Category Archives: let me link you

Debunction Junction

Trigger warning: suicide, racism, classism

David Brooks’ New York Times column for today has already garnered a host of critical responses (most intriguing, in my opinion, this one about his casual equation of Sanders’ and Trump’s support). Let me just quickly hop into the fray to point out a particularly egregious falsehood he lazily propagated: that Trump’s support is being driven by class resentment.

As Brook’s put it:

This election — not only the Trump phenomenon but the rise of Bernie Sanders, also — has reminded us how much pain there is in this country. According to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of Trump voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half century. This declinism intertwines with other horrible social statistics. The suicide rate has surged to a 30-year high — a sure sign of rampant social isolation. A record number of Americans believe the American dream is out of reach. And for millennials, social trust is at historic lows. Trump’s success grew out of that pain, but he is not the right response to it.

The pain he’s talking about there is admittedly as much social as it is economic, but in case the attribution of the Trump (and to a lesser extent Sanders’  too) insurgency to lower economic orders was missed, he spells it out later on – “I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own.”

To be frank, bullshit.

Brooks is a traveler in many circles, overwhelmingly ones that are urban and economically upwardly mobile, but several of them have been epicenters of Trumps ascendancy. Most of his time is in New York City, which Trump carried decisively and was the site of his original announcement that he would be campaigning for president. Brooks is also active at his alma mater the University of Chicago – another city with a Republican primary electorate that overwhelmingly opted support Trump.

Admittedly Brooks holds positions at Duke and a regular spot on the PBS News Hour taking him into the bubbles of moderate Republicans in Durham and Arlington respectively, but that those completely blinded him to the reality of Trump’s support in other places he works is utterly bizarre.

Brooks might claim that it’s a lower order element within New York and Chicago that he doesn’t associate with that support Trump, unlike his refined Republican colleagues. That is also, to be frank, bullshit. The Economist of all sources, a paper that you would expect to be invested in this type of narrative of deluded poor people supporting crypto-protectionism, has compiled data showing that Trump’s support is pretty evenly spread across income brackets but if anything skews slightly towards those with above median incomes.

trump income supporters

As I’ve noted here before, Trump’s support is complicated by region and class and a number of factors, but what appears the most consistent to me is that he appeals to people tired of being told to be nicer, to be better, to be respectful to people they don’t consider worthy of respect. That appeals to a lot of less well off people, sure, but most consistently to certain social not economic demographics. It resonates with White Southerns who have wanted vindication for decades. It resonates with conservative traditionalists outside of the South who live in more generally progressive areas and as a result encounter those messages fairly often.

Can Brooks not see that or does he just not want to?

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Boulversement

The news this week has seen a couple of stunning reversals, where tides turned or sometimes even more shockingly refused to.

google protest

A collaboration of almost every major name in left-leaning political action protested in front of Google’s headquarters yesterday morning. Credo, UltraViolet, Bend the Arc, ColorOfChange, and Daily Kos all sent representatives with a clear message – that Google, or more specifically Google-owned YouTube, shouldn’t provide streaming services for the Republican National Convention this year, at least as long as Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee.

In this day and age, conventions are less of a formal process and generally more of a three-day long political advertisement describing the Party’s and particularly the Party’s presidential nominee’s vision for the country. In that light, even with Trump facing more scrutiny than typical at the convention, it still would be more of a platform for him than vehicle for voters to become informed about his policies. In light of that, this protest followed in the footsteps of similar calls for him to not be a guest on various news programs and for several companies to divest from his businesses and television shows.

google protest 2.jpg

Unfortunately, not long after the protest Google announced that YouTube would indeed be the streaming service available for this year’s Republican convention.

Big Money oozes down ticket

While sponsors and service-providers might not have been so skittish over the prospect of a presumably Trump-nominating convention, many high profile donors have been as noted in an article on Wednesday on Reclaim the American Dream. Terrified of Trump’s potential to alienate voters from the party as a whole, a huge rush of donations has already gone in conservative circles to state-level races, and sometimes even more locally.

Author Hedrick Smith points out that the funds involved are already reaching extremely high numbers more typically associated with national campaigns:

Conservative donors have contributed nearly 70 percent of the $707 million in SuperPAC money raised to date, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the hot senate races in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, SuperPacs, Candidates and parties on both sides have raised war chest that already total from $23 million to $32 million in each state.

Many of these states will in all likelihood still see extensive advertising from presidential campaigns, but the level of wall-to-wall saturation associated with those types of candidates is already promising to become more common with senatorial races, and maybe even more local ones as well.

