My public talks currently scheduled for 2018

Public Talks for 2018

“American Philosophy: it’s originality, and practicality, from progressive education to science, law, and democracy.” Gold Coast Library, 1/17 7pm.
There is much that is unique about the development of the United States of America, as well as much that is not. Original visions have struggled with quite traditional values and attitudes throughout our history. American Philosophy, in giving voice to the possibilities of America has made original contributions to Western Philosophy, developing our ideals while critically analyzing our limitations. Touching on a wide range of areas, from education and politics, to religion and science, we will provide a perspective on this development, and suggest some of the fault lines that mark contemporary experience.

“Making Sense of Recent Elections: what can we learn from the unexpected election results in America, Britain, and elsewhere?” South Huntington Library, 1/24 7pm
First the British vote to withdraw from the European Union, then the American election of Donald Trump startled experts and deranged established political expectations and institutions. Similar forces have seemed to be at work at other European countries, though with modified results. What are we to make of these election results, and what do they portend for the future of Western liberal democracies? These are the kind of issues we will seek to address.

“Trump’s America: what is its vision, program, and the nature of its support.” Gold Coast Library, 2/7 at 7pm
We will explore the significance for America of the election of Donald Trump. What were the conditions that laid the groundwork for his election? Who voted for him, and why? And what are the possible consequences?

“Fantasyland: Reflections on America’s Character and Culture”
3 lectures at Hutton House, LIU Wednesdays 2/14-28 from 1-3pm.
In these Reflections on America’s Character and Culture, we will explore:
Who we are. The cultures, ethnicities, and belief systems that have built the U.S. How we developed. Some of the major challenges we have faced, and how we addressed them. Our growth, expansion, and Manifest Destiny. The emergence of the “cultural Cold War” that has come to dominate our politics. The Trump phenomena. And the divergent paths now before us.

“Manifest Destiny and the Meaning of America: thinking about our history and its contemporary relevance.” Syosset Library, 3/1 at 2pm.
Americans have always believed that we are an exceptional people. From the Puritans landing at Plymouth Rock, seeking to build “a city upon a hill” that all the world would view as an example of how all should live, through the 19th Century notion that we had a “manifest destiny” to occupy the entire North American continent “from sea to shining sea.” As a nation, we continue to believe “that God shed his Grace on thee.” We joined WW1 “to save the world for democracy,” and continue to believe that we are the beacons of “The Free World,” with an obligation and responsibility to preserve the values that have made us great. What is that belief system? What are its origins? How has it operated to guide our history? And what are its implications for us as a nation today? These are the issues I hope to address.

“The American Dream: what it means and what are its prospects.” Elmont Memorial Library, 4/6 12:30 pm
Since its inception, one of the central meanings of America has been the opportunity to make something of one’s life. America offered the promise, and quite often the reality, of a continually improving standard of living for oneself and for one’s children. This sense of individual possibility, rooted in personal freedom and basic human rights became a beacon for people across the world. That became the wider significance of the claim that we were « as a city upon a hill » for all the world to see what life could become. In recent times, however, this vision has become increasingly uncertain. What has been happening to the American Dream? Why is that? And what can we do about it?

Advertisements

On The Russian Investigation

I am concerned and even saddened to see the way many long-term leftists, often with quite reputable histories, joining the chorus of those treating claims of Russian interference in our recent election as “fake news,” or only as a conspiracy of foreign policy Hawks to reignite the Cold War, or but an attempt by the Democratic Establishment to explain its electoral defeat and justify its continuing policies and hold on power. For example, the left-wing Real News Network speaks of Trump’s “One Good Policy” in criticizing ongoing efforts to investigate both the Trump campaign and now the Trump Administration. Such analyses often go so far as to justify their position by documenting US interference in the elections of other countries.

But regardless of past — and probably continuing — US interference in other countries (which should be addressed on its own terms) — the public is right to insist upon a full investigation and action to impede as much as possible any future Russian interference for many reasons, not the least of which is the preservation of what’s left of US democracy.

