THE DRIVE TO THE RIGHT

Like a competent driver, the sensible person must be aware of their surroundings and the events occurring therein in order to avoid catastrophe. The same applies when observing developments across the political spectrum. The speed of those events is a variable beyond the control of the driver. But from the perspective of the astute observer it’s possible to ascertain what has occurred, what is occurring and what will likely occur as a result of past and current trends.

One of the more interesting developments in recent times and certainly the most colourful is the growing influence of the far-right in mainstream politics. Through a combination of brand advertising, sloganizing, boorish behaviour and corporate sponsorship the Extreme Right is making its presence felt across the world. Some on the so-called “Alt-Right” have claimed that their brand of conservatism represents the new counter-culture. Indeed, charlatans such as the White Supremacist Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos have made in-roads into popular culture by tapping into the grievances of disenchanted millennials (see Victimhood Part 1.

It would be simplistic to declaim such unpleasant individuals and their followers as stupid or misguided but it would be equally unwise to credit either Spencer or Yiannopoulos with wisdom or intelligence. Though posing as leaders in the Alt-Right, neither of these men nor their ideas are the driving force behind the movement. The financial sponsors of the movement are wealthy interest groups including the Mercer family. Rather than being leaders, Spencer and Yiannopoulos are mere hand-servants.

The Extreme Right has always existed and its virulence in North America is owed to a combination of geography and religious and philosophical leanings at the core of Western colonization on the continent. Since World War II the Extreme Right’s move towards the mainstream of politics is the logical result of nearly fifty years of corporatist maneuvering. There is and was no central conspiracy at work to shift the political Centre to the Right. Instead various interest groups each armed with a shared sense of socioeconomic determinism hijacked the moderate political parties in most jurisdictions.

The first political grouping in North America to succumb to these political parasites was the traditional conservative movement. Whereas traditional conservatives stressed the importance of limited government, separation of church and state and fiscal prudence, traditional conservatism quickly fell under the sway of both Christian conservatives and neo-conservatives. The former Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (ironically much feted today by neo-conservatives) warned:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

Christian Conservatives were only one force that would transform North American conservatism. Christian conservatism is not a monolithic force and is far more complex than it appears. Like the political spectrum, Christian Conservatism has many aspects. Many right-wing libertarians also adhere to fundamentalist Christian teachings. During the Obama Administration, these and other groups coalesced around the Tea Party.

However, even within American Christian fundamentalism, there exists ideological difference between evangelicals, Catholics and Dominionists. All these groups share to varying degrees a sense of determinism on a range of issues varying from social and foreign policy to economic determinism. Of these, the Dominionists are arguably the most extreme in their views and as a result have generated greater links to the Racist Right. Those links are also complex.

For example, the Cosmotheist Church founded by William Luther Pierce derived its membership from evangelical White Supremacists. Pierce was the author of The Turner Diaries, considered to be a “bible” for the racist right. Pierce described Cosmotheism’s core principle as:

“…the purpose of mankind and the purpose of every other part of creation, is the creator’s purpose, that this purpose is the never-ending ascent of the path of creation, the path of life symbolized by our life rune, that you understand that this path leads ever upward toward the creator’s self-realization, and that the destiny of those who follow this path is godhood.”

Key to realising this godhood was advancing the white race to a position of “superhuman” status, a position that could not be achieved through the mixing of races. By the time Pierce founded the Cosmotheist Church he had already preached his racist vision of social Darwinism in his novel The Turner Diaries. In that distasteful book he envisaged a future race war in which fifty million white survivors would inherit the Earth. Pierce also promoted a strain of Edmund Spencer’s idea of “survival of the fittest.” Competition between individuals and races was, in Pierce’s view key to the betterment of mankind.

Dominionist Christian thinking, itself a branch of Christian Reconstructionism shares much in common with Pierce’s vision but with less overt emphasis on a race war. Dominionist theology argues that the world should be brought under Christian dominion and that all other faiths should be subordinated or destroyed. Reconstructionists occupied high ranking posts during the Administration of George W Bush. They included the Defence Department’s Inspector General Joseph Schmitz. Schmitz maintains close ties with Blackwater Worldwide founder Erik Prince. During the Second Iraq War, Schmitz described Blackwater mercenaries as his “Von Steubens (after the Prussian officer and founder of the Continental Army)” bringing Christianity to the Middle East.

A vision of apocalyptic destiny also sits at the heart of Dispensationalist Christian belief. Dispensationalists believe that the Messiah will vanquish the Anti-Christ at Armageddon in the state of Israel. Afterwards, according to Dispensationalist prophecy, the world will begin anew, clean of pollution and evil and life will abound.

Such mystical thinking isn’t far removed from the racist fantasies of White Supremacists such as Pierce. Furthermore on social policy, Christian Conservatism as a whole leans heavily towards a social Darwinist perspective of competition. At the same time that William Luther Pierce was promoting his intolerant, tax-dodging religious sect, the Christian Reconstructionist David Harold Chilton was arguing against social welfare programmes, culminating in his influential 1981 book Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators: A Biblical Response to Ronald J. Sider.

But Christian Conservatives weren’t the only force hijacking traditional conservativism. The neo-conservative movement gained influence at the start of the 1970’s through the Chicago School of Economics. Lack of adherence to Christianity is no barrier for neo-conservative thinking. Many of its most ardent promoters included the money grubbing former Assistant Secretary of Defence Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, both whom are of Jewish descent. William Kristol, the editor of the neo-conservative Weekly Standard remains an intellectual force behind the promotion of neo-conservatism.

But what is neo-conservativism and why does it have such a cozy relationship with the Christian Right?

The practical and philosophical underpinnings are coinciding (if not for identical reasons) interests in maintaining the state of Israel, armaments spending and the desire for competition in the society at large. The Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul sees parallels between neo-conservatives and Marxists:

“It is not unreasonable to place them among the last true Marxists, since they believe in the inevitability of class warfare, which they are certain they can win by provoking it while they have power.”

Bizarrely, it is White Supremacists who have in turn accused historic figures such as Abraham Lincoln of being Marxist for freeing the slaves. Also on an ironic note, Pierce, Perle and the Christian Reconstructionist David Harold Chilton professed strong opposition to Communism throughout their careers. Pierce was a member of the John Birch Society prior to joining George Rockwell’s American Nazi Party. Yet each of these men encouraged ideological, class and racial conflict.

It is yet another irony that White Supremacy itself is less concerned with conflict and more about stability, control and subjugation. By far the most astute analysis of the underpinnings of White Supremacist philosophy can be found in the sociological school of Socialist Feminist theory. James W Messerschmidt, one of the principle thinkers behind the theory posited the argument that White Supremacy is not merely concerned with race but with gender roles. The desired social structure of the white supremacist is one where white men dominate the community and where white women are subordinate to white men. White Supremacist thought adheres to a notion that women are unable to control their sexuality and that is a moral imperative of white men to ensure that women do not engage in sexual congress with anyone outside the white race.

Similarly, according to Messerschmidt’s analysis, black men and women are equally incapable of controlling their sexuality and therefore the segregation of the races is in part motivated by a need to control the sexuality of white women and black men as a moral imperative.

It may seem like a far cry between the racist and sexist views of White Supremacists and contemporary social conservatism until we recall the ongoing debate over abortion and healthcare in the United States, and in particular conservative attacks on Planned Parenthood in the US and public health care in Canada. In the kind of capitalist free market society promoted by modern day conservatives, women are therefore good for nothing but breeding.

Small wonder then, that Donald Trump’s comments about “grabbing her by the pussy” were not a liability among his supporters, nor too, the equally idiotic comments of former House of Representatives member Todd Akin when he described the female body as an “incubator.”

Dehumanizing people being a specialty of modern conservative thought, it is small wonder that many libertarians and conservatives are also techno-utopians. Peter Thiel, the libertarian founder of PayPal and who sat on Trump’s transition team is among many right-wing thinkers who believe that technology should be allowed to advance without regard to human interference. Thiel and others like him have apparently forgotten what World War II was fought over. While most tend to see World War II as a conflict between democracy and authoritarianism it was also a war against the dictatorship of technology versus the rights of the individual. Hence in popular entertainment Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech from the Great Dictator:

“Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost….

And:

“Soldiers! don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel! Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men!”

Or consider Charles De Gaulle’s 1941 lecture at Oxford where he discussed the threat of technology to the individual:

{The only way out is for]”…society to preserve liberty, security and the dignity of man. There is no other way to assure the victory of spirit over matter.”

As with the Herbert Walker Bush and Brown Brothers Harriman during World War II, Thiel appears to be on the side of the Nazis when it comes to technological determinism.

Thus weighing all the above, it is easy to see how disparate elements of the Right could coalesce around a phony heroic and intolerant figure such as Donald Trump. Individual bravado may have played a role in putting Trump in the White House. However Trump’s presidency is a culmination of decades of disparate efforts by White Nationalists, Christian Conservatives and neo-conservatives to shape society into an ideological, social and racial warzone.

