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Racism against Asian-Americans is a sickness – posted 3/16/2021

March 16, 2021 Leave a comment

When President Joe Biden delivered his first prime-time speech about the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11, he condemned attacks on Asian-Americans. The attacks have occurred with frequency over the last year and have included physical assaults, vandalism, verbal harassment and murder.

Elderly Asian-Americans and women have particularly been targeted. In the Bay Area, in February, Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84 year old immigrant from Thailand was brutally assaulted and shoved to the ground while on a morning walk. He sustained brain hemorrhaging and died.

In April last year, a 39 year old Asian-American woman was doused with a caustic chemical as she took out trash in front of her home in Brooklyn New York. She sustained severe burns to her face, neck, hands and back.

The advocacy organization, Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate, logged 2808 first hand accounts of hostile and violent incidents directed against Asian-Americans between March 19, 2020 -December 31, 2020. These occurred in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

Examples of the violence abound:

A 67 year old Asian-American man from San Francisco was standing in an aisle in a hardware store when suddenly he was struck from behind. Video surveillance at the store verified the incident in which a white male used his bent elbow to strike the man’s upper back. The white guy launched a verbal tirade saying “Shut up, you Monkey!”, “F— you, Chinaman”, “Go back to China” and “Stop bringing the Chinese virus here”.

On March 9, a stranger approached an 83 year old Asian-American woman who was walking on a sidewalk near her home in Westchester, New York. The stranger cocked his head and then spit in her face. He then punched her in the nose, knocking her unconscious and causing extensive bleeding.

On February 3, another stranger approached a 61 year old Filipino-American, Noel Quintana, on the New York City subway and slashed his face from cheek to cheek with a box cutter. “Nobody came, nobody helped, nobody made a video”, he said.

While it is hard to know what is going on in the mind of those carrying out the assaults, there is now a well-established pattern directed against Asian-Americans. Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director of the Asian-American Federation, a collection of New York City non-profits, has said “The attacks are random and they are fast and furious.”

For many urban Asian-Americans, the effects of the attacks are tangible. People are afraid to leave their homes. They are afraid to go to the grocery store or to travel alone on public transportation. They change their travel route out of fear. Peoples’ sense of personal safety has been eroded.

Another dimension is the racist bullying of Asian-American youth during the pandemic. More Asian-American children have stayed home as they have also been targets of harassment, shunning and cyberbullying.

While America has a long xenophobic tradition with extensive scapegoating of Asians in the past, I think former President Donald Trump bears a high degree of personal responsibility for the anti-Asian violence. He repeatedly called the coronavirus the “China flu” and the “Kung flu”.

Blaming China for the spread of the virus was a form of scapegoating. It was a convenient form of blame-shifting. The “China virus” rhetoric obscured the Trump Administration’s disastrous mis-handling of the pandemic which has led to countless needless deaths.

Identifying the coronavirus with a nationality is a dangerous and irresponsible characterization. The origins of the virus are still murky but the conspiracy theory accusing China of manufacturing the coronavirus as a deliberate act of bioterrorism is widely discredited. Can there be any doubt that many unhinged Trump followers would transfer the association of the virus as “Chinese” to Chinese people?

I do believe Trump’s words had consequences. They led to more Americans perceiving Asian-Americans as foreign and un-American. This is similar to the hate unleashed against Muslims after 9/11. History shows that all it takes is a loose association.

The Anti-Defamation League issued a study last October that showed a dramatic spike in anti-Asian sentiment after President Trump tested positive for coronavirus. For days after Trump’s diagnosis, the percentage of anti-Asian language on Twitter remained higher than usual. At that time, Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said:

“The level of hatred and vitriol that was aimed at Asian-Americans and Chinese people on social media is simply staggering. The hate speech and stereotyping are irresponsible and can spill over into real world violence.”

The tendency to vilify minorities during times of crisis is long-standing. Professor Sherry Wang of Santa Clara University has written that the U.S. has often promoted racist myths to portray different groups of people as inferior, dirty and dangerous to white people. She cites the “Yellow Peril” stereotype. In the 1880’s Chinese laborers were scapegoated for a bad economy as they competed for jobs.

There is a history of tying Chinese people to the spread of diseases. Public health authorities misrepresented Asians as diseased carriers of incurable diseases, like small pox and bubonic plague. The association between disease and immigrants was used as a catalyst for immigration restrictions in the early 20th century.

Asian workers played a critical role in building the American infrastructure in the West, particularly railroads, but they were seen as “other” by whites. A white supremacist movement promoted the belief Chinese workers were stealing jobs.

These attitudes, encouraged by power elites, led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which prevented Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States. It was the first law that excluded an entire ethnic group.

Many cities and towns throughout the West also expelled Chinese residents from their jurisdictions. In the fall of 1885, a white mob in Tacoma Washington kicked down doors, dragged Chinese from their homes, and violently expelled the Chinese population from the city. The mob then burned down Chinatown.

In the late 19th century, Chinese people in the United States were lynched with impunity. The largest mass lynching in American history occurred in 1871 when an anti-Chinese mob attacked Chinatown in Los Angeles. There were 18 lynching victims.

Asian-Americans had little legal recourse then. In California, an 1854 California Supreme Court case ruled that Asians were not allowed to testify in court as they were explicitly considered inferior. In 1863, the California legislature passed a statute prohibiting Asian Americans from testifying in court as either witnesses or victims.

