Active McFarland: Exercising Democracy

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Let's All Move to Norway

Jeff Berger

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, Feb. 23, 2018

Last January Donald Trump tweeted that immigrants to America should not be allowed to come from “shithole countries” like Haiti and nations in Africa. Instead, he said, he preferred people from countries like Norway. People on Twitter, including some who are actually from Norway, were quick to remark that, for many Norwegians, America may seem to be the shithole. Of course, Donald Trump doesn’t know the first thing about Norway. He probably doesn’t even know its reputation for being a socialist country or the fact that it is part of NATO. To help me better understand Norway myself, I read George Lakey’s Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right-and How We Can, Too (2016).


Lakey is a Pennsylvania Quaker who studied in Oslo in 1960, where he married a Norwegian. Lakey taught for a time in both Norway and London. He is known for being an activist, especially as a pacifist dating back to the civil rights protests and anti-Vietnam War movement. Viking Economics is about Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland—especially about his wife’s native country. (Finland is Nordic, but not Viking.) Norway ranks as the happiest nation on th…

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Divided We Fall: The Fractured Coalition of the Democratic Party

Ron Berger

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, Nov. 28, 2017

Here we are, more than a year after the November 2016 presidential election, and Democrats are still fighting the last war. In her recently published campaign memoir, What Happened, Hillary Clinton admits to having made some mistakes, but places most of the blame for her loss to Donald Trump on factors external to her campaign: Russian interference, James Comey, slanted news coverage, sexism, voter suppression—and Bernie Sanders. While the first five items in this list merit concern, it is the criticism of Sanders that is most germane to this article.

Clinton thinks that Sanders’s emphasis during the primary on her ties to Wall Street and his attempt to move the Democratic Party to the left caused her lasting damage. Although what Sanders said about her Wall Street ties was arguably true, she apparently thinks he was wrong to have used it against her. Nonetheless, Clinton is correct in pointing out that the unwillingness of some Sanders supporters to vote for her, against Sanders’s own advice, did hurt her in the Electoral College.

One way this defection from the Democratic Party manifested itself—whether it was the defection of Sanders’…

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What Went Wrong: One Pollster's View

Ron Berger

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, Oct. 23, 3017

In the latest issue of The American Prospect, long-time Democratic Party pollster Stanley Greenberg weighs in on what he thinks went wrong with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Greenberg was the lead pollster for the 1992 and 2000 presidential campaigns and a consultant for the 2004 campaign. In his TAP article, he draws upon his experience as a consultant for the 2016 campaign, whose advice was not heeded, and the book, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, by journalists Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes.

Greenberg is of course cognizant of the external factors that influenced the election results, such as Russian interference and James Comey’s announcements of the FBI investigations into Clinton’s emails. He is also aware that Clinton, in her campaign memoir What Happened, admits to some mistakes made by her campaign. Still, Greenberg thinks that Clinton soft-peddles what he calls the “malpractice” of the campaign, and he is particularly critical of campaign manager Robbie Mooks’s overreliance on “data analytics.” This methodology utilizes strategic models built from data on “the country’s 200 million voters, i…

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Watergate: The Benchmark Political Scandal

Ron Berger

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, May 2, 2017

We are currently in the midst of a political scandal that has the potential to rival the infamous Watergate scandal of the early 1970s. A political consensus has emerged, based on available information from U.S. intelligence agencies, that Russia hacked email files of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign with the intent of damaging Clinton’s candidacy. Suspicions about something nefarious afoot have been fueled by Donald Trump’s positive comments about Vladimir Putin. And information about contacts between members of the Trump campaign and presidential administration and Russian officials and businessmen are under investigation. That the Trump administration has recently been critical of Russia’s support for the murderous Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad does not necessarily undermine these suspicions. In fact, Trump’s recent criticism of Russia may, in part, be intended to deflect this evolving scandal.

The noted journalist Carl Bernstein, whose work with Bob Woodward during the 1970s helped expose the Watergate scandal of the Richard Nixon administration, thinks we are in the early stages of a cover-up. He be…

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Reflections on Fake News

Jeff Berger

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, Apr. 17, 2017

Recently I read an article by Sharon Noguchi in my local newspaper, the San Jose Mercury, about teachers helping students to distinguish between fake news and real news. The article focused on teenagers who naively get their news from the internet. The key paragraph in the article reads: “Lessons on fake news fit right into the state’s Common Core State Standards, which encourage primary-source research, discussion and critical thinking—answering the why questions over the what. Social studies teachers hope the debate will prompt a resurgence in their subject, which has taken a back seat in an era focused on math and English test scores, said Rachel Reinhard, site director of the UC Berkeley History Social Science Project. ‘If there ever were a mandate for meaningful history instruction, we’re in it right now’, she said.”