Distorting democracy

In this jaded age, it’s easy to look at that rush to support Tea Party freshmen senators with unprecedented donations and simply see it as a reflection of the problems in our post-Citizens United electoral system. Unfortunately, these sorts of structural flaws have long been with us and for many years now have been redirecting electoral outcomes away from their expected course, as detailed in a Demos report on Chicagoan politics released yesterday.

Some of the findings in the report catalog what’s long been said about local races with a lot of money put into them: that much of it comes from outside of the communities holding the elections, and that it biases candidates towards business and upper class interests. Interestingly, it also showed that among the large donations that are still made in-community, at least within Chicago they overwhelmingly come not only from White residents, but from White residents living in wildly disproportionately White parts of the city.

Against a telling gender gap as well, what this report showed is how systemically disruptive these large donations tend to be. It not only is an opportunity for outsiders to sway local decisions to their favor, but just another vehicle for uniquely powerful local voices to assert their narrow vision of how their city is and what their city could be. That’s how the city that rioted against Trump’s appearance can also have a leadership that pursues racially-charged policies that sound quite akin to his.

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This week’s tea leaves

From the globe’s climate to the particularities of abortion access in Missouri, this past week has seen a number of bold but understated announcements. Digging through the implications of what’s been revealed, here’s a few things to keep on your mind.

Global warming is accelerating

NASA released a report on temperature data they collected in March of this year, showing it to be the second most anomalously warm month in all of their modern climate observations. The infamous “hockey stick” is now observable in month-level or similarly more short term graphs, not just in centuries-long looks at global temperatures, implying that global climate change has reached a new velocity.

march 2016 anomaly nasa 1(March 2016 is circled in red, from here.)

One assessment of the data suggests that a strong El Niño, which is associated with higher temperatures in much of the northern hemisphere, might be part of what’s making rapid warming suddenly more noticeable. Mapping the temperature anomalies to different parts of the earth lends that theory some credence as the most unusually warm parts of the planet in March were almost all in northern temperate or polar areas.

march 2016 anomaly nasa 2(From here.)

GOP Senators see the writing on the wall

A number of Republican Senators have long been discussed as uniquely vulnerable in the upcoming elections this fall. Often brought into office in the atypically conservative-driven elections of 2010, they will likely face a different electorate this year, partially because of the presidential election.

A recent report from Politico, however, suggests that this wariness isn’t just being felt among newly-elected Senators. John McCain (R-AZ), who is more or less tied with his likely general election Democratic competitor, has stated he won’t be attending the Republican convention this summer, so as to focus on his own election. A similar announcement was made by Richard Burr (R-NC), who was reelected for the first time in 2010. Even Senators with longer histories in DC appear to want to play it safe this time around.

Stopping Planned Parenthood becomes leaking patient information

Months after the brouhaha stirred up by widely discredited allegations of criminal activity, Planned Parenthood operations in some states are still facing investigations. Although already cleared by the Missouri Attorney General’s office, one Missouri state senator is continuing to press the issue with a subpoena of large amounts of information on abortion from the organization. So far the state’s Planned Parenthood has stated they will comply but only if patient confidentiality is assured – which apparently has yet to be done.

A contention of wrongdoing has already mutated into a cavalier approach towards the safety and privacy of former patients. Imagine what it could become next.

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Wasn’t me

In the past week, a few allegations of wrongdoing jumped back into the spotlight. From a failure to prevent mass lead poisoning to data journalism steadily descending into propaganda-crafting, almost everyone’s been predictably quick to shift blame elsewhere.

A humbling experience

That’s how still sitting Michigan governor Rick Snyder has described the medical crises in Flint. In his own words, they’ve been a “humbling experience” – for him naturally, the most important person in these cavalcade of missteps. From initially a story of rampant cost-cutting and the widespread destruction of local government in predominantly Black communities across Michigan, Snyder has recast the disaster that has left thousands of children exposed to horrifying levels of lead as a tragedy centered on him.

Like an archetypal king hypnotized by advisors with vile designs, Snyder is the true star of this story for having been misled by staff who supposedly convinced him that he would receive alarmist messages about Flint’s water supply. Snyder’s own intentions couldn’t be more clear, since part and parcel with this retelling of the catastrophe is labeling responsibility for the crisis as having been taken.

