Shady and Blue continued – posted 8/10/2019

August 10, 2019 Leave a comment
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The forgotten story of Dorothy Thompson who warned about fascism – posted 8/4/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 8/15/2019

August 4, 2019 2 comments

In studying the history of Italian and German fascism in the 1930’s, it is fair to say that the world was not adequately warned about the danger. To a shocking extent, the American press of that era whitewashed and minimized the fascist threat. This was true with both Mussolini and Hitler.

Benito Mussolini became Italian Prime Minister in 1922. After his infamous march on Rome leading 30,000 Italian fascist blackshirts, he forced the resignation of the liberal government. He quickly consolidated power and in 1925 he declared himself supreme leader for life. Nevertheless, in the United States, Mussolini got remarkably favorable press coverage for years after that.

The New York Times credited Mussolini with returning Italy to “normalcy”. In the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution, many American papers worried more about the advance of the left than they did about the fascists. In 1928 the Saturday Evening Post serialized Mussolini’s autobiography. The largely favorable press coverage happened while Mussolini’s secret police jailed and eliminated his opposition and at the same time created a one-party dictatorship.

Similarly, the American press largely treated Hitler with kid gloves. The press saw him as volatile and a bit of a buffoon but his dark side was obscured until it was too late. His incremental steps toward totalitarianism were buried in the news. Hitler shut down the newspapers of his political opponents on the left, arrested editors, and sent them to concentration camps.

The American press poorly covered anti-semitism and the increasing danger to Jews. This was true even though Hitler had been very on record with his hatred.

While as a general rule the American press failed to alert the general public to the danger represented by the European fascists, there were notable exceptions. For many years, the journalist Dorothy Thompson ran a one-woman campaign against Hitler and the Nazis. Her heroic story deserves to be much more widely known.

Thompson was bureau chief for the Philadelphia Public Ledger and she wrote for the New York Evening Post. She had moved to Europe in the 1920’s and become fluent in German. In 1931, she managed to wrangle an interview with Adolf Hitler.

The interview became the basis for her 1932 book, I Saw Hitler!. The interview first ran in the March 1932 issue of Cosmopolitan, then a serious magazine. Initially, Thompson wrote:

“He is formless, almost faceless, a man whose countenance is a caricature, a man whose framework seems cartilaginous, without bones. He is inconsequent and voluble, ill-poised, insecure. He is the very prototype of the Little Man.”

Thompson dismissed Hitler although he admitted to her that he intended to create a dictatorship. After their interview, Hitler crushed his opposition, disappeared many, and further advanced his persecution of the Jews. Thompson had to reassess. She realized she had seriously underestimated Hitler and the Nazi movement.

By March 1933, Thompson started writing a string of anti-Hitler articles. Her writing did not escape notice of the Nazis. In the summer of 1934, she was the first foreign correspondent expelled from Nazi Germany. The Nazis put journalists on notice that they would tolerate no criticism of Hitler.

When she returned to the United States, the New York Herald Tribune hired her. Her column “On The Record” was syndicated and it ran in 170 papers around the country. She also wrote a monthly column for Ladies Home Journal and she appeared often on NBC radio. Her expulsion from Germany made her famous and led to her becoming a big media celebrity.

Thompson became a leading voice against fascism, regularly denouncing Hitler and the Nazis. She also demanded that America accept more European refugees. She herself personally helped many refugees get to America and obtain asylum. She was one of the few journalists who spoke out consistently on behalf of the European Jews.

She advocated for Herschel Grynszpan, a 17 year old Jewish boy who walked into the German embassy in Paris and assassinated Ernst vom Rath, a secretary to the Nazi ambassador. It was this event that precipitated Kristallnacht.

Thompson was the inspiration for Katharine Hepburn’s role of Tess Keating in the 1942 movie Woman of the Year. She also inspired her husband of that time, Sinclair Lewis, to write the novel It Can’t Happen Here. Concerned about the possibility of fascism in America, Thompson wrote:

“No people ever recognizes their dictator in advance. He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument [of] the Incorporated National Will…When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.”

