ed_rex: (Default)

Being the scattered, late-night thoughts of a Canadian upon watching a video of the Second Presidential Debate Between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, after a long and happy day driving and walking in autumnal Gatineau with my sweetie. (I'd have done better to put off the viewing until tomorrow, but that promises to be a double-shift, with close to 750 kilometres on the road.)

Going much against the mainstream, I thought the first debate between these deplorable candidates of a broken democratic facade of empire was more or less a draw. Despite the sniffing, it was my opinion that Trump managed to sound reasonably presidential, which (yes) was his low bar to clear. Clinton performed more or less as expected, but was unable to hide her fundamental contempt for her opponent well enough to sway any of his followers to her side, nor to convince the former Bernie Sanders adherents to actually make it out to vote at all come election day.

But tonight's round came after the release of this video (one, I confess, I didn't bother to watch until just before I typed this sentence):

And all America went crazy. One half because they took a pathological liar at his word — "And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything, grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything." — and determined that he was admitting to being a serial sexual assaulter (and let's face it: he sure as hell wasn't denying it), while the other half was shocked (shocked!) that he used such crude language as, er, "pussy".

And for several days, as a powerful hurricane devastated Haiti and threatened much of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States of America, and as the world's two nuclear super-powers huffed and puffed ever-closer to all-out military confrontation in Syria, the press and the blogosphere were going nuclear themselves taking the words of a Beta Male bragging as signs of the immanent decline of Western civilization.

(And the third half was split between hoarding fatalistic pop-corn and packing camper-vans full freeze-dried meals in hopes of riding out the coming apocalypse somewhere in northern Quebec. But I digress.)

And so it was that I came home from a frankly delightful day out with my sweetie, enjoying the autumn colours in the Gatineau hills and wandering the street (yes, street, singular) of Wakefield, Quebec, and settled in to see what I'd missed.

And it started out as a shit show indeed. Brian Mulroney telling John Turner that "you sir, had a choice!" had nothing on The Donald repeatedly calling Hillary a "liar".

And of course the first questions had to do with Trump's tape. And he responded pretty convincingly. It was "locker-room banter," he said, and he stuck to that line. He was sorry he'd said it, but it was jokey stuff and he really respects women (he respects everyone! said the man who first came to fame humiliating "apprentices" on (inter)national television and then telling all but one of them that, "You're fired!"), and anyway, Bill Clinton actually did worse things than Donald joked about and Hillary got a real rapist off as a lawyer and then laughed about it ...

It was a presidential debate as the pre-fight antics at a World Wide Wrestling bout.

But once that was out of the way, shit (as they say) sort of got real. And it sort of didn't.

I was rather shocked to find that Trump made more sense on the situation on Syria than did Hillary. He said the target should be ISIS and that he would work with Iran and Russia (and even Syria) to destroy ISIS, no matter than he had just spent minutes talking about how bad Iraq and Russia were. Whereas Hillary spent a lot of time <>strike>Red-baiting Russia-baiting trump, pretty much out-and-out saying that the Donald is a Putin stooge.

And it went on and on and on ...

No knock-out blow came, but what struck me was how well Trump parried the blows Clinton (and her advisers, no doubt) must have intended as hay-makers.

Attacked for taking advantage of tax loop-holes, Trump said in effect, Of course I did! I'd have been an idiot not too. And so did all of Hillary's rich friends and contributors. And the difference, he claims is that he doesn't owe any rich people but himself, and he's willing to pay more taxes. (He also said he's going to cut business taxes, but no one really expects these people to be consistent, do they?)

Anyway, I've only watched the thing once, I didn't take notes, and had no intention of typing up a fucking synopsis.

My initial take-away, is that Trump has not only survived his Pussygate, but come away stronger. And that if he keeps focused on Hillary's ties to big money, and her support for the various failed wars the US is involved in, he might still win this thing.

And as a foreigner, I think that might (just might!) make the world a (very) slightly safer place than it would be under a Clinton presidency.

But really, no good outcome is possible from this shit-show. Whatever happens, the American experiment in republican democracy is coming to a close. The future is a failing empire that might take the whole world down with it, or a bloody interregnum of indefinate power-struggle as the waters rise in warming world. (Some of those Chinese civil wars lasted a god damned century.)

* * *

Anyway, as I said, my first thoughts; what say you?

ed_rex: (dhalgren)

Should any of you be interested, I think Trump is likely to win this election. I'm not cheering for him, mind you, but neither am I cheering for the war-criminal Hillary ("we came, we saw, he died!") Clinton. As a foreigner, I see no good outcome in the short term, and probably not in the long, unless Black Lives Matter and the renewed anti-pipeline native movement(s) can somehow coalesce in a broader, genuinely revolutionary movement with whatever remains of Bernie Sanders' supporters.

In the short run, whoever wins the Presidency, the Pentagon will ensure lots of foreign wars and lots of foreign casualties; and most likely, President Trump will prove just as friendly to the 1%, the class to which he belongs, as President Clinton.

All that said, I watched the debate with a sort of morbid fascination. Was surprised that Trump was so well-coached and impressed by his cool body language; when he wasn't interrupting, he appeared to be listening to his opponent. Clinton surprised me by being mostly fairly personable, much less stiff than I expected. But the eye-rolling and impatient smiles at Trump's more outrageous lies and innuendo probably did her no good.