By and large, their efforts have not been in vain. Their opponents in the centre and on the left have fallen into several pitfalls. First, the centre has over recent decades parroted many neo-conservative talking points about “free” markets and competition. In turn liberal governments under Clinton, Tony Blair and Jean Chretien have embraced the twin mantras of demonizing the poor and privatizing public resources.

The Left has in turn moved to the centre-right. The Socialist Party in France held the same anti-LBGTQ stance as the Gaullists for decades. Francois Hollande proved to be no friend of the working class during his time in office, using State of Emergency legislation to crack down on unions and organised labour.

Canada’s NDP in a bid to appear more “palatable” to the electorate i.e. donors, has also moved to the centre. At both a federal and provincial level, NDP policy does not differ radically from that of the Liberal Party of Canada.

On the far left, both the anarchists and socialists have increasingly engaged in petty bickering. Rather than providing a sensible counterweight to the ideological insanity of the far Right, the Left is parroting similar calls by Steve Bannon: that the system must be destroyed. Leaving aside the legitimate concern about how dysfunctional North America’s constitutional systems have become, what the left plans to replace that system with is unclear.

Consequently it is not difficult for the astute observer to see that the prevailing political mess may only be addressed after some kind of cataclysmic event. During the early part of the twentieth century, two world wars were required to defeat the socioeconomic crisis that abstract authoritarian ideology had inflicted on the world. That ideology has returned, the lessons conveniently forgotten by the body politic.

War may not be the only event that triggers a radical rethink of the current malaise. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina and the Bush Administration’s failure to address the crisis contributed to his party’s decimation in 2008. Contrast that with Federal assistance in 2012 under Obama to New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and conservative opposition to sending such aid.

In the words of the Canadian singer and poet Gordon Downie “An accident is sometimes the only way to work our way back from bad decisions.”

Another solution may be unfolding in the wake of Trump’s reactionary policies. Countering his decision to pull out of the Paris Accords, many American cities and states are pledging to uphold the Accords in spite of the Federal Government. With enough grassroots involvement, Trump’s lunatic presidency might end up leading to a true democracy for the first time in the history of the United States. A democracy without the hindrance of the Electoral College or gerrymandering.

However that same movement could also easily fall into a trap of competition between communities and in turn lead to civil strife and human suffering.

If that were to occur, it would prove a final victory of the neo-conservative movement.

BIBLIOGRAPHY AND FURTHER READING:

BLACKWATER: THE RISE OF THE WORLD’S MOST POWERFUL MERCENARY ARMY BY JEREMY SCAHILL

THE DOUBTER’S COMPANION: A DICTIONARY OF AGGRESSIVE COMMONSENSE BY JOHN RALSTON SAUL

CRIME AS STRUCTURED ACTION; DOING MASCULINITY, RACE, CLASS, SEXUALITY AND CRIME BY JAMES W MESSERSCHMIDT

THE TURNER DIARIES BY WILLIAM LUTHER PIERCE

PRODUCTIVE CHRISTIANS IN AN AGE OF GUILT MANIPULATORS: A RESPONSE TO RONALD J SNIDER BY DAVID HAROLD CHILTON

THE MANY-HEADED HYDRA: THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF THE REVOLUTIONARY ATLANTIC BY PETER LINEBAUGH AND MARCUS REDIKER

ON HEROES

I gave up on ideological belief years ago and not out of any sense of disillusionment or abandoning of core ideals. It was simply the result of my realising that the world is a far more complicated place than ideologues or ideologies would have us believe. Moreover as a student of history, I became acutely aware of the hypocrisies exhibited by ideological movements especially on the Left and Right.

To me, humanism is the best way to approach the world. I don’t consider myself to be a radical. If anything my politics fall to the left of centre on the political spectrum. I favour universal single payer healthcare, strong labour laws and sensible regulation over the market-place. When it comes to markets I am, to paraphrase the late James Goldsmith, in favour or free markets but not at the expense of society.

Though I don’t believe that we should have heroes, there are political and social leaders that I admire and most fall on different aspects of the political spectrum.

First on the list is Giuseppe Garibaldi, the 19th century Italian nationalist leader and activist. Garibaldi was a complex figure and he had his fair share of contradictions. Nevertheless he was a champion of many human rights causes and was willing, when necessary to employ violence in defense of those causes.

During the 1840’s he was active in Latin America helping guerilla armies take on tyrannical dictatorships. During the 1850’s and 1860’s he campaigned in Italy, unifying the peninsula with widespread local support.

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 he led the Army of the Vosges in defense of France’s Third Republic who were resisting the occupying German army. His brigade was one of the last to surrender to the Germans at the war’s end.

Not all of his methods employed violence. He lent his support to the women’s suffrage movement in Britain, appearing and speaking at rallies in support of granting women the right to vote.

After each campaign he returned to his farm on the island of Caprera and lived a quiet life. Garibaldi’s critics might point to his many contradictions: despite his support for women’s rights he was himself a womaniser and a poor husband. Yet, such criticism ignores the basic humanity of the man and the wider reality that nobody – man or woman – can ever serve as a perfect life model.

Next on the list is the Norwegian politician Haakon Lie, secretary of the Norwegian Labour Party from 1945 to 1969.

Lie was both a realist and an idealist. His political career began as a union activist. During World War II he was a leading voice of Norwegian resistance to the Nazi occupation. Though his principles were leftist, he was a staunch anti-Communist seeing Soviet-style communism as a threat to peace and democracy. His vision for Norway was of a “Third Way” between the tyrannies of unchecked capitalism and Stalinism. A market economy could benefit society Lie argued so long as the needs of everyone in the society were met.

That meant that each citizen should have universal healthcare, public education and affordable housing. Norway has benefited enormously from these policies and has the highest GDP per capita in the Western world as well as one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world.

Lie’s critics might argue that despite his determination to save Norwegian democracy, he himself was a dictatorial figure and a bully. Yet in the context of the post-War Period, strong, sensible leadership was required to alleviate human misery and to restore order to a shattered Europe – and Lie and his Party succeeded brilliantly in achieving those goals in Norway.

Finally, though readers of the Intellectual Plane may be shocked by this author’s admission of Charles De Gaulle to the list.

True, De Gaulle had many faults. His treatment of Vietnam and his handling of the Algeria Crisis were often amoral and inhumane. In the case of the latter he connived with unsavoury figures such as Jacques Massu to ensure a favourable French settlement in Algeria.

He was also a dictatorial figure, contemptuous of politicians and of parliamentary politics. De Gaulle hailed from a family of French royalists and his views were socially conservative. Despite these attitudes he employed common sense and idealism in his politics. His policies therefore were almost in contradiction to his background.

Yet he also lived at a time when social conservatism in France was a force that transcended both the Left and Right. Regarding women’s rights and suffrage both France’s Leftist and Rightist political parties proved equally misogynist and opposed granting equality and voting rights to women: the Left due to the fear that women were pro-clerical and the Right out of religious convictions.

Flying in the face of those attitudes De Gaulle’s provisional government granted women the right to vote in 1944, a measure that strengthened overall French democracy.

De Gaulle’s creation of the Fifth Republic further strengthened that democracy, ironically through centralising the powers of the French President. From a constitutional perspective the French President is the most powerful democratically elected figure in the world, next to the Mayor of London.

Thus De Gaulle was able to break through the parliamentary deadlock that wracked the Third and Fourth Republics and institute meaningful reforms. Through a mix of common sense and idealism, De Gaulle implemented economic and social reforms that benefitted the whole of French society and restored prosperity before he left office in 1969.

Like Lie and Garibaldi, De Gaulle wasn’t perfect and there were times when his policies did damage to human life and dignity as was the case in Vietnam. But it must be remembered that like Garibaldi and Lie, De Gaulle was not operating in isolation. At any one time individuals, organisations and nations only have limited resources and knowledge available. De Gaulle was neither omnipotent nor all-knowing.

Nor do we have to be perfect. The goal of the humanist approach is balance and though we may never be completely in harmony at all times, the very effort of striving for balanced perspective is noble in itself.

The problem with heroes is that they never entirely measure up to expectations. Better to approach them and everyone else as human beings and not as divine creations.

VICTIMHOOD (PART 1)

**First published Chris O’Connell’s Intellectual Plane (Copyright March 2017)

I sometimes wonder if in politics (and other aspects of life) victimhood is as relevant as heroism, wisdom and knowledge. Indeed I suspect it carries greater weight than the last two.

In contemporary times the Far Right elevates victimhood to a level of an art-form. American White Nationalists complain that the domestic culture is under threat (clearly they haven’t heard of Hollywood, Disney, American Literature, DARPA, alternative energy, or the myriad of megachurches across the US). They claim their jobs are being taken by foreigners or handed out to minorities who may or may not be qualified for the role – at least according to White Nationalist rhetoric. Popular culture is increasingly representative of liberals, Jews, (insert other race or political affiliation here…) at the expense of Western Culture, and so on and so on, Ad Nauseum and without any basis in reality. Yawn.

