for Islam. Is violent Jihadism genuine Islam or not? Second, Muslims must cooperate in the ending of violent attacks by Muslims. (We disagreed somewhat over whether Republican Party rhetoric was making this more difficult and whether President Obama’s policies in the Middle East were to blame for some of the attacks.)

As readers of this blog know, I consider the present to be a watershed for Islam. The world is not going to tolerate a religion that foments vicious and random violence. And by world, I include Muslims. Muslims will either take their religion back or leave it, in the long run. Remember, in similar circumstances in the 1700’s, Christians in Europe ended the wars of religion by creating the secular state and limiting the public role of religion. Unless the theology of war is defeated theologically and sociologically, Muslims will eventually do the same thing.

And my friend and I also agreed that it is dangerous to give the government power to investigate too closely the spouse an American citizen chooses. Yes, occasionally this means a radicalized American will choose a dangerous spouse. But sometimes you have to tolerate shootings in the name of liberty.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Spirit of Doom

12/9/2015—The underlying theme of the 2015 movie Tomorrowland is that we are succumbing to a mood of despair versus an earlier mood of hopefulness and that this change is itself making things worse. People in despair do not improve their situations.

This theme plays out both expressly and implicitly in the movie. In one exchange, the hero, Casey Newton, repeats to her father a story he has often told her:

Casey Newton: There are two wolves who are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. The question is... which wolf wins?
Eddie Newton: The one you feed.

In another scene, Casey is in high school. Three teachers, in a row, drone on. One is describing mutually assured destruction and the danger of nuclear weapons. Another is describing the dire effects of global warming. A third, dystopia in literature.

But, despite the dangers described, the students are bored stiff. They are tuned out. Why not? They are not being challenged to do anything. This is all just happening.

Meanwhile, Casey has her arm in the air, trying to ask a question. The first two teachers ignore her. The third finally calls on her. Casey asks, what are we doing to fix it? I mean, I know things are bad. But what can we do?

The third teacher is just flummoxed by the question. Now the audience sees that the teachers are as bored as the students. For they also do not believe in the possibilities of the future.

Now think about America’s broken politics. How we hate each other. And call each other un-American. And say the other side ignores science—(by the way, liberals ignore science all the time. See genetically altered food.)

Wouldn’t it be crazy to believe that our politics could improve? What could possibly do that? So, we are infected by the spirit the movie is protesting.

Science fiction is often a harbinger of the future—as is art in general when it’s healthy. Science fiction gave us the Terminator movies and the Matrix movies, warning us against technology destroying the human quality of humanity.

Well, in the October 18, 2015 issue, Charles Yu reviewed six science fiction novels in the New York Times Book Review—my barometer of the elite—and this is what he wrote about them in general:

And although it is admittedly a small sample, after having visited this particular cross section of the fictional galaxy, it’s hard not to notice a prevailing atmospheric quality common to many of the stories: So much of this work feels as if it is post-something, pervaded by a sense of living and writing in an era that comes after, of fiction being produced by novelists who can’t help feeling that it’s getting late or, in some cases, that it’s too late. The emphasis here being on the post-, and less on the something, which is variable from writer to writer and from story to story. Sometimes the something is big and vague, and sometimes it’s more specifically defined.

It’s too late. It’s getting late. Like Tomorrowland, we are in deep trouble that we cannot get out of.

They always said that we would run out of resources one day. I never quite imagined that the major resource we would run out of, would be hope.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Islamic Terrorism, Christian Terrorism and Jewish Terrorism

12/5/2015—The last few months have given us examples of terrorism—the killing of innocent civilians—by representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths. What do these examples tell us?

For the first category, many recent attacks sponsored or associated with the Islamic State: the Russian plane on October 31, the attacks in Beirut on November 12, the Paris attack on November 13 and the shootings in San Bernardino on December 2.

For the second, the November 27 attack on Planned Parenthood by Robert Dear that killed three.

For the third, the July firebombing of a Palestinian home in Duma that killed three.

Now obviously the three religions are not provoking terrorism in the same ways. For Islam, there is a worldwide network and some kind of religious message that inspires these acts. In contrast, Robert Dear was apparently a lone wolf. The two shooters in San Bernardino acted alone, apparently, but at least one clearly saw herself as acting in concert with the Islamic State.

Islam has a serious theological problem. Somehow, thousands of people believe Islam teaches the propriety of the slaughter of civilians. Christianity as a world-wide movement does not have this problem.

What about Judaism? At its heart, the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is religious. Both religions believe the land and its political structures must be dominated by one religion. This makes it difficult to see a proper role for members of other religions in the region. I am not leaving out secular nationalism, which plays a role as well. But there is this religious aspect.

We are not used to thinking of Judaism in these terms. But Judaism has never come to terms with the place of the non-Jew. Famously, Rashi, the medieval authority with the greatest influence on rabbinic Judaism, taught that the reason the Old Testament begins with creation is to show that God created the land of Israel and can give it to the Jewish people if he chooses—not to show that all humans are brothers in the eyes of God. There are universal voices in Judaism’s classic sources, but they are not as dominant as the ideology of the chosen people.

Until we admit that religious violence is a religious problem that must have a religious solution, the violence will continue.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

What Really Fuels ISIS?

12/1/2015—One week off for a Thanksgiving family break. Thanksgiving is now the only healthy American holiday.

The answer to the above question is actually nothing. ISIS is, after all, weak and small. It is not as if vast numbers of Muslims have flocked to it. Muslims living in the West are overwhelmingly peaceful people trying to make a living like everyone else.

And yet. Radical Islam does seem to have an attraction for some young people. Why is that?

Larry Hoffner, an occasional letter-to-the-editor writer in the New York Times, offers an insight in a Sunday letter in the 11/22/2015 edition of the New York Times Book Review.

The context is the prior week’s review of Michael Houellebecq’s novel Submission—here is the Wikipedia entry: The novel, a political satire, imagines a situation in which a Muslim party upholding traditionalist and patriarchal values leads the 2022 vote in France and is able to form a government with the support of France's Islamo-Leftist Socialist Party. The book drew an unusual amount of attention because, by a macabre coincidence, it was released on the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Hoffner draws attention to the reviewer’s assertion (Karl Ove Knausgaard) that the novel’s theme is the narrator’s overall sense of living in a meaningless void. The rise of Islam in France is merely a consequence of this meaninglessness.

The way Hoffner sees it, the Islamization of France in the book is a symbol of how intolerant ideology will fill a cultural void left by the ennui and disillusionment of contemporary European culture.

In other words, the intolerance and uniformity of a certain form of Islam become attractive because of loss of meaning in secular life.

So, now we have a question—where are we headed? Unless secularism becomes a domain of flourishing life, other forms of meaning must prevail.

We have been here before. Democratic life in Europe waned in the 1930’s and Fascism and Communism came to the fore.

The point is to see ourselves as engaged in a task. Our task is to take our heritage—humanism, the Enlightenment, Christian culture—and adapt it to modern life. To do this, we must let go of post-modernism, which teaches the surrender of all vantage points. I admit we have nothing yet to replace post-modernism. But the first task is to stop taking in more poison. We can stop insisting that life is meaningless. We can at least say that we do not know what all the possibilities of life are. We can stop snarling at religion, which still provides a place to stand for billions of people. We can stop insisting that commitment is the problem and that if only everyone were as free-floating as we are, there would be no suicide bombers. According to Hoffner, we are the problem.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I Guess Trump Really Could Win the Republican Nomination

11/24/2015—All along I assumed that Trump—and Carson also—were a joke. Yesterday, Paul Krugman posted a blog entry that Trump really could win, citing more detailed poll numbers.

I did not take Krugman seriously. It was the sort of thing that he would say in order to make fun of the Republican Party.

But today I looked at the rules of the Republican primary voting. These rules were tweaked in 2014 to avoid another lengthy primary battle, thus weakening the eventual nominee.

Well, the unintended consequence of the rule changes is that Trump could win, because States that hold primaries after March 15 will award delegates on a winner-take-all basis. Right now, Trump presumably leads in several of these states, as he does in Republican national polls. If 25% is enough for first place, it could be Trump. A Sweep on March 15—Florida, North Carolina, Ohio—might put Trump in a commanding delegate lead.

Here are the rules: The first states to hold primaries, as usual, will be Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Voters in those states will go to the polls in February under the party rules passed in 2014.

States that hold their primaries between March 1 and March 14, 2016, will award their delegates on a proportional basis, meaning that no one candidate could likely win the nomination before late-voting states get to hold their primaries.

States voting on March 15, 2016, or later will award their delegates on a winner-take-all basis.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Reason is Not an Alternative to Religion

11/22/2015—S.T. Joshi is an Indian American literary critic and novelist and is the editor of the book, Atheism: A Reader, which I have not read (though undoubtedly I have read pieces of it).

Joshi was upset by a David Brooks comment that the “secular substitutes for religion—nationalism, racism and political ideology—have all lead to disaster.” So Joshi wrote a short letter to the editor in the NY Times on Friday in which he stated that he was “deeply offended” by Brooks’ characterization.

“The true secular substitute for religion is reason,” he wrote.

Now let’s think about this. The statement implies that religious believers don’t utilize reason, which is a common secular statement, but, as I’m sure Joshi realizes, would be just as offensive to many religious believers as Brooks’ statement was to him. Take a look, for example, at the kind of Christian thinking that criticizes paradoxical religion at Bible Gateway.

The influence of various movements within our culture such as New Age, Eastern religion, and irrational philosophy have led to a crisis of understanding. A new form of mysticism has arisen that exalts the absurd as a hallmark of religious truth. We think of the Zen-Buddhist maxim that "God is one hand clapping" as an illustration of this pattern.

To say that God is one hand clapping sounds profound. It puzzles the conscious mind because it strikes against normal patterns of thought. It sounds "deep" and intriguing until we analyze it carefully and discover that at root it is simply a nonsense statement.
This religious thinking is steeped in reason. Yes, God is mysterious, but lots of matters in the universe are mysterious. For example, Joshi does not understand quantum entanglement (no one does), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

What Joshi means by reason is probably evidence-based policy making. But that matter is a small subset of what is at stake in religion. Most religious people have no problem at all with evidence based policy making. They do not object to geology class teaching the age of the Earth. Evolution is controversial because of its ethical implications or meaning implications. No one wants high school biology class to teach that the universe is without meaning. That is not, nor could it be, an evidence based statement. It is a different kind of statement.

Joshi is wrong not because reason is unimportant or unreliable—it might be both. Joshi is wrong because reason is, for him, a means-end connection. For Joshi, reason does not define proper human ends or goals. But that is precisely what religion does. Religion defines proper human activity.

So, I ask what secularism substitutes for religion in defining proper human activity? It is crystal clear that decent secularists substitute a kind of political liberalism or economics based conservative ideology. We used to substitute Marxism. Indecent secularists substitute racism and nationalism, just as Brooks says.

I have to add here that this flimsy, thin thinking is not all that secularism might embrace. Hallowed Secularism attempts to find deeper roots for secularism. One such root might be the thinking of Martin Heidegger, who may be thought of as teaching how one can be religious without the fantastic elements that put Joshi off. Reason might be given a new name—philosophy. And that endeavor might be searching for what is whole, deep and rich in reality.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

How to Defeat ISIS

11/19/2015—I have watched in amazement as the media has failed in analysis in the week since the Paris attacks. Shortly after the attacks, in a meeting in Vienna, the major world powers reached a framework to end the Syrian Civil War. There was to be a cease fire and then UN intervention followed by free elections. The precise timing of President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s leaving office was to be worked out. It was not final, but it was promising.

And then…nothing. Back to more or less irrelevant bombing and Republican Party hints at more invasion on the ground—see a column by Mitt Romney.

Although it holds territory in both Iraq and Syria, ISIS’s current power is the product of the Syrian Civil War. End that war, end ISIS. The terrorist group is a political, not a military issue. Iraq has the military power to eliminate ISIS, but cannot rally Sunni forces because of its Shiite predominance. Iraq’s failure is also political, not military.

I am not making an argument against military intervention on moral grounds or even on national grounds. Such intervention is simply not necessary, nor even the most efficient way, to eliminate ISIS.

Now, how far apart are the US and Russia—Obama and Putin? From the outside, not particularly far. Putin does not look like he is insisting that Assad remain permanently. The US seems to have dropped its demand that he leave before negotiations take place.

All that is missing is the political will to make the deal. That will seemed present when it was understood that this is the way to fight ISIS and end the refugee flood into Europe. Now, that will has been diverted.