No clear winner to my eyes, though; it's going to be a long couple of months. So I'll leave you with a picture.

ed_rex: (Default)

'If you're simply fed up with trying to counter fantasies and lies with logic and truth, remember that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance". Freedom never comes without a price, a price paid (in good times) with time and with effort, with the repetition of the truth in the face of brazen lies.

'If you believe that all politicians are liars or corrupt and so avoid the political process all together, you deny a truth repeated throughout history, that all politicians are not the same. Even a seriously cynical mind, if honest with itself, understands there is a very real difference between the pathology of a Mussolini and the petty misdemeanours of a Bill Clinton.'

Scared? Maybe you should be

Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship [...] the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

     — Hermann Goering interviewed during the Nuremberg Trials, as per the invaluable Snopes.com.

Shutting down for being shouted down

I know, I know: long-time readers will notice that I have quoted Goering before, but the words bear repeating.

I was talking with my father last week and we had a brief conversation about the "debate" they're having south of the border on the Obama administration's attempt to reform the American health care system.

"Oh that," I said, "I haven't really been paying much attention. I can't take the lies and the lunacy any more. I think it was the senior citizen, who didn't understand that Medicare already is 'socialized medicine' that broke my brain."

But that's an important strategy used by fascists — to turn "debate" into such a stinking pile of lies that ordinary people simply shake their heads and ignore it all-together, either believing that no reasonable person could possibly be taken in, or simply unwilling to expend the necessary energy to call the liars on their lies. (Yes, I used the word, fascist; give me a chance. I'm going somewhere with this.)

* * *

A while back, my mother mentioned a talk she'd had with a long-time family friend, a man my mother considers a brother by all but blood, whom she's known since they were both children and who I still call "Uncle" when I see him. "Uncle Phil" was born in Ohio, served in Korea and is now enjoying his retirement in up-state New York. Though a liberal by American standards, he is a patriot in a way that I, as a Canadian, don't fully understand.

Uncle Phil, as I've known him, is a nice guy — affable, quick with a joke or a pun, a man who loves his four children and seems to still be very much in love with his wife after what has to be close to 50 years of marriage. I like him. We exchange hugs when we see each other, and mean it.

And yet, I've never really felt close to him. To me, there has always been a sort of ... vacant quality to him, or to his conversation, that I could never break through.

Conversations in my family have always included those things famously supposed to be banned from polite conversation, including politics and religion. But not so much when Uncle Phil is around. When Uncle Phil is around, conversation seldom strays beyond friends and family, current movies and best-selling novels. There's laughter, yes, but (to me) it's shallow and so, fundamentally unsatisfying.

Still, my mum sometimes works on him and he was certainly thrilled when the era of Bush II came to its long over-due end, so its not like there ought to be an unbridgeable philosophical divide between them.

As part of her effort to get Uncle Phil to at least understand where she is coming from, she offered to buy him a subscription to a small peace-oriented newsletter published here in Canada, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' CCPA Monitor. The organization describes itself as, "an independent, non-partisan research institute concerned with issues of social and economic justice". By Bushite standards, that probably sounds pretty terrible, but it's part of the mainstream (if somewhat marginalized) Canadian political discourse.

But Uncle Phil would have none of it. "I don't want my name to get on any lists," he told her.

"I don't want my name to get on any lists," said this middle-class, white, over-70 year-old war-veteran. The patriotic American doesn't come with much more apple pie and ice-cream than Uncle Phil.

And yet he was frightened at the very thought of receiving in the mail a small newsletter that "they" — a government he despised — would disaprove of.

Fear is the other side of the fascist's blade.

I mention these personal anecdotes because my talk with my father helped to wake me up to the fact that I had been falling victim to the first strategy. (Yes, I know, I'm a Canuck and some will say it's not my fight anyway; but I think both the fact that I am a human being, as well as the pragmatic one that my 35 million fellow-citizens live right next door to the behemoth gives me an interest in what happens there, if not a vote.)

Speaking truth to liars (and dupes)

Brainwashed

The other single thing which helped to rouse me from my slumber was an article by the writer Sara Robinson entitled "Is the U.S. on the brink of fascism?" — an essay I commend to your attention but which I will quote from here.

Robinson's essay is a scary but, I think, well-reasoned piece which lays out a strong case to suggest that the absolutely hysterical campaign to destroy Obama's health-care bill is not in fact simply the ravings a few professional talk-show instigators like the Fox News gang and some groups of loud, simple-minded angry white men (and women), but part of an orchestrated campaign of what is now an alliance between the far-right and the "mainstream" conservatives of the Republican Party.

"An authentic popular fascism in the United States would be pious and anti-Black"

Robinson's definition of fascism is precise and — particularly because the terms, fascist and fascism tend to be thrown around far too casually by the left (as are the terms socialist and socialism by the right — though lately, those using the latter include members of the media and political elites who don't have the excuse that they are just ranting among friends or fellow-travellers on the internet) and so should be repeated, if only to make it clear that I am not one to smear just anyone as a fascist simply because I disagree with them.