The Liberal Left and the Centre (such as it exists these days) and other political interest groups are every bit as skilled at playing the victim card. A recent phenomenon in universities is the so-called “safe space” – areas of the campus where debate is off limits lest someone should get offended. That reasoned discussion regardless of perspective and source is key to a healthy functioning democracy is apparently secondary to catering to the emotional needs of those with thin-skins. The term “snowflake” is being bandied around a lot these days except unlike snowflakes which are complex, intricate structures, there is little behind such sensitivity other than an unwillingness to take personal responsibility for one’s opinions.

Reinforcing the unhealthy obsession with causing offense is the term “cultural appropriation”. This term is defined as the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture. That ideas and shared experiences between human societies are part and parcel of human experience apparently slipped the minds of those who coined this silly term. True, not all these experiences have been positive as anyone with even the briefest familiarity with imperialism can attest. However, like it or not as Edward Said so eloquently stated, we are all the products of empire.

If we were to fully resist the ideas of cultural appropriation today the individual would be trapped in a form of stasis unable to perform even the most basic activities without fear of offending someone. Let’s suppose you like pizza but you have no Italian heritage: Well too bad! That dish is the creation of Italian bakers who first developed the concept nearly a thousand years ago. Following the line of cultural appropriation to its logical conclusion eating such a meal would be offensive to Italians, most specifically Neopolitans, Abbruzzans, Apulians, Campanians and other Italian regional populations. And let’s not forget that the modern state of Italy only came into being in 1861 -so really, only Southern Italians should possess the cultural right to eat pizza and not Northern Italians from Piedmont, Lombardy and the Tyrol.

We could take the absurdity of the cultural appropriation argument further. Suppose pizza consumption was limited to Southern Italians and then suppose an individual or group of Southern Italians enjoys using peppers as a topping.

Uh-uh, no way!

You see peppers were first cultivated by South American indigenous peoples, most notably the Incans and the Aztecs who were conquered by the Spanish Conquistadores. As well as peppers, the Spanish returned from the New World with potatoes, corn and squashes (including pumpkins, but since Halloween or Thanksgiving are forms of cultural appropriation that should be resisted we won’t need those anyway) so any non-Amerindian (specifically South American Amerindians) shouldn’t eat these foods.

Granted these examples are absurd but then so is the idea of behind cultural appropriation itself. If anything, those who decry that idea are advocating an ideology that if taken to its logical conclusion would economically, morally, culturally and (needless to say gastronomically) impoverish all of human society.

Moreover, many of the cultural values which both the Far-Right and the Extreme Left are so concerned about losing, aren’t innate to the respective societies in the first place. It would no doubt surprise the average member of the far-right British Nationalist Party to learn that his or her cherished traditional Sunday dinner of roast beef was actually brought to the British Isles by the French. Or that St. Patrick who the BNP venerates as a Briton who supposedly brought civilisation to the “heathen” Irish was likely born in North Africa.

Similarly, the high-minded modern day secular socialist might be shocked to learn that most of what they espouse was first promoted by English religious sects such as the Ranters, the Levellers and the Diggers in the seventeenth century.

The point I’m trying to make here is that all cultural experiences are relevant. They are part of the human experience and part of who we are as human beings. Those who seek to cherry pick as in the case of White Nationalists or the anti-culture appropriation crowd do so not out a desire for social or ethnic justice but to sow division and xenophobia.

If we are completely honest there are no perfect societies nor has there ever been a society that has not at one time or another orchestrated some kind of violence against another society. The Ancient Greeks and Macedonians who founded so much of Western art and philosophy also engaged in localised tribal wars as well as genocide towards non-Greek peoples. Should we moderns forego 2,500 years of said cultural influence as a result?

Should we also forego the influences of other significant cultures such as China and the Islamic world? Perhaps Western educational institutions should remove key mathematical theorems from curricula because they are derived from the work of Islamic scholars like Ibn Ghazi? Or perhaps Christian, Islamic and Jewish theologians should halt their studies because of the influence of Zoroastrianism on the development of the Abrahamic faiths?

The potential for silliness here is astronomical.

*

VICTIMHOOD AS A BUSINESS

It continues today through the revival of silly extreme ideas on both the Left and Right, in particular libertarianism and anarchism.

Ayn Rand, the poster-child for amoral philosophy once wrote that people choose to be victims. Rand might have been referring to herself. Rand’s philosophical outlook was shaped by family grievances. Her father’s business was confiscated by the Bolsheviks.

During her time in the United States, Rand promoted a selfish, anti-government philosophy at odds with post-war socialist policies being adopted by the US and other countries. Later feted by libertarian intellectuals and congressmen (Paul Ryan is a great admirer) Rand never seemed to grasp the shallowness of her thinking though she did grasp at self-awareness. Her diaries are a trove of insight into her cold personality and damaged psyche.

Despite her rejection of Soviet values, her literary characters (symbolic as she claimed them to be) were little more than reflections of the Soviet Union’s “Heroes of Socialist Labour” the Stakhanovites.  Though cast as the ideal symbol of individualism, John Galt the mysterious philosopher and inventor depicted in her most famous work Atlas Shrugged is an objectivist parallel to Alexey Stakhanov, the Ukrainian miner celebrated in Soviet propaganda throughout the 1930s and 1940s.

Rand’s rejection of the Soviet Union and her embrace of laissez-faire capitalism was pathological in its intensity. But at the core of her zeal one can sense grief and loss as well as a profound desire to be accepted in her adopted United States. This is evident in her testimony to the House Committee of Un-American Activities and the paranoid vision of collective culture described in her novella Anthem.

Ultimately Rand translated her sense of personal victimhood into a lucrative career of writing fiction and non-fiction as well as public speaking. She also transferred her sense of grievance into disdain for homosexuals, Arabs, draft dodgers and Native Americans.

Following in a similar vein but with even less intellectual ability than Ayn Rand is the absurd Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopolous would like to claim the mantle of voice of a new rebellious conservative counterculture. Yet look past the thin veneer of pseudo-intellectualism and all one finds is a childish pretender.

Like Rand before him, Yiannopoulos is an expert at making money out victimhood. During his tenure as chief editor at Breitbart News he specialised in provoking both liberals and moderate conservatives with ridiculous and inaccurate pronouncements on subjects such as LGBTQ rights, women and minorities. That there is and was little factual evidence to support any of Yiannopoulos’s claims on any subject matters little to him so long as he generates a reaction from his audience.

Though a homosexual himself, Yiannopoulos has often stated his considered opinion that gays and lesbians should remain in the closet. He has described feminism “as cancer” and although not native to the US has argued in favour of stronger anti-immigration laws.

His contradictions and absurdities are the recognizable hallmarks of a victim. As a child Yiannopoulos was sexually abused and as an adult, he has simply transferred his anger and resentment over this experience into antagonising others. Yiannopoulos claims to be a devout Catholic which is ironic considering the Roman Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality. However by engaging in bigoted behaviour, Yiannopoulos is simply acting out like many abuse victims who haven’t come to terms with their trauma. Many victims of sexual abuse will behave in a manner they feel will please their abuser or overcompensate in relationships with others. His statements against the LGBT community and women read like public cries for approval from the forces of reaction. Despite the Church’s stance on homosexuality his devout Catholicism reads like the desperate cries of child seeking acceptance.

Despite the controversy he has generated over past statements and despite the intended title of his biography (shelved by Random House due to his own childish remarks about pedophilia) Yiannopoulos is neither dangerous nor meaningful. All that he has managed to achieve is to generate an income by translating his victimhood into boorish behaviour and humourless spectacle. Were socioeconomic circumstances in a better state across the Western World, it’s doubtful anyone would have even heard of this ridiculous louche.

Sadly, the socioeconomic situation in the Western World isn’t good. Yiannopoulos has a following among eighteen to thirty five year olds who share his sense of grievance albeit for different reasons. This is a generation up to its eyeballs in university and mortgage debt and facing limited career options. As manufacturing and other high paying jobs have declined thanks in part to changes in technology and globalized outsourcing, those remaining jobs in retail, services and finance are neither well-paying nor spiritually fulfilling. The Internet, online gaming and social media serve as a steam release valve for these tensions. They also serve as a narcotic allowing the individual to wallow in their own sense of powerlessness and victimhood. Social media sites like 4Chan bring together constituencies that have been left behind by the world economy and left with few hopes or prospects that things can improve. In this environment it is small wonder that fringe ideologies such as Randian Objectivism or so the called “alt-right” are gaining ground. In an age of high personal debt, high unemployment, low rates of job satisfaction and reduced social mobility any ideology offering to change the status quo holds appeal. That any section of the society should feel impelled to support such authoritarian ideologies as espoused by Yiannopoulos – ideals that work to prop up and aggravate the status quo – is tragic.

