A Progressive Step Forward

Mussolini made the trains run on time.  From the 15 November 2016 The Atlantic — “Stop Saying Mussolini Made the Trains Run on Time“:

Like other Italian Fascist-era coinages (turns out “drain the swamp” was a Mussolini thing, too), Il Duce’s timely trains are getting a workout these days. . . . .  Now that sci-fi speculation about President Trump has broken into the real world, perhaps it’s time to finally confront the minor-but-enduring falsehood about Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and his punctual trains.

Benito Mussolini seen in train window in Italy in 1943

Benito Mussolini seen in train window in Italy in 1943

We have to do with the War Against Trump By Any Means Necessary: the author of the short article has to admit that, to a large extent, he did get the main routes, used by most foreigners, modernized.

Starting with the indubitable thesis, then, that the modern founder of Fascism was able to accomplish some good things — can we not all agree that modern trains, running on time, on improved roadbeds, is a good thing? — it s no betrayal of progressive politics to acknowledge the valid positive accomplishments of the Blond Beast.

Yesterday, Donald Trump stated in a major news-media interview (with the prominent veteran anchor and author Bill O’Reilly), that the United States government has no business condemning the President of Russia Vladimir Putin because, as O’Reilly put it, “he’s a killer.”

“O’Reilly: But he’s a killer, though. Putin’s a killer.

“Trump: There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think – our country’s so innocent?”

Despite the resulting uproar, to which I’ll get in a moment, as the editor of Antiwar.com writes, “What Trump said is something that every ordinary person recognizes [.]”  The most striking example is that of the assassination six years ago by the Obama Administration of the U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, and, subsequently, his teenaged son, by drone-dropped weaponry.  The President clearly violated in that case the Fifth Amendment, guaranteeing citizens the right to life  unless brought to trial.  From the 24 July 2014 Mother Jones:

You can’t get more serious about protecting the people from their government than the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, specifically in its most critical clause: “No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” In 2011, the White House ordered the drone-killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without trial. It claimed this was a legal act it is prepared to repeat as necessary. Given the Fifth Amendment, how exactly was this justified? Thanks to a much contested, recently released but significantly redacted—about one-third of the text is missing—Justice Department white paper providing the basis for that extrajudicial killing, we finally know: the president in Post-Constitutional America is now officially judge, jury, and executioner.

One thing that could be said, I think with assurance is, that were the prospective First Woman President to have taken office, we never would have seen this bit of common sense brought forward by the President of the United States.  The Democratic member of the House of Representatives Adam Shiff gave voice to the Party Line in that regard.

“This is the second time Trump has defended Putin against the charge that he’s a killer by saying in effect that the US is no better or different,” Schiff told CNN. “This is as inexplicably bizarre as it is untrue. Does he not see the damage he does with comments like that, and the gift he gives to Russian propaganda?”

For the Democratic Party in general, and for former Senator and Secretary of State H. Clinton in particular, the U.S. is an “exceptional nation”: we simply cannot do evil.  The Democratic Party nominee for President spoke of that before the American Legion, during the electoral campaign:

If there’s one core belief that has guided and inspired me every step of the way, it is this. The United States is an exceptional nation. I believe we are still Lincoln’s last, best hope of Earth. We’re still Reagan’s shining city on a hill. We’re still Robert Kennedy’s great, unselfish, compassionate country. [emphasis added]

For the Democratic Party — one could include almost all of the Republican Party as well, and call it, as Mr Raimondo does, “the War Party” — the idea that we have assassins in the employ of the United States government, deliberately and intentionally murdering political opponents of the régime, is “as inexplicably bizarre as it is untrue.”

Anwar al-Awlaki is not to be mentioned.  Implicit reference to that war crime is beyond the bounds of rational discourse.  Acknowledgement of well-established fact is “damag[ing]” and a “gift to Russian propaganda”.

At this point I think we can see how Mr Noam Chomsky’s unfortunate suggestion that simple morality dictated that Clinton was to be preferred to Trump, was indeed mistaken.  Here is a clearly stated breach in the Conspiracy of Silence over U.S. war crimes.  Here is the beginning of a discussion about the truth of the matter — that you cannot, and this country has not, run an empire without widespread brutality, oppression, and violence.

Having hailed this statement by Trump as a great step forward for humane foreign policy, I admit on the other hand that he will very likely (his orders have already produced the death by U.S. armed service members of Anwar al-Awlaki’s eight-year-old daughter) conduct other war crimes, himself.

One of at least 14 civilians killed 29 January 2017, in Yemen, as a result of a raid ordered by of President D. Trump

One of at least 14 civilians killed 29 January 2017, in Yemen, as a result of a raid ordered by President D. Trump

I would compare this turn in the conversation about the conduct of the foreign policy of the United States to the momentous trial, decided on the 9 December 1789 speech by Thomas Erskine to the jury sitting in judgement of the Viceroy of India, in which in more memorable prose than Mr Trump’s the inevitable consequence of imperial rule was delineated ineradicably:

It may and must be true that Mr Hastings has repeatedly offended against the rights and privileges of Asiatic government, if he was the faithful deputy of a power which could not maintain itself for an hour without trampling upon both.  He may and must have offended against the laws of God and nature if he was the faithful viceroy of an empire wrested in blood from the people to whom God and nature had given it; he may and must have preserved that unjust dominion over timorous and abject nations by a terrifying, overbearing, insulting superiority, if he was the faithful administrator of your government, which, having no root in consent or affection — no foundation in similarity of interests — nor support from any principle which cements men together in society, could only be upheld by alternate strategem and force.