Whoopsy

Over the past year, calls for raising the minimum wage in many corners of the US as well as nationally have become an almost omnipresent part of the political discussion. More quietly but just as persistently, the popular demand for living wages reflective of the emerging economy has been met by pessimistic predictions of spiraling inflation and anemic employment. To arbitrate between the two, many have turned to data-driven journalists and academics, hypothetically armed with statistics and motivated by a zeal for unveiling the objective truth.

Except, that hasn’t happened. One of the most widely circulated looks into the economic outcomes of raising the minimum wage, penned by economics professor Mark Perry, has fallen under criticism for having drawn from multiple data sets while comparing Seattle (which raised its minimum wage) compared to the surrounding metropolitan area (which didn’t). This may sound minor, but this reads less like mixing together data to reached a more complete picture and matching figures to create the desired result. The goal was never to describe what was happening as a result of the new law, it was to manufacture a glossy statistical justification for a particular take on raised minimum wage.

Perry’s response since the writing of that and other articles describing this and other problems with his research has been to edit the charts in question, noting that the information comes from disparate data sources that aren’t ideal to cavalierly compare. He’s also added an addendum arguing in essence that there’s nothing to see here.

Not caught… not yet

In a bit of lighter news, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have taken the news that no US nationals appear to be implicated in the leaked Panama Papers to heart. They’re now asking the Justice Department to more carefully investigate the matter to make absolutely sure that that’s the case.

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Good news

Trigger warning: indefinite detention, electoral disenfranchisement, racism

The past few weeks have seemed like a bit of a parade of bad news – with Donald Trump’s ascendancy in the Republican primary among other worrisome events. Recently, however, there’s been a few small but significant changes that can give us hope.

Think of the children

After the number of unaccompanied children crossing into the US peaked in 2014, the public’s attention to the issue has steady declined. Even as fewer children have ended up in the overcrowded and dangerous detention facilities scattered across the southwest US, those already here have largely faced a toxic mixture of judicial neglect and increasingly unrealistic orders for them to leave the country.

A new report from Generation Progress touches on the issues that I and others noticed were looming problems just as the crisis began – that very few of these cases have assigned lawyers or even translators. Concerned Senators and Representatives have stepped in with new federal legislation requiring more extensive availability to those services as well as more thorough accountability for the agencies overseeing these detention facilities and court proceedings. Unfortunately, as long as the Senate and House are Republican-controlled, these reforms are unlikely to become law.

The day’s wages

In New York and California a similar tentative step forward, in this case on the minimum wage, has unfolded. In both progressive-leaning states with large labor pools, local activism was sufficient to push for incrementally raising the wage floor. In New York, the main determinant will be regional, with New York City proper seeing its wages move up the most quickly, followed by outlying parts of the urban center, and lastly other parts of the state. To a certain extent, that reflects cost of living, although across the state that will catapult minimum wage workers from $9 an hour into a more manageable economy. In California, the changes will be tailored more to the type of business, with smaller companies given slightly more time to adapt.

072814-minimum-wage_map
(Changes have so far been concentrated in states with minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage, however. Image modified from here.)

Many commentators have viewed this as a reflection of the populist politics fueling Senator Sanders’ presidential run, but the piecemeal approach in both California and New York is more reflective of the gradual and contextual increases advocated by Secretary Clinton. Far from outside of these policy victories, Clinton took part in the celebratory rally put on by New York Governor Cuomo in her adoptive state.

Who counts the voters

Whether at the state level or federally, these different movements aimed at improving the quality of life have relied on elected leadership. In short, they have needed at least the possibility of voters caring about these issues to motivate political action. The capacity for that to happen as evenly as possible with the population of a district was upheld 8-0 by the Supreme Court on Monday in Evenwel v. Abbott.

This case was launched by the Project for Fair Representation, which previously played a role in an unsuccessful challenge to affirmative action and a fruitful dismantling of the electoral pre-clearance system. The racial dimensions of their work are deliberate and striking, and Evenwel was no exception. The Cato Institute (known for its own relationship with racist, colonialist, and antisemitic ideologies) published a rather flowery amicus curiae on behalf of the plaintiffs in Evenwel where they argued-

Once again this Court finds itself at the intersection of the VRA and the Fourteenth Amendment. The parties here are caught in the inevitable trap of (1) maintaining majority-minority districts under complex, overlapping standards and (2) administering electoral schemes that do little to advance racial equality while doing much to violate voter equality— the idea that each eligible voter’s vote should count equally. In the background of this conflict, there lurks a cacophony of precedent and oft-conflicting court administered standards that have arisen from Section 2 cases. Basic constitutional guarantees of equal protection inherent in the Fourteenth Amendment— such as OPOV—are getting lost in this thicket.

Avoiding racial discrimination under these circumstances is particularly difficult in jurisdictions where “total population” and “citizens of voting age population” (CVAP)—standard metrics for evaluating whether a district violates OPOV—diverge due to varied concentration of non-citizens. As with the tensions amicus Cato has described before, jurisdictions navigating between the VRA’s Scylla and the Constitution’s Charybdis are bound to wreck individual rights—here, voter equality—on judicial shoals.

The reality that redefining electoral districts across the country by either eligible or registered voters would cast aside representation for people ineligible to vote or unregistered (who are largely people of color) is only indirectly considered. It’s framed as an unfortunate cost needed to make each vote cast equally contested by candidates – a pipe dream as turnout can easily inflate a given voter’s power or swamp their decision in a sea of others’. These organizations, all too recently comfortable with the legal realities of Apartheid, were pushing for a milder version of the same multi-tiered political system, where there are people represented and people beneath consideration.

Perhaps most tellingly, the case here sought a structural response to the reality that millions of people are disenfranchised – while being incarcerated (and depending on the state, afterwards as well), for being undocumented or otherwise non-citizens, or from the inaccessibility of the voter registration system. Instead of asking why those people are beyond the pale of electoral participation and what could be changed about that, it treated their exclusion as an accepted given to be worked around.

Luckily the Supreme Court saw things differently, and as the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund described it:

Upwards of 75 million children—13 million of whom are Black—not yet eligible to vote would have been counted out of the redistricting process had appellants prevailed. Indeed, appellants’ case threatened to take America’s redistricting process back to nefarious periods in our democracy similar to when Black people were counted as 3/5ths of a person for redistricting purposes and expressly excluded from the body politic.

The Court’s decision today vindicates the “one person, one vote” standard, which rightly takes into account Census-derived total population counts when apportioning voting districts. This standard has been applied universally for over 50 years by all 50 states and the thousands of localities within them. Moreover, this clear understanding of “one person, one vote” is already regarded as America’s “de facto national policy” in legislative redistricting, enjoying overwhelming, bipartisan support among state and local governments. Today’s decision reaffirms the guiding logic of this inclusive standard, which fosters access to electoral representation and constituent services for all people, regardless of race, sex, citizenship, economic status, or other characteristics, or whether a person chooses to or is able to vote.

That vision of participatory democracy is the engine that’s helping to drive these modest steps towards a fairer political and economic system. This newly post-Scalia Supreme Court has made clear that they favor that understanding of how this country could organize itself.

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Genocide, Global Warming, and Garland

Dramatic announcements abounded this week, suggesting what issues to watch in the coming days.

Da’esh declared genocidal

On Monday, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed a measure that declared that the targeting of religious and ethnic minorities in parts of Syria and Iraq occupied by the Islamic State was genocidal. Several Christian advocacy groups, with varying relationships with the region, have taken this as something of a political victory, although the ramifications remain unclear – genocide is a crime, and there now exists a complex set of international courts designed to evaluate allegations of it.

As one interesting essay published by the Centre for Research on Globalization on this issue noted-

Using the word can itself be a moral assertion, and with that assertion comes the requisite action.  At least this is the theory – words generate expectations and the need for a physical component. Designating a conflict as genocidal triggers a range of obligations, as implied by the Genocide Convention itself.  The lawyers have to be mobilised; the police and military arms of the state must be readied for capturing the offenders, and more importantly, the imperative to take humanitarian measures might involve the use of armed force.

In short, it is telling that the clearest stipulation in the measure is that political figures “should call ISIL atrocities by their rightful names: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.” When it comes to actually responding to the reality of the violence it only vaguely suggests that “member states of the United Nations should coordinate urgently on measures to prevent further war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Iraq and Syria.” The language seems to suggest that both peacekeeping and international court activity are possible as a response, but this is only one stop in a longer conversation about what the US and and should do in the region.

California’s starting to hint at a carbon-neutral economy to come

After years of negative predictions about the Californian economy and expectations that economic alternatives capable of mitigating climate change come from English cities with names like Grimsby, Mother Jones has taken an in depth look at the emerging carbon-neutral economy in the state:

The sun bears down almost every day, and as the valley floor heats up, it pulls air across the Tehachapi Mountains, driving the blades on towering wind turbines. For nearly eight years, money for renewable energy has been pouring in. About seven miles north of Solar Star, where sand-colored hills rise out of the desert, Spanish energy giant Iberdrola has built 126 wind turbines. French power company EDF has 330 turbines nestled in the same hills. Farther north, the Alta Wind Energy Center has an estimated 600 turbines. Together, these and other companies have spent more than $28 billion on land, equipment, and the thousands of workers needed to construct renewable-energy plants in Kern County. This new economy has created more than 1,300 permanent jobs in the region. It has also created a bonanza of more than $50 million in additional property taxes a year—about 11 percent of Kern County’s total tax haul. Lorelei Oviatt, the director of planning and community development, says, “This is money we never expected.”

What’s more, the things that made the Californian economy such a nice target of criticism were basically what made this possible:

“You need the coercive power of government,” he told the crowd. One of the reasons why California’s utilities already get so much of their power from renewables, he said, was because “they have no choice. The government said, ‘Do it, or you’re going to pay huge fines.'” Brown likes to upend the standard argument about government regulation gumming up innovation. To him, it’s the opposite: Regulations push businesses to try new things.

How about that? The full article warns that the state’s regulatory bodies anticipate setting even more ambitious goals for the next decades, which it remains to be seen if California can meet.

Garland’s shoe-in

A cavalcade of House Republicans have accidentally opened up that they might bother to confirm Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia. The catch is that they are willing to do that provided the Democratic nominee wins in the general election in November, accepting the more moderate and older Garland over a hypothetical younger radical. Garland’s nomination on March 16 would then wait until November 8 at the earliest for confirmation or rejection. That “best case” would weigh in at a 236 day wait – easily a record in US history.

2016-03-18_1458(The most recent nominations, from here.)

In fact, the only nomination to that office that was more than half that amount of time was Louis Brandeis’ which clocked in at 125 days. His was tied up in part because of his connection to many then radically progressive causes, exacerbated by the fact that, as one fellow Justice put it, “the fears of the Establishment were greater because Brandeis was the first Jew to be named to the Court.”

Garland, since he is also Jewish, wouldn’t be a similar first for the court, and actually was selected as an alternative to one – Sri Srinivasan, who would have been the first Hindu nominee. Likewise, although comparatively liberal in contrast to the Justice he would replace, he is in no way intimately tied to today’s radical causes – his primary work has been in fairly normal prosecutor duties related to terrorism. Will Republicans really wait that long to make the choice they expect they’ll have to make anyway?

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Economics helped decide the Michigan primaries, maybe more

The Progressive Caucus in the US Congress released their proposal for how the US should spend its money in 2017 earlier this month, and it’s garnered about as much attention as it typically does – which is to say virtually none. An executive summary is available here, which has a link to their full budget at the bottom.

Looking over it, it’s not exactly surprising to see it flounder in the recent news cycles. It’s exactly the sort of deliberate, careful accounting of resources and responsibilities that certain political elements have drummed out of politics. We can all argue about whether it offers the right solutions to the problems in this country, but it’s asking at least some of the right questions when many at that level of government won’t.

On the same day as that budget’s publication, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released a report on the effect of trade relations on employment within the US. It’s caught little more attention than the budget, unfortunately. Breaking it down by congressional district, the EPI only found two such districts where trade deficits with fellow signatories of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) had a net positive impact on local employment. In stark contrast, a band across the middle of the country, stretching from the western Rust Belt down into the Deep South, is estimated to have lost staggering numbers of jobs to this international effect.

epi_tpp_trade_deficit.png
(An interactive version of this map can be found here.)

As the presidential primaries continue, both of the economic concerns these and other issues have stoked threaten to take center stage in the general election. Exit polling in Michigan showed majorities of voters in both major party primaries agree with the EPI assessment that international trade reduces the number of jobs in the US. These aren’t just meaningless statistics, but lived realities that help people decided whether and how to vote.

What’s more, the exit polling showed Donald Trump taking a large portion of the Republican primary voters who felt that way and an even larger majority in the Democratic primary supporting Bernie Sanders.The former has in many ways become a vehicle for political and economic fervor, as racist violence has routinely erupted at his events, including even ones held since the Michigan primary on Tuesday. The latter is already bringing his explicitly anti-TPP message to Ohio and Illinois. In an election cycle previously dominated by less economically-driven policy debates, economics has suddenly jumped back into center stage.

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In the News: Black lives within the political process

Between the on-going water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the dramatic swing in the presidential primary towards the South, all eyes have been on the ways that anti-Black racism continues to affect the lives of all people in the United States in myriad ways.