Thompson went to the large February 1939 rally organized by the German-American Bund and Nazi sympathizers held at Madison Square Garden. She took her seat in the first row of the press gallery and she loudly ridiculed and made fun of the pro-Nazi speakers. She did get herself surrounded by security goons and ejected from the Garden.

From early on, Thompson argued against appeasement of the Nazis and she recognized that neutrality was not an option. Of her, Winston Churchill wrote:

“She has shown what one valiant woman can do with the power of the pen. Freedom and humanity are her grateful debtors.”

As we face the rise of authoritarian and fascist governments and movements, Thompson’s example is instructive. She showed how to fight back. Reporting on and exposing the current fascist threat is now more important than ever.

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More Shady and Blue pics – posted 7/28/2019

July 28, 2019 Leave a comment
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The relevance of the Andrew Johnson impeachment – posted 7/21/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 8/4/2019

July 21, 2019 2 comments

When progressives and liberals discuss whether Donald Trump should be impeached, the most common historical analogy floated is the example of Richard Nixon. Comparisons include charges of obstruction of justice, perverse use of racism, and crossing the line of criminality.

Bill Clinton’s experience is also cited as a negative example of when an impeachment effort went awry and was seriously misguided. I think there is a consensus that lying about sex acts does not meet a standard of high crimes and misdemeanors.

While it is little known, the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson has more relevance to the Trump situation than has ever been recognized. I am sure this is because Andrew Johnson’s impeachment was so long ago, just after the Civil War. Johnson’s impeachment is little taught in American schools. It is a historical episode passed over.

The historian Brenda Wineapple has corrected the record and has brought to life the circumstances of Johnson’s impeachment in her new book, The Impeachers. Wineapple shows that Johnson got impeached primarily for being a white supremacist.

In February 1868, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Johnson. After a trial in the Senate, Johnson escaped removal from office by the margin of one vote. Impeachment in the Senate requires a two-thirds majority vote.

Johnson succeeded to the presidency after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. As a southerner from Tennessee, Johnson had an unusual background for a President. He grew up in poverty. He was an indentured servant in a tailor’s shop. He ran away from his servitude but he always hated the Southern aristocrats and planters who looked down their noses at him.

When Lincoln picked Johnson to be his Vice-President in 1864, it was an effort to balance the ticket and broaden his base. Johnson was a Democrat and he was a rare southerner who had opposed the succession of Southern states from the Union. For this iconoclastic position, he was hated by many loyal to the Confederacy.

Problems emerged quickly after Lincoln was assassinated and Johnson ascended to the Presidency. While the North was winning the Civil War, Johnson had no idea how to move forward and build on the Union victory. He had no vision of creating an equitable multi-racial democracy.

The problems Johnson faced were admittedly overwhelming. The Civil War cost an estimated 750,000 lives. Four million previously enslaved people were now allegedly free but they had no jobs and no land. They were considered 3/5 of a person under law.

Johnson responded by accommodating the South and the former slave owners. In the aftermath of the Civil War, instead of trying to unify the country and move past racism, Johnson tried to restore white supremacy. Johnson handed out pardons like candy to former Confederates. He looked the other way while Southern states created Black Codes and instituted slavery by another name. This is not too surprising since Johnson was a slave owner himself.

Johnson enraged Northerners, even moderates, as he failed to respond to violent attacks against Southern Blacks and their white allies, including attacks on Black Union army veterans. In New Orleans, a white mob attacked the Republican constitutional convention, murdering over 100 people and wounding 300. In Memphis, white racists went on a rampage and killed 46 Black people while wounding 53. Black homes, schools and churches were burned to the ground.

