Sunday, November 4, 2018


Some weeks back, an unexplained technical problem kept me from posting two op-eds on this blog site. Here they are with the original dates:

Thursday, June 28, 2018


These last couple of weeks in June may be marked as the time our government crossed the red line from a flawed democracy to a dangerous autocracy. The time to ask “Can It Happen Here?” is past. It Is Happening Here.

Despite the fact that most Americans view him unfavorably and that many fear and despise him, Trump is making headway. The Supreme Court, which was further rigged by the GOP’s sabotage of Obama’s nominee and Trump’s addition of Gorsuch, gives Trump a reliable 5-4 majority. That majority has now given a green light to Trump’s most abominably racist immigration policies and practices. In the bargain, that majority simultaneously sanctioned extreme rightist policies against abortion rights, for voter restriction via gerrymander, and for the financial crippling of labor unions. Thus the high court, which some viewed as the ultimate  defense against an American dictatorship, gives a bow to Trump’s claims of unlimited power. With Justice Kennedy’s resignation, Trump can further cement his hold on a Supreme Court majority.

A tyrant cannot rule without without violating human rights and cracking down on dissent. Be warned.  The “zero tolerance” assault on immigrant families, the saga of brutal and inhuman separations, the scattering and incarceration of young children, the complete denial of democratic norms— all this viciousness reveals how Trump, Giuliani, and Sessions might plan to deal with a democratic opposition, especially those dissenters who are black or brown. Trump’s anti-immigrant hysteria parallels the targeting of Jews from the earliest days of the rise of fascism in Europe.

Against this backdrop, blaming Rep. Maxine Waters and other angry dissenters for a “climate of incivility” is shamefully misplaced. The bully relishes playing the “victim”. No doubt protest, however reasoned or emotional, can be twisted to evoke backlash. But what kind of people would we be if no angry voices were raised when families and helpless children are abused by our own government, or when unarmed black men are so often shot dead by police?

The fact is that only an aroused majority can secure democracy and save America. No majority can speak and act as one. But a lot is going on around the country, There is diverse and ever growing resistance, both in forms of protest and bold electoral activity. New energy rising from women and youth, from people of color, may yet move mountains. Persistence and unity of purpose have pulled us through dark times before. It can happen again. 

Friday, July 27, 2018


The President of the United States should communicate directly and often with the heads of state of Russia and China. The problem is that the President of the United States is Donald Trump. A majority of Americans, with good reason, don't trust him or Putin.

The inevitable frenzy over Trump’s strange interaction with Putin is itself muddying the waters. It could provide seeming support for extended cold war and the ultimate risk of nuclear war. That peril is almost totally ignored in the flood of warranted criticism of Trump’s disastrous European trip and joint news conference with Putin.

Salvaging our eroding democracy and creating conditions for peace surely requires ending Trump’s reign before it’s too late. Required also is the need to see complex issues in a context bigger than Donald Trump. Prospects for preventing a nuclear third world war have been on shaky footing since the end of World War II. The behavior of the leading world powers did not become benign, less driven by imperialist ambitions that led to World War I and fueled the rise of fascism that brought on World War II. Rather, the fear of “mutually assured destruction” kept the ultimate war of nuclear annihilation at bay, although it wasn’t enough to prevent an ongoing plague of regional wars, most of them involving our military. And Trump now threatens to start a new war against Iran.

We are not yet close to a peaceful “world order” in which governments cooperate on priorities of human and planetary survival, especially ending the threat of nuclear annihilation and coping effectively with climate change. It’s hardly possible to conceive such a turn of events without striving to achieve fundamental economic and social changes in society, but let’s stay with the subject at hand: how to view and respond to the outrage over the Trump-Putin performance.

In brief, here’s my take:

1. Putin hacked our 2016 election in favor of Trump. We have a right to be angry and alarmed and to try to prevent any repeat in 2018 and 2020. The Mueller investigation may thoroughly expose Trump’s corruption and contribute to bringing him down. We don’t have reason to be “shocked” when it’s noted that undercover and overt interference to undermine other governments (including coups, assassinations and direct military intervention) has been SOP in US foreign policy and intelligence operations. Whatever the differences in the nature of governments, neither Russia nor the US has a valid claim on respect for the sovereignty of other nations. 

2. What we can’t afford is to have hawks call the tune, be they conservatives or liberals. The risks are too great to permit self-righteous nationalist fevers to dominate foreign policy. Never has it been more important to maintain communications and seek mutual efforts to reduce tensions between the world’s  great nuclear powers.