The word has been bandied about by so many people so wrongly for so long that, as [historian Robert] Paxton points out, "Everybody is somebody else's fascist." Given that, I always like to start these conversations by revisiting Paxton's essential definition of the term:

"Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline."

Elsewhere, he refines this further as:

"a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

According to Robinson (pace Paxton), those democracies which have fallen to fascist movements have done so in five stages. Briefly, they are as follows (again, I highly recommend reading the full essay). Note: The italics below are mine.

  1. "In the first stage, a rural movement emerges to effect some kind of nationalist renewal [...] They come together to restore a broken social order, always drawing on themes of unity, order, and purity. Reason is rejected in favor of passionate emotion." The fascist narrative varies but is "always rooted in the promise of restoring lost national pride by resurrecting the culture's traditional myths and values, and purging society of the toxic influence of the outsiders and intellectuals who are blamed for their current misery [...]"

  2. "In the second stage, fascist movements take root, turn into real political parties, and seize their seat at the table of power. Interestingly, in every case Paxton cites, the political base came from the rural, less-educated parts of the country [...] these days, GOP-sanctioned anti-immigrant groups make life hell for Hispanic agricultural workers in the US. As violence against random Hispanics (citizens and otherwise) increases, the right-wing goon squads are getting basic training that, if the pattern holds, they may eventually use to intimidate the rest of us."

  3. The third stage requires a resurgent left which denies the conservatives their "rightful" seat at the table of power, leading to a political deadlock. "The most important variables...are the conservative elites' willingness to work with the fascists (along with a reciprocal flexibility on the part of the fascist leaders) and the depth of the crisis that induces them to cooperate." (Paxton.)

    "That description sounds eerily like the dire straits our Congressional Republicans find themselves in right now. Though the GOP has been humiliated, rejected, and reduced to rump status by a series of epic national catastrophes mostly of its own making, its leadership can't even imagine governing cooperatively with the newly mobilized and ascendant Democrats. Lacking legitimate routes back to power, their last hope is to invest the hardcore remainder of their base with an undeserved legitimacy, recruit them as shock troops, and overthrow American democracy by force. If they can't win elections or policy fights, they're more than willing to take it to the streets, and seize power by bullying Americans into silence and complicity."

  4. "In stage four, as [the alliance of conservative elites and rural thugs] assumes full control of the country [...] The character of the regime is determined by [which wing of the alliance] gets the upper hand. If the party members (who gained power through street thuggery) win, an authoritarian police state may well follow. If the conservatives can get them back under control, a more traditional theocracy, corporatocracy, or military regime can re-emerge over time."

  5. "Paxton characterizes stage five as "radicalization or entropy." Radicalization is likely if the new regime scores a big military victory, which consolidates its power and whets its appetite for expansion and large-scale social engineering. (See: Germany) In the absence of a radicalizing event, entropy may set in, as the state gets lost in its own purposes and degenerates into incoherence. (See: Italy)"

What's happening, what is to be done?

I said above that I don't toss about the term fascist casually, but despite Robinson's hesitations about so defining the former Bush administration that way, its well-known disdain for the rule of law, its utter disregard for the well-being of its own citizens (remember what happened to New Orleans in August of 2005?), its love of torture and military adventures abroad already had me believing that Bush and Cheney et al were at least fellow-travellers.

As Robinson puts it,

Now, the guessing game is over. We know beyond doubt that the Teabag movement was created out of whole cloth by astroturf groups like Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips' Americans for Prosperity, with massive media help from FOX News. We see the Birther fracas — the kind of urban myth-making that should have never made it out of the pages of the National Enquirer — being openly ratified by Congressional Republicans. We've seen Armey's own professionally-produced field manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine art of disrupting the democratic governing process — and the film of public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We've seen Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to "a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress."

This is the sign we were waiting for — the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America's conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country's legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America's streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won't do their political or economic bidding.

These are scary times, for Americans in particular, but nearly as much for the rest of us in the "free world". As the richest, most powerful nation on the face of the Earth, the United States has the potential to be a force for great good or for great evil.

As Robinson says, it's not yet (quite) too late to stop the madness.

If you're frightened now, think how frightened you'll be if the worst comes to pass. The time to speak up, to write letters and to demonstrate, is now.

If you're simply fed up with trying to counter fantasies and lies with logic and truth, remember that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance". Freedom never comes without a price, a price paid (in good times) with time and with effort, with the repetition of the truth in the face of brazen lies.

If you believe that all politicians are liars or corrupt and so avoid the political process all together, you deny a truth repeated throughout history, that all politicians are not the same. Even a seriously cynical mind, if honest with itself, understands there is a very real difference between the pathology of a Mussolini and the petty misdemeanours of a Bill Clinton.

We have a both a moral obligation, and a pragmatic one, to stand up and be counted.

The voices of the lunatic right are not yet an organized army of brown-shirts, but the thinly-veiled racism and homophobia of the "birthers" and those who take seriously Sarah Palin's fantasies that Obama wants to kill her baby need to be countered, the coals of paranoia must be doused before they burst into an unstoppable inferno of hatred and fear.