Blaming Asian-Americans for public health crises is nothing new. But it needs to be said that the idea that Asian-Americans are spreading the coronavirus in America is malicious nonsense. It is time to pierce the invisibility of the racist hate being directed against Asian-Americans.

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Mud season – posted 3/12/2021

March 12, 2021 1 comment
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Jakarta is coming – posted 3/10/2021

March 11, 2021 2 comments

It has now been over five years since the 50th anniversary of the Indonesian genocide. That 1965 genocide remains largely unknown. No genocide has received less mass media attention.

In that genocide carried out by the Indonesian military and death squads, an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 people perished. The Indonesian military herded another million into concentration camps. The murders were directed against the Indonesian Communist Party, the broader left wing community, trade unionists, teachers and loyalists to President Sukarno who was then the leader of the country.

Estimates have varied about how many died. Some estimates go as high as a million dead. The killing got completely out of hand sweeping up many thousands who were deemed to have insufficient loyalty and fervor for the new military regime of General Suharto.

A big part of the reason that genocide has received less attention is because of whom the victims were. Defeating the Indonesian left was seen as a huge win for the United States. At the time, the Indonesian Communist Party, called the PKI, was the third largest communist party in the world besides China and the Soviet Union.

The PKI’s strategy of non-violent, direct engagement with the masses of people had made it very popular. Almost a third of the country’s registered voters were PKI-affiliates.The PKI had a close alliance with President Sukarno. They had no arms and they were pursuing a peaceful transition to socialism. They relied on their relationship with President Sukarno for influencing policy.

We are now learning more about the Indonesian genocide. Although it received little publicity in the United States, there was an International People’s Tribunal held in The Hague in 2015 about the Indonesian mass murders. An independent tribunal of judges issued a final report with a concluding statement:

“The judges consider that allegations by the prosecution of cruel and unspeakable murders and mass murders of over tens of thousands of people, of unjustifiable imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of people without trial and for unduly long periods in crowded conditions, and the subjection of many of the people in prison to inhumane and ruthless torture and to forced labor that might well have amounted to enslavement, are well founded.”

The Tribunal found that the Indonesian mass killings of 1965 were crimes against humanity and they also found the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia were complicit in the mass murder. The judges found the United States supported the Indonesian military “knowing well that they were embarked upon a program of mass killing”.

The United States had a long history training the Indonesian military. When General Suharto seized power, the United States, through Voice of America, spread propaganda to demonize the left. Also, Washington provided vital mobile communications equipment to the military.

Most tragically, the U.S. embassy, with help from CIA analysts, prepared lists with the names of thousands of leftists and leftist sympathizers and handed them over to the Indonesian Army. These people were then murdered and checked off the list.

The Washington Post reporter, Vincent Bevins, in his book, The Jakarta Method, has looked more deeply into these events. Bevins says the United States won the Cold War but, in the process, it created a loose network of U.S. backed anticommunist extermination programs that carried out mass murder in multiple countries. 

The Jakarta method refers to the model of mass extermination employed by the Indonesian military. Bevins says that Jakarta became an explicit model for military dictatorships in the 1970’s including Brazil, Chile and Argentina. He argues 22 countries with U.S.-backed anticommunist extermination programs carried out mass murders between 1945 to 2000. Bevins distinguishes these mass murders from regular war and collateral damage from military engagements.

In Chile, before the coup against President Salvador Allende, the word “Jakarta” started appearing, plastered on walls in Santiago. Left wing activists started receiving postcards saying “Jakarta is coming”. To quote Bevins on Jakarta:

“It meant anticommunist mass murder. It meant the state organized extermination of civilians who opposed the construction of capitalist authoritarian regimes loyal to the United States. It meant forced disappearances and unrepentant state terror. And it would be employed far and wide in Latin America over the next two decades.”

Operation Condor was one subsequent expression of Jakarta. In 1975, representatives from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile decided to work together to torture and kill those they considered subversive. The U.S. government provided planning, coordinating, training on torture, technical aid and military support to the various authoritarian governments. This was largely a CIA project. The alliance set up a program to collaborate to exterminate their enemies worldwide.

Most famously, a Condor operative, Michael Townley, an American with CIA and Chilean secret police connections, organized the murder of the former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his American assistant, Ronni Moffett, by car bomb in Washington DC in 1976. The Chilean dictator, General Pinochet, ordered the murder.

General Antonio Domingo of Argentina explained the outlook of those behind Operation Condor:

“First we will kill all subversives, then we will kill all of their collaborators, then those who sympathize with subversives, then we will kill those who remain indifferent and finally we kill the timid.”

Jakarta was about the mass murder of unarmed civilians. Bevins shows how events in Indonesia in the 1960’s-1970’s were actually far more consequential for American foreign policy than events in Vietnam. Indonesia was far larger and of more geopolitical importance than Vietnam.

Before 1965, Indonesia had been a leader of the non-aligned movement and the struggle against colonialism. After centuries of exploitation, Indonesia and other Third World countries wanted economic sovereignty and better terms within the global economic system. The genocide kept Indonesia in the American sphere of influence but, in effect, the country evolved into a grossly under-developed neo-colony. If anything, over time, the economic gap between U.S. wealth and Indonesian poverty has widened.

Bevins shows the demonization, isolation, and trauma experienced by the victims of the Indonesian military that continues to this day. He also shows the dilemma the extreme violence has posed for those who advocated a peaceful transition to democratic socialism. In Indonesia, the peaceful path resulted in annihilation. Bevins does not deny the brutal crimes carried out by communists such as in Cambodia but he says those events are much better known.

