A Selection of Stuff You’d Rather Not Read About

Four articles that made an impression this week, from least to most depressing, that didn’t even mention Jerusalem, Puerto Rico, healthcare or starving polar bears.

One hundred and eighty-seven people are facing felony charges for participating in a demonstration in Washington D.C. that turned violent. The demonstration was on the day Trump was inaugurated. A trial is now underway. The depressing aspect of this story is that none of the six defendants are accused of doing anything aside from being there:

What jurors haven’t heard, and prosecutors don’t intend to offer, is evidence that any of the six individuals currently on trial … actually engaged in any property damage or violence. Under the government’s theory of the case, in which anyone arrested in the group is part of a conspiracy and is responsible for any actions taken by others, the lack of individualized wrongdoing doesn’t matter.

Maybe the jury will have the sense to acquit everyone and convince the government to stop these prosecutions.

Elsewhere in Washington, Republicans from the House and Senate are trying to reconcile the terrible tax bills they’ve recently passed. Could any of them read this article from The New York Times and say they were proud of their efforts so far?

… for the first time since the United States adopted an income tax, a higher rate would be applied to employee wages and salaries than to income earned by proprietors, partnerships and closely held corporations….

“We’ve never had a tax system where wage earners were substantially penalized” relative to other types of income earners, said … a former Treasury Department official….

Indeed, economists and tax experts across the political spectrum warn that the proposed system would invite tax avoidance. The more the tax code distinguishes among types of earnings, personal characteristics or economic activities, the greater the incentive to label income artificially, restructure or switch categories in a hunt for lower rates….

“The more you look at any of the major rules, the more ambiguities, glitches, clearly unintended consequences and tax planning opportunities you see,” said Michael L. Schler, a lawyer in the tax department of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. He has written a 50-page summary of the more glaring problems …

From Georgia Southern University, a professor named Jared Yates Sexton, who grew up in the South, writes about the fascism that runs in his family.

Eventually I left for college and found my own people who didn’t express such fascist and ignorant beliefs. I visited for the occasional holiday, kept in decent enough touch, but I felt confident knowing that people like my family would never be in charge of the country they understood so poorly….

They hoard weapons, supplies, and daydream about the day the government will fall and they’ll be free to remake the country as they see fit.

I cannot say they are fascists, but I can definitely say they hold fascist ideas. This is why they hardly blink when Donald Trump quickly erodes the normal order of the government, why they’re not concerned when he undermines the Freedom of the Press or cozies up to authoritarian leaders. They love it when he tells policemen to be rough on suspects. They want someone who plays nuclear chicken with a despot while the lives of hundreds of million innocent people lie in the balance.

Finally, speaking of nuclear chicken, Jeffrey Lewis, a “scholar at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies”, shares some really scary thoughts in The Washington Post. He imagines how a confrontation between North and South Korea might escalate, helped along by a morning tweet from the president, into nuclear war.

And so, facing what he believed was a massive American military invasion, Kim gave the order. The thread of history winds along on twists of fate, like Archduke Ferdinand’s driver missing a turn…

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency would later say this was a sign that the system had worked well, downing about a third of the missiles — although experts would argue that the low intercept rate resulted from problems that the Los Angeles Times had reported in 2017…. It seemed more likely, the experts said, that five of the missiles had simply broken up as they reentered the earth’s atmosphere.

The remaining seven nuclear warheads landed in the United States. These missiles were no more accurate than the others — but with 200-kiloton warheads, 10 times the power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, close was enough to count in most cases.

I told you so.

“Antifa” Stands for Anti-Fascist

Until a few days ago, I’d never heard the term “antifa”. It’s a word that refers to the anti-fascists, anti-racists who believe in direct action against fascists and racists, including violence at times. From an article in The Washington Post by the historian Mark Bray:

Antifa are autonomous anti-racist groups that monitor and track the activities of local neo-Nazis. They expose them to their neighbors and employers, they conduct public education campaigns, they support migrants and refugees and they pressure venues to cancel white power events.

The vast majority of anti-fascist organizing is nonviolent. But their willingness to physically defend themselves and others from white supremacist violence and preemptively shut down fascist organizing efforts before they turn deadly distinguishes them from liberal anti-racists.

Antifascists argue that. after the horrors of chattel slavery and the Holocaust, physical violence against white supremacists is both ethically justifiable and strategically effective. We should not, they argue, abstractly assess the ethical status of violence in the absence of the values and context behind it. Instead, they put forth an ethically consistent, historically informed argument for fighting Nazis before it’s too late… The first antifascists fought Benito Mussolini’s Blackshirts in the Italian countryside, exchanged fire with Adolf Hitler’s Brownshirts in the taverns and alleyways of Munich and defended Madrid from Francisco Franco’s insurgent nationalist army….