Flint as unnatural disaster

ThinkProgress has put together a more than century-long timeline of the demographics, budgeting, and general economic health of Flint to create a more contextual view of the city. After decades of growth and success, Flint is now grappling with several health problems as a result of under-investment in water infrastructure. To make the long story short, complex community investment decisions have been decided in ways to prioritize resources for predominantly White communities and to undermine particularly largely Black communities’ expectations of communal responsibility and a democratic process.

flint_river_better.png(The Flint River, from here.)

The results are expensive public amenities that offer virtually nothing of use or provide actively dangerous “resources” like toxic water. The surrounding economics are – perhaps deliberately – complicated, but the ultimate effect is that greater costs are extracted from communities like Flint for dramatically inferior products. It’s a racket, and the greatest beneficiaries of it are the wealthy White communities essentially absolved of any social expectations while places like Flint are asked to pay twice if not more – once for water and again for medical care.

Who isn’t accountable?

Faced with catastrophes like that, Black community organizers and #BLM activists have minced no words in describing how they will hold the entire system responsible. Chicago-based Aislinn Pulley drew directly on the situation in Flint itself when describing why she was dissatisfied with the meeting offered by the Obama administration:

We must ask what is criminal justice when children, the elderly, the disabled and everyday working people in the city of Flint, Michigan, cannot safely drink their water due to lead contamination which has occurred because the local government switched the city’s water sources in 2014 in order to allegedly save money.

That was only one of the calamities befalling Black communities that she covered, however, as she also describing among others the on-going problems unique to Chicago (namely Rahm Emmanuel’s shutdowns of public schools and potential involvement in covering up police violence). The list of unaddressed disasters, which Pulley describes the Obama administration and other powerful actors in our society as failing to adequately acknowledge let alone treat, makes clear the scope of the problem for Black communities – one that exists on an inescapably society-wide level.

New leaders, old problems

With the presidential primaries beginning to take up even larger shares of the national discussion and President Obama as one of the institutional figures who is viewed as having failed to tackle this issue, who will replace him has become a charged question.

With Donald Trump remaining for the most part in the lead in the Republican primary, more detailed attention is being paid to his background. The racially-charged elements of his business experience as a land developer in the New York area have garnered some attention, but the past couple days have specifically seen a remembrance of his volatile comments on a 1989 rape case. Trump was among the prominent New York voices that effectively lobbied for the reinstatement of the death penalty because of that case, in which five men of color were wrongly convicted as the police and state courts later admitted. Luckily none of them were actually put to death, but their years in prison cannot be undone. For many, Trump’s role in this was a testament to how second nature racist dynamics may be for him.

At the same time, Sanders caught many commenters’ eyes with a speech at Morehouse College, a historically Black men’s college in Atlanta, Georgia. He was essentially endorsed by nearby Clarkston’s Mayor Ted Terry, who is White, which came in the form of an upbeat comparison of him to Martin Luther King Jr. Statements and interactions like that by White participants at such a culturally significant location for many Black Americans seems to have struck a dissonant chord for many others. As one Black twitter user responding to a video of largely White supporters at the event noted-

Recent news on Hillary Clinton, alternatively, has focused positively on her speech on racism at Harlem. This bodes positively for her campaign, as she seems to be counting on a racial gap in support between her and Sanders. That said, her current success seems less like she has become a favorite among Black voters so much as that she hasn’t yet done anything to illicit the types of responses Sanders has gotten. As someone positioning her potential presidency as in many ways an extension of Obama’s, many of the more nuanced critiques of him and many more will likely be applied to her as well.

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A limited socialism

Trigger Warning: racism, slavery, lynching

Earlier this week, I noted that Bernie Sanders’ socialism quite abruptly runs aground when applied to some groups peripheral to a lot of his politics. The reality of poverty in the Middle East is something his political view of the world apparently can’t accept, and so he had to essentially deny the reality that the United States is the wealthier nation in almost every respect when interacting with even resource-rich countries like Qatar or Saudi Arabia.

