Reflections on 2013

DSC01281The most important event this year was Pope Francis. Our time is a moment for cultural shifts, an evolution in values away from self-centeredness to compassion. With his pronouncements on economic injustice, the Pope, supported by some 80% of American Catholics, has contributed to this cause.

Another significant event was the break in the Tea Party’s vise-like grip on the Republican Party, which opens up some possibility for some progress in Congress on some issues. How lasting this development will be remains to be seen. But those Republicans who want to win back the White House saw the writing on the wall. Especially with ongoing demographic changes, the Tea Party was leading them over the cliff. So I suspect the Tea Party is history.

Elizabeth Warren qualifies for third place. Her remarkable rise to prominence, conducted with such grace and poise, is profoundly heartening. Economic populism is percolating throughout the country. Even if she doesn’t enter the Democratic Party primaries, and I hope she does, she will likely continue to have an impact, for she is giving voice to a largely unrepresented sentiment that needs to be empowered.

In March, three academics, funded by the estimable Russell Sage Foundation, released “Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans,” in which they reported that two-thirds of the general public in the United States believe “the government in Washington ought to see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a job” and 78% believe the minimum wage should be “high enough so that no family with a full-time worker falls below [the] official poverty line.”

Those numbers were not new to me. I knew that a majority hold this conviction. But its timing, and their use of the frame “see to it,” prompted me to undertake the Guarantee Living-Wage Jobs Campaign. With valuable assistance from the economist Dean Baker and the Internet strategist Michael Stein, I plan to launch that campaign early next year to encourage activist organizations to take on the issue.

I hope that this time I won’t get too excited by prospects for “success” and disappointed by apparent “failure.” I feel that I may have broken through to a new level of self-confidence, grounded in the awareness that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone (including myself). I can simply do the best that I can and let the chips fall where they may.

Writing my autobiography has helped in this regard. Reviewing my life in its entirety has helped me to regard my past efforts with greater respect.

Reading The Politics of Authenticity by Marshall Berman also helped. I now see more clearly that I am less alone than I sometimes feel, with my concerns about how the modern world fosters alienation and self-alienation, the divided self. These concerns go back to the onset of the modern age, and were beautifully expressed by Pascal and (the early) Rousseau, for example.

This book prompted me to shift my “holistic growth” focus toward enabling people to more fully “be real” and “true to themselves.” This shift will be reflected in the upcoming “The Personal, the Social, and the Political” survey.

Being so alone for so long here on the north coast of the Dominican Republic and really enjoying it has also helped. Dick Price, Esalen Institute co-founder, affirmed “moving toward increasing self-sufficiency, while drawing on support as needed.” I’m still on that path, and it feels good.

I still would prefer a deeper sense of community, remain open to that possibility, and will continue to try to find, experience, and/or nurture it. But in the meantime, I accept life.

The life force that drives evolution, or God, will prevail, even if humanity wipes humanity off the face of the Earth. And considering that there are at least one septillion (that’s 24 zeros) stars in the universe, most likely self-consciousness is alive elsewhere. So we humans are probably not as special as we think we are.

Paradoxically, being aware of this reality makes us very special. So, as Kathy Kelly’s Iraqi friend advised her, “Don’t forget to love the Universe.”

The Volcker Rule Is Finally Here (plus more)

4.2.12Volcker Rule Is a Puzzle That Will Take Years to Understand
By Rana Foroohar

…What I’d love to see is not only a Volcker rule that prohibits prop trading outright, but also tougher capital holding requirements for banks. It’s a little known but important fact that in the years around the financial crisis of 1929 and the Great Depression (from 1929 to 1932), lots of small and regional banks went under, but no major New York bank did. Why? Because these market makers were holding between 15 and 20 % equity capital on their balance sheets — about ten times more than the average today. Prohibiting prop trading would go a long way toward lowering those ratios.

For more on the Volcker Rule, click here.


Celebrations of Too Big to Fail’s Demise Are Premature
By Simon Johnson

In a major speech last week, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew argued that we need to keep pushing forward with financial reform. He made some encouraging points about the need to reduce systemic risks arising from money-market mutual funds and for appropriate funding levels at the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and he spoke clearly about the need for accountability of regulators and of bank executives. But a huge misconception in his remarks threatens to swamp everything.

Lew argued that the problem of “too-big-to-fail” banks is well on its way to being fixed.


Elizabeth Warren Responds To Third Way Attack By Asking Wall Street To Disclose Ties
By DSWright, FireDogLake

Senator Elizabeth Warren is not taking the attack on her by Third Way lying down. In an open letter to the CEOs of the Too Big To Fail Wall Street banks responsible for the financial crisis of 2008, Senator Warren asks that they disclose their connections to think tanks like Third Way. That way the public will know who is paying the bill for Third Way’s attack on Warren and those asking for economic justice….


Winning the War on War
by Joshua S. Goldstein

Preeminent scholar of international relations Joshua Goldstein tears down one of the greatest myths of modern history. Despite all the hand-wringing, fearmongering, and bad-news headlines, peace is on the rise. Fewer wars are starting, more are ending, and those that remain are smaller and more localized than in past years….


Peter Higgs: I wouldn’t be productive enough for today’s academic system
By Decca Aitkenhead

Peter Higgs, the British physicist who gave his name to the Higgs boson, believes no university would employ him in today’s academic system because he would not be considered “productive” enough.