Hastings, the admitted criminal viceroy of India, was acquitted.  The jurors, ordinary men, agreed that criminal administration of an empire was not only possible but required.  That is the conception which led, eventually, to the abandonment of the British Empire in the face of Indian civil disobedience.

There is no consistency to Donald Trump’s attitude toward force as an instrument of U.S. foreign relations; but there has now been a long-overdue acknowledgement that our imperial conduct involves killing innocents.  That is a step forward for progressive efforts toward ending our empire.

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What If A Coup Takes Place

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Your Intrepid Reporter, dear reader, will preface this commentary, as he has done in the past, with the notice that it constitutes the opinion of one who has pled guilty to violating a Restraining Order, taken out by his wife.  Each week I attend a Domestic Violence class, as a condition of my probation from Multnomah County Jail, where I spent July and half of August of last year.

Although this writer once considered himself eligible for political office, that collision with the Forces of Order has forever closed such an option.  Take whatever is contained therein with that disqualifying preface in mind.

That said, let us look at what happens in a coup d’état, the possibility of which has become subject to discussion on the website Medium a couple of days ago.  DHS means Department of Human Services; CBP means Customs and Border Protection.

Note also the most frightening escalation last night was that the DHS made it fairly clear that they did not feel bound to obey any court orders. CBP continued to deny all access to counsel, detain people, and deport them in direct contravention to the court’s order, citing “upper management,” and the DHS made a formal (but confusing) statement that they would continue to follow the President’s orders. (See my updates from yesterday, and the various links there, for details) Significant in today’s updates is any lack of suggestion that the courts’ authority played a role in the decision.

The behavior of the subaltern officials involved imitated that of their superiors in the Administration, who, as other observers noted, made no effort to work with the departments in question, but rather the opposite, to operate from the top without intervening layers of authority and responsibility.  The immediate following words

That is to say, the administration is testing the extent to which the DHS (and other executive agencies) can act and ignore orders from the other branches of government. This is as serious as it can possibly get: all of the arguments about whether order X or Y is unconstitutional mean nothing if elements of the government are executing them and the courts are being ignored. [emphasis in original — MM]
Yesterday was the trial balloon for a coup d’état against the United States. It gave them useful information.

state that the preparations for a coup are being implemented.

The editor-in-chief of Reuters, a news agency headquartered in London and in business since 1851, has ordered his reporters to cover the Trump Administration in a manner similar to violent dictatorships: We don’t know yet how sharp the Trump administration’s attacks will be over time or to what extent those attacks will be accompanied by legal restrictions on our news-gathering. 

Since the situation is fluid, I cannot say with any degree of assurance what is going to happen within the next few weeks, and indeed the fears, as shown, of a coup may be mistaken.  They are not groundless, of course; but they might be erroneous.  Put that to one side, for the purpose of this comment, however; what if there be a real prospect of the Congress and the federal court system being replaced by an dictatorship.

It is the case, that the Establishment organ Foreign Policy, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, offers

“The fourth possibility [to ‘get rid of’ Trump’] is one that until recently I would have said was unthinkable in the United States of America: a military coup, or at least a refusal by military leaders to obey certain orders” [Rosa Brooks, Foreign Policy].

Unsuccessful efforts at an overthrow of republican, or constitutional, but in any case legally circumscribed, government in favor of authoritarian rule fail, historically,  because the police or military fail to shoot and kill the protest demonstrators.  Two examples of recent events will be sufficient to establish this, I think: the 2011 Tahrir Square demonstrators spent days getting tear-gassed and shot before the troops just stopped killing; within a couple of days the President of Egypt had stepped down.  By contrast, in the opposite direction, the Syrian military that same year was quite willing to keep killing demonstrators, non-violent or not, when given the order to do so.  Al Jazeera notes:

In 2011, what became known as the “Arab Spring” revolts toppled Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

That March, peaceful protests erupted in Syria as well, after 15 boys were detained and tortured for having written graffiti in support of the Arab Spring. One of the boys, 13-year-old Hamza al-Khateeb , was killed after having been brutally tortured.

The Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded to the protests by killing hundreds of demonstrators and imprisoning many more. In July 2011, defectors from the military announced the formation of the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group aiming to overthrow the government, and Syria began to slide into civil war.

We are now living in a country where it is conceivable — it hasn’t happened, yet, but it is conceivable — that the Administration would prorogue Congress.  At that point the main thing that would avert a dictatorship would be the unwillingness of the police and military to shoot and kill the demonstrators who protested.

That is why the Greens, as well as anyone else seriously interested in progressive change, would be inclined to foster good relations with military or police officials and personnel.  Even if the troops shot and killed in DC, they might not do so in Portland, and then there would be a breakaway government which could reverse the course of events.

Posted in Bradley Manning, Cameron Whitten, Dan Handelman, Elections, Empire, Fascism, Free Speech, Friendship, Inequality, Jamie Partridge, Local government, Oregon state government, Pacific Green Party, Police, Ronald Reagan, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Constitution, US Senate, War | 1 Comment

A Fire in Teheran Threatens Conspiracy Theory

NBC News reported today  on a fire in the first high-rise building in Teheran, the capital of Iran.  The building collapsed in the course of a fire, killing “dozens” (I put it in quotes because it is very likely that the toll will be higher than is first reported, as is usually the case in these tragedies) of firefighters as well as, one must assume, occupants.

This brings up the collapse, on 11 September 2001, of Building 7 of the New York City World Trade center, a building that was not hit by an airliner.

The conspiracy theory which has arisen as a result of the shameless white-wash of an investigation following that spectacular terrorist attack put a great deal of emphasis on the collapse of Building 7.  No steel-reinforced high-rise, the dissenters and skeptics from the official narrative said, has ever collapsed merely as a result of fire.  That is point number one in the link provided, for instance.

I do not have independent confirmation of the steel reinforcing of the 17-storey Plasco building in Teheran, but it would appear at the moment that that statement is no longer true.  Indeed, the collapse of high-rise buildings due to fire would be expected to be more frequent as the engineers responsible for erecting them get more confident in their skills.  The historian of technology Henry Petroski has emphasized in his published analyses of engineering failures of bridges how, when the technology is new, engineers typically allow for greater margins of safety; then, when those are found to work, they trim them back in order to save the resources and money needed to erect the structures.

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Let’s Unpack “the Personal Is Political”

Official Portrait of Staff of Grant High School, 2016, from the school website

Official Portrait of Staff of Grant High School, 2016, from the school website

 

This morning brought, on the usual disreputable websites, the appearance of another disapproving look, this time by a military historian, of the past two Presidential administrations.  Andrew Bracevich the author of America’s War for the Middle East: A Military History, in which the well-known critic of bellicose U.S. interventions abroad (whose own son was killed in Iraq, serving in the U.S. armed forces) took a longer-range perspective on the recent history of them.

In one sense, then, a father who will forever mourn his child’s death is saying that there is a lot of mistakes to correct in the constant state of war in which this country has found itself since, oh, let us say, as a reasonable statement, since the Korean undeclared war of 1950.

His first sentence is as follows.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 abruptly ended one historical era and inaugurated another. So, too, did the outcome of last year’s U.S. presidential election.

Now, whether you agree with the former Colonel Bracevich’s analysis or not, you’ve got to admit that this mental step, that of examining the course of an era that has just closed, is likely to shed more light than any number of analyses of what we’re facing at the present.  That is, if you believe there’s any value to historical analysis at all.

The mental step involved reminds me of the requirement,in dynastic China, that the history of each dynasty had to be written, not by any officer or member of the dynasty itself, but by someone living in the dynasty that followed it.  Today, with the rapid turnover of events, perhaps we can be forgiven the initiative of deciding when historical eras have come and gone without reference to the name of the emperor’s family.

In the course of that analysis, former Colonel Bracevich takes the not-unsual tack that the United States continued a hostile attitude, following the collapse of Communism, that eliminated the possibility of close international co-operation with our former enemy Russia.  In that sense his contribution to the Republic of Letters was by no means unusual and not worthy of my wasting your time reading my commentary on it.

Has everybody left now?

No, what distinguished Bracevich’s commentary was his characterization, in discussing the historical epoch 1989-2016 (“The Age of Great Expectations” — presumably with an implicit nod to the ironic Charles Dickens novel), of three themes: one, globalization or “free trade”; two, unquestioned U.S. world hegemony; and the third, a sort of unleashed individualism.  Emphasis added.

The third theme was all about rethinking the concept of personal freedom as commonly understood and pursued by most Americans. During the protracted emergency of the Cold War, reaching an accommodation between freedom and the putative imperatives of national security had not come easily. Cold War-style patriotism seemingly prioritized the interests of the state at the expense of the individual. Yet even as thrillingly expressed by John F. Kennedy – “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” – this was never an easy sell, especially if it meant wading through rice paddies and getting shot at.

Once the Cold War ended, however, the tension between individual freedom and national security momentarily dissipated. Reigning conceptions of what freedom could or should entail underwent a radical transformation. Emphasizing the removal of restraints and inhibitions, the shift made itself felt everywhere, from patterns of consumption and modes of cultural expression to sexuality and the definition of the family. Norms that had prevailed for decades if not generations – marriage as a union between a man and a woman, gender identity as fixed at birth – became passé.

As an author myself of very modest publications in the history of science I am quite interested in “modes of cultural expression,” but am intrigued, to say the least, when a discussion of the major characteristics of the historical era just passed, by a specialist in military history, finds a need to emphasize them.

For example, it is my own firm opinion that the citizens of the United States are tolerating the progressive elimination of all sorts of civil liberties under the rubric of national security because we are being allowed to forget about the nuclear weapons which are the real, genuine, true threat to our existence, as a people and even as a civilization.  [That is my own idea, buttressed somewhat by an interview with a conscientious former Secretary of Defense of the U.S.  It has little to do with Colonel Bracevich’s views.]

What does have a lot to do with the former colonel’s unusual invocation of cultural trends is what my two adolescent sons tell me, daily, about life in the local public high school they attend, here in Portland, Oregon.  They speak of a continual, comprehensive, universal obligation to support advantaged treatment for minorities, especially lesbian, gay, and transgender individuals.  They speak of a teacher from whom an apology is demanded for having addressed his students as “ladies and gentlemen” — he left out the transgenders in the audience  (if any).  They show me an officially sponsored student anti-racism video, which, during the election, was submitted to the national group which judges such things as highschool student videos, and which won a prize, and which explicitly stated that “racism is Trump”.

I forbear extending the list beyond a couple of examples.  There are incident like this virtually every day.  Basically, my boys stress the atmosphere of rigid political correctness which does not tolerate any questioning of its righteousness.

A second example, which struck the Portland progressive community not long ago, is the public “shaming” of a prominent gay black man, Cameron Whitten, for being “misogynist”– for attempting to address a rally, warning them that the police were standing nearby.  During the facebook storm which followed his “shaming”, he was told by a white man that he had been insufficiently deferential to the black lesbians who organized the rally.

The point is, not to examine the possible justifications or critiques of these cultural tempests in teapots, but to indicate their extraordinary weight in present-day discourse.  This centrality arose, Bracevich claims, in the short historical epoch that has now ended, and their awkward form, their disproportionate emphasis, their very unsustainability, reveals that they are no longer promoting minority rights, but rather represent a means of distraction.  He writes

for all the talk of empowering the marginalized – people of color, women, gays – elites reaped the lion’s share of the benefits while ordinary people were left to make do. The atmosphere was rife with hypocrisy and even a whiff of nihilism.

There’s a problem here, though — the changing definition of the family did not have a lot to do with the economic inequality that left “ordinary people” (since the very sense of “ordinary” is exactly what is in play, its use raises an eyebrow, at the least) “to make do.”  In this piece the very item that is unusual in a progressive’s viewing with alarm of the last thirty-odd years of constant class warfare (also known as “globalization”) and foreign intervention (that American Empire, termed “hegemony” for euphemistic value), that very item, social justice war, is then left too vague for any real articulation in his narrative.

Bracevich returns to it, when discussing how Trump won the 2016 election.  As we all can accept, he criticized Clinton’s mantra of globalization, and he rejected the meme of American exceptionalism.  Bracevich continues

No less important than Trump’s semi-coherent critique of globalization and American globalism, however, was his success in channeling the discontent of all those who nursed an inchoate sense that post-Cold War freedoms might be working for some, but not for them.

Not that Trump had anything to say about whether freedom confers obligations, or whether conspicuous consumption might not actually hold the key to human happiness, or any of the various controversies related to gender, sexuality, and family. He was indifferent to all such matters. He was, however, distinctly able to offer his followers a grimly persuasive explanation for how America had gone off course and how the blessings of liberties to which they were entitled had been stolen. He did that by fingering as scapegoats Muslims, Mexicans, and others “not-like-me.”

Trump’s political strategy reduced to this: as president, he would overturn the conventions that had governed right thinking since the end of the Cold War. To the amazement of an establishment grown smug and lazy, his approach worked.

The gap in the argument continues, though; we are to believe that one of the three central themes for Trump’s unexpected success was something about which he had little to say, indeed was completely indifferent.

That does not mean that Bracevich drops the third theme, the unusual one.  He returns to it.

Note, for example, that his mandate is almost entirely negative. It centers on rejection: of globalization, of counterproductive military meddling, and of the post-Cold War cultural project. Yet neither Trump nor any of his surrogates has offered a coherent alternative to the triad of themes providing the through line for the last quarter-century of American history.

One cannot say that we do not have a good idea of what rejection of globalization means.  It means tariffs which protect selected United States manufacturing concerns.  And we, again, can with reasonable specificity cite what non-intervention consists of.  But rejection of “the cultural project”?  That is indeed a null set.  It signifies nothing, an emptiness.  From this, Bracevich urges specific remedy.

Starting with Trump himself, and Clinton herself, we can suggest that we are looking for someone who neither acts like a mendacious, spoiled brat, nor mouths platitudes for personal political advancement, and who rather actually expresses a vision.

“Where there is no vision,” the Book of Proverbs tells us, “the people perish.” In the present day, there is no vision to which Americans collectively adhere. For proof, we need look no further than the election of Donald Trump.

The vision that Bracevich offers, however, and this is equally interesting, is not his own.  The vision he proffers for the possibility of filling the void at the center of U.S. social, economic, and political life, is that of Christopher Lasch.

Lasch called for a politics based on “the nurture of the soil against the exploitation of resources, the family against the factory, the romantic vision of the individual against the technological vision, [and] localism over democratic centralism.”

There is ample meat here for moral mastication, but it’s still in the realm of broad and general terms.  Not surprisingly, Your Intrepid Reporter turned to the link provided (it’s about ten pages long, and one of the pages is missing), and found an article from 1980 that did something similar, in conceptual terms, to what Bracevich did this morning: he looked at the era just ending, as a basis for what we can say about where we are at present.  Lasch invites to consider the era 1898 to  1980:

One does not have to accept the thesis of a “managerial revolution” or a “new class” to acknowledge the force of Riesman’s observation that the “bullet that killed McKinley marked the end of the days of explicit class leadership.” Nineteenth-century politics, according to Riesman, turned on “easily moralized judgments of good and bad” and on “agreement between the leaders and led that the work sphere of life was dominant.” Although the power of the ruling classes rested at bottom on force, they sought for the most part to govern through moral persuasion. They defended their leadership by appealing to a common fund of moral principles and to common standards of political justice. These ideals, of course, were open to conflicting interpretations, and the standards of right and wrong upheld by the governing classes –for example, the proposition that every man had a right to the fruits of his own labor — could be turned against the established order and made to serve as the basis of demands for its reformation or even overthrow.

But the bitterness of ideological conflicts in nineteenth-century politics itself testified to an underlying agreement about the nature of political discourse. All parties to these debates assumed that political actions had to be justified by an appeal to a body of moral principles accessible to human reason and subject to rational discussion. The idea that moral judgments are by definition subjective and therefore lie outside the realm of rational debate played little part in nineteenth-century politics.

It would appear that, to Lasch, the basic problem with twentieth-century American social and economic development is, that it turned away from the populism of the 1890s.  If we were to characterize the moral debates of the 2010s, it would have to be that there is one right moral standard, and the conflict rages because the traditionalists refuse to accept the moral standards urged by the family-hostile proponents of unlimited individualism.  Rational discussion, by the way, has little to do with the matter.  Twentieth-century attacks on the ability of rational argument to determine the single best moral standard put an end to that years prior to 1980.

To gain a broader perspective than that one article cited by Bracevich, let us turn to Wikipedia.