*

It may seem throughout this piece that I am blaming the victims for their circumstances and that is not my intent. The point I am trying to make here is that while circumstances can be debilitating, the tendency towards victimhood without meaningful resolution is a passive response to real problems. Even worse clinging to victimhood as Milo Yiannopoulos does can lead the individual into demonising persons or structures that have nothing to do with the cause of their problems.

High indebtedness is not an excuse to hate women, yet as Gamergate showed, there is a constituency that would rather lash out at successful women than address their own personal problems. The same misogynist sentiments were heard throughout the 2016 US presidential election as were racist and inaccurate statements about immigrants and minorities. If the same level of antipathy was directed at the forces that are actually responsible for the state of victimhood faced by those eighteen to thirty five year olds, then there would be cause to be optimistic.

Despite the nonsense spewed from the alt-right, no right wing figure during the 2016 US election ever suggested cancelling the one point three trillion dollars of student debt currently weighing down the society’s youth. No figure on the alt-right has called for a reduced working week with higher wages and benefits. The alt-right is too busy doing what it does best: being a lickspittle to the rich. That alone should disqualify them from being taken seriously by any sensible person.

I’ll close this part of what will be a two part essay with some final words about feelings just in case anyone reading this is offended. These are from Gary Vaynerchuk CEO of VaynerMedia.

“Nobody gives a fuck about your feelings and you need to stop crying and adjust.”

And:

“If you actually spend all your time doing instead of dwelling, you’d be much further along.”

War, Korea and reality: an historical reflection

In my previous post “Reflections on War and Reality” I described how in the 20th century nationalist movements in South-east Asia used communism as a legitimizing philosophy. In particular Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam and Mao-Tze Tung of China interpreted Marxist philosophy in a manner that appealed to local nationalists thus garnering widespread popular support.

As a friend reminded me just before the article was published, Ho Chi Minh was well known to the United States and the West. He had implored the Big Four to recognize Vietnam’s right to self-determination at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Later he served as an agent of the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA) during World War II. In the latter role he helped lead the anti-Japanese resistance in French Indochina. When the Allies refused to recognize Vietnamese demands for independence from France, Ho Chi Minh became the leader of a national resistance to colonial rule.

Ho’s story is worth revisiting since it contains parallels to a similar communist East Asian figure – one who like Ho would become a pariah in the eyes of the Western World. His name was Kim Il Sung and he would rise to become the first president of an independent North Korea.

Like Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il Sung grew up in the shadow of imperialism. In 1910, Korea was annexed by the Empire of Japan. Kim’s parents were active in the anti-Japanese resistance but were forced to flee to Manchuria. There Kim joined the Chinese Communist Party and later joined the Communist guerillas in their fight against the invading Japanese Army. After a long and brutal campaign, Kim and some surviving guerillas fled to the Soviet Union. There Kim and his comrades were re-trained by the Red Army and Kim eventually rose to the rank of army major.

After Japan’s surrender in 1945, Kim returned to Korea and established the Korean People’s Army. With the support of China and the Soviet Union he took control over the northern half of the Korean peninsula. Meanwhile South Korea became an independent entity led by the American trained and backed Syngman Rhee.

Both Kim Il Sung and Syngman Rhee were repressive strongmen backed by rival superpowers. Yet both men were representative of a broader Korean nationalism. Where they differed was how that ideology should be expressed and to what end: A worker’s dictatorship or a hierarchical capitalist oligarchy. Eventually, their differing visions led to all-out war between the North and South.

When a widespread insurgency against Rhee’s government broke out in the South in 1950, Kim saw an opportunity to untie the two Koreas. Initially the North possessed greater firepower and in a matter of months, they had conquered most of the peninsula. But for U.S. intervention, the North would have completely overrun the South. Instead, the U.S. President Truman sent an American Army commanded by the increasingly unstable Douglas MacArthur to Korea, supported by a multi-national force including British, Canadian and ANZAC troops operating under the auspices of the United Nations.

MacArthur and the UN Forces routed Kim’s armies, prompting China to intervene on behalf of North Korea. In turn the Chinese drove the American-led coalition back to the 38th Parallel, where a truce between the North and South was agreed. A full armistice between the two sides was delayed at first by an intransigent Syngman Rhee, who even went as far to say that should the US pressure South Korea into an armistice, he would order the UN and American Forces out of Korea so that the South’s armies could die fighting the enemy alone. Finally in July 1953, both sides laid down their arms.

However the stalemate at the 38th Parallel did not result in a peace treaty. Instead every morning since the armistice of July 27th 1953, officers from both the North and South meet in order to agree to another twenty four hour extension to the truce.

Relations between the two Koreas remained tense up until the 1990’s. In 1994, Kim Il Sung died and was succeeded by his son Kim Jong Il. The younger Kim proved more moderate than his father. In 1998 he initiated the Sunshine Policy intended to improve relations with the South. South Korean companies were allowed to bid on contracts in the North. A rail-service between the two states opened for the first time since the Korean War.

Relations with the West also improved. In an agreement with the Clinton Administration, North Korea agreed to curb its development of nuclear weapons. Relations between the Koreas, the US and China were on the path to normalcy. To help facilitate better relations, the US agreed to sell fuel oil and other commodities to the North.
However that agreement was never finalised. In 2000, US President George W Bush came to power bringing with him to the White House the Manichean world view of the neo-conservative lobby. Clinton’s agreement with Pyongyang was thrown out. In response North Korea resumed its pursuit of the nuclear bomb – and by 2006 it had procured it.

North Korea carried out four more nuclear tests between 2006 and 2016 and on each occasion the responses from its neighbors and the West were full of bellicose rhetoric. George W Bush described North Korea in silly terms. North Korea was part of the “axis of evil” he said and Richard Perle who served as on the Pentagon’s National Security Council regularly used the word “evil” when discussing North Korea with journalists. The hypocrisy of Perle, Rumsfeld and Cheney regarding the issue was striking considering neo-conservative connivance with dictators in the Middle East and Latin America under Reagan. As a Clinton Administration diplomat described the Bush Administration’s stance on North Korea, the Republicans didn’t have a policy on North Korea –they had an attitude.

The ideology of the Bush presidency trumped common-sense and objective reality when it came to North Korea’s actual nuclear capabilities. Eleven years after North Korea’s first nuclear test, Pyongyang hardly has an effective nuclear arsenal. What weapons it possesses are insignificant in number (perhaps a dozen) compared to those in the possession of the US and China (around 4000 and 600, respectively).

The drive behind North Korea’s quest for nuclear capability is motivated less by military considerations than simple economics and domestic politics. North Korea suffers from a shortage of energy and trade. Throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s she has also suffered chronic food shortages. The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in a loss of a vital trading partner. China’s development of her own extensive coal and oil reserves has lowered the demand for imports of North Korean coal. South Korea too has enjoyed an economic boom.
Compounding matters is Kim Jong Un’s unpopularity at home. He is the first North Korean President born after 1950 and cannot claim the same lofty status as his father and grandfather.

What a sensible observer in the period of the Sunshine Policy and beyond would have recognized was the opportunity help end Pyongyang’s isolation. They would also have acknowledged the late Kim Jong Il’s admiration for China’s modernization efforts and interpreted his pronouncements as an opportunity to assist North Korea with meaningful economic reforms. Trade between the North and South might have been encouraged and with that trade a normalization of relations between the two Koreas and an eventual peace treaty might have occurred.

But instead of a sensible, measured policy towards Pyongyang, the US offered ramped up militarism. Under Bush, American troops participated in war-games with Taiwan, annoying China and by extension alarming North Korea. Instead of diplomatic overtures, Bush and the neo-cons talked of “regime change.” Once again the Hermit Kingdom retreated into itself.
Under Barack Obama, a measure of sanity was restored to US-North Korean relations, yet the fundamental issues driving North Korea’s quest for nuclear power were ignored by the West. Kim Jong Il’s death brought his son Kim Jong Un to power and with him a hardened attitude towards the rest of the world.

Yet looking beyond the bluster of Kim Jong Un’s rhetoric a picture emerges of a rather insecure and immature man, unsure of his position and willing to engage in compensating behaviors such as military displays and absurd pronouncements regarding North Korea’s military power. Sensible diplomacy with this in mind would do wonders for relations between Pyongyang and its neighbors.

But as in 2000, 2016 has brought with it another missed opportunity in the form of US President Donald J. Trump. Like Kim Jong Un, Trump displays a narcissistic insecurity and a penchant for bellicose and silly rhetoric. Neither Trump nor his cabinet possess the necessary understanding of history or the tact to address North Korea’s issues or concerns about its own security.

Like the administration of George W Bush, Trump’s cabinet makes up for a lack of policy with a cavalier attitude. This was on display Friday April 14th when with typical vague bluster Trump stated to reporters “North Korea is a problem, the problem will be taken care of.” On Fox Business News he said “We are sending an armada. Very powerful” and of Kim “He is doing the wrong thing. He’s making a big mistake.” Incapable of self-reflection, Trump clearly missed the irony of this last statement.

These statements also indicate the idiocy of current administration policy towards Pyongyang. Threatening pre-emptive action against North Korea in the event of further nuclear weapon’s tests ignores the reality of Pyongyang’s weakness as well as overestimating the extent of US military power to deliver on those threats. Much of North Korea’s military infrastructure was built underground in anticipation of enemy airstrikes. North Korea’s topography is mountainous and heavily forested providing additional protection against any “precision” aerial bombardment. Limited airstrikes against North Korea would accomplish little. Meanwhile, Pyongyang possesses enough conventional artillery to level most of the South Korean capital Seoul in a matter of minutes. Civilian casualties would be enormous in the event of that bombardment.

There is also China and its formidable military to consider, yet the White House has stated that it is prepared to act with its allies against North Korea without Chinese support.
Yet all of the above can be avoided once the past is considered and the meaning behind Kim’s rhetoric is understood. However despite decades of bluster from North Korea, Trump the reality TV president seems unable to differentiate talking tough from being tough and to comprehend North Korea’s actual economic and military reality. A truly strong and sensible leader would work to de-escalate tensions and seek a long term solution to East Asia’s security concerns. However Trump, himself a blusterer, is playing the role of president instead of behaving with common-sense.

The moral vacuum that is the Trump Administration was put on display earlier in the week when Syria was bombarded by 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles and the largest conventional bomb in the US arsenal was detonated in Afghanistan.

Like Bush’s war-games with Taiwan in the early 2000’s the effect of these acts on Pyongyang has been considerable. In the face of an equally insecure and narcissistic American President, Kim Jong Un feels compelled to escalate his own silly self-serving behaviours. His planned nuclear test, intended to coincide with the anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s 105th birthday, is a show of force to prove to the North Korean population that he is a strong leader and equal to his grandfather. Seen for what it really is the act while disreputable is insignificant in the broader international sense. However in the mind of an immature US President, Kim’s nonsense is something to be taken seriously.

There is an irony that both Trump and Kim Jong Un share an identical characteristic: they are both unpopular in their home nations and fearful of their political legitimacy.

Like that of Vietnam, Korean history has been shaped and scarred by attitudes both foreign and domestic. The Ancient Chinese believed Korea to be a disobedient child. The Japanese condescendingly viewed Koreans as their “little brothers”.  The Korean War of 1950 to 1953 was aggravated by Western attitudes towards communism and local animosities between Kim Il Sung and Syngman Rhee. The current crisis between the US and North Korea is based on a dangerous combination of ignorance, insensitivity and boorishness. Assuming that there is a de-escalation of tensions, those who will claim victory will be Trump and Kim Jong Un for standing firm.

Ho Chi Mihn – 1946

Yet the true victors of this grubby fiasco will be China for winning the diplomatic victory and holding the moral high ground, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe, an outspoken Japanese militarist will use the crisis to drum up support for rebuilding the Japanese military along Imperial lines. From there arises the potential for a case to be made for Japan to possess its own nuclear deterrent to counter both China and North Korea.
Since Japan’s economy is faltering and its population dropping, Abe’s resort to militarism is a logical step for an unimaginative character who has failed to address Japan’s economic woes. These failings will be glossed over by his stance towards North Korea: another example of a politician acting tough.

In the meantime, and until the latest crisis is resolved, the fate of millions hangs in the balance – assuming of course that the reality of their predicament is considered at all by our political leaders.

Reflections On War And Reality

Carl von Clausewitz, the author of On War witnessed the brutality of modern warfare. He was present at some of the most critical battles of the Napoleonic Wars and saw first-hand the carnage large groups of armed men and artillery can inflict on one another.

He fought on the side of the Russians at Borodino (1812) where approximately 80,000 men on both sides were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Clausewitz saw the horrific slaughter of French Infantry at the Raevsky Redoubt – a series of earthworks from which a rain of cannon and musket fire scythed down the advancing French troops in grim a precursor to the trench warfare later played out at disparate locations such as Sebastopol (1854-55),Cold Harbour (1864) and the Marne (1914). Later he fought at the lesser known but equally significant battle of Wavre where the Prussian Army blocked French reinforcements from joining Napoleon at Waterloo (1815).

On War, which was published after his death in 1832 is both a theoretical treatise on warfare and rational summary of Clausewitz’s experience of combat. Typically, as in the case of all great thinkers, later academics both military and non-military have misinterpreted or misunderstood Clausewitz in order to justify their various ideological agendas. His most famous aphorism that “war is a continuation of politics through other means” has been removed from its context and used to justify massive public spending on armaments.

Yet one of the most significant and relevant passages from On War is probably the least famous [italics are mine].

Wars must vary with the nature of their motives and of the situation which gives rise to them. The first, the supreme, the most far reaching act of judgement that the statesman and the commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive.

Here Clausewitz is talking about the reality of motivation for war rather than the ideological convictions behind those motivations and how that reality should shape the tactics for the successful completion of a war. A further extrapolation being that the resolution of any conflict is dependent on what is real not what its actors desire it to be.

Yet since the end of World War II both the public and western militaries have dwelt in a bubble of non-reality. Since the conclusion of World War II one thousand soldiers and five thousand civilians have been killed per day in regional wars across the world. This is approximately the same number of deaths per diem as during World War II.

There is a public disconnection between the perception of this ongoing death and destruction and the reality of why it is occurring. Part of the blame for this lies with the unofficial covert status of modern warfare as practiced by Western powers. At the time of writing, French troops are embroiled in Mali while American military advisers in Kenya are assisting Kenyan troops in an ongoing fight with Al-Shabbab in Somaliland.

At the same time, troops from Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria with the backing of the American CIA and Britain are pursuing a war with Boko Haram in Nigeria and surrounding states.

In the Middle East, both Saudi Arabia and the United States are locked in a dirty war in Yemen while to the north, Palestinian opposition to US-supported Israeli occupation continues its violent cycle, a conflict that has since 1948 spilled over into Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria.

The Syrian Civil War that erupted in 2011 has drawn outside forces into that conflict. There are parallels with the Syrian Civil War and the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 in that outside powers are working to influence the outcome of that conflict. In Syria, Russian, American and Turkish forces and their proxies are vying for control of an area crucial to oil exports and regional trade.

In each of these cases, the root causes of each conflict are environmental and nationalist. Each of the countries listed has suffered from climate change, most notably Syria where a series of failed harvests and the failure of the Assad regime to address food shortages ignited the popular revolt that triggered the recent Civil War.

The nationalist aspects of each conflict are visible in the manifestos of the groups involved. The organisations have different names – ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Quaeda, Al-Shabbab- and while their Islamist principles have been made evident through their many pronouncements on social issues, these groups are at the core, nationalist movements. Just as communism served as a legitimising ideology for nationalist movements in China and Vietnam, and Korea in post-World War II era, Islamism is being used by nationalist groups in Africa and the Middle East to create a sense of philosophical legitimacy.

None of this is to condone the methods employed by ISIS and other groups. It is merely an effort to provide an accurate portrait of these groups that is untainted by the jingoistic descriptions emanating from the Western powers.

Moreover, when the situation is looked at without an ideological lens, what is apparent is that all of the above conflicts are connected. In each case, Western powers and their proxies are fighting to maintain control over regions containing strategic resources.

Leaving aside the dubious ethical reason for the fighting, the ideological convictions at play on all sides are rooted in fantasy. The United States claims to be fighting a war against “terrorism” and against Islamist forces that want to control the world. The reality is that the groups they are fighting are local nationalist movements with an Islamist philosophy. The reality of geopolitics is that even if a group like Al-Shabbab came to power in its locale, it would be limited by both physical geography and ethnic geography. The latter is of crucial importance.

Consider Afghanistan and Vietnam. Even at the height of its power, the Afghan Taliban only controlled eighty percent of the Afghan landmass. They were limited by topography and the ethnic divisions that coalesced around the Northern Alliance, including the Tajiks and the Pamiris.

Similarly, the Domino Theory behind French and US intervention in Vietnam did not stand up to reality when in 1979 the Vietnamese defeated the invading Chinese forces during the Third Indochina War. American assumptions that China would absorb Vietnam ignored the centuries of ethnic rivalries between the two powers that predated Western colonialism.

Regardless of the reader’s stance on the so-call War on Terror, any sensible resolution to the above conflicts can only occur when reality is acknowledged and accepted over ideological agendas. To do otherwise is to deny Clausewitz’s correct assertion that statesmen and commanders neither mistake this war for, nor try to turn it into, something alien to its nature.

Failure to acknowledge that reality will result in the geopolitical, military, economic and political defeat of the West.

There are many reasons why militaries (and the societies that produce them) fail to come to terms with reality and all of these are rooted in ideology. In the case of the United States there exists at a tactical level, an obsession with military technology and equipment. Yet as defeat in Vietnam attested, technology alone does not ensure victory.

