Finally!

I’ve about had it with these incessant articles from an incredulous press, where some reporter runs off to some exotic (to them) rural locale where the locals mostly voted for Donald Trump,
and they goggle a bit and report back that, amazingly, the people here belong to the genus Homo
and have two legs and two arms and two eyes, and gosh no, they ain’t racist, no, not a bit — they’re just economically distressed. It’s a genre of lazy reporting that also includes all those interviews prior to an election with “the undecided voter”, as if finding the least informed, most chicken-shit citizens in the country will reveal some great insight.

Finally, though, one reporter turns that all on its head and journeys to the heart of anti-Trump country to report on the savage opinions of the well-educated. He goes to Mount Airy/Germantown in Philadelphia. I knew those places well, although I was apparently not well educated enough, liberal enough, or wealthy enough to actually be able to afford to live there.

In Philadelphia’s 22nd Ward, which covers Germantown and parts of Mount Airy, Clinton got 12,050 votes in 2016, and Trump received a mere 342 — and I did not run across any of those lonely 342 during my reporting. One of the more ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city, Mount Airy and Germantown are also well-educated spots, described once as “a Ph.D ghetto.” More than the numbers, though, I wanted to see a place where, in the words of one Nobel laureate, there was “There was music in the cafés at night/And revolution in the air.”

As you might expect, all is not well among the aboriginals.

“Everybody here hates Trump — that’s why I like to live here,” said Raab — a sentiment I heard from more than one person. “I have a neighbor who couldn’t eat for four days” after the election. Like many folks, Raab has turned to activism — joining the January 21 Women’s March in Center City and giving away what she called “tons of money” to groups like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Despite all that, Raab said she feels pessimism about where America is at after one year of Trump, hours after the president used Twitter to threaten war with North Korea. “I don’t have hope,” she said, “as everyday there’s something worse and worse.”

I’m not giving up all hope just yet, although it is only hanging on by a sliver. I’m still hoping the next election will be a massive uprising to overthrow the known-nothings and bigots.

Weed Nazis?

There are Nazis in Eugene, Oregon! I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise: Eugene is a very white city, Oregon has an intensely racist history, and the University of Oregon has had some, errm, incidents in its past, but it’s also extraordinarily liberal/progressive, so it’s disappointing to see it in the news now for its few noisy neo-Nazis, some of whom are profiting from the marijuana trade — Weed Nazis are now a thing.

That stubborn legacy of bigotry persists in Eugene, where city officials this year have recorded nearly 60 hate crimes, up from 44 last year. Officials said vandalism and graffiti made up 20 percent of the hate crimes reported between January and October.

Statewide, hate crimes were up 60 percent in 2016 from the previous year, representing one of the largest increases of any state, according to an analysis of federal data by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

In 2016, Eugene had more hate crimes than any other place in Oregon, said Brian Levin, director of the center.

I’m sure no one is surprised that Nazis are feeling empowered nowadays — they’ve installed a few in the White House. It’s also sad, though, that my old neighborhood is featured in the story.

The city’s Whiteaker neighborhood, a vibrant arts and entertainment district, attracted a rash of Nazi-inspired graffiti in February. Residents and business owners also awoke during that time to find the area leafleted with recruitment fliers that proclaimed, “Diversity is a code word for white genocide.”

Yikes. We lived with our two little boys, one just an infant, on Clark street, and I remember it as a quiet residential neighborhood with flower gardens, a nice view of Skinner’s Butte, and a short walk to the Willamette River — I’d take my oldest on little red wagon rides across the footbridge to the movie theater. And now it’s got Nazis. That’s just not right.

At least Eugene also has a vibrant and active antifa presence, which helps.

History will eat the rich, but unfortunately they’re dragging the rest of us down with them

Brad DeLong has a few words of warning for the rich plutocrats who support Trump and are enjoying the ill-gotten gains of their gigantic tax cut. Pay attention to history, because it really sucks to be rich under a tyranny. You’ve created a machine that sucks wealth upward, and when you’ve got all the money, you become the target.

To be blunt: a social democratic middle-class society is much better society in which to have a large stock of entrepreneurial, inherited, or rent-derived wealth than is a communist society. But it is also a much friendlier society to the wealthy than is a fascist society. And social democracy and fascism—hard or, if you are lucky, soft—are the only options the future will allow: tertium non datur.

The political descendants of the politicians today you support who lead chants of “lock her up“ will be the greatest threat to the liberty, the wealth, and perhaps even the lives of those of your grandchildren and great grandchildren who are plutocrats. Look ahead into the future a little bit. Do not focus on the pile of moolah under your nose.

It did not take long for the breakdown of elite political norms provoked by the desire of the political military plutocrats of the Roman Republic to aggrandize the benefits of the post Hannibal creation of the empire to lead the vultures home to roost. In Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica led a mob of senators into the street, shouting “Now that the consul has betrayed the state, let every man who wishes to uphold the laws follow me!” to murder the tribune Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and annul the Lex Sempronia Agraria as too great a distribution of the profits of empire away from the oligarchy. Ten years later Lucius Opimius armed himself with the legal figleaf of the Senatus Consultum Ultimum before murdering Tiberius’s brother Gaius and 3000 of Gaius’s affinity. Thus was the Roman Republic set on to the “why speak of laws? we carry swords” road of Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, Caesar, and Octavian—and that road ended at a place where the wealthy found themselves attainted and executed at the pleasure of the princeps in order to fund bribes to praetorians.

Under the Roman Empire, the way to become the subject of a treason trial wasn’t necessarily to have committed treason — it was to have a big pot of wealth that the Emperor wanted. Look up the law of maiestas. Look up delatores. If we go down that path,the rich are going to have to hide, or face death, disgrace, and most intolerable to you greedy motherfuckers, confiscation of all of your properties by the Top Dog, whoever that is.

We aren’t going to last as long as the Roman Empire, though. One thing about an imperial tyranny where a few authoritarians can lay down an iron law is that it can last quite a long time — 1500 years of bloody imperial Roman history was quite impressive. We’ve added something novel to the mix here in the United States of America: we’ve given all the citizens a megaphone, and every lunatic fringe element is babbling away. The likes of Alex Jones gibbering away incessantly in the background, the transparent propaganda of Fox News hypnotizing the foolish, militias popping up everywhere with ludicrous interpretations of the Constitution, megachurches peddling death cult Christianity — in addition to undermining democracy, the right-wing authoritarians have normalized crazy. Destabilizing the country is what they want, but they’re going to reap what they sow.

You know, I grew up in the shadow of The Bomb, where there was fear of a looming apocalypse everywhere. We thought that what was going to kill us was our dangerous technological brilliance — we were just too dang smart for our own good. We were wrong. It’s our ignorance that is going to destroy us, our contempt for the social sciences and humanities, our dismissal of the importance of history, sociology, and psychology in maintaining a healthy, stable society that people would want to live in. A complex society requires a framework of cooperation and interdependence to survive, and without people who care about how it works and monitors its functioning, it’s susceptible to parasites and exploiters and random wreckers. Ignorance and malice allow a Brexit to happen, or a Trump to get elected, or a Sulla to march on Rome to ‘save the Republic’.

This is my dream

We must destroy the Republican party. Fairly, but utterly.

Then in 2020, Trump must be crushed at the ballot box. His corrupt administration must be thoroughly investigated, and any criminal acts punished. More importantly, the economic base of Republican plutocracy — Wall Street, monopolist corporations, and idle rich heirs and heiresses — must also be crushed. Monopolies must be broken up, taxes on the rich and corporations dramatically increased, and the size, profitability, and power of Wall Street sharply reduced with cricket bat regulations.

Meanwhile, Democrats must strengthen their own political base by strengthening democratic freedoms. They should make D.C. and Puerto Rico states, establish an inalienable right to vote, make Election Day a holiday, and strengthen and update labor law to spark a new wave of union organizing. Then they must overhaul the economy to cut the middle and working class in on the fruits of the last 40 years of economic growth, actually provide health care for all, and perhaps strengthen the welfare state for parents and children. Only by establishing a new political economy that functions for the great majority of the citizenry — as FDR and the New Deal Democrats did in the 1930s — can Republicans be firmly exiled from political power. For a political party as diseased as the GOP, a generation in the political wilderness is just what the doctor ordered.

Ahed Tamimi: now that’s bravery

Tamimi is a Palestinian teenager who was protesting the occupation of her home by Israeli soldiers — and she is not shy about kicking and slapping these heavily armed men who tower over her.

If you’re wondering why Tamimi is so furious, you haven’t been paying attention. The government of Israel has been following a pattern of brutal oppression for decades.

Two Fridays ago, one week before Ahed chased the soldiers from her yard, it was her cousin Mohammad, one of her little brother’s closest friends. A soldier shot him in the face. The bullet—rubber-coated but a bullet nonetheless—lodged in his skull. A week later, he was still in a medically-induced coma.

If you’ve seen the video that led to her arrest, you might have wondered why Ahed was so angry at the soldiers who entered her yard, why she yelled at them to leave, why she slapped them. That’s why. That and a thousand other reasons. Her uncle and her cousin killed. Her mother shot in the leg and on crutches for most of a year. Her parents and her brother taken from her for months at a time. And never a night’s rest without the possibility that she might wake, as she did early Tuesday morning, as she had so many times before, to soldiers at the door, in her house, in her room, there to take someone away.

Tamimi has now been arrested. Apparently trying to throw soldiers who are occupying your front yard out is a crime so heinous it warrants threats of life imprisonment.

The gulf between the two opposing fantasies that define Israel’s self-image has only grown with the years: a country that still imagines itself to be David to the Arab Goliath—noble, outnumbered, and brave—while taking pride in the unrivaled lethality and sophistication of its military. Ahed made both those convictions crumble. Before the world, she had again revealed Israel to be the bully. And watching that video, they knew that their guns are worthless, their strength a sham. For revealing those secrets, for showing the world how weak and fearful they know themselves to be, Ahed had to be punished. And so the Defense Minister of the country with the most technologically advanced military in the world stooped from his throne to personally promise that not just Ahed and her parents but “everyone around them” would get “what they deserve.” The Minister of Education was more specific: Ahed should be locked up for life, he said, so serious was her crime.

That’s not all. Some Israelis think the appropriate response would be to torture or rape her.

Prominent Israeli journalist Ben Caspit caused international furor last week, when he wrote in his Maariv article that “in the case of the girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras”.

Israel is our ally, as is Saudi Arabia. When will we wake up and realize that our friends are horrible and abusive, and maybe shouldn’t be our friends?

(Maybe when we wake up and realize the US has been horrible and abusive to its own citizens.)

A repugnant and short-sighted “what if?” scenario

Have you ever wondered how long the US military would last in a war against the rest of the world? Let’s ask a a delusional military fantasist!

What would happen if the U.S. found itself facing off against the rest of the world? Not just its traditional rivals, but what if it had to fight off its allies like the United Kingdom, France, and South Korea as well?

In short, America would stomp them. Especially if it pulled back to the continental U.S. and made its stand there.

I guess we’re going to pretend Vietnam never happened by imagining that we bunker down behind our borders with a wall of steel facing outwards. The author then laughs triumphantly about all our aircraft carriers, our F-22s (What? Not the F-35?), our Patriot missiles that will shoot down their missiles, our wonderful tanks and our superior infantry. It’s kind of disgusting. What he’s proposing is the North Korea strategy: us against the world! Close our borders! Everyone is our enemy, we must destroy them, and we can!

He imagines our forces as they are, except all conveniently concentrated right here at home, and the rest of the world as it is, only generaled by idiots who decide to throw everything they’ve now got right at us, all at once. That’s not how it would happen.

I can believe the first part happening, now that our government has wrecked itself. I can picture an increasingly paranoid, isolationist America bottling itself up and wallowing in propaganda, treating the rest of the world as useless and unimportant. Yeah, we could get that far. Of course, our triumphalist author who is busy counting tanks isn’t bothering to consider economics and the importance of world-wide communication to advancements in science and technology. He doesn’t care that we don’t have the industry to support his military machine without external cooperation and trade.

He also doesn’t consider a realistic response by the rest of the world. They would treat the US like we now treat North Korea, a pariah nation that is going to be confined and allowed to rot within the ruins of its own economy, while keeping a wary eye out for outburst of externally directed violence. If we are a real military threat rather than a bunch of mad-eyed fanatics hunkered down behind our Border Walls™, they’re not going to just throw their currently smaller forces at us. They’re going to build with the resources of a world economy. They’re going to wait for ingrown, decaying nation to spend itself on corruption and waste and stupid decision-making, like the kind that would have put us into this situation in the first place.

