Tuesday, June 12, 2018

May 7: The Final Step into Fascism

It was May 7th that Attorney General Jefferson Beauregarde Sessions III announced the policy of separating the children of refugees from their families.

Since that day we have had a drumbeat of authoritarian decisions from the Trump Administration. He has alienated long-time allies and given concessions to Kim Jong-Un, one of the most brutal dictators. Again they promulgate the fascist policy of culling the unfit by withdrawing medical care. Now they talk of establishing concentration camps for the children taken from their parents.

And you who thought that a Trump Administration would not be so bad: you have cursed yourselves. You who are participating: you have cursed yourselves. Do not think now that you will now escape judgement.

Perhaps he had always known, somewhere in the deepest recesses of his mind, that he would indeed eventually take that last step into Satanism, but if so, he had very successfully suppressed it. – James Blish, The Day After Judgement

Tweets to an anti-semitic African-American

No-way Jews own the banks. No-way Jews own Hollywood. Jeez, this is public information, it's easy to check. Jews have done OK in the USA, but the superrich are still largely WASP.
Time was, Jews were lynched in the South.
Every Jew in the USA is the child or grandchild of refugees. Every single one of them.
Jews hoped, for a long time, they could be accepted in the civilized countries of Western Europe, the most civilized of which was … Germany. When the Jews of Europe direly needed refugee, the United States turned them away. Jews can pass, Jews can act like they fit in, but when the chips were down and the jackboots march, Jews will die.
After the Holocaust how can you even write this?

The Rothchilds are one superrich family – there are dozens of those. They don't run the world banking system.
You don't say because Beyonce is rich and successful that black women run the music biz.
Most of the people who talk about the Rothchilds running the world – they're white. In fact they're white supremacists. Some are outright Nazis. Please, do yourself a favor and don't give credence to your enemies.
He blocked me.

We are evolving in reverse.

Democrats, Centrists, and the Resistance: In Which I Offend Everyone

From a series of tweets directed to Clintonbots:
I think Bernie is getting a bum rap, and Hillary Clinton got a pass on some pretty awful things. And, regardless of all this we've got to come together and fight the fascists. This means that, on the one side, the left has to swallow its objections to the center, and on the other side, the Democratic leadership has to stop trying to push the left out. It's a lot easier to get people to turn out for you when you haven't pushed them away. 
The Democratic leadership is still acting as though a meaningful compromise with the Republicans is possible, and that is a chimera. And here is Sanders out there saying it. Good. I don't see how he could win the Presidency, but he's good in the Senate and I hope he stays there and keeps fighting the good fight. Meantime, lets do as much as we can to turn out the vote this year. 
I am thinking that Kamala Harris may be the best choice for the Democratic Presidential candidate in 2020.
There was no response.

Democratic Party centrists are turning into fascist sympathizers.

I think there's a good chance the Resistance will loose the next two elections. The Democratic leadership, as far as I can tell, does not recognize an existential threat. It is still trying to shoot the party of its left wing at a time when Democrats need all the support they can get. The left wing is discouraged after 20 years of attacks from from the Democratic leadership. They're not going to turn into fascists, but they are going to be unenthusiastic supporters of the Democratic Party, and isn't that how we got into this mess?

How do resurgent feminists, energized African-Americans, and young anti-fascists fit into this picture? Probably we get more women in Congress, possibly the next President will be a woman – but a lot of the women in Congress are centrists, and are maintaining the split in the resistance. African-Americans, hard to say. They're an energized group, partly because state terrorism is deployed against them, but will the Democratic Party offer them enough to win their support? And what will they do with that energy if they do not get significant support? Young anti-fascists are the people who have grown up in schools subject to the stochastic terrorism of the right wing. The Parkland survivors are their voice. Again, a lot of energy there, but what is their political program beyond firearms regulation? And what will they do if they do not get anything significant from the Democratic leadership?

Turning Out the Left

(Remarks on Jim Wright's Hunting the Unicorn to Extinction.)

Duty motives you, and me, and many of the people who comment at Stonekettle. Unfortunately, as your Twitter responses showed, we are not a majority. If we want people to show up, I think it is our job to make the case, in terms that persuade people for whom duty is not a sufficient motivation.

The Democratic leadership is an obstacle.  Some Democratic candidates might as well be Republicans. Most of them are rich and insulated by their wealth from the hardness of most people's lives. (As David Dayen reminded us recently, every single bank deregulation bill of the past 30-40 years was bipartisan.) The Senate Democratic leader voted to confirm a torturer for Director of the CIA. And so on, and on.

If the goal is to build a Democratic coalition that defeats the fascists of the Republican Party, it will take strong leadership and careful planning to  both satisfy the liberals and keep the more conservative factions in the Party. At this time, I see no interest in building such a coalition in the  Democratic Party leadership.  With the Democratic leadership opposed and no major leftist leader within the party, I do not see how the left is to be brought to enthusiastically support the Democratic Party in the next four years.

Trump Didn't Start a Nuclear War

In other words, he did something not completely insane.

Am I supposed to be grateful?

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Law is the Loser, part n: DOJ Opposition to the Affordable Care Act

Andy Slavitt, on Twitter, writes about an exceptionally egregious example of the contempt for the law on the part of the Trump administration.
The DOJ, responsible for upholding the rule of law, is not defending the people in a frivolous lawsuit to say that without the mandate, the rest of the ACA can’t be enforced. – https://twitter.com/ASlavitt/status/1004897703401312256
This is, for many reasons, disgusting, and three Department of Justice lawyers have already quit over it. But I want to draw attention to the contempt for the law on the part of the highest law enforcement official in the USA shows. This is what happens when you put a  racist southern prosecutor in charge of the Department of Justice. Lawyer Nicholas Bagley comments:
I’m frightened for what this says about the rule of law. […] The Trump administration has just announced that it doesn’t care that a law was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. All that matters if that it hates the law and has a (laughable) argument for casting it aside. That’s not a rule of law I recognize. That’s a rule by whim. And it scares me.
The rule of law will be decades recovering from the damage the Roberts Court and the Trump administration has done to it.

Black Socialists and Bernie Sanders

“The whole world is under obligation to the Negro, and that the white heel is still upon the black neck is simply proof that the world is not yet civilized.” – Eugene V. Debs

It occurs to me that the claims the Bernie Sanders cares only about class issues and not at all about racism and sexism erases generations of African-American socialism, a long and proud intellectual history to which Sanders himself, though Martin Luther King, Jr., is heir.

Here's a few names and faces, from the Democratic Socialists of America.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

"Surely there must be an exception."

No. There isn't.

"The Shirley Exception is a bit of mental sleight of hand that allows people to support a policy they profess to disagree with. It's called the Shirley Exception because … well, I mean, *surely* there must be exceptions, right?" – Alexandra Erin (@alexandraerin) on Twitter.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Turning Out the Left – In Answer to Jim Wright

Something was in Debs, seemingly, that did not come out unless you saw him. I'm told that even those speeches of his which seem to any reader indifferent stuff, took on vitality from his presence. A hard-bitten socialist told me once, “Gene Debs is the only one who can get away with the sentimental flummery that's been tied onto Socialism in this country. Pretty nearly always it gives me a swift pain to go around to meetings and have people call me ‘comrade.’ That's a lot of bunk. But the funny part of it is that when Debs says ‘comrade’ it is all right. He means it. That old man with the burning eyes actually believes that there can be such a thing as the brotherhood of man. And that's not the funniest part of it. As long as he's around I believe it myself.”
 Heywood Broun, quoting an unnamed socialist
in It Seems To Me, 1925‑1935 (1935), p. 38

Turnout. Elections in the United States hinge on turnout. With one of the lowest turnout rates of  wealthy countries, elections in the United States hinge on turnout.
On Twitter, Jim Wright (@Stonekettle) asks, “Describe to me that candidate. Folks, give me a list of the attributes a Democratic candidate MUST have in 2020 for you to show up and vote.”
He is complaining that liberals don’t show up and vote and that this is part of why Republicans dominate the government. I don’t think this is quite accurate; liberals do show up. But they are concentrated in cities and therefore under-represented in Congress, Senate, and Electoral College. Having cows or shopping malls in a district, it seems, raises the districts’ political power. But there are liberals everywhere, and if they turned out in the suburbs and the rural districts, it would tip the balance of elections.
So, Jim Wright is asking the leftist Tweeters who object to the Democratic as well as Republican candidates – what it would take to get them to show up? The answers I have seen so far are unenlightening. Most leftists vote Democratic, though without much enthusiasm. The ones who do not vote have specific issues important to them. This is not so surprising. In marketing we know that people often do not know what they want until it is offered to them. The saying, perhaps from Steve Jobs, is “No-one asked for the iPad.”
It is not different in voting. I remember young men and women who were inspired by Bernie Sanders. Who knew? Sanders’ socialist rhetoric and socialist policies turned out to be what young people wanted, and they registered and voted. It was not enough, especially since Sanders did not win the nomination.
So here is my answer to “What would it take to get these people to show up and vote?”
Representation. The first thing, surely, is representation. The candidate has to be one of us. “When Debs says ‘comrade’ it is all right. He means it.” Identification with a Presidential candidate is important; in Converse’s sociological work he found that the largest plurality of voters voted on identification. There has been a great deal of fake representation on both sides of the aisle: pictures of W. Bush showing how folksy he was by cutting brush on the ranch he sold as soon as he left office, Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain.” And all the while we have elected officials using their offices – mostly quite legally – to enrich themselves or protect their own wealth. Trump is surely the ultimate example. Trump’s supporters hear themselves in his anger. The Trump vote is the ultimate spite vote. But we have the Clintons as another example: as much as social class exists in the USA, they have joined the upper class; their daughter has even married a wealthy banker. By comparison, we have Senator Sanders, who is one of the least wealthy Senators.
Integrity. The second thing is integrity. 33 House and 17 Senate Democrats voted with Republicans to weaken the already weak Dodd-Frank banking law. Those 33 included many members of the Congressional Black Caucus, whose constituents were hit especially hard by mortgage fraud and abusive mortgage billing and collection practices during the 2008 crash. Those Democratic votes in the House didn’t matter to the outcome – the House Republicans had the votes to pass the law – but those Democratic votes were a slap in the faces of constituents who have lost their homes.
Courage. The Senate votes did matter. Which brings us to the third thing: courage. A leader inspires no-one if they don’t stand up. “Courage,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” Cowardly leaders, cowardly representatives; these will betray their promises as soon as they are threatened.
Honesty. Politics is notorious for attracting dishonest people, even sociopaths. Donald Trump is the obvious example. But even more garden variety politicians routinely deceive their constituents. A certain amount of, at least, dissembling seems necessary public office. But political betrayal has become routine and we need to be shut of it.
The characteristics of a President acceptable to the left are representation, integrity, courage, and honesty. The policies such a President might pursue:
1.     Life.
a.     Health care for all, at a price all can afford.
b.     An end to stochastic terrorism in schools.
c.     Comprehensive police reform. Public oversight of police conduct in every jurisdiction. No more police shooting down innocents.
d.     Immigration reform. No more undocumented underclass. No more disappearing children. No more turning away desperate refugees.
e.     Environmental policies that will preserve the world for our children.
2.     Economic Fairness
a.     An economic policy made for all.
b.     Honest work for honest pay.
c.     Remove the barriers to the formation of labor unions.
d.     Provide economic support in a dignified manner; no more harassing people who apply for it.
e.     Rely on Keynesian economics; neo-liberal economics has failed.
f.      Regulate the income distribution.
g.     Regulate finance. The bankers had their chance; they stole everything that wasn’t nailed down as well as houses, which were nailed down.
3.     Civil rights
a.     First and foremost, women’s rights.
b.     But also, black lives matter.
c.     And so do Muslim and Mexican and Jewish lives.
d.     And LGBT+ lives.
4.     Make peace a goal of foreign policy. Abandon Kissingerism. Abandon brutal interventions  in foreign countries.
5.     Protect the environment and ecology of the United States and the earth.