In the United States and Canada, activists of the Anti-Racist Action Network (ARA) doggedly pursued Klansmen, neo-Nazis and other assorted white supremacists from the late 1980s into the 2000s. Their motto was simple but bold: “We go where they go.” If Nazi skinheads handed out leaflets at a punk show in Indiana about how “Hitler was right,” ARA was there to show them the door. If fascists plastered downtown Alberta’s Edmonton with racist posters, ARA tore them down and replaced them with anti-racist slogans.

Responding to small fascist groups may seem trivial to some, but the rise of Hitler and Mussolini show that resistance is not a light switch that can simply be flipped on in a crisis. Once the Nazi and fascist parties gained control of government, it was too late to pull the emergency brake.

In retrospect, antifascists have concluded, it would have been much easier to stop Mussolini back in 1919 when his first fascist nucleus had 100 men. Or to stamp out the far-right German Workers’ Party, which had only 54 members when Hitler attended his first meeting, before he transformed it into the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (the Nazi Party). Though the regimes that inspired their original protests are long dead, antifascists have devoted themselves to treating small fascist and Nazi groups as if they could be the nucleus of a murderous movement or regime of the future….

Years before the alt-right even had a name, antifascists were spending thankless hours scouring seedy message boards and researching clandestine neo-Nazi gatherings. They were tracking those who planted the seeds of the death that we all witnessed in Charlottesville….Behind the masks, antifa are nurses, teachers, neighbors, and relatives of all races and genders who do not hesitate to put themselves on the line to shut down fascism by any means necessary.

At The Atlantic, another professor, Peter Beinart, expresses concern about antifa’s occasional use of violence and threats of violence, but points out that there is no equivalence between the antifa movement and the neo-nazis they fight:

Antifa activists are sincere. They genuinely believe that their actions protect vulnerable people from harm. Cornel West claims they did so in Charlottesville. But for all of antifa’s supposed anti-authoritarianism, there’s something fundamentally authoritarian about its claim that its activists … can decide whose views are too odious to be publicly expressed. That kind of undemocratic, illegitimate power corrupts. It leads to what happened this April in Portland, Oregon, where antifa activists threatened to disrupt the city’s Rose Festival parade if people wearing “red MAGA hats” marched alongside the local Republican Party….

But saying it’s a problem is vastly different than implying … that it’s a problem equal to white supremacism. Using the phrase “alt-left” suggests a moral equivalence that simply doesn’t exist.

For starters, while antifa perpetrates violence, it doesn’t perpetrate it on anything like the scale that white nationalists do. It’s no coincidence that it was a Nazi sympathizer—and not an antifa activist—who committed murder in Charlottesville. According to the Anti-Defamation League, right-wing extremists committed 74 percent of the 372 politically motivated murders recorded in the United States between 2007 and 2016. Left-wing extremists committed less than 2 percent.

Second, antifa activists don’t wield anything like the alt-right’s power. White, Christian supremacy has been government policy in the United States for much of American history. Anarchism has not. That’s why there are no statues of Mikhail Bakunin in America’s parks and government buildings. Antifa boasts no equivalent to Steve Bannon [or] to Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who bears the middle name of a Confederate general and the first name of the Confederacy’s president, and who allegedly called the NAACP “un-American.” It boasts no equivalent to Alex Jones, who Donald Trump praised as “amazing.” Even if antifa’s vision of society were as noxious as the “alt-right’s,” it has vastly less power to make that vision a reality.

And antifa’s vision is not as noxious. Antifa activists do not celebrate regimes that committed genocide and enforced slavery. They’re mostly anarchists. Anarchism may not be a particularly practical ideology. But it’s not an ideology that depicts the members of a particular race or religion as subhuman.

CNN has an article with a brief video. The video includes a reporter talking to a group of masked antifa people in Oregon. It’s CNN, and I didn’t read the whole article, but their treatment of the movement seems even-handed. Democracy Now! has an extended interview with Mark Bray, who I quoted above. Part 1 is here. The second part is here.

The New York Times has an article too:

Last weekend, when a 27-year-old bike messenger showed up at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., he came ready for battle. He joined a human chain that stretched in front of Emancipation Park and linked his arms with others, blocking waves of white supremacists — some of them in full Nazi regalia — from entering.

“As soon as they got close,” said the young man, who declined to give his real name and goes by Frank Sabaté after the famous Spanish anarchist, “they started swinging clubs, fists, shields. I’m not embarrassed to say that we were not shy in defending ourselves”….