I know, to some of you at least, I am the one who sounds paranoid, but the historical parallels are too stark to be ignored. I don't know about you, but I don't want to wake up from a nightmare some years down the road to tell my grandchildren that I did nothing to stop it when I had the chance.

Originally posted on my website, Edifice Rex Online.

(For those of you who share my anal-retentive qualities, please note that I have edited this post (2009/08/17) to deal with the magazine my mother wanted to buy for Uncle Phil. The actual publication in question was the CCPA Monitor, published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, an organization having nothing to do with the United Church nor any church. The original text read as follows.)

As part of her effort to get Uncle Phil to at least understand where she is coming from, she offered to buy him a subscription to a small peace-oriented newsletter published here in Canada. (I want to say it's The United Church Observer, but the images on the website don't look right. Suffice it to say that, by Canadian standards, it's left-of-centre but hardly radical.

But Uncle Phil would have none of it. "I don't want my name to get on any lists," he told her.

"I don't want my name to get on any lists," said this middle-class, white, over-70 year-old war-veteran. The patriotic American doesn't come with much more apple pie and ice-cream than Uncle Phil.

And yet he was frightened at the very thought of receiving in the mail a small newsletter published by one of Canada's mainstream Christian churches.

ed_rex: (Default)

'If you're simply fed up with trying to counter fantasies and lies with logic and truth, remember that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance". Freedom never comes without a price, a price paid (in good times) with time and with effort, with the repetition of the truth in the face of brazen lies.

'If you believe that all politicians are liars or corrupt and so avoid the political process all together, you deny a truth repeated throughout history, that all politicians are not the same. Even a seriously cynical mind, if honest with itself, understands there is a very real difference between the pathology of a Mussolini and the petty misdemeanours of a Bill Clinton.'

Scared? Maybe you should be

Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship [...] the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

     — Hermann Goering interviewed during the Nuremberg Trials, as per the invaluable Snopes.com.

Shutting down for being shouted down

I know, I know: long-time readers will notice that I have quoted Goering before, but the words bear repeating.

I was talking with my father last week and we had a brief conversation about the "debate" they're having south of the border on the Obama administration's attempt to reform the American health care system.

"Oh that," I said, "I haven't really been paying much attention. I can't take the lies and the lunacy any more. I think it was the senior citizen, who didn't understand that Medicare already is 'socialized medicine' that broke my brain."

But that's an important strategy used by fascists — to turn "debate" into such a stinking pile of lies that ordinary people simply shake their heads and ignore it all-together, either believing that no reasonable person could possibly be taken in, or simply unwilling to expend the necessary energy to call the liars on their lies. (Yes, I used the word, fascist; give me a chance. I'm going somewhere with this.)

* * *

A while back, my mother mentioned a talk she'd had with a long-time family friend, a man my mother considers a brother by all but blood, whom she's known since they were both children and who I still call "Uncle" when I see him. "Uncle Phil" was born in Ohio, served in Korea and is now enjoying his retirement in up-state New York. Though a liberal by American standards, he is a patriot in a way that I, as a Canadian, don't fully understand.

Uncle Phil, as I've known him, is a nice guy — affable, quick with a joke or a pun, a man who loves his four children and seems to still be very much in love with his wife after what has to be close to 50 years of marriage. I like him. We exchange hugs when we see each other, and mean it.

And yet, I've never really felt close to him. To me, there has always been a sort of ... vacant quality to him, or to his conversation, that I could never break through.

Conversations in my family have always included those things famously supposed to be banned from polite conversation, including politics and religion. But not so much when Uncle Phil is around. When Uncle Phil is around, conversation seldom strays beyond friends and family, current movies and best-selling novels. There's laughter, yes, but (to me) it's shallow and so, fundamentally unsatisfying.

Still, my mum sometimes works on him and he was certainly thrilled when the era of Bush II came to its long over-due end, so its not like there ought to be an unbridgeable philosophical divide between them.

As part of her effort to get Uncle Phil to at least understand where she is coming from, she offered to buy him a subscription to a small peace-oriented newsletter published here in Canada, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' CCPA Monitor. The organization describes itself as, "an independent, non-partisan research institute concerned with issues of social and economic justice". By Bushite standards, that probably sounds pretty terrible, but it's part of the mainstream (if somewhat marginalized) Canadian political discourse.

But Uncle Phil would have none of it. "I don't want my name to get on any lists," he told her.

"I don't want my name to get on any lists," said this middle-class, white, over-70 year-old war-veteran. The patriotic American doesn't come with much more apple pie and ice-cream than Uncle Phil.

And yet he was frightened at the very thought of receiving in the mail a small newsletter that "they" — a government he despised — would disaprove of.

Fear is the other side of the fascist's blade.

I mention these personal anecdotes because my talk with my father helped to wake me up to the fact that I had been falling victim to the first strategy. (Yes, I know, I'm a Canuck and some will say it's not my fight anyway; but I think both the fact that I am a human being, as well as the pragmatic one that my 35 million fellow-citizens live right next door to the behemoth gives me an interest in what happens there, if not a vote.)

Speaking truth to liars (and dupes)

Brainwashed

The other single thing which helped to rouse me from my slumber was an article by the writer Sara Robinson entitled "Is the U.S. on the brink of fascism?" — an essay I commend to your attention but which I will quote from here.