Over the course of this week, a strange domestic cousin to this apparently has come out as a part of what is driving down support for Sanders within many Black political circles. I just wanted to briefly point to what struck me as vital explanations of how Sanders’ comes across on this issue. The always fascinating Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote on Sanders’ statements about reparations:

This is the “class first” approach, originating in the myth that racism and socialism are necessarily incompatible. But raising the minimum wage doesn’t really address the fact that black men without criminal records have about the same shot at low-wage work as white men with them; nor can making college free address the wage gap between black and white graduates. […] Sanders’s anti-racist moderation points to a candidate who is not merely against reparations, but one who doesn’t actually understand the argument. To briefly restate it, from 1619 until at least the late 1960s, American institutions, businesses, associations, and governments—federal, state, and local—repeatedly plundered black communities. Their methods included everything from land-theft, to red-lining, to disenfranchisement, to convict-lease labor, to lynching, to enslavement, to the vending of children. So large was this plunder that America, as we know it today, is simply unimaginable without it. […] judged by his platform, Sanders should be directly confronted and asked why his political imagination is so active against plutocracy, but so limited against white supremacy. Jim Crow and its legacy were not merely problems of disproportionate poverty. Why should black voters support a candidate who does not recognize this?

I think Imani Gandy quite succinctly wrapped up the issue on twitter a day later:

Much of the presidential campaign so far has been about parsing the ways in which Donald Trump wants to redirect economic redistribution towards certain (implicitly, White) communities. Bernie Sanders’ radical language for himself and his ideas has helped him avoid a similar examination so far, but it’s worth checking to see in what ways he hopes to address the social, economic, and political inequalities felt by people of color.

His treatment so far of those unique experiences as simply more common in communities of color is stopping short of directly addressing them. If that’s the level of consideration his political philosophy has for people of color, it doesn’t really sound like it exists for them.

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Writing on the wall

Trigger warning: climate change, racism

On a number of issues, the writing showed up on the wall this week, portending a variety of impending conflicts.

With the news breaking that a longer term spending agreement couldn’t be reached, the US congress entered a second round of week-long spending negotiations on Wednesday. Chief among those popularly blamed for the failure to reach some consensus was Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin). While he was able to pass a bill today, his initial inability to break with the familiar patterns in prior Speaker John Boehner’s years at the helm suggests that the dysfunction in Washington isn’t entirely gone, and unlikely to easily resolve itself.

In the broader national scope, an interesting examination of where Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy draws strength from cast some ominous shadows. Trump’s supporters have long been identified as those acrimoniously done with US politics in general. Quoting a practically prophetic October analysis of Trump, it was noted that he has thrived on being distinctive, even at the cost of being offensive to some outside of his target audience.

What this speaks to is what others have discussed outside of the Trump phenomenon: the increasing polarization of political parties in the US and gradual emergence of the Republicans as more than just a political bloc but a cultural (and increasingly racially distinctive) faction. Taken together, the warning is clear – Trump has uniquely sought to capitalize on that process, encouraging politics that deliver on a certain portion of the country’s demands, rather than a consensus. Those are the politics that lead to undemocratic reigns or contentious civil conflicts.

climate_change_paris_ap_img(From here.)

Lastly, the world appears to be repeating familiar mistakes in responding to climate change. The agreements forged in Paris recently are impressive, arguably more so than many expected to come out of the process. But, identically to the Kyoto Protocols, they’re nonbinding promises. We’ve been down that road before, and hopefully can remember what exactly went wrong.

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Fascism, democracy, and demagoguery

Trigger warning: racism, antisemitism

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I only rarely post on the weekends. Well, debating whether one of the most likely nominees for president next year from a major party is fascist is a pretty exceptional circumstance, so here’s a quick bonus column on that.

I laid out on Thursday a look at Trump as fitting Roger Griffin’s standards for fascism – in a nutshell, palingenetic rightwing ultra-nationalism. Intriguingly, Vox has put out a similar checklist examination of Trump with Griffin as an included source, in which Trump squeaks by as just demagogic right-wing populism. There’s a lot of talk about individualism, which in their description is primarily about the aesthetics of Trump’s followers, but they do make a main point about Trump, fascism, and democratic values:

There are enough differences between the relevant fascist regimes — Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, perhaps Francoist Spain — that identifying commonalities that do not in turn implicate plenty of clearly non-fascist regimes is tricky. But there is general agreement about some requirements.

[…]

fascism must involve calling for the ‘rebirth’ of the nation. That might at first glance sound like Trump’s promise to ‘make America great again,’ but Griffin insists on a distinction. Rebirth, in his theory, actually requires the dramatic abandonment of the existing political order. ‘There has to be a longing for a new order, a new nation, not just a reformed old nation,’ he told me. ‘As long as Trump does not advocate the abolition of America’s democratic institutions, and their replacement by some sort of post-liberal new order, he’s not technically a fascist.’