But more to the immediate point, such investigation is crucial to the mobilization of sufficient Republican opposition to the Trump Administration, which alone in the short run can incapacitate it from its destructive political path (and I’m quite confident that there’s a vast Mafiaesque corrupt underbelly that Trump will do almost anything to protect).

Unfortunately, there is no way in the US constitutional system to remove an Administration, as there is in parliamentary systems, so the best that we can do is incapacitate them, push Trump to further outrageous actions, and mobilize an opposition that hopefully!!!! can be electorally successful in 2017, 18, & 2020 — in spite of the immense power of the yet to be fully unleashed financial power, an empowered right-wing media and the growing right-wing influence on the courts. And that will of necessity require us to a limited extent to make common cause with people whose politics on a wide-range of other issues may be anathema to ours. We must appreciate the very palpable fact that our democratic institutions hang by a thread, and all who care about those institutions should NOT contribute to undermining the most effective and potentially successful opposition to the Trump Administration that a mobilized populace can bring about.

Addressing the Crisis of Our Civilization: Existentialism of Sartre and Camus

None can doubt that our civilization is in crisis — daily challenged by economic and social dislocations, technological transformations, political upheavals, ideological contestations, violent confrontations, environmental dislocations, and the ever present danger of nuclear annihilation. What are we to make of all this? And what are we to do about it?
Few have wrestled more personally, profoundly, and creatively with these challenges than the two Noble Prize winners that we will use as our guides in this course. Albert Camus received his Award for “the clear-sighted earnestness (with which he) illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.” His one-time friend, then dedicated antagonist, Jean-Paul Sartre, the first person to have rejected that Prize, was the most prominent French Philosopher of the 20th Century. We will explore in some detail their lives, personal and political conflicts, celebrated novels and essays, philosophical theories, and positive proposals for addressing the crises of our civilization.

This course will be offered by me as part of the Hutton House Lecture Series at LIU/Post in 9 sessions, on Wednesdays, from 1-3pm, from September 6 through November 1, 2017.

An Emerging Fascist Putin-Trump Axis?

As events are unfolding, both domestically and internationally, and new revelations and cover ups surround questions of past and present connections between Trump allies and important Russian officials, I am increasingly coming to the belief that we are in the midst of a major neo-Fascist alliance to reshape the Western world.

Trump’s domestic agenda is one that prioritizes corporate interests, while spouting populist rhetoric, demonizes marginalizable groups in the name of America First — the proto-Nazi slogan on Charles Lindberg and friends in the 30s — shows no respect for the law, courts, or traditional democratic norms, and is committed to the militarization of the police and the suppression of dissent. Meanwhile, he praises Putin and other strongmen, hires past promoters of dictators, and undermines American democratic allies and alliances. And this is not to say anything about his possible direct relation with Russian interference in our, and in our allies, elections. At the same time, it is clear that Putin has actively supported Far Right candidates throughout Europe, including the French anti-Semitic National Front and the anti-Muslim party in the Netherlands — all of whom seek to undermine the European Union.

That is why I believe that we can not act as if we are dealing with politics as usual in the U.S. The Trump Administration is not simply a more radical version of traditional Right Wing politics. It is an existential threat to the very survival of representative government in the U.S., and in a significant sense, to the very survival of relatively decent societies in Europe.

And those of us, whether on the Left, Center, or even Right, who believe in the rule of law, and the at least relative respect for human wellbeing, and the rights and dignity of all people, must join together to do everything we can to delegitimize and incapacitate the Trump Administration from carrying out its neo-Fascist agenda at home and abroad.
A necessary practical step in carrying out this program requires undermining the nearly lockstep support that Trump has so far received from the Republican Party. And the most effective practical strategy for accomplishing that is a full court press on the need for a complete, impartial investigation into the Trump campaign’s connection with Russian interference in our election, and pushing that investigation into exploring any and all continuing coordination between the Trump Administration and the Russian Government.

