Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Does Dean Heller support neo-Nazis?

Dean Heller is giving support to white supremacists.  That might seem like a bold claim, particularly given Heller’s statements condemning what occurred in Charlottesville, but I stand by the assertion.
The Nevada Independent has just reported that Dean Heller voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, even after spending the electoral cycle distancing himself from his party’s nominee, and claiming he was “99% certain” he would not support Trump.  Not only does that tell us that Heller misled his constituents, performing one of the flip-flops that have come to characterize his rather pitiful tenure.  It also demonstrates that with his actions, Heller has been a consistent supporter of Trump.  He voted for Trump, he backed Trump’s cabinet appointments, he voted for Trump’s plan to strip healthcare from millions of Americans, and is supporting Trump’s toxic, deregulatory agenda.
The past days have made it undeniably clear that Donald Trump is a friend to neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.  Fascists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting Nazi slogans, waving Nazi and Confederate flags, and spouting anti-Semitism.  It takes deliberate delusion to pretend any longer that “taking back our country” is in the minds of the people who use the term, anything other than a racist, rhetorically genocidal attempt to destroy the social, political, and economic rights of black, Latino, Asian, Muslim, and Jewish Americans.
Trump’s response to the neo-Nazi rally in defence of a Confederate general responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in his defence of a slave-based rogue state, was to say that both sides were responsible.  Then, through gritted teeth, he read a teleprompter statement concluding that actually white supremacists were culpable.  Today, he has returned to his original position, saying that some of the neo-Nazis who demonstrated their goals and their sympathies with Nazi slogans and salutes, were “very fine people.”  In context, it is clear that Trump’s condemnatory comments were forced, and that his real sympathies are with the people who invoked his name as they terrorized the college town.
The white supremacists in question made it clear that Trump had inspired them and provided them with oxygen.  They characterized themselves as carrying out his vision for the country.  Trump leads the Republican Party, so his words and those of his neo-Nazi followers implicate not just the president, but also every Republican officeholder across the country.
Donald Trump’s relationship with white supremacy is not really news.  His campaign was based around a clearly racist narrative of reclaiming the country.  From whom, you ask?  From the Muslims he wanted to ban, the African Americans he wanted to discipline in the “inner cities,” the Latinos from whom he wanted to strip rights, or his political opponents who he coyly suggested might be murdered by his supporters.
Trump has appointed a number of white supremacists and fascists to leading positions in the White House.  Steve Bannon is perhaps the most notorious, but he is given a close run for his money by the KKK-sympathizing Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  It was clear from day-one of his campaign that this was Trump’s base and these were the people with his ear.
But that did not stop Nevada’s Dean Heller from voting for him in November, despite suggesting to his constituents that he would do otherwise.  It did not stop Dean Heller from confirming the known-racist Jeff Sessions to the cabinet.  It did not stop Dean Heller from backing Trump in his legislative efforts.  
Dean Heller may claim to oppose the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville.  But actions speak far louder than words, and by helping to elect and then enabling their inspiration, their voice, and their own chief enabler, he is supporting their toxic views, disgusting words, and dangerous actions.  And Nevadans will remember.  
We know how toxic ideologies and movements spread.  It requires people accepting features of their platform, while ignoring and disclaiming responsibility for other features.  It requires staying silent, or alternatively, protesting ineffectively while actively offering the kind of support that actually brings people and their ideas to power.  Dean Heller, and every elected official from his party are participating in this process, this normalization.  

Now that it is crystal clear where Trump stands in relation to the neo-Nazi movement in the United States, Republicans cannot credibly disentangle their support for the president from their support for fascism.  Every vote they grant the president, every action they take to frustrate his critics, every contorted cable news defence they mount of his presidency, keeps him in power, sending an unmistakable signal of support to the swastika-bearing, torch-waving, ‘sieg heil’-delivering, slavery-celebrating malevolence that manifested itself in the contorted faces and words of people who are seeking to resurrect the most dangerous ideology of the twentieth century.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Trump Draws the Ultimate False Equivalency