Second, there exists a moral dimension to America’s failure to grasp military realities; that being the contradiction of spreading democracy and free markets by armed force. Like the Athenians of the Classical Era, there is a dishonesty at the core of American foreign policy that denies the brutality and larceny that occurs when its military is unleashed against a foreign population.

Third and of primary importance is a religious ideology at entirely at odds with reality. US support for Israel, while ostensibly serving as a pillar of regional control is rooted in a fundamentalist Christian belief that the Final Conflict between the Messiah and the Anti-Christ will occur in Israel. That this belief (best described by the term dispensationalism) is not derived from the Gospel but from the Book of Revelations, – which in itself is derived from the pre-Christian Book of Daniel – and has no basis in physical reality is beside the point. The fact is believers in such abstract nonsense have influenced Western policy towards the Middle East for the last two hundred years. Most notably in the twentieth century was Prime Minister Lloyd George and his colleague Lord Balfour from whose foreign policy helped create the modern state of Israel. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair subscribed to dispensationalism and those beliefs influenced his determination to draw Britain into Gulf War II.

In the United States, dispensationalists have included former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W Bush. Donald Trump’s current energy secretary, former Texas Governor Rick Perry is a member of the Dominionist Church, a militant Christian grouping that seeks to set-up a Christian nation governed by biblical law. A planned consequence of this would be the criminalization of homosexuality, adultery and public blasphemy to name but a few “biblical crimes”, all of which would carry a death sentence.

That such beliefs are predicated on abstract nonsense does not diminish the fact that these beliefs have profoundly influenced American foreign and domestic policy since the end of World War II. In turn, these beliefs have hindered effective foreign and domestic policy during the same time period. The hardline Anti-Soviet stance adopted by the Christian Right helped precipitate the Cold War.

The dispensationalist support for “regime change” in the Middle East has cost the lives of millions of people and bankrupted the US treasury. These beliefs have had a deleterious effect on the effectiveness of the US military in foreign operations. The US military operates under the illusion that it is a crusading force for good, rather than an occupying army. The inability of US forces to handle the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan was evident in its conduct towards civilians, its many war-crimes (Abu Ghraib being the most notorious) and the contrasting success of British forces operating in Basra.

Before these issues can be addressed, there first needs to be a widespread acknowledgement of reality among the citizenry. A capable president with the backing of popular support could do much to deal with these problems. Doing so would not be easy and it would require a great deal of personal courage. However, these issues are not insurmountable. Precedent can be found with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Faced with opposition to the policy of Glasnost and Détente with the US in the 1980’s Gorbachev was able to outmaneuver his critics and his own generals. After Mathias Rust flew his plane over Red Square, Gorbachev used the incident to marginalise the army generals who opposed his reform policies. The result for the world was the aversion of nuclear conflict with the US and the end of the Cold War.

War is as Plato noted, a reality “that exists as if by nature between every city-state.” However a constant state of war as exists in the Western World today undermines the foundations of civilisation. Wars, then while an occasional and unpleasant necessity should therefore be ended as quickly as possible. Instead, the dominant ideologies behind modern Western militarism persist in perpetuating unlimited, endless warfare. These forces must be stopped and controlled through democratic means otherwise they will continue to undermine the moral and economic well-being of society.

Carl von Clausewitz

Doing so will not be easy. The journalist Chris Hedges compared war to an addictive drug and like addicts western militarists are unable to perceive the damage they are doing to society. There is no easy solution to that addiction but the first step is the acceptance of reality. That requires an informed citizenry rejecting the nonsensical views of ideologues like Karl Rove who once said of the Republican Party “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

Regardless of the cognitive dissonance of Rove and others, the most important lesson of war was best stated by Sun-Tzu: There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare.

Election Reflection

The pain is not so much from the horrible mess that Trump could produce, but the recognition that so much of this country is so fearful, greedy, and hateful… But some observations and some reflection on the terrors that await are in order, so here are my thoughts, disordered by events as they may be.

You can blame the DNC all you want, but the fact is that even without the superdelegates, Bernie did not win the primary, and in states where they voted (as opposed to caucused) he rarely polled as well, so while we may have some problems with “elites”, we have bigger problems with couch potatoes.

While the number of votes cast for GOP Presidential candidates has remained relatively stable over the last 3 cycles, the number of people casting ballots for Dem candidates has plummeted. This suggests that Trump was not elected by the people voting for him so much as he was elected by the people who refused to vote.

HRC’s electoral “failure” was razor slim and she won the popular vote. This suggests that it is the “hopeandchangey” crowd whose nonfeasance resulted in a Trump election, and we have to ask, “What did this crowd actually want?” Would Bernie magic have brought those voters to the polls, and if so, why didn’t it bring them to the polls during the primaries.

While, as Frank argues, more could have been done by the Obama Administration, we have to face the fact that people do not come out and vote for redistribution… We are in the grip of a virulent strain of possessive narcissism where everyone seems to think they simply don’t have enough. Scaif and Kochs have been buying up our academic and political institutions for half a century now, and it shows.

While I can’t disagree that the DNC was Democrats’ worst enemy, with respect to Dem voters I think you need to recognize that Dem success has often been based on smoke and mirrors. There is no way Obama could have possibly done what the surge of hopeandchangey voters expected of him, and the rancor, fed by 8 years of Rovian vitriol, was a player in this election that no one wants to acknowledge. Frankly, I am tired to death of hearing people making $150,000 whining about how they are suffering, so my question remains the same…. What specific policies could a Democrat in good conscience represent were achievable such that s/he would garner 70,000,000 votes?

As much as I pushed for Bernie, his campaign did not garner the majority of Dems. I think this is in no small part because the Dems who do vote are largely DLC neo-libs, whether they want to admit it or not. Even if Obama had tried harder, the incremental policy results would not have satisfied the hopeandchange crowd. Obama had a 58% turnout in 2008. He garnered almost 70,000,000 votes and won by a 7% margin! Turnout dropped 3.5% in 2012 as did the margin. And this election I believe turnout dropped another 3.5% and that same bit of Dem margin slipped away. While the RSLC has been successful in gerrymandering most of the country (which is in itself evidence of Democrats asleep at the wheel)  just look at the Congress! For crying out loud, look at Alaska’s federal Senators and Representative! Can you spell “obstruction?”

I have to argue that this election has shown we have issues with delayed gratification more than the narrative of Trumpers that the media has been blaring. In a polarized country nothing is going to happen overnight, and I see the rather inane behavior of Dem Berniecrats over Stock as symptomatic of the problems endemic to our political system… change requires political work, and I think it is difficult to get consensus about a progressive agenda, and difficult to keep people committed to working towards such an agenda. I am not trying to mimimize the horror that 60,000,000 proud morons presents – I am just trying to note that it is within the power of the electorate to put those people back in their box, and we apparently want them running amok for a bit.

I don’t follow the narrative being peddled about the Dems not connecting with the country. The rank and file are delusional. They have been fed a hateful gruel for almost a decade in preparation for this moment, and have been roused by someone I can only call Il Gialo, ilducea jaundiced ape of Mussolini. This election was NOT about more Republicans coming out to vote for Il Gialo; it was about millions of Democrats who felt they would not be bothered to vote. This is not about Trumpers, it’s about shallow, useless, patina ‘liberals’ whose commitment to the republic is epidermal. It was about people who wanted to be molly-coddled and promised, and snuggled. And now they are going to howl for years because the big bad hairy Cheetoh got elected by the moronic brutes… It was the Dems who did not vote that elected Trump (Dems had half the showing they had 8 years ago) and while I am deeply offended by the crass ignorance and cruelty of the Trumpers, the narrative has been that Derms “know better”, and we expect those that know better to do better, it is “liberal” mantra, and Dems took a pass and the maroons screamed, “OLE!”

I think one of then points Frank makes is that while the sector driving politics may have changed, the fact that industry is driving politics has not changed in almost 100 years. What I think Kochs found most troubling about Trump is the caprice and the willingness to use the Administration to punish “enemies”.  Our legal system has opposed the arbitrary and capricious as a central tenet, but now we have the legally unwashed, the folk who would as soon as follow the Dick the Butcher’s suggestion and hang all the lawyers, putting Il Gialo in charge. Caprice will reign, and all those chanting “federal over reach” will be sobbing in their nasty corporate ersatz beer.

And I don’t mean this as a part of some blame game, but as a tool for looking at candidates for 2020. The point is that a vibrant candidate who moves the left will win, despite all the nasty trash that the right can muster. I had hoped for a seasoned executive, such as Jerry Brown, but we have to look at a Senate leader like Elizabeth Warren, who has the chops, the gumption, and the cred. But,  the double entendre of our times is still, to my mind, “What is left?” Sorry, but I don’t see progressivism as part and parcel of neonicotinoid hysteria, GMO mania, or circuses on the Cannonball…  Bernie tried to define left, and there are many who will continue to argue that the wave of optimism he generated in so doing was (or would have been) the equivalent of the hopeandchange army.  We will never know because the neolibs (no, I am not talking about DWS, but about the millions, so comfortable in their homes, that allowed the DLC to become the DNC) took the wind out of his sails. What we do know, is faced with horrific prospects, almost 8% of our registered voters decided it was better that they stay home then vote against Trump.