Knowledge of history is crucial to all analysis of what we read in the news. Without this knowledge, there is virtually no way to determine why something is happening. Everything that happens today is a consequence of the past. And yet, teenagers have very little first hand-experience of the past; and most of t…

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Climate Change and Nonviolent Resistance

Ron Berger

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, Feb. 27, 2017

Last November Bill McKibben, a leading environmental activist, delivered the inaugural Jonathan Schell Lecture at the New School in New York City. The lecture, which was entitled “On the Fate of the Earth,” was co-sponsored by The Nation Institute and the Gould Family Foundation; and the text of the lecture was adapted for a December 2016 issue of The Nation magazine. McKibben is the author of many books, including The End of Nature (1989), the first book on global warming written for a general audience, and Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (2007). He is also the founder of, an international environmental group that takes its name from research that indicates that 350 parts per million (the ratio of carbon dioxide molecules to all other molecules) is the maximum “safe level” of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Currently we are around 400 ppm and counting. With the confirmation of Donald Trump’s nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, McKibben’s message becomes even more important.

Jonathan Schell (1943-2014) was the author of numerous books on the environment, nucl…

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Letter to Editor: Donald Trump a Catalyst for an Avalanche of Hate

Sheila Plotkin

This letter was published in The Cap Times on Feb. 7, 2017

Dear Editor: One step on a slippery slope dislodges a small cascade of stones and mud. The minority president banned some Muslims from entering the country. A mosque in Texas was set ablaze and burned to the ground. His statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day did not mention Jews. More than 20 Jewish centers across the country received bomb threats during the past week, including in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. All were evacuated. The FBI has been called in.

The intellectual responsibility for these terrorist acts belongs to the minority president and his closest advisers. They have given perpetrators tacit permission to act. Criminals now have the unofficial blessing of those in power. Defensive Republican members of Congress wrap themselves in the flag or remain silent. Republicans are now accomplices in domestic terrorism. The minority president has created a scenario wherein hate crimes are patriotic. This is no longer a small cascade. It is an avalanche.

U.S. Immigration Policy and the Jewish Refugee Crisis of the 1930s

Ron Berger

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, Feb. 6, 2017

George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The mere act of remembering, however, does not guarantee that the lessons of history will be learned. Thus, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day of January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump engaged in two actions that remind us of Santayana’s warning. One was his call for remembering “the victims, survivors, heroes” of the Holocaust, which omitted specific mention of the killing of Jews; this omission was a departure from a bipartisan precedent set by previous presidents. The other was that Trump chose this day to issue an executive order banning Muslims from seven countries, including desperate refugees fleeing deprivation and persecution, from entering the United States.

The omission issue is notable because Trump’s chief political advisor, Steve Bannon, has a history of promoting anti-Semitic, white nationalists who deny that Jews were the particular target of the Nazi extermination program known as the Final Solution. To be sure, Jews were not the only civilian population that was victimized during the Nazi era, but critics think tha…

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How Much Is Enough?

Bob Bates

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, Jan. 26, 2017

Most thinking humans for a long time have known an effective societal problem-solving process: (1) identify needs, (2) identify ways these can be met, (3) apply analysis, prioritizing, and strategic planning to deliver solutions, (4) coordinate necessary labor, equipment, and distribution operations to address the problems, and (5) continue follow-up procedures to work out any bugs and improve each part of the overall system.

Hardly anyone could argue that, if there are problems to be dealt with, such an approach is not only feasible, but doable, especially given the brainpower, expertise, and available resources we can nowadays bring to the fore. In this “information age” comprehensive, sophisticated, and detailed computer programs can easily be designed to do initial run-throughs (virtual formats and revisions) to streamline the process. Such applied intelligence can not only be done over short periods of time, but pave the way for efficiency in various subsequent applications.

We, at different levels of society, are already doing much of this—but evidently on a limited basis. Surely such actions are not extensive enough or there would …

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Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few, by Robert Reich

Ron Berger

In his most recent book Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few (2015), Robert Reich aims to explain how “the increasing concentration of political power in a corporate and financial elite…has been able to influence the rules by which the economy runs.” He lays the groundwork for this case by introducing readers to the field that was once called political economy—“the study of how a society’s laws and political institutions relate to…a fair distribution of income and wealth was a central topic.”

An understanding of political economy begins with the recognition that the existence of a so-called “free market” independent of government is a myth, because it is government that sets the rules of the market. In other words, according to Reich, government does not “intrude” on the market but rather “creates the market.” This view stands in marked contrast to the one espoused by contemporary conservatives and libertarians who believe that the market exists as a natural force by which economic actors compete to advance their self-interest and in doing so produce beneficial outcomes not only for individual competitors but for society as a whole.

Whereas conservative and libertarians belie…

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