Sounds remarkably like Senator Sanders’ Presidential platform, doesn’t it? Perhaps he was popular because he had popular ideas.
If these policies are to be adopted, how might this be done, and what effects would that adoption have?
This platform would, I believe, win over all but the most extreme leftists, but it would do so at the cost of the votes of more conservative Democrats. Because the US system only allows for two major parties, US political parties are necessarily “big tents” – broad coalitions. If the goal is to build a Democratic coalition that defeats the fascists of the Republican Party, it will take strong leadership and careful planning to build a coalition that keeps the more conservative factions in the Party.
At this time, I see no interest in building such a coalition in the current Democratic Party leadership. Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate, voted with the Republicans in support of their bill weakening Dodd-Frank. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York voted to approve the torturer Gina Haspel as Director of the CIA. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been actively opposing leftist candidates in Democratic primaries. And just today House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said that any effort to impeach Trump must be bipartisan.
With the Democratic leadership opposed and no major leftist leader within the party, I do not see how the left is to be brought to enthusiastically support the Democratic Party. From the viewpoint of the left, all the Democratic Presidential hopefuls are compromised in some way, some quite seriously. The endless influence of money and the national security state in US politics makes it near to impossible to rise to a position of leadership in US politics without major impropriety. People who want to be President after all want to wield the power of the office and so make the compromises. I find some hope in feminist activism, the strength and energy of the Resistance, and candidates like Jess Phoenix and Cynthia Nixon, but hope is not a plan.
In any event, I intend to vote for the Democratic candidate, even if it is someone I hate. I do not want the fascists in power for another minute.
Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. – Eugene V. Debs, “Statement to the Court Upon Being Convicted of Violating the Sedition Act.” Debs was jailed by his political opposition.

Monday, May 21, 2018

In Which Josh Marshall Discovers the New York City Bourgeoisie

There’s something about New York, New York City, that is, that is at the root of the Trump phenomenon. […] New York City is a liberal city, probably the most progressive big city in the country, as far as it goes. Yet its power structure, its money class includes a whole community of people with extreme wealth who live in a culture in which predation and acquisition is the norm. – Josh Marshall, Predators of New York

Firearms and Terrorism in the USA

– 1 –

“I don’t even want to send my kid to school anymore. I’m not joking.” – tweet, @DrPsyBuffy
“It's been happening everywhere, I always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here too.” – Paige Curry, Santa Fe High School student.
So here we have it. America’s parents and schoolchildren are a population as scared as any in a country where terrorism is routine.
School shootings are stochastic terrorism, enabled by the easy availability of semi-automatic weapons in the USA and the failure of socialization of men. The events themselves are semi-random. What is not random at all is the easy availability of firearms and the propaganda that exacerbates all manner of fear in order to sell weapons. First, of course, firearms manufacturers want to sell more firearms; they have contributed millions to the NRA and “The NRA does the bulk of lobbying for the industry.” Second, there was the 1977 radical-right takeover of the NRA. The new NRA leadership was and is racist and misogynist. They are fine with firearms as long as white men have them; everyone else, they would rather … not.
But this campaign to distribute firearms as widely as possible and the firearms industry’s endless advertising validating use of lethal force, has empowered an unexpected group, unexpected because the NRA leadership and weapon sellers did not realize it even existed in significant numbers: racist and misogynist terrorists.
Our children and their teachers have been and are being terrorized. But there might be worse to come.

– 2 –
In the afterword of Alt America, entitled “Fascism and Our Future,” David Neiwert, a journalistic expert on the modern US radical right, addresses the question of whether Trump/Republican movement is fascist. His discussion is worthwhile, and I recommend the whole book, but I want to draw your attention to the following:
[…] fascists have, in the past, always relied upon an independent, movement-driven paramilitary force capable of intimidating their opponents with various types of thuggery. […] Members of various white-supremacist organizations and bona fide paramilitary organizations such as the Oath Keepers and the Three Percent movement are avid Trump backers. Trump has never made known any desire to form an alliance with or to make use of such groups. (p.  364.)
One cannot, however, assume this will last, or that other members of this administration or state or local officials have no such desire; indeed, it is likely that many do. Should that time come, as in past fascist movements, the racist and misogynist terrorists who are now terrorizing our schools will provide ready and well-armed participants. It will not be a well-regulated militia; as with historical fascist paramilitaries, it will be more of an armed rabble, but a terrifyingly well-armed rabble with excellent modern communications technology.
It would take time to organize such a thing, and there would be substantial opposition, especially from girls and women, who are after all targets of a misogynist group, so I think – I hope – there is not an immediate threat. (On the other hand, many white women might be persuaded that a paramilitary force will protect them, so perhaps the opposition will be less than I expect.) Still, if we do not begin to defuse this, by restricting the civilian availability of battlefield weapons and perhaps addressing the social issues that fuel the terrorism, it will be a continuing threat.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Lines Crossed

Yesterday, at the behest of its religious extremists, the USA moved its embassy to Israel to Jerusalem. The Palestinians of Gaza protested, 58 were shot by Israeli troops, and reportedly nearly 2,800 were wounded.
Also, Gina Haspel, who tortured for the CIA back in the aughts, has acquired enough Democratic votes, including that of the Senate Democratic leader, to win approval as CIA director.
Two lines, I think, have been crossed. First, a major foreign policy shift has been undertaken to satisfy an authoritarian religious minority. Second, the Bush/Cheney torture policy has been validated by a bipartisan consensus in the Senate.
F’ity F F F.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Pragmatic Pacifism

(This is edited out of some comments on the US Civil War I wrote in Ta-nehisi's Coates blog back in 2012. All comments in that discussion have been taken down, so I am very glad I saved copies!)

I don't have any ideology in this area beyond objecting to the deaths of nearly 100 million and wanting to avoid a catastrophic global war, which seems to me scarcely an ideology at all.