Matthew Feldman, a fascism expert at Teesside University in the UK, agrees. ‘He’s still in the democratic family,’ he says. ‘Trump is calling for ethnocratic small-l liberalism. It’s liberalism that’s racially tinged. If you were white in apartheid South Africa, you had all the rights and benefits of a liberal state. For you it was a democracy. But it didn’t feel that way for blacks in South Africa.’

[…]

When the original fascist regimes emerged, ‘the existing governments seemed to be incapable of providing leadership, providing what was needed for this wounded country,’ [Columbia University Professor Robert] Paxton tells me, ‘and so fascists were in favor of totally overthrowing the existing constitution, which was usually democratic and perceived as weak. This was wildly popular. We are not in that position today.’

Trump definitely attacks the current government as ‘weak,’ which Paxton says might be termed a ‘borrowing’ from fascism. But it’s a far cry from the outright support for ending democracy that characterizes true fascists.

Here’s the problem with all of that – only one of the three fascist regimes mentioned in this article came to power by means other than the democratic process, and it’s the one qualified with a “perhaps” as to whether it was fascist.

The Nazi Party in Germany – holding an electoral plurality – famously manufactured a series of crises culminating in the Reichstag Fire to justify curtailing the democratic system. Ultimately, their emergency powers combined with pre-existing challenges to the democratic system in Germany created the highly authoritarian system that we now look back on Nazi Germany critically for having. In short, the profoundly anti-democratic nature of fascism in Germany emerged as an aspect of it, rather than appeared immediately.

What’s less well known, and ultimately even more discrediting to this view, is that Mussolini’s fascist Italy operated with democratic elements for years until those aspects of it finally eroded into his dictatorial control. That’s the example that gives us the specific word “fascist” – shouldn’t that count for something?

45070271_90e687a85a_o.jpg
A fascist-era addition to the Piazza Augusto Imperatore in Rome, showing an angel carrying a fasces, or bundle of sticks. The Roman-derived symbol of national unity is the origin of the term “fascist”. From here.

Whether we limit our fascist models to just those two cases or include Franco’s regime in Spain (which is also more nuanced in terms of anti-democratism), the general model for fascism appears to be one in which democratic norms and processes aren’t immediately challenged but slowly eroded and dismantled. It’s shocking to see not only a news organization like Vox but also a whole slew of political scientists and social theorists engage in the sleight of hand of presenting the conditions only truly manifest in Nazi Germany circa 1937 as the essentials of fascist organization and philosophy.

Admittedly, I’m leaning more heavily on the opinions of other academics and journalists than those consulted by Vox, namely David Neiwert. That being said, a sizable chunk of Neiwert’s work has drawn from and largely agreed with exactly the same thinkers – Paxton and Griffin particularly – whom Vox has cited. Neiwert quotes Paxton (“Fascists despise thought and reason, abandon intellectual positions casually, and cast aside many intellectual fellow-travelers.”) in the midst of describing how fascism is often uniquely difficult to define because it adopts and rejects different policy positions for a whole host of opportunistic and goal oriented reasons, including support for democratic norms.

That slipperiness of what policies can even be defined as fascist brings us to perhaps the only thing equally stunning as the curious claims about how overtly anti-democratic fascism always necessarily is. That would be the bald insistence that there is no such thing as fascist economics.

In some sense, Vox is correcting a common misunderstanding about fascism – that it’s use of state economic intervention makes it similar to socialism or communism, or even socialism and communism versions of it. That view often focuses the Nazi Party’s early platform, which called for rather active government intervention in the economy, namely the nationalization of several industries. What’s often overlooked is that that process of nationalization happened before the Nazis came to power (under the staunchly anti-communist and center-right Weimar Republic), and once in power, the Nazis themselves privatized almost all of those briefly publicly controlled companies. Just like with democracy, the fascists were all over the place in terms of what policies would work best for the country.

The language the Nazis used to describe the need for nationalization provides a clue as to why that discrepancy between what their Party said and did came about. Their early platform described a lot of those industries as being in the hands of “usurers” – a not so subtle clue that what they objected to wasn’t private ownership but Jewish ownership. By severely limiting Jewish liberties, including economic ones – which the Nazis did once in power – they no longer had the same aversion to private control over major industries and public amenities. The borderline socialist calls for public ownership and democratic control melted away into rather capitalist-friendly demands for perceived efficiency and private ownership.

That switch is arguably one of the most quintessential elements to facsism, as not only a political but also an economic phenomenon. Most overtly, here’s Ernesto Laclau in Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory on the economic rhetoