Archive for the ‘Livin’ in the USA’ Category


Over the last week, we’ve seen several violent clashes between Nazis and counterprotesters. (Nazis might call themselves “alt-right,” “white separatists,” etc. Rather than give any credence to such rebranding, we’re calling them what they are: Nazis.)

It’s necessary to resist these losers, these tools of the powers that be. Violent defense of self and others is perfectly justified to repel physical attack.

But physically attacking people who are merely exercising free speech, no matter how loathsome, is never justified.

Last night, I saw a video of antifa protesters physically attacking Nazi organizer Richard Spencer, who was standing before microphones answering reporters’ questions. I was horrified on several counts counts:

  • Either you believe in free speech or you don’t. The principle of free speech applies to even the most loathsome speech — especially to the most loathsome speech. Once you start making exceptions for speech you really hate, it’s a very slippery slope to banning speech that anyone really hates, in which case freedom of speech vanishes. (“Anyone” here applies to any individual, group, or organization with the physical power to intimidate or beat others into silence.)

Another antifa protestor provided exactly the justification you’d expect for the assault on free speech, labeling it “violent speech,” saying that it was too “dangerous” to be allowed. (Speech is speech. Violence — physical attack on people or animals — is violence. These two wildly different things are not the same, and mere conflation of the two is not a convincing argument that they are.)

This is a broken record, the same rationale cited by every thug and bully since time immemorial who wants to deny others the right to free speech.

To bolster their position, one half expects antifas to begin citing the ancient half-witticism by authoritarian jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. concerning “yelling fire in a crowded theater.” (Again, political speech is political speech; yelling fire isn’t — short of transubstantiation, it’s impossible to make the two identical.)

  • The antifa protestors physically attacking Spencer do not understand the most basic anarchist principle: The ends do not justify the means; rather, means determine ends. If you employ violent, authoritarian means, you’ll achieve violent authoritarian ends. In this case, the attacking antifas abrogated to themselves the right to determine what others can say. This is straight up authoritarianism.

Beyond that, there’s the simple matter of optics.

  • The video of the attack was shocking and repulsive. How in hell did those guilty of the assault expect people who witnessed the assault to react to it? “Good for you! A group of you beat up an unarmed man to prevent him from speaking! What a display of principles!”

As others have pointed out, such assaults give the moral high ground to the Nazis — the only moral high ground they can claim. Those who attacked Spencer achieved the near impossible: making a Nazi appear sympathetic.

In a related matter, I saw an interview with an antifa protestor blithely talking about deliberate property destruction during demonstrations. Yes, yes, yes, property is just property, vandalism and sabotage are not violence because they’re directed against things, not people or animals. Agreed.

But again, don’t they understand the optics?

When people see protesters smashing in the windows of, for instance, a Starbucks, it’s a fair bet that a good majority of them won’t say to themselves, “Another inspiring blow against global capitalism!” It seems more likely that they’ll say, “Why the tantrum? Why don’t they just grow up?”

An important matter here that no one seems to be talking about is that such property destruction is not a sign of strength; not a sign of good planning; not a sign of the organization necessary to the free, egalitarian reorganization of society.

Rather, wanton property destruction is a sign of weakness.

Real revolutionary change involves taking over existing structures (including physical structures) and transforming them, not wantonly trashing them — which is a sign that you’re letting off steam because you have no idea of how to get from here to there, no idea of how to get from this authoritarian, racist, sexist, exploitative society to the the society that you say you want.

Again — and it shouldn’t be necessary to say this — defending yourself and others from violent assault from fascists is completely justified.

But don’t confuse that with suppressing free speech.

Please realize that the ends do not justify the means. Means determine ends.


Words are cheap. Especially the words of politicians denouncing bigotry and racism. Anyone, no matter how bigoted and racist they in fact are, can denounce bigotry and racism.

What matters is action. What you say is far less important than what you do.

Republicans have loudly and publicly denounced racism of late. But let’s take a look at what Republicans have done over the last half-century.

Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — noted optimist Lyndon B. Johnson said the Democrats would lose the South to the Republicans for “a generation” — the Republican Party adopted its “southern strategy,” pandering to racist southern whites who fled the Democratic Party in the wake of the Civil Rights Act.

At about the same time, Richard Nixon, according to former top aide, John Ehrlichman, proclaimed the disastrous “war on drugs,” which has devastated millions of American lives, as a way of targeting “blacks and hippies” without appearing overtly racist.

One particularly egregious aspect of that “war,” instituted under Ronald Reagan, was the disproportionately vicious penalties for possession and sale of crack cocaine (used predominately by blacks) versus the penalties for possession and sale of rock (powder) cocaine (predominately used by whites).

To mask their racism, Republicans have routinely used, and continue to use, “dog whistle” code words that racists understand to refer to blacks and hispanics: “law and order,” “tough on crime,” “coddling criminals,” “welfare queens,” “welfare cheats,” “zero tolerance,” “super predators,” “illegal aliens,” etc., etc. Through use of these and similar terms, Republican politicians can pander to racists — who recognize the users of these terms as kindred spirits — without appearing overtly racist themselves.

And last but not least, Republicans have for decades been attempting to make it more difficult for poor working people — disproportionately black and hispanic — to vote.

  • They’re dead set on keeping voting on Tuesday, a work day, which makes it inconvenient for working people to vote.
  • They’ve also reduced early voting, notably in North Carolina, which again makes it less convenient for working people to vote.
  • They’ve restricted the number of polling places in black and hispanic areas in several states, notably Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida, making people wait hours to vote, and outright stopping others, who can’t wait, from voting.
  • They and their propaganda outlet, Fox “News,” have created the myth of voter fraud at the ballot box (while all but ignoring the very real problem of easily hacked electronic voting machines) in order to place unnecessary burdens on low-income voters. The most prominent burden is voter i.d. laws in over half the states, which make it inconvenient for the poor (again, disproportionately black and hispanic), who often have to rely on public transit and pay fees, to obtain the necessary i.d.
  • They’ve purged voter rolls in several states resulting in the disenfranchisement of at minimum tens, more likely hundreds, of thousands of eligible voters. A voter purge in Florida in 2000, targeting black voters, was almost certainly responsible for the election of George W. Bush.
  • They’ve engaged in wholesale racial gerrymandering to reduce the influence of black and hispanic voters. There’s nothing subtle about the way this works. The GOP, which has controlled redistricting in most states since 2010, packs black voters (and here in the Southwest, hispanics) into a few overwhelmingly black or hispanic districts, thus diluting their influence in other districts that would, but for the gerrymandering, be in play. The Supreme Court recently ruled that such gerrymandering in two congressional districts in North Carolina is unconstitutional, which one hopes is a sign of things to come.

In the wake of the Charlottesville domestic terrorism incident, some GOP elected officials are denouncing, or at least distancing themselves from, Donald Trump’s racist apologetics.

Yet virtually all of them, from state representatives to U.S. senators, have engaged in and supported the cynical, anti-democratic, racist activities and practices outlined above.

Judge for yourself how sincere they are.


Several years ago, we ran a series on why the work week should be much shorter than it is, focusing on the reasons why it’s artificially long, and how short it could be if the economy were organized more fairly and more rationally.

We’re updating the series and expanding its focus beyond that of the work week to irrationalities and unfairness in the entire economy, and how those of us who work for a living get royally screwed.

We’ll run the first installment on Wednesday.

Stay tuned.


Things have gotten more sedate. I’m not happy about that. Neither are most of my neighbors.

On the positive side, since I moved here 25 years ago, it’s extremely rare to hear gun shots. A quarter of a century ago, it was a nightly occurrence. For the most part, they were a good quarter to half mile away so I paid them little attention, other than thinking, “that ain’t good — but it’s south of Grant, so screw it.”

Now, it’s been months since I’ve heard shots. This is a good thing.

On the other hand, there’s way less partying than a couple of decades ago, which is a bad thing.

Then, we’d have band practice in my living room, playing pretty loud, and no one ever called the cops. Even when we played until midnight.