If humans keep on believing that wars are a way to resolve conflicts, which many do, and the wars keep increasing in intensity and scope, as they have, and the weapons and strategies in capability, as they have, then there will be nothing left of human civilization. Opposing that is not idealism but pragmatism.

Regardless of what could have happened in the 19th and 20th century, it is important to continue efforts to make war less and less likely.

The Conquering Republic

A republic can be a democracy internally and a conquering power externally. Rome, from which we get the word "republic," was a conquering power and this was the intention of the theoreticians who invented classical republicanism. Republics can and do come into conflict.

We need a new ideal of governance. It is not enough to insist that a polity be democratic internally; it must exist in a world order of polities which respect each other. I do not see how this is achievable without most of those polities being themselves democratic internally; a ruler who tyrannizes their own people will not hesitate to go conquering.

Emaciation and Beauty

(This is a starting point, rather than a finished piece. Still worth thinking about.)

Audrey Hepburn nearly died of starvation when she was 16. She was living in the Netherlands in 1944 when Nazi Germany blockaded the country, and her weight dropped to 88 pounds. She had lifelong medical problems as a result of malnutrition from ages 9 to 16.

And yet she became an iconic beauty. After the 1930s, a period of epic poverty, we had a generation of knife-slender models. The trend, from what I remember, actually started in the 1920s, with the stylish uncurvy flapper, but it was after the lean depression and war years that the extremely slender woman became a model of femininity. And to this day we have women starving themselves to copy that look.

There is a lot of history here I do not know. It may be that part of the reason that emaciation became popular was because it was made popular; there were a lot of men who were threatened by the emergence of independent women and who wanted to make women weaker and ashamed of themselves. Or maybe not. But this is true: part of the model of beauty for a generation was an emaciated woman who was a survivor of wartime starvation.

Monday, April 30, 2018

And now the news

While the press tries to destroy a black female comedian for saying what we all know is true about the Trump administration's press secretary, the administration is deciding the fate of the illegal prison in Guantanamo Bay (they want to keep to keep it open, and send more people there) and Abbas Araghchi, Iran's deputy foreign minister, says "The Iran nuclear deal is no longer sustainable for Iran in its present form, without regard to a US exit."

Just another day, making America great again.

Sunday, April 29, 2018


On the sudden feminist sympathies Trump supporters have found:
F'ing fascists and their sympathizers. Does Margaret Haberman really think it's going to do her or the USA any good, to suck up to these people?
Suddenly, now that they are powerless, the Democrats are the party of the working class.

And Jeff Yang, citing Alisa Harris on homeschooling:
This is damning. 36% of kids pulled out of school for homeschooling were removed by families who have been accused of abuse. And 47% of all cases of child torture involve kids who were removed from school for homeschooling.
Meantime, on support of Trump from supposedly-moderate press outlets:
I think the publishers, as well, are in the tank for Trump. They are so afraid of the Democrats that they will support Trump, even if destroys the USA.

I don't know what is is about even the most moderate socialism that so terrifies a faction of the rich, but they are terrified.
Maybe I should start calling Twitter Screamer. There seems no way to scream loud enough any more.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Something Must Be Done

  1. Something must be done.
  2. This is something.
  3. Therefore we must do it.
  4. “Mission accomplished.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Hitler Wasn’t Hitler

Or rather, Hitler was not as we imagined him. He was not, single-handedly, the creator of Nazism. He was not in himself a military or political genius. He was a crank with all manner of food and medical obsessions and he made foolish strategic decisions, which may have lost Nazi Germany its war of conquest.
The popular image of Hitler is false, and part of why we have this false image is that we very much don’t want to admit that Hitler wasn’t all that special. Some of this is a hangover from wartime propaganda; it was simpler to paint Hitler as a monster than say that Nazism was a complex evil. After the war, it was easier to teach people of Hitler the evil genius than to acknowledge and engage the fascism that had existed in every other Western power.
Hitler was, perhaps, the voice of the German id, and this made him persuasive. The Nazi Party was the first major user of mass electronic communications to drive a people mad and the ground had been prepared for that madness by the German conservatives who were very much afraid of losing their wealth and titles. The people who fought the war and ran Nazi Germany were the people around him.
If Hitler wasn’t Hitler – if he was, perhaps, the “screaming little defective” that H. G. Wells called him – then perhaps Trump is more like Hitler than we want to admit. The focus of a mass movement, rather than its brilliant creator, orator, and leader. And, especially, we don’t want to look at the history of the movement he has come to lead. As David Neiwert observed in his excellent book Alt-America, the movement that supports Trump came from somewhere, and the news of it was scarcely reported.
The conservative anti-Trumpers don’t want to admit that; if they admitted that they would have to face their complicity. The Democratic leadership doesn’t want to admit that; if they admitted that they would have to admit that they failed to see and respond to the danger. The major media don’t want to admit that; they would have to admit they played a part in Trump’s rise to the Presidency. Besides, their owners are enjoying their tax cut. Some of the left doesn’t want to admit that; they are afraid of the horror and afraid they might have to act.
So here we are. The gates of hell are creaking open. What will we do?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Bit On Acting CIA Director Michael Pompeo's Extremist Christian Ideology

This was a bit I added to the Wikipedia entry on Pompeo, current CIA director. Unsurprisingly, it has been removed. A video of Pompeo speaking on his own behalf is, according to some Wikipedia editor, not a sufficiently reliable source on Pompeo's views.

Wikipedia: misinforming the masses since the beginning of the millenium.

Pompeo is a Christian religious conservative whose beliefs inform his politics. He spoke at length of how religion informs his political ideals on video at the Summit Church God and Country Rally 2015. In that speech he approvingly quoted the Robert Russell/Joseph Wright prayer which contained "We have worshiped other gods and called it multiculturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle." In his own words, he said "We are engaged in a struggle against radical Islam, the kind of struggle that this country has not faced since its great wars."

There is a great deal more in that speech, but to flesh this out, I would have to listen to the speech in its entirety, take notes, and research them, which would be a considerable investment in time.