Still, the framework remains and eventually someone will figure out that the world is close to solving this problem for now. Incidentally, even coming this close to a deal shows that the Russian intervention in Syria was great for the US and for everyone else. For the first time, a power with the ability to deliver Assad had an incentive to end the Civil War in Syria. Prior to that, Russia and Iran could just sit back. With the bombing of the Russian plane and the chaos in Europe, everyone needs peace—or at least a cease fire and the reconstruction of order.

I’m optimistic. But where is the media? Where are what Paul Krugman calls the deep thinkers to point all this out?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Exhaustion of Liberalism

11/15/2015—The New York Times ran a story on Thursday about Democratic Party losses at the state level: in Obama era, G.O.P. bolsters grip in the states. The story laments the loss of young Democratic Party talent as the Republican Party has succeeded in capturing a huge majority of state legislative seats and governorships – – Republicans now control 32 state governorships.

The focus of the story is absurd. The problem of course is not the lost young Democratic candidates, but the loss of political support. Candidates follow support, not the other way around. And if the Democratic Party were to gain support, young attractive candidates would appear.

So, the question is, why are the Democrats doing so badly? After all, the Republican Party looks to be in a terrible position: on the wrong side of immigration in a country becoming more racially diverse, against gay rights in a country becoming more accepting, against action on global warming in the country that is coming to see that global warming is true and a threat, for religion in a country that is becoming more secular, against action on economic inequality in a country devastated by stagnant wages.

The article hints at an answer. The Democrats have trouble winning over voters, President Obama acknowledges in the article, and even when they do, they have trouble motivating their voters to vote. This is a problem, a deep problem, of message.

Adam Edelen, the focus of the article, who was defeated in his reelection bid for state auditor in Kentucky, stated that the problem for the Democrats is that the party is “perceived to be elite.” And the president, he said, helps foster that perception.

Now why should the Democrats have a problem re-engaging the guy who works in a factory or the woman was trying to raise kids on the salary of a waitress? Isn’t it the Republicans who favor the wealthy?

The answer may lie in the phrase, God, guns, country and family. The problem remains that old President Obama quote from after the 2008 presidential primary in Pennsylvania: “And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Here President Obama is trying to reach out but he is talking about people rather than to them.

But the problem is not Obama. What do liberals really believe about God, guns, country and family? Most liberals are embarrassed if not hostile to all four as understood by most people in this country and certainly as understood by most white working-class voters.

Now add to that liberals support for higher taxes and you have a recipe for disconnection with ordinary people.

All this can be dealt with. It requires only two things: first, the absolute end of postmodern irony; second, the substitution of wages for taxes. Forget the rich. Just pay the poor.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Heidegger’s Judeo-Christian

11/13/2015—There have been complaints, for example in the book The Unthought Debt: Heidegger and the Hebraic Heritage by Marlène Zarader, that Heidegger’s is silent about the Hebraic heritage that is said to influence him. There is even a hint in this line that the silence is willful and is evidence of antisemitism. Even someone sympathetic to Heidegger, like Allen Scult in Being Jewish/Reading Heidegger takes the allegation of silence seriously and tries to justify it by suggesting that one can only honor one tradition as a wellspring and for Heidegger, it was Greece.

But all this overlooks the most obvious possibility—that Heidegger thought that Jewish thought and Christian thought shared essential attributes. Thus, in either discussing Christianity directly or in adopting Christian motifs, he was also dealing with Judaism.

This would not be shocking. It is how I think of the tradition—as essentially one. And it would be the opposite of antisemitism.

I had no evidence to support this surmise until I ran across the following quote in Contributions to Philosophy: “The last god has his own most unique uniqueness and stands outside of the calculative determination expressed in the labels ‘mono-theism,’ ‘pan-theism,’ and ‘a-theism.’ There has been ‘monotheis,” and every other sort of ‘theism’ only since the emergence of Judeo-Christian ‘apologetics,’ whose thinking presupposes ‘metaphysics.’ With the death of this God, all theisms wither away.” Section 256, page 326.

Now this is not too flattering of course. But it is a criticism of the place of Jewish thought and Christian thought within Western thought. Whatever Heidegger learned from the religious tradition of the West—and it was a great deal—he believed another beginning was necessary. It is not an unthought debt. And only one determined to criticize Heidegger could consider it hostile to Judaism.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

What is Wrong with Whites?

11/8/2015—Here is a blog posting from Paul Krugman on a study showing rising death rates among non-Hispanic Whites in the U.S.
This new paper by Angus Deaton and Anne Case on mortality among middle-aged whites has been getting a lot of attention, and rightly so. As a number of people have pointed out, the closest parallel to America’s rising death rates — driven by poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases — is the collapse in Russian life expectancy after the fall of Communism. (No, we’re not doing as badly as that, but still.) What the data look like is a society gripped by despair, with a surge of unhealthy behaviors and an epidemic of drugs, very much including alcohol.

This picture goes along with declining labor force participation and other indicators of social unraveling. Something terrible is happening to white American society. And it’s a uniquely American phenomenon; you don’t see anything like it in Europe, which means that it’s not about a demoralizing welfare state or any of the other myths so popular in our political discourse.

There’s a lot to be said, or at any rate suggested, about the politics of this disaster. But I’ll come back to that some other time. For now, the thing to understand, to say it again, is that something terrible is happening to our country — and it’s not about Those People, it’s about the white majority.
I’m tempted to attribute this to the death of religion and the failure of secularism to come up with a form of meaning that can contribute to flourishing human life. And there is some support in this idea, since the other groups, most particularly Hispanics and African-Americans, whose death rates are not going up, are more religious than is the White majority.

But, if this is the case, why would it not infect Europe, where the death of religion is much more pronounced?

This suggests that the real problem is the death of the American dream. Middle age Whites are the ones who never got ahead as the system was, and finally seemed to them to be, rigged against them: stagnant wages in the presence of massive wealth at the top.

But, again, why would Europe be exempt? Economic conditions there are much worse than in the U.S.

But social solidarity is not as low. That is true in two senses. First, materially, the social welfare safety net still works in Europe. For example, even if my life is a dead end, my children get a good education and have more upward mobility than in America. So, I would not have to feel like I failed my kids. Second, psychologically and ideologically, Americans believe in individualism. Conservatives and liberals. (On the left, it’s called choice and it’s the reason that fathers have no say whatever in the abortion decision, not even the right to know about it).