And the neighbors would have parties on weekends going until 2:00 or 3:00 am, with pickups parked in the front yard, doors open, blasting rancheros, banda, and norteños. It was glorious. No one gave a shit, or at least no one would call the cops.

Beer, bacanora, mota, and the occasional blast. Such fun. We were mostly in our 20s, 30s, and 40s then.

Now, we’re in our 50s and 60s, and the kids — who I’ve known since they were actually kids — on the east side have taken over the house.

My neighbor on the west side, a good friend who I’ve known for over 20 years, is by himself now. His wife, Angie, of decades died a few months ago, and he wanted to talk tonight so we buried the better part of a case of Bud Light (the official beer of Tucson) over a couple of hours.

I found out something touching while talking with him tonight: she actually liked me. I thought she hated me. Over the years, I had a string of (literally and unfortunately) crazy girlfriends, which they found quite amusing (“Charles has another one!”). About 15 years ago, after Angie’s younger sister got divorced, she and I looked at each other and went “Oh yes!” until Angie told me, and presumably the equivalent to her sister, “Stay away from her!”

At the time, I was really offended and thought she said that simply because I was white. I was wrong. She was trying to protect her sister. The awful part is that if things had worked out I’d have happily married her sister.

C’est la vie.

After returning home, I went over to a party with my neighbors on the east side of the house. They were celebrating the upcoming birth of their daughter, due in November.

More beer, more mota, and good Mexican food.

Of late, life is more sedate, but still pretty good.

¡Salud!

 


(We ran an earlier, considerably shorter version of this post in September 2013. As you might have noticed, things have changed a bit since then.)

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REFERENCES TO FASCISM abound in American political discourse. Unfortunately, most of those using the term wouldn’t recognize fascism if it bit ’em on the butt, and use it as a catch-all pejorative for anything or anyone they dislike. But the term does have a specific meaning.

Very briefly, as exemplified in Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, fascism is an extreme right political-economic system (which Mussolini dubbed “the corporate state”), the key features of which are strident nationalism, militarism and military worship, a one-party state, a dictatorial leader with a personality cult, a capitalist economic system integrated with state institutions (to the mutual benefit of capitalists and fascist politicians), suppression of independent unions, suppression of civil liberties and all forms of political opposition, and an aggressive, expansionist foreign policy.

The racism, racial scapegoating, and racial persecution that permeated German fascism are not part of fascism per se, unless one wants to classify extreme nationalism as racism. There’s a case to be made for that, but for now let’s consider them as separate maladies. As well, since the topic of this post is the comparison of Nazi Germany to the U.S.A., we will consider racism as well as fascism in the comparisons.

Getting to the headline topic, just how similar is the present-day U.S. to Nazi Germany? Let’s look at specifics:

Nationalism

  • Nazi Germany: Deutschland Uber Alles
  • US.: “American exceptionalism,” “God Bless America,” “Manifest Destiny,” etc.

Corporate Capitalist Domination

  • Nazi Germany: The German industrialists (notably the Krup armaments company) were key Hitler backers, and benefited handsomely from his rule.
  • U.S.: Trump has filled his cabinet with people from the fossil fuel industries (Rex Tillerson, et al.) and big banks, notably Goldman Sachs (Steven Mnuchin, et al.); Obama’s primary 2008 backers were Wall Street firms and the pharmaceutical companies; Bush/Cheney’s were the energy companies’ boys, etc.

Militarism

  • Nazi Germany: The Nazis  constructed the world’s most powerful military in six years (1933-1939).
  • U.S.: U.S. military spending currently accounts for approximately 43% of the world’s military spending; the U.S. has hundreds of military bases overseas; and Trump wants to increase military spending.

Military Worship

  • Nazi Germany: Do I really need to cite examples?
  • U.S.: “Support our troops!” “Our heroes!” “Thank you for your service!” Military worship is almost a state religion in the United States. Tune in to almost any baseball broadcast for abundant examples; this worship even extends to those on what passes for the left in the United States: Michael Moore, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow.