We are rightly afraid of John Bolton as National Security Advisor. Perhaps we ought also be afraid of Michael R. Pompeo as DCIA.

Friday, March 23, 2018

War: Cui Bono?

(A cry of despair.)

@neeratanden, a long-time Hillary Clinton supporter, tweets: “I know we need to unite. But having gone thru the twitter hazing of 2016 where folks regularly attacked Hillary as a warmonger (and me as her supporter) and lauded Trump as some pacifist and then to see Bolton … well I’m furious. These people need to own up.”

I thought about this and agreed. Maureen Dowd and many others owe the country some kind of penance. And then I thought more. Hillary Clinton never had Trump's father issues or masculinity doubts. She is in no way as huge a warmonger as Donald Trump. But the Obama administration, during her time as Secretary of State, did support the 2009 Honduras coup, which installed a brutal regime that has lasted to this day. In a Clinton administration we would not be fearing the start of World War III. We would probably, however, see support of authoritarian regimes, and smaller wars and coups.

John Bolton joined the Maryland Army National Guard, rather than risk being drafted and sent to Vietnam. He wrote: "I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy. I considered the war in Vietnam already lost." And those who served, not because they hoped for victory, but out of loyalty? Chumps, I guess. For all his fine rhetoric, another white man who found his fine self to be more important than country. The attitude, if not yet the acts, of a traitor.

Why? Why do our elites think that war makes any sense at all? After Iran, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, two losses, and two stalemates turning into losses, why? After Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras? And who are the hawks? It's not just Bolton. Even "moderate" US foreign policy is brutal, if not the complete madness that Bolton advocates. We are haunted by the shadow of Henry Kissinger, even when he is not directly making policy.

Cui bono? Quid est beneficium?

"I want to know who the men in the shadows are / I want to hear somebody asking them why / They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are / But they're never the ones to fight or to die." – Jackson Browne, Lives in the Balance.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Note on the Austin Bombings

We are up to six, as of this writing. Six.

I don't think this is stochastic terrorism, some random crazy. This looks to me like organized and planned terrorism. Now, terrorism is violence for the purposes of political propaganda. So if I'm right, we will see other parts of the propaganda campaign emerge soon. Anything is possible. A "false flag" operation. A call for a white supremacist uprising. Or something even stranger and more brutal.

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Democratic Activist Asked for Concrete Policy Suggestions

So here's some concrete policy suggestions addressing three important areas. Such policies, if put in to practice, would garner huge support for the Democratic Party.
  1. Racial justice. Have the DOJ monitor state and local police departments for racist conduct, in particular deaths at the hands of officers.  Monitor local prosecutors.
  2. Labor. Make the NLRB work again; it has become nearly impossible to form a private-sector union in the USA. Repeal Taft-Hartley. Have the SEC go back to forbidding most leveraged buyouts, or at least require an evaluation of their effects on employment. 
  3. Housing. Enforce and extend the legal prohibitions on mortgage fraud and servicing abuse.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

On the Electric Twitter Machine

"Trump's rise has shown that purported principles of conservative ideology meant virtually NOTHING to the conservative masses. […] The NYT's commitment to "intellectual diversity" doesn't go THAT far -- not far enough to expose its readers to that reality"– vox.com blogger David Roberts (@drvox) link.

"I’ve interviewed countless journalists in dictatorships, from Belarus to Thailand, who risk their lives to bring a sliver of truth & accountability to their societies. They are heroes. Trump’s attacks on the press endanger them while endangering our democracy too." – Dr. Brian Klass (@brianklass), London School of Economics, link.

"You are lying. Marijuana is not a gateway drug." – Assistant Professor Joshua B. Grubbs (@JoshuaGrubbsPhD), link.

"Mercia has a 20000 pounds of silver deficit with North Sea kingdoms (mostly THE SNEAKY DANES). BAD AND WRONG. Just goes to show what bad leaders have done to undermine Mercia. We will bring that geld back!" –  Donaeld The Unready, (@donaeldunready), link.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Review: Blitzed!

Ohler, Norman. Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany. Translated by Shaun Whiteside. London: Penguin Books, 2017. Review also posted at Goodreads. Copies available at Powell's and other fine bookstores.

This book covers an area of historical research I had not even thought of before: the effects of psychoactive drugs on war.

The book is broken into four sections: “Methamphetamine, the Volksdroge,” a short history of the German pharmaceutical industry’s development and marketing of psychoactive drugs, “Sieg High,” on the use of methamphetamine as a battlefield performance enhancer during the Blitzkrieg, “High Hitler: Patient A and His Personal Physician,” about Hitler and his personal physician Theodor Morell, and “The Wonder Drug,” about the end of the war as an amphetamine crash, and desperate attempts to create new and more powerful drugs.

Every chapter covers something I had not heard of before. Giants of the pharmaceutical industry turn out to have been founded on psychoactive drugs – Merck on morphine, Bayer on heroin as well as aspirin, and the less-widely known but major Temmler (they are now part of Aenova Group) on the drug they called Pervitin, a methamphetamine-based pharmaceutical. “Sieg High” covers how the Blitzkrieg, where Guderian and Rommel raced through France to the sea, was fueled by sleepless soldiers relying on Pervitin. In passing, one thing this chapter makes clear – it is not news, I expect, to any historian, but I was not aware of it – was just how incompetent a military leader Hitler was. Guderian and Rommel were responsible for the success of the Blitz, and Hitler ordered Goering to change his strategy midway through the Battle of Britain, possibly losing the Battle. Popular English-language accounts of the Battle of Britain focus on Churchill’s determination, but it would have gone worse for Britain had it not been for Hitler’s foolish interventions; likely there would have been no Dunkrik boatlift.

“High Hitler” is a novelistic account of Hitler’s relation with his personal physician Theodor Morell. Morell was most of a crank, pushing various organic concoctions as medicine (vitamins! animal glands! bull’s testicles!) but as the war wore on, and Hitler’s health, energy, and mood deteriorated, Morell began injecting Eukodal, a Merck oxycodone-based drug, and, probably, later Pervitin. Ohler’s account of the deterioration of Hitler’s health, perhaps as a result of drug abuse, or perhaps for other reasons, is grim.