Donald Trump just drew the ultimate false equivalency, arguing that anti-racist protestors and fascist white supremacists are equally culpable “sides” in the growing hatred in our country.  After white supremacists and fascists bore torches through Charlotteville, Virginia shouting “sieg heil,” preaching anti-Semitism, and defending the spectre of the rebellious, racist confederacy that defended the enslavement of black Americans, protesters met a second march in broad daylight.  
In the ensuing melee, people were injured, and a terrorist used a car to attack anti-racist marchers.  The Virginia governor, the city’s mayor, and other public figures condemned the white supremacists, but Donald Trump tweeted a vague call for unity without singling out the perpetrators of racism, the defenders of a state built on slavery, and the Ku Klux Klan, a prominent domestic terrorist organization.
At a press conference, Trump proceeded to condemn hatred, but made it crystal clear that he viewed this hatred as something that emanated from many sides, encompassing anti-racist demonstrators and torch-bearing fascists alike.
It is extraordinary that there is any constituency in this country outside of the Klan’s meeting rooms that could view this statement with any credibility, or be led to believe that any equivalency could be drawn between these two groups.
One group of people are defending the country’s fundamental legal premise, a premise that is seldom realized in practice, but which has animated debates and progress for over two centuries.  This group of people is arguing that all people should be equal before the law, and should be protected from hatred.  This group of people is arguing that race should have no bearing on whether a person is considered a full member of society.  To me, those ideas seem the fundamental opposite of hatred.  They are a call, a demand, for equality, respect, and justice, things that are fundamental to a healthy society whose members can embrace one another and share in the fruits of their collective labors and investment.  They are a call to replicate in the nation the love and solidarity we associate with strong families and communities.
On the other hand, we have a group of people calling for some kind of torchlit reclamation of their country, invoking the Nazi’s genocidal cry of “blood and soil,” something utterly incompatible with our constitutional and legal framework (understandable given that over half of Republicans would accept the murder of American democracy).  This group of people has resurrected the vile anti-Semitism of interwar Europe (shouting “Jews will not replace us”), talks about “taking back the country,” and deploys not just fascist, but explicitly Nazi salutes, slogans, and frameworks.  
Their very purpose is to create a mythology of white oppression in a country barely escaped from Jim Crow, still hampered by the hierarchy of economic opportunities created by slavery and segregation, and which still has tremendous disparities in the justice system (favorable to white Americans).  They are deploying this mythology in order to argue that some citizens are more equal and deserving than others, and to excuse their demands for violence.  Leading white supremacist David Duke suggested that he and the neo-nazis were rallying to ensure that Trump makes good on his pomises, a clear indication that the fascists see Trump as their candidate, and have been emboldened by his rhetoric and that of the Republican Party, whose members have called for the mass extermination of Muslims and an ethnic nationalist framework for American law and citizenship.  

One of these groups, in other words, is about equality, acceptance, and ultimately love.  The other is about division, inequality, and ultimately extermination.  The fact that the president is so willing to fold them together tells us much about his loyalty to our country’s constitutional framework and the livelihoods and wellbeing of its citizens.  It also tells us that he sees fascists as his allies, his base, and the future of the United States, and believes that Americans writ large are stupid enough to accept as much. That people entertain these false equivalencies are a sign of a dearth of critical thinking skills, respect for evidence, and knowledge of history, and just how dangerous the absence of these civic skills will prove to our country.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dean Heller's vote to debate is a vote to legitimize cruelty

From Nevada Independent
Nevada’s Senator Dean Heller has announced that he will vote to debate Republicans’ efforts to destroy the Affordable Care Act.  Long on the fence, and widely believed to be opposed to cruel Republican policy that will particularly affect Nevadans, Heller has ultimately heeded the urgings of a sociopathic Vice President, the threats of an unhinged President, and the blandishments of a fork-tongued majority leader to toe his party’s jack-booted line.
Heller released the following statement, provided by KTVN: "Obamacare isn’t the answer, but doing nothing to try to solve the problems it has created isn’t the answer either. That is why I will vote to move forward and give us a chance to address the unworkable aspects of the law that have left many Nevadans - particularly those living in rural areas - with dwindling or no choices...If the final product isn’t improved for the state of Nevada, then I will not vote for it; if it is improved, I will support it."
On its face, this might seem reasonable.  Heller has not yet endorsed the bill, largely because his party’s leadership has not yet deigned to tell senators what they are debating.  Presumably this secretive process, driven more by the twisting of arms than actual policy discussion, is part of the Republican Party’s Trump-led project of “draining the swamp”.  McConnell’s ploy of forcing a debate on an unclear measure is designed to conflate support for debate with support for the bill, building pressure on wavering senators like Heller.
In caving to McConnell, Pence, and Trump, Heller is rewarding their bad behavior--bad because it is about bad policy; bad because it is secretive and un-democratic; and bad because he knows that it takes him one step closer to supporting a bill driven by a party that has zero interest in the public interest or welfare.
Increasingly, the Republican Party is driven by economic fundamentalism and social zealotry.  They loathe the ACA, but each of their alternatives have been demonstrated to make tens of millions of Americans uninsured, and tens of millions more less insured by design.  By supporting debate on such a bill, Heller made clear that he is willing to vote on a measure that contains these basic, unacceptable elements, provided it also contains a few of his pet bones.
Ultimately, Heller himself will probably choke on those bones, for Nevadans have proven themselves hostile to Trump and the Republican Party’s agenda.  But people will suffer badly in the interim.
If Heller had been actually interested in addressing the inadequacies of Obamacare, he might have considered how the patchwork of healthcare reforms over a period of decades, combined with inadequate regulation of both the insurance industry and the medical industry, represent an uneven where not losing proposition to Americans.  The most popular features of our ramshackle healthcare structure are those which are universal in their character.
The unevenness and inadequacy, the failure to control costs and those who drive those costs, and the popularity of the principle of universality, all point inexorably toward some version of “single payer” healthcare, whether that takes the form of state payments to a firmly regulated industry, or a state-built structure.  Both systems have been proven to work with lower costs and better results in other countries, and answering this point with mechanical invocations of American exceptionalism sounds increasingly desperate and pathetic.
If Heller were serious about reforming healthcare in the interests of his constituents rather than to serve the rigid and baleful dogmas of his party’s pledge-takers and paymasters, this is the conversation he would have launched.  Instead, he has endorsed the basic principles of his party’s efforts to reverse the uneven and inadequate gains of Obamacare, and has encouraged them in their efforts to lay waste to the efforts to improve the livelihoods of Americans.
Dean Heller will have one more chance to stave off disaster when it comes time to vote on the bill itself.  But by bowing to the pressures of his party leadership, he has further imperilled Nevadans and Americans, taking us no closer to a serious conversation about how to make healthcare a right for all Americans.  Instead, Heller’s cynical approach has brought us nearer to the triumph of an ideology that has already deeply damaged our country’s institutions, political economy, and the livelihoods of our families, friends, and neighbors.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Nevada's Dean Heller, Healthcare, and Liberalism