And that is why the effort of many often well-meaning Leftists — who may seek peace, want detente with Russia, and may fear that these concerns with Russian hacking are solely promoted by Cold Warriors in order to recreate a Cold War, or who may still even have a sympathetic identification with Russia as the continuation of the Soviet Communist ideological commitment to promoting the classless society — their efforts to cast doubt on, or even undermine, investigation into Russian interference in our election is, I fear, no doubt unintentionally and quite unfortunately, playing into the hands of this emerging domestic and international Fascist Axis. We must not normalize the Trump Administration. We must do everything to keep the Russian connection front and center in our demand for a complete impartial investigation, as we confront the Trump Administration on every level, defending threatened groups and basic human rights and services, while promoting programs of social justice, human decency, and ecologically sound and equitable economic development.

Creating Worker Cooperatives on Long Island

Worker Cooperative Initiative of Long Island

Increasingly, we are seeing globalization cannibalize local businesses, destroy jobs, and drain money from the local economy. At the same time, working people are being placed in the position of having to compete with low cost labor in non-union states without serious environmental protections, or with exploited labor in Third World countries, or simply told that their jobs will be transferred overseas. Meanwhile, local communities lose the capacity to control their quality of life, preserve their environment, and plan for sustainable economic development. Thus, they cannot preserve family-supporting jobs and keep profits circulating in the local economy, sustain local business, and provide an adequate tax base for local services.

To address these pervasive challenges, the Long Island Progressive Coalition has inaugurated its “Worker Cooperative Initiative of Long Island,” as part of our contribution to the growing national movement to create a more Cooperative Economy. Worker cooperatives are viable businesses in which the workers are the primary decision-makers. Workers elect a board of directors on the base on one worker one vote. As worker-owners they hire and supervise management, and guarantee that the business remains local, and the profits circulate in the community. Thus they protect workers from outsourcing or exploitation by large multi-nationals, empower them on a daily basis, enhance the workplace experience, and give workers a legitimate experience of pride and ownership. And given the large number of successful Long Island family-owned businesses whose baby-boom owners have no succession plan, they offer an effective means to preserve numerous viable local businesses for their workers and the community.

The LIPC has initiated a series of related campaigns that can contribute to the creation of a Cooperative Economy Ecosystem capable of sustaining a growing local cooperative economy. These efforts include:

  • Exploring possibilities of worker buyouts of existing businesses as a way of addressing the “Silver Tsunami” of aging family owned businesses.
  • Exploring possibilities for the creation of new small businesses, with particular focus on addressing unmet needs for jobs, products, and particular services of minority communities.
  • Working with Sepa Mujer to create a minority owned worker cooperative for its members.
  • Working with the Hofstra Law Clinic and with faculty at LIU Post on research and development.
  • Developing close working relationships with major cooperative development organizations, including The Working World, the Center for Family Life, the Democracy Collaborative, the Union-Coop movement, and the North American office of the Mondragon cooperatives.
  • Creating materials for, and organizing, a public education campaign.
  • Becoming part of The Working World’s Peer Network.
  • Creating a Long Island Task Force on Building Community Wealth.
  • Creating a LIPC Board Steering Committee for the Worker Cooperative Initiative.
  • Developing a Professional Resource and Technical Advisory Board.

If you have any questions or comments, feel fee to share them with me.

On Building an Effective Unified National Progressive Mobilization

On Building an Effective Unified National Progressive Mobilization.

It is rare that I have felt the need to take issue with the views of Heather McGhee, but I believe there is a serious flaw in her important article on “How Populists Like Bernie Sanders Should Talk About Racism,” written with Ian Haney-Lopez, and first published in The Nation Magazine, January 28, 2016. It remains important because it articulates a view currently being advocated by many progressive organizations.

The central challenge confronting the Left, according to McGhee and Haney-Lopez, is, can we combine “the Obama Democrats, the multiracial coalition that forms the party’s present and the country’s future … around a unifying message that resonates with whites on class, people of color on race, and the 99% on both?”

The key to her view is that “white economic populists (– such as Bernie Sanders –) (must) take up the race conversation with white voters, … By directly addressing racial anxiety and its role in fueling popular support for policies that hand over the country to plutocrats.” This is necessary “because anti-government dog whistling” has been the major cause of the hollowing out of the middle class, of whites as well as blacks, and that progressives must start “telling white audiences that combatting racism is important to them.” Only then, will “people of color believe that battling racism is important to” Sanders and white progressives. Thus “progressives … should all endorse specifically targeted reparative efforts,” to counter “the damage inflicted on communities of color over the life of this country.” In sum, “racism has been the plutocrats’ scythe, cutting down social solidarity to harvest obscene wealth and power, …(while) fostering solidarity across racial divisions is the single greatest challenge America faces in uniting the 99%.”

What then is wrong with this analysis and strategy? Let me begin by noting that my concern here is with the proposed strategy, not with any historical analyses or moral justifications. As far as the legitimacy of Black demands for affirmative action, and even reparations, I have addressed that issue favorably in Chapter 7 of my recent book “Critique of Western Philosophy and Social Theory.” But my concern here is with proposals for potentially effective political strategies for progressives to counter Trumpism and the Radical Right. And it is a profound mistake to think that one can appeal to the white working class by trying to prove to them that they are also victims of racist “dog whistle” politics.

First, they almost certainly will see that as special pleading on behalf of the special interests of minorities — and at their expense. Secondly, such analyses are based on claims of the consequences of racism which will be seen as an attack on them as racists. It is highly unlikely that people will take kindly to being called, whether explicitly or by implication, racists, and then asked to side with those who are so castigating them. And how generally effective are political campaigns that begin by claiming that their desired allies are completely confused about the nature of their suffering, and then trying to convince them to see the world differently? And make no mistake, the vast majority of the white working class has been suffering, even if not in the same manner and to the same extent as have Blacks, and other minorities. Further, it is a mistake to suggest that the “multiracial coalition” of the “Obama Democrats” was built on the unification of issues of race and class. In fact, Obama was often criticized by Black activists precisely for downplaying issues of race as he developed a mildly progressive economic message that proved effective with some segments of the white working class.

In sum, therefore, I think the causal argument that is offered for the significance of dog whistle politics mistakes a tactic for a cause, and the proposed strategy of prioritizing racism is politically divisive, being one further expression of interest based politics that is quite unlikely to appeal to the white working class or to middle class women, and therefor does not offer a unified vision with which to build a progressive majority.

What we need now, therefore, is not a strategy based on distinct appeals to specific racial, religious, or cultural groups, but an inclusive strategy directed at unifying the vast majority of Americans, the 99%, against the increasingly ascendant 1%. Almost all Americans have been suffering from the inevitable consequences of NeoLiberalism, the ideology of the “free market”, and the outrageous income inequalities that are decimating working Americans of all races, religions, nationalities, and regions — as has happened similarly across Europe, leading to the Brexit vote, for example, or the rise of the Far Right in Poland, Hungary, Greece, etc. And the racial “dog whistles” are certainly not the cause of such devastation, as Ms. McGhee claims, but only one important strategy used by the proto-fascist American Right Wing to mobilize fear and divide the 99%.

We are facing many challenges to basic human rights and values, and we must mobilize to counter them. The Radical Right has taken hold of major U.S. institutions, from the political machinery of state and national governments, to the courts and mass media. And only a national mobilization of unified progressive forces stands a chance of effectively countering that structure of power. That will require a unified message, one that does not divide along racial or ethnic lines. Where individuals or groups are singled out for attack, we must of course actively come to their defense. But a defensive strategy is not sufficient and will not mobilize the required national movement. We need a unifying vision of economic progress, social justice, and collective well-being. And the most inclusive and effective strategy is one that confronts the ascendant NeoFascist Right Wing and its corporate promoters head on. That is precisely what progressive politicians such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Keith Ellison have been advocating, as well as progressive theorists such as Les Leopold, Gar Alperowitz, and Thomas Piketty. And that is the framework for the building of an effective national mobilization of all progressive forces. Now is the time. If not now, when?