Robinson's essay is a scary but, I think, well-reasoned piece which lays out a strong case to suggest that the absolutely hysterical campaign to destroy Obama's health-care bill is not in fact simply the ravings a few professional talk-show instigators like the Fox News gang and some groups of loud, simple-minded angry white men (and women), but part of an orchestrated campaign of what is now an alliance between the far-right and the "mainstream" conservatives of the Republican Party.

"An authentic popular fascism in the United States would be pious and anti-Black"

Robinson's definition of fascism is precise and — particularly because the terms, fascist and fascism tend to be thrown around far too casually by the left (as are the terms socialist and socialism by the right — though lately, those using the latter include members of the media and political elites who don't have the excuse that they are just ranting among friends or fellow-travellers on the internet) and so should be repeated, if only to make it clear that I am not one to smear just anyone as a fascist simply because I disagree with them.

The word has been bandied about by so many people so wrongly for so long that, as [historian Robert] Paxton points out, "Everybody is somebody else's fascist." Given that, I always like to start these conversations by revisiting Paxton's essential definition of the term:

"Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline."

Elsewhere, he refines this further as:

"a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

According to Robinson (pace Paxton), those democracies which have fallen to fascist movements have done so in five stages. Briefly, they are as follows (again, I highly recommend reading the full essay). Note: The italics below are mine.

  1. "In the first stage, a rural movement emerges to effect some kind of nationalist renewal [...] They come together to restore a broken social order, always drawing on themes of unity, order, and purity. Reason is rejected in favor of passionate emotion." The fascist narrative varies but is "always rooted in the promise of restoring lost national pride by resurrecting the culture's traditional myths and values, and purging society of the toxic influence of the outsiders and intellectuals who are blamed for their current misery [...]"

  2. "In the second stage, fascist movements take root, turn into real political parties, and seize their seat at the table of power. Interestingly, in every case Paxton cites, the political base came from the rural, less-educated parts of the country [...] these days, GOP-sanctioned anti-immigrant groups make life hell for Hispanic agricultural workers in the US. As violence against random Hispanics (citizens and otherwise) increases, the right-wing goon squads are getting basic training that, if the pattern holds, they may eventually use to intimidate the rest of us."

  3. The third stage requires a resurgent left which denies the conservatives their "rightful" seat at the table of power, leading to a political deadlock. "The most important variables...are the conservative elites' willingness to work with the fascists (along with a reciprocal flexibility on the part of the fascist leaders) and the depth of the crisis that induces them to cooperate." (Paxton.)

    "That description sounds eerily like the dire straits our Congressional Republicans find themselves in right now. Though the GOP has been humiliated, rejected, and reduced to rump status by a series of epic national catastrophes mostly of its own making, its leadership can't even imagine governing cooperatively with the newly mobilized and ascendant Democrats. Lacking legitimate routes back to power, their last hope is to invest the hardcore remainder of their base with an undeserved legitimacy, recruit them as shock troops, and overthrow American democracy by force. If they can't win elections or policy fights, they're more than willing to take it to the streets, and seize power by bullying Americans into silence and complicity."

  4. "In stage four, as [the alliance of conservative elites and rural thugs] assumes full control of the country [...] The character of the regime is determined by [which wing of the alliance] gets the upper hand. If the party members (who gained power through street thuggery) win, an authoritarian police state may well follow. If the conservatives can get them back under control, a more traditional theocracy, corporatocracy, or military regime can re-emerge over time."

  5. "Paxton characterizes stage five as "radicalization or entropy." Radicalization is likely if the new regime scores a big military victory, which consolidates its power and whets its appetite for expansion and large-scale social engineering. (See: Germany) In the absence of a radicalizing event, entropy may set in, as the state gets lost in its own purposes and degenerates into incoherence. (See: Italy)"

What's happening, what is to be done?

I said above that I don't toss about the term fascist casually, but despite Robinson's hesitations about so defining the former Bush administration that way, its well-known disdain for the rule of law, its utter disregard for the well-being of its own citizens (remember what happened to New Orleans in August of 2005?), its love of torture and military adventures abroad already had me believing that Bush and Cheney et al were at least fellow-travellers.

As Robinson puts it,

Now, the guessing game is over. We know beyond doubt that the Teabag movement was created out of whole cloth by astroturf groups like Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips' Americans for Prosperity, with massive media help from FOX News. We see the Birther fracas — the kind of urban myth-making that should have never made it out of the pages of the National Enquirer — being openly ratified by Congressional Republicans. We've seen Armey's own professionally-produced field manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine art of disrupting the democratic governing process — and the film of public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We've seen Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to "a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress."

This is the sign we were waiting for — the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America's conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country's legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America's streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won't do their political or economic bidding.

These are scary times, for Americans in particular, but nearly as much for the rest of us in the "free world". As the richest, most powerful nation on the face of the Earth, the United States has the potential to be a force for great good or for great evil.

As Robinson says, it's not yet (quite) too late to stop the madness.

If you're frightened now, think how frightened you'll be if the worst comes to pass. The time to speak up, to write letters and to demonstrate, is now.