Yes, I suppose the shambles that are left may well produce another surge against the right in 2020. But such a surge will require both ideals AND discipline, and I honestly think we are hopelessly short there, though I will continue to paddle upstream…


Wikipedia has some nicely done data on voting:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Party_presidential_primaries,_2016

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_presidential_elections_by_popular_vote_margin

Dystopia 2016

Dystopia 2016
November 4. 2016
Allen D. Blume

In four days, Americans will head to the polls to select the next putative leader of the “Free World,” Members of Congress, governors, state legislatures, judges, and local government leadership. They will also render opinions on ballot propositions, bond initiatives, and state constitutional amendments. In past tumultuous times, pollsters and pundits held forth on potential outcomes where there appeared to be clear and distinct choices between the candidates and political parties. I suppose you could make the argument that in 2016 those choices still exist, but in the eyes of many – perhaps all – voters, the choices are perilous if not openly menacing.

At the top of the ticket the choice is between a capricious if not openly unstable faux biblical con artiste extraordinaire and robber baron and a flinty-eyed corporatist whose liberal credentials are more than a little suspect. Down ballot are more careerists, ideologues, and forum seekers who seem to have little interest in the overarching needs of the nation and the rest of the planet; and overspreading the entirety is a suspicion that the election process is in some way “rigged” to deny people their choice of “true” leaders. In a very real sense the 2016 Election is a striking example of why “None of the Above” should be considered as a voting option; but the overarching question remains “How did we get to this state of affairs?”

As a liberal, I can readily point fingers at conservative practices that have kept fraught and emotional anti-choice and gun-control and “jobs, any jobs” arguments in the forefront of political debate while deftly concealing increasing oligarchic control of the levers of government by multinational corporations and conservative billionaires and shifting greater wealth to the “Masters of the Universe” and their minions – a miniscule number of people who control more than ninety-five percent of the world’s wealth. But those are easy targets if your worldview posits republican democracy, social justice and equality of opportunities for all, an end to violence (by terrorist perpetrators, common thugs, and the police), an end to America’s perpetual state of international warfare (a form of corporatist terrorism), and the urgent need for binding global action to stem the planet killing effects of environmental change.

However, one-sided finger pointing and scapegoating miss the point if Democrats and liberals fail to consider their own shortcomings and outright failures: The principal issue being our indifference to our own fragmentation into separate communities of interest and unwillingness to work towards a common agenda and common goals. For me, one of the more egregious examples of our failure is the entrenchment of liberal “Five Percent” voting blocs who will abandon qualified candidates because they fail special interest litmus tests. It is the fragmentation of our own skills in building consensus and centrist positions that has cost us countless voters and elections; encouraged the growth of corporatist “Iron Triangle” special interests; fostered the high-jacking of our liberal, democratic values; and allowed the kind of right-wing political extremism we see today.

Of course, I have my own sense of schadenfreude (i.e., a delighted appreciation of another’s misery) at the rise of the GOP’s Donald Trump, having seen over forty years of right-wing race baiting, blatant gerrymandering, a conspicuous anti-union “dumbing down” of rural and urban workers, and political pandering to fundamentalist religious communities. The Republican Party’s practice of fostering divisiveness and anger has spawned in their midst a corrupt buffoon as heir to their mendacity, and they act like it’s a surprise. On this one point I’m quite happy to let them “stew in their own juices.” But I’m as equally concerned over the rise of Hillary Clinton in breaking the political “glass ceiling” to gain the White House. I have long believed that a woman can and should be President of the United States of America, but, unfortunately, not this one.

I believe that Hillary Clinton’s corporatist leanings have effectively excluded younger and more liberal voters, and since her nomination she has moved increasingly to the right of center in appealing to GOP voters and heavyweight business interests. I will not denigrate her effectiveness on behalf of women world-wide during her tenure as Secretary of State, but those were noble gains that came along with the hubris of her husband’s pseudo-foundation buying off of state Democratic Party organizations and politicians to pad her path to the White House, her own self-dealing with moneyed interests while ostensibly acting as the fair-minded international face of the United States of America, and her wind-vane attitude on international trade agreements and energy pipelines that will allow her to “rethink” her campaign positions when her incoming political advisors become cabinet secretaries and other policy mavens.

What should be of overarching concern to all Americans is whether the coming election has, in fact, been “rigged” against their interests, after all. While I don’t share Mr. Trump’s shrill fearmongering, it is worthwhile looking at the continuing disclosures from the Clinton camp in the form of WikiLeaks, FBI intermeddling, and wholesale disclosures by Democratic Party apparatchiki on every aspect to Ms. Clinton’s questionable behavior and political practices. Last summer’s disclosure of the Democratic Party’s national leadership conspiring to deny Bernie Sanders any visibility in challenging Secretary Clinton should be enough for those of us on the left to understand the visceral nature of Trump follower’s responses to the rigging charge. The Clinton Campaign threw a few of her party operatives under the bus, where they landed in sinecure positions that will allow their “rehabilitation” and re-entry into her administration.

And there’s this: In the absence of any sensible debates on policy and long term solutions for increasingly intractable problems – refugees, corporate monopolization of resources, sustained religious and racial warfare, care for the planet’s poorest people, and foremost the issues surrounding global environmental change that will only fester and spread more fear, Donald Trump’s blather about building walls on our southern border beggars the question of when individual American states will begin drafting laws limiting the mobility of our own climate change refugees? The last decade of hurricanes striking New Orleans and northern Atlantic coastal states, the increasing desertification of western and deep southern states, rising global sea levels and the attendant loss of arable lands is already pushing new immigration patterns in the USA, let alone on a global scale, and all are demonstrating our utter inability to respond to these gathering crises. We can be quite certain that the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security have already begun drafting their own policy memoranda for monitoring Americans on the move, and it won’t be all that long before we start seeing state governments following in their wake.

What is also virtually certain with this election is that the American electorate will be increasingly marginalized by dyspeptic right-wing anger and threats of violence, and by timid, milk toast responses by liberals on virtually every issue, and all of us will be drowned out by the blaring billion-dollar megaphones of global corporatism (see also, “fascism”).

What has become increasingly clear is that unseen and unreported, there are pitched battles going on between global interests to seize control of the American national agenda at the expense of ordinary citizens. Next Tuesday the open question is whether Americans will find their voices to repudiate this rising fascism and fear-mongering? I doubt that they will, and at this stage, I doubt that they can.

ADB

When is Racism Not Racism?

Recently I read where a friend argued that “voluntary racism” was not problematic:

It’s the Hegelian dialectic. Thesis (Forced Association); Antithesis (Free Association); Synthesis (Elective Affinities). What people voluntarily do as a matter of choice is infinitely preferable to compliant submission to authoritarian order. The first produces ontological dynamism; the second, ontological stasis. Adaptation requires a dynamic selection process and is essential to survival. Voluntary segregation is only superficially analogous to forced segregation. Therefore, while you assert a circular deconstruction of civil rights because of voluntary segregation, your assertion is invalid for the reasons outlined above.

This was sparked by the news that “California State University Los Angeles recently rolled out segregated housing for black students.”

But I have to ask whether your “voluntary segregation” isn’t tantamount to forcing segregation on me, because when all of you decide to be segregated, it means there are none of you with whom I may exist, which is forced segregation on me.

In essence it would appear that you deny the existence of de facto segregation, arguing a binary of involuntary versus voluntary segregation, the involuntary segregation being sole a matter of de jure segregation which is unrelated to the whims of the population. Of course, the reality of the situation is that de jure segregation is simply a reflection of de facto (voluntary) segregation, i. e. practices established by a group “voluntarily” segregating themselves such that others know where they cannot be 😉

To put it another way, if “whites”, whatever that is, decide to voluntarily segregate, then you are suggesting that they may in fact bar “others” from participating. Otherwise, how does one argue for the “voluntary segregation” of one group, and against the “voluntary segregation” of another?

It seems to me that this boils down to what in common parlance is known as the “have your cake and eat it too” fallacy, named after the famed statement that Marie Antoinette never made…. But perhaps more important it begs the definition of racism and segregation. Both terms focus on discriminating among people based on their race, race being a rather loose and bizarre term that, when all is said and done, is often argued to really mean “different than us”.  In other words, segregation is ALWAYS going to run up against the concept of “voluntary association”, and practically speaking if government represents the will of the people there is little practical difference between voluntary segregation and governmental segregation.

