All posts by dsprintz

A few upcoming speaking engagements

“Some Thoughts About The Democratic Candidates,” at the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island, (38 Old Country Road, Garden City, NY,) Sunday, August 18th, at 11am.

“The Good Life: Thinking about what really matters.” at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library (120 Main Street, Setauket, NY), September 4th a 7pm.

“On the Progressive Path Forward,” at Temple Beth El, 660 Park Avenue, Huntington, Sunday, September 8th, at 3pm.

“What is Art?”: a discussion of John Dewey’s Art As Experience, The Frick Estate Lectures at the Nassau County Museum, October 23rd, from 1:30-3:30pm.

For more information, contact mer at dsprintz@me.com.

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It Is Not Enough to Condemn Trump’s Racism

Since some people raised questions as to what I believe, I thought I could do no better than share this beautiful OpEd from Ilhan Omar, with which I am in complete agreement. It would be great if all progressives could work together toward these common goals.

It Is Not Enough to Condemn Trump’s Racism

Throughout history, demagogues have used state power to target minority communities and political enemies, often culminating in state violence. Today, we face that threat in our own country, where the president of the United States is using the influence of our highest office to mount racist attacks on communities across the land. In recent weeks, he has lashed out unprompted against four freshman Democrats in the House of Representatives: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and me, from Minnesota.

Last week, as President Trump watched the crowd at one of his rallies chant “Send her back,” aimed at me and my family, I was reminded of times when such fear mongering was allowed to flourish. I also couldn’t help but remember the horrors of civil war in Somalia that my family and I escaped, the America we expected to find and the one we actually experienced.

The president’s rally will be a defining moment in American history. It reminds us of the grave stakes of the coming presidential election: that this fight is not merely about policy ideas; it is a fight for the soul of our nation. The ideals at the heart of our founding — equal protection under the law, pluralism, religious liberty — are under attack, and it is up to all of us to defend them.

Having survived civil war in my home country as a child, I cherish these values. In Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, I saw grade-school children as young as me holding assault rifles in the streets. I spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya, where there was no formal schooling or even running water. But my family and I persevered, fortified by our deep solidarity with one another, the compassion of others and the hope of a better life in the United States.

The America we arrived in was different from the one my grandfather had hoped to find. The land of opportunity he imagined was in fact full of challenges. People identified me in ways that were foreign to me: immigrant, black. I learned that these identities carried stigmas, and I experienced prejudice as a visibly Muslim woman.

But the beauty of this country is not that our democracy is perfect. It’s that embedded in our Constitution and democratic institutions are the tools to make it better. It was in the diverse community of Minneapolis — the very community that welcomed me home with open arms after Mr. Trump’s attacks against me last week — where I learned the true value of democracy. I started attending political caucuses with my grandfather, who cherished democracy as only someone who has experienced its absence could. I soon recognized that the only way to ensure that everyone in my community had a voice was by participating in the democratic process.

Today, that basic promise is under threat. Our democratic institutions have been weaponized. The Trump administration has sought to restrict people from exercising their voting rights. It has sought to undermine the basic checks and balances of our Constitution by not respecting subpoenas from Congress. And the president has used overtly racist rhetoric to strike fear and division in communities of color and religious minorities across the country.

The idea — explicitly expressed by this president and enshrined into law by executive order — that people from certain Muslim-majority countries cannot enter this country is not just bad policy; it is a direct threat to liberal democracy. The chants of “Jews will not replace us,” shouted at a rally in Charlottesville in 2017 by white supremacists, whom this president tacitly accepted, are a direct attack on the values of religious freedom central to the founding of our nation.

The reasons for weaponizing division are not mysterious. Racial fear prevents Americans from building community with one another — and community is the lifeblood of a functioning democratic society. Throughout our history, racist language has been used to turn American against American in order to benefit the wealthy elite. Every time Mr. Trump attacks refugees is a time that could be spent discussing the president’s unwillingness to raise the federal minimum wage for up to 33 million Americans. Every racist attack on four members of Congress is a moment he doesn’t have to address why his choice for labor secretary has spent his career defending Wall Street banks and Walmart at the expense of workers. When he is launching attacks on the free press, he isn’t talking about why his Environmental Protection Agency just refused to ban a pesticide linked to brain damage in children.

His efforts to pit religious minorities against one another stem from the same playbook. If working Americans are too busy fighting with one another, we will never address the very real and deep problems our country faces — from climate change to soaring inequality to lack of quality affordable health care.

The only way to push back is to be unequivocal about our values. It is not enough to condemn Mr. Trump’s racism. We must affirmatively confront racist policies — whether the caging of immigrant children at the border or the banning of Muslim immigrants or the allowing of segregation in public housing. It is not enough to condemn the corruption and self-dealing of this administration. We must support policies that unmistakably improve working people’s lives, including by strengthening collective bargaining, raising the minimum wage and pursuing a universal jobs guarantee.

The consequences of this fight will not just be felt here at home but around the world. Right-wing nationalism in Hungary, Russia, France, Britain and elsewhere is on the march in ways not seen in decades. America has been a beacon of democratic ideals for the world. If we succumb to the fever of right-wing nationalism, it will have consequences far beyond our borders.

The proudest moments in our history — from the Emancipation Proclamation to the civil rights movement to the struggle against fascism — have come when we fight to protect and expand basic democratic rights. Today, democracy is under attack once again. It’s time to respond with the kind of conviction that has made America great before.

Progressives Must avoid the “Trumpian Trap”

It has become quite clear that Trump’s electoral strategy is built on mobilizing racism and anti-immigrant nationalist xenophobia. It seeks to create a narrative framed around the threat that “they” pose to “us”.  He knows that his base of support, while remarkably durable and fanatically committed to him, is much too small to insure his re-election. Thus, in addition to insuring their maximum mobilization, he needs to draw many uncommitted to his side, while engaging in systematic voter suppression of constituencies that oppose him. Thus his strategy is to turn that “we” v. “they” mobilization into a “white” v. “black and brown” electoral strategy. Trump knows that, in a country that is about 65% “white”, if he can do that he wins. 

The challenge for progressives is to counter this Trumpian strategy without falling into the trap of making this a fight between the races. We know that Trump will continue to stoke the racist and xénophobic fires. And that he will be able to control a significant amount of public air time and tend to dominate social media and the public debate. Progressives will not be able to avoid this issue, and must not fail to combat his racism and xénophobia clearly and directly. The challenge for us is to know how to do that without falling into the trap he is trying to set of making this a “color war,” a fight of white against black and brown.  For that is a war we will lose. And we cannot afford to lose this fight. 

The stakes could not be higher. It is not an overstatement to say that if we do not stop Trump in 2020, we may not be able to stop America’s slide into neo-fascism. And the reason is clear. The strategy of the now Trumpian Republican Party is to re-write the rules of the electoral process so that it becomes practically impossible for even significant majorities of the population to influence policy. From voter suppression, and extreme gerrymandering, to unlimited campaign expenditures and drastic constitutional revisions, their strategy is clear: protect corporate wealth and disempower the populace. While I cannot dwell on those details here, a detailed understanding of that strategy and its historical development can be obtained in Nancy MacLean’s brilliant book Democracy in Chains: the radical right’s stealth plan for America.  

Thus, I repeat, progressives must not fall into the Trumpian Trap of letting him make this a fight between the white majority and the black and brown minority. We must confront his racism and xenophobia head-on with a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, inclusive program of economic and social justice. We must address the sufferings of all Americans, and advocate clear progressive programs that speak to the needs and offer practical solutions to the problems that are felt by working people across this country. From global warming to opioid addiction, from outrageous income inequalities to the failing social safety net, Democratic candidates need to present an inclusive vision and program that transcends racial, ethnic, and regional divides and offers all  Americans a realistic hope for a better future. That can be a winning message. We cannot afford to fail.  

On Targeting White Males

I think it is well past time to call a halt to the growing tendency of many on the Left of comfortably using racist language in singlng out white males as primarily responsible for social injustice. Such discriminatory language is morally indefensible, theoretically unjustified, and politically counter productive. 

It is morally indefensible because it gives expression to a classic form of prejudicial stereotyping, no different in substance from antisemitism, islamophobia, and the many numerous forms of ethnic and cultural denigration. Some have justified it by claiming that the target of their attack are people with power, and not the marginalized or oppressed. But that does not obviate its prejudicial character in indiscriminatingly demonizing an entire class of people. Nor is it factually or historically correct. 

For one thing, the ruling powers tend to be narrowly circumscribed in most countries — perhaps not much more than the proverbially one percent — thus most white males are certainly not among that elite group. Many, in fact, are in quite desperate straights, for example, being unable to hold their families together, perhaps suffering from opioid or other forms of addition. At the same time, many such “white males” have actually played a leading role in fighting for social, economic, and racial justice. 

Further, the prejudicial attacks fail to distinguish the issue of race from that of patriarchy. Patriarchy is a pervasive, near universal phenomenon in the human species. It exists – if I may use such charged, and inappropriate, language of color – among yellow Chinese, dark skinned Indians of Asia and Latinos of Central and South America, red skinned Amerindians or Native Americans, black North Americans and Africans, as well as among white Europeans and North Americans. There is a reason why most English-speaking people know the meaning of “macho”, for example, or why foot binding existed for so long in China, and why so many women in Moslem countries wear hijabs to hide all but their eyes to the outside world. There are many reasons for the pervasiveness of patriarchy – biological, historical, cultural and religious – and good reasons to work to oppose it. But it is not a phenomenon limited to one race, ethnicity, or national group. And certainly not a problem co-extensive with all and only white males.

Finally, such racial denigration is politically counter productive because it tends to alienate a large percentage of the voting population. In very few places are “black and brown people” such  an overwhelming majority that they can politically discount white voters. Certainly, they are not such for most of Long Island, and across New York State, even as their numbers and impact are growing. For the present and for the foreseeable future, for progressive policies to be enacted significant support will be required from more than just black and brown communities. And using such racist language can only succeed in alienating significant portions of “white”  society.

But beyond all of that, a progressive program ought to envision a humanely inclusive future, with an appropriately decent respect for people of all races, religions, creeds, genders, and ethnicities. And it should conscientiously avoid the prejudicial stereotyping and systematic denigration of any population. Rather it ought to single out for criticism precisely those individuals and groups that effectively oppose that vision and that work to impede the implementation of programs that contribute to its progressive realization.

Correcting Newsday’s editorial on the recent NYS Housing Law.

I sent a Letter to the Editor of Newsday on June 21st which they chose not to publish   Since I thought it important to publicly correct their error on the recent housing law passed by the NYS Legislature, I am posting it here  

In commenting on the landmark housing reform just passed by the New York State Legislature, and signed into law by the Governor, Newsdays criticism was based on a serious misreading of the legislation.

It its editorial, Newsday wrote: While the State Legislatures efforts to expand rent regulations are intended to help residents by improving their ability to find and keep reasonably priced rental housing, one piece of the rent legislative package would have the opposite impact, especially in Suffolk County. Lawmakers got rid of the most egregious provision, which would have stopped almost all evictions and limited rent increases. … That might seem like a good idea. After all, Nassau County already has rent regulations that have been baked into the areas housing market and work well in places where theres little land left for new development. But in Suffolk, where there are few apartments and much open land to build them, the bill would have unintended, detrimental consequences. Rent rules would stifle attempts to build reasonably priced rental housing, as developers and lenders would find themselves unable to finance and build rental housing. Whats more, it could lead landlords of existing rentals to consider converting them into cooperatives or condominiums, making the lack of rentals more dire.

But that interpretation is based on a misreading of the law. The facts are, the new system only applies to buildings built before 1974 that contain 6 or more units. Therefore, it would not apply to new development, and would not deter new development at all because those buildings would be exempt from rent stabilization, and developers could price them however they see fit.

Thus, the new law in no way discourages new development in areas with “not enough apartments and open land to build new ones”.  In fact, one could argue that it will in fact incentivize new construction since it will allow for pricing at whatever rate a developer sees fit.

Thus it would thus seem incumbent on Newsday to correct its misleading editorial, and fully applaud the legislature for its progressive legislation.

Respectfully,

Dr. David Sprintzen

Officer, Long Island Progressive Coalition

Forum on Building a Cooperative Economy

How We Are Building a Cooperative Economy: On Long Island and Across New York State 

Campaigns underway: Creating Workplace Cooperatives

Creating a New York State Center for Worker Ownership

Building a Campaign to establish city and state public banking

Funding Community Development Financial Institutions

Promoting the NYS Community Equity Agenda

Featuring: Andy Morrison, Campaigns Director

New Economy Project, &

Lisa Tyson, Director

Long Island Progressive Coalition

Friday, June 7th — 9-11am

At the office of the Long Island Federation of Labor, 

390 Rabro Drive, Hauppauge

For further information or To confirm your attendance 

email dsprintz@gmail.com or 

Call 516-364-2178

Two Courses at Hutton House beginning in mid-February.

“Where Do We Go From Here?”
 
None can any longer doubt that the election of Donald Trump marked a fundamental turning point in US history. Nor can we fail to appreciate that the November 2018 mid-term elections will have constituted a dramatic commentary with profound consequences for the future of American democracy. Our challenge will be to reflect on the significance of that election, placing it within the contours of American history and culture, and exploring in some detail possible directions as to “Where We Go From Here.”
 
A course at Hutton House at LIU-Post, 4 Wednesdays, Feb 20-March 13, from 1-3 pm.
 
Then.
“Making Sense of Our World”
 
After briefly reviewing the results of our previous course on “Where Do We Go From Here?” — considering the consequences of last November’s mid-term election — we will look more deeply into the basic beliefs, values, cultures, institutions, and historical development of American Society. We will consider what we can learn about our society by drawing upon recent insights from such fields as History, Biology, Philosophy, Ecology, Sociology, Political Science, and Cognitive Science, as well as from popular media, as we seek to make comprehensive sense about our world and our individual place in it. This course is conceived as a dialogue and joint exploration, in which the students will be invited and expected to enter fully into our collective endeavor. I look forward to engaging with you in reflecting on our collective future.
 
Also at Hutton House, 4 Wednesdays, March 27-April 17, from 1-3pm..