Northerners saw Johnson giving away the fruits of victory. Johnson opposed the 14th Amendment and Black suffrage. He held viciously racist views which he was not shy about voicing. He hated the Radical Republicans like Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner and they returned the hatred.

Johnson had a serious alcohol problem and he was more prone to racist demagoguery when drinking. He railed that the leader of the Radical Republicans, Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, should be hanged. Considering that Stevens was an excellent parliamentarian and that the Republicans held supermajorities in Congress, this view was not the most politic.

In the history of the United States, no President had yet been impeached but with Johnson Republicans looked for impeachable offenses. Johnson gave the Republicans an opportunity when he started firing government officials, particularly the popular Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. The Republicans argued that the Stanton firing violated the questionably constitutional Tenure of Office Act which required that the Senate confirm Johnson’s firings. The Senate did not confirm Stanton’s firing.

The House voted 11 articles of impeachment against Johnson. Besides the violations of the Tenure of Office Act, much of the basis for impeachment was that Johnson was a white supremacist who had degraded the country and Congress. In the end, impeachment failed.

There is no roadmap for impeachment and the legal standard of high crimes and misdemeanors is vague. Still, I think the Johnson impeachment set an important and just example. America does not belong to one race. Johnson fought to preserve a white man’s government. Johnson earned his impeachment inquiry even if it did not result in his removal from office.

Similarly, Donald Trump is heading down a road pioneered by Andrew Johnson. He is acting like the president of white people only, while dehumanizing people of color, especially immigrants. He has no sense that the mission of a President might have something to do with promoting an equitable multiracial democracy and representing the whole country.

The worst is not the incessant lying and the self-dealing behavior which have degraded and dishonored the presidency. He will always be known for putting innocent children in cages, conduct that will live in infamy. Trump has become a threat to the Constitution, the rule of law and civil liberties.

It is now up to Congress to act.

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New puppy Blue – posted 7/12/2019

July 12, 2019 2 comments
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Normalizing Sexism – posted 7/6/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 7/25/2019

July 6, 2019 2 comments

For the last 50 years or so, many American women have challenged their second class status and have fought for gender equity. On different fronts, women have pushed back against institutional discrimination, sexual objectification, and patriarchal control.

On the issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and reproductive rights, women have confronted and rejected traditional sexist views. Progress may have been halting but the movement was forward.

That was true until the presidency of Donald Trump. Now we are turning back the clock. Under Trump, sexual politics have regressed. As is the case with racism, where pro-Trump white supremacists have come out from under the rocks where they were previously hiding, Trump has given sexists and misogynists a new lease on life.

Let’s begin with the example of the President himself. At least 22 women have accused him of sexual misconduct since the 1970’s. The latest was Elle Magazine advice columnist E. Jean Carroll who recently accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the 1990’s.

Trump has denied all the allegations against him and has called all the women “liars”. About Carroll, he wrote, “I’ve never met this person in my life” even though New York magazine printed a photo of them together. Then Trump said, “Number one, she’s not my type”.

So does that mean Trump might rape someone who was his type? He has had other disturbing responses to allegations of his sexual misconduct. After businesswoman Jessica Leeds accused him of groping her, Trump said, “Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you”.

I guess Trump’s victims have to be “10’s” to get a shot at being assaulted.

You have to ask: how does this guy get a pass on all the accusations? Doesn’t every woman who has made an accusation deserve a fair hearing on the merits? Trump may not be approaching Harvey Weinstein-type numbers but when you are over 20 allegations that shocks the conscience.

I thought the federal government had a vigorous policy against sexual harassment. I guess it is two-tiered: one tier for Trump and one for everyone else. If the same accusations had been lodged against President Obama, Obama would have been impeached.

It would appear that Trump is above the law. His behavior is beyond reckoning and a double standard is at play. Whatever electoral calculations the House Democrats are making, their response to these accusations has been weak and overly accommodating.