If you're simply fed up with trying to counter fantasies and lies with logic and truth, remember that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance". Freedom never comes without a price, a price paid (in good times) with time and with effort, with the repetition of the truth in the face of brazen lies.

If you believe that all politicians are liars or corrupt and so avoid the political process all together, you deny a truth repeated throughout history, that all politicians are not the same. Even a seriously cynical mind, if honest with itself, understands there is a very real difference between the pathology of a Mussolini and the petty misdemeanours of a Bill Clinton.

We have a both a moral obligation, and a pragmatic one, to stand up and be counted.

The voices of the lunatic right are not yet an organized army of brown-shirts, but the thinly-veiled racism and homophobia of the "birthers" and those who take seriously Sarah Palin's fantasies that Obama wants to kill her baby need to be countered, the coals of paranoia must be doused before they burst into an unstoppable inferno of hatred and fear.

I know, to some of you at least, I am the one who sounds paranoid, but the historical parallels are too stark to be ignored. I don't know about you, but I don't want to wake up from a nightmare some years down the road to tell my grandchildren that I did nothing to stop it when I had the chance.

Originally posted on my website, Edifice Rex Online.

(For those of you who share my anal-retentive qualities, please note that I have edited this post (2009/08/17) to deal with the magazine my mother wanted to buy for Uncle Phil. The actual publication in question was the CCPA Monitor, published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, an organization having nothing to do with the United Church nor any church. The original text read as follows.)

As part of her effort to get Uncle Phil to at least understand where she is coming from, she offered to buy him a subscription to a small peace-oriented newsletter published here in Canada. (I want to say it's The United Church Observer, but the images on the website don't look right. Suffice it to say that, by Canadian standards, it's left-of-centre but hardly radical.

But Uncle Phil would have none of it. "I don't want my name to get on any lists," he told her.

"I don't want my name to get on any lists," said this middle-class, white, over-70 year-old war-veteran. The patriotic American doesn't come with much more apple pie and ice-cream than Uncle Phil.

And yet he was frightened at the very thought of receiving in the mail a small newsletter published by one of Canada's mainstream Christian churches.

ed_rex: (Default)

psoriasis, not my back

Those of you who know me from elsewhere, probably know I greet the election and the subsequent inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States with a lot of enthusiasm (and — ahem — a "little" to my surprise) and that enthusiasm remained more or less unbowed during the first month or two of his presidency.

But for a while now — the past month, maybe two — it's been flagging.

I don't know enough about economics to judge the wisdom of the massive deficit spending, though I get the sense the "plan" is meant to succeed by more or less re-creating the consumer-driven, easy-credit environment that (at least in part) got us into this mess in the first place — and frankly, when just about every economist in the world says anything in unison, I itch to reach for my gun.

But what's really disturbing me is the rapid devolution of the Obama administration's foreign policy.
  • The Bush-like fantasy of "victory" in Iraq;

  • the Johnson-like escalations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, both efforts doomed to ultimate failure, but which will, in the interim create literally millions of civilian casualties, further destroy the economies and whatever progressive civil societies struggling there and — create even more terrorists and poppy-farmers; and

  • possibly worst of all (at least for the civil society of the United States itself), Obama's back-tracking on his promises to end torture, secret prisons and the rest of the fascist brutalization of the Bush II administration.

On Wednesday, May 27, The Nation published Jonathan Schell's brilliant article, "Torture and Truth", which I commend to all of you, but especially to those Americans among you who supported Obama.

If you believed in that "change you can believe in" when you voted, when you canvassed, when you blogged, then now is not the time to sit back and let the boys (and girls) in Washington fall prey to the permanent "government", as seems to be happening.

I'll offer you a few quotes, but really, just read the damned thing and start writing letters, making phone calls ... whatever you think might help to remind your President why it was you elected him.

It has fallen to President Obama to deal with the policies and practices of torture inaugurated by the Bush administration. He started boldly, ordering an end to the abuses, announcing the closing in one year of the detention camp at Guantánamo and releasing the Bush-era Justice Department memos authorizing torture. Subsequently, he seemed to grow cautious. He discouraged formation of an independent commission to investigate the torture and reversed a previous position in favor of releasing Pentagon photos of abuses and instead opposed release [...] He surprisingly embraced a number of Bush policies, including military commissions for trying detainees, the use of the State Secrets privilege to protect information in court and the indefinite use of preventive detention [...] Yet among these reversals and improvisations, one very general preference has remained steady. Throughout, Obama has expressed a desire to concentrate on the "future" rather than the "past." As he put it a while back, he is bent on "getting things right in the future, as opposed [to] looking at what we got wrong in the past." Or as he said in the National Archives speech, "We need to focus on the future" while resisting those "with a strong desire to focus on the past."[...]

When the full history of the Bush administration is finally told, one event may prove iconic: the torture of the Al Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who recently died, allegedly by his own hand, in a prison in Libya, where he was sent by the United States. Libi was captured in Pakistan in late 2001. At first, he was interrogated by the FBI, and he provided useful information on the inner workings of Al Qaeda. But more was wanted from him. The Bush administration, hellbent on justifying its forthcoming invasion of Iraq, was ransacking the intelligence bureaucracy to find or produce two things that, it turns out, did not exist: weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq and cooperation between Al Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein. Pressure to find evidence of both intensified in 2002.[...]

As Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, has stated, the "harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002...was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and Al Qaeda." And according to the recent Senate Armed Services Committee report on the treatment of detainees, a former Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, has confirmed the charge. "A large part of the time," he told Army investigators, "we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful.... The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link...there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results." The CIA took custody of Libi and began to expose him to abuse. Next, it "rendered" him to Egypt, where he was subjected to, among other torments, severe beatings and confinement in a tiny cage for more than eighty hours. He then produced the desired false statements linking Al Qaeda with the Iraqi government.[...]

This purpose of the Bush-era torture is inscribed in its origins. In the Korean War, the Chinese invented torture techniques whose aim was to force American prisoners of war to make false confessions of participation in war crimes for use in propaganda. Since false confessions, not information, were the desired product, a heavy emphasis was placed on sensory deprivation and other techniques for producing mental breakdown.[...]

Even as the torturer shatters the world of his victim, he assaults the foundation of his own world, although he does not know it. Indeed, his blindness is a consequence of the torture, even a condition for it. The torturer and his victim are close to each other. There is physical contact. Yet in every other respect they are as distant as it is possible for one person to be from another. In the moral and affective vacuum that has been generated, sympathy, empathy, pity, understanding--every form of fellow-feeling--have been reduced to absolute zero. That is why torture is always, in Scarry's words, an "undoing of civilization," and, probably more reliably than anything, it foretells the descent of a civilization into barbarism. The power of the state that tortures may be increasingly fictional, but the degradation of its civilization is real.[...]

Oh, just read the damned original already!

It was the US that was in large part responsible for the (correct) insistence at the Nuremberg war crimes trials that "following orders" was not an excuse for committing crimes against humanity, including torture. If Barack Obama is not willing or able, if if he does not have the courage, to look to the (o! so recent!) past his country is doomed to repeat the crimes, again and again and again.

And the rest of us might just as well look to China for moral leadership in this world.

(Cross-posted from my Livejournal.)
ed_rex: (Default)
[2009/05/29, 0400 hours Eastern Time: Edited to provide link to full Schell article.]



You all probably know I greet the election and the subsequent inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States with a lot of enthusiasm (and — ahem — a "little" to my surprise) and that enthusiasm remained more or less unbowed during the first month or two of his presidency.

But for a while now — the past month, maybe two — it's been flagging.

I don't know enough about economics to judge the wisdom of the massive deficit spending, though I get the sense the "plan" is meant to succeed by more or less re-creating the consumer-driven, easy-credit environment that (at least in part) got us into this mess in the first place — and frankly, when just about every economist in the world says anything in unison, I itch to reach for my gun.

But what's really disturbing me is the rapid devolution of the Obama administration's foreign policy.
  • The Bush-like fantasy of "victory" in Iraq;

  • the Johnson-like escalations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, both efforts doomed to ultimate failure, but which will, in the interim create literally millions of civilian casualties, further destroy the economies and whatever progressive civil societies struggling there and — create even more terrorists and poppy-farmers; and

  • possibly worst of all (at least for the civil society of the United States itself), Obama's back-tracking on his promises to end torture, secret prisons and the rest of the fascist brutalization of the Bush II administration.

On Wednesday, May 27, The Nation published Jonathan Schell's brilliant article, "Torture and Truth", which I commend to all of you, but especially to those Americans among you who supported Obama.

If you believed in that "change you can believe in" when you voted, when you canvassed, when you blogged, then now is not the time to sit back and let the boys (and girls) in Washington fall prey to the permanent "government", as seems to be happening.

I'll offer you a few quotes, but really, just read the damned thing and start writing letters, making phone calls ... whatever you think might help to remind your President why it was you elected him.

It has fallen to President Obama to deal with the policies and practices of torture inaugurated by the Bush administration. He started boldly, ordering an end to the abuses, announcing the closing in one year of the detention camp at Guantánamo and releasing the Bush-era Justice Department memos authorizing torture. Subsequently, he seemed to grow cautious. He discouraged formation of an independent commission to investigate the torture and reversed a previous position in favor of releasing Pentagon photos of abuses and instead opposed release [...] He surprisingly embraced a number of Bush policies, including military commissions for trying detainees, the use of the State Secrets privilege to protect information in court and the indefinite use of preventive detention [...] Yet among these reversals and improvisations, one very general preference has remained steady. Throughout, Obama has expressed a desire to concentrate on the "future" rather than the "past." As he put it a while back, he is bent on "getting things right in the future, as opposed [to] looking at what we got wrong in the past." Or as he said in the National Archives speech, "We need to focus on the future" while resisting those "with a strong desire to focus on the past."[...]

When the full history of the Bush administration is finally told, one event may prove iconic: the torture of the Al Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who recently died, allegedly by his own hand, in a prison in Libya, where he was sent by the United States. Libi was captured in Pakistan in late 2001. At first, he was interrogated by the FBI, and he provided useful information on the inner workings of Al Qaeda. But more was wanted from him. The Bush administration, hellbent on justifying its forthcoming invasion of Iraq, was ransacking the intelligence bureaucracy to find or produce two things that, it turns out, did not exist: weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq and cooperation between Al Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein. Pressure to find evidence of both intensified in 2002.[...]

As Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, has stated, the "harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002...was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and Al Qaeda." And according to the recent Senate Armed Services Committee report on the treatment of detainees, a former Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, has confirmed the charge. "A large part of the time," he told Army investigators, "we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful.... The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link...there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results." The CIA took custody of Libi and began to expose him to abuse. Next, it "rendered" him to Egypt, where he was subjected to, among other torments, severe beatings and confinement in a tiny cage for more than eighty hours. He then produced the desired false statements linking Al Qaeda with the Iraqi government.[...]

This purpose of the Bush-era torture is inscribed in its origins. In the Korean War, the Chinese invented torture techniques whose aim was to force American prisoners of war to make false confessions of participation in war crimes for use in propaganda. Since false confessions, not information, were the desired product, a heavy emphasis was placed on sensory deprivation and other techniques for producing mental breakdown.[...]

Even as the torturer shatters the world of his victim, he assaults the foundation of his own world, although he does not know it. Indeed, his blindness is a consequence of the torture, even a condition for it. The torturer and his victim are close to each other. There is physical contact. Yet in every other respect they are as distant as it is possible for one person to be from another. In the moral and affective vacuum that has been generated, sympathy, empathy, pity, understanding--every form of fellow-feeling--have been reduced to absolute zero. That is why torture is always, in Scarry's words, an "undoing of civilization," and, probably more reliably than anything, it foretells the descent of a civilization into barbarism. The power of the state that tortures may be increasingly fictional, but the degradation of its civilization is real.[...]

Oh, just read the damned original already!

It was the US that was in large part responsible for the (correct) insistence at the Nuremberg war crimes trials that "following orders" was not an excuse for committing crimes against humanity, including torture. If Barack Obama is not willing or able, if if he does not have the courage, to look to the (o! so recent!) past his country is doomed to repeat the crimes, again and again and again.

And the rest of us might just as well look to China for moral leadership in this world.
ed_rex: (Default)
"But you must remember, my fellow-citizens, that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing." — Andrew Jackson, Farewell Address, March 4, 1837
We expect the jackboot of state power to come down hard during "important events" like the Olympics in countries like China, but not in democracies like Canada or the US (though, in truth, I remember a similar (though lesser) level of state-terrorism during a G-7 summit held in Toronto in 1988. My brother was threatened, not with arrest, but with a gun, by a cop who, presumably — since Tom was only walking by the site, not protesting anything — didn't care for his rather scruffy appearance.

Nevertheless, the scale and scope of pre-emptive arrests, illegal spying, the special "protest zones" and other tokens of a breakdown of democracy ought to scare hell out of every one of you who lives south of the 49th parallel. If you're an American who believes in the values of your Constitution and Bill of Rights, please read the following stories; from what I've been able to tell, they haven't been getting much play in the major (corporate — fancy that!) media. Your Republic is being stolen from you and only you can take it back.
  • I first became aware of the pre-emptive arrests via [livejournal.com profile] matociquala's journal, who provided a link to [livejournal.com profile] pecunium's entry about events which took place before and during last week's Democratic Nation Convention.
    "What bothers me started with news coverage of the Democratic Convention. Feature stories about people sleeping in, “the Freedom Cage.” That nomenclature was appalling. When I found out that was a sardonic renaming by those making use of it I wasn’t much happier, because the idea of a “free speech zone” is anathema to me.

    "I am an american citizen. In the boundaries of the United States there is no public place where I cannot speak my mind on matters political.

    "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    [livejournal.com profile] pecunium's full post can read here.

  • Same deal at the Republican National Convention.

    Peper-spray as Politics
    Marcus Washington, a producer from Tennessee who was documenting the antiwar protest, grimaced in pain after he was hit with pepper spray. (Photo: Jim Gehrz / Minneapolis Star Tribune)
    "In the months leading up to the Republican National Convention, the FBI-led Minneapolis Joint Terrorist Task Force actively recruited people to infiltrate vegan groups and other leftist organizations and report back about their activities. On May 21, the Minneapolis City Pages ran a recruiting story called "Moles Wanted." Law enforcement sought to pre-empt lawful protest against the policies of the Bush administration during the convention.

    "Since Friday, local police and sheriffs, working with the FBI, conducted pre-emptive searches, seizures and arrests. Glenn Greenwald described the targeting of protesters by "teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with
    semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets." Journalists were detained at gunpoint and lawyers representing detainees were handcuffed at the scene."
    The full story can be read here.

  • Finally (if only!), it's not just political activists who are being targeted by the coercive power of the state. Union-busting is also in vogue.
    "Laurel, Mississippi — On August 25, immigration agents swooped down on Howard Industries, a Mississippi electrical equipment factory, taking 481 workers to a privately-run detention center in Jena, Louisiana. A hundred and six women were also arrested at the plant, and released wearing electronic monitoring devices on their ankles if they had children, or without them if they were pregnant. Eight workers were taken to Federal court in Hattiesburg, where they were charged with aggravated identity theft."
Click here for the full story.

If you think these crimes are no big deal, or that they don't affect you, forgive me for closing with a poem that deserves repeating, no matter how often it has been reprinted before.
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller

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