So, in America, you are on your own. Stand on your own two feet. Or, in this case, lie down in your own grave.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ross Douthat’s Mistake

11/3/2015—Ross Douthat responded today in the Post-Gazette (the column appeared earlier in the NY Times) to a letter to the Times from theologians criticizing him for commenting on what Douthat characterizes as a rift in the Catholic Church over admitting the remarried to communion without an annulment.

Douthat is right that both liberals and conservatives have reasons for downplaying the extent of the rift. And he is right to be offended when theologians respond that he does not understand because he is a lay person.

But Douthat is treating Church divisions as if they were American political disagreements and the two contexts are different.

First, Church doctrine really does change—it does not just “deepen.” This was the case with the teachings of Thomas Aquinas as well as Vatican II.

Second, the doctrines he is so concerned about are really not that important. They are political flash points, not theological ones. Jesus taught that marriage could not be dissolved, but the annulment process already reverses that teaching in many cases. Anyway, the issue is communion, not divorce. Jesus ate with sinners.

Finally, changes here will not require “a bitter civil war.” That is a political columnist talking, not a Catholic. The Church had a civil war over the Reformation. It is not going to have one over a matter like this.

The Church develops in an elaborate dance between continuity and change—sometimes more of one and sometimes less. Fortunately, the Church is not really like politics.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

So, It's Not Going to be Trump (or Carson)

10/29/2015--Well, who thought it would be?

As many predicted, now that it is fall and people are actually starting to pay attention, Donald Trump just seems like a bad dream. That much seems clear from the reporting on the GOP debate last night. I would not watch such a thing, but the reports are clear.

Dr. Carson will go next. It now seems that the "big" GOP field has just two people in it--Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. This is more or less what experienced observers--like Ross Douthat--said all along. Florida and Texas--the GOP heartland these days. They might even be a ticket one way or the other.

Back to ordinary politics.

And does this not show how wrong liberals are about money in politics? No big money anointed these two. They just spoke better to the base of the Republican Party.

But, what if one of them wins? They have both denied global warming in the past, but they are not stupid. Cruz for example relied on the pause in record breaking global heat. Now that it has resumed, he could go back. Rubio is tougher. He has been described as all fossil fuel all the time. But politics being what it is. Presumably they all love their kids and grandchildren. The cannot really want for them what is coming.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Heidegger and the Last God

10/23/2015—When I first encountered Martin Heidegger, I assumed that here finally was a philosopher of depth that atheists could embrace. This would be a way out of the crisis in secularism, a way out of the materialism and nihilism that have stunted secularism in America.

Imagine my surprise in studying Contributions to Philosophy, to read constant references to god and the gods. In the last parts of the book, this theme is particularly pronounced. Others might point out that this is not surprising in a philosopher who, in a letter in the 1920’s, called himself not a philosopher but a Christian theologian.

So, is Heidegger then not the future of western thinking? No. Heidegger remains that future (if there is to be a future, as he might have added). What is needed is the realization that atheism as commonly understood is a rejection of metaphysical religion—a rejection of the supreme being. Heidegger specifically identifies the Christian God as a manifestation of metaphysical religion. Heidegger offers a way of thinking at the end of metaphysics. So he might be called an atheist himself, except of course for all this god language.

What are we to make of this? We will just have to learn what Heidegger is seeing (or listening to) when he writes the word God. Maybe he is referring to that to which humans belong and which calls us in a demand. And maybe some will conclude that this is nonsensical. But this will have to be thought and shown.

One thing I believe I can say. God here is not a metaphor. The word is a name for something real. The most real.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Conservative Nature of the New Atheism

10/20/2015—I’ve long had the feeling that the New Atheists—the late Chris Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, etc.—are essentially politically conservative. But this has been just a feeling and given the power of the Christian right in the Republican Party, hardly a convincing one. My assumption just had to do with how selfish and individualistic the New Atheists seemed. There was little sense among them of human solidarity.

Anyway, I now have at least an example. Look up the interview in the Sunday New York Times Book Review of Matt Ridley. Ridley praises the New Atheist wing and likens it to Voltaire. But he also says the last book to make him furious was Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth because of its misstatements of science and claims that business people are made villains by novelists who live off the wealth they create. Ridley claims this is a bit facetious, but it undoubtedly represents his true feelings.

Then he describes the Bible in these words: “the grim tedium of this messy compilation of second-rate tribal legends and outrageous bigotry.”

Well, now. How can Gore’s misstated science make him furious and not the underlying danger itself? And how wrong can the science be in Gore’s book. Greenhouse gases make it warmer and that change floods a lot of people. That’s all the book really says and it is happening already, or so I hear.

As for the Bible, the followers of this book have done an awful lot of good in the world—bad, too—but what have atheists ever done for others? What has Ridley ever done for others?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Difficulty of Reining in Money

10/15/2015—Last night’s debate among candidates for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court illustrated the problem of reining in money. The candidates all pledged to take the Supreme Court out of judicial discipline, which may finally portend a new era of institutional modesty at the Supreme Court.

But in response to a question about independent money, there was confusion and obfuscation. The fear in Pennsylvania is last minute attack ads aimed at one candidate of the opposite Party, to help one more candidate get elected among the three to be elected. I’m not sure it’s going to happen. It’s getting pretty late in the election. But it could.

So the question was whether the candidates would prevent this from happening. What we got was that noncoordination rules would prevent any action by a candidate and that outside groups have a first amendment right to do this under the Citizens United case.

As to the first, there aren’t any noncoordination rules as far as I know. Judicial elections don’t have contribution limits, so why would there be rules on noncoordination that normally enforce contribution limits?

As for the first amendment, the question isn’t whether it would be illegal to run attack ads, but whether a candidate would tell her supporters not to do so. This mindset shows the harm of rights theory. Just because there is a right to do something, doesn’t mean it is right to do it.

It’s going to take practice to live in a world without contribution limits.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Liberals Fooling Themselves About Political Money

10/11/2015—The New York Times today shows how liberals fool themselves about money. On page one, there is the big story about how half of the money spent on the Presidential campaign comes from just 158 families. This money, the story intones, is keeping the Republican Party from supporting policies, like higher taxes on the wealthy, supported by 2/3 of Americans. So, money is the political problem rather than poorly conceived or communicated liberal ideas.

Except that other stories suggest this is not true. First of all, as Frank Bruni suggests in the Sunday Review, money has not been the primary factor this year.