Nevada Senator Dean Heller spoke a real truth when asked about his party’s assault on Americans’ healthcare earlier this year: “This bill would mean a loss of coverage for millions of Americans, and many Nevadans. I’m telling you right now, I cannot support a piece of legislation that takes insurance away from tens of millions of Americans, and hundreds of thousands of Nevadans.”  Now, it seems, the Republican senator is having second thoughts, and is considering toeing his party’s line in support of a measure that would have devastating consequences for Nevadans and Americans.
Republicans’ efforts are driven by economic fundamentalism (a fundamentalism which yields substantial gains to their wealthy backers and the class represented by Donald Trump and his cabinet of one percent-ers), and hatred for President Obama’s healthcare reforms which, though tentative, inadequate, and piecemeal, represented a real effort to improve the lives of Americans.
In attacking the principles underpinning healthcare reform, and pushing back at efforts to create more universal access to healthcare (each version of their ‘reform’ pushes huge numbers of Americans out of the system), Republicans are setting out their stall--dishonestly--as good liberals, concerned about the fate of individuals in the face of overweening state power.  If the state makes decisions about healthcare, who knows what grisly fate awaits individual men, women, and families?
Several things go unsaid here.  Firstly, in the absence of state intervention, individuals still have precious little control over their fortunes in a vast healthcare market, where most of the power resides with the insurance and healthcare industries, who have made stupendous donations to Republicans and sceptical Democrats over the years.  In a state of hundreds of millions, any given individual will always have limited control over the vast structure of healthcare, and therefore over their immediate experience of the same.  They must choose between which set of interests they believe can best structure the terms on which this service is delivered and this right is realized: massive industries, the primary concern of which is profit, which often means marginalizing “customers” who for one reason or another do not look profitable to them; or the public sector, which however damaged has as its primary charge looking after the general public interest.
Finally, the status of Republicans as liberals needs reevaluating.  Here I mean liberal in the earlier sense of the word, a sense which persists virtually everywhere in the world outside of the U.S., where the term can mean anything ranging from Communist to neoliberal.  Liberalism is a set of ideas which suggests there is a relationship between freedom in markets and freedom in society.  On the one hand, its proponents possess an almost evangelical faith in the work of “free” markets to set people free and yield good outcomes (“good outcomes for whom?”).  On the other, they defends the civil and political rights--equality before the law, the right to vote--of individuals.  
People have long, and rightly, been sceptical of the narrative about the virtues of the free market.  Free from what, and for whom?  Without the state intervening, markets, and the power that goes along with them are most frequently captured by and made to serve the ends of those who already possess great wealth.  A laissez-faire attitude toward political economy, in which the state refrains from trying to intervene in people’s lives, means that middle and working class people instead have their lives structured by the interests and wealth and bottom lines of those who are wealthy.
The absence of the state does not mean the absence of power and “meddling.  It just means that power is exercised by people with no mandate, no need to be transparent, no obligation to serve the public interest, and no legitimacy. It means economic and therefore political power being exercised for private rather than public interest.
This then is the liberal pose adopted by the modern day Republican Party.  I say pose because in their turn to neo-liberalism they have dropped one of the distinguishing features of liberalism: a belief in individual political and civil rights.  Today’s Republican Party seeks to enshrine the rights of corporations at the direct expense of the rights of citizens.  They seek to use redistricting, ID laws, and a host of other measures to disenfranchise significant numbers of Americans directly, while limiting the power of others by limiting our ability to use democratic mechanisms to hold large agglomerations of corporate economic and political power to account.
This explains the Republican approach to healthcare, which cuts away at public components of the system like Medicare while liberating the private healthcare industry from the responsibilities imposed upon it by American citizens through their voting and advocacy.  The “savings” in their plan are disproportionately passed on to the wealthy, and businesses are absolved of their social obligations to employees, while Americans with pre-existing conditions, the elderly, women, and new families find support for their needs weakened.
This also explains their mockery of those of us who suggest that access to healthcare should be a right.  They celebrate the freedom of individuals to make decisions for themselves, and embrace what they see as the justice of crippling burdens on those who make “bad decisions,” ignoring how centuries of inequality in terms of race, class, and gender mean that what they portray as “personal” failings are failings of a larger set of structures.  They ignore the relationship between their beloved Declaration of Independence’s “right to life” and the work that healthcare does in literally keeping people alive.
One alternative to the existing messy, expensive, and profoundly unequal healthcare system in the U.S. (it’s really absurd to call it a system) is some version of universal healthcare, which comes in different forms.  In some cases, it is an actual healthcare system run by the state.  In others it consists of payments or subsidies from the state to a heavily and rigorously regulated private healthcare industry.  In every case, citizens pay their taxes and receive virtually all of their healthcare without additional charge.  While some of these systems in Europe, Australasia, Canada, and Asia have been weakened over time, they have a number of benefits.
Firstly, the access they provide is universal in a way that does not exist in the U.S.  Secondly, they are cheaper, because in either case there are strong regulations imposed on the healthcare industry or sector.  Thirdly, they are predictable, because citizens know that having paid their taxes, they do not need to fear life-altering medical bills in their moment of need.  Fourthly, for the same reason, they are fairer.  And finally, they tend to be connected to a larger, robust welfare state which attempts to ensure greater degrees of stability, safety, prosperity, and equality in society, and which can do so with greater ease because of their universal character and their interconnected character.
Liberals--Republicans in the U.S. who claim to stand for both free markets and free people--claim that these kinds of healthcare systems would crush the souls of Americans, and turn them into Soviet-style automatons, incapable of living meaningful lives, held under the government’s authoritarian boot, and powerless to change their politics.
But here’s a thought to put the minds of supposedly moderate Republicans like Nevada’s Dean Heller at ease.  The welfare systems in Europe--take those in Britain and Scandinavia, for example--were built largely by social democratic parties.  But the idea at their core is a very liberal one, and therefore one with which Republican citizens and politicians alike should feel comfortable.  Even many of the individuals behind the construction of welfare states were liberals, individuals who were sceptical of the evangelical claims of their party’s dogma in the face of evidence from daily life.
Much of European social democracy was a fundamentally liberal project, with the ambitious and emancipatory goal of creating individuals who could lead meaningful, unconstrained lives.  But it departed from the premise that this required life organized around the public interest, having recognized that unconstrained “freedom” of markets often worked counter to the welfare of the middle and working classes that constituted overwhelming majorities of citizens.  
In order for people to live these unconstrained lives, social democrats believed they should be liberated from the fear, uncertainty, instability, and powerlessness imposed upon them by the fantasy of a free market which worked best for the wealthy.  Their logic was that while paying slightly higher taxes into a regulated healthcare or education sector might represent some form of constraint, it paled compared to the straitjackets imposed upon people by having their life chances, their health, and their day-to-day lives governed by massive businesses and industries.
The fact that few if any parties even on the right in places where they exist openly challenge the existence of these social democratic welfare states and their logic, suggests that citizens are happy with this compromise.  Many people view “freedom” in a very different way from Americans, and look at our healthcare system and the burdens--economic and psychological--that it imposes on people as fundamentally restrictive and harmful.  The same is true of a range of features of welfare states.
The Republican healthcare bills in the House and the Senate have threatened to roll back the inadequate and clunky reforms of the Obama administration, and increase the fear, uncertainty, instability, and powerlessness that Americans outside of the top few percent experience as they seek to care for themselves and their families. Dean Heller and his colleagues should reject the Senate bill and get to work on serious healthcare reform.
Good, sensible, and social democratic reform to America’s healthcare system could yield benefits that would satisfy both those on the left and those on the right.  A universal system of healthcare would simultaneously remove the corrosive influence of private interest, and free businesses from the obligation to flounder in search of insurance for their employees in a lopsided market.  It would require greater contributions in terms of taxation from the wealthy, but would also liberate individuals from the uncertainty about the costs of meeting illnesses and misfortunes which have consistently dogged and inhibited the ingenuity, life trajectories, and aspirations of generations of our citizens.  

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Like Trump, May Offers Security in Lieu of Democracy

British Prime Minister Theresa May, grasping for an electoral victory on Thursday, believes she has hit on a winning proposition.  Capitalizing on two recent terrorist attacks in Britain, she is asking the electorate to vote for her in the full knowledge that she will eviscerate their civil liberties in the fight against global terrorism.
Rather than combine robust law enforcement with a re-thinking of British foreign policy and an alliance with a community determined to remove the incentives for domestic terror, Theresa May is waging a war on civil liberties.
The Guardian reported that May wants to “restrict the freedom and the movements of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they present a threat, but not enough evidence to prosecute them full in court.”  The chilling part came next: “If human rights laws stop us from doing it,” May declared, “we will change those laws so we can do it.”
The purpose of human rights laws, constitutional amendments, and other fundamentals in democracies, is that you don’t uproot and annihilate them without a second thought because it’s convenient and helps you to win an election.
May’s threat of war against what most Britons would identify as core national values also raises the question of what exactly she and her grotesque security state will be protecting Britons against.  The terrorists she wants to combat using these means are people who work outside of the law, promote forms of violence that law finds abhorrent, and detest as supine and indolent civil and political rights.
May’s authoritarian state would be little better.  Suspending laws, promoting greater state violence and penetration into daily life, and exhibiting contempt for the defining features of liberal democracy mean that ISIS and its enthusiasts have successfully initiated the transformation of an old democracy into an intellectual vassal state.   
The Conservatives’ panicky, authoritarian, ill-considered response to terrorist attacks in Britain is positively Trump-ian, the kind of thing cooked up in the fevered brain of a beleaguered politician who is plagued by sleeplessness at 3 a.m. by the fear of losing an election and with it their credibility.
Rather than acting in the tradition of democratic states who recognize that guarding against authoritarianism needs constant self-scrutiny as well as the deployment of intelligence and law enforcement, May is joining a growing number of global leaders—in the U.S., Russia, Turkey, and beyond—in offering people physical security with one hand while gutting civil, political, social, and economic rights with the other.
I hope that British voters will reject what is a truly toxic deal.   

Britain's General Election

The Britain to which I will fly at the end of June will be one scarred by recent acts of terrorism and the country’s impending departure from the European Union.  But it will also have been shaped by a general election which is taking place on Thursday, to determine who will govern Britain in the coming years.  
Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May became Prime Minister last year following the British vote to exit the European Union.  She never faced a general election, which in itself is unremarkable in Britain: Winston Churchill served five years as prime minister before he submitted himself to the electorate; Gordon Brown and John Major in recent years ascended to the premiership without a general election.  
May called a general election after pledging otherwise in order to take what she saw as an easy opportunity to increase her party’s narrow majority in the House of Commons.  The Conservative’s operating assumption was that the Labour Party would go down to an historic defeat because of its current leader.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn won a shock election against the inclinations of a majority of the members of parliament whom he leads.  Corbyn has never held ministerial office, and comes from the left of a party that had its last 13 years in power defined by its right-wing.  A critic perhaps less prescient than dogged of the security state and British foreign and financial policy, someone like Corbyn was never supposed to be able to lead Labour.
The British public felt otherwise, and large numbers of new members flocked to the party to elect Corby and then later to see off a challenge from the party establishment.  Corbyn’s term as Labour leader has been damaged by the mismatch between his support from the grassroots and the dearth of the same from his parliamentary colleagues, something that can prove fatal in a parliamentary system.
Thus, the Conservatives believed there was a strong opening to exploit Labour’s divisions while campaigning around May’s almost autocratic command over her party.
The election has not gone as planned.  Many British commentators believe that Corbyn has outperformed May on the campaign trail and in the media, and even studiously neutral members of the country’s deeply paternalistic commentariat have remarked on the media’s unfair treatment of Corbyn, a theme articulated by his supporters and echoing claims by the left of the Democratic Party about Bernie Sanders.
Either the Conservatives or Labour will lead the next government, although it’s not inconceivable they will do so in a coalition with other parties.  The pro-European Liberal Democrats, nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales, xenophobic United Kingdom Independence Party, and the Green Party are also actively contesting seats across the country, with the Scottish Nationalists and Lib-Dems vying for third place.
Both major British parties are committed to honoring the Brexit vote, but Labour have proved more committed to protecting the status of European nationals living in Britain, and are likely to be more friendly to migrants who seek to enter after the drawbridge has gone up.  The Conservatives are solicitous of financial interests, whereas Corbyn is promising a program of economic redistribution.  The Conservative’s signature environmental policy is the reintroduction of fox hunting to please a rural squirearchy, whereas Labour is more concerned with redressing the consequences of nearly a decade of economic and social austerity.
The major Conservative talking points are less about anything they have to offer, and more about turning the public against Corbyn.  He is, the country’s right-wing press, argues, a dangerously outlandish figure, a blast from a particular past--the troubled 1970s.  Michael Fallon, like a seal far too long out of water, and Boris Johnson, giggling like a frat boy who doesn’t realize he’s naked on a television set, have led the attack, while May dodged a debate among party leaders.
Corbyn’s foremost sin, for Conservatives, is his willingness to take a long hard look at the consequences of the Anglo-American wars in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, and to evaluate their relationship to terrorism in Europe today.  The idea that armed invasion, weapons sales to dictators, and unthinking bombardment in the name of humanitarianism might have something to do with terrorism is the kind of radical proposition that makes neo-conservatives blanche and cross themselves.
But it is really far less radical than the combination of hubris and fundamentalism that drove the war in Iraq which destroyed the country’s institutions and identity while killing hundreds of thousands and populated spaces evacuated by the state with international terrorists who continue to stand at the ready to take up arms to present themselves as defenders of Islam against the Anglo-American war machine.
The national security consensus governing Britain, the U.S., France, and much of the rest of the west, is the best recruiting tool that ISIS and its ilk could wish for, and Corbyn has ruffled many feathers by saying as much.  In doing so, however, he is only echoing the widely praised Chilcott report, which described how Blair and Bush were warned by analysts that their violent project in Iraq would have precisely the consequences it did.
One could equally argue that Corbyn’s economic radicalism is little more than the mildly social democratic consensus embraced by Prime Ministers Attlee, Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, and Wilson between the 1940s and 1970s.  More radical by far, was Margaret Thatcher’s embrace of what George H W Bush memorably called “voodoo economics” in a slightly different circumstances (even Thatcher mounted a silent retreat from monetarism after the early years of her premiership).
Corbyn’s economics are little more than an admittedly easily caricatured version of social democratic realpolitik, whereas Thatcher and May make the economic equivalent of a claim that water runs uphill.  Wealth unlike water, as has been vividly proven in the U.S., has a tendency to gravitate to the top in the absence of democratic checks and regulations.  So the primary fairytales of this election are in May’s premises that what’s good for the banker is good for the bricklayer, that terrorism can be defeated without addressing its underlying causes, and that strapping herself to an unstable fascist at the helm of the sinking American ship of state is good for Britain.
Like Blair a decade and a half before her, May is convinced that Britain is nothing without its American alliance.  In pandering to Trump’s ethnic nationalism--which clearly she finds personally repugnant--she invited the president on a state visit to Britain.  
Any such visit will invariably center around London, a city violated by a recent terrorist attack on its citizens, just on the heels of an attack in Manchester.  Donald Trump has used the violence against Londoners as a pretext to attack the city’s mayor for enjoining his fellow citizens to stay calm and not let terrorists alter their way of life.  The mayor’s call was accompanied by a promise to increase the police presence on the city’s streets.  
That was all too subtle for Trump, and Sadiq Khan is a little too brown and Muslim for the Beast’s taste.  So the American president has repeatedly mocked the mayor and his efforts to defend his city’s multiculturalism, pluralism, and ethic.  
Just as recent European elections in the Netherlands and France have been partially defined by the realization that fascists in power is an actual prospect, so too Trump looms over the British election.
Like a grotesque, semi-literate troll with hands just small enough to grasp a phone, and thumbs just nimble enough to tap out a machine-gun fire of monosyllabic salvoes of hate, Trump has crawled from beneath London Bridge to gorge himself on Britain’s casualties of the violence committed on that bridge. Trump is seeking to promote panic and hatred, partly because it’s what he does best, and partly because he desperately needs to distract from his incompetence, destructiveness, and criminality.

Above all, British voters should enter the polls thinking about the futures that Labour and the Tories offer their families, friends, community, and country.  But they should also consider whether in 2017 they want to once again take a stand against a fascist threat, subtler from what the world experienced in the past, but dangerous nonetheless.  

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What does it mean that we turn to the Securocrats for our salvation?