The closest thing antifa may have to a guiding principle is that ideologies it identifies as fascistic or based on a belief in genetic inferiority cannot be reasoned with and must be physically resisted. Its adherents express disdain for mainstream liberal politics, seeing it as inadequately muscular, and tend to fight the right through what they call “direct actions” rather than relying on government authorities.

“When you look at this grave and dangerous threat — and the violence it has already caused — is it more dangerous to do nothing and tolerate it, or should we confront it?” Frank Sabaté said. “Their existence itself is violent and dangerous, so I don’t think using force or violence to oppose them is unethical.”

By the way, ThinkProgress reports that, despite the widespread violence in Charlottesville last weekend, only eight people were arrested in connection with the white supremacist rally. That’s two more than were arrested for public drunkenness. A member of the antifa movement would almost certainly argue that those numbers show why we can’t rely on the authorities to fight fascism. 

Faces of Fascism

First, they came for the Mexicans and Muslims…

Michael Barbaro, The New York Times:

Mr. Trump made no real case for his qualifications to lead the world’s largest economy and strongest military. He is, he said, a very successful man who knows how to make it all better.

Inside the Quicken Loans Arena, a thicket of American flags behind him, he portrayed himself, over and over, as an almost messianic figure prepared to rescue the country from the ills of urban crime, illegal immigration and global terrorism.

“I alone,” he said, “can fix it.”

Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker:

It is no surprise that the American face of fascism would take on the forms of celebrity television and the casino greeter’s come-on…What all forms of fascism have in common is the glorification of the nation, and the exaggeration of its humiliations, with violence promised to its enemies, at home and abroad; the worship of power wherever it appears and whoever holds it; contempt for the rule of law and for reason; unashamed employment of repeated lies as a rhetorical strategy; and a promise of vengeance for those who feel themselves disempowered by history.

It promises to turn back time and take no prisoners. That it can appeal to those who do not understand its consequences is doubtless true. But the first job of those who do understand is to state what those consequences invariably are. Those who think that the underlying institutions of American government are immunized against it fail to understand history. In every historical situation where a leader of Trump’s kind comes to power, normal safeguards collapse. Ours are older and therefore stronger? Watching the rapid collapse of the Republican Party is not an encouraging rehearsal. Donald Trump has a chance to seize power.

Hillary Clinton … has her faults, easily described, often documented—though, for the most part, the worst accusations against her have turned out to be fiction. No reasonable person, no matter how opposed to her politics, can believe for a second that Clinton’s accession to power would be a threat to the Constitution or the continuation of American democracy. No reasonable person can believe that Trump’s accession to power would not be. 

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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The Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, they all gave birth to Trump. Now we all have to get off our asses and vote a straight Democratic ticket in November. A Democratic President and a Democratic Congress are the only way to get our government working again and, therefore, the only way to stop the fire from spreading.

Because, yes, it could happen here. 

He’s Really Taking This Führer Thing Too Far

Breaking news:

It appears that the leading Republican Presidential candidate is growing a mustache that, aside from its brilliant orange color, bears a striking resemblance to that worn by an infamous historical figure. These are actual images from a video filmed yesterday in Dayton, Ohio:

 

Observers are divided over whether this surprising development will help or hurt his campaign for the Republican nomination.

The video and a description of events at the rally are available here. Viewer discretion is advised.

At Least the Cop Wasn’t Thinking At the Time

A high school student in South Carolina disrupted a class by talking on her phone. The teacher and a school administrator demanded that she leave the room. She refused. A police officer assigned to the school was summoned. He told her again to get out of her chair and leave the room. She was now sitting quietly and no longer using her phone. She said she had done nothing wrong and wanted to stay.

He reacted by flipping her and her chair upside down and dragging her across the floor. The white police officer, who is also one of the school’s assistant football coaches, did not break the black girl’s neck.

From the New York Times article, which includes a link to the video:

Witnesses to Monday’s incident said that in an Algebra 1 class, the girl, a sophomore, was on her phone, and the teacher told her to put it away. The teacher summoned an administrator, who brought in the deputy. The adults repeatedly asked the student to get up and leave the class, but she refused.

When the altercation occurred, students stood up, confused about what was happening, but the deputy told them, “Sit down, or you all will be next,” said one student, Charles Scarborough, 16. Adding to the surprise and confusion, several students said the girl was usually quiet and not a troublemaker.

The deputy also detained a second student, Niya Kenny, 18, who told a local television station that her only offense was objecting to his treatment of the other girl.

“I was crying, like literally screaming, crying like a baby,” Ms. Kenny told WLTX. “I’d never seen nothing like that in my life, a man use that much force on a little girl.”

