Category Archives: Politics

The Road to Destruction: The Reagan Revolution Reconsidered

Last week, Jacobin and the New York Times published reviews of Matt Tyrnauer’s new documentary The Reagans. Both focus on a key factor enabling the Reagan Revolution, the capitulation and in many cases active complicity of the Democratic opposition. Neither, however, mentions what is perhaps the most revealing and consequential instance, the Tax Reform Act of 1986 which radically cut rates on corporations and upper income individuals.

It has by now been mostly forgotten that “the real hero of tax reform,” according to the Washington Post,  was a Democrat, New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley.

Dollar Bill and Neoliberalism 1.0

Widely seen as representing the liberal center of the party and a likely nominee for president, it should now be apparent that Bradley was not at at all a liberal. Rather, he and other centrist Democrats of the time referred to themselves as *neo* liberals committed, like Reagan, to undermining the social welfare programs of the New Deal and Great Society.

Continue reading The Road to Destruction: The Reagan Revolution Reconsidered

On Feeling Good and Doing Good: Chomsky Turns 92

Here’s a suggestion for admirers of Noam Chomsky.

The best way to celebrate his 92nd birthday would be to pay attention to what he has to say.

A case in point came up a couple of days ago with Barack Obama’s criticism of the slogan “Defund the police.” Those promoting it are, according to Obama, often more concerned with “feel(ing) good among the people (they) already agree with.” What they should be concerned with is “get(ting) something done.”

The left was universal in its disdain, denunciations flowing from Jacobin, Current Affairs as well as AOC and all of the members of the squad.

Chomsky’s reaction? “He’s basically right.”

Racing to the Abyss Continue reading On Feeling Good and Doing Good: Chomsky Turns 92

Chomsky on the Left, Free Speech and the Authoritarian Mind

Those of us who have been politically engaged over the past few decades will find little new in what Michelle Goldberg refers to in her Times op-ed as the left’s “free speech problem.” My introduction to it was in 1978 when the ACLU supported the American Nazi Party’s application to march in Skokie, Illinois.

Much of the left, most conspicuously, the alphabet soup of self-defined Marxist organizations, inveighed against the liberals who aligned with the ACLU.  One of these “liberals” was Chomsky and while I don’t remember his being personally attacked for his stance, in a few years he would be. That occurred during the so-called Faurisson affair involving French academic Robert Faurisson accused of “falsification of history” by the French courts for having published a volume denying the existence of Nazi death camps.

Chomsky viewed this as a clear instance of suppression of speech, noting then, as he has routinely, that freedom of speech means nothing unless it applies to those whose views one finds abhorrent, as was clearly the case in this instance. This triggered considerable outrage from across the spectrum of the French left which mirrored the Marxist left here in denying that “Nazis had the right to speak.”

While there was no word for it at the time, this led to Chomsky being “cancelled” from French intellectual life. His formerly august reputation shattered, denunciations of Chomsky’s supposed Nazi sympathies (consistent, it was claimed with his harsh criticism of the policies of the Israeli state) deriving from the moderate to extreme left.


The similarities in the environments which led to Chomsky’s cancellation then during the Faurrison affair and now obscure certain differences relevant to the discussion. Among these was the role of the French Communist Party and other Marxist formations which were still viable, exerting considerable influence on elite discourse. They recognized that defense of free speech and other so called “bourgeois” rights constituted an implicit attack on those regimes they were ideologically and in some cases institutionally aligned with, namely, the Soviet Union and, to a lesser degree, China. Promotion of individual rights and liberties including free speech were a staple of cold war propaganda, massively financed, we now know, by Western intelligence services and even those far from being fellow travellers were taken aback by its cynicism and dishonesty.