“Remember how much money was supposed to matter, partly for the commercials it could buy? Well, the ads didn’t have, or aren’t having, the intended effect for Bush, Perry, Kasich, Bobby Jindal (another floundering governor) and — on the Democratic side — Hillary Clinton.”

The reason that Republicans don’t propose higher taxes on the wealthy, including someone like Trump who does not chase donor money as much as others do, is that they don’t believe in them. They don’t want government to get more money. They think it is a bad idea.

Consider the case of Ray and Melissa Lewie featured in the Sunday Business Section. They are angry about stagnant wages. But they don’t blame the wealthy. They blame government.

“When asked to assign blame for stagnating wages, he and his wife pointed to the federal government. Regulations and high taxes, he said, not lower wages abroad, led those textile mill companies to move to Mexico.”
“‘Our money is being wasted, wasted, wasted,’ she added. ‘And now we’re paying more and more, and our debts are going up and up, and we need to stop the debt. We have to find someone that’s going to actually take control and say, “‘Stop spending.’”

Her husband said, ‘I don’t think it could get any worse.’

‘The government is taking 39 percent now,’ said Mr. Lewie, a little morosely, referring to the top income tax bracket. Not for the first time during the meal, he worried that high taxes would discourage the wealthy from producing jobs. ‘If they want 45 percent, they’ll take that and spend more. If they want 60 percent, they’ll take that and spend more. How much is enough?’”

Liberals have to stop talking about taxes and start talking about unions. Start talking—-more, that is-—about the minimum wage. That is the kind of message that might reach Mr. and Mrs. Lewie.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Pretty Small University

10/7/2015—-I mean to quibble. David Brooks wrote a column yesterday in the New York Times, entitled The Big University. In this column, Brooks argues for the future for universities founded in their original moral and spiritual mission, but secularized and open.

The column manifests the ambiguity of the liberal mind in terms of truth and individual choice. Brooks acknowledges that "literary critics, philosophers and art historians are shy about applying the knowledge to real life.” They are “afraid of being prescriptive because they idolize individual choice.”

But Brooks himself manifests the same hesitancy. He puts the issue as follows: “the trick is to find a way to talk about moral and spiritual things while respecting diversity.” But the great universities of the past did not respect diversity. They presented an array of truths that they endorsed. And this was especially so in the canon of Great Western works.

Yes, the universities respected different judgments by students and created a space for students to challenge the University’s commitments, but the University stood by commitments all the same. This is not diversity.

Brooks presents four tasks for the University. One, reveal moral options in our moral traditions, including the Jewish, Christian, and scientific traditions. But then Brooks adds the following: “then it’s up to the students to determine which one or which combination is best to live by.” No, the University endorses an array of truths to live by. The University does not simply present matters to be picked up by the student, like a smorgasbord.

Here are the other tasks. Second, “foster transcendent experiences.” In other words, surround the student with beauty and truth and commitment. Third, investigate current loves and teach new things to love. Fourth apply the humanities.

What Brooks wants is moral instruction. He should ask, since universities used to engage in moral instruction, what killed it? Unfortunately for Brooks, and bad for us, is that what killed moral instruction is all the aspects of modernity that we endorse. Thus, we are trapped.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Is Litigation the Way to Stop Global Warming?

10/3/2015—Mary Wood, Oregon Law Professor, gave a terrific presentation at the Duquesne University Climate and Creation Conference. Her message was an endorsement of pending atmospheric trust litigation that attempts to hold governments accountable for change in the climate. The litigation enforces what she calls nature’s trust—a kind of expansion of the public trust doctrine.

The necessity of such litigation is simply the emergency of climate change and the harm it is already doing. What she calls the statutory regime of environmental law is not adequate and a Congress bought by the fossil fuel industry is not up to the task. The citizenry has been intentionally confused by big money lies about the climate and cannot demand change.

Wood denies that such litigation turns judges into dictators, but she is being disingenuous about that. Such litigation, if successful, results in a court order to reduce carbon emissions. How is that to be done without legislation, except by direct executive action? The fact that the President takes the ultimate actions does not change the undemocratic nature of the undertaking.

Yes, courts enforce rights against the democratic branches. But this kind of action is certainly controversial and, compared to moving to a carbon free economy, is very limited in range an impact. In contrast, the President would have to impose a carbon tax or cap and trade etc.

What Wood was showing, although she would presumably deny it, is that democracy is just a luxury in the face of this emergency. The example she used—economic mobilization in WWII—just proves the point. Democracy in wartime generally takes a back seat. But only temporarily.

I may be overreacting. The litigation may be meant really to spur action—like the use of the necessity defense in civil disobedience cases is meant to allow the protestor to make her case before the public—not to win acquittal. If so, I wish she had said so.

The irony of this is that, back in 1998, I wrote an article laying out the same strategy that is now being used—Establishing a Federal Constitutional Right to a Healthy Environment, 68 Miss. L.J. 605. But I later repudiated this approach as ceding much too much power to the courts and lawyers.

Once it is concluded that democracy has failed, it doesn’t matter that much what happens to the environment. If the only way to save the planet is to enslave its people then I have to ask, what is the point of saving the planet? Just get rid of the people.

Martin Heidegger warned us about this years ago. He was quoted as saying that he did not know what form of political life was appropriate for a technological age, but he doubted it was democracy. Maybe he was right.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Did Pope Francis Do His Job?

9/30/2015—Did Pope Francis do his job? Well, that depends on what you think his job is. I would give him only a C+. He and I would agree that his job is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, why only a C+? The Pope made many of us feel better, much better, inspired by his humility and love. But did the Pope make it clear that the source of his character is Jesus Christ? Maybe he did in visiting the homeless and prisoners, as Jesus often did. But I heard one person at the prison say that the visit showed the Pope to be a “man of the people”. Jesus did not enter into it.

And, anyway, making people feel better is ambiguous in terms of Jesus. Sure, Jesus made the poor feel better. But many people found him to be a pain in the ass. If Jesus had spoken in Rome, he would not have made the people of Rome feel better. Well, wasn’t the Pope speaking in today’s Rome?

Here are two groups I believe the Pope should have been aiming at and did not reach. First, there are those conservative Protestants. Ruth Ann Dailey, one of this group, wrote a column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently criticizing the Pope’s message on issues like immigration and poverty. Many of the members of the Tea Party are quite religious. But I don’t believe the Pope succeeded in suggesting that the Gospel they purport to follow is inconsistent with their policy proposals.

The second group is liberal nonbelievers. Many in this group admire the Pope. But did the Pope succeed in showing this group that concern for the poor and for immigrants and for the unborn are linked? Did he show them that they are practicing a form of violence in abortion? I don’t mean people would have changed their minds. I mean only that the Pope did not press issues or approaches that would shock people. He did not introduce the strangeness of the Gospel.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pope Francis Visits

9/25/2013—I am surprised by the reception—rapturous reception—Pope Francis is receiving. I have to listen to the speech. Friends of mine called it charming. The Pope does have a good heart.

But what is notable is the authority with which he is speaking. People care what he says. People, especially politicians, want his approval. And not just Catholics. Partly it is because he is Pope. But of course it is also Francis’ own character.

But the most important lasting effect the Pope’s visit, and especially his speech to the Congress followed by visiting the homeless, might have is to remind secularists of the notable character of religion. Francis is unique. Most religion is not like him. But no secularist is like him that I know of.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yom Kippur

9/23/2015—I watched a part of a movie a few days ago about a British official fighting Muslim extremists in Britain. Early in the movie, a Muslim cleric is radicalizing a young British man, although one who might have been born abroad. They are in a bar, watching young people getting drunk. “We are not like them,” says the cleric.

On this Day of Atonement, I am reminded that no one in the world is like the rootless western secularist. A holy day like Yom Kippur gives shape to a year and to a life—-along with the rest of the religious calendar. But to the secularist, one day is like another. That is why so many of us look to nature to provide seasons and rhythms.

But the religious holy day is not just seasonal, but meaningful. That is literally filled with meaning. My relationship with ultimate reality is renewed. I am reassured that life is not an accident and is not pointless. I am placed once again in a great cosmic drama.

This drama of course requires a central character. This character could be God, but as in Job, I always believed it was I. Or perhaps it was I in relation to God. Thus, my purification was required by the universe. And I could emerge renewed and refreshed after the holy day.

If it sounds like I miss Yom Kippur and the Kol Nidre ceremony that was performed last night, it is because I do. But all of it—-including the fasting—-is too involved to perform unless one is a part of it. And one cannot just watch it from a distance. So, despite numerous invitations, I don’t go back to Dor Hadash for Kol Nidre and I don’t fast and pray on my own.

But I do blog. Thinking the religious calendar is now my substitute for having one.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Shabbat Shuvah

9/19/2015—The Saturday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is known as Shabbat Teshuva, the Sabbath of Repentance. [Well, actually, no. It is that, but the name of this Shabbat is Shabat Shuva, from the first word, shuva, in the haftarah from Hosea: Turn O Isarael. The root of the word for repentance, is shuvah, to turn. I regret the error, which I caught from reading Rabbi Jessica Locketz in the Jewish Chronicle].

Various accounts are given of why and how this is, but the general idea is clear enough, the Shabbat of this holy time—the entire 10 day period between RH and YK is known as the High Holy Days—is a natural time to think about one’s life. Shabbat has a different rhythm, after all. There is less doing. Shabbat Teshuva is also one of the two big sermons a rabbi traditionally gives. (the other is Shabbat Ha-gadol, the Saturday after the beginning of Passover). I was went to hear the sermon of Rabbi Yisroel Miller, who was head rabbi at Paole Zedeck synagogue, give this sermon. He said to do one more mitzvah in the coming year.

So, let’s think about repentance. There is ritual repentance and cultural repentance. This is a large part of what I heard that day. Keep kosher and identify more with the Jewish community (support Israel). This is the repentance of Israel bonds.

But it is also the repentance of liberal humanitarianism. Become a vegetarian and give to the Sierra Club (don’t drive so much). I have heard these also on the High Holy Days.

Anything wrong with that? No. Secularists like me hardly ever consider their lives at all, let alone for ten days.

Ritual and cultural repentance is the same for everybody. There is also the repentance that is personal. There are in a year particular acts for which we might be ashamed. (I had a pretty good year in that regard, but on the other hand I haven’t spent a whole day in self-examination). Classically, this is the moment to think about that affair you had, which your spouse does not know about. It is important to keep this repentance away from the petty and impossible—don’t yell at your kids so much is always good advice, but I am speaking here of something shameful and particular. Of course, it could include a very large matter, such as the job that requires you to lie every day. And certainly it must include how you regard your enemies.

You can resolve to do something about these things, or not do them again. And you can try to see how these acts flowed from your whole life and the way you are.

All very good and necessary. But I am getting too old for either. I’m not changing my lifestyle if I can help it. And wealth and lack of energy shield me from having to lie to people.

There is another kind of repentance—one to which Martin Heidegger calls us. It has to do with language and thinking. This should come as no surprise. The Jewish tradition often refers us to our language and thoughts. It is here that purification must begin. That same portion from Hosea reads, Take with you words and turn to God... ."

But we lack the tools. Torah study in part begins the movement of purifying our language and thinking. Heidegger gives us another place to begin.

The book, Contributions to Philosophy, is Heidegger’s great act of repentance. He had just resigned the Presidency (Rectorship) of the University of Freiberg (April 1934, less than a year after he was elected and joined the Nazi Party). He stopped going to Nazi Party meetings (he would later call this whole episode “the greatest stupidity of my life” but he never gave the public apology the authorities demanded.)

Contributions was written from 1936-1938, in private and never shown or even published during his lifetime. At the time, the book’s veiled references to the Nazi movement (biologism) would have gotten him in serious trouble. Even as it was, the government banned him from teaching before the end of the war—they could tell something was going on.

So, where does Heidegger begin? The official title, the one a teacher might have on the door, is Contributions to Philosophy—“dull, ordinary and empty” Heidegger calls this title and he has an alternative—Of the Event.

But why so dull a title? “Philosophy can be officially announced no other way, since all essential titles have become impossible on account of the exhaustion of every basic [grounding] word and the destruction of the genuine relation to the word.” (additional tran. by R. Taylor).

What follows is strange language, almost impenetrable for a long time.

But for Teshuva, the point is the exhaustion of language in the western, metaphysical tradition. Heidegger tried to stop using dead words. And that must be our starting point for teshuva. Wittgenstein called this not being pushed around by language. Teshuva requires that we examine our language—the way we speak every day. I can tell you, this attempt is difficult and tedious. Is it rewarding? We’ll know when we try it.

I can say that transformation does not happen without it.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Just Leave Me Alone on the New Year

0/14/2015—I used to speak at synagogue during the High Holy Days. These are the New Year holidays bookended by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Nowadays, I think, what would I say?

The Days of Awe, as they are also known, are peculiar to modern Americans. We don’t think of ourselves as seriously in need of forgiveness and, anyway, who could give it? So the hopes of forgiveness change into something more conventional—in liberal Judaism, to be a better person; in orthodox Judaism, to do one more mitzvah (to begin keeping kosher would be a great start in many orthodox synagogues).

But all this has nothing to do with Biblical living. In both old and new testaments, thus for me in Torah, which is both, sin is usually not so personal. There are exceptions, like not to murder, but even these are much more fundamental than not yelling at the kids or not eating shrimp in restaurants.

The sin with which the Torah is actually concerned, whatever the context, is refusing to listen to God’s word. So, Mary is praised in the New Testament for responding to God, do with me as you will (as does Jesus). Similarly, Abram (later Abraham) is simply told to go to a land that God will show him—lech lecha—and he goes. In other contexts, the symbol of such willingness is the word hineini—here I am.

This is not the modern, here I am as what I am. The is the biblical here I am, what would you have me do?

So, the proper prayer today on Rosh Hashana is, make me ready to say hineini to you.

Oh, I know I don’t believe in a God that says things. But the spiritual context here is not one that requires a God as a being. What is required is a call—I am called and I respond hineini. Atheists too.

Now, the hard part. If I am candid, I do not want such a call. And the tradition knows this too. That is, in part, why the Book of Jonah is read on Yom Kippur. When he receives the call, Jonah runs away. That is what we all do.

What if the call I received was to give up my comfortable, wonderful existence in the Mexican War Streets, where for the first time since I was 14 years old, I feel genuinely at home, and told to go to a new place—whether physically or otherwise. I like the life I have just fine.

So, the honest person prays the other prayer Jesus prayed—let this cup pass. Don’t call me. Please leave me alone.

Strangely, the trick here is to get modern people to understand that the terms of biblical life are our terms. And this has nothing, nothing!, to do with whether we “believe” in God. Abraham Lincoln received a call. People have wondered whether he believed in God. The call still took his life.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Iranian Deal “Passes”

9/12/2015—Just before the anniversary of 9/11, word came on Thursday that Senate Democrats beat off a closure vote and successfully filibustered the Iranian disapproval vote. So, the deal goes through and President Obama gets his second legacy win—first Obamacare, and now the Iranian deal.

Both achievements are significant and the President deserves credit for pushing through against all the critics. But, both victories also demonstrate just how partisan political life has become. No Republicans in Congress supported either measure. (Actually, at one point I think I remember one Republican House vote).

(By the way, in October, 2013, Ann Coulter tried to rally the base with the following in Human Events: “When your new health insurance premiums arrive in the mail, and you can’t find a doctor in your plan who speaks English, tell me the fight between Republicans and Democrats is not that important.” As Sarah would say, how is that working out for you, Ann?”)

But the Iran deal is actually nonpartisan. Some Democrats oppose it. So, the struggle over the Iran deal illustrates, as did Jimmy Carter’s Panama Canal Treaty, that Americans are really pretty aggressive in foreign policy. It’s not just a testament to 9/11. We don’t like the nuances of foreign agreements in which we give something up of real value. Americans tend to prefer the clarity of military action. (Jimmy Carter should be a hero for the war in Central America we never fought).

I have said before that the filibuster is an overused, anti-democratic tactic. And the Iranian deal is a perfect example. The American people deserved to have a vote. If the deal is that bad, let the people see who supported it. And, if the deal proves good, let the people see who voted to kill it. The Presidential veto would have been sustained and the ultimate effect would have been the same.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Heideggerian Prayer

9/7/2015—What we, steadfast in Da-sein, ground and create and, in creating, encounter in a rush—-only that can be true and open and, consequently, recognized and known. Our knowledge reaches only as far as the steadfastness in Da-sein reaches out, and that is the power of sheltering the truth into patterned beings. Contributions to Philosophy, Section 193, page 249. (additional translation by Robert Taylor).

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Kim Davis is No Religious Martyr, No Prisoner of Conscience

9/6/2015—I agree that Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who was jailed by a federal judge for refusing to issue gay marriage licenses, should not be in jail. But the reason is that now the licenses are being issued. All she should have to promise the court is not to interfere. What difference does it make who issues the license as long as it is issued?

I used to belong to a group that promoted gay marriage and robust religious exemptions—to protect the florist and caterer who did not want to be associated with gay marriage. That was a matter of religious conscience. Davis has nothing to do with that.

Instead, Davis wants to use the monopoly power of the State to deny gay people the right to marry. She is not Henry David Thoreau, but Caesar.

Davis’ husband said in an interview that gay people are trying to force others to accept their position. No. They are just trying to marry. The question was never Davis and her conscience. Davis could always have personally have stayed out of it. The question was the actions of the government. The government has to issue licenses to marry.

Supporters of Davis yesterday raised the legitimacy of judicial review as part of her defense. But, actually, Davis’ situation is not much affected by what branch of government decides to issue marriage licenses to gay people. There are Christian clerks in states in which the legislature has enacted gay marriage as well. Their offices still have to issue the licenses.

Anyway, it’s a pretty big argument between gay marriage and the end of judicial review. We’ve had that power of courts to find legislation unconstitutional since the Constitution was adopted. Probably a good thing. Who wants to experiment now? Remember, it was the courts that protected religious conscience in the Hobby Lobby litigation.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How to be Secular

9/2/2015—James Kugel, the chair of the Institute for the History of the Jewish Bible at Bar Ilan University in Israel and the Harry M. Starr Professor Emeritus of Classical and Modern Hebrew Literature at Harvard University, is a Jewish superstar I never heard of, until recently. He is concerned with the question, how to be Jewish today. His own response is provocative. He calls himself “self-defined orthodox”. Imagine that. Kugel dares to be a Jew on his own terms, but still insists he is Jewish. These are ways I never managed to undertake. Also, although he lives in Israel, he does not seem to consider the Jewish State to be an important religious issue.

One recent book he wrote is entitled On Being a Jew. The book is a dialogue between a student and a teacher. I haven’t read it. But I appreciate the genre.

Now, why would he write this book? Because being a Jew today is the issue as Judaism declines. He is trying to be helpful. Presumably, he is also helping himself.

Now consider all these new secularists, including me. We don’t have any idea how to be secular. And people who sound like they are trying to help us be secular, end up writing about the religious traditions and their weaknesses—like Philip Kitcher’s book, Life After Faith.

The secular need is greater than the religious one. I tried to write about how to be secular in the book, Hallowed Secularism. And there are some meditations in that book that might be helpful. But I didn’t know then how to be secular. Still don’t in fact. But I am learning.

Anyway, Kugel has shown us our task—to write, and live, how to be secular.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Is There a World Beyond Capitalism?

8/30/2015—Between Gar Alperovitz’s DVD of his lecture, “the next American Revolution: beyond corporate capitalism & state socialism,” and a program I attended last week here in Pittsburgh, I can begin to imagine a world beyond capitalism. Alperovitz is describing a different kind of economic system, but it is really an older one, that of worker cooperatives. And, in the program, some people who are doing this kind of thing here in town were describing their experiences.

The difficult part is to imagine how a change takes place. After all, there are worker co-ops now and capitalism is as strong or stronger than ever. Why would not the economic landscape look the same as today in 200 years?

Then there is the question whether it is worth replacing capitalism with cooperative ventures. Right now, most of the benefits and gains go to the top 1%. But, in the context in which we are speaking, that of business organization, the entrepreneur also takes all the risk. By that I mean that if the business goes under, the worker loses nothing but the next paycheck. In contrast, the owner should lose everything. There are advantages to such a system.

It was also revealing that there was a great deal of hostility in the room concerning the new, sharing, economy. For most of the speakers, the new economy is just the way to turn workers into underpaid, self-employed units.

Anyway, I need to contact Gar Alperovitz to find out what law schools are doing, if anything, to speed along the next American Revolution.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Introducing Constitutional Law in the Midst of the Plight

8/26/2015—Martin Heidegger says that we are living in the midst of an emergency. That emergency manifests in many ways, one of which is that we do not understand that we are living in an emergency. We think things are OK. Normal. Like they have always been. Our problems are just human nature.

Last year, I talked about the broken Republic. (On this blog, one year ago) This year, I tried to introduce my students in constitutional law this year to thinking in the emergency. Here is what I told them.


Why does almost every American law school require constitutional law? Unlike the 1st year courses in private civil law and procedure, such as the property, torts and contract, constitutional law does not really form the basis of all legal concepts in all other areas of law. Nor will most of you handle constitutional cases, though some of you will. Of course constitutional law is on the bar exam, and in fact constitutes a substantial portion of the bar exam, but family law is on the bar exam as well and most law schools did not require it.

The answer has something to do with Marbury v Madison and the doctrine of judicial review. Judicial review, which Marbury is credited with establishing, although the idea was not particularly controversial and had been previously accepted, is the power of the court, in the course of ordinary litigation, to hold the actions of other branches of government, such as statutes and Executive Orders, unconstitutional and thereby void. Judicial review is the opposite of parliamentary supremacy, which is the doctrine that laws enacted by the legislature are beyond challenge by other branches of government.

Aside from the context of Marbury – – how it arose, how it was a part of a political/legal struggle between 2 political parties, the Federalist party and the new Democratic Republican party of the recently elected president Thomas Jefferson, and how the particular holding of unconstitutionality could not readily be overturned by the president or by Congress –- aside from all that, the establishment of judicial review meant that some questions that could perhaps have been treated in purely political terms with the common issues of law to be debated in a courtroom. And so, with many twists and turns, and with much controversy, some of which we will examine in this course, Marbury leads to the resolution of the gay marriage issue in the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges. And that means that lawyers – – judges, litigators and even legal theorists – – will be at the heart of American public life. Judicial review mean that the legal profession that you are seeking to join has a special responsibility for the healthy functioning of the constitutional system. And I believe that this is the reason that almost every law school requires constitutional law. You will each be responsible for the health of American public life.

So the question I want to put you is, how are we, and the Constitution that has been put into our hands through the doctrine of judicial review, how are we doing?

I think we are doing very badly indeed. I know members of our faculty in the law school disagree with me about this, Maybe we are doing just fine. But In fact I believe that the experiment of the Republic is in danger of failing. There was always a question of how this would go. Apocryphally, Benjamin Franklin was asked if he left a constitutional convention, Mr. Franklin, what form of government have we? The answer, the Republic, Madam, if you can keep it. We are in danger of not keeping it.

The story of failing American public life obviously can be told from 2 different points of view. From one point of view, the Republican Party has become a rogue political party, denying facts and science, in thrall to the economic 1%, and so is poisonously partisan that it would rather see America go down the drain then see Pres. Obama succeed. From the other point of view, we don’t have a president as much as we have a dictator, who believes his own policy, rather than, as the Constitution would have it, the policies of Congress, should be the law, in many fields from immigration to environment to the Iranian deal. Under this regime of Presidential will, no individual rights are safe, from search and seizure to religious liberty.

The very fact that there are 2 such narratives absolutely believed by millions of Americans demonstrates that political solidarity and community is failing in America today. Perhaps you believe that everything is fine and that political life has always been like this more or less because of human nature. But I think there is something wrong.

The question then becomes, what went wrong? When did it go wrong? How did it go wrong? And, most importantly, can it be made right, or at least more right than at present? And I hope that this course will give you the tools, and perhaps if I am successful, some hints, that might help you answer this most important task of healing America.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

“The money seems to have lost its knack for hoodwinking the voters.”

8/19/2015—The above quote is from Paul Krugman—you can look it up. (I believe it was his blog). Krugman’s point in context was that Jeb Bush is raising all this money from just a few billionaires and he is still just fourth in the polls.

But the quote fits into a larger context as well. Bush is mostly raising independent money. That is, super PAC money. I have been arguing that the problem of money in American politics is not the amount but the independence. We need that money to go directly to candidates so they are responsible to the voters for it. This is my disagreement with Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessig, who is now running for President.

And I can do something about that independence—if we end campaign contribution limits, all that money eventually will have to go to the candidates themselves. Then the voters will see plainly who is paying for what. And won’t some of these rich people go home if all they can do is contribute to campaigns?

And, additionally, then the Democrats will not be handicapped with these ridiculously low contribution limits. Big donors give millions to Super PACs backing Republicans while Hillary spends all her time raising nickels and dimes. This partisan edge is not my reason for opposing contribution limits, but you would think the Dems would support the idea out of self-interest alone.

It’s not just the money. Krugman sees that now. It’s independence that is the problem.