What is going on is a throwback to a former era when men unambiguously ruled. It was not A Handmaid’s Tale but in pre-1960’s America, powerful men were dominant and women were under their thumb. Male chauvinism was the norm. Sex was a private matter outside public scrutiny. If a man wanted to assault or batter his wife or girl friend, it was nobody else’s business.

Men had the prerogative to behave badly and complaining women were “hysterical”, not to be believed. Religion often provided cover since patriarchal religion taught that men were the head of the household and women were to obey.

It is easy to see why women have been reluctant to come forward and report sexual assault allegations. They get harassed and threatened. After Carroll made her allegations, Trump encouraged his supporters to harass her. Trump said Carroll’s allegations put her in “dangerous territory”, whatever that means.

I think Trump’s behavior has very bad implications for domestic violence victims. As a national role model, he is saying complaining women are not to be believed. The example Trump sets is one that every abuser emulates. The strategy is what University of Oregon psychology professor Jennifer Freyd calls DARVO: Deny, Attack and Reverse Victim and Offender. Freyd says perpetrators of violence often use this strategy to silence victims and to force retreat.

Backwards views of domestic violence are also reflected in Trump Administration public policy. The Trump Department of Justice revised its definition of domestic violence to only consider physical harm – not psychological and emotional abuse. This is a major step backward, contrary to modern understandings of domestic violence. Also, the Trump Administration, through former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, ruled that domestic violence cannot be a basis for an asylum claim unless very extraordinary conditions are met. The new standard was designed to foil the great majority of domestic violence-based asylum claims. It downgrades and minimizes the crime of domestic violence.

The new sexism is also reflected in reproductive and abortion rights policy. Before our very eyes, abortion rights are disappearing. The right to choose is being rendered a nullity. Trump, his largely male minions and male-dominated state legislatures are denying women their right to choose, even in cases of rape and incest.

Not surprisingly, just as the Trump Administration emboldened a new generation of white supremacists, they have also emboldened a new generation of hateful male supremacists who see feminism as responsible for the decline of Western civilization. Red Pill, incels, and Milo Yiannopoulos come to mind.

We are witnessing an effort to bring back and normalize sexism. In her book, No Visible Bruises, Rachel Snyder quotes a domestic violence activist and survivor, Kit Gruelle:

“We are leaping backwards at an obscene pace.”

I think that sums it up well.

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In defense of democratic socialism – posted 6/23/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 6/30/2019

June 23, 2019 Leave a comment

Since there is no shortage of badmouthing socialism, I wanted to outline the road that led me to support for democratic socialism.

Growing up in the Philadelphia area in the 1960’s I was acutely aware of economic inequality and racism. If you got around the city and suburbs, there was a stark contrast between the ghetto of North Philadelphia and the Main Line. It was a chasm even then and I did not understand why there was such a disparity between geographic areas not so far apart.

It was the 1960’s and the War in Vietnam was raging. It was a dominant background reality to all our lives. Everyday featured body counts on TV. The logic for why American troops were in Vietnam was a mystery. Persuasive rationales were missing. Vietnam was a forerunner to Iraq where wars ceased to have any credible justification. The Movement and the counterculture emerged. To be woke was to question authority.

As a young person looking for answers, I gravitated to books. I wanted to understand our society and I was not getting good answers from the mass media of the time. I read widely and I would name two writers who led me to question fundamental things: Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky.

Both articulated a critique of the war in Vietnam that went beyond seeing the war as an accident or a mistake. They saw the war as a product of a profit system that valued money over people. In their writings, they placed the Vietnam war in a context that explained why the United States kept intervening militarily in the Third World. They also offered a critical perspective on U.S.history that was new to me.

In college, I had my first opportunity to read books about socialism. I had a friend, Kevin, who was a member of the radical student group SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. Kevin gave me a list of books to read that were not on any college syllabus. I learned about labor’s untold story as well as the history of socialism and 20th century socialist thought.