That the protection of these regimes and the authoritarian ideology on which they were based was, for better or worse, a central concern of the French intellectuals attacking Chomsky during the Faurisson affair raises an obvious question: how should one explain the left’s rejection of Chomsky’s views now? There is, after all, no longer any Soviet Union to protect and the communist parties in their orbit have long ago collapsed. Furthermore, given that it has historically been directed against the left by the state, it is a bit baffling to observe leftists arguing for suppression and/or dilution of free speech rights. That this is a dominant left tendency has been apparent in the numerous challenges which Chomsky’s views and those supporting them have received in recent days including many on my own facebook wall.


The answer, in my opinion, has to do with certain subtly anti-democratic attitudes prevalent in sectors of the left. That the public should be marginalized from circles of real, objective power, is, of course, a foundational component of right wing political philosophy. That it has a left variant is less commonly understood, with Chomsky being one of the few to have registered its significance.

Specifically, this was the view associated with Lenin, as Chomsky observed in a 1986 essay where he noted “the great appeal of Leninist doctrine to the modern intelligentsia.” Chomsky continues, citing Bakunin’s critique of Marx, “This doctrine affords the ‘radical intellectuals’ the right to hold State power (becoming) the ‘State priests,’ . . . that rules it with an iron hand.” Chomsky also noted that nearly identical attitudes are congenial to statist liberals of the West, Robert McNamara’s managerial perspective overlapping closely with Lenin in its commitment to insulating a technocratic nomenklatura from popular demands and aspirations.

Coinciding with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the political formations beholden to it has been an erosion of organized labor and the working class base of the left coalition. As Dustin Guastella and others have pointed out, what remains of the left is largely dominated by what Barbara and John Ehrenreich identified as the Professional Managerial Class (PMC), often downwardly mobile segments of it to be sure but whose high level of education and relatively privileged backgrounds have conferred on them a distinctive set of attitudes.

Among these is a sense of entitlement of their “right” if not to hold and exercise state power, at least to be socially and organizationally deferred to by those who lack the capacity or expertise as these are defined within the dominant culture. When they are challenged, their tendency is not to attempt to convince but to denigrate the legitimacy of the challenge, particularly if this derives from those unacculturated within the linguistic and social norms of the PMC, aka the deplorables.

This tendency is most conspicuous in the frequent dismissal “I don’t need to educate you” invoked by those promulgating the toxic conventional wisdom of race relations associated with the influential best seller White Fragility. Its relevance here inheres on its being based on the assumption that those granted access to decision making circles already should know the answers to all of the relevant questions.  Those who don’t have tacitly admitted their guilt and are silenced through reprimands and humiliation.


The principle of free speech is directly antithetical to this deeply inculcated belief of the PMC and so it’s not surprising to find the negative reactions that we do in the current controversy. That said, it is rare for those challenging Chomsky to directly state their rejection of it. Free speech is, after all, a bedrock principle enshrined in the U.S. constitution and the legal system one which the PMC is ultimately invested in defending-at least nominally. What we therefore tend to see is a soft rejection generally prefaced by a pro forma endorsement of free speech inevitably followed by the qualification that certain groups (most notably Nazis but sometimes others) don’t deserve it.

Chomsky’s response to this is well known: those embracing it mirror exactly Stalin and Hitler who also agreed with free speech for those whose views they approve of. While the point is clear and obvious, it has had to be continuously reasserted for centuries: if you don’t believe in free speech for those holding views you find most detestable, you don’t believe in free speech at all.

The cancel culture mania of the last few years has revealed liberals’ and leftists’ supposed embrace of free speech to be highly elastic, if not altogether tenuous. The most minuscule expressions of non-conformity are met by left social media influencers unleashing their twitter followers with the goal of “ratioing” the unfortunate dissident into compliance. When this is not sufficient to silence them, it is often followed by tangible consequences, particularly when the campaign involves notification of the target’s employer, as has occurred to me on several occasions.