Of course, we should not single out universities looking to safeguard student psyches. screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-3-11-27-pmHere in Alaska we have an entire medical industry that is limited to serving only one race (Senator Stevens wanted to provide insurance for Natives instead of racially discrete services, but was shot down over his views by Natives).  In fact, signs at the entrance to the Native Hospital state that they are only for Native Elders (apparently non-Native Elders aren’t allowed to park there.) And don’t the same concerns arise with respect to voluntary segregation as to sex, creed, and national origin?

No, this is not going to end in an attack on Affirmative Action. Nor is it an attempt to delegitimize the perspectives of Cornell West’s Race Matters or the Black Panthers’ Manifesto. But I am concerned that in our desperation to be different, we are actually promoting racism, and that we can do without.

In 1954 Justice Warren stated in Brown vs Board of Education,

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Segregation, the Court found  “generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” And someday, some day soon, a white child is going to ask, “Why can’t I go to that school?”

#DemExit to #DemEnter to #DemUnder or Belay Those Millennials?

Facebook can be an incredible tool, but more often than not it becomes a playground for cyber-bullies and echo chamber for the self-involved. Recently I was “targeted” by persons who apparently identified themselves as abused Stock supporters.  I am going to wallow through it for you as I think it eventually underscores my point.  Stick with me, and watch the slippery bits.

The complaint: “If you want to know how a group is run, you should check out [specific reference deleted] … btw largest Bernie and progressive group in Alaska 😉 … We have 3 admins, not one dictator who attacks it members….. We actually have discussions and debates that are lively. People are engaged and stay up to date… You want this group to be an anti – Jill, Pro – Ray then that’s fine that is your decision… but watch your group die in the process! Good luck!

The apparent reason for the complaint: As a result of complaints by group members regarding use of the group by one campaign (Stock) to solicit funding for their candidate (promoted by, you guessed it, the complainer), I suggested that while I try not to limit discussion, probably one campaign fund solicitation by another campaign was plenty.

But, ever open to suggestion, I took the opportunity to peruse the “other” group (where, don’t you know, the complainer was an admin) and what did I find?

In the interest of transparency, I would like to point out that certain people are blocked from this group that I think should be included. People who have been unfairly characterized as “trolls” when they shouldn’t be. I think that needs to be said since the designation of this group is ‘public’ and it gives a false sense that this group is open for all to see. It most definitely is not public in terms of all the Alaskan Berners being allowed in to the discussion. Some are being labeled and divided away from the discussion unfairly, in my opinion. Just like the Alaskan Democratic Progressive Caucus says it’s ‘public’, it’s most certainly NOT because I am blocked from even being able to see that page. This needs to be known.

What was that bit about people in glass houses?

And then this exchange in the Group I administer:

Merwyn Ambrose: is still wondering why we have not heard about any Revolution Watch Events in Fairbanks!?! Fairbanks, where are you?

Jill Yordy: There’s at least one up here. Go to Bernie’s website to find all the ones throughout Alaska. Not many from Fbx on this group, FYI

Merwyn Ambrose: Of course I checked for Fairbanks groups this morning and twice yesterday and found nothing. I double checked just now and you will find the results below.

BTW, one has to put in a zip code or location to get venues, and the app will only search within a 200 mile radius. Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 10.58.28 AM[Screen shot]

Merwyn Ambrose: There IS an event in Ft Yukon: [screen shot of Ft Yukon event]

Merwyn Ambrose: And there are people from all over the State in this group, as the discussion of venues for District caucuses made clear 😉

Jill Yordy: Merwyn you are a remarkably contentious individual who seems to enjoy arguing for the heck of it. I was only trying to help because I got emailed by our revolution directly with an invite to the events in Fairbanks. I think the time has come for me to leave this group.

Merwyn Ambrose: rofl – “remarkably contentious”? You made a statement that anyone could find an event in Fairbanks by simply using the Bernie website. I checked to make sure that was the case since I would not have posted about this if there were an event listed, and provided specifics that SHOULD have suggested to you that someone SHOULD post the event in the Bernie web site. You can come or go as you wish, Jill, but it seems that you are extremely emotional about nothing.

Let me see if I can help Jill out. This could be seen as contentious:

Jill Yordy: “Since I will not be allowed to say this once the primary votes are certified if I want to keep my position as a district chair (because of language in the Democratic Party Plan): I denounce Ray Metcalfe as a candidate for US Senate. He is using the Bernie label to gain power and has been since well before the Democratic Caucus. I encourage all voters to thoroughly research him and his history with the Republican Party and the “Republican Moderate Party” before November if you are tempted to vote for him as a “Berniecrat.” He did nothing to help Bernie’s campaign in this state, and many times actively impeded it. Talk to people who have been involved in politics in this state, on either side, for the last decade or more before making your decision.”

As might be Jill’s failure to respond to questions her points raised:

Merwyn Ambrose: I am curious about the statement, “He did nothing to help Bernie’s campaign in this state, and many times actively impeded it.” I have correspondence dating back to mid-July in which Ray tried to help find office space, tried to organize supporters by District etc. It is one thing to say that you don’t agree with someone, another to say he did nothing to support the campaign. You a the district Chair of a party whose candidate you have now denounced. Helluva start

Merwyn Ambrose: I am also curious about your statement, ” If I were a legislator under the language that Ray wants in the Party Platform, and subsequently as legislation, I would have to recuse myself on any vote that gave education money since my husband is a teacher.” This would not appear to be the case under the language that proffered at one time, so I would appreciate it if you provided the specific current language you reference, and any legal opinions you have obtained which support your claim.” [my questions, and as has been noted elsewhere, I have not endorsed any US Senate candidate]

But clarifying that your recommendation that Fairbanksans find an event not listed through the Sanders web site is problematic at present because none are listed… that is not contentious, lol.

So why the long ramble?  Just a few months ago Sanders “insurgents” essentially took over the Alaska Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 9.21.56 AMDemocratic Party. The young turks #DemExited  at the National Convention, and thereupon spoke of #DemEnter (perhaps not a well thought out hashtag, but spur of the moment etc…) staking out, apparently, the high ground, and their willingness to engage.  And, in probably one of the most important Alaska elections we will see, in which the candidate of this revitalized party would be selected to combat and defeat Lisa Murkowski, the winner, beating Edgar Blatchford by some 20 points, is Ray Metcalf.

One would perhaps been excused for supposing that the insurgents were ecstatic with the results. Apparently, however, the #DemEnters had already abandoned the party candidate (as well as the runner up, it would seem) for a centrist with zero experience because Dems weren’t nice and were past Republicans.  While I had yet to decide what to do, it became apparent to me immediately, and ever more so since, that our band of intrepid millennials has done what Murky herself could not, and that is ensure that she will get re-elected.

In politics, you always lose when you don’t play ball. When anyone argues that compromise is unacceptable, they have become Goldwater extremists, and extremism is what truly endangers us.

HillHooey, and Not Innovative at That

Having seen the fanfare, perhaps it’s best if we have a look at under the hood at what little Clinton has actually published regarding her latest “bold” attempt to “help” the college student. For example:

A smaller proportion of millennials today are starting new ventures as compared to their predecessors.[12] This is not for a lack of desire—more than half of America’s millennials say they want to start a business—but barriers like student debt and a lack of access to credit are holding young people back.[13] Hillary is committed to breaking down barriers and leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs and innovators who are launching their own start-ups. Hillary will allow entrepreneurs to put their federal student loans into a special status while they get their new ventures off the ground. For millions of young Americans, this would mean deferment from having to make any payments on their student loans for up to three years—zero interest and zero principal—as they work through the critical start-up phase of new enterprises. Hillary will explore a similar deferment incentive not just to founders of enterprises, but to early joiners – such as the first 10 or 20 employees. Additionally, for young innovators who decide to launch either new businesses that operate in distressed communities, or social enterprises that provide measurable social impact and benefit, she will offer forgiveness of up to $17,500 of their student loans after five years. https://www.hillaryclinton.com/briefing/factsheets/2016/06/27/hillary-clintons-initiative-on-technology-innovation/

In fact, most federal student borrowers are already eligible for income based payments, minimal payments are always preferable collection-wise to deferment, and the plan is for a deferment of payment, not a suspension of accrual of interest. Moreover, such a plan does nothing to assist in capitalizing any business, especially as the loans render the borrower (and likely his family) unable to borrow any further funding.

Can I run a lemonade stand and get a 1/10 of the cost of my Bachelor’s degree forgiven? That would be a great question, but you won’t find any answers from the candidate, because the whole scheme is largely just lemon meringue pie (I won’t say “in the sky” because there is nothing really grand or elevating about the comments).

I think most “innovative” and “entrepreneurial” business initiative is simply cannibalistic, as I suggest above, much like the finance sector really does NOT increase our domestic production. The mass of Americans can’t do Algebra, their core problem being the inability moldy-peachesto understand use of symbols, which would likewise preclude them from becoming effective programmers. We don’t need high tech jobs… we need jobs sweeping streets, and growing food. We need more doctors and engineers. We need more manufacturing jobs.

We are well on our way to the future that H. G. Wells described.  Fruit, anyone?