Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, January 30, 2017 6:48 pm

A fledgling coup?

Scary, and illegal, as Donald Trump’s executive order limiting immigration was, it was still a conventional policy initiative.

But there was nothing conventional — or legal, or constitutional — about what happened after a federal judge, Ann Donnelly in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, issued a ruling on the order. (A federal judge in Alexandria, Leonie Brinkema, later issued a similar ruling in a similar action on behalf of some people who were detained upon arrival at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. Brinkema’s order went further than Donnelly’s, mandating that those people at Dulles be allowed to talk with lawyers.)

Customs and Border Patrol agents kept stopping and preventing people covered by the executive order from entering the United States, detaining them in direct violation of the judges’ orders. CBP agents at Dulles, informed by representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union that the detainees were entitled to legal counsel, responded, “That’s not happening.”

That means one of two things: Either the judges will hold a federal official, likely someone with CBP, in contempt, or the rule of law is dead in this country. And I’m not sure even a contempt citation with actual jail time would convince the Trumpites not to do what they’re doing.

As Yonatan Zunger writes at Medium:

That is to say, the administration is testing the extent to which the [Department of Homeland Security] (and other executive agencies) can act and ignore orders from the other branches of government. This is as serious as it can possibly get: all of the arguments about whether order X or Y is unconstitutional mean nothing if elements of the government are executing them and the courts are being ignored.

Zunger asks whether this is the beginnings of a coup. When executive-branch officials directly disobey a federal judge’s orders, I think the answer is probably yes.

The judges’ rulings empower the U.S. Marshal’s Service to enforce those rulings. Were I Judge Donnelly or Judge Brinkema, I’d have whoever was overseeing the CBP at JFK Airport and Dulles, respectively, in jail, and possibly higher-ups as well.

And even if the judges did that, I don’t know whether it would be enough. I honestly do not believe the Trumpites are going to stop until they are forced to. And it is clear that the Republican Party in Congress, supposedly a check on executive power, does not have the will to force them to.

And if that didn’t bug you, consider this: Steve Bannon, the unreconstructed Nazi who is now Trump’s top advisor, has been given a seat on the National Security Council — and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s top military officer, has been booted out of the group.

My friend David Gwynn said this on Facebook:

Steve Bannon is basically your crazy alcoholic uncle who lives in a broken down trailer on the outskirts of Merced. And he tells the President what to do. This should frighten just about everyone.

This is true, but it’s even more appalling, as Gail Young posted in the Facebook group Indivisible Concord:

Bannon has no government, intelligence, or high-level military experience; his experience is leading a propaganda outlet (Breitbart News) that peddles nationalist and white nationalist viewpoints.

This would be deeply concerning in and of itself. But one of the jobs of the NSC is to oversee a secret panel that authorizes the assassination of “enemies of the United States Government” – including American citizens. These targeted killings are fully authorized by law under the Congressional military authorization act following 9/11. There is no trial, no due process, and no public record of the decision or the assassination itself.

Just to recap the absurdity: the President of the United States has appointed a known propagandist, nationalist, and white supremacist to replace the highest military advisor in the country on a council that authorizes secret, legal, targeted killings of American citizens (and others) without due process.

And if you’re thinking, “Oh, they’d never do that to a U.S. citizen,” well, they already did, when President Obama ordered the extrajudicial assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. I said at the time that Obama should have been impeached for it.

So, you folks who like to say, “If I’d been there back then, I’d’ve …,” here we are. It’s time to do whatever you would have done.

UPDATE, 8:06 p.m. 1/30: A federal judge in Los Angeles, apparently annoyed that ICE deported a man in violation of HIS order, has ordered ICE to go bring him back, per the L.A. Times. That’s good, but holding some people in contempt, too, would’ve been better.

UPDATE, 9:35 p.m. 1/30: Earlier today, Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, announced that the Justice Department would not defend Trump’s executive order on immigration in court. A few minutes ago, Trump fired her. He said in his statement that she had “betrayed the Department of Justice.” This is, of course, bullshit of the purest ray serene. She swore an oath to uphold the Constitution — not the Justice Department or any president or administration — and that’s what she did.

Trump and Bannon are basically claiming that they are the Constitution. This is officially the biggest constitutional crisis since Iran-contra, if not the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre.

UPDATE, 8 a.m. 1/31: Steve Benen at MSNBC reminds us of some fairly recent history. Scene: Sally Yates’s confirmation hearing in March 2015 after being nominated to the post of deputy attorney general:

At the time, none other than Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), now Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, reminded Yates that she’ll have to be prepared to stand up to the White House should a president urge her to do something she considers unlawful. From the transcript:

SESSIONS: Well. you have to watch out, because people will be asking you to do things you just need to say ‘no’ about. Do you think the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that’s improper? [„,] If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?

YATES: Senator, I believe the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution, and to give their independent legal advice to the president.

Two years later, Yates did as she promised. For her trouble, Donald Trump fired her and accused her of “betraying” the Justice Department.

History will remember only one of them kindly.

Friday, December 9, 2016 9:45 am

“I saw how it was, and I was ready.”

Last in a series

First installment
Second installment
Third installment
Fourth installment
Fifth installment
Sixth installment
Seventh installment
Eighth installment

To sum up: We live in a fascist nation in which a fascist leader just stole a presidential election and is installing some not just unqualified but also malignant people into positions of power. We are in grave danger of tipping into autocracy. Nothing’s going to be done about the stolen election, and the media almost certainly won’t be much help going forward. So who will?

Nobody. Nobody is going to help, as Athenae pointed out in a different context two years ago:

No one is coming to save you. Repeat after me. Nobody is coming to save you. So save your own goddamn motherfucking glorious selves. Think about the freedom of that. Think about the way it unties you, shoves you off the cliff, and trusts you to fly.

It’s up to you. I talk about this all the time in my offline and online lives, in my life: If you give a shit about something you are the one who is morally obligated to act, so spare me your peroration on how you’d show up at the protest if only the other people there were dressed the way you wanted them dressed. Spare me the opinion columns about the wars you think other people’s children should fight, the wars you yourself have such a good reason for not fighting. …

Stop WAITING. For God’s sake, stop being disappointed when no one comes. Stop hating everybody else for being stupid and trivial and obsessed, stop hating the technology at your disposal, stop hating the world you live in for not being the world you want to live in, and stop being so goddamn willing to let yourself off the hook.

Work HARDER. Get better. Get up.

Yes, we will have to do this ourselves. We don’t know how and can’t imagine why, but that’s because America seems to have an enervating fondness for the “Great Man” theory of history. That’s a huge obstacle to what must happen right now, as Megan Carpentier writes:

Liberals should stop asking whether Donald Trump—or his chief strategist and the former head of Breitbart, Steve Bannon—is a Nazi. Not because the employees of Trump’s son-in-law and adviser said so in an embarrassing paean to the “zealous Zionist” who has Trump’s ear, or even because, like one high school history teacher and Holocaust expert in Northern California, you could be forced into retirement. No, the reason to resist the temptation to whether our president elect and his ghastly racist retinue are bona fide Nazis is that it’s the wrong question, and it’s always been the wrong question. …

The Nazis gained power in Germany through democratic elections and maintained it through maintaining the support of a plurality, if not a true majority, of Germans well into the 1940s. Thus, the question isn’t whether Trump and his ilk are Nazis; it’s whether Americans are, or would be willing to accept it if they were.

On one level, Americans’ obsession with whether various leaders are more or less like actual Nazi leaders speaks volumes about the failures of the American educational system: our approach to history, for better and mostly for worse, stems from the nineteenth century Great Man philosophy of history. Under this view of things, all historical change is a project reserved for our leaders; the rest of us are just drawn along in their wake with little agency or responsibility.

The “with little agency or responsibility” disclaimer ought to ring a few bells here. That’s the underlying philosophy that allows white Americans to evade responsibility for the institution of slavery and the long-term harm it has created for African Americans by saying that their ancestors never enslaved anyone. If we conceive of our leaders as the only (or primary) agents of history or change, then the rest of us need to own up to the systemic injustices that our actions uphold—or, indeed, to any of the changes our chosen leaders impose and we accept.

But history is lived and influenced by more than just “Great Men”; going along to get along is as much a choice as taking to the streets to protest (and possibly risking your life to do so).

As Pogo famously observed, we have met the enemy and he is us. We got us into this. And there’s no cavalry coming; we are going to have to get us out. So what should we do? The short answer is: resist. There is, of course, a longer answer.

Let’s start by defining where we want and need to be. That, to me, is a United States of America devoted to the promises it made and the checks it wrote to itself in 1776 and 1787. A country that is prepared for war but works for peace at home and abroad. A country that does the public’s business where the public can see it, values its people over its property, and is at least moving toward living in harmony with nature rather than exploiting it. A country where decisions are based on science and facts. A country where all lives really do matter,  where equal protection under the law is a real thing and not just a joke that the powerful snicker at over cocktails.

A country that, for fuck’s sweet sake, is not a fascist autocracy.

The Americans who will lead that country won’t be born in my lifetime or yours, but we need to start the work right now. We need both short-term tactics and long-term strategies, because the challenges we face are both short-term (global warming, overpopulation) and long-term (eradicating prejudice, attenuating greed).

And the most important short-term tactic is opposing Donald Trump by any means necessary. As I’ve noted, he is the single most unqualified candidate ever to be elevated to the presidency:

On July 7, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, met privately with House Republicans near the Capitol. I was present as chief policy director of the House Republican Conference. Mr. Trump’s purpose was to persuade the representatives to unite around him, a pitch he delivered in a subdued version of his stream-of-consciousness style. A congresswoman asked him about his plans to protect Article I of the Constitution, which assigns all federal lawmaking power to Congress.

Mr. Trump interrupted her to declare his commitment to the Constitution — even to parts of it that do not exist, such as “Article XII.” Shock swept through the room as Mr. Trump confirmed one of our chief concerns about him: He lacked a basic knowledge of the Constitution.

There is still deeper cause for concern. Mr. Trump’s erroneous proclamation also suggested that he lacked even an interest in the Constitution. Worse, his campaign rhetoric had demonstrated authoritarian tendencies.

He had questioned judicial independence, threatened the freedom of the press, called for violating Muslims’ equal protection under the law, promised the use of torture and attacked Americans based on their gender, race and religion. He had also undermined critical democratic norms including peaceful debate and transitions of power, commitment to truth, freedom from foreign interference and abstention from the use of executive power for political retribution.

There is little indication that anything has changed since Election Day.

That is to say, the dangers of fascism and autocracy he poses, from recession to nuclear war, threaten not just our well-being but also our lives and those of our children and those yet unborn.

Trump appears to this layman to be a textbook example of someone with narcissistic personality disorder. Because I am a layman, I could be completely wrong about this (and most non-lay people would refuse to diagnose at a distance, for that matter), but boy howdy, does he match up with the symptoms. And there are a lot of things you need to know about people like Trump with narcissistic personality disorder, as Medium contributor N. Ziehl explains:

1) [Narcissistic personality disorder] is not curable and it’s barely treatable. [Trump] is who he is. There is no getting better, or learning, or adapting. He’s not going to “rise to the occasion” for more than maybe a couple hours. So just put that out of your mind.

2) He will say whatever feels most comfortable or good to him at any given time. He will lie a lot, and say totally different things to different people. Stop being surprised by this. While it’s important to pretend “good faith” and remind him of promises, as Bernie Sanders and others are doing, that’s for his supporters, so *they* can see the inconsistency as it comes. He won’t care. So if you’re trying to reconcile or analyze his words, don’t. It’s 100% not worth your time. Only pay attention to and address his actions.

3) You can influence him by making him feel good. There are already people like [chief counsel-designee Steve] Bannon who appear ready to use him for their own ends. The GOP is excited to try. Watch them, not him. President Obama, in his wisdom, may be treating him well in hopes of influencing him and averting the worst. If he gets enough accolades for better behavior, he might continue to try it. But don’t count on it.

4) Entitlement is a key aspect of the disorder. As we are already seeing, he will likely not observe traditional boundaries of the office. He has already stated that rules don’t apply to him. This particular attribute has huge implications for the presidency and it will be important for everyone who can to hold him to the same standards as previous presidents.

5) We should expect that he only cares about himself and those he views as extensions of himself, like his children. (People with NPD often can’t understand others as fully human or distinct.) He desires accumulation of wealth and power because it fills a hole. (Melania is probably an acquired item, not an extension.) He will have no qualms *at all* about stealing everything he can from the country, and he’ll be happy to help others do so, if they make him feel good. He won’t view it as stealing but rather as something he’s entitled to do. This is likely the only thing he will intentionally accomplish.

6) It’s very, very confusing for non-disordered people to experience a disordered person with NPD. While often intelligent, charismatic and charming, they do not reliably observe social conventions or demonstrate basic human empathy. It’s very common for non-disordered people to lower their own expectations and try to normalize the behavior. DO NOT DO THIS AND DO NOT ALLOW OTHERS, ESPECIALLY THE MEDIA, TO DO THIS. If you start to feel foggy or unclear about this, step away until you recalibrate.

7) People with NPD often recruit helpers, referred to in the literature as “enablers” when they allow or cover for bad behavior and “flying monkeys” when they perpetrate bad behavior on behalf of the narcissist. Although it’s easiest to prey on malicious people, good and vulnerable people can be unwittingly recruited. It will be important to support good people around him if and when they attempt to stay clear or break away.

8) People with NPD often foster competition for sport in people they control. Expect lots of chaos, firings and recriminations. He will probably behave worst toward those closest to him, but that doesn’t mean (obviously) that his actions won’t have consequences for the rest of us. He will punish enemies. He may start out, as he has with the NYT, with a confusing combination of punishing/rewarding, which is a classic abuse tactic for control. If you see your media cooperating or facilitating this behavior for rewards, call them on it.

9) Gaslighting — where someone tries to convince you that the reality you’ve experienced isn’t true — is real and torturous. He will gaslight, his followers will gaslight. Many of our politicians and media figures already gaslight, so it will be hard to distinguish his amplified version from what has already been normalized. Learn the signs and find ways to stay focused on what you know to be true. Note: it is typically not helpful to argue with people who are attempting to gaslight. You will only confuse yourself. Just walk away.

10) Whenever possible, do not focus on the narcissist or give him attention. Unfortunately we can’t and shouldn’t ignore the president, but don’t circulate his tweets or laugh at him — you are enabling him and getting his word out. (I’ve done this, of course, we all have… just try to be aware.) Pay attention to your own emotions: do you sort of enjoy his clowning? do you enjoy the outrage? is this kind of fun and dramatic, in a sick way? You are adding to his energy. Focus on what you can change and how you can resist, where you are. We are all called to be leaders now, in the absence of leadership.

I’ll talk more in a bit on what that leadership might look like.

It’s hard to say what’s worst about Trump or most dangerous about him (although that whole unassisted-nuclear-war thing is a strong contender), but I think what is most fundamentally un-American about him is his bigotry and that of those with whom he surrounds himself. Yeah, yeah, I know, racism is as American as apple pie, but it also is most fundamentally at odds with the vision and the ideals expressed in our founding documents — all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness; that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction “the equal protection of the laws,” etc.

And if we are to reach our long-term goals for this country, we must therefore address bigotry as a huge obstacle to those goals and as a huge part of the makeup of the person who has stolen the Oval Office and the people who surround him — and who voted for him. And to address it, we cannot allow ourselves to live in denial about it.

Accordingly, I wanted to share something Tess Rafferty said not long after the election. Her perspective, I think, is essential to our national progress in general and dealing with Trump in particular:

You voted for Trump – I am tired of trying to see things your way while you sit in your holier-than-thou churches/white power meetups, refusing to see things mine. Did I just lump you in with white supremacists? No, you did that to yourselves. You voted for the same candidate as the KKK. You voted for a candidate endorsed by the KKK. For the rest of your life, you have to know that you voted the same way as the KKK. Does that feel good to you? Here’s a hint – it really shouldn’t, especially if you call yourself a Christian.

I’m tired of pussy footing around what offends your morals while couching what offends mine, because racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia offend mine.

Let me say it right here – if you voted for Trump, I do think you are a racist. I do think you’re homophobic. I do think you’re a misogynist. Racism, and homophobia, and misogyny are all a spectrum, and you’re on it. You might not be a ‘cheering while a black man gets lynched’ racist, but boy, did you just sell them the rope and look the other way. …

I tried to be polite, but now I just don’t give a damn, because let’s be honest, we don’t live in polite America anymore. We live in ‘grab ‘em by the pussy America now. So thank you for that, being polite was exhausting. …

So now’s the time you might want to see things from my side. Because, if we’re all going to have to be friends after this, imagine me having to be polite and having to respect your vote to take away my rights and freedoms and those of my friends, while we fight desperately to try to hang onto them, because that is what you did. …

Being racist isn’t the same as liking Dire Straits. This isn’t the same as just disagreeing about musical tastes. Being racist is always racist, and if you voted for Trump, you’re racist.

Rafferty speaks my mind: If you voted for Trump, then you are a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a xenophobe. (And, yes, in case anyone reading this wonders, you can quote me on this. And if you voted for a third-party candidate? I have a position on that, too.) Yeah, as Rafferty says, it’s a spectrum, and despite the denials of bigots we’re all on it somewhere. But if you voted for Trump, you’re on it at a spot that is fundamentally incompatible with this country’s highest ideals, and I want nothing to do with you.

But, besides acknowledging that bigotry and refusing to tolerate it, what else can we do?

If it makes you feel any better, that question has been tossed around for a bit. Of all people, Robert Kagan, who’s something of a neocon and therefore not presumably all that opposed to fascism, saw it coming when he wrote in May:

But what [Trump] has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the “mobocracy.” Conservatives have been warning for decades about government suffocating liberty. But here is the other threat to liberty that Alexis de Tocqueville and the ancient philosophers warned about: that the people in a democracy, excited, angry and unconstrained, might run roughshod over even the institutions created to preserve their freedoms. As Alexander Hamilton watched the French Revolution unfold, he feared in America what he saw play out in France — that the unleashing of popular passions would lead not to greater democracy but to the arrival of a tyrant, riding to power on the shoulders of the people.

O hai, as cats say on the Internet.

And while Kagan didn’t specifically set out to say what we should do, he did break down into categories what he thought our politicians, at least, were likely to do, and so far he ain’t been wrong:

In such an environment, every political figure confronts a stark choice: Get right with the leader and his mass following or get run over. The human race in such circumstances breaks down into predictable categories — and democratic politicians are the most predictable. There are those whose ambition leads them to jump on the bandwagon. They praise the leader’s incoherent speeches as the beginning of wisdom, hoping he will reward them with a plum post in the new order. There are those who merely hope to survive. Their consciences won’t let them curry favor so shamelessly, so they mumble their pledges of support, like the victims in Stalin’s show trials, perhaps not realizing that the leader and his followers will get them in the end anyway.

A great number will simply kid themselves, refusing to admit that something very different from the usual politics is afoot. Let the storm pass, they insist, and then we can pick up the pieces, rebuild and get back to normal. Meanwhile, don’t alienate the leader’s mass following. After all, they are voters and will need to be brought back into the fold. As for Trump himself, let’s shape him, advise him, steer him in the right direction and, not incidentally, save our political skins.

What these people do not or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe them and their party nothing. He will have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him.

And yet Democrats can — indeed, must — resist. As David Faris writes at TheWeek.com, it’s time for Democrats to fight (at least figuratively) dirty:

So after the GOP’s unapologetic, eight-year incineration of America’s surviving governing norms, the Democrats have a stark choice. One option is to continue to be the party of decent government and compromise, and ride into power every eight or 12 years to clean up the GOP’s mess. And indeed, all available signals from Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren — the de facto leaders of what little remains of the institutional Democratic Party — suggest that they intend to cooperate dutifully with their new GOP overlords when the opportunity to accomplish something meaningful presents itself.

That this is the first instinct of the Democratic Party even after a crushing, incomprehensible defeat is actually kind of admirable. The urge to minimize the damage in defense of the public interest is broadly shared, and understandable. It must make many Democrats proud to support a party that truly believes in the public good, even at the expense of winning.

On the other hand, no. It’s time for Democrats to say no. To everything.

Democrats must comprehend, at long last, what is being done to them by the Republican Party. The Democratic negotiating position on all issues put before them while they are in the House and Senate minority for at least the next two years should be very simple: You will give us Merrick Garland or you may go die in a fire.

Not only that, but they should do what they should have done the day Antonin Scalia died: Make it clear that the next time the Democrats control the Senate while the Republican Party controls the presidency, whether that is in 2019 or 2049, there will be an extraordinarily high price to pay for what just transpired. The next Republican president facing divided government will get nothing. This president will run the entire federal government by himself. Zero confirmations. No judges, not even to the lowliest district court in the country. No Cabinet heads. No laws. Budgets will be approved only after prolonged and painful crises. Whoever this GOP president is, he or she will be forced to watch while their presidency and everything they hoped to achieve in government is burned down while the Democrats block the fire hydrant and laugh.

And Democrats should be confident knowing that American voters will never, ever hold them accountable for it. On the contrary, they will almost certainly be rewarded with sweeping power.

It helps that the Republicans — led by a man who rage-tweets fake news in the middle of the night — are about to embark on a long voyage of turning every single thing they touch into garbage. There should be no Democratic fingerprints whatsoever on the coming catastrophe. Democrats must not give the imprimatur of legitimacy to the handsy Infowars accolyte who is about to take the oath of office. Not to get some highways built. Not to renegotiate NAFTA. Not to do anything.

At long last, Democrats must learn from their tormenters: Obstruct. Delay. Delegitimize. Harass. Destroy. Above all: Do. Not. Help. This. Man. Govern.

How might such a massive resistance effort be organized? For one thing, it will take a huge amount of grass-roots pressure on Democratic lawmakers from voters. (Of course, pretty much any progressive initiative requires that, but this will require EVEN MORE of it.) But it will need something else, too: Real leadership in Washington. Jeet Heer, a senior editor at The New Republic, has an excellent idea for how Democrats can best resist the worst of what Trump and the GOP will try to do: create the U.S. equivalent of the head of the opposition party in a parliamentary system, and put U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in that role.

That position, Heer says, could organize and coordinate Democratic opposition to Trump and the GOP in a way that no current, formally empowered Democrat can (Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, say). Moreover, Heer says, that person should be Warren because no one else in the party combines focus, policy credentials, and a demonstrated willingness to fight. Schumer won’t fight, and Bernie Sanders is returning to Congress not as a Democrat who could be the voice of the party but as an independent who is a critic of it.

And Heer didn’t say this, but I will: Pelosi already is suspect to many in the grassroots for not having impeached George W. Bush over torture and warrantless domestic wiretapping. A lot of Democrats simply don’t believe she has the moral fiber for the role, not to mention the stomach for the kind of total war that will be required, let alone the organizing, messaging, and inspirational skills such a war will require. (And a word about that war: Democrats need to wake up and realize that Republicans have been fighting it since 1994. They’re in it whether they want to be or not, and as Faris noted above, they need to get right out of the habit of bringing a knife to a gunfight.)

Heer sees it working like this:

With her sharp, relentless, and often funny criticism of Trump, Warren has already stepped up to the plate as the party’s most stalwart voice. If the Democrats could invent a way to formalize her role, it would make her all the more effective.

One path might be for Schumer and Pelosi to get the congressional Democrats and party leaders together for a private meeting where they agree that Trump needs to be opposed as relentlessly and ruthlessly as Mitch McConnell’s congressional Republicans opposed Obama. In this new scenario, Schumer and Pelosi would play the role of party whips, strategizing the opposition to policy proposals and obnoxious nominations while keeping the votes in line to make sure Democrats don’t defect or turn into Trump collaborators—Vichy Democrats. But these are essentially behind-the-scenes tasks. Warren, by contrast, could be given a title (Chief Presidential Critic? Democratic Opposition Leader? Shadow President?) and be tasked with going out to the media and laying out the party’s talking points.

As Chief Presidential Critic (or whatever title the Democrats conjure), Warren could take on the crucial task of message-discipline. As Rich Yeselson, a writer for Dissent and other left-of-center journals, notes, “The biggest problem for the Democrats versus the Republicans in getting out a message is that there is not nearly the level of coordination. This may become different in the age of Trump, but the GOP has been agit-prop excellent in having all of its top players ‘on message’ and saying the same thingobviously, eliminating Obamacare is a classic example and there are many others.”

Warren would be the go-to person when the media wants the Democratic Party’s response to Trump’s latest words and actions; other politicians and surrogates would take their cues from her. She would take the lead on setting and articulating the party’s talking points, while Pelosi and Schumer work to whip Democrats in Congress. Warren would give the party the tough-but-appealing face, and voice, it so badly needs. And grassroots Democrats could, and would, amplify her voice—they’d have someone to rally around, to point to as their key anti-Trump champion.

I would add that this role also is particularly suited to Warren inasmuch as she has by and large said she has no intention of seeking the White House. (Yeah, I know, things can change — and has there ever been a senator who didn’t look in the mirror at least once and see a president looking back? — but that’s what she says now.) Further, she could assume it while still being the party’s Most Valuable Player in the Senate. It’s a lot to ask of her, but if she embraces the role, I think she’s up to it.

What else can Senate Democrats do? Apparently a number of them are thinking hard about delaying and dragging out the confirmation process on Trump’s Cabinet and sub-Cabinet appointees, either because of legitimate questions about his appointees (of which there are oh, so many) or just as payback for the Republicans’ having refused to hold hearings and a vote on President Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

Senate Democrats can’t block Trump’s appointments, which in all but one case need only 51 votes for confirmation. But they can turn the confirmation process into a slog.

Any individual senator can force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold procedural votes on nominees. Senior Democrats said a series of such votes are likely for many of Trump’s picks.

Democrats could conceivably force up to 30 hours of debate for each Cabinet nominee, which would be highly disruptive for a GOP Senate that usually works limited hours but has big ambitions for next year. The minority could also stymie lower-level nominees and potentially keep the Senate focused on executive confirmations for weeks as Trump assumes the presidency and congressional Republicans try to capitalize on their political momentum.
Reasonable people in the center and on the left can disagree on exactly how many Trump nominees should be filibustered outright, but I think everyone can agree on Jeff Sessions for attorney general. As for the rest, unless they are mainstream people with clear expertise in the field — and at this writing, none is — they need to be grilled like a fresh-caught salmon. And I think requiring 30 hours of debate on every single confirmable position is merely the karma that refusing hearings on Merrick Garland deserves. I try not to be a petty person, but frankly, not being petty hasn’t gotten the good guys very far.
But there’s another good reason to drag things out, too: A growing number of Trump voters are experiencing buyer’s remorse. Trump’s favorability rating is the worst of any president-elect at this point in the transition since Gallup started asking the question. Even among Republicans, support for repealing Obamacare has fallen almost 30 percent just since the election. Delay would buy us crucial time: The longer the administration and the Senate are tied up with getting nominees confirmed, the more time we have to build opposition to Trump’s policies and those of the Republican Congress.
And even minority leaders in Congress can request the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s nonpartisan investigative arm, to look into various Executive Branch activities once the policy makers get seated. Whether anything gets done with the results is another matter, but at least the information would be out there for voters to see.
So those are some of the things Congressional Democrats can do to resist. But what can we do?
Let’s start with what we shouldn’t do: violence. Self-defense is one thing, and some of Trump’s backers in the past year have acted in ways that certainly justified self-defense. But unprovoked violence in protest of any political leader is morally wrong. If you’re prepared to go that route, you had better be prepared to fight to dissolve the political bands which have connected you with the American people and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle you. Also, you had better be prepared to hang if you lose. Besides, as Slate writer Jamelle Bouie observed:

The simple truth is that reaction feeds on disorder. And when there are legitimate means to stop Trump, you’re just as likely to cause a backlash in favor of his effort by forsaking them to attack his supporters. (At the risk of tripping Godwin’s law, German Communist violence against ultra-right targets in the 1932 elections didn’t stop Hitler and his enablers as much as it emboldened and enabled them.) If anything, Trump wants violent attacks on his supporters. Don’t give them to him.

Which is to say that, yes, we can open the box labeled violence, but consider this: There’s little guarantee we’ll be able to close it and almost none that we’ll prevail in the end.

But, yes, we must resist. Consider this concession speech:

Thank you, my friends. Thank you. Thank you. We have lost. We have lost, and this is the last day of my political career, so I will say what must be said. We are standing at the edge of the abyss. Our political system, our society, our country itself are in greater danger than at any time in the last century and a half. The president-elect has made his intentions clear, and it would be immoral to pretend otherwise. We must band together right now to defend the laws, the institutions, and the ideals on which our country is based.

Obviously, Hillary Clinton did not deliver that speech. But she should have, argues Masha Gessen in The New York Review of Books. Gessen maintains that some important falsehoods, including some Hillary Clinton included in the concession speech she actually did give, are preventing us from responding appropriately to Trump.

For one thing, Gessen writes, Clinton elided the distinction between civil resistance and insurgency, which Gessen calls “an autocrat’s favorite con, the explanation for the violent suppression of peaceful protests the world over.” For another, Gessen writes, Clinton, President Obama, and all the other political leaders who said conciliatory things after Trump’s Electoral College victory are refusing to grasp the reality of what is before us, instead embracing:

… the pretense that America is starting from scratch and its president-elect is a tabula rasa. Or we are: “we owe him an open mind.” It was as though Donald Trump had not, in the course of his campaign, promised to deport US citizens, promised to create a system of surveillance targeted specifically at Muslim Americans, promised to build a wall on the border with Mexico, advocated war crimes, endorsed torture, and repeatedly threatened to jail Hillary Clinton herself. It was as though those statements and many more could be written off as so much campaign hyperbole and now that the campaign was over, Trump would be eager to become a regular, rule-abiding politician of the pre-Trump era.

But Trump is anything but a regular politician and this has been anything but a regular election. Trump will be only the fourth candidate in history and the second in more than a century to win the presidency after losing the popular vote. He is also probably the first candidate in history to win the presidency despite having been shown repeatedly by the national media to be a chronic liar, sexual predator, serial tax-avoider, and race-baiter who has attracted the likes of the Ku Klux Klan. Most important, Trump is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat—and won.

Gessen points out that she has lived in autocracies much of her life and has spent her career writing about Putin and Russia. So she probably is better situated than many to offer advice on how to survive autocracy. They are, in brief:

  1. Believe the autocrat; he means what he says.
  2. Do not be taken in by small signs of normalcy.
  3. Do not count on institutions to save you.
  4. Be outraged.
  5. Don’t make compromises.
  6. Remember the future.

Regarding No. 1, Donald Trump has been remarkably clear about his bigoted, autocratic aims. He also is the world’s best example of narcissistic personality disorder and all the misery that that entails for people around him and the people he is scheduled to govern. He is a liar of world-historical proportions, but he has made one campaign promise that I believe we all can take to the bank: “I will never change.”

Regarding No. 2, and relatedly, Trump will occasionally moderate his extreme statements or even contradict them. One cannot be fooled. For example, he has called the legality of same-sex marriage “settled law.” Does that mean LGBTQ people who wish to marry can relax? Hardly. The right to an abortion is even more settled, and yet he has pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices who will vote to overturn the case that legalized it. Are we to believe those same justices would not overturn the ruling that legalized same-sex marriage? Indeed, after watching the Supreme Court practically beg for cases that would enable it to gut the Civil Rights Act, are we to believe that Trump-appointed justices, aided and abetted by the likes of John Roberts, Sam Alito and Clarence Thomas, would not beg for the chance to ban same-sex marriage once again? Yeah, no.

Regarding institutions, I’ve already dismissed the likelihood that the news media will be any help. Congress already has been gutted — Trump once said that he could shoot someone down in the middle of Fifth Avenue and people would applaud him for it; now, he could do it and the GOP-controlled House would not impeach him for it, either. And if they’re not going to impeach him for that, they won’t impeach him for his many conflicts of interest, or for torture, or anything else. Might our courts help us? Maybe, but we’ve already gotten a look at the list of jurists from which Trump has said he would appoint, and they appear to be enablers of autocracy, not opponents of it. And keep in mind, there were lawyers up to their eyeballs in the decision at the Wannsee Conference to liquidate European Jewry as well as the Bush 43 administration’s justification of torture.

As for No. 4, outrage is no trouble now. But how will it be in a month, or a year? “Outrage fatigue” is real. And yet, with Trump and his allies in charge of the White House, Congress and, soon, the Supreme Court, he will be able to move quickly and far. The outrages will be many, yet they must all be called out and not ignored, because each one will be damaging, perhaps lethally, to some of our fellow Americans.

And No. 5, don’t make compromises? This is an issue on which Gessen has special insight:

I grew up knowing that my great-grandfather smuggled guns into the Bialystok ghetto for the resistance, which staged an armed uprising there in August 1943. As an adult, researching a book about collaboration and resistance, using my own family history, I found out why my great-grandfather had been in a position to arm the resistance: he was one of the leaders of the Bialystok Judenrat, the Nazi-appointed Jewish council that ran the ghetto.

My great-grandfather’s story was at once an extreme and a typical example. Criminal regimes function in part by forcing the maximum number of subjects to participate in the atrocities. For nearly a century, individuals in various parts of the Western world have struggled with the question of how, and how much, we should engage politically and personally with governments that we find morally abhorrent.

With the election of Donald Trump—a candidate who has lied his way into power, openly embraced racist discourse and violence, toyed with the idea of jailing his opponents, boasted of his assaults on women and his avoidance of taxes, and denigrated the traditional checks and balances of government—this question has confronted us as urgently as ever.

As Kagan noted above, compromise is useless: Trump and his followers will get you in the end anyway. And Tom Levenson, posting at Balloon Juice, adds:

I’m convinced Gessen is correct.  More, I believe her demand that we make the moral choice first, and then pursue whatever particular tactic seems most likely to embody that choice, will be the most effective, as well as the right thing to do.  A Democratic response to Trump that says we can make this work a little better enshrines Trumpism, and all the vicious GOP assumptions as the ground on which such matters get decided.  One that says “No. This is wrong.  Democrats will oppose, not mitigate…” is the one that creates a real choice going forward on the ground on which we want to fight.

Finally, Gessen wrote, remember the future. True, nothing lasts forever, but as I said above, none of now living will see the end of U.S. fascism. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting. And Trump and his followers are worth fighting if we value the kind of country the United States has always said it strives to be — even if it takes a long time, even if we’re not around to see his ilk vanquished. We do some things not because they’re practical or easily achievable, but because they are the right thing to do.

So where are we now? Like the protagonist in my friend Andy’s story in the first installment, we’ve gone somewhere we’ve never been, someplace miserable, where suffering is a feature rather than a bug and from which there may be no return. And as in the story, and as noted in earlier posts, some very, very unpleasant people are now in charge.  And if you’ve read this far, I hope that, like that narrator, you see how it is, and that you are ready.

And where are we going from here? That, my friends, we will each of us have to decide on our own. I can’t speak for “we,” only for myself. I’ve read a lot about life in autocracies, and one recurring theme is that you have to remember what “normal” is like because the pressure to forget normal will be intense. So I see part of my job as reminding whatever audience I might have of what “normal” is like, to stand up against the pressure to forget — to forget the Constitution, to forget the Golden Rule, to forget simple human decency. I also see part of my job as to witness, to tell you what I see going on and what I think it means.

Unfortunately, we know from other autocracies that there will be enormous explicit and implicit pressure to go along to get along, sometimes from the people closest to us in the world. Under this regime, going along will certainly mean legal discrimination on the basis of religion, race, sexual orientation/identity and other bases. It might well mean ethnic cleansing and even genocide. And I imagine that all the best people will just go along. That is, Pastor Martin Niemöller reminds us, how it worked in Nazi Germany:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Yeah, all the best people went along to get along. But I’ve never been one of the best people. If they come first this time for, say, the Muslims, we must respond: Not this time, motherfuckers.

Gessen says, “It is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock” — not surprise, because nothing this gang would do would surprise me or her — but shock, which implies a sense of moral offense. And that is essential, because what Trump and his supporters are up to is nothing if not immoral. Going along to get along will mean violating two of the West’s most important principles: the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment and Christ’s Second Great Commandment. I won’t, can’t do that. I will not betray my country, my faith nor, through either, my fellow Americans. The martyred anti-Nazi theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that if we go along to get along, “God will not hold us guiltless,” and he was right. Gessen urged us to make the moral choice first, and so I have: I see how it is, and I am ready.

Accordingly, I say to Donald Trump: You and your supporters can say whatever you like and try whatever you think you can get away with. But I’m out: As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Saturday, December 3, 2016 9:54 pm

Knowing fascism when you see it; or, If the jackboot fits — Part 2

Eighth in a series

First installment
Second installment
Third installment
Fourth installment
Fifth installment
Sixth installment
Seventh installment

When we left off last, we had just reviewed the question of whether, by Mussolini’s definition, the U.S. is a fascist system. I concluded that it isn’t, but I also thought Mussolini’s perspective on what fascism was wasn’t necessarily the only one with which we should concern ourselves. Another important perspective to consider is an essay written more than 20 years ago by the Italian postmodern novelist and critic Umberto Eco, perhaps best known for the novel “The Name of the Rose.” Eco had been active in the Resistance as a child during World War II and was there for the liberation of Italy by the Americans. In 1995, Eco wrote an essay for The New York Review of Books in which he posited the characteristics of what he called Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. Of them he writes, “These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.” (emphasis added) In other words, as few as one of these features could lead to fascism.

I’ll list his 14 features, and we’ll talk about each in terms of whether and how it applies to the U.S.

1.The Cult of Tradition: Eco elaborates:

In the Mediterranean basin, people of different religions (most of them indulgently accepted by the Roman Pantheon) started dreaming of a revelation received at the dawn of human history. This revelation, according to the traditionalist mystique, had remained for a long time concealed under the veil of forgotten languages—in Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the Celtic runes, in the scrolls of the little known religions of Asia.

This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice”; such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a silver of wisdom, and whenever they seem to say different or incompatible things it is only because all are alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.

As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.

One can argue that this applies to the U.S. The country’s founding documents — primarily the Federalist papers, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution — often are treated by Americans as a revelation. And, yes, they’re sometimes contradictory, most obviously in the original sin of this country, combining aspirations toward freedom with institutionalization of slavery (and native genocide, and denial of rights to most women). And, yes, to some Americans — perhaps most notably the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia — truth already has been spelled out once and for all. Other interpretations, even — indeed, perhaps, particularly — in the light of new historical and scientific discoveries, are irrelevant.

Do all Americans think this way? Of course not. But many do, and some of them hold or are about to hold real power.

2) The rejection of modernism. Eco notes that while Nazi Germany was proud of its scientific, technological and industrial advances, its culture was a much more ancient strain of Blut und Boden (blood and earth) and sees the Enlightenment as “the beginning of modern depravity.” Similarly, much of the U.S., including many now in power, have rejected efforts by the country to cash checks the country wrote to itself in 1776 and 1787, and while some of the conservative movement’s opposition to, say, the notion of global warming is driven purely by economic gain and political convenience, a nontrivial part is based on the absolute rejection of science, or, as Eco describes it, irrationalism.

3) Embrace of action for action’s sake and denigrating thought and reflection. Action is seen as beautiful in itself, particularly when undertaken without prior reflection and even when reflection might give us an edge on our adversaries. This trend is exemplified, in Trump’s embrace of torture even though professional interrogators find it generally unproductive and perhaps even leading to false information. Eco writes:

Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering’s alleged statement (“When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals,” “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” “universities are a nest of reds.”

The U.S. conservative movement has been anti-intellectual for at least the past 50 years. Today, as I write, the current target on Twitter is #liberalelites. (Some people who value thought and reflection are embracing that hashtag while posting such things in response as, “If expecting that my POTUS [president of the United States] is better-educated and better-informed than me makes me #liberalelite, so fucking be it.”

4) Rejection of analytical criticism. Remember in Item 1 when Eco said that a fascist culture must not just incorporate things from different sources but also tolerate contradictions? The problem this creates, of course, is that analytical criticism exposes and highlights contradictions. As Eco puts it:

The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

This characteristic might help explain a phenomenon discovered in recent years by researchers: When people believe something false and are exposed to correct information that exposes that falsity, they often cling to the false belief even more tightly:

Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. …

Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.

Sound like the U.S. to you? Sounds like it to me.

5) Fear of difference: 

Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

Slavery is often described as America’s original sin, but racism underlay slavery and made it possible, as Ta-Nehisi Coates and others have pointed out. Every fascist movement — indeed, every American populist movement — sooner or later (and usually sooner) advances and grows by exploiting fear of The Other. The presidental campaign just past differed from other recent campaigns only the explicitness of Trump and followers of his such as Steve Bannon.

6) Appeal to a frustrated middle class:

Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.

As I’ve noted before, polling data strongly suggests that racial animus was the primary driver of political support for Trump (see characteristic 5 above) and also shows that enough affluent people supported him to suggest that economic frustration also was not a main driver. Yes, there is some frustration, and it does have real causes — real wages haven’t grown, for example, and although nominal unemployment is now under 5 percent, demand for labor still hasn’t risen enough to boost labor-force participation to pre-recession levels. But the American conservative movement opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, has opposed periodic reauthorizations of the act since, and as noted in the second installment of this series, it has fought to keep the very young, the very old, recently naturalized citizens and especially minorities from voting. So, yes, America, this is you.

7) Obsession with a plot:

To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the US, a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.

Again, Eco wrote in 1995; more recently, Trump and other prominent Republicans including white nationalists have made targets out of not only Jews, but also African Americans, Mexicans, immigrants generally, and particularly Muslims.

8) The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies:

When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. [Remember, as noted in characteristic 1, contradictions are embraced.] Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.

Yep, that’s us, and I worry that Trump and his “brain trust” to date are incapable of objectively evaluating any enemy, be it ISIS or climate change.

9) Life is permanent warfare:

For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle. Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare. This, however, brings about an Armageddon complex. Since enemies have to be defeated, there must be a final battle, after which the movement will have control of the world. But such a “final solution” implies a further era of peace, a Golden Age, which contradicts the principle of permanent war. No fascist leader has ever succeeded in solving this predicament.

By one calculation, the U.S. has been “at war” for 233 of the 240 years of its history. Most Americans might disagree with that assessment, either through ignorance or because they do not accept certain types or scales of military operations as “war.” (We’re flying air combat missions in Syria, now, for example, but are we at war in Syria now? Certainly the people on the other end of our bombs would say so.) What is true, however, is that the Framers’ fears of a standing army have been ignored since at least the Civil War, and inarguably since World War II, and that the military-industrial complex against which President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us in his 1961 farewell address is more powerful than ever. Trump’s cavalier attitude toward the use of nuclear weapons will make all Americans — indeed, all the world — less safe, a fact voters chose to ignore.

10) Popular elitism:

Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians. In fact, the Leader, knowing that his power was not delegated to him democratically but was conquered by force, also knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler. Since the group is hierarchically organized (according to a military model), every subordinate leader despises his own underlings, and each of them despises his inferiors. This reinforces the sense of mass elitism.

Welp, the U.S. scores here not only in popular elitism but also in aristocratic elitism, inasmuch as modern Republicans have indeed evinced contempt for the weak, not only in attitude but also in policy. To want to repeal Obamacare — even some Republicans are now admitting that “replace” is a joke — means being OK with the fact that millions of Americans will once again be uninsured and that, as a result, thousands of them will die prematurely.

11) A cult of the hero, inextricably bound with a cult of death:

In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Falangists was Viva la Muerte (in English it should be translated as “Long Live Death!”). In non-fascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.

Some on the left would argue that Memorial Day alone is a U.S. practice that ties in with this characteristic of fascism. I think that’s a reach and that this characteristic has not been a characteristic of America, by and large. And I can’t point to anything Trump has said or promised to do that qualifies. But, again, Trump’s remarks about nuclear weapons should chill us.

12) A culture of machismo:

Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons—doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.

*U.S. raises hand* I mean, just Google “war on women.” Moreover, Trump has pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, the case that established a constitutional right to an abortion for women. He has been less aggressive in challenging LGBTQ rights, calling the constitutionlity of same-sex marriage “settled law,” but there’s no reason he couldn’t appoint justices who would overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the same-sex marriage case, and little reason to suspect that he wouldn’t.

13) Selective populism:

Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view—one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. To have a good instance of qualitative populism we no longer need the Piazza Venezia in Rome or the Nuremberg Stadium. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.

Because of its qualitative populism Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary governments. One of the first sentences uttered by Mussolini in the Italian parliament was “I could have transformed this deaf and gloomy place into a bivouac for my maniples”—“maniples” being a subdivision of the traditional Roman legion. As a matter of fact, he immediately found better housing for his maniples, but a little later he liquidated the parliament. Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism.

Oh, hi! We like to talk a good game about the American public and its power in elections, but making that argument means confronting at least two significant problems: 1) About half of Americans don’t take part, and 2) One major party has made disenfranchisement the central part of its plan for survival; 3) Gerrymandering, particularly by the GOP, has been perfected to the point at which voters do not now select their representatives, but representatives select their constituents. Thus it has come to pass, as Eco said, that “citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People.”

Moreover, we’ve had throw-the-bums-out congressional elections in recent years in 2002, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2014, benefitting both major parties. But Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” was the simplest, clearest call of 2016, and already he is populating his cabinet (as noted in the fifth installment of this series) with some of the very alligators he campaigned against.

14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak:

Newspeak was invented by Orwell, in 1984, as the official language of Ingsoc, English Socialism. But elements of Ur-Fascism are common to different forms of dictatorship. All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.

“You’re fired!”, anyone?

So, by my count, we’re 14-for-14 on fascism characteristics as identified by Eco, which makes some of his closing words even more important:

We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: “I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.” Freedom and liberation are an unending task.

* * *

I also wanted to see how the U.S. stacks up against Lawrence Britt’s “14 Characteristics of Fascism,” published in the Spring 2003 edition of Free Inquiry magazine — after 9/11 and as the U.S. was invading Iraq. Britt, a political scientist, compared Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), and Pinochet (Chile), and found 14 traits those regimes had in common. They are:

  1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
    Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays. 
  2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
    Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc. 
  3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
    The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc. 
  4. Supremacy of the Military
    Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized. 
  5. Rampant Sexism
    The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy. 
  6. Controlled Mass Media
    Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common. 
  7. Obsession with National Security
    Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses. 
  8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
    Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions. 
  9. Corporate Power is Protected
    The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite. 
  10. Labor Power is Suppressed
    Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed . 
  11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
    Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts. 
  12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
    Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations. 
  13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
    Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders. 
  14. Fraudulent Elections
    Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections

As you can see, there’s some overlap with Eco’s list, but that’s not really important. What’s important is how many of these conditions obtained in the U.S. even before Donald Trump’s election.

Nos. 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 were pervasive even before 9/11. Since then, Nos. 2, 3, 6, 7, 13, and 14 have come into play or grown more powerful. Once again, we’re 14-for-14, and slated to become even more of a fascist state once Trump and his cronies assume power in January.

Which, finally, leaves us the question of what to do about it. I’ll address that next, in (whew) the final installment of this series.

 

The media and Trump

Sixth in a series (first installment, second installment, third installment, fourth installment, fifth installment)

So what is to be done about the president-elect and the executive branch he is forming? I’ll get to that in the next installment, but I first want to make a point that I believe is crucial: Whatever we try to do, we will get no help from most news media. They are hobbled by the interests of ownership and, worse, their own blinkers as they confront what faces us.

The concentrated corporate control of most of the largest news media outlets has been covered in great detail elsewhere, and I won’t rehash that fact except to say that it is the rare outlet where the financial interests of the owner or chief executive does not, from time to time, interfere with news judgement in a way that disadvantages the less powerful. Does that happen every day, at every outlet? With the possible exception of a few outlets like Fox News, and with the obvious exception of propaganda mills like Breitbart, I’d say no, but it happens often enough even at outlets, like The New York Times, that are perceived as left-leaning. (In point of fact, true leftists in other countries — we have few here in the U.S. — would consider the Times center-right, but that’s a subject for another day.)

Moreover, I’ve argued off and on for 20 years or more that news media need to be more forthright about defining their interests in more detail than vague platitudes such as “all the news that’s fit to print” or “provide a free people the information they need to govern themselves.” For example, I think that, if pressed, most mainstream news outlets would concede that they have an interest in requiring government at all levels to do its business in the open, and the more advanced among them would frame this discussion not just as an interest of the news outlet but also as an interest of the public.

But I have thought for some time — and the ascension of Trump, I think, demands — that news outlets also must explicitly state additional values, in particular equal justice under the law and the Constitution, and should make clear that upholding those values means opposing all who would oppose them. If someone wants to make an argument for changing the Constitution for this reason or that, that’s a perfectly legitimate political argument to make, and news outlets should cover it like any other. But if someone wants to ignore the Constitution, U.S. statutes, and Supreme Court precedents, news outlets should, at the least, take the position in editorials and news reports alike that the individual supports positions that would be at odds with the oath of office and therefore is unfit for office.

That’s a radical position for most U.S. journalists for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, for most of the past century, U.S. journalism has embraced what journalism scholar Jay Rosen and others have called “the view from nowhere” — in perhaps too short, objectivity carried to the point that it omits even the most relevant context.

For another, journalists have a mostly-well-justified fear of becoming “part of the story.” Avoiding that is a good way to try to achieve fairness and accuracy, but sometimes it is not sufficient to deliver to the reader/viewer a fully accurate story. For example, extraordinary efforts by bureaucrats to hinder journalists’ access to records essential to documenting a story should indeed become part of the story, even if that means including steps journalists had to take to obtain those records, such as suing.

And for another, news journalism has almost by definition sought to avoid advocacy. But in America, I would argue, in some cases, advocacy journalism is essential to preventing the destruction of what makes America America and/or what makes journalism journalism. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson (formerly the chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg war-crimes trials after World War II) famously observed that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. Well, neither is journalism, in that it should not just report on but also should actively oppose that which would make journalism difficult or impossible, not only for the sake of the outlet but also for the sake of the citizens that outlet purports to serve.

But American journalism has not just the right but also an affirmative moral duty to oppose that which would destroy our constitutional form of government and/or the journalism that provides the information that citizens of our democratic republic need to govern themselves. And not only must American journalism take this position, it must hold it without compromise.

Unfortunately, doing so directly endangers the financial interests of most owners of journalism outlets. So we’re back to Square 1, even if individual journalists try here and there to do the right thing.

And most journalists won’t.

There have been signs of this from the very beginning of Trump’s campaign. Cable news, in particularly, gave Trump large chunks of free air time to spew his views to American viewers, without editing, curation or context, even though their executives knew that doing so gave Trump a huge advantage over the rest of the large and ungainly Republican field.  And they did it for one reason: ratings. As Les Moonves, CEO of CBS, stated, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Media outlets also have proven themselves unable to resist outside forces, from Trump himself to the Russians. Worse, they’re making unforced errors. The broadcast networks, for example, devoted far less time in 2016 to coverage of issues than they did in the seven previous presidential campaigns dating back to 1988 — and devoted more than three times that amount of coverage to Hillary Clinton’s emails, a “scandal” that, despite numerous Justice Department and congressional investigations, never amounted to so much as a credible allegation of wrongdoing, let alone an indictment or conviction.

Print and online media did no better, UNC sociologist Zeynep Tufekci found: Her survey of pre-election coverage by The New York Times, The Washington Post and Politico found that they devoted five times as many stories to Clinton’s emails, 1,372, as to Trump’s conflicts of interest, 279 — again, despite numerous Justice Department and congressional investigations, never amounted to so much as a credible allegation of wrongdoing, let alone an indictment or conviction.

Since the election, there has been no sign that things are getting any better. New York University professor Jay Rosen highlights one example of news media’s inability to grapple with Trump’s numerous, outrageous lies: The media provide what he calls “accusation-driven” journalism rather than what is needed: evidence-based journalism.

And the news media, with little education, perspective or background and no fucking sense of history, is utterly ignorant of Hannah Arendt’s trenchant observation about the Nazis’ lies and the German newspapers’ failed 1930s efforts to fact-check: The Nazis don’t lie to tell you what they think is true. They lie to explain what would have to be true to justify what they’re doing. For example, Trump didn’t claim on Twitter that millions of people had fraudulently voted for Hillary Clinton because it was true. He claimed it to lay the groundwork for even worse restrictions on minority voting once he takes office. It was his Reichstag fire.

Some journalists are ready to admit defeat. Others are at least suggesting ways in which journalists might combat Trump effectively; Ned Resnikoff at Thing Progress has done better at this than most. (I personally think that every time journalists at a Trump rally are derided by the president-elect, they ought to respond with birds and wanking gestures, just as a start.)  But none of them, with the honorable exception of Jamelle Bouie at Slate, seem willing or even able to grasp the reality that Arendt laid out a half-century ago.

Which leads us to a poignant question raised just this morning by the editorial-page editor of my local paper, a paper where I once worked for 22 years. Allen Johnson asked on his blog: Are we out to get Donald Trump?

My response was pretty simple:

First, he didn’t win the election “fair and square.” A large, multi-state effort coordinated by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach illegally purged large numbers of voters — primarily voters from demographics statistically likely to vote Democratic — from rolls in several swing states, as documented by journalist Greg Palast on his website and in his new book. Forget allegations of Russian interference and voting-machine tampering; we know for a fact that this happened and that its effect was more than large enough to have swung the Electoral College vote. See Palast’s website and book “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” for more information.

Second, Trump is doing and and has announced plans to do things that are not just mean-spirited, destructive and dangerous, but also unconstitutional. Opposing such an individual is the highest form of patriotism.

But for reasons outlined above, the media almost certainly aren’t going to be any help.

So where does that leave us, as a nation and as individuals? I’ll discuss that in my next post an upcoming post — sorry, but the next post got so big it needed splitting into pieces.

 

 

Monday, November 7, 2016 7:30 pm

Jay Rosen on what the media missed, and me on what we need to work hard to miss

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen has posted a piece titled “A Miss Bigger Than a Missed Story,” his final reflection before the election on how badly U.S. media have lost the thread of this election. It’s not that long, and its underlying thread is how politics simply doesn’t deal in reality anymore and how unprepared the media  have been for that change. He makes clear that this trend didn’t arise overnight with Donald Trump’s candidacy.

The real value of the piece, though, is this conclusion:

Yesterday I read something by a philosopher, Jason Stanley, that illuminated what I mean by “a miss bigger than a missed story.” Beyond Lying: Donald Trump’s Authoritarian Reality. Stanley made the point that fact checking Trump in a way missed the point. Trump was not trying to make reference to reality in what he said to win votes. He was trying to substitute “his” reality for the one depicted in news reports.

“On a certain level, the media lacked the vocabulary to describe what was happening,” Stanley writes. And I agree with that. He compares what Trump did to totalitarian propaganda, which does not attempt to depict the world but rather substitutes for it a ruthlessly coherent counter-narrative that is untroubled by any contradiction between itself and people’s experience.

The goal of totalitarian propaganda is to sketch out a consistent system that is simple to grasp, one that both constructs and simultaneously provides an explanation for grievances against various out-groups. It is openly intended to distort reality, partly as an expression of the leader’s power. Its open distortion of reality is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.

Trump’s campaign was “openly intended to distort reality” because that is a show of power. Power over his followers. Over the other candidates he humiliated and drove from the race. Over party officials who tried to bring him to heel. And over the journalists who tried to “check” and question him.

That last graf is really what Donald Trump is up to, and it’s the one I want most to commend to the attention of my friends at the Times and the Post and Politico and CQ and The Hill and all the other primary drivers of national political coverage in this country.

I’ve made quite the pest of myself with y’all by emphasizing that this was the campaign that repealed Godwin’s law. That tenet of Internet dialogue holds that the longer a discussion goes on, the greater the likelihood that someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Naziism. A corollary, also itself often referred to as Godwin’s law, is that whoever does so automatically loses the debate.

But in this campaign we have seen a candidate, Donald Trump, who has, in no particular order, advocated torture; advocated massive forced relocations; espoused racism, sexism (including sexual assault), many other forms of bigotry, xenophobia, and anti-intellectualismHe has embraced some of the most virulent anti-Semites currently operating in U.S. media and made them a key part of his campaign. His campaign’s final television ad was one long anti-Semitic dogwhistle. Look, I realize no one wants to look hysterical AND that comparisons to Hitler/Naziism have been overplayed on other subjects in the past. But, kids, at some point, if the jackboot fits, you’ve got to wear it. Trump and his campaign have been functioning in exactly the same way, with largely the same result, as all of the big totalitarian propaganda efforts of the 20th century, from the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany to China. And while some in the media get this, way too many are still in denial.

But, you say, Trump isn’t going to win tomorrow.

And as I write this, that looks like it’s probably true. My own prediction remains what it was once the two major-party nominees were determined last spring: Clinton wins with at least 310 electoral votes, and the Democrats tie for or retake the Senate. (Fun fact for us North Carolinians: Our polls close at 7:30 p.m. In 2012, the Associated Press called the state for Romney at 10:53 p.m. If North Carolina gets called for Clinton, particularly if that happens a lot earlier than it did in 2012, it’s game over for Trump. Clinton can afford to lose North Carolina. Trump cannot; he simply has no road to 270 electoral votes without us.)

But a huge number of Americans have supported Trump, and in so doing, they’ve demonstrated that they’re OK with the hatred, they’re vulnerable to the propaganda, or both. And those people will still be around and still creating trouble Wednesday and probably for years, perhaps decades, after. This campaign hasn’t just injected massive doses of hate into our political mainstream, as Rosen and Stanley point out, it has tried to make that the new reality.

Even worse, I can guarantee you that right now, this minute, someone both smarter and more disciplined than Trump already is plotting how to build on Trump’s accomplishments to capture those voters in off-year state and local races and in a race for the White House in 2020 and beyond.

That is what our news media will be facing, and denialism could be lethal to the American experiment as well as to nontrivial numbers of individual Americans. I realize that after this longest and ugliest of campaigns, no one wants to hear this — and God knows I’d love to be wrong about it — but I think the media, and all Americans of good faith and good sense, must fight this, starting immediately. I pray to God we’re up to it.

Sunday, September 11, 2016 7:15 am

“I didn’t really want to go downtown in the first place.”

As always on this date, I refer you to the gospel according to Sarah Bunting, “For thou art with us …”

We’ll talk soon.

Thursday, November 5, 2015 9:36 pm

RIP J. Howard Coble — by Sam Rayburn’s standards, the last honest congresscritter

“Son, if you can’t take their money, drink their whiskey, screw their women, and then vote against ’em, you don’t deserve to be here.” — attributed to U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, c. 1950.

Howard Coble, who represented North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District for 30 years, died late Tuesday evening — Election Night here in Greensboro, as it happened — and a tsunami of respect and even love has flooded the Internet as a consequence.

The News & Record’s news story called Coble a Republican icon who also was “beloved by area Democrats.” The News & Record’s editorial page said that Coble, popular though he was, “wasn’t appreciated enough.” My Facebook feed was filled with tributes from local folks from both parties and no party at all.

Like almost anyone who has lived in the district any length of time, I have my own Howard Coble story to tell, one that goes beyond our interactions as politician and journalist. He was extremely helpful to me when I was job hunting after I took the News & Record buyout in 2009 even though he had no particular reason to be. He got in touch on my behalf with people whose names you see regularly in the paper and on TV. I don’t owe my current jobs to him, but it certainly wasn’t because he wasn’t working for me.

And, yes, even by the standards of Congress, where good constituent service is considered the bare performance minimum for a congresscritter to have a hope of re-election, Coble’s constituent service — or, more precisely, that of the staff he hired and oversaw — was legendary.

But there was a big and important contradiction at the heart of Coble’s politics that all this outpouring overlooked. My friend Lynn Holt-Campbell, who runs an insurance agency in High Point with her husband, wrote something on Facebook that sums it up: ” I met Howard a few times (and yes, he told me to call him “Howard”) … though we were just about polar opposites on a lot of political issues, he was a very, very nice man who deeply loved his state.”

In a nutshell, Coble cultivated a tone of bipartisanship — arguably a necessity for a Republican politician who came of age when Democrats were still in control and who won his second term by only 79 votes — but from 1989 on he voted a very conservative line in Congress; if you look at his record, you’ll see that he was pretty much straight Gingrichite/Tea Party without the idiotic rhetoric. The result was that while he professed to love the people of his district, he voted for many things that hurt most of them.

He supported trade policies that ultimately decimated the 6th District’s predominant industries of furniture and textiles. A former N.C. state revenue secretary, he professed an emphasis on a balanced budget but voted consistently for budget-busting GOP tax cuts that benefited the very wealthy to the detriment of an overwhelming majority of his constituents. He once told me on the record that Congress ought to use its constitutional power of interstate-commerce regulation to ban the use of tax-paid economic incentives to lure employers across state lines, but in all his time in the House he never lifted a finger to do anything about it. And American intellectual-property law, with its gifts to behemoth content creators, became, on his watch as the chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing it, the place where creativity goes to die.

Moreover, a former federal prosecutor, he voted for Bill Clinton’s impeachment even when he knew (or should have known) that not all the elements for a perjury charge were present, but he utterly ignored the far more thoroughly documented war crimes (including torture) and crimes against humanity committed by the Bush administration after 9/11. He cast himself as favoring small government, but there was no big-government overreach he didn’t back, from the PATRIOT Act to warrantless domestic wiretapping. He never took sometimes declined to take a public position on gay marriage — ostensibly because, as a lifelong bachelor, he felt himself unqualified to do so. In point of fact, during his tenure Congress never had to vote on the issue he voted for a number of anti-gay marriage measures, including the Defense of Marriage Act..

But you have heard little of that these past couple of days. The Howard Coble who voted to screw the middle class and working class, who pushed the interests of big business over small business, who signed on to some of the government’s worst post-9/11 excesses, who consistently pushed tax and economic policies detrimental to the interests of the overwhelming majority of the 6th District’s residents, and who kept his mouth shut while supporting some of the most wild-eyed initiatives of the Gingrich crew and the Tea Party, didn’t make an appearance. The most the News & Record could bestir itself to say was that Coble was “a reliable conservative” who “voted for tax cuts and championed restrictive intellectual property bills beloved by large corporations.” That was it.

The contrast between Coble and the current crop of Republican presidential candidates is striking. They’re all talk, and they’re going nowhere. Coble talked rationally, even in nonpartisan fashion at times, but his votes did and are continuing to do enormous damage to his district and the people of North Carolina on behalf of a few wealthy backers, damage that will long outlive his 30-year tenure in Congress.

In short, I don’t know about drinking our whiskey and screwing our women, but he took our money and voted against us over and over and over again. And that, in the post-Citizens United era, is what being an honest politician has come to mean, and how low the bar has sunk.

Friday, September 11, 2015 8:48 am

For thou art with us

As always on this date, I find nothing to say that Sarah Bunting hasn’t already said better.

Thursday, August 27, 2015 9:44 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 27

I don’t have anything to add to the coverage and discussion of the fatal shootings on live TV of reporter Alison Parker and videographer Adam Ward yesterday in Virginia. The now-dead shooter clearly had problems but, given the state of our laws, probably not the type that would have prevented him from getting a gun. The media too quickly made the discussion about itself, when they weren’t outright endangering people’s lives, and I have no interest in adding to that pile of crap. And I’m beyond tired of people who say nothing can be done, as if we don’t actively choose, every single day, to do nothing. Something can be done — maybe not to have prevented this particular shooting, but to prevent many more like it. The whole racism angle was silly (and, no, I’m not linking to Breitbart, FFS). And I’m just profoundly sad for the victims and their families, friends, co-workers, and industry — the TV news bidness is even smaller than the newspaper bidness, so everybody knows everybody else, or at least knows of everybody else. The two dead victims went out to do a job and were ambushed, and I’ve got nothing.

Moving on …

North Dakota is weaponizing its police drones with so-called “less lethal” weapons such as tear gas, Tasers, and beanbag cannons. Internet, you may hereby consider the fatal wounding of an absolutely innocent civilian reasonably foreseen.

Yes, it’s true that roughly 3% of all peer-reviewed research on climate change differs from the predominant theory. It’s also true that several common errors often appear in that contrarian research.

At least one county court clerk in Kentucky plans to fight same-sex marriage — which, by the way, has been the law of the land for a couple of months without the world’s coming to an end — even unto death. Upon reflection, I’m fine if the door hits ya where the good Lord split ya. In fact, I hope it hurts a little.

If you want to try to indict Hillary Clinton for transmitting classified information via unsecured email during her tenure as Secretary of State, you can try — it wasn’t illegal at the time, but what the hey — but you’re going to have to indict a lot of other people as well. One of them might well have been Colin Powell, but we don’t know because his emails were illegally (although probably not criminally) deleted.

Two Seattle cops tried to get a metro bus driver fired, alleging that he had cursed them. Just one problem: the bus driver was wearing a body cam. Now the cops are the ones who have been fired. But one must ask: How often do cops lie just because they think they can? And if they do it over such chickenshit stuff as this, how likely are they to do it when they could be going to prison?

Just how badly doctored were the so-called “expose” videos on Planned Parenthood? Very badly.

Hurricane Erika could make landfall somewhere on the southeastern U.S. coast — possibly in North Carolina — in the next four or five days. Y’all stay safe.

North Carolina’s unemployment still sucks. Couldn’t be because the legislature keeps taking money from the middle class and the poor and giving it to the rich, could it? Nahhhh.

Blogging is dead? Someone forgot to tell the home of some of the original blogging. (h/t Jeff Sykes)

Stevie Ray Vaughan died 25 years ago today. Still miss ‘im.

And, finally, another reason to keep ISIS out of Greece: a newly-discovered palace near Sparta that dates to the 17th century B.C.E.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015 8:30 pm

Odds and ends for June 3

Thirty years ago today, what is still the weirdest true-crime story you’ll ever read concluded horrifically. My friend and former colleague Margaret Moffett checks in with some of the survivors. (EDITED to add: My friend Chris Knight, who grew up near some of the characters in this drama, adds his perspective.)

Perv, meet thief: Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, the insufferable pecksniff whose most recent pronouncement was that he wishes he’d “felt like a girl” in high school so that he could have gotten to watch girls shower naked, makes it clear he’ll do anything to get close to Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s donors. Scott, of course, led the company that committed history’s largest Medicaid fraud.

No links with this one, just a thought: What if the Obama Justice Department had put as much effort into investigating banksters as it has into investigating FIFA?

Relatedly, no, South Africa, I’m sure your 2008 payment of $10 million had nothing to do with your getting the 2010 World Cup and was in no way a bribe. Perish the thought.

Every so-called “gay-conversion” operation in this country needs to be sued. Saying you can “convert” someone who’s gay is like saying drinking motor oil can cure cancer.

This week’s revamp of U.S. national security laws was a sorely needed first step — and never would have happened without Edward Snowden. So why is Snowden still a wanted criminal?

The first step in fixing a problem is admitting you have a problem. The U.S. government doesn’t want to admit that we have a problem with killer cops.

After seeing her in “Easy A,” I would watch Emma Stone in just about anything. But even I thought casting her as part-Asian in “Aloha” was boneheaded. Better late than never, director Cameron Crowe agrees.

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory is staking his re-election effort in 2016 on $2.8 billion in transportation and infrastructure bonds. The only reason I’m not saying that the legislature is throwing McCrory under the bus by refusing to put them on the November ballot is that legislative Republicans don’t believe in mass transit.

And our lite gov, Dan Forest, is a moron. (Previously. Also previously.)

Speaking of morons, the legislature has overridden McCrory’s veto of HB 465, the “ag-gag” law. A court will toss it out eventually, but a lot of animals, and quite possibly some people as well, are likely to suffer before that  happens. So much for McCrory’s attempt to position himself politically as a moderate keeping the Visigoth right at bay. I would say that the legislature threw McCrory under the bus on this one, but that would imply that legislative Republicans favor mass transit.

And the Lege has given committee approval to a bill that will gut background checks on private in-state pistol sales by 2021, a bill so bad that many of the state’s sheriffs opposed it.

And lastly, my local paper and former employer, Greensboro’s News & Record, has laid off a bunch more people, including some true stalwarts, one of whom was just months from retiring. At this point, I think it’s fair to conclude that BH Media is no longer even trying to cut its way to profitability. It is now simply milking what it can for as long as it can, at which point it will shut down the papers one by one and sell off the real estate, some of it quite valuable, that those papers sit on. And it’s past time we in Greensboro start thinking about who or what will be able to provide the journalistic firepower to truly hold the powerful accountable in this community.

 

 

 

 

Thursday, May 28, 2015 8:33 pm

Quiverfull of evil; or, Lock up Josh Duggar. And Jim Bob. And Michelle.

UPDATE: This post was originally published 5/27/2015 but was truncated during publication. I’ve attempted to reconstruct the missing portion in this version.

The headline is the short version. If you haven’t already heard all you want to hear about this toxic mix of crime, coverup, corruption, ISIS Christianity, misogyny (but I repeat myself), and bullshit — and if you have, I certainly don’t blame you — by all means read on.

First the background: There’s this Arkansas family, the Duggars. The parents, Jim Bob and Michelle, decided long ago that their weird perversion of Christianity, the Quiverfull movement (more on which anon), called on them to turn Michelle’s uterus into a clown car. As a result, they have 19 kids and became the subject of a “reality” series on TLC, “19 Kids and Counting.”

Which, well, as we here in basketball-crazy North Carolina know, any more than two and you have to switch from a man-to-man defense to zone, and that almost never works out. (Just ask my cousin Jay, whose second child was triplets.) But, hey, it is still a free country (despite the best efforts of the Duggars and their ilk; see below), so whaddayagonnado?

So, in addition to really warped notions of what constitutes responsible reproduction, the Duggars also have used their TV platform to try to make life miserable for people different from themselves. Eldest son Josh, now married with three kids (and another on the way, natch), became executive director of the Family Research Council‘s lobbying arm. That group is a fundamentalist “think” tank that has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center; its primary occupations are fitting government inside your vagina, harassing gay people, and whipping up enough Christianist butthurt to try to convince those of us who aren’t Shiite Christians that Shiite Christians are, somehow, “persecuted” in the United States of America and not, say, Mongolia. (As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.) And Michelle Duggar recorded a robocall last year in opposition to a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance in Fayetteville, Ark.; in it, she likened gay people to sexual predators and child molesters.

This was bad enough inasmuch as there’s zero evidence that gay people are any more likely to be sexual molesters than are straight people. Now, however, it appears that every time she used the phrase “molester” or “sexual predator,” she should have added the modifier, “like my son.”

Because a police report has been located by In Touch Weekly that appears to document that the aforementioned Josh Duggar molested at least five young girls. The report was filed in December 2006 and pertained to events beginning back in 2002, when Josh was 14. Although the report is heavily redacted, additional information suggests that at least some of the five victims were his younger sisters. Since that report became public, Jim Bob, Michelle, Josh, and Josh’s wife, Anna, posted a statement on Facebook that appeared to acknowledge the truth of the report.

And it has been both fascinating and sickening to watch the outpouring of support for Josh from a bunch of so-called Christians who wouldn’t give a gay non-molester the time of day. How ridiculous has their defense of him been? Let us count the lies.

Josh just made a mistake. No, sweetie, spilling your milk is a mistake. Josh committed multiple felonies with multiple victims over an extended period of time.

All kids experiment when they’re young. A lot do, but not all; moreover, we’re not talking about youthful experimentation. We’re talking about an adolescent male — 14 and 15 when these events are reported to have happend — touching the vaginas of 4-year-olds.

All Josh did was touch them. He didn’t rape them. What, and “touching” them isn’t bad enough? We’re talking about 4-year-old victims here. Moreover, given ISIS Christianity’s attitude toward sexuality, it’s entirely possible that he had no idea that what he was doing was bad because he hadn’t had more comprehensive sex education, which might have prevented this.

Josh confessed to his parents. Well, yes — after one of his victims told his parents. He didn’t come forward on his own.

His parents told the cops. No, they told one copy, a family friend, an Arkansas state trooper named Joe Hutchens. And according to Hutchens, they only told him about a single, isolated incident, not about Josh’s pattern of behavior. (Of course, we might call Hutchens’s veracity into question, inasmuch as he’s serving 56 years on child-porn charges at the moment.) Hutchens gave Josh “a stern talk” but did not alert other authorities, even though he was legally required to do so. Unfortunately, that “report” started the clock ticking on Arkansas’s three-year statute of limitations on crimes of this type: The three years begins when the incident is “first reported to police,” even if the officer to whom it was reported, as was the case with Hutchens, didn’t do his legal duty and launch an investigation. Moreover, when a formal police investigation was opened years after the fact, in 2006, Jim Bob Duggar refused to let police interview Josh.

His parents got him counseling. Not true. They report having sent him to live for a few months with a friend who builds houses. There is conflicting information regarding whether he received “counseling” from a Christian center founded by Bob Gothard, who, years later, would be booted out of his own organization by his board after allegations from at least 34 women that he had sexually harassed them and from another five, one of whom was 16 at the time, that he had molested them.

If that description of Gothard doesn’t give you confidence in his teaching, this diagram from his organization will give you even less. Keep in mind, though, that ISIS Christianity is riddled with this kind of hyperpatriarchy, misogyny, shaming, and victim blaming, from insisting that the body of an abuse victim is “least important” to offering the conditional, “IF abused was not at fault” and the false dichotomy of “no physical abuse or mighty in Spirit” — and that the Duggars were and remain huge devotees of Gothard:
Gothard Counseling Sexual Abuse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In short, there is no evidence in the record that Josh was ever seen by a competent, licensed mental-health professional. And that’s important, because we know that for many if not most pedophiliacs, the urge to molest never goes away; all such people can do is try to learn not to act on the urges.

The victims received counseling and forgave Josh. There’s even less evidence in the public record that Josh’s victims got counseling than there is that he did. As for forgiveness, given the misogynism and victim-blaming of this family’s culture, I’d be stunned if the “forgiveness” wasn’t coerced, particularly from the youngest victims.

Jim Bob and Michelle did everything they could. Some of these other items already give this notion the lie. I would add that at least one of the victims wasn’t an immediate family member. Did Jim Bob and Michelle fully disclose to that child’s parents or guardians what had happened? We have no evidence of that. Moreover, his parents failed to separate Josh from the younger children upon the first sign of trouble, thereby allowing him to continue to victimize them. And they failed to report evidence of a crime to a real cop, not a horribly compromised badge-wearer like Hutchens, who they knew would keep everything quiet. They’re guilty, at the least, of aiding and abetting Josh’s crimes and of criminally endangering the other children in the home (plus any friends or young relatives who might visit). They should go to prison, too.

It’s all over with, now, isn’t it, so why is everyone still talking about it? I can think of one very important reason why we need to keep talking about it. Roughly one in three male child molesters was molested himself as a youth. That means that there is a nontrivial chance that Josh was molested, by one or both of his parents and/or by some other adult they felt comfortable having around Josh. Whoever might have molested Josh presumably still has access to the children remaining in the home. So molestation might still be going on. Besides, Josh has three kids himself. Are they being protected from him? His wife seems to think this is “all in the past,” when it might not be at all.

Well, “19 Kids” has been TLC’s most successful series, but all that ickiness was too much for the network, which has pulled reruns from its schedule (but hasn’t said whether it will cancel the show outright), and for advertisers, who are fleeing in droves.

It would be nice to think that Josh Duggar will suffer earthly consequences for his actions, but the truth is that other than losing his job, it’s unlikely. It would be nice to think that Jim Bob and Michelle will learn enough from this experience to stop trying to hold up clown-car procreation as a model lifestyle, but that won’t happen either. For one thing, they crave the attention. For another, the Duggars and others in the Quiverfull movement really do believe that the way to defeat the heathen is to outbreed them. It’s a war, and the women are being drafted.

And what can we say about the Duggars’ hypocrisy on the subject of … well, pretty much everything, but especially their habit of likening gay people to molesters while harboring a molester of their own? That would require a whole ‘nother blog post, but I’ll just leave you with this: During Jim Bob’s 2002 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Arkansas, during the last two months of which he was hiding Josh’s secret, he said that incest should be punishable by death. Wonder if he still feels that way.

 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 7:03 pm

Odds and ends for April 22

Sorry for the posting drought. Stuff happens. A lot of stuff.

Another reason I’m not quite ready to canonize Pope Francis: On Tuesday, he accepted the resignation of an American bishop who had been convicted of failing to report child-porn images on a priest’s computer. Which would be fine except that the conviction was three years ago.

Speaking of illegal sexual acts, Amy Schumer and Josh Charles offer up something I thought didn’t exist — a note-perfect way to joke about rape. (The fact that it parodies “Friday Night Lights,” which, frankly, I’ve always thought overrated, is just a bonus.)

Apparently, it’s quite all right with the Obama administration if, under the TPP and other trade agreements, corporations get away with murder.

Really, New York Times? Peter Schweitzer, author of “Clinton Cash,” a book charging improprieties regarding contributions to the Clinton Foundation, has admitted he can’t prove his charges. The Times, apparently having learned nothing from its fusterclucked coverage of Whitewater, Wen Ho Lee, and Iraq, breathlessly promoted the book anyway, and the paper’s ombudsman — traveling and quasi-off the grid, she says — has yet to say a word.

Who sponsored First Amendment Day festivities at Iowa State? The Charles Koch Foundation. No, I am not making this up.

Florida legislative Republicans illegally went behind closed doors to plan resistance to Medicaid expansion. Fortunately, AP reporter Ken Rideout was able to hear what was going on through a crack in the door and brief his colleagues.

Between 2009 and 2013, median household income in North Carolina stayed flat or fell for all but the top 5% of earners. So do tell me again why the rich need another tax cut. And tell me again how this state’s misbegotten economic-development program is working so well. Jesus wept.

The N.C. legislature continues to indulge its Confederacy fetish, this time with a bill to (try to) nullify federal gun laws. Dudes, we’ve had that discussion already. In 1861-1865. Your side lost.

Drinking water in wells near many Duke Energy coal-ash sites is contaminated. Perhaps the state of North Carolina will lift a finger. I’m not holding my breath. Friendly reminder: Gov. Pat McCrory was a longtime Duke employee before heading to Raleigh. Coincidence? I think not.

Another legislative measure to chill your First Amendment rights is in the works, this one going after whistleblowers in the agriculture industry. I suppose this would be an appropriate time to mention that I don’t recall Big Ag or ALEC ever asking me for my vote.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the poster boy for the Visigoth wing of the Republican Party, will be the N.C. GOP’s keynote speaker in June.

One of many reasons why North Carolina’s HB 456 is a bad idea.

I suppose there might be a decent argument for not just blowing up Downtown Greensboro Inc. and starting over (or just leaving the rubble where it falls), but at this point I can’t imagine what it would be.

Offered without comment: Former UNC-Greensboro Chancellor Linda Brady talks with the student newspaper, The Carolinian, about what she thinks went wrong in her administration.

My friend and former boss John Robinson talks about the day eight years ago that was the beginning of the end for the News & Record. He’s hard on himself, but John has never been a bullshitter, and he isn’t starting now.

Someone needs to explain to me why Paul Rodgers and The Replacements are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Go on. I’ll wait.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015 7:30 pm

Odds and ends for April 14

We have seen our enemies, and they are weak. Seriously. Relative to us, weak on a world-historical scale.

In Idaho, the batshittery of the right-wing nut jobs carries an eight-digit price tag.

New Mexico has become the second state to ban the civil forfeiture of innocent people’s property. This needs to happen nationwide.

When cops misbehave, body cams are not, by themselves, helpful. The video must be publicly available. D.C. appears headed in the opposite direction. (That issue is still up in the air here in Greensboro.)

Speaking of misbehaving cops, The Baltimorie Sun proves that there are still a few reporters out there kicking ass and taking names.

Researchers have found patterns in then-President Ronald Reagan’s speech that indicated Alzheimer’s disease years before Reagan received his diagnosis in 1994. I mention this not to take a dig at Reagan but to point out that this approach may be a way to diagnose Alzheimer’s in people sooner than has been possible up ’til now.

My friend Louis Bekoe is running for president, and I’ve got to say that right now he’s the best choice out there.

Speaking of running for president, supposed contender Chris Christie apparently will be campaigning on a platform to cut Social Security and Medicare. Unlike Bush 43, at least he’s being upfront about it.

And candidate Rand Paul‘s wife insists that he doesn’t have a problem with women because he has worked with female surgeons. OK, then, if she says so.

Non-local folks, this is particularly for you: The National Folk Festival will be here in Greensboro this year and for the next two years as well. Here’s info. This is a big deal.

Damn. Percy Sledge is dead at 73.

 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014 5:59 pm

The Senate torture report

I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. (You can download it here.) Here are five things you need to know as you read it.

1) “We should never, as a policy, maltreat people under our control, detainees. We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.” — Gen. Barry McCaffrey, U.S. Army (ret.), April 20, 2009

2) “There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” — Gen. Antonio Taguba, U.S. Army (ret.), June 18, 2008

3) The “report” being released today is merely a heavily redacted, 600-page executive summary. The full report runs to about 6,000 pages.

4) In the words of The Intercept’s Dan Froomkin, “Many of the same news organizations you are trusting today to accurately inform you about the torture report were either naive or knowing dupes in a CIA misinformation campaign orchestrated by top CIA officials, that included leaks of information that was amazingly enough both classified and inaccurate at the same time.” So you’ll want to be very, very cautious about accepting any news report that seeks to minimize or defend the torture program.

 5) Some additional background from Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept:

One of the worst myths official Washington and its establishment media have told itself about the torture debate is that the controversy is limited to three cases of waterboarding at Guantánamo and a handful of bad Republican actors. In fact, a wide array of torture techniques were approved at the highest levels of the U.S. Government and then systematically employed in lawless US prisons around the world – at Bagram (includingduring the Obama presidency), CIA black sites, even to US citizens on US soil. So systematic was the torture regime that a 2008 Senate reportconcluded that the criminal abuses at Abu Ghraib were the direct result of the torture mentality imposed by official Washington.

American torture was not confined to a handful of aberrational cases or techniques, nor was it the work of rogue CIA agents. It was an officially sanctioned, worldwide regime of torture that had the acquiescence, if not explicit approval, of the top members of both political parties in Congress. It was motivated by far more than interrogation. The evidence for all of this is conclusive and overwhelming. And the American media bears much of the blame, as they refused for years even to use the word “torture” to describe any of this (even as they called these same techniques “torture” when used by American adversaries), a shameful and cowardly abdication that continues literally to this day in many of the most influential outlets.

I expect that even the edited, redacted document we now have will confirm a lot of ugly things we already knew and tell us about even more ugly things we hadn’t known. But the truth needs to be made public so that we at least will know what the U.S. government has done in our name, whether or not the individuals responsible are ever brought to justice.

I understand that many Americans had, and have today, no problem with our torturing people. That doesn’t make it any more effective. And it doesn’t make it any more right.

I’ve been raising questions and raising hell about this issue for more than a decade, ever since the possibility that we were torturing first reared its ugly head months before the news broke about Abu Ghraib. And while there are a lot of issues with many shades of gray, this one, to me, is black and white. Despite quite a bit of criticism here and elsewhere online, I’ve not lost a minute’s sleep on this position, because whatever else happens, I don’t ever have to worry about my kids or grandkids asking me, “Why are people calling you a good German?”

 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 6:04 am

“If I ever figure out an answer, I’ll write it down.”

Filed under: Say a prayer — Lex @ 6:04 am
Tags: , , ,

Don Marsh on his experiences in “Operation Cobra,” the Allies’ Normandy breakout operation, July 1944:

Sooner or later you get to wash your clothes, but how do you cleanse your mind of such horrible memories? You don’t, you bring it home with you, among your souvenirs you can keep in a special place in a far corner of your mind. The door is never locked so you can visit the memory, if you are so inclined. Some do, some don’t. Years go bye and you have never given it any thought, then out of the blue something clicks in your brain and the whole scene appears again in Technicolor. To me the burning question is always “why?” If I ever figure out an answer, I’ll write it down so that others don’t forget.

Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” doesn’t mean quite what you think (or what *I* thought)

Filed under: Salute!,Say a prayer — Lex @ 6:00 am

Army officer Robert Bateman, a historian, dove a little deeper last year to show that the punch line of Owen’s classic poem was based in part on a historical misunderstanding:

Between the time when he was blown into the sky by mortars at the age of 22 and when he was shot dead by machine gun fire at 25, he wrote some poetry, the finest bit of which is partially stolen from the Roman orator Horace. It was repurposed by Owen. Dulce et Decorum Est, Pro Patria Mori. Owen had been taught that Patria meant “your country.” He called this sentiment, “the old lie.” You should read this poem, because it is beautiful, before you read my critique.

..But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
…the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin…

Owen shows us, up close, the inhumanity of war. Then in the final lines he mocks the notion that it is sweet or right to die for one’s country. To do this, he repurposes a bit of Latin from the Roman orator Horace:

…The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

See, early in the war, the British government had used Horace to encourage enlistment by appealing to the population’s Edwardian sense of duty. In 1917, Owen would have understood, “Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori” as something like, “It is beautiful and right that one should die for one’s country.” Nationalism and propaganda colored Owen’s interpretation of Horace, and I appreciate his resentment. But I think Horace’s words can be understood differently — not as an old lie, but as a shared truth.

Pardon, for a moment, my amateur translation of the Latin. It is tinged and informed by history. Dulce roughly means, “correct and/or peaceful/beautiful/sweet.” The word “et” is the same now as it was then, “and.”

The next word, “Decorum” carries some freight. “Right” and “Proper” is often how it is translated now, but in context it means, I think, “according with the values of your society.”

“Est” is merely “is.”

“Pro Patria Mori” is a little complex. Pro means “for,” and “Patria” is, essentially, your country. Okay, no. That is not exactly right. That is just what Owens was brought up to think that it meant. In reality it sort of means, “The folks what brung you up.” Or maybe, “Your peeps.”

See, the problem is that the word “patria,” as it is often translated, is that the idea of a “country,” or a “nation” is a more modern invention than Horace, or any Roman, would have recognized. They did not think in terms of “countries,” and so Latin did not have words that talked about what we would recognize as countries. I think Horace would approve of my deconstruction. (No, I am not a Derridean.)

So the sum can be seen, Owen’s interpretation of, Dulce et Decorum est,” labeled by a man who saw war and called this “the old lie,” came out this way: “It is beautiful and right that one should die for one’s country.” But Wilfred was wrong. That is not his fault. He was a poet, not a historian.

Dulce et Décorum Est, Pro Patria Mori, should be translated this way: “Fighting and possibly Dying for your friends and family to protect and defend them, as you have been taught, is the right thing to do.” Nationalism and Propaganda colored Owens’ interpretation, and I understand his resentment. Horace had been used by the British government early in the War to encourage enlistment out of a sense of Edwardian duty. That is not Owens’ fault, he was reacting to his own nation — not the actual history.

But even knowing this, the dead march through my dreams. They are my friends, my soldiers, my cadets-turned-officers, my enemies, dead in their many ways, but dead all the same. For the same reason, friend and foe, they are dead. Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori.

And so, today, I ask you to remember them. All of them, because in the end, they died believing.

Sunday, September 7, 2014 11:23 am

“Guns and Butter,” or, What freedom cost my friends

Great article in Charlotte magazine about the Suarez family, next door to whom I lived from seventh grade until well after I had left for college (Raul and Teresa were in my class at school). Their story is amazing.

Thursday, August 28, 2014 7:27 pm

Karma is a bitch even — and maybe especially — if you’re the U.S.

Filed under: Evil,Sad,Say a prayer,Shooting the wounded — Lex @ 7:27 pm
Tags: , , ,

Chris Hedges at Truthdig:

Our terror is delivered to the wretched of the earth with industrial weapons. It is, to us, invisible. We do not stand over the decapitated and eviscerated bodies left behind on city and village streets by our missiles, drones and fighter jets. We do not listen to the wails and shrieks of parents embracing the shattered bodies of their children. We do not see the survivors of air attacks bury their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. We are not conscious of the long night of collective humiliation, repression and powerlessness that characterizes existence in Israel’s occupied territories, Iraq and Afghanistan. We do not see the boiling anger that war and injustice turn into a caldron of hate over time. We are not aware of the very natural lust for revenge against those who carry out or symbolize this oppression. We see only the final pyrotechnics of terror, the shocking moment when the rage erupts into an inchoate fury and the murder of innocents. And, willfully ignorant, we do not understand our own complicity. We self-righteously condemn the killers as subhuman savages who deserve more of the violence that created them. This is a recipe for endless terror.

Chaim Engel, who took part in the uprising at the Nazis’ Sobibor death camp in Poland, described what happened when he obtained a knife and confronted a German in an office. The act he carried out was no less brutal than the beheading of Foley or the executions in Gaza. Isolated from the reality he and the other inmates endured at the camp, his act was savage. Set against the backdrop of the extermination camp it was understandable.

“It’s not a decision,” Engel said. “You just react, instinctively you react to that, and I figured, ‘Let us to do, and go and do it.’ And I went. I went with the man in the office, and we killed this German. With every jab, I said, ‘That is for my father, for my mother, for all these people, all the Jews you killed.’ ”

Any good cop, like any good reporter, knows that every criminal has a story. No one, except for perhaps a few psychopaths, wakes up wanting to cut off another person’s head. Murder and other violent crimes almost always grow out of years of abuse of some kind suffered by the perpetrator. Even the most “civilized” among us are not immune to dehumanization.

Sociopathic neocons to the contrary, “Kill ’em all!” is never the answer, not only because it’s wrong, not only because it’s impossible, not only because it dehumanizes those who take part in it, but also because it doesn’t work. Indeed, not only does it not work, it blows back on us in ways that we see, in our mindless hubris, only as mindless barbarism.

(h/t: Carolina Under Seige)

Friday, August 8, 2014 7:15 pm

Even if the White House door HAD hit him on the ass on the way out, it would have been too late.

Forty years ago today, and far too late, Richard Milhous Nixon resigned from the presidency of the United States. He became the first president to do so, and he did so because House Republican leaders had come to tell him that articles of  impeachment were likely to be approved by the House. Even then, Nixon worked the angles: If he were convicted and impeached, he’d lose all his tax-paid federal benefits. If he resigned, he could spend the rest of his life on the taxpayer’s tit. So he resigned.

It is tempting for people who weren’t there, which is a majority of the country, and for people who were there but are dishonest, to say that Nixon wasn’t that bad, especially in comparison with who came later. That argument is wrong on its face — Nixon was stone evil, driven by resentment and paranoia to become America’s most thug-like president. Yeah, some nice domestic things like the EPA happened on his watch, but he himself had never given a rat’s ass about domestic policy. He basically told aides handling domestic policy to do as they liked as long as it didn’t hurt him politically, and unlike today, people were still ready, willing, and able to vote against polluters.

That argument also is wrong in that it is difficult to imagine the evil that would come after Nixon having happened had Nixon himself not happened. Had Humphrey taken him (and it was very close, remember), or, dear God, if Robert Kennedy had lived to claim the Democratic nomination (he’d have destroyed Nixon in the general), a whole different group of people with a very different mindset would have been in government then, both in leadership positions at the time or in junior positions that would have qualified them for leadership positions in subsequent administrations.

The Vietnam War would have ended much more quickly and there would have been no Ford pardon of Nixon — two things that hugely increased bipartisan cynicism and distrust of government. The Southern Strategy might have worked in the South, but not so much anywhere else. Reagan is inconceivable as a politician without Nixon, and Jesse Helms, with all the evil appertaining unto him, is almost as unimaginable. And Reagan’s minions foisted the Bush dynasty, with all its corruption and lies and crimes, upon us as well.

Still, Nixon was quite as evil in his own right as anyone who has come before or since. He was a racist, an anti-Semite, a proto-fascist (and quite willing to help real fascists, as with Pinochet in Chile, even at the cost of thousands of innocent lives).

And he didn’t engage in all this evil in service of some larger issue, however infernal. No, Richard Nixon did what he did for Richard Nixon and for Richard Nixon alone.

I’ve said it before here, but it bears repeating: It is impossible to understand Nixon in both the breadth of his complexity and the depth of his immorality without having read Hunter S. Thompson’s writings on Nixon. The worst in Nixon brought out the best in Thompson, a writer I love but who, even I must admit, was capable of inconsistent performance on other subjects. Here is Thompson’s piece on the occasion of Nixon’s death 20 years ago, which still gleams like a newly cut and polished diamond. But an arguably better Thompson epitaph appeared in Rolling Stone just weeks before before Nixon’s re-election and almost two years before Nixon would be driven in disgrace from Washington:

If the current polls are reliable … Nixon will be re-elected by a huge majority of Americans who feel he is not only more honest and more trustworthy than George McGovern, but also more likely to end the war in Vietnam. The polls also indicate that Nixon will get a comfortable majority of the Youth Vote. And that he might carry all fifty states … This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes … understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon. McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose … Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?

Thompson’s question was rhetorical, but we have gotten real-life answers, consistently bad and consistently worsening, in the 40 years since Nixon’s resignation. That evil, too, must be laid at his putrid, cloven feet.

 

 

Friday, June 6, 2014 12:16 am

How the most important day of the 20th century began

Filed under: Salute!,Say a prayer — Lex @ 12:16 am
Tags:

From the prologue of Stephen Ambrose’s book “D-Day”:

At 0016 hours, June 6, 1944, the Horsa glider crash-landed alongside the Caen canal, some 50 meters from the swing bridge crossing the canal. Lt. Den Brotheridge, leading the twenty-eight men of the first platoon, D company, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Regiment, British 6th Airborne Division, worked his way out of the glider. He grabbed Sgt. Jack “Bill” Bailey, a section leader, and whispered in his ear, “Get your chaps moving.” Bailey set off with his group to pitch grenades into the machine-gun pillbox known to be beside the bridge. Lieutenant Brotheridge gathered the remainder of his platoon, whispered, “Come on, lads,” and began running for the bridge. The German defenders, about fifty strong, were not aware that the long-awaited invasion had just begun.

As Brotheridge led his men at a fast trot up the embankment and onto the bridge, seventeen-year-old Pvt. Helmut Romer, one of the two German sentries on the bridge, saw the twenty-one British paratroopers — appearing, so far as he was concerned, literally out of nowhere — coming at him, their weapons carried at their hips, prepared to fire. Romer turned and ran across the bridge, shouting “Paratroopers!” at the other sentry as he passed him. That sentry pulled out his Leuchtpistole and fired a flare; Brotheridge fired a full clip of thirty-two rounds from his Sten gun.

Those were the first shots fired by the 175,000 British, American, Canadian, Free French, Polish, Norwegian, and other nationalities in the Allied Expeditionary Force set to invade Normandy in the next twenty-four hours. The shots killed the sentry, who thus became the first German to die in defense of Hitler’s Fortress Europe.

Seventy years ago today. I’ve read avidly about this day, and the war of which it was a part, since at least as far back as 1970. I can recite a lot of facts and anecdotes about D-Day, I can talk about Eisenhower’s strategy, the effort and luck involved in the Allies’ scheme to make the Germans think the landing would come at Calais, and so forth and so on. And yet there remains a part of me that just can’t even imagine …

Friday, March 28, 2014 8:57 pm

If only there were a solution; or, Why Pat McCrory and Art Pope need to be horsewhipped

From today’s News & Record print and e-edition (but apparently not from the website, so probably paywalled):

Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday asked for more belt-tightening within state government as a pre-emptive move to protect the state from a Medicaid shortfall and a fuzzy revenue picture.

In a memorandum to state agencies and their leaders, McCrory said that while the state’s fiscal picture is much improved compared with “a year ago, “the state still needs to exercise restraint for the remainder of the fiscal year,” ending June 30. He wrote a similar directive in March 2013.

McCrory’s state budget office projected this week that Medicaid expenditures could be up to $140 million above the amount the General Assembly authorized.

First of all, “McCrory’s state budget office” is budget director Art Pope, the real governor. McCrory’s just the cabin boy.

Second, so the state might need to spend $140 million above what’s been authorized. Gee. Whocouldaknowed? And if only there some way the state could do something about that without eliminating raises for hard-working state employees, who have seen damn little in the way of raises since the Crash of ’08. There ought to be something we could do, y’know. Hmm. What could it be? And why didn’t the AP and/or the News & Record point that out?

But we continue:

While revenue projections are largely on track to cover this year’s budget, “there is revenue uncertainty for the remainder” of the year, McCrory wrote.

Stop right there, bubba. Both of those things cannot be true simultaneously. McCrory, by whom I mean Pope, is just flat-out lying here and hoping no one will notice. Certainly the AP and the News & Record didn’t.

He also ordered his Cabinet-level agencies to discontinue most salary increases, limit purchases, reduce travel expenditures and reconsider contract work.

Translation: Basically, we’re not just going to screw up Medicaid, we’re going to screw up every other agency, too.

Jesus wept. What they’re doing (and refusing to do that could help) is bad enough. And the news media are giving them a free pass on top of that.

Dear Merciful God, I’ve had a pretty good life, all in all, and so I haven’t asked you for much. And much of what I have asked for, you’ve delivered. But even though you did my family and me quite a solid just today, I’m asking this: Please let Roy Cooper, or some other competent Democrat, run against McCrory in 2016 and whip him like a rented mule. I mean, whip him so badly he needs skin grafts to close all the bloody welts on his ass.

Now, Lord, I grant that’s pretty harsh. But your own son took a brutal flogging en route to saving humankind. Meanwhile, thousands of North Carolinians are doing without health insurance, and thus health care, who wouldn’t have to except that Pat McCrory and Art Pople hate the non-white guy in the White House. And a nontrivial number of those North Carolinians, research shows, are likely to die prematurely because McCrory and Pope are petty, racist sociopaths. So I figured that taking a beating like that wouldn’t fix the damage McCrory will do between now and January 2017. But it might make a lot of suffering people feel a little better and prevent a boatload more suffering in the future.

So if it wouldn’t be too much trouble …

Amen.

Friday, August 2, 2013 6:03 pm

From beyond the grave, Doghouse Riley edition:

Riley, nee Douglas Case, proprietor of the blog Bats Left, Throws Right, died a few days ago at age 59:

The contemporary Republican party was born in 1964, not coincidentally the same year the Johnson administration decided that black people could have some rights. It’s the party of Bill Buckley’s racism, and of Pat Buchanan’s, as well as Steve King’s, of Carl McIntire’s religious mania and Pat Robertson’s, as well as Rick Santorum’s. It’s the party which wrapped every little adventurist foreign excursion from Korea to Iraq II in patriotic fervor, and which found it necessary to rewrite the history of every last one (excepting, maybe, the Glorious Liberation of Grenada); Nixon’s traitor hunt of 1946 was little different than Andrew Sullivan’s in 2001, and, no, he’s one of yours. No one with eyes and ears could possibly have missed this, apart, somehow, from the DLC and today’s tiny island leper colony of sadder-but-wiser centrists. …

Okay, sure: the Republican party has become increasingly dilatory and obtuse in the halls of power, but that’s not a change of the last four years. Had Republicans had the power in 1981 they would have dispensed with all the Reagan sainthood bullshit and just rammed through their radical agenda, instead of getting Democrats to agree to do it for them. And there’s no question this has been facilitated, both by a venal and cowardly Democratic party, and a venal and cowardly Press. But, really, enough of this stuff. I’m not gonna make common cause with Democrats, or rueful Republican centrists, who suddenly notice what the GOP has become, and expect a medal for saying so. The time to speak up was thirty years ago, when this stuff was just as plain, and was being covered by a transparent rewrite of unpleasant history, and a clear retrenchment on individual rights. Y’know, when Reaganism was the Wave of the Future the Republican platform had no more chance of actually governing than it does today. David Stockman was just as big a liar as Paul Ryan. I’m going to settle for having been right about this shit all along, and hope we don’t kill too many innocents when it all blows up. Don’t offer to help me shovel now. You’ve already done enough.

RIP.

Thursday, April 4, 2013 6:53 am

They could not take your pride

Filed under: Sad,Say a prayer — Lex @ 6:53 am

Forty-five years ago today, Martin Luther King was murdered.

I saw U2 perform this song in the old Atlanta Omni during the 1986 Amnesty International fund-raising tour, and let me tell you, when they did, live in a full arena in the middle of King’s home town, I felt the hand of God in a way I seldom have, in or out of church, in my entire life. More than a quarter-century later I still get chills just thinking about it.

“In the name of Dr. Martin Luther King …. sing!”

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 4:44 pm

Quote of the Day, Athenae on Sandy and the Govt. Edition

What it boils down to is: What kind of country are we going to be — the kind people want to live in, or not?

When a disaster strikes I want big government, small government, medium-sized government. I want all the government ever. I want the neighbors and the charities and the churches and the families and the friends, too. Every crack in the plaster needs to be patched and every problem needs to be solved, and I want as many people putting that puzzle together as possible. All hands on the [expletive] deck. Here’s a bucket. Start bailing the water out.

I want everybody to be figuring out how to do more, instead of fighting over the best way to do less without looking like too much of an [expletive] about it.

And you know, I think the majority of Americans want this, too. It’s just that for the past 40 years we’ve had this constant drumbeat of no we can’t, it’s too hard, we can’t afford it, everybody fends for themselves, there’s no help for anybody, let’s all just go home and if you have to step over a homeless dude to get to your car then do it because that’s the price of doing business. People deserve to have their homes submerged and their shops wiped out and their lives ruined because of where they live or what they do or who they are, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it, because only government is big enough to solve this problem and we all know government isn’t the answer to anything anymore.

But deep down we’ve still got that nagging feeling that somebody somewhere ought to be on top of [stuff] that most of the time people don’t deserve what they get (and thank God for that, by the way, she says while conducting the express train to hell), that we are better and bigger and stronger than this, and we’re just straining against the goddamn harness to do something. And disaster preparedness and emergency management are some of the most basic things government can do to prevent us from tearing ourselves apart when something [awful] happens, to take that instinct and direct it outward instead of inward.

To make us help, rather than letting us hurt.

I made the mistake earlier today of getting into an argument on Facebook with a couple of wingnuts. They argued that “compulsory charity” — which, for reasons that escape logic and which they declined to explain, they defined strictly as “government” charity; guys, go tell it to the LDS Church — is always wrong. (They also argued that abortion is the biggest sin there is, but then consistency is seldom a hallmark of wingnuts.)

Jesus said to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s. The implication, often offered up by wingnuts as stone fact, is that the two differ. And certainly they frequently do. But there’s no practical or metaphysical reason why the two couldn’t overlap from time to time, as in, say, stopping the Nazi genocide machine.

Or helping our fellow Americans, our family, our friends, our neighbors to get their lives back in order after an unparalleled natural disaster.

No one with a lick of sense will claim that he knows what Mitt Romney believes, but it is a matter of public record that Romney has said that private interests ought to be responsible for disaster recovery. Given that mutant weather alone is likely to become an important aspect of our new normal in this century, that claim alone disqualifies him from any role in government. And yet somewhere around 50 percent of Americans say they are ready and willing to make him president, as if, in this “Christian” nation, the Golden Rule and the Second Great Commandment were tiny codicils in the articles of incorporation for a company that Bain Capital long ago acquired, stripped of its assets and steered into Chapter 7.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 9:00 pm

Practice resurrection

Filed under: Say a prayer — Lex @ 9:00 pm

For someone who never lived in the Third World or did a day of military service, I saw a lot of death as a young man, much of it traumatic. I didn’t think much about it then, partly because I did see it so often and they’re called defense mechanisms for a reason. But I also saw a lot of bad shit that didn’t end up with someone dying, although in some of those cases people were left so physically, psychologically or spiritually miserable afterward that today they wish it had, and in still other cases the survivors were so hideously damaged that perhaps they may as well have died for all the good they could do themselves or anyone else afterward. I don’t know. I would no more look down on the sense of satisfaction that a nurse’s aide derives from washing a patient’s feet than I would on the sense of satisfaction that Jesus derived from doing the same for the disciples.

It was the experiences of those people that taught me how utterly, completely fatuous is the notion that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It’s not that I think suicide is a solution (although I’ll entertain the argument that in a very few cases involving painful, incurable, terminal disease, perhaps it is). It’s that we glibly accept the notion that all problems are temporary, even when the notion comes from trained professionals who ought to, and probably do, know better. But  no. Some scars are permanent, some wounds will ache every morning you see the sun come up, and and some problems will be with you the rest of your days, whether those days number a handful or thousands. And yet we tell ourselves this lie about suicide because we know from research that it’s not depression per se or anxiety per se or physical pain per se that leads people to kill themselves. What leads them to kill themselves is the belief that whatever is bothering them will never change. And the truth is that sometimes it never will.

And so, as in so many movie scenes and bad hands that real life deals us, the only question that matters becomes: What are you going to do? Not “What CAN you do?” But what are you going to do? Some days, the answer is as simple as, “I’m going to pull my bare feet out from under the bed covers and put them on the floor. And then we’ll see.” I’ve had days like that. I had one this morning.

I am deep into middle age now. Just before I turned 6, Jon Carroll’s friend Jean Steager died. And this is some of what Carroll, one of the few longtime U.S. columnists who hasn’t more or less completely succumbed to hackdom, said as he thought about Jean Steager 30 years after she died:

She was riding in a car on a stretch of Route 17 near Scotts Valley. The road was slick with rain. There was no median barrier back then, just a double yellow line.

A truck crossed over and hit her car. The only virtue that anybody could find in her death was that it was immediate. …

She wanted to go to Europe; I remember that. First her doctorate; then the trip to Greece. She had it all planned. …

What I could remember about her was the neat rows she had set down for her life, the lines on the graph paper that stretched in pleasing geometry well into the future.

I doubt that she was thinking, when she turned her head and saw the truck coming, “Well, there goes that trip to Greece.” But I thought that, later. I thought that the overlooked corollary to “it’s never too late” is “it’s never too early.”

I suppose I am bringing tidings of subversive cheer; I suppose I am suggesting that you consider a change. Quit your job if you hate it. Go on. I know these are hard times, and people fall off the edge, but God is passing out brain tumors too, and you might as well take the plunge. The plunge is all we’ve got.

When you’re young you think that life stretches out indefinitely and you can take this crap for another decade. And the lesson of Jeanne Steager is, No, you bloody well can’t. Life is of varying lengths, and actuarial tables are only averages, and sometimes you gotta close your eyes and jump. Even if it’s scary; especially if it’s scary. …

The jump is easier for some of us than for others. Would it be presumptuous to suggest that those for whom it is easy have an even greater obligation to do so? And would  it be prophetic to suggest that if they did the world would be a better place? Only God knows, and the only thing God has ever said to me is brief and 2,000 years old and (for all our organized religion) now held in such wide disdain that its relevance to each new day’s headlines seems as tenuous as a spider’s web in hurricane season, as insubstantial as a valid fact or bit of logic in a season of lucrative lying and epidemic, sociopathic madness.

And yet, along with our hurricanes, we still have spiders. Along with our epidemic, sociopathic madness, we still have, I think, a few people highlighting valid facts, exercising bulletproof logic, using great power, whether found, learned or earned, for great responsibility. And maybe that’s all we need. How many resurrections did it take to change the world forever? And while my foot on the cold bedroom floor tomorrow morning won’t start the next one, what about yours? Or yours? Or yours?

Sunday, April 8, 2012 9:05 pm

He Is Risen: An outsourced reflection, a prediction, a prayer

I spent this weekend finishing up a final project for one of my courses for the semester. Save a proofreading, it’s done, and I can turn it in two weeks early. Which is good, because the project in the other course is going to kill me, but that’s not today’s point.

What’s today’s point, and yesterday’s, and, really, the point for all of Holy Week and the point for all time for anyone who claims to be a Christian or just admires Christ as a historical figure, is the radical nature of what Jesus asked us to do and who he asked us to be. I’ve read volumes on that subject over the years, and despite my misanthropy, recent dearth of church-going and occasional proclivity for PG-13 language here, I take it seriously.

And I’ve found few pithier summaries than this one, posted on Good Friday by Charlie Pierce. He responded to a temporal event in a specifically Roman Catholic context with small-c catholic truths that show no sign of dimming after 2,000 years:

… the liturgies of Holy Week … are the most moving because the one thing they’re not about is authority.

Authority is the villain during Holy Week. Secular authority, in the person of Pontius Pilate. Religious authority, in the institution of the Sanhedrin. What matters most throughout the season is the individual conscience. As Garry Wills never tires of pointing out, Christ did not make priests. He did not make a Church. And he sure as all hell didn’t make a Pope …

What stands out in the Holy Week services is humility in the face of unreasoning authority. What stands out, ultimately, and whether you believe in the Resurrection or not, or think the whole thing is a bunch of hooey imported from the Egyptian mystery cults or somewhere, is that, in the story of Easter week, unreasoning authority loses. It loses badly.

I am under no illusions about what life is going to be like in this country in the coming decade or two. Our bankers are going to insist that the rest of us kiss their asses and give them our money, and no one is going to stop them. Our church leaders are going to continue to engage in the decades-long continuing criminal enterprise of protecting child abusers and enabling history’s biggest thieves. Our police officers are going to use sexual humiliation to subjugate us and pepper spray and worse to keep us from exercising the rights our ancestors (and some of our contemporaries) died to obtain and protect, all in the name of protecting unreasoning authority. And our so-called leaders are going to continue to ignore the protests that the Earth itself is voicing in the plainest language, because, as Upton Sinclair famously observed, it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his paycheck depends upon his not understanding it.

And, make no mistake, the pain will be widespread and it will be awful. We or people close to us will lose jobs, homes, health, even lives. And as bad as it will be here, it will be worse still in other places, many already enduring suffering unimaginable to most Americans.  I’m old enough not to care so much anymore about myself, but I’m terrified for my kids.

But, as cynical and pessimistic as I am, I also have faith — literally, the belief in and hope for something of which no evidence is visible — in this: Every single theft, every single swindle, every single assault, every single official lie, every act of abuse and dereliction of duty, every sin of commission and sin of omission by our unreasoning authorities, will, by engendering actions by Americans, others, or even God’s creation itself, bend the long moral arc of the universe just a tiny fraction closer to justice … in this world or the next.

Amen. Be armed, but go in peace.

Thursday, January 28, 2010 9:14 pm

Odds and ends for 1/28

The ultimate Miller Time: Earlier this month, Harriet Ames turned 100 and then scratched the last item, getting her college diploma, off her bucket list. The next day, that sheepskin in her hand, she died.

To the best of my ability, I will never again say a bad word about the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Conflict of interest?: The New York Times isn’t commenting on a report that the son of its Jerusalem bureau chief is serving in the Israeli military. I understand the problems that publication of this fact, if fact it be, is likely to create for the editor and the paper, as well as the possible security threat for the son and his unit if in fact this is the case. But this isn’t something the Times can ignore or stonewall.

Sen. Judd Gregg: PWNED!!111!!: Gregg, who has been pimping this idea of a bipartisan deficit-reduction commission to shield Congress from the political liability of making tough decisions, shows why he needs the shield when MSNBC’s Melissa Francis, whose work will never keep the Peabody Award people up nights, asks him to name something he’d cut from the budget and he refuses to answer. (To say nothing of the fact that he hems and haws around the question of cutting education spending when that has practically been Job 1 for the GOP since Reagan. Brother, please.)

But you don’t want to reward them, either: Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz says we not only need a lot more stimulus spending, we need it targeted where it will provide a decent rate of return if we’re going to be able to reduce our debt long-term. And where would that be? Technology, infrastructure, education — all the things the Republicans have been trying, by and large, not to fund. Even a ROI of 6% will help pay off long-term debt. But the ROI on spending on banks is 0%. You listening, Mr. President?

Conservative victimization: Obama calls out the Supreme Court for its wrongheaded, wrongly reached ruling in a wrongly accepted case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and the wingnuts accuse the president of trying to “intimidate” the conservative activist wing of the Court. Questions, for the wingnuts (which is most of ’em) who spent eighth-grade civics out back smoking dope: How, exactly, do you go about intimidating someone who already has been confirmed to a lifetime appointment? And how easily intimidated do you have to be to hold such a job and still be intimidated by … well, pretty much anything?

The cops lied, and fortunately, 12 of 14 jurors were willing to do something about it. I’ll say it again: I have too much respect for good cops to have any tolerance for bad ones.

George Stephanopoulos asks a good question. NewsBusters has a hissy fit, spouts objectively false claims. (“Liberal media” = “They won’t tell the lies we WANT them to tell.”)

In many important ways, the United States sucks compared to other countries, and it is important to remind ourselves of that. On the other hand, we — alone, I believe, among industrialized countries, and I’d be sad to be wrong about that but not for the reason you probably think — have given corporations more rights and fewer freedoms than people, so we’ve got that going for us.

Bigotry in Malawi: A gay couple in that country are being held “for their own safety” in jail. Where they’re being beaten up.

“I’ve never actually played FarmVille, but any game worth playing has to have Pork Knights”: How to Suck at Facebook.

The Great American Interrogation Disaster, from the man who may know more about interrogation than anyone else alive.

Memo to Andrew Breitbart from the Universe: Payback’s a bitch.

You may be a mansplainer if …: Consider me warned.

Freeloaders: In Moscow, stray dogs use the subway. For free. For real.

Britain’s libel laws are much stricter than America’s. There’s just one problem.

America loves Brett Favre: How much? More than anything that wasn’t a Super Bowl since the “Seinfeld” finale in May 1998.

Huge loss: Journalist Joe Galloway is hanging up his notepad. In recent years, Americans who have worn the uniform and those who wear it still have had no better friend.

Huger loss: J.D. Salinger, RIP.

I have just found the one college course even cooler than my employer’s “Ten Greatest Pop Songs of the Past 50 Years”: ZDI.001: Introduction to Zombie Defense. I forwarded this to several friends, one of whom said she also would post it and added, “I’m also going to read closely for practical purposes.”

And in that vein, I love people who think like this: Seated with Michelle Obama during the State of the Union was 18-year-old high-school senior Li Boynton, who’s researching ways to test water for purity. After reading Life of Pi, a novel about a guy stranded in the middle of the ocean, Boynton designed a solar-distillation device in case the same thing ever happened to her. She was in fifth grade.

And, finally, this is genius: Dante’s Internet:

Friday, January 15, 2010 7:15 pm

Odds and ends for 1/15

Why Haiti is so poor: Because it’s an abused nation, David Brooks, you staggeringly stupid person.

The Fort Hood Shootings: DOD’s official report, out today. Haven’t had time to read it.

But Fox News is cracking down on inaccuracy! Really!: The author of a study that Fox claims proves we’re entering a “mini ice age” says, “I don’t know what to do. They just make these things up.”

Relatedly, global-warming denialism is becoming (surprise!) big business.

The Politico has a scoop! “GOP leaders have privately settled on a strategy to win back the House by putting the vast majority of their money and energy into attacking Democrats — and turning this election into a national referendum on the party in power.” Because Wow! They’ve never done that before! [headdesk]

“I want uninterrupted expertise.” Who cares what the public thinks?

For God’s sake, no one tell David Broder: The public thinks bipartisanship is less important than principles. Richard Burr gets this. Does Kay Hagan?

The National Center for Counterterrorism? Has serious problems.

Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Plan: The Pentagon is preparing for the likelihood that DADT will be repealed. Good. Whether they like it or not, Obama certainly campaigned on repeal, so they at least ought to be prepared.

If Joe Lieberman doesn’t like being called “untrustworthy,” maybe he should stop acting, you know, untrustworthy. Because otherwise, a blog not predisposed to liking Joe very much might throw an impromptu contest to see who can come up with the best synonym for “untrustworthy” (oh, so NSFW), and that would be simply awful.

“The costs of imprecision” are staggering and growing.

One of history’s biggest arguments, settled. (I win.) (h/t: Fred)

ZOMG! Real-life “Calvin & Hobbes” snowmen!

Reason No. 4,298 why I love FailBlog (h/t Jill, who had to be a student in sex-ed classes taught by her mom at both school AND church, which must be, like, a preadolescent’s worst nightmare):

Thursday, January 14, 2010 9:57 pm

Odds and ends for 1/14

First, the important stuff: Links where you can contribute to Haiti earthquake relief:

Oxfam
American Red Cross
AmeriCares
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders

As in most other major disasters, the main thing these organizations need right now is money.* Their experts will know how best to spend it, what’s needed where, etc. In other words, right at the moment, rounding up clothing or canned food or bandages or what-have-you, although certainly well-intentioned, is less helpful than giving these groups the resources to do what they know best how to do. As they identify particular needs, they’ll publicize them.

Anything you can give will help. And please give something. The suffering there is already horrendous, and it will quickly get even worse than most of us can possibly imagine.

*Unless you have a helicopter.

OK, then …

HUNGRY vampire squid: Goldman Sachs didn’t get just 100 cents on the dollar on its exposure to AIG, courtesy of the taxpayers. No, by reselling its AIG credit-default obligations while knowing the taxpayers were going to bail out AIG, but before that info became public, it effectively got more. About $1.2 billion more.

Which is a big part of the problem: Pat Robertson is far more important than you will ever be.

Remember, she reads every newspaper, too: Glenn Beck: Who’s your favorite Founding Father? Sarah Palin: All of ’em.

Which dinosaur?: A shark described as “dinosaur-sized” attacked and apparently ate a swimmer Tuesday off Cape Town, South Africa. But they didn’t say whether they meant this dinosaur or this one.

Lighter backpacks: Obviously, colleges are going to switch to electronic textbooks to save students money. That move now has a deadline in California: 2020, which seems a bit far off considering that almost two-thirds of the roughly 13,000 textbook titles published by the six largest U.S. publishers already are available electronically.

“If you are watching this video, then I have been murdered by the president of Guatemala hit men I hired myself”: A UN commission concludes that the “assassination” of a lawyer, alleged in a posthumous video to have been ordered by Guatemala’s president, actually was arranged by the lawyer himself in an attempt to destabilize the government. Dude, if you wanted him out, why not just run against him?

You know that scene in “Waterworld” where Kevin Costner drinks his own pee?: The astronauts are feeling his pain.

China vs. Google: Is it really China vs. the U.S.? And was this hack attack, if not a cyber-Pearl Harbor, at the least a dangerous breach of national security?

Senate health-care bill: “A teacher tax, not a Cadillac tax.”

Related: Who needs Republicans when the unions are just as willing to screw the middle class?

Um, ‘cuz they’re, I don’t know, WHORES?!?: Retiring Republican Rep. John Shadegg, asked whether he supports a public option: “Well, you could better defend a public option than you could defend compelling me to buy a product from the people that have created the problem. America’s health insurance industry has wanted this bill and the individual mandate from the get go. That’s their idea. Their idea is, ‘Look, our product is so lousy that lots of people don’t buy it. So we need the government to force people to buy our product.’ And stunningly, that’s what the Congress appears to be going along with. Why would they do that?”

Except it wasn’t hindsight, jackass: I could’ve told you this on Jan. 20 and saved everyone a lot of time: Harry Reid has just now figured out that Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, was never going to vote for health-care reform.

AIG tick-tock: Firedoglake, which has published valuable analysis on such issues as torture and the Scooter Libby case by means of creating documented timelines, applies the technique to the federal government’s bailout of AIG (and its use of AIG to indirectly bail out Goldman Sachs), working with a cache of e-mails obtained and posted online by The New York Times. FDL cautions that it ain’t complete, and I haven’t even begun reading it yet, but if you’re interested in the subject, this is sure to be a valuable resource.

Speaking of torture: The brother of the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates is caught on videotape torturing and attempting to murder a guy he thought had screwed him in a business deal, but the court let him off anyway after he claimed he was too whacked on medication to know what he was doing. I’ll just say he must have been pretty damn whacked to run over a guy repeatedly without actually quite managing to, you know, kill him.

SCOTUS vs. the U.S.: As I suggested on Monday, the Supreme Court isn’t going to sign off on anything that could be a basis for its having to allow itself to be televised someday. Jackasses. Go ahead and keep talking about how this court’s majority is so strict-constructionist and all, but speak up: I’m going to have trouble hearing you over my own laughter.

Allegany County, Maryland, needs more alligators: Andy says so, and he’s there so he should know.

The Internet — the greatest collection of knowledge in history: How can I make my chicken taste just like the junk they serve at school?

Rupert Murdoch: plagiarist.

Teddy Pendergrass: RIP.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010 7:16 pm

Odds and ends for 1/13

Espwa: Our church supports an orphanage in Haiti, Espwa (which means “hope”). The orphanage has a blog. The residents and staff, through (literally) shaken by the earthquake, escaped injury, although several lost loved ones elsewhere in the country. Moreover, the orphanage gets all its food and supplies overland from Port-au-Prince, and it’s not clear right now whether the roads are passable, let alone what shape the city’s shipping infrastructure is in. You can contribute online here.

Goldman Sachs CEO admits under oath to fraud, walks free anyway. No, that’s pretty much what happened. (UPDATE: But Jack Welch calls this “uneventful,” which tells you all you need to know about Jack Welch.)

Jackasses: The SEC, which ought to be clearing up the mysteries around AIG’s use of taxpayer money, instead is trying to bury them. And make no mistake: This would not be happening without the knowledge and approval of Barack Obama. Memo to the Democrats: One real good way to lose Congress is to let hosers like Rep. Darrell Issa play the good guy.

Steepening curve … and not in a a good way: A month ago, the Mortgage Brokers Association was predicting that its members would originate 24% less in mortgages in 2010 than 2009. Now, they’re saying that figure will drop 40%, from $2.11 trillion in 2009 to $1.28 trillion in 2010. That’s the lowest level since $1.14 trillion in 2000.

A clawback, but not for the taxpayers: A large pension fund has sued Goldman Sachs over its bonus policy, asking that money that would be going to Goldman employees go instead to it. Where that budgeted $22 billion in bonus money really needs to be going is the taxpayers, inasmuch as fully two-thirds of Goldman’s 2009 revenues were more or less directly attributable to taxpayers. But I suppose the retirement savings of cops and firefighters is a more productive place for it than Goldman execs’ pockets. And that is where the money (much of it, at least) will go, because Goldman will settle this toot de suite. It does not want its folks answering questions under oath.

A nation of pants-wetters, or, that high-pitched whine you hear is Ben Franklin (“He who would give up liberty for safety deserves neither … and shall have it”) spinning in his grave fast enough to light up Pittsburgh: A majority of Americans want to give up civil liberties to make themselves safer. Cheese and crackers, people, what are all the GUNS for … to HIDE BEHIND? MAN. UP. Or else the terrorists really do win.

Memo to aides to Massachusetts Dem Senate candidate Martha Coakley: I realize that losing Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat to a guy who posed nude for Cosmo might make one’s candidate a bit, um, testy, but still, don’t shove reporters. Or move to China if you want to do that stuff.

Jan. 23 is National Pie Day. I think I may head over to K&W and have some of the chocolate-creme to celebrate.

From Facebook’s Overheard in the Newsroom: Design Editor: “I want the font that makes people addicted to reading newspapers again.” Commenter Bruce Reuben: “The font would have to be made of crack.” Lex: “The font that looks like kick-ass, take-names accountability journalism. Yeah. That. Also.”

Harold Ford: Strikingly un-self-aware. I’m not a huge fan of Sen. Kristen Gillebrand, but having lived in NY I think she’s far more in tune with people than Ford is. As someone else put it, there’s a reason Alabama doesn’t send gun-confiscating atheists to the Senate.

Nobody does human like Tolstoy, as Ishinoy reminds us.

Tucker Carlson won’t tell you, so I (and Crooks & Liars) will: His new site, The Daily Caller, will have a whole section devoted to “environmental scepticism” [sic]. His primary funder — $3M in the first year alone — is a huge global-warming denier.

Now it’s up to Harry Reid … and Barack Obama: Arlen Specter says he’ll back Dawn Johnsen to head Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. So that’s 60 votes. Let the flushing of the Aegean stables begin.

Somali pirates have scared off shipping … including the illegal trawlers that had depleted fisheries, so that legit fisherpeople are having a great year. Hey, you take your good news where you can find it.

Shorter WSJ: Watching TV will kill you dead. (I was never allowed to summarize medical research like this when I was a professional medical writer. I must say, this is fun.)

Bitters shortage: Does anyone who is not either a watcher of or a character on the AMC series “Mad Men” even drink Manhattans? And if so, why?

It’s over: Dan Rather’s lawsuit against CBS has been tossed, probably for good. In effect, the state court system’s Appeals Division identified problems in his case, then refused to allow any depositions or discovery, which could have, as the lawyers say, cured those deficiencies. Oh, well. Sucks to be him. That said, regardless of Rather’s error in relying on documents whose provenance he couldn’t/didn’t verify, other evidence indicates quite clearly that Bush was, in fact, AWOL.

What I’ve learned from reading about “Game Over” (besides the fact that I don’t want to read the whole book): You can make a lot of money publishing anonymous, 2-year-old gossip. And in real life, people who are dying of cancer and whose spouses are cheating on them don’t always behave as nicely as their Movie of the Week counterparts. OK, I already knew that last one.

I think this comment from liveblogger Teddy Partridge tells you all you need to know about the competence of counsel for the bigots defense in the California gay-marriage trial: “Sorry, this lawyer is asking really long questions and requiring YES or NO answers which makes liveblogging almost impossible”

Busted: The American insurance industry, while publicly claiming it favored health-care reform, was giving money to the Chamber of Commerce to produce and air anti-reform TV commercials. I am shocked, shocked, etc. Someone explain to me again why it’s a good idea to point a gun to American taxpayers’ heads and make them give these companies money. Someone else explain to me why the Chamber and the insurance trade group should get to keep their tax exemptions, kthxbai.

Speaking of health care, there’s this notion floating around that taxing health benefits will lead employers to give more to employees in the form of wages. However, this notion is not true.

Quote of the day, from Sen. Harry Reid: “I have no regret over calling [former Fed chairman Alan] Greenspan a political hack. Because he was. The things you heard me say about George Bush? You never heard me apologize about any of them. Because he was. What was I supposed to say? I called him a liar twice. Because he lied to me twice.” Cue Republican efforts to frame this comment as a “gaffe” in 3 … 2 …

This thing where Giuliani said there were no terrorist attacks on the U.S. under Bush? That was no one-time bit of misspeaking. That was an emerging Republican meme. Guys, Goebbels was a cautionary tale, not an exemplar.

Some judges just need impeachin‘, starting with Warren Wilbert, the Kansas judge in the murder trial of Scott Roeder, who assassinated* abortion doctor George Tiller. Wilbert will let Roeder argue that his killing of Tiller actually was voluntary manslaughter because, in some parallel universe, Roeder wordlessly put the barrel of a .22 to Tiller’s head and pulled the trigger because Tiller was doing something besides providing a legal and needed medical service. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear Wilbert just declared open season on abortion providers.

*He has signed a statement admitting to the shooting.

How Lucky could save the planet!


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