The government of Indonesia has failed to take responsibility or even acknowledge the horrible atrocities of the genocide. Similarly, the U.S. has hidden its role in this massively shameful crime. Our media has abetted the crime by failing to cover and educate the public about the genocide. Maybe someday though justice will demand an accounting. 

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Celebrating Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021) – posted 2/28/2021

February 28, 2021 Leave a comment

In America, poets remain largely unknown. Most write in obscurity. It is a rare poet who breaks through and develops a mass audience. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who died on February 22 was one of those rare poets who had a mass, non-academic audience. He was a major force in 20th century American culture.

A poet, a painter, a publisher and a progressive activist, Ferlinghetti lived in San Francisco in the North Beach neighborhood. Probably, most famously, he was a co-founder of City Lights Bookstore which both sold books and had a publishing wing. If Ferlinghetti had a mission it was to democratize literature and make it accessible to all. He wrote:

“From the beginning the aim was to publish across the board, avoiding the provincial and the academic, and not publishing (that pitfall of the little press) just ‘our gang’. I had in mind rather an international, dissident, insurgent ferment.”

Ferlinghetti regarded poetry as a powerful social force and not one reserved for an intellectual elite. He always supported writers and poets who were outsiders, not part of any mainstream.

Like many, I discovered Ferlinghetti in the late 1960’s. Somehow, I got my hands on a copy of his book Coney Island of the Mind. I remember the lines:

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
If you don’t mind happiness
not always being
so very much fun

If you don’t mind a touch of hell

now and then

just when everything is fine…

Coney Island sold over a million copies. Next to Allen Ginsberg’s book, Howl and Other Poems, it has been the most popular book of modern American poetry.

I have been fortunate to get to the Bay Area a few times and I always made a bee-line to City Lights. Opened in 1953, it was the first paperback bookstore. Back in the 1950’s, paperbacks weren’t considered real books. The poet, Tess Taylor described City Lights:

“To enter that bookstore was and is a joy, the kind of thing that will set your mind on fire and your heart thumping.”

I remember the large banner outside the store “Dissent is not un-American”. No one got pestered or kicked out of that store for looking at books. There were chairs and sofas and you could browse for as long as you wanted.

City Lights was a hangout and a mecca for the literary community. Among others, Ferlinghetti played a role in promoting the careers of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder. He later inspired a Ferlinghetti Poetry Fellowship at the University of San Francisco which supports emerging poets whose work embodies a concern for social justice and freedom of expression. Ferlinghetti touched and inspired countless young aspiring poets and writers.

Ferlinghetti’s background is not what you might expect. He had an unhappy childhood and he grew up essentially an orphan. His father died before he was born. When he was very young, his mother was committed to a mental hospital. He was raised by an aunt who worked as a governess for a wealthy family in Bronxville, New York. His aunt then disappeared, leaving Lawrence with an unrelated family.

The family took him in as foster parents and raised him. They sent him to a private boy’s school. Lawrence escaped into reading.

After attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he joined the Navy. As a naval officer he commanded a sub chaser in the North Atlantic. He witnessed the Normandy invasion from offshore in the English Channel. He was part of the anti-submarine screen around the beaches. He was later transferred to the Pacific theater. He saw the ruins of Nagasaki seven weeks after the atomic bombing. It turned him into a pacifist and a lifelong opponent of nuclear weapons.

After the war, he got doctorates at Columbia and the Sorbonne on the GI bill. He started to write poetry. He had a journalism degree but he decided journalism in the New York area was impossible. He moved to San Fransisco. He liked the Mediterranean feel of the city.

Once there, he started to listen to the poet Kenneth Rexroth who had a show on KPFA radio. Rexroth had soirees on Friday nights and Ferlinghetti started going. Rexroth was a great poet in his own right and he was also a philosophical anarchist. Rexroth played a big role in Ferlinghetti’s political education.

In 1955 Ferlinghetti met Allen Ginsberg at a reading of Howl. Very enthused, he pushed Ginsberg for permission to publish it. Howl was printed in Britain and shipped to San Francisco where Ferlinghetti displayed it prominently at City Lights. Two undercover cops from the San Francisco police juvenile bureau walked into the store, bought a copy of Howl and then busted Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg for “willfully and lewdly publishing obscene writing”.

Ferlinghetti said:

“I wasn’t worried. I was young and foolish. I figured I’d get a lot of reading done in jail and they wouldn’t keep me in there forever. And anyway it really put the book on the map.”

The ACLU defended Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg. They challenged both the arrests and the legal basis for the case against obscenity. After a lengthy trial in municipal court, Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg won. The verdict set a precedent, weakening obscenity laws and heralding a new freedom for book publishers.

Ferlinghetti remained an uncompromising voice of integrity. He embodied the (now declining) bohemian spirit of San Fransisco. He never sold out. He always cared that the average person not get screwed over. In 1977, he said:

“You’re supposed to get more conservative the older you get, I seem to be getting just the opposite.”

He was somewhat pessimistic though. Toward the end of his life he told the Guardian that he still hoped for a political revolution but said:

“…the U.S. isn’t ready for a revolution… It would take a whole new generation not devoted to the glorification of the capitalist system…a generation not trapped in the me, me, me.”