Military Aggression

  • Nazi Germany: “Lebensraum”–you know the rest.
  • U.S.: To cite only examples from the last half century where there were significant numbers of “boots on the ground,” Vietnam (1959-1973), the Dominican Republic (1965), Cambodia (1970), Grenada (1983), Panama (1988-1990), Kuwait/Iraq (1991), Afghanistan (2001-present), Iraq (2003-2011). And this doesn’t even include bombing campaigns and drone warfare.

Incarceration Rates

  • Nazi Germany: The Nazis built concentration camps holding (and exterminating) millions, and employing slave labor.
  • U.S.: In comparison, the U.S. has by far the highest incarceration rate in the industrialized world, far outstripping China, with only Russia’s incarceration rate being anywhere near that of the U.S. Slave labor is routine in America’s prisons.

Justice System

  • Nazi Germany: The Nazis had a three-tiered “justice” system: one for the rich and powerful (who could get away with virtually anything); a second for the average citizen; a third for despised minorities and political foes.
  • U.S.: There’s also a three-tiered “justice” system here: one for the rich and powerful (who can get away with virtually anything); a second for middle-class white people; and a third for everyone else. It’s no accident that America’s prisons are filled with poor people, especially blacks and hispanics. At the same time cops routinely get away with murder of blacks, hispanics, and poor whites. Obama’s “Justice” Department never even investigated the largest financial fraud in world history that led to the 2008 crash, let alone charged those responsible; prosecutors routinely pile on charges against average citizens to blackmail them into plea bargaining and pleading guilty to charges of which they’re not guilty; and the Obama Administration (and now the Trump Administration) viciously goes after whistleblowers and reporters, who have exposed its wrongdoing–Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, James Risen, et al.

Suppression of Unions

  • Nazi Germany: In Nazi Germany, the government tightly controlled the unions, and used them as arms of the state.
  • U.S.: In the U.S., the government merely suppresses strikes when “in the national interest” and allows corporations to crush union organizing drives through intimidation and by firing anyone who dares to attempt to organize. (Admittedly, the sell-out, visionless AFL-CIO unions bear considerable responsibility for this sad state of affairs.)

Free Speech

  • Nazi Germany: Total suppression of free speech; direct government control of the media.
  • U.S.: There’s near total corporate control of the media, and suppression of free speech when it shows the faintest sign of threatening, or even embarrassing, the government or the corporations that control the government. Obama’s war on whistleblowers and reporters — and now Trump’s — is only the latest example. Of late, Trump has upped the ante, routinely attacking journalists who report anything even slightly embarrassing to him, or who point out any of his almost innumerable lies.

Other Civil Liberties

  • Nazi Germany: Total suppression.
  • U.S.: Suppression when individuals exercising those liberties show the faintest sign of threatening the government or the corporations that control the government. The coordinated suppression (by the FBI, local governments, and corporate security agencies) of the Occupy Movement nationwide is the latest large-scale example.

Government Spying

  • Nazi Germany: The government had a massive eavesdropping operation. No citizen was safe from government scrutiny.
  • U.S.: The FBI, DHS, and NSA make the Nazis look like amateurs.

Free Elections

  • Nazi Germany: Total suppression
  • U.S.: U.S. citizens have the opportunity to vote for the millionaire representatives (over half of congress at last count) of the two wings of the property party: one wing being authoritarian, corporate-servant, crazy theofascists (yes, they meet the definition), the other wing being merely authoritarian corporate servants who routinely betray those who elect them. It’s also pertinent that the Republicans are doing their best to destroy what passes for American electoral democracy through egregious gerrymandering and voter suppression on an industrial scale.

Racism

  • Nazi Germany: Do I even need to cite details?
  • U.S.A.: (We’ll restrict ourselves here to the present.) The “justice” system imprisons blacks at a rate over five times that of whites, and hispanics at a rate about 30% higher than whites. Cops routinely get away with murdering poor people, a disproportionate number of them blacks and hispanics. Median household wealth for whites is 13 times that of blacks. And median household income for whites is 60% higher than that of blacks and hispanics. Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric and racial scapegoating of Mexicans is merely the cherry atop this merde sundae.

Personality Cult

  • Nazi Germany: Again, do I even need to cite details?
  • U.S.A.: Trump worship is rampant on the evangelical right, who see this steaming pile of hypocrisy and narcissism as the means to their vicious ends. And Trump encourages sycophancy. The cringe-inducing filmed cabinet meeting a couple of months ago in which the cabinet secretaries heaped fulsome (in both senses of the word) praise and thanks on the dear leader is but one example. Another example: Yesterday, presidential aide and Trump toady Steven Miller said on Fox “News” that Trump — who would likely flunk a fourth-grade English test — was the “best orator to hold that office [president] in generations.”

Yes, there are very significant differences between Nazi Germany and the U.S. But they seem to grow smaller with every passing day.


TOUGH, n. A term used by sycophants to describe powerful politicians, especially heads of state. It normally means: 1) callous; 2) having little regard for human life; 3) ready and willing to shed the blood of others while running no personal risk of injury.

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–from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, the best modern successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary

 


There’s been a lot of head scratching, both from the corporate media and from the left, about why white evangelicals were attracted to Donald Trump in the first place (81% voted for him), and why they’re sticking with him — a sad excuse for a man who, by their own moral standards, is garbage: a narcissist, hypocrite, habitual liar, boastful sexual predator, mob crony, bully, swindler, scapegoating racist, and entitled rich kid who’s never done an honest day’s work in his life.

Why are evangelicals sticking with and fervently supporting  this walking embodiment of the Seven Deadly Sins (as Grant Brisbee so eloquently puts it)?

Pundits have provided many answers to this question, some correct in part. Here are a few of the most common answers:

  • Trump’s hatefulness and racial scapegoating appeal to evangelicals, because evangelicals are racists. In a lot of cases, this is undoubtedly true. (Check out the maps of evangelical religious belief in the U.S. and maps showing the locations of lynchings: the maps almost perfectly overlap. Even though most lynchings took place decades ago, religious beliefs have largely remained static [evangelical] where the vast majority of lynchings occurred.)
  • Trump finds it easy to manipulate evangelicals, because evangelicals are dumb and uneducated. There is an inverse correlation between IQ and religiosity, and among predominantly white religious groups evangelicals are among the least educated.  So, Trump’s anti-science, anti-intellectual, “ignorance is strength” rhetoric is tailor made to appeal to evangelicals.
  • Trump plays to evangelicals’ sense of victimization. Many evangelicals are so unhinged that they believe Christians are being persecuted in a land where Christians comprise 70% of the population and over 90% of lawmakers. The “religious freedom” (to discriminate) bills so popular with evangelicals and their political manipulators are testimony to this. Trump flatters evangelicals, plays to their delusions, and presents himself as their defender.

There’s much truth in the above, but there’s more to it. In addition to presenting himself as evangelicals’ defender, Trump has also positioned himself as being as mean spirited and authoritarian as most of them are. For once, one suspects that Trump is being genuine. To quote Fred Woodworth, viciousness and vindictiveness run “like a white hot wire” through American evangelicalism, as they do through Trump’s rhetoric. To cite but one of innumerable examples of the viciousness that characterizes evangelicals, among American religious groups evangelicals are the most likely to support torture.

But most importantly, white evangelicals are authoritarian. They’re ready, in fact eager, to use violence and coercion to impose their beliefs on others, and they see Trump as a convenient tool to that end. His viciousness, hypocrisy, and authoritarianism bother them not a whit. (Undoubtedly, many evangelicals are willfully ignorant of these things — blind to the blindingly obvious; others probably admire these qualities, because of mutual resemblance.)

Evangelical pastors laying hands on Donald Trump

To evangelicals, the ends justify the means, even if that means is a steaming pile of moral toxic waste. Even though Trump isn’t one of them, they see him as the means to their ends.

That is why evangelicals overwhelmingly support Donald Trump, and that is why they’ll continue to do so.