As she protested, she said, “he said, ‘Since you’ve got so much to say, you’re coming, too.’ ”

I can almost understand the cop’s reaction. He got frustrated and gave in to his worst impulses. He didn’t de-escalate the situation. He treated the girl as if she were a dangerous criminal. He treated her worse than he’d treat a dog. But I presume he wasn’t using all his mental faculties at the time. His lizard brain, his adrenaline and his racism took over.

What I can’t understand at all is that people read the article and watched the video and then composed a comment to the Times suggesting that the girl was responsible in any way whatsoever for what happened to her. She disrupted the class. She refused to get out of her chair. She wasn’t respectful of authority. Maybe she provoked the cop’s reaction. We should wait for all the facts before passing judgment.

What total bullshit. Let’s face it. Many of our fellow citizens here in the United States would make good Nazis and there doesn’t seem to be much the rest of us can do about it. (All right, I do understand it.)

There’s more here, including how a police officer using more of his brain could have handled the situation.

Smarter Works Better Than Tougher – Stairway Postscript

The French phrase “l’esprit de l’escalier” refers to that unpleasant moment when you realize what you should have said. According to the usual source, Denis Diderot originated the expression:

During a dinner at the home of the statesman Jacques Necker, a remark was made to Diderot which left him speechless at the time, because, he explains, “a sensitive man, such as myself, overwhelmed by the argument leveled against him, becomes confused and can only think clearly again [when he reaches] the bottom of the stairs” (“l’homme sensible, comme moi, tout entier à ce qu’on lui objecte, perd la tête et ne se retrouve qu’au bas de l’escalier“).

Hence, the wit (not the spirit) of the stairs.

The phrase doesn’t quite apply to what happened this afternoon, but it’s close enough. I was driving to the grocery store when I realized what I should have included in my previous post. I should have mentioned Greece’s ongoing financial crisis. Sensible people understand that Greece will never be able to pay back everything it owes, partly because the economic austerity demanded by its creditors has slowed the Greek economy, making Greece poorer and even less able to pay off its debts. Even the International Monetary Fund, one of Greece’s creditors, understands this. The Greeks need debt relief, like the Germans received after World War 2.

The Germans, however, believe they and the other creditors need to get tougher with Greece. More austerity and more pain will eventually convince the Greeks to get their fiscal house in order or drive Greece out of the eurozone, leading to who knows what consequences for the Greeks, Europe and the rest of the world. In this case, the Germans, like the Republicans, prefer tougher over smarter.

But how was I going to get Germany’s bad behavior into a post about the Republicans? (Believe it or not, I’ve got literary standards.) Then it hit me, probably when I was making a right turn. Remember that rabid speech given by arch-right winger, modern-day fascist Pat Buchanan at the 1992 Republican National Convention? The late Molly Ivins said “it probably sounded better in the original German”.

See, it fits together after all. It’s what I should have said.

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

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If you enjoy a good crime movie, you might consider watching The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. It’s in German and was directed by Fritz Lang, who made Metropolis and M and later emigrated to the U.S. It’s old-fashioned in some ways, which is understandable, since it was completed in 1933. 

But there are many aspects of it that feel current. A criminal mastermind, Dr. Mabuse (in German, that’s pronounced “Mah-boo-zeh”) has lost his mind and is locked up in an insane aslyum. He spends his days and nights writing perfectly conceived plans for various crimes.

Unfortunately, Dr. Mabuse is being cared for by a physician, Professor Baum, who is almost as crazy as he is. Professor Baum collects the plans Dr. Mabuse tosses on the floor and uses them to build a criminal empire.

Professor Baum eventually directs his criminal minions to launch a crime wave like no other. He orders them to blow up a chemical plant, destroy food supplies, poison the water, create epidemics and debase the currency, all with the intention of terrorizing the population:

When humanity, subjugated by the terror of crime, has been driven insane by fear and horror, and when chaos has become supreme law, then the time will have come for the empire of crime.

There is a quirky but clever police inspector leading the investigation and a disgraced detective who tries to redeem himself. A suspect is interrogated. Ballistic evidence is considered. A strange message is decoded. An early version of a SWAT team is summoned to deal with barricaded criminals. A couple is locked in a room and told they only have three hours to live. There are explosions and a car chase. There are jokes and special effects.

Aside from the crisp black and white photography, the dated decor and the subtitles, this movie could be playing at a multiplex near you!

On top of that, the movie has political overtones. Fritz Lang was seriously concerned about the Nazis taking power. When the crazy Professor Baum issues his commands, he sounds like a dictator giving threatening orders to his subordinates. It’s said that Lang used actual quotations from the Nazis in the movie’s script.

Before The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was released, the German minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, ordered it banned. He claimed that it would incite public disorder and decrease the public’s confidence in the government. He may have had a point, considering that the film is about an extraordinary criminal organization and the government in question was run by Adolph Hitler.

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