San Francisco named March 24, 2019, Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day. It was his 100th birthday. In 1998, San Francisco had named Ferlinghetti the first poet laureate of the city. The city also designated City Lights a historic landmark. During his life, Ferlinghetti wrote 50 volumes of poetry, novels and travel journals.

I like this advice he offered:

“If you would be a poet, write living newspapers. Be a reporter from outer space, filing dispatches to some supreme managing editor who believes in full disclosure and has a low tolerance for bullshit.”

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Rush Limbaugh, toxic entertainer – posted 2/21/2021

February 21, 2021 4 comments

I did not plan to say anything about the exit of Rush Limbaugh from our vale of tears based on the saying that if you do not have something good to say, it is better to say nothing at all. There is also the adage not to speak ill of the dead. Still, the praise Rush received upon his passing forced me to reconsider.

Former President George W. Bush described Rush as “an indomitable spirit with a big heart” and said he would be missed. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced that flags in Florida will be flown at half-staff in honor of Rush. And then, of course, there was the other former president, Donald Trump. Trump said:

“He is a legend. He really is. There aren’t too many legends around. But he is a legend. And those people who listen to him everyday, it was like a religious experience for a lot of people.”

There is no denying the hold he had on older white conservative men. He had a following of more than 15 million listeners. He was first syndicated on the radio in 1988. For over 30 years, he spewed. He had a formula: stoke bigotry and champion racism, sexism, and homophobia. He was the original “own the libs” guy.

He recognized, like Trump, that being outrageous was a great attention-grabber and pushed ratings. He considered himself an entertainer, not a journalist.

Back in the 1990’s I had to drive around New Hampshire for my job and I often listened in mid-day out of curiosity. Also, radio in central and western New Hampshire was a wasteland and back then radio music options were extremely limited.

I would describe Rush as a counter-revolutionary against the New Left. My generation of 1960’s-1970’s activists wanted America to face and reckon with its lies. The country was built upon slavery and genocide of Native Americans. The Vietnam War was a crime against humanity that had to be opposed. Instead of empire, we wanted pressing needs like poverty addressed at home.

Rush was the polar opposite. He was about protecting the wealth of the richest people. First and foremost, he was about making a buck for himself, something he was good at. At the time of his death his net worth was $600 million. He was making $85 million annually. He lived in a $26 million mansion in West Palm Beach, Florida.

A fan of conspicuous consumption, Rush did not skimp on his own needs. His mansion was an homage to Versailles. Rush owned a fleet of $450,000 cars, black Mercedes Maybach S model. He also owned a private jet, a Gulfstream G550 worth $56 million. Rush said his goal was to charge ‘confiscatory advertising rates’.

In the Rush world view, the super-wealthy were over-taxed and unfairly maligned. He believed they should be held up as role models. Even though he was worth hundreds of millions of dollars, Rush presented himself as the fighting, aggrieved voice of the little man. This man of the people tapped into resentment about loss of status, real or perceived.

His schtick redefined talk radio. His humor sold better than straight-up bile of the Nazi and Klan variety although nastiness was probably his defining quality. It is hard to overstate his role in influencing the rise of the Far Right and a renewed American fascism. The examples of Rush’s toxic ideology are inexhaustible.

In 2012, he called law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” when she testified before Congress that religious employers should be required to provide insurance coverage for contraception. On his TV show in 1994, he said “Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is also a White House dog?”, while displaying a picture of Chelsea Clinton who was then 13.

He coined the term “feminazi”. He said “Feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society”.

In 1990 Rush said “Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?” In 2004 he said “I think it’s time to get rid of the whole National Basketball Association. Call it the TBA, the Thug Basketball Association, and stop calling them teams. Call em gangs”.

Around 2010 Rush was interested in buying an NFL team but players (70% who were black) made clear they would not be willing to play for him. Rush said, “The NFL all-too-often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons”.

In 2013 Rush said “if any race of people should not have guilt about slavery, it’s Caucasians”. When he got a call from an African-American female caller, he said, “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back”. He called Kamala Harris a “ho”.

Discussing genocide against Native Americans, he responded, “They all have casinos – what’s to complain about?”.

He featured an anti-gay AIDS-update mocking the death of gay men. He used to precede segments about openly gay Congressman Barney Frank with the song “My Boy Lollipop”. After the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, Rush called the decision “an assault on American culture” that would lead to incest and polygamy.

He famously accused Michael J. Fox of exaggerating his Parkinson’s symptoms. Ironically, he died from lung cancer after denying for years the danger of smoking. He had said, “I want a medal for smoking cigars!”.

When Kurt Cobain committed suicide, Rush said, “Kurt Cobain was, ladies and gentlemen, a worthless shred of human debris”. Cobain had polysubstance abuse issues in his life.

Rush himself came under criminal investigation for illegally obtaining prescription drugs. He had been going to many different doctors for years to obtain as many prescriptions for Oxycontin and hydrocodone as possible. A former maid for Rush confessed to a tabloid that she had bought thousands of prescription pills on the black market for him.

Rush was criminally charged and agreed to treatment. Prosecutors dropped his case and his criminal record was later expunged. Although he was an opiate addict, he was a strong proponent of locking people up (other than himself) for the most minor drug offenses.

Limbaugh received a level of respectability he did not deserve. Like Trump, he was incapable of empathy. He was pompous, self-inflated, and self-impressed. As he put it about himself, he was “talent on loan from God”.

He paved the way for Trump’s authoritarianism and he previewed the white nationalist and anti-immigrant talking points Trump later adopted. He was anti-science, like Trump, denying climate change and lying about coronavirus, calling it “the common cold”. Until the end, he was a popularizer of conspiracy theories.

Bob Moser in Rolling Stone wrote that what mattered most about Limbaugh was neither whom he helped elect nor whom he offended. Moser wrote:

“It was the effect he had on his fans – on the millions of white conservatives he coddled, flattered, tickled, entertained, disinformed, fear mongered, and pulled into a counterfactual universe that became darker over time.”

Moser says Limbaugh created the conditions for an anti-democratic Republican Party. Unfortunately, as evidenced by January 6, it is not a big leap from dittohead to fascist stormtrooper.

Rush’s passing brings to mind a Mark Twain quote:

“I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.”

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The Malign Transformation of the Republican Party – posted 2/15/2021

February 15, 2021 1 comment

I admit that I have never been a Republican. Probably like many on the left, I have seen the Republicans as a party primarily representing the interests of Big Business. As a coalition, the Republican Party has included Christian evangelicals, libertarians. the anti-abortion movement, pro-gun advocates, anti-immigration zealots and the alt-right, including white supremacists.

For a long time, the Party tried to identify as the party of tax cuts and limited government. But that was before Donald Trump. Trump has completely upended traditional political conservatism. In his run in 2020, Trump literally removed the Republican platform. There was no platform – except loyalty to Trump.

The Trump brand of politics is not about any kind of ideological loyalty. It is all about submission to an authoritarian cult leader, someone who incited and mobilized mob violence because he could not accept the results of a fair election.

Encouraging mob violence to overturn an election crosses the political Rubicon. Before this episode, both political parties abided by election results whether they liked them or not. It is telling that Trump never agreed to accept the peaceful transfer of power.

Trump’s brand of politics is not any kind of political conservatism. Conservatism is about minimizing change and conserving traditional institutions. Historically in America, since the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, the Republican Party hid its racism behind the doctrine of state’s rights. The party has promoted voter suppression, gerrymandering and worked feverishly to stack the federal courts with conservative judges but, as noted, it had accepted election results.

The Trump-dominated Republican Party has now turned against democracy. Trump fabricated a story of election fraud and he got a remarkable degree of buy-in from his base. The buy-in has been so strong that you still see Trump flags flying and “Stop the Steal” signs in rural New Hampshire where I live. I suspect, based on anecdotal evidence, this is going on elsewhere as well.

The January 6 riot at the Capitol needs to be seen as the culmination of a longer-term project. Trump wanted to de-legitimize a voting process he did not have the ability to control. He could not stop the increased turnout of minorities and young people.

The outlines of the Trump project are clear. Make it harder to vote; attack mail-in voting; and try to get the U.S. Postal Service to delay the delivery of ballots. Use a raft of lawsuits to overturn the vote of the people. Arm twist state officials like Brad Raffensberger to find votes to sway the election.

Use demonstrations like the million MAGA marches and State House takeovers as in Michigan to create pro-Trump momentum. Place loyalists at the top level of the Pentagon in an effort to neutralize the military.

January 6 was his last ditch attempt to stop the election from being certified. It was his coup attempt but it failed. The longer-term project was an effort to install Trump as a dictator. Had he been successful it would have been the end of the rule of law, representative democracy and the three branches of government with separation of powers.

If you wondered what most Republicans are now thinking about Trump and his coup attempt, a new poll from the American Enterprise Institute provides disturbing findings. The survey found that nearly three in ten Americans, including 39% of Republicans, agreed that “If elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves even if it requires violent actions”.

The survey found major division between Republicans and Democrats on the 2020 presidential election with two out of three Republicans saying President Biden was not legitimately elected while 98% of Democrats and 73% of Independents acknowledged Biden’s win.

At the state level, absolute allegiance to Trump remains a defining quality of the Republican Party. Look at the censure leveled against Liz Cheney, Ben Sasse, Doug Ducey, Cindy McCain and Jeff Flake. They all dared oppose Trump. And also the condemnation directed against Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy for voting for impeachment. It would appear that the anti-Trump forces in the Republican Party are now the outliers.

The majority of Republicans have hitched their wagons to a demagogue who has only shown commitment to his own self-aggrandizement. His M.O. is well-established: call all negative information about his actions fake news or a witch hunt. Always blame a scapegoat like immigrants, Black Lives Matter of Antifa.

I agree with Paul Krugman who claims “the G.O.P. is an authoritarian regime in waiting, not yet one in practice”. Krugman thinks we could become like Poland or Hungary where right-wing, nativist parties were elected and then effectively established one-party rule. Krugman says these parties:

“ maintain the forms of popular elections, but have destroyed the independence of the judiciary, suppressed freedom of the press, institutionalized large-scale corruption, and effectively delegitimized dissent.”

When he was in power, Trump tried to override Congress, denied its subpoenas and generally rejected its oversight. He liked to claim “total power” as President. He personally attacked judges and questioned the constitutional authority of the judiciary.

Still, Trump was only able to get so far. He could work to suppress the vote but he could not cancel the election, outlaw his political opposition or declare himself President-for-Life. He had the Proud Boys, not armed, uniformed stormtroopers.

Those poll results are not encouraging though. Republicans have lost seven of the last eight national popular votes. If they become convinced they cannot win a democratic election, you have to wonder if Trump 2024 or the next Trump-equivalent would opt for some version of fascism. They might see representative democracy as an obstacle to their goals rather than a means to achieve them.

The threat to democracy remains very much alive.

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February 2021 – posted 2/13/2021

February 13, 2021 3 comments

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January 6 and the Sumner Precedent – posted 2/7/2021

February 7, 2021 3 comments

Since the insurrectionist mob attacked Congress on January 6, the most common historical parallel cited has been the War of 1812. In that war, in 1814, British forces overran Washington DC and set fire to many public buildings, including the U.S. Capitol.

While the War of 1812 is most cited, I would mention a different historical precedent. 1856 witnessed the most infamous day in the history of the Senate. On May 22, 1856, Congresssman Preston Brooks (D-S.C.) viciously attacked Senator Charles Sumner (R- Mass) on the floor of the Senate. Brooks beat Sumner so badly he almost died.

I think that the attack on Sen. Sumner has the most historical resonance with our time. A white supremacist could not countenance promotion of equality between the races. The division and polarization reflected in that episode remain consistent with the hate we saw at the Capitol in January.

To place the Sumner beating in context, the central issue facing the United States then was slavery. Kansas was going to be admitted as a state into the United States and there were questions whether slavery would be permitted or prohibited.

Anti-slavery forces had believed the question was settled by the 1820 Missouri Compromise which had established a boundary line above which no people in a state could own slaves. Kansas was above the line.

That compromise was being superseded by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was co-authored by Sen, Stephen Douglas (D-Ill) and Sen. Andrew Butler (D-S.C.). The Act overturned the 1820 Missouri Compromise by mandating popular sovereignty to decide whether a state would allow slavery. The Act was hated by strong abolitionists like Sen. Sumner.

On May 19, 1856, Sen. Sumner delivered a speech in the Senate that lasted five hours over two days. Sumner passionately denounced the effort by Missouri “border ruffians” to force a pro-slavery constitution on Kansas. The speech called “the Crime Against Kansas” speech zeroed in on slavery as an evil and Sumner particularly criticized the law’s co-authors.

He charged Sen. Butler of South Carolina with “taking a mistress…who though ugly to others…is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight…I mean the harlot, Slavery”.

Congressman Brooks, a relative of Sen. Butler, was enraged by Sumner’s speech. On May 22, he sat in the Senate gallery waiting for the session to end. After the Senate adjourned, Brooks walked onto the Senate floor, surprised Sumner and beat him senseless with a gold-topped gutta-percha cane. Brooks hit Sumner thirty times around the head and shoulders, leaving him a bloody mess. Sumner temporarily lost his vision.

When other senators approached to help Sumner, they were blocked by two other Congressmen who were Brooks’ accomplices. One of Brooks’s accomplices, Rep. Lawrence Keitt, pulled a pistol and forced the potential help to back off. The beating was so bad Brooks’ cane broke. Finished, Brooks strolled out of the Senate, leaving Sumner unconscious on the floor.

As the historian of abolitionism, Manisha Sinha, has written, Brooks’ assault on Sumner was “not just a matter of personal honor but a deliberate attempt to chastise an abolitionist”. Sinha says that Brooks beat Sumner “the way a slaveholder whipped a slave, or a slave’s ally”.

The House voted to expel Brooks but it lacked the 2/3 vote needed to remove him from office. Brooks resigned from Congress but he ran again in the special election held in August, just several months later. Brooks won re-election. Most Southerners approved of his conduct.

The injuries to Sumner were severe. He was not able to return to the Senate for three years, until 1859. Along with the head trauma, he experienced migraines and chronic pain for the rest of his life. Karma dealt with Brooks. At age 37, he had an unexpected early and painful death from croup a year after beating Sumner.

The caning of Sumner on the Senate floor had a seismic shock effect on the North. With the emotional force of a 9/11, the event had a galvanizing effect on the anti-slavery cause, moving the nation closer to Civil War. Sumner’s caning had also openly exposed the ruthlessness and amorality of the Slave Power.

The Massachusetts Legislature passed resolutions that equated the assault on Sumner with an attack on representative government and free speech.

The insurrectionist mob attack on the U.S. Capitol was also an attack on representative government. The mob wanted their candidate declared president contrary to the certified vote of the people. While falsely claiming the election was rigged and stolen, the mob showed itself willing to junk democracy to obtain their desired result.

Congress is a place where legislators are supposed to speak and listen. It is not a place for anyone to be brandishing weapons. Nothing could be more destructive of civil discourse and demeanor. The experience of Sen. Sumner speaks to that.

Does anyone doubt that if the January 6 mob had gotten their hands on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nancy Pelosi or Mike Pence, there would have been murders? The gallows constructed outside the Capitol sent a message. There was a reason Congresspeople and their staffs were hiding, locked in their barricaded offices.

In any workplace, you cannot have people threatening the lives of their co-workers, saying they are going to put bullets in people’s heads. That is unacceptable behavior that should be punished by expulsion from Congress or any legislature. In a workplace, such threats would certainly constitute grounds for firing.

Given the demonization of the Squad by right wing media, those legislators now require 24/7 security. The incitement has unleashed dangerous extremists who make unhinged threats against those perceived to be anti-Trump. Freshman Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich) said in an appearance on MSNBC that he and other members were buying body armor.

Rep. Meijer and Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo) have said some GOP colleagues voted to overturn the election results or against impeaching Trump out of fear that their families’ lives may be put in danger. The question arises: are others too afraid to vote their conscience?

In light of our present stay of polarization, all legislators should have to go through metal detectors, without exception. We have done it at the airport for years and we have reached a point where the need for safety in Congress dictates this common sense measure. Whatever we can do to prevent episodes like what happened to Sen. Sumner, need to happen.

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Down the rabbit hole with three conspiracy theories – posted 1/31/2021

January 31, 2021 Leave a comment

We are living through the golden age of conspiracy theories. Lizard people, satanic pedophiles, false flag school shootings and Jewish space lasers have all had cameo roles. While it is easy to focus on the sheer nuttiness of these ideas, conspiracy theories are doing damage.

They often serve to isolate the cult follower from family and friends. They also serve as a bridge into far-right extremist recruitment.

Although people of all political persuasions can adhere to conspiracy theories, in our era, people on the political right have proven most vulnerable to their allure. Conspiracy theories are intellectually bankrupting the Republican Party. A party of political conservatism has transformed into a cult subservient to an authoritarian leader.

There are many conspiracy theories flourishing now but I will focus on three of the most harmful.

“The 2020 presidential election was stolen”

The theory that Trump won the election is widespread among Republicans in spite of accurate, certified voter counts in all states. Republicans latched onto minority voting in large cities and mail-in voting as central to the alleged voter fraud. The Trump campaign pursued every possible legal challenge, over 60 lawsuits, but they consistently lost in court.

If there was voter fraud, how come the courts found none? As has been pointed out, many of the judges who ruled against Trump were his appointees.

Former President Trump has been the main purveyor of misinformation about the election. He has argued for months that the election was rigged even though his own Attorney General William Barr said there was no fraud.

After the November election, Trump worked tirelessly to promote the false narrative that he won. Think of the Stop the Steal movement and the million MAGA marches. Not to mention Trump’s phone calls to Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger where he pressed Raffensberger to “find 11,780 votes”.

Trump’s lies mobilized his January 6 storm troops. If he said there was fraud, they believed him, regardless of the facts. The attack on the Capitol was a direct result of Trump’s prodding. Since November, Trump and his coterie have been desperately pursuing every avenue they could to overturn a democratic election.

The events of January 6 can only be understood in the context of Trump losing a democratic election. Like other fascist and authoritarian leaders who could not abide a democratic result, Trump opted for a coup. He hoped his storm troops could stop certification of Biden’s win. The U.S. military would have nothing to do with the coup and Trump’s coup attempt failed.

Of all the conspiracy theories now circulating, Trump’s election lies are the worst. The peaceful transfer of power is central to our democratic system. We are not Pinochet’s Chile or some banana republic yet, according to polls, 36% of registered voters think voter fraud occurred to a large enough extent in the presidential race to affect the election outcome.

Those who argue Trump bears little or no responsibility for the storming of the Capitol are living in la-la land. Trump deserves no pass. To quote the writer Loretta Ross, “Premature forgiveness before accountability is dangerous”.

“COVID-19 is fake”

Even though as I write this, there are 456,000 American deaths due to COVID-19, conspiracy theories abound. Alex Jones has said COVID-19 doesn’t exist at all. He has said it is a ploy by governments to rob citizens of their freedom. For a long time, Trump himself minimized the pandemic, falsely saying the end was right around the corner.

Others argued the COVID-19 pandemic was intentionally caused; it was created in a lab in Wuhan; or, it was spread by Bill Gates; or, it was due to the rollout of 5G mobile technology.

Four out of ten Americans believe the death rate of COVID-19 has been “deliberately and greatly exaggerated”. 27% think is is possible the vaccine for COVID-19 will be used to implant tracking chips into Americans.

Who would have thought the common sense, public health measures of masking and social distancing would have proven so controversial.

Anti-vaxxers have been pushing a new narrative that COVID-19 vaccine permanently changes a person’s DNA. Crazy never stops. False information and anti-science attitudes will continue to make it harder to get the pandemic under control.

“A secret cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles is running a global sex-trafficking ring”

I am, of course, referring to QAnon. This far-right cult believes elitist Democrats and Hollywood entertainment moguls control the deep state. QAnon adherents believe there is a person who is a top secret official in the U.S. government who goes by the pseudonym “Q” who posts cryptic online messages about the truth of what is going on in the world

They saw Trump as not just a president but a messiah. They believe Trump has been fighting the pedophile cabal and that Trump has been planning a day of reckoning known as the Storm. In the Storm, thousands of members of the cabal will be arrested.

QAnon has a large online following. In 2018 many QAnon followers started showing up at Trump rallies. Now that Trump has lost it remains unclear how QAnon adherents will respond to failed prophecies.

Supposedly, one in three Republicans believe the QAnon theory that a conspiracy among deep state elites is “mostly true”.

While Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have garnered the most publicity for their Q beliefs, in 2020 the Republicans fielded dozens of candidates nationally who held these beliefs.

QAnon is a bit reminiscent of the blood libel against the Jews. It is a craziness with some historical precedent.

About conspiracy theories, John Ehrenreich has said:

“Conspiracy theories arise in the context of fear, anxiety, mistrust, uncertainty and feelings of powerlessness…For those who feel that everything is spinning out of control, a narrative that explains their feelings and encloses them within a safe community of believers comes as a soothing relief.”

I would suggest that conspiracy theories are flourishing because of the unprecedented levels of anxiety so many are experiencing. The killer pandemic, massive economic insecurity and climate catastrophe are all background.