By the 1980s, Lasch had poured scorn on the whole spectrum of contemporary mainstream American political thought, angering liberals with attacks on progressivism and feminism. He wrote that “A feminist movement that respected the achievements of women in the past would not disparage housework, motherhood or unpaid civic and neighborly services. It would not make a paycheck the only symbol of accomplishment. … It would insist that people need self-respecting honorable callings, not glamorous careers that carry high salaries but take them away from their families.”[19] Liberal journalist Susan Faludi dubbed him explicitly anti-feminist for his criticism of the abortion rights movement and opposition to divorce.[20] But Lasch viewed Ronald Reagan’s conservatism as the antithesis of tradition and moral responsibility. Lasch was not generally sympathetic to the cause of what was then known as the New Right, particularly those elements of libertarianism most evident in its platform; he detested the encroachment of the capitalist marketplace into all aspects of American life. Lasch rejected the dominant political constellation that emerged in the wake of the New Deal in which economic centralization and social tolerance formed the foundations of American liberal ideals, while also rebuking the diametrically opposed synthetic conservative ideology fashioned by William F. Buckley, Jr. and Russell Kirk.

Back in 1980, it might be supposed that opposition to feminism would possibly work, as a way of emphasizing the centrality of the family; there is today, however, virtually no one who opposes the idea that women ought to receive equal pay for equal work.  Arguably, that aim has been achieved.

Nor is there hope, in 2016 of ever making divorce difficult to obtain, and from a conceptual point of view, surely all (secular) sides agree abortion ought to be safe, legal, and rare (it is declining in frequency).

While the vague gestures in the direction of environmental wisdom, of communitarian responsibility, and of restoring agency and autonomy to local groups are provided lip service, the invocation of Christopher Lasch unleashes a musty odor of traditionalist thinking of the last generation.  There’s a lot missing in Lasch’s discussion.  What about the war on masculinity, so evident in the mass media for the last 50 years?  Or the derogatory view, from groups as popular as Black Lives Matter, of fatherhood?  How is matriarchy in any way superior to patriarchy, as a social program?  In short, we are presently at one extreme end of a swing of the social pendulum, an unsustainable extreme which will swing back sooner or later.

So, as a teacher of several decades of experience in public schools, as a father of two boys, and as a political activist of long standing (and recent time behind bars), I agree with the slogan, that the personal is political, that the political is personal.  The very fact that the good colonel put that unusual cultural item into the formula for the characteristic mix of the last historical era, reflects a major shift in the mental universe of even a military historian, when examining recent history.

If we are to rejuvenate a vision for the future, then, I would hark a lot further back than the Populists.  Rather, I would bring under consideration the ideals, as opposed to the practices, of the European Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, that set of ideals which we encode in the so-called Declaration of Independence, a hypocritical document written by a slave-owner (and probable serial rapist of one of them) and edited by a war profiteer.  Those ideals were cited, again and again, when Lincoln debated Douglas prior to the Civil War.  They are in what my anti-war comrade Brian Willson calls our “cultural DNA” (about most of which he has not much good to say).

All human beings have equal worth and standing in society.  All have rights that preserve their property, privacy, and persons against arbitrary action by government.  As for governmental power, it corrupts, in measure the greater, the greater the power given.  In that sense, I see a hope for a nurture of the soil against the commercial exploitation of resources, for the family as the center of social development as opposed to the marketplace, and for the mind of the individual as opposed to the dictation of community authority.

Update 10 February 2017: Immediately after posting this essay, I opened my email, to find a message to the Grant Community from the Members of the Student Leadership.  The reader is advised that there is now a campaign for a Culture of Consent.

We are working to change the climate of Grant concerning lack of boundaries. The culture of consent does not only apply to sex. The umbrella of consent encompasses everything from dancing to interactions in the hallway to statements and comments in class and on social media to physical contact. These all contribute to the presence of rape culture in our community.

Those who doubt that there is, presently, a “rape culture” in Grant High School are officially marginalized as not worthy of entering into the conversation.  There is a rape culture, it goes without saying, and we are obliged to combat it.  Sigh.

 

 

Posted in Bradley Manning, Cameron Whitten, Diffeomorphisms on a manifold, Don Gavitte, Education, Elections, Empire, Fascism, Free Speech, Inequality, Local government, Marxism, Mathematics, Pacific Green Party, Ronald Reagan, Spiritual life, U.S. Constitution, Uncategorized, US Senate, War | Leave a comment

What to Say to Putin

Alexander Hug, identified below, gestures toward a diplomatic means of promoting the "soft power" of the United States

Alexander Hug, identified below, gestures toward a diplomatic means of promoting the “soft power” of the United States

 

As Your Intrepid Reporter has said previously, the release by hacking of documentary evidence (itself true) to the effect that the Democratic Party nominee for President is indeed a card-carrying proponent of Wall Street dominance does not constitute “hacking the election”.

Supposedly progressive voices in this maelstrom of fake news don’t get that.  So, for example, from the purportedly progressive journal Mother Jones on 31 December:

So what did we learn this year? That America is more susceptible to authoritarian populism than we thought? Not really. Trump’s victory was a fluke, driven by Russian hacking, James Comey, and some bad polls in a few states.

“Trump’s victory was . . . driven by Russian hacking. . .” is what we are supposed to conclude about the election.  Sigh.  To say that is to deny agency to voters: they are supposed to vote the way the newspapers and television commentators tell them to, and if they fail to do so, then the release of true facts has “hacked the election”.

This is not to say, mind you, that the accumulating evidence is still, as some would have it, unpersuasive.

What this means is ANYONE could have downloaded this software and used it from anywhere in the world. Merely identifying the tool used does not identify the person who used it. What this also suggests is whoever was responsible for this cyber activity was using very old, and unsophisticated methods not common of state sponsored intelligence agencies.

We are not going to get, Perry Mason-style, someone standing up in the courtroom and shouting, “I did it!  I did it, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.”  Rather, we have to look at overall context and draw reasonable inferences.  In this case the software package could have been used by other than the Russians, but perhaps the manner and choice of targets of its use tells us who initiated the hacking.  The choice of targets aligns with Russian foreign-policy antagonists, and the manner of use is awfully sophisticated.  I quote yesterday’s post on a well-respected anti-war website.

According to both private cybersecurity firms and US intelligence agencies, there is no doubt that Russian group “Fancy Bear” (also known as Sofacy, APT 28, Sednit, Tsar Team or other names) hacked the Democratic party. Is Fancy Bear an agent of the Russian military intelligence service? I believe it is. Fancy Bear is well known by the cybersecurity experts and has been studied in the past at length. Since 2007, targets of Fancy Bear’s hacking have been Georgia and the Caucasus, Eastern European governments and militaries, Ukraine, US, Germany, UK, NATO, OSCE, Soros, etc. Lately it hacked the World Anti-Doping Agency in response to the WADA’s recommendation to ban all Russian athletes from the Olympic games in Brazil. While China hacking conducts intellectual property theft, cybersecurity firm FireEye found that Fancy Bear ‘has been targeting privileged information related to governments, militaries and security organizations that would likely benefit the Russian government.’ Another cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike states that Fancy Bear’s profile “closely mirrors the strategic interests of the Russian government.”

During the years Fancy Bear’ hacking activity has grown in size, sophistication and scope. FireEye reports that Fancy Bear has continuously evolved its malware “using flexible and lasting platforms indicative of plans for long-term use and sophisticated coding practices;” it also uses obfuscation techniques to hide or disguise the code’s true purpose and to prevent it from being detected. CrowdStrike has shown that Fancy Bear has the ability to run multiple and extensive intrusion operations concurrently; while it was hacking US political organizations was at the same time involved targeting European military organizations. CrowdStrike on Fancy Bear and another Russian hacking group “Cozy Bear”: “Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none and the extensive usage of ‘living-off-the-land’ techniques enables them to easily bypass many security solutions they encounter. In particular, we identified advanced methods consistent with nation-state level capabilities including deliberate targeting and ‘access management’ tradecraft — both groups were constantly going back into the environment to change out their implants, modify persistent methods, move to new Command & Control channels and perform other tasks to try to stay ahead of being detected.” This is not lone wolf or kiddie stuff. This level of activity requires a complex structure that only the Russian government can provide. The New York Times reports that Russian officials recruit programmers “placing prominent ads on social media sites, offering jobs to college students and professional coders.” Fancy Bear developers use the Russian language and operate during business hours consistent with the time zone of Russia’s major cities.

Here is what Trump can do, not that he will, with the issue.  Once you realize that the person across the table distrusts you, there is a value to your denying what others suspect of him.  Trump ought to continue to doubt, in public, that the Russian intelligence services had anything to do with the release of information from the Democratic Party computers, and tell Putin to enforce the existing cease-fire in the Ukraine.

Impartial sources report that the Russian separatists in the Ukraine are the ones predominantly violating several cease-fire agreements, including the commitment to allow inspections from representatives of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe [oh, and by the way, when there was a question of who was to inspect the cease-fire, OSCE was Putin’s suggestion].  The speaker is Alexander Hug, the deputy chief monitor of the Special Monitoring Mission [SMM] of the OSCE.

It should be noted that access for the SMM is granted by its mandate of 57 participating states, and is further reconfirmed in the Minsk Agreements. And that means that Russia, Ukraine as well as Alexander Zakharchenko [the leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic — Editor’s note] and Igor Plotnitsky [the head of the Luhansk People’s Republic — Editor’s note] have also signed up to this very important attribute of the mission. The freedom of movement for the SMM is unconditional. Any restriction of any kind is a violation of the SMM mandate and of the Minsk Agreements.
Having said that, it is true that we still encounter numerous restrictions in our movement. Overall and looking back in the year — while both sides restrict SMM’s freedom of movement — the majority of those do occur in the areas not controlled by the government.

The last sentence is diplomat-speak for “most of the time the separatists are not allowing inspection.”  Deputy Chief Monitor Hug (I am tempted, but shall refrain from the temptation, to call him “Huggie Bear”) is not talking about very far in the past of the last year:

During the week of Dec. 12-18, the number of ceasefire violations recorded by the SMM increased by 75 percent compared to the previous week. We have seen there in the past the use of heavy weapons on both sides and again now. The use of heavy weapons proscribed by the Minsk agreements has tripled. The monitors recorded at least 985 mortar, tank, artillery and multiple rocket launch systems fire explosions compared to 244 the week before. The vast majority of them (843 explosions) occurred south and southeast of the government-controlled Svitlodarsk.

Again, the diplomat indicated but did not specifically say, “in area controlled by the separatists.”  The reader has to fill in the politely discreet language himself.

This is what Trump should publicize.  The separatists in Ukraine, who — let’s admit it — are under the control of the Russian government, are breaking their sworn word.  Putin is possibly involved in the release of true information which enabled a more democratic election int he United States, which has upset the Deep State in the United States.  All Trump has to do is to continue to refuse to accept the announced conclusions of American intelligence, and instead demand publicly that the real “Putin’s puppets” of Donetsk and Luhansk live up to their treaty obligations of open inspection.

It is low-hanging diplomatic fruit for the United States.  It’s the right thing to do, and it will promote peace and security for all involved.

Not that anyone cares what I think.

Posted in Elections, Empire, Friendship, Global, Marxism, U.S. Constitution, Uncategorized, War | Leave a comment

Internal Exiles

A fellow named John Whitehead, writing in Counterpunch.org, warns us that The Worst Is Yet to Come.  He adds a coda of complaints, which express exactly my own sentiments (with probably a greater degree of eloquence than I have to command):

So when I read about demonstrations breaking out in cities across the country and thousands taking to the streets to protest the threat of fascism from a Trump presidency, I have to wonder where were the concerns when access to Obama came easily to any special interest groups and donors willing and able to pay the admissions price?

When I see celebrities threatening to leave the country in droves, I have to ask myself, where was the outcry when the government’s efforts to transform local police into extensions of the military went into overdrive under the Obama administration?

When my newsfeed is overflowing with people wishing they could keep the Obamas in office because they are so cool, I shake my head in disgust over this “cool” president’s use of targeted drone strikes to assassinate American citizens without any due process.

Mr Whitehead, however, as is the way with posts on websites these days, does not address the way forward from this point of re-confirmation of corporate interests and power.  Since, from the point of view of real equality in this country, it didn’t matter a great deal whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump became the President-elect on 8 November last, we are not forwarding things by lamenting the loss of the office by a corporate war-monger over a potty-mouthed narcissist.

Let me say I will do what I can to promote the strengthening of the Green Party. And I say that with full knowledge of the Pacific Green Party’s rejection of my efforts to promote it heretofore.  The Cascadia Chapter is no longer listed as one of the chapters of the state party.

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Epistemological Comment

In the last post I spoke of how the citizens of the United States are asked, by our intelligence services, to believe a whipped-up story of Russian hacking affecting the recent election.  The C.I.A., the White House, the Congress, and the F.B.I., are piling on in this regard, and about the only sources questioning “the narrative” (the term of art, among critics of the Mainstream Media) are marginal Internet sites like the Intercept, Consortium News and RT.

I would like to ask my readers whether they can recall the Election of 1980, when Ronald Reagan ousted an incumbent Democratic Party President, in large measure because Jimmy Carter had been so ineffective in getting some 50 American hostages released by the newly-installed, indeed revolutionary, government of Iran.  In what surely qualifies as a classic cover-up, two Congressional investigations found “no evidence” for the charge that the Reagan campaign staff had promised the Iranian government a better deal than the Carter Administration, if the Iranians would hold the hostages until Reagan became President.  The link I provided shows that evidence since the investigations confirms, rather than contradicts, the charge that Casey met with Iranian representatives in Madrid, Spain.

This is not the place, or the time, to re-hash the evidence for the so-called “October Surprise Conspiracy Theory” (you can see the Wikipedia article for the dismissive treatment still current today).  Rather, I’d like to point out the way the Reagan Years treated journalistic inquiry into something that swung the 1980 election, by most accounts.  Robert Parry, the primary writer, and founder, of the abovementioned Consortium News, recalls recently

That lesson was driven home during the early 1980s. Some of us actually tried to do our jobs honestly, exposing crimes of state in Central America and elsewhere. Almost universally, we were punished by our editors and marginalized by our colleagues.

Early on, Raymond Bonner at the New York Times wrote courageously about right-wing “death squads” in El Salvador, even as Reagan and his team were disputing those bloody facts on the ground and coordinating with right-wing media attack groups in Washington to put Bonner on the defensive. Amid the smears, Rosenthal pulled Bonner out of Central America, reassigned him to a desk job in New York and caused Bonner to leave the Times.

Even those of us who had some success in exposing major scandals emerging from the brutality in Central America were treated as outsiders whose careers were always fragile. We had to dodge withering fire from the Reagan administration and its right-wing cohorts while keeping one eye on the nervous or angry editors to our backs.

.   .   .    .

Sometimes even the Left media would join the mob mentality. One of my most disturbing moments came in 1993 when I wrote an article for The Nation pointing out logical inconsistencies in a House Task Force report “debunking” the so-called October Surprise case, whether Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign went behind President Jimmy Carter’s back to block the pre-election release of those hostages in Iran.

I had noted, for instance, that one of the Task Force’s key arguments was that because someone had written down William Casey’s home phone number on a certain date that Casey must have been at home and thus couldn’t have been where some witnesses had placed him. But that “home phone number” alibi made no logical sense, nor did some of the other illogical conclusions in the Task Force’s final report.

My Nation article prompted an angry letter from the Task Force chief counsel Lawrence Barcella who responded with a mostly ad hominem attack on me. After the letter arrived, I received a call from a senior Nation editor who told me I would be given a small space to respond but that I should know that “we agree with Barcella.”

The Nation was and is, of course, generally regarded as the leading progressive voice in the Mainstream Media.  And the point is — not that it would constitute a “smoking gun” — that there is documented, impartial evidence that Casey was not at home, but in Madrid.  For details, the interested reader can refer to the first link above, where Robert Parry shows that even the chair of the Congressional committee finds the evidence credible, and admits that its suppression was crucial.

Let me in this post, beginning with the atmosphere of the Reagan Election cover-up, expand a bit on how we have experienced an imposition of Two Truths.  There is the accepted narrative — there is no evidence for an October Surprise deal between the revered President Ronald Reagan and the despised Iranian government — and there is the investigative journalist view — we don’t know for sure, but there’s a hella lot of evidence the government is lying through its teeth.

One of these truths is public, and is pushed by all the propaganda outlets at the command of the government; the other is the increasingly marginalized (but increasingly widely believed) independent sources, now recently castigated as “fake news” outlets.  [You should be aware that the Washington Post, (which I call “Izvestiya-on-the-Potomac”), includes Robert Parry and his Consortium News as one of the approximately 200 websites to be avoided.]

You can see how this situation reminds me of the Soviet Union, with its news outlets which few thinking people believed, and its underground samizdat which the government regarded as threatening the social order.  But here I’d like to go a little bit further.  In medieval times there were also two truths, as almost any book of medieval philosophy will tell you.  There was the truth which was beholden to theology, and that of science.  The two might differ, but that’s not the essential point — it’s that there is not one, but two.