Like the kind that allows military day dreamers like that author to play victorious war games in their head. Our security does not rest in more and bigger guns, it resides in greater cooperation and trust. We can’t stand alone, and what I find scary is that there are people who think a bunch of M1 Abrams tanks is all we need to be safe and happy, and that military porn is reassuring.

Where’s Libertarian Gavin?

The latest company to be shaken up by revelations about corporate culture is Vice Media, maker of edgy documentaries, and a booming 4+ billion dollar organization. It turns out the company is run by assholes. This thread is full of enraging stories from insiders. It was so bad that the founders had to openly admit to it and apologize.

Cultural elements from our past, dysfunction and mismanagement were allowed to flourish unchecked. That includes a detrimental ‘boys’ club’ culture that fostered inappropriate behaviour that permeated throughout the company.

From the top down, we have failed as a company to create a safe and inclusive workplace where everyone, especially women, can feel respected and thrive.

Whoa. It must be awful if the company doesn’t even try denial or making a dodgy not-pology.

Only there’s one thing missing here: I read through the articles in the New York Times and the Guardian, and they mention two of the three founders of Vice, Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi, but they never mention Gavin McInnes. I know McInnes was rather thoroughly excised from the company years ago, but you know he had to have played a part in establishing Vice’s culture. You know, racist, sexist, dumbass McInnes.

McInnes wasn’t a silent, passive cog in the VICE machine, either. While Shane Smith may have become its public face, McInnes is its soul. In the early years, he almost single-handedly wrote entire issues of the magazine, using multiple pseudonyms to make it feel like a fully-fledged publication rather than the amateurish, DIY operation that it was in reality. Smith and Alvi sold ad space and handled logistics. But that snide, facetious tone that VICE is so renowned for today is McInnes’s creation, as is the legendary DOs & DON’Ts column and just about everything else that made it worth reading. Without him, there would probably be no VICE as we know it today.

What I found most interesting about that article on McInnes, though, is the sharp and accurate deconstruction of Libertarianism, a toxic ideology that thoroughly saturates many of the worst people in politics, the media, and social media.

While the Christian right wants to moralize and snoop on people in their bedrooms to prevent them from having anything but very vanilla, Jesus-celebrating sex purely for the purposes of procreation, libertarians rarely tell other people how to live. But this shouldn’t be mistaken for tolerance: while liberals believe in maximizing collective freedom for everybody in society through laws and government policy, even if that means sacrificing a degree of personal freedom, libertarians want to selfishly maximize their individual freedom by eroding the state.

There’s a reason why most prominent libertarians are straight, well-off white men: because they don’t need government to intervene on their behalf. They occupy a default position of privileged dominance that has historically infringed upon women, the poor and minorities.

They like to paint government as an oppressive force, because it has taken away some of their privilege – although they prefer to call it “freedom” for propaganda purposes, in the same way that former slave-owning states objected to the Civil Rights Act on the basis of “state rights,” rather than “white supremacy” – and redistributed it across society. Although its adherents would argue otherwise, American libertarianism is pretty much just run-of-the-mill conservatism only without such actively fascistic tendencies. That’s not to say that those tendencies aren’t there, they’re just not so overt.

Libertarians don’t want to actively discriminate against any particular group, at least not officially, but they do want to dismantle government-imposed safeguards that protect those vulnerable to discrimination and make society fairer – a clear sign that people who drift towards libertarianism do so because they have likely never felt oppressed, marginalized or exploited.

There is no element of Gavin’s libertarianism that contradicts the drugs, the sex, the gay people, or anything else that defined VICE during his time at the publication. In fact, all throughout his 14-year tenure, he was known for making politically outrageous remarks that regularly drew accusations of racism, homophobia and every other sort of indictment that right-wingers contend with on a regular basis.

The articles also don’t discuss Smith’s or Alvi’s politics, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess they lean libertarian, too. It’s exactly the kind of ideology that allows offenses to run rampant, just as we’re seeing now.