And, finally, “The Wonder Drug” covers the end of the war and the death of Hitler, as ever-more-desperate attempts are made to find drugs that will keep soldiers, sailors, and Der Fuehrer fighting in the face of defeat.

The book is a short and straightforward popular history; 368 pages, of which perhaps 25% are bibliography and notes. I judge it well-researched; the bibliography overwhelmingly cites primary sources. But, oh, the questions it raises! Surely the largest historical question is “To what extent are psychoactive pharmaceuticals factors in history and, especially, war?” I know vaguely about cocaine in World War I, heroin in Vietnam, and other drugs in Central America (the book brought to mind James Tiptree, Jr’s. savage “Yanqui Doodle”), but is there a broader story to be told? To what extent is this still being done?

Beyond that, it is an often-asked historical question: “How could the Nazis have been so cruel and crazy?” Part of the answer may be that they drove themselves crazy with methamphetamine, inducing rigid singleness of purpose and paranoid delusions.

A number of science fiction writers have incorporated technologically created super-soldiers in their stories: Heinlein most famously, but also Jack Kirby (Jacob Kurtzberg) & Joe Simon (Hymie Simon) created the superhero Captain America. Kirby and Simon had it that there was also a Nazi super-soldier project. I wonder if these authors were aware of the Nazi use of Pervitin during the Blitz? It certainly intimidated the French – they couldn’t imagine how the Germans kept going with no sleep. [Added: here is a 2013 William Saletan piece, "The War on Sleep," about military uses of Provigil (modafinil.)]

And, finally, the picture of Hitler himself. The English-language popular imagination of Hitler owes much to Nazi propaganda and the enormous efficacy of the drug-fueled Blitz, but H.G. Wells 1941 description of Hitler as “that screaming little defective in Berlin” turns out to be more accurate. I have no trouble seeing our modern fascist leaders as similar – racist, health cranks, more than a bit crazy. In a broader focus, I wonder if prescription drugs now widely prescribed as treatments for the conditions of old age are affecting the thinking of older voters.

So, an interesting and important book, which raises good questions. If you have the stomach for it, go read it.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Rohingya Genocide Background Links

This is outside my usual wheelhouse, but a friend asked for some research, so here are some English-language links on the Rohingya genocide.

For a historical overview, I found this Al-Jazeera article:
  Myanmar: Who are the Rohingya?

For an overview of the status of the genocide, Amnesty International's 2017/2018 report:
  Myanmar 2017/2018

The best in-depth English-language coverage seems to be at Juan Cole's web site, Informed Comment:
  Rohingya Genocide: Why isn’t the World Community Doing Something?
  Informed Comment Myanmar page
  Informed Comment Rohingya search

Birthright citizenship seems to me more and more one of the best ideas ever to come out of US history.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Worst Supreme Court Since Taney

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that immigrants, even those with permanent legal status and asylum seekers, do not have the right to periodic bond hearings. – NPR

And so, legal immigrants, at least who have not been naturalized, may now be detained indefinitely without trial. Soon it will be naturalized citizens (ICE already claims the right to revoke naturalization), and then perhaps then natural citizens.

The bail questions before us are technical but at heart they are simple. We need only recall the words of the Declaration of Independence, in particular its insistence that all men and women have “certain unalienable Rights,” and that among them is the right to “Liberty.” We need merely remember that the Constitution’s Due Process Clause protects each person’s liberty from arbitrary deprivation. And we need just keep in mind the fact that, since Blackstone’s time and long before, liberty has included the right of a confined person to seek release on bail. It is neither technical nor unusually difficult to read the words of these statutes as consistent with this basic right. I would find it far more difficult, indeed, I would find it alarming, to believe that Congress wrote these statutory words in order to put thousands of individuals at risk of lengthy confinement all within the United States but all without hope of bail. I would read the statutory words as consistent with, indeed as requiring protection of, the basic right to seek bail. — Supreme Court opinion in Jennings v. Rodriquez, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, dissenting.

We now live in a country where people can be disappeared. The door is wide open to a police state.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

"A Well Regulated Militia" - postscript

This took an unexpected amount of time to write, over a decade from my discovering the phrase "a well regulated militia" in Fletcher, to my tying all the pieces together. I could not have done it without all the diligent researchers who have spent much more time on this than this dilettante bird and the internet itself, which made it possible for me to easily locate crucial documents.

I do hope that this is a useful addition to the reams that have been written on this subject and that it will lead to changes in our thinking that improve our lives.

Again, here is a list of all the parts, with links:
Part 1 - From Renaissance Florence to The Constitution of the United States
Part 2 - The Classical Republican Militia: Machiavelli in Florence
Part 3 - Scottish Republicans
Part 4 - Madison, Jefferson, and Hamilton: the Second Amendment and the Militia Acts
Part 5 - Summation: Whither the Second Amendment?

"A Well Regulated Militia" - part 5

Summation: Whither the Second Amendment?

The republican militia was an anachronism at its conception in Florence. The Second Amendment and the 1792 Militia Acts mandated an unworkable system for raising a military for the new republic that was quickly abandoned. In law and custom, the Second Amendment has led to much mischief. Fletcher’s “well-regulated militia” has often degenerated into an ordinary and ill-regulated paramilitary force. As Bogus[27] pointed out, it became part of the slave system, indeed may even have been written into law to bolster the slave system. When the South seceded, it was the South Carolina state militia that threatened Fort Sumter. Racists, terrorists, and the criminally violent have been persuaded that the Second Amendment is an unlimited firearms license, while weapons makers use it as an excuse to sell vast numbers of battlefield weapons to civilians who do not need and often abuse them.

What remains after it is admitted that Fletcher was wrong? To say that Fletcher’s militia was a proposal for a system that has only rarely been successful and has at times been a great tool of oppression? Jefferson’s description of the militia in his first inaugural address is a far cry from the hopes of the classical republicans for a replacement for regular military. Four other ideas accreted to the the Second Amendment: (1) Federalism, the idea of the state militias as a check on Federal power, analogous to Fletcher’s belief in baronial power as a check on royal power,[30] (2) the idea that the Second Amendment granted a right to form informally organized paramilitaries without any legal sanction, (3) the individual right to own weapons for self defense as mentioned in Burgh and which I daresay most of the Founders and any Scots highlander would have recognized,[31] and, covertly, (4) the individual right to act as a vigilante armed with lethal force, so important and terrifying in the South. It is worth expanding on the racism of (4): older versions of Arkansas, Florida, and Tennessee law specifically refer to white men.[32]

Now, as in Renaissance Italy, even well-regulated militia can seldom overcome regular military; they are unseasoned and outgunned. The Federalist hope that the state militia would be a check on the vast standing army of the 21ˢᵗ century United States is forlorn. Even less effective are paramilitaries. There seems no satisfactory answer to that challenge: widespread availability of battlefield weapons to civilians creates the opportunity but does not grant the ability to organize into an effective force. Few modern uprisings in the USA and elsewhere have succeed in doing anything but killing in numbers ranging from small to vast. In addition, the widespread availability of battlefield weapons is itself a source of danger, enabling terrorism and increasing the lethality of violent crime.

Paramilitaries of varying degrees of regulation, however, have over and over become a part of US history: they became the infamous, murderous slave patrols of the slave states. The slave patrols later became Confederate soldiers, and still later the brutal racist terrorists of the segregated South. The regulated militia, the National Guard, after the civil war, also became a tool of capitalism at its worst, used against strikes and, indeed, any sufficiently unpopular organized political activists.

The personal right to self-defense with arms was mentioned by Burgh:

No kingdom can be secured otherwise than by arming the people. The possession of arms is the distinction between a freeman and a slave. He, who has nothing, and who himself belongs to another, must be defended by him, whose property he is, and needs no arms. But he, who thinks he is his own master, and has what he can call his own, ought to have arms to defend himself, and what he possesses; else he lives precariously, and at discretion. And though for a while, those, who have the sword in their power, abstain from doing him injury, yet by degrees he will be awed into submission to every arbitrary command.[33]

This right has often claimed by 21ˢᵗ century firearms advocates as part of the Second Amendment, was not part of the Second Amendment, as the prefatory clause “A well regulated militia…” shows. It was a part of common law; no 18ᵗʰ century gentleman (and certainly no Scotsman) would be denied that right. Madison, who had read Burgh, did not include it in the Second Amendment and, of the original 13 states, only Pennsylvania had such a right in statute law. That right was a matter of swords, unreliable single-shot pistols, muzzle-loading muskets, and early slow-to-load rifles. The Colt revolver emerged decades after the Second Amendment was passed, and the modern rifle and semi-automatic pistol after that. The laws codifying a right to self-defense were also written later; in three states the right was granted only to white men.[34] In the wake of recent white supremacist terrorism enabled by easy access to firearms, this is an area of law in dire need of updating.

It seems to me important to align our thinking on the Second Amendment with the actual history of the amendment. The current governing Supreme Court decision on the Second Amendment, District of Columbia v. Heller,[35] is based on invalid history; republicanism is mentioned neither in the decision or the dissents. Racism also is not, yet it certainly was a factor. The earlier United States v. Miller[36] does at least allude to republicanism, but it would have been well had it said more.

It is hard for any people to say that any of their founding principles are wrong, yet it seems that is what is called for here. If many republican ideals remain powerful, yet others must be set aside. Even in its own time, the militia ideal was an unrealistic anachronism. Suggesting the repeal of any of the amendments of the Bill of Rights is risky; one amendment having been repealed, others might follow. Instead, a more historically accurate interpretation of the law seems sensible; modest weapons for self-defense and sport and membership in the various state Guards and militia for people who desire to serve. A strict liability standard for firearm users and owners seems sensible,[37] as do requirements for the inclusion of various safety technologies in civilian firearms.[38] At the strongest, a case could be made for the restriction of the right to keep arms to members of a well-regulated militia – that is, members of one of the State Militias or National Guards.

This is not going to be achieved quickly. Yet lethal violence has become a commonplace in the USA and the easy availability of firearms enables it, as it does more organized terrorism. We need to change our thinking and our laws.

Notes on Part 5

[30] Fletcher, Discourse, pp. 6–9

[31] There is some doubt as to whether the highlanders recognized any obligation to service at all. Andrew Fletcher sourly commented, "Nor indeed can there be a thorough reformation in this affair, so long as the one half of our country, in extent of ground, is possessed by a people who are all gentlemen only because they will not work; and who in everything are more contemptible than the vilest slaves, except that they always carry arms, because for the most part they live upon robbery.” – Andrew Fletcher, "The Second Discourse Concerning The Affairs Of Scotland." Fletcher, Andrew. Two Discourses Concerning the Affairs of Scotland, 1698. The Association for Scottish Literary Studies. Accessed October 15, 2017.

[32] Eugene Volokh. “State Constitutional Right to Keep and Bear Arms Provisions.” Texas Rev. of Law & Politics 11, no. 1 (Fall 2006): 192–217.

[33] Burgh, Political Disquisitions Vol II, p.390.

[34] Volokh, cited above.

[35] Justice Scalia. 2008. District of Columbia v. Heller (Justice Scalia, Opinion of the Court) U.S. Supreme Court.

[36] J. McReynolds. 2016. United States v. Miller. 1939. United States v. Miller. U.S. Supreme Court.

[37] Jim Wright. 2015. “Bang Bang Sanity.” Weblog. Stonekettle Station. 26 June 2015. Accessed 12 July 2017.

[38] Hemenway, David. 2004. “Ch 10: Policy Actions.” In Private Guns Public Health, 209–23. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

"A Well Regulated Militia" - part 4

Madison, Jefferson, and Hamilton: the Second Amendment and the Militia Acts

Jefferson’s library contained Fletcher’s Discourse; Jefferson spoke well of Fletcher.[17] Moreover, James Madison, who wrote the Bill of Rights which included the Second Amendment, was a regular visitor at Monticello.[18] Konig, in “The Second Amendment: A Missing Transatlantic Context for the Historical Meaning of ‘The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms,’”[19] points out that the loss of the militia right in Scotland was an influence in the British North American colonies. Americans, as British subjects, yet not English, feared that, just as Scotland had lost its militia, so might Americans. The British American founders mixed their republicanism with federalism, and so the states were granted the rights to choose the officers of the militia.

No record of James Madison’s reasons for including the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights survives. For the other amendments, Madison’s rationale is plain and some of it is set out in The Federalist Papers[20], though it is wished more was known about Madison’s thought.[21] But why the Second Amendment?

The Federalist Papers touch on the militia in two places: Federalist 29, by Hamilton, and Federalist 46 by Madison. In Federalist 29, Hamilton makes the case for a “select militia,” well-regulated by the Federal government, but with some authority reserved to the states:

It is, therefore, with the most evident propriety, that the plan of the convention proposes to empower the Union "to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress."

In Federalist 29, Hamilton professes surprise that this had become a sticking point in the acceptance of the constitution; the idea that there was a right to form a paramilitary force and rebel against the proposed Federal government was present even then. Konig cites Scots Highlander refugees who supported this view in North Carolina.[22]

In Federalist 46, Madison addresses the possibility that the Federal government would become tyrannical. He badly misjudged the course of history in writing: “Many considerations, besides those suggested on a former occasion, seem to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of the people will be to the governments of their respective States,” but did also comment:

If, therefore, as has been elsewhere remarked, the people should in future become more partial to the federal than to the State governments, the change can only result from such manifest and irresistible proofs of a better administration, as will overcome all their antecedent propensities. And in that case, the people ought not surely to be precluded from giving most of their confidence where they may discover it to be most due; but even in that case the State governments could have little to apprehend, because it is only within a certain sphere that the federal power can, in the nature of things, be advantageously administered.

He did not foresee the vast standing military of our time and so, as Fletcher might have said of the baronial militias, Madison said of the state militias “To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence.”

Madison included James Burgh’s Political Disquisitions[23] in his “Report on Books for Congress,”[24] the seed of the Library of Congress, and Burgh extensively quoted Fletcher[25]. The arguments were, as Konig points out in “A Missing Transatlantic Context,”[26] derived from the Scottish militia debate and ultimately Fletcher. Returning to the why of the Second Amendment, Prof. Carl T. Bogus, in his essay “The Hidden History of the Second Amendment,”[27] argues persuasively that the Second Amendment was included in the Bill of Rights to secure the ratification of the Constitution by the state of Virginia, and that it did so by protecting slave patrols from federal intervention. One can add to that that Madison does not seem to have cared very much about either firearms or militias. His “Notes on Government” do not mention either; he was much more interested in issues of governance in historical context.[28] Bogus, as I said, is persuasive, but the available evidence is indirect; his case is not proven and unless new historical evidence comes to light, seems unlikely to be proven.

Whatever Madison’s reasons, first the Second Amendment was ratified, and then the Militia Acts of 1792 were passed, creating a network of Fletcherian militias in the USA. It is difficult to see how Fletcher could not have been used as a reference; the US militia, save only in specifics of training methods, was very much as Fletcher describes. Service in the militias immediately became a deeply resented obligation, often honored in the breach. In the end the same arguments that ended the advocacy of the Scottish militia were taken up in the United States. Hamilton’s argument in Federalist 29 was proven correct; putting the entire USA under arms was deemed expensive and unnecessary and ultimately the states relieved most citizens of their militia duties.[29]

Based on the experience of the Revolution, the formal role of the militia was reduced to domestic peacekeeping and first line home defense, and there, mostly, it has stayed.

Notes on Part 4

[17] On Fletcher, Letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Earl of Buchan, 10 July 1803. “the political principles of that patriot were worthy the purest periods of the British constitution. They are those which were in vigour.” Jefferson badly missed the point here; Fletcher was a marginalized reactionary.

[18] Gaye Wilson, and Anna Berkes. “James Madison.” Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. Monticello, Virginia: Thomas Jefferson Foundation, February 2003.

[19] David Thomas Konig. “The Second Amendment: A Missing Transatlantic Context for the Historical Meaning of ‘The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms.’” Law and History Review 22, no. 1 (Spring 2004): 119–59. doi:10.2307/4141667.

[20] Hamilton, Alexander, John Jay, and James Madison. The Federalist Papers, 1788. 

[21] See: James Madison. “Report on Books for Congress, [23 January] 1783.” Accessed July 13, 2017. Also see: Sheehan, Colleen A. The Mind of James Madison: The Legacy of Classical Republicanism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

[22] Konig, “A Missing Transatlantic Context,” p. 150. Ironically, many Scots Highland refugees in the colonies were English loyalists.

[23] Burgh, James. Political Disquisitions; or, An Enquiry into Public Errors, Defects, and Abuses Illustrated by, and Established upon Facts and Remarks, Extracted from a Variety of Authors, Ancient and Modern. Philadelphia: Printed and sold by Robert Bell, in Third-Street; and William Woodhouse, in Front-Street, 1775.

[24] Madison, James. “Report on Books for Congress, 1783,” January 23, 1783. 

[25] Burgh, Political Disquisitions Vol II, p.391.

[26] David Thomas Konig. “The Second Amendment: A Missing Transatlantic Context…” cited above.

[27] Bogus, C. T. “The Hidden History of the Second Amendment.” University Of California Davis Law Review 31, no. 2 (Winter 1998): 309–408.

[28] Sheehan, The Mind of James Madison, cited above.

[29] John K. Mahon. History of the Militia and the National Guard. Macmillan Wars of the United States. New York : London: Macmillan ; Collier Macmillan, 1983.