That people gravitate to conspiracy theories should not be surprising. Advertisers manipulate us by using selective and misleading information. Oil companies lie about climate change and tobacco companies lie about the dangers of smoking. Financial elites try to obscure their wealth and their exploitation of workers. Conspiracy theories are just a particularly noxious variant on the lying theme. They provide a sometimes compelling narrative with an emotionally supportive if misguided message.

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How the threat of far-right extremism was underestimated – posted 1/24/2021

January 24, 2021 2 comments

When the mob of ardent Trump supporters, QAnon conspiracy theory followers, and far-right extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, there was no denying the shock value of their acts. While some may have seen it coming, most of us were taken by surprise.

With so many millions of dollars spent on national security, the scale of the failure of intelligence is remarkable.How was the threat of far-right extremism so badly missed?

I would submit the reasons are deeply rooted in our societal failure to recognize and acknowledge white supremacy. Hate groups are drenched in the ideology of white supremacy and anti-semitism and there is a history of giving such groups a pass. The overwhelming tendency has been to look at darker-skinned people, especially Islamic terrorists, as the primary national security threat.

During the Trump years, Black Lives Matter and Antifa were wrongly held up as a bigger threat than far-right extremists.

Looking back, the evidence is clear. In 2009, Daryl Johnson, who was then an analyst with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, wrote an internal report entitled “Right-Wing Extremism”. Johnson was no left-winger. He was a conservative and a Republican.

In his report, Johnson pointed out that returning military veterans were being targeted for recruitment by right wing extremists. Johnson predicted a rise in violent attacks by these extremists as they, even then, were armed to the teeth. He predicted a rise in their group membership. Johnson’s report was meant for law enforcement. His predictions turned out to be accurate.

Instead of being seriously considered, right wing news media leaked the report and derided it. They argued that the report was targeting conservatives and the Tea Party as potential terrorists. The American Legion demanded that Homeland Security apologize to veterans. Republicans demanded that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano rescind the report.

Under pressure, the Department of Homeland Security caved in. Management at Homeland Security turned on the people who produced the Right Wing Extremism report and Johnson’s unit was disbanded. There was a chilling effect on any investigation of right wing extremism. According to Johnson, morale plummeted at Homeland Security.

I should note that Johnson’s 2009 report followed on the heels of a 2006 FBI report that warned of white supremacist groups infiltrating and recruiting law enforcement personnel. That report mentioned the novel, The Turner Diaries, by William Pierce.White supremacist infiltration of the federal government played a prominent role in the novel and was interpreted as practical guidance within white supremacist circles.

Before the U.S. Capitol riot, Charlottesville was probably the most public demonstration of far-right power. Instead of a repudiation of the neo-nazis and white supremacists who were chanting “Jews will not replace us”, President Trump famously said “there were very fine people on both sides”. It was a shot in the arm for the worst of the far right.

When asked to disavow white supremacy during his debate with Joe Biden, Trump could not do it. We got his comment on the Proud Boys: “stand back and stand by”.

Since the 2009 Homeland Security report, there have been innumerable far-right terrorist attacks. I think of the 2015 Charleston church massacre, the 2018 Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue attack, the 2019 Poway California synagogue shooting and the 2019 El Paso Walmart mass killing directed at Latinos.

It is a mistake to see these shootings as crazy lone wolf attacks carried out by deranged individuals. All the shooters have been motivated by the white power movement. The lone wolf narrative hides the common thread.

Other episodes show the far right hatred of the federal government: the 2014 Bundy standoff in Nevada and the 2016 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

I would say that by now far right extremists in the United States number in the hundreds of thousands. They do not hide any more.

Trump has empowered the far right. Particularly in the last two months since the election, Trump’s narrative of a rigged election fueled an apocalyptic mindset. Trump kept saying we are losing our country. His supporters on social media talked of civil war. This false narrative unleashed the dogs. Rage and paranoia stoked Trump’’s hardcore supporters. They came to believe Trump’s big lie that an election he lost was stolen.

It is hard to ignore the role of social media in feeding the stolen election frenzy on the far right. This combined with high levels of fear among those on the right that their guns were threatened.

The U.S. Capitol riot was not the only recent occupation of a capitol building. In 2020 two other state capitol buildings in Michigan and Idaho were breached and overrun.

I am not alone in thinking the far right recruitment of police and military is a genuine problem. When black people are profiled and viciously murdered by police which is an all-to-common event, it needs to be asked if those police are white supremacists. Police need to be vetted and rejected for their position as public safety officers if racism is compromising job performance.

I would guess some low percentage of white officers do hold neo-fascist, white supremacist views and they may sympathize with the white power movement. That is probably also true of some active-duty military. To address it, we must recognize the problem exists.

Conservative news media and Republicans have simply been in denial about the existence of the white power movement. For years they have covered for it. If we allow the denial to continue, it is reasonable to assume we will see more serious efforts to undermine our democracy.

However imperfectly, America is moving in the direction of becoming a more authentic multi-racial democracy. Far right extremists remain absolutely opposed to that goal. They want an Aryan Nation. They talk about extermination of people of color and Jews. It is not a witch hunt to recognize a sickness which is trying to kill our democracy. We got to January 6, in part, because we have swept the whole matter of far-right extremism under the carpet.

It would be a mistake to see the Capitol riot as an end to the story. It is not.

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