In the 1980s, South Africa’s apartheid state developed a Total Strategy to combat the array of global interests seeking to bring an end to its system of state segregation.  Increasingly, power clustered in the hands of intelligence bodies which pursued clandestine operations inside and outside of the country, in the military which waged war in Namibia and Angola while conducting raids in Zambia and Zimbabwe, and in the police forces that were unleashed on townships across the country as the country’s increasingly dictatorial leadership dispensed with even the fiction of constitutionalism.
Onlookers evoked the rising power of a national security state by describing these newly empowered actors as the Securocrats.  The Securocrats were those individuals embedded in ‘national security’ institutions who increasingly dominated decision-making, discourse, and state power in South Africa.  They gradually eclipsed or blended into more representative party and parliamentary structures.
Today, in the United States, we are turning to a similar category of Securocrats for the salvation of our democracy.  
In less than four months in office, Donald Trump has repeatedly launched unconstitutional attacks on the rights of Americans and migrants (fortunately beaten back by the courts), expressed contempt for the judicial system, hostility toward the free press, and impatience with the role accorded to representative institutions.  The president’s advisors have colluded with foreign governments, lied about their collusion, and sought to cover up their collusion.
The president has fired those investigating the extent of and his knowledge of this collusion after attempting to derail their investigations, and lied about the rationale for their firing.  He has failed to prevent his compromised attorney general from interfering in investigations.  He has offered sensitive intelligence to governments which are avowedly hostile toward democratic institutions, international norms, and human rights.   The president’s private properties and businesses are in conflict with his public duties.  
The president has claimed to possess secret tapes, has demanded personal loyalty from public servants, and has engaged in the most transparent kind of nepotism, offering extraordinarily wide briefs and responsibilities to his grossly unqualified daughter and son-in-law.  
Thus far, the most shocking revelations and the most grievous blows against Trump’s credibility have been delivered by American securocrats.  James Comey, the FBI head dispatched to what Trump must have imagined would be oblivion, has used his networks to make public Trump’s threatening blandishments and efforts to halt investigations into his inner circle.  
James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, was more direct.  “I think as well,” Clapper said, having discussed Russian efforts to alter the election outcome, “our institutions are under assault internally.”  Clapper clarified that in his mind, the internal threat came from the president himself, drawing praise from a wide spectrum of commentators.  
Comey and Clapper will be central to any effort to impeach Trump.  And such an effort should come sooner rather than later.  Each week, the president inflicts new damage on our institutions, while his poisonous alliance with the Republican Party relentlessly rolls back financial, medical, legal, environmental, privacy, and welfare protections that benefit the majority of the public.
But what does it mean, that Securocrats like Comey and Clapper, and others who will emerge from the shadows, or lob their assaults from dark corners, will be the people who--if anyone does--bring Trump down?
In the first place, it suggests that there is some combination of power and will lacking in Congress, the body which should have been taking the lead in demanding or extracting these and other pieces of evidence from the recesses of our security state.  The nihilism and partisanship of the Republican Party have rendered its members incapable of participating in good-faith governance.  It implicates the media which failed to do much serious investigation during the primary and general elections.  But it also says something about the power wielded by the Securocrats.
Remember, these are not nice people, or people with any sense of or respect for strong, public, democratic institutions.  Comey’s “gee, shucks, did I really do that?” routine shouldn’t mask his calculated effort to damage one presidential candidate to the advantage of another (which is different from saying that all of Clinton’s woes can be ascribed to his meddling).  His agency has a rich history of violating civil rights and advocating for the curtailment of civil liberties in the name of security.
James Clapper lied under oath to senators in one of many efforts to evade oversight of the intrusive spying programs he oversaw.  These were not off-the-cuff lies, but calculated, premeditated, and repeated efforts to elude democratic accountability.  Clapper also advocated for the removal of congressional scrutiny from the illicit, murderous, and self-defeating program of extrajudicial murder by drones that has persisted across three administrations.
The national security apparatus Comey and Clapper had starring roles in managing let itself be turned into an arm of crusading neoconservatives to take the country to war in Iraq, an event which I think is at the heart of Hillary Clinton’s repeated failures to seek higher office.  The Securocrats have relentlessly infringed on civil liberties in the post-9/11 era, in part because the alternative would be a long, hard look at the broken and self-destructive foreign policy consensus they ensure is replicated down the years across administrations of both parties.  
The Securocrats have consistently behaved as though the public interest is an annoyance to be dispensed with, Congress is an adversary to be evaded, and the very idea of accountability represents a dire threat to national security--better interpreted as their hold on our imaginations and those of elected policymakers.  
Between the war in Iraq, the NSA spying scandals, the drone killings, and the other privacy invasions associated with the Patriot Act, the Securocrats have generated enormous distrust in government and in public institutions.  That mistrust has spilled over from the national security apparatus to other fields of government, and is used to attack the principle of taxpaying, the existence of regulations, the sanctity of citizenship, and the very idea of a public interest and public sphere.  The cynical paternalism of the Securocrats, therefore, bears very real (if not sole) responsibility for the rise of a fascist right and the ascendance of Donald Trump.  
On the one hand, I am rooting for these people to do everything they can to bring down a man and an administration who represent a deadly threat to our democracy, perhaps the worst our country has confronted for many, many decades.  But I am afraid that even if they are successful, it isn’t just the Trump administration that will leave deep scars on our country.  It will be the manner in which the Securocrats might have proven to be our salvation.
We will see scrutiny of their methods melt away if they generate a “win” for democracy against the fascist Trump.  We will see the securitization of our election process, and the Securocrats will make calls about how and when we vote.  We might see the Securocrats become arbiters of our democracy.  We will see Securocrats’ status enhanced at the expense of elected representatives, which will change the balance of power between the Securocrats and those charged with overseeing their activities.  We might very well see an increased willingness of Securocrats to wield their access to state secrets and sometimes ill-gotten information to sway elections.

While Donald Trump needs to be wrenched from office, I fear that the source of his greatest frustration and potential downfall bodes ill for our country and democracy in the future.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Earth Day in Zion National Park

We had visitors from Sweden in town last week, and ended their visit with a trip to Zion National Park in Utah.  The weather was gorgeous, and the pink, orange, grey, and rusty hues of the canyons were rimmed by verdant mesas and framed by bright blue skies.  On Earth Day, we walked to the top of Angel’s Landing, the last stretch of which requires hanging onto a series of chains and trying not to think about the kind of splat you’d make if you put one foot wrong.
The panoramic view from Angel’s Landing looks down the valley onto a series of lower mesas across southern Utah, up to higher ground, capped by a handful of the hoodoos that become grander in Bryce Canyon, and down to where the Virgin River winds through a lush canyon.  The most famous hikes in Zion don’t deliver solitude, but there’s something joyous about seeing people from all over the country and the world, sharing hopes for a beautiful day and a successful hike, and giving voice to the wonder that Zion inspires.
Nothing, I felt sure (other than falling 1,500 feet), could spoil such views.  And then I saw a hat.  “Make America Great Again,” it read.  I had missed it at first, because it wasn’t the bright red variety, but the camouflage model.  
At this point, we had just reached Angel’s Landing itself, and the end of the trail was filled with people, breathless from the ascent and the view.  The man in the Trump hat was loudly exclaiming about the amazing view, the magnificent trail, how easy it had been to take the shuttle to the trailhead, and what an amazing park this was.
I could clearly tell nothing about what drew this man to Donald Trump.  He might have been motivated by Trump’s ethnic nationalism, militarism, anti-immigration rhetoric, or sexism.  Or he might just have wanted to take a gamble and throw a bomb (because “they” are “all the same”) to see what happened.
Perhaps it was the altitude getting to him, but it was clear that there was little critical thought going on in this man’s head as he stood atop Angel’s Landing, Trump hat on, and marvelled at the natural beauty of his physical surroundings, and the physical infrastructure that had allowed him to view them from this vantage point.  
It clearly did not occur to our Trump supporter that if his man had been president when the conservation movement was gaining steam, there would have been no national parks, and few if any public lands.  Donald Trump would have dammed the Virgin River, dynamited the Sentinel, ravaged the Narrows for mineral wealth, and built a sprawling hotel in the floor of Zion Canyon, blasting aside Angel’s Landing to make room for a parking structure and putting the Trump logo on top of whatever remained of the Watchman.  
Donald Trump and his cabinet think that collecting public revenue to invest in national parks and the infrastructure required to take people there.  Roads to small communities, a shuttle system, interpretive centers, and the trails constructed by the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps are not things Trump and his fellow plutocrats believe in.  
They do not believe that clear mountain waters and smog-free skies are the markers of a strong society, or that forests, canyons, and campsites have any value unless you can place a price tag on them.
I don’t know where our Trump supporter placed national parks in his hierarchy of needs.  But he seemed pretty thrilled atop Angel’s Landing.  I wish that he and others would think a little bit longer and harder about the implications of putting into power someone with no appreciation for or understanding of the public good, and about how public spaces like parks and campsites and museums enrich their lives.  
Just that little bit of critical thought could open the floodgates for this man and other voters to contemplate just how badly they’re being played for suckers by a man who promised them the stars, and is instead pursuing confrontation with North Korea to help his ratings, rolling back the protections for our air and water and food, offering tax cuts to the rich, and doing his best to resuscitate racial nationalism as the basis for political thought in the United States.  

Our national parks are one of the things that draw visitors to our country from around the world. They are interpreted by many of these visitors as an example of the national vitality and caring that is lacking in our social relations and civic discourse. Creating these parks required forethought and an understanding of the public good, two of many things that Donald Trump utterly lacks.  

The next time you visit a park, engage critically with your surroundings. When you breathe the fresh air, ask why it is clean. When you board the shuttle, consider what kinds of views about the public sphere ensured it was there. When you tread on the trails, ponder who built them, and who provided the will and the vision. And when you take in the vistas, consider which world views allow for their maintenance, and which call for their extirpation and the erection in their place of monuments to the bloated egos of wealthy plutocrats and their offspring.