While it would be an exaggeration to compare the stifling, claustrophobic atmosphere we are now enduring with Mao’s China or the Soviet Union under Brezhnev or Stalin, it has been increasingly recognized that it is not one we should be comfortable with having created. Some, most notably Ben Burgis in this perceptive segment with Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara, have argued that it is a major reason for our failure to create a mass constituency for our politics, something which should be obvious to anyone with open eyes. I’m inclined to agree and hope others will at least begin to engage in a discussion about it.

Bernie Sanders Does Not Feel Your Pain

Bernie Sanders’s stump speeches are often criticized for neglecting his personal story including a hardscrabble Brooklyn upbringing and the early death of both of his parents. Sanders’s failure to “share his feelings” is sometimes contrasted to the “I feel your pain” emotionality of Bill Clinton.

What this omits is what has become increasingly obvious to the victims of Clinton’s economic policy. Clinton’s personal affinity with average citizens masked an underlying lack of concern and even contempt towards their suffering. Sanders’s reticence is the polar opposite, of a piece with a campaign based on a profound sympathy and solidarity with the victims of economic violence.


What Sanders understands is that for a fraction of the population, the experience of normal human emotions, including pain, has by now become a form of privilege.

Continue reading Bernie Sanders Does Not Feel Your Pain

Greenwald: A Testimonial

A few days ago, my son asked me if I had any regrets about being a musician. I was a bit taken aback since the answer seemed so obvious: Hell no! It’s been a great life even for someone like myself who has not achieved anything like fame.

For those who have, it’s absurd to even ask the question: everyone knows that famous musicians (with few exceptions) are universally beloved. Everyone wants to buy their meals, drinks, do them favors, bask in their presence, be their friend, and more.

That is not the case for most in the labor force who work with little expectation that they will receive recognition outside of that of their peers.

Continue reading Greenwald: A Testimonial

Solidarity Forever and Pavlov’s Dogs: Why Is Elizabeth Warren Being Ignored?


A well known form of insanity involves attempting to correct basic factual errors on the internet.

I generally don’t, but sometimes it’s hard to resist the temptation.

That was the case last week when a meme circulated suggesting, as one tweet put it, that because Elizabeth Warren “clearly thinks about the issues beyond pandering & has actual policy plans and ideas . .  . she would be the front runner and would be receiving most of the press.”

At least  that would be so-and here we are to imagine a muted low brass chord as the narrator ominously intones . . .  “if she were a man.”

This was Pavlovian red meat dangled in front of identity politics addled liberals sure to induce a wave of frenzied clicks.

Continue reading Solidarity Forever and Pavlov’s Dogs: Why Is Elizabeth Warren Being Ignored?

Russian “Collusion,” Clinton Lies and the Secular Priests of Neoliberalism

Last Wednesday’s Democracy Now posed a superficially vexing question to the two Pulitzer Prize winning journalists it had invited to appear on the program.

How could they have reached radically different conclusions on the recently released Mueller report?

One of these, David Cay Johnston, was not shy about offering his explanation.

The discrepancy was due to a basic difference in journalistic approach: Johnston, he claimed, was “not driven here at all by emotion. . . I deal in facts that I can prove and verify.” Johnston was distinguishing himself from the other invitee, Pulitzer winner Glenn Greenwald, who, Johnston inferred, deals in the realm of speculation and irrationality.

Continue reading Russian “Collusion,” Clinton Lies and the Secular Priests of Neoliberalism

Brown on the Right and Left: Trump and Counterpunch Lie on Green Energy

While they continue to shock, Donald Trump’s promotion of idiocies such as “wind mills cause cancer” no longer comes as much of a surprise.

What does seem worth recalling in this connection is that similar canards were being widely circulated some years ago-not only by the corporate right but by the radical left, in particular, by the iconic alternative website Counterpunch. The vector for these was the fossil fuel industry shill Robert Bryce who was a regular presence promoting what can now be seen as overblown and in many instances dishonest claims with respect to the environmental harms associated with renewable energy sources.