As an average subject of the One True Church, the Roman Catholic Apostolic Faith, you were of course obliged to believe the theological truth, as indoctrinated into you at school and in sermons by the clergy.  Scientific truth was restricted to a small minority which was conversant with higher mathematics and Greek manuscripts.  Theological truth was widespread, and consistent: the Curia made sure of the consistency, and were some public figure to challenge that uniformity, he (or she) was burned alive as a heretic.

Scientific truth, in contrast, was a farrago of stuff left over from ancient times, experimental results, and stuff people just plain made up.  Back in the good old days of the War Between Faith and Science, historians made a practice of cherry-picking precursors of contemporary science as “good guys” (Leonardo da Vinci was a favorite) and condemning perfectly rational churchmen (Robert Bellarmine, for instance, who had a hand in condemning Galileo) who believed in the primacy of theological truth, as they had been raised and educated to do.

This tendency in the history of science was decisively refuted by Lynn Thorndike’s massive (eight volumes, of about 800 pages each) History of Magic and Experimental Science, which at considerable length and with abundant documentation established the thesis that magic was intimated connected with the scientific world picture, all the way down to the late seventeenth century.  Thorndike famously questioned whether there ever was such a thing as a Renaissance, given that, during the course of the 15th century, it appeared, from extensive examination of the scientific writing of the time, that more people were more credulous at the end of the so-called “Renaissance” than at its beginning.

Galileo’s crime, to the extent that he had one, was to refuse to allow for the Two Truths.  He wrote in easy-to-read, conversational Italian; he spoke out unambiguously in favor of there being one physical truth, available to all.  Just pick up a telescope, he said.  Other writers in the Scientific Revolution were more equivocal.  Kepler steered clear of theology, but he dabbled in astrology; Newton had strong theological, unorthodox, views, and made sure to write in such a manner that his book would not be legible to “dabblers”.

Every now and again some scientist will recall such a chasm between the truth, as available to the broad, unwashed masses, and the truth as tested and understood scientifically.  Fred Hoyle, in an oral interview which has become widely available, recalled that as a youth

My father was always interested in scientific things.  He had gotten a number of friends with similar interests; none of whom had a university education, but they tried to understand what was going on at the time.  For example, from about 1922 onwards they built radio equipment.  This was a great mystery in our village, and there were 20 or 30 people who were wiring up their own little radio receivers.  There was a far greater feeling that it was possible for untrained people to understand science than there is today.[emphasis added — MM]

As an eminent authority on astrophysics, co-author of the standard treatment of stellar nucleosynthesis, Hoyle opposed the Big Bang because of the existence of life on earth.

The truth is more important that one’s own predilections, a maxim which I feel is largely ignored at the present day. . . .  I do have rather strong feelings that I don’t think the big bang is right.  I happen to get those views from something that hardly anybody else believes.  I just don’t think that the huge complexities of biology could have evolved in a mere 10 [raised to the 18th power] grams of material on earth.  I don’t think that chemical evolution on the earth could possibly have produced the biological system.  I think this has to be considered as a cosmological issue.

The Accepted Narrative of Science is that life evolved on earth, and the evidence for the Big Bang is overwhelming; a marginalized view is that the appearance of life is impossible as a consequence of natural selection of macromolecules; by this means we avoid what would be unavoidable in Hoyle’s picture, a discussion of religion.

But just as with the October Surprise, I fear getting off track by explaining details.  The central point is, that the public nowadays has no belief that it can penetrate the argument for or against the Big Bang.  Amateurs are completely excluded (including by Mr Hoyle, himself).

To give an example of this exclusion by the layman, let me bring up a conversation with my son, a senior at Grant High School.  I had just found out that the Andromeda Galaxy’s speed  of approach to our home, Milky Way, galaxy had been remeasured to greater accuracy, and appears to be headed for a collision some four billion years from now.  We expect life on Earth to be extinct when the Sun burns out, approximately, given its size and structure, in about five billion years.

We lost about a billion years of possible future life, just in that.  But it’s worse.  An entire galaxy, colliding with the Milky Way galaxy, will disrupt the orbits of virtually every single planet within.  Nice, circular planetary orbits, within the narrow habitable zone where water neither boils nor freezes, will be totally disrupted by the passage of stars closely enough to those planetary systems to disrupt their orbiting planets — namely, pretty much all of them.

Not only life on Earth, but all life in the entire galaxy will come to and end.  When I told my son this, he videotaped the moment on his phone and kept it, as proof of my being occasionally insane.

We still have Two Truths.  The layman’s science, and the science of the practitioner.  The news as provided by the government, and that which independent journalists uncover.  The first is always taken on authority, and in a single version is widely disseminated, and the latter, while full of unproven assertions and even sometimes factually mistaken, is authentic and imperfect and contradictory in its details.

The Russians disrupted the election so that Trump would be elected.  Do not worry about the man behind the curtain.  That is just falling prey to conspiracy theorists, who are tinfoil-hat believers in alien beings bringing life to the planet earth.

The writer of this post is on probation for constituting a threat to his wife.  The society is in the course of providing him with the help he needs.  He is required to attend, every week for a year, a domestic violence class and provide a weekly written confession of an instance of his abuse of others.  He is permanently enjoined against ever owning a gun.

He cannot ever again run for office.

Posted in Afghanistan, Astronomy, Education, Elections, Empire, Free Speech, Friendship, Global, Gun Control, Pacific Green Party, Police, Ronald Reagan, Scott Green, Seth Woolley, Spiritual life, Uncategorized, War | 2 Comments