Since this is such contested terrain, let me highlight how I see socialism. It has been best summarized by a labor educator, John McDermott:

“Socialism is the movement for the emancipation of working people from the fetters of authoritarian government – this means every kind of authoritarian government – of the left, the right, the center; of capitalist, of communist; of church; of state; of corporation; of expert; and of zealot.”

Socialism is about working class self-rule. It is not about some bureaucracy ruling over workers. Nor is it government ownership of the means of production. Socialism is about more political and economic democracy. The working class is a subjugated class under capitalism. Working people have little control over critical decisions that affect their lives. Over the last 40 years, working people have seen their collective power erode, consistent with the weakening of unions and the expansive greed of our ruling class.

Implicit is the underlying reality of class struggle. Social classes compete for power, wealth and influence. For almost all of human history, working people have been exploited by their masters, whether they were monarchs, feudal lords or capitalists.

In America, a small number of people, the 1%, have amassed a huge amount of money, billions of dollars. The money has been used to buy political power, politicians, and control over our collective political agenda. That agenda has promoted minimalist change guaranteed to protect the profits of the 1%. Nothing too “out there” will get placed on this agenda. The 1% wants economic stability to safeguard its money. It is not an agenda designed to address the human needs of the American people.

The ruling class guards against the possibility of any significant progressive reform happening. It is like our society is a car permanently stuck in neutral.

We only need to look at climate change. According to science, we only have a small window of time to turn things around (12 years) before we will face catastrophic consequences. Where is the urgency? Where is the appreciation for science? There is an overwhelming consensus among scientists about climate change but we continue plodding, with blinders on.

I blame capitalism and the short-sighted pursuit of profit by the fossil fuel industry. You might think that these greedy capitalists would recognize the need for a long-term perspective on climate but that is totally lacking. Instead they still try to manufacture doubt about the science of climate change. The crazy thing is the capitalists along with all of us will have to live with the consequences of climate inaction. This is a betrayal of the future.

You can go down the list of problems we face – racism, sexism, homophobia, militarism, the environment, reproductive rights, and immigration. Each problem has its own specificity but all are deeply rooted in a history where capitalism has failed over generations to adequately address them.

Socialism is not opposed to reforms. Ideas like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, $15 minimum wage, and free college tuition at public colleges and universities are building blocks moving in the direction of a socialist vision. Socialists are strong supporters of these reforms while also being aware that they are only steps in the direction of a radical change.

Some of the critiques of socialism complain that it is unrealistically about “free stuff”. I think arguments like this ignore context. We live in a society where the cost of education has skyrocketed. A generation of young people is now burdened and ultra-stressed because they are burdened with absurd levels of debt. Such debt is not necessary and a socialist agenda needs to offer support to the struggling students.

Socialism, like capitalism, does have a dark side to its history and socialists must not whitewash this history. Stalinism and other examples where human rights have ben trampled should be acknowledged, not dishonestly buried. There are no perfect examples out there and there never will be.

Still, democratic socialists have learned from the past and part of the learning is the importance of democracy and individual rights. Contrary to what some may think, there is a libertarian tradition in socialism. History shows the importance of the rule of law and something like the Bill of Rights, regardless of whether your social system is capitalist or socialist. When I think of the libertarian socialist tradition, I think of Eugene Debs, Emma Goldman, Victor Serge and Rosa Luxemburg.

Albert Einstein, a socialist, once wrote:

“The crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.”

Einstein bemoaned the crippling of the social consciousness of individuals. He favored the development of a sense of community and responsibility toward humanity rather than glorification of power and success.

The moral superiority of socialism is that it offers the possibility of a good life for everyone, not just an elite who hog money, resources, and advantages. Socialism stands for the idea that everyone should be able to lead a life of dignity, accomplishment, security and satisfaction. Our extreme economic inequality is not an inevitability, rather it is an opening for democratic socialism. As Rosa Luxemburg once wrote, we either transition to socialism or we regress into barbarism.

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