Counterpunch providing access to Bryce was the first of many indications of their potential to undermine the left’s credibility by associating it with right wing rogues, conspiratorialist lunacy and fringe lunatics. When they became a leading voice of anti-Sanders smears, including demonstrably false charges targeting the racism and sexism of Bernie Bros indistinguishable from those emanating from the Clinton campaign it became clear to me that the influence was, on balance, harmful. When they became a leading voice of the addled Bernie or Bust/Never Hillary tendency which played a role in bringing us the catastrophe we are now experiencing, it became apparent that they were best ignored.

That’s not to say that they don’t continue to run solid and, in some cases, important pieces. And the apparent conversion of some of their shrillest and most irrational exponents of anarcho-ultra leftism to at least lukewarm support of the Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez/Omar insurgency is a favorable development.

It would be nice if they found themselves able to issue an apology to their readers. But, as I’ve noted many times, the pundit class of all political orientations is constitutionally incapable of admitting error.

We would all be better off if they did, though I’m not holding my breath.

Winners and Losers of Russiagate: A Nine Point Post-Mortem

1) Reduced by Attorney General Barr to its “principle conclusions“, the Mueller report has created two categories which usually result from the resolution of a significant political dispute: winners and losers. The former is defined in this instance as those whose reputation will be enhanced from their having being right while the latter are those whose reputation will suffer from their having being wrong.

2) The most conspicuous winner is, of course, Donald Trump. His having predicted that no indictments would result from the two year inquiry will solidify his anti-establishment credentials within his base. He will continue to portray himself as a victim of the lying media and Washington insiders who have, from the beginning, sought to overturn an electoral result they found unacceptable. Russia is sure to be a centerpiece of his campaign from now until until November 2020.

Continue reading Winners and Losers of Russiagate: A Nine Point Post-Mortem

Open Borders Means Death: Angela Nagle’s Red Line

Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies was a modest attempt to engage a question which the left should be interested in answering: why was the on line alt-right succeeding in swelling its ranks by appealing to economic and social insecurities now more than ever experienced by students and those entering the labor market. It should be the left which reaches out, speaks to their needs, and provides a welcoming environment for new recruits.  Why have so many been driven away?

As it turned out, the left didn’t want Nagle’s answer. Or, more likely, it didn’t want any answer at all as this would require taking a hard look at the institutions and leaders which have consigned it to generations of irrelevance.  As is often the case for those bringing the bad news to those who didn’t want to hear it, Nagle was barraged with attacks which, even allowing for the tendency of on line exchanges to privilege brainless ad hominem pile-ons,  were not only rampant but unusually toxic.

The reception of Nagle’s recent piece “The Left Case Against Open Borders” reprised the earlier appearance in eliciting a high volume of high intensity attacks. On several occasions she was referred to by commenters as a Nazi. Others claimed that she “want(s) people dead or erased.” Others went in for Zombie-like repetition of the mantra “Angela Nagle is not a leftist” as if each iteration magnified the truth of the proposition.

Probably most common was a lower octane smear based on Nagle having published her piece in American Affairs, a journal with a problematic lineage having made its initial appearance promoting Donald Trump’s candidacy. What escaped Nagle’s critics’ notice was that the same issue featured contributions by James Galbraith criticizing Keynesian economics from the left as well as Heiner Flashback’s demolition of E.U. enforced neoliberal austerity. Previous issues featured political theorist Nancy Fraser whose piece touched on the hot button issue of the left’s dysfunctional relationship with identity politics.

These were granted an exemption from the excommunication which was demanded of Nagle for reasons that remained unexplained. The asymmetry constitutes a de facto admission that Nagle’s critics were dismissing a position based on its packaging. In other words, they were advocating that you should judge a book by its cover. As this was a lesson contrary to what most of us learned in kindergarten and haven’t seen any reason to revise since, Nagle’s critics’ rejection of it provides a good indication of the intellectual level on which some were operating. Continue reading Open Borders Means Death: Angela Nagle’s Red Line