Sunday, October 28, 2018


(Below is a talk I gave on Monday, Oct. 29th on the UC Berkeley campus. Old veterans of Berkeley's 1964 Free Speech Movement  sponsored a get-out-the vote rally. By agreement, speakers were not to single out particular candidates or parties.):

I’m Leon Wofsy, Emeritus Professor of Immunology in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology. I joined the Berkeley faculty in 1964 just a few months before the Free Speech Movement erupted. I agreed with and supported the student protesters and soon came to know and admire Mario Savio and many others for their courage and integrity. I also formed close friendships with other faculty defenders of free speech, especially with two bright and principled young History professors who were closest to the students in age and spirit, Reggie Zelnik and Larry Levine, both of whom, like Mario Savio, died much too young. Howard Schachman, Professor of Biochemistry, and I came together at these steps on the morning the students who occupied Sproul Hall were hauled off under arrest. We arranged a faculty meeting for that evening which formed the Committee of 200 that supported the students and eventually helped fashion the terms of the historic victory for Free Speech on this campus. I’ll leave it to Professor Charlie Sellers, who was a major co-author of that Free Speech testament, to say more about those days of protest and activism that are so relevant to today’s urgent effort to get out a massive vote.

In my very long life, 97 years so far, I’ve seen many assaults on democracy and free speech. A childhood experience was the arrest and brutal beating inside the Stamford Connecticut police station of my father and twelve others who rallied for unemployment insurance during the Great Depression. There were the lynchings of returning African-American vets and their brides in Augusta, Georgia after World War II; later on the murder of Emmet Till, and, to this day, wanton police killings of unarmed youths. There was the shameful period of McCarthyism and a recurring history of bigoted attacks on immigrants, gays and ethnic minorities. But whenever democracy was challenged and in danger, people rose to the challenge, especially as new generations of young people led the way.

The American Civil Liberties Union has a get out the vote slogan: “Vote as if your rights depend on it!” They might well say “as if lives depend on it!”  After the events of this last week, the mail bombings and the mass murder of Jews in a synagogue, sanity requires a serious take on where we are, what’s at stake and why a massive voter turnout is a historic necessity. Democracy is clearly in crisis, here and elsewhere around the world. For us, the danger to democracy may be greater than at anytime since the Civil War. For your generation it is certainly a matter of rights and lives, your lives and the life of the planet, The challenge is nothing less than to reverse the descent into authoritarianism and violence. It is to help bring about a time when the first priorities of government, ours and many others, are to cope decisively with climate change, poverty, and the threat of nuclear catastrophe. It may take more than one generation, but it starts with the millions of young people, women and men, Black, Latino, and all others who are going extra miles to get out the vote across the country. Rights and lives do depend on it!

Friday, May 11, 2018


When Trump proclaimed US withdrawal from the Iran agreement, he was signaling the birth of a new Axis. 

Netanyahu was quick to hail the partnership, which he had lobbied for vigorously, with a flurry of bombs on Syria. So it's the United States of Trump and Bolton, and the extremist right-wing hawks now in charge in Israel, together with royalist Saudi Arabia. They are heading for war on Iran, going beyond the existing wars in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, They are choosing the path of  bullying, aggression, greed and recklessness that brought about two world wars.

For the time being, Trump’s bombastic threats against North Korea of nuclear devastation “like the world has never seen” have subsided as joint initiatives by South and North Korea have created a more hopeful climate for resolving chronic antagonisms. 

Of course the USA wields enormous global power although winning or even ending wars has long ceased to be a hallmark of that power. Trump can’t change declining US dominance by loudly heralding “America First”, but he can create great and lasting havoc. He will exploit jingoism and war to further authoritarian rule even though a majority of Americans hold him in contempt. 

It’s awful to see America as the spearhead of a new Axis. But wars are an inevitable byproduct of the fascistic path to which the Administration is committed. The question has become: Will the Trump-GOP cabal be ousted before it’s too late?

Friday, January 19, 2018


In recent weeks my blog has been silent more often than not. I'm not quite ready to close down officially because the urge to say my piece might still take over from time to time. The problem is essentially technical, the intrusion of old age on my ability to read and type comfortably. I'm essentially pretty able and well for 96+. But macular degeneration has progressed to the point where I can no longer read a newspaper or book effectively. I still do a lot of reading by magnifying text on the iPad (books) and Mac (news and email), Anyway, as most people my age discover, seriously diminished eyesight and hearing is a life changing experience. 

Right now, with this note, I'm experimenting using the dictation program on my computer. It's amazingly good, but far from ideal. Some of the mistakes are good for a laugh: for example, my first try at the phrase “good for a laugh” came out “our grapefruit left”. 

Friday, October 27, 2017


Close to my 96th birthday, I think a lot about “unfinished business”. I can’t complain. I’ve had far more time than most to try to work things out. Call it an unfinished “search” or, better still, an unending “struggle”. As inevitable as death and corporate evasion of taxes, the business of social change is never finished.

Late though it is, I'm starting a Diary of Unfinished Business. By “diary”, I  mean stuff I’m writing mainly for myself, to help me deal with questions that disturb me, memories that are blurred, anguish about an  ominous present and a much too-murky future. Of course, the lifelong pull of social responsibility remains, and if  I have something of possible interest to share, I’ll let readers of my blog know. 


Initial thoughts are very much in the present.  While Charlottesville put torch lights on the racist heart of the fascist threat, recent events tell much about the strategies by which the anti-democrats aim to prevail. Trump and Bannon know there is a very big strategic problem they have to get around: how to cement totalitarian control when a clear and growing majority of Americans fear and detest them. Now even two Republican Senators have denounced Trump in the strongest terms, their most urgent concern that the Trump Administration is on a path toward nuclear war.

The Trump-Bannon strategy is to exploit a central flaw in the electoral system, the one that put Trump in the White House with a minority of votes. It’s not just the Electoral College; it’s the whole gamut of advantages in control of state governments, mega donors, gerrymandering and voter suppression. What it all ads up to is that there is a formula by which dictatorial rule could be sustained against the will of the majority. Mister Inside (Trump) and Mr. Outside (Bannon)* are manipulating the ultra-right primary threat to purge Congress, yes even this most hapless and reactionary GOP Congress. So Corker and Flake are forced out as prospective “losers”, and Graham bends the knee along with a whole contingent of Republicans who stake their future on Trump and Trumpism.

Another arrow in Trump’s strategy quiver appeared in the episode triggered by the death of four special forces soldiers ambushed in Niger: if challenged, call forth the generals. All the nonsense about the generals as a normalizing and moderating influence on Trump collapsed in Kelly’s angry tirade against the Congresswoman friend of the dead black soldier’s family. This was the real 4-Star General Kelly, the one who said that if it was up to him, the number of immigrants allowed into the country would be between zero and one. He was so deeply offended by the sight of the black Congresswoman speaking at an earlier event honoring two fallen FBI agents, that he could wave off her taped speech with a huge public lie.

Trump’s coterie of generals is to be feared, especially as wars and interventions have become chronic and Trump ‘ups the ante’ on nuclear catastrophe. War is tempting to a desperate regime. Military juntas are anathema to democracy, another (so far un-American) way of overruling a majority.

There is no single remedy, no easy recourse. Nothing good can happen without organized resistance in all areas of public life. And there’s nothing that can turn the tide without major victory over Trump and Bannon in 2018 and 2020.

*Army football backfield tandem, vintage 1945: Mr. Inside, fullback Blanchard, crashed the line and Mr. Outside, halfback Davis, ran around end.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Understanding and opposing “neoliberalism” is one thing, valid and urgent. However, using “neo-liberal” as an epithet against a wide range of individuals is quite another, indiscriminate and divisive.

“Neo-liberalism” is probably the most widely used term for the economic philosophy of so-called “free market” capitalism in this age of full-blown “globalization”. The concept posits that human freedom depends on freedom for international business enterprise (corporations). That’s akin to the US Supreme Court ruling that “freedom of speech” requires that corporations be allowed to buy our elections as though they were individuals exercising our 1st Amendment rights. The reality is obviously different: as “free market” imperialism reigns and economic inequality defies any limits, freedom and democracy are diminished and severely threatened aroud the world, notably in our own United States.

Most liberals, almost all, would not conceive of corporate privilege (“free” unregulated markets) as the cornerstone of democracy and human rights. Yet many, perhaps most, might not share a leftist analysis of  “neo-liberalism” and the capitalist system.

It has become all to common on the Left to use “neo-liberal” as an epithet to label and dismiss individual liberals and progressives of varying outlooks. The label has been thrown at Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose brilliant writing  and insights on racism as related to the Obama and Trump presidencies leave room for much thoughtful discussion and debate. The same epithet has been applied to Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton, even Bernie Sanders, Rachel Maddow and to all Democratic Party representatives from John Lewis to Nancy Pelosi.

Certainly the influence of neoliberalism has a powerful impact on our political system and both major parties. The problem with applying the label indiscriminately to personalities is that it obscures some very important distinctions among political figures. It substitutes for serious evaluation of complex and contradictory tendencies that distinguish a particular individual and his or her role. It paints with the same brush many serious resisters to incipient fascism and the likes of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan, chief proponents of the most extreme policies of neoliberal dog-eat-dog capitalism. It invites antagonism and inhibits serious exchange of views among all of us now engaged in the fight of our lives to stop fascism and descent into the ultimate World War.

The course of our times has not proven any of us so righteous that we can afford immodest restraints on listening to each other. Understanding neoliberalism should contribute to greater awareness of capitalism’s dire prospects for life on our planet. Popular support for the message of Sanders here and Corbyn in Britain, challenging the “billionaire class” head-on, is a source of serious hope for turning things around.

But flinging around  the “neoliberal” epithet can divide and distract from what has to be done.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017


I haven't blogged for a while. Now and then I get the feeling that not much of what I have to say remains unsaid as my years add up past 95.  But in this time of greatest crisis for American democracy, it's inspiring to hear millions of voices raised to reverse the coup that put Trump and his cohorts of racism and violence in the White House.

I want to share one striking voice of sanity and humanity that a friend sent my way. It's Mayor Landrieu of New Orleans speaking back in May of this year.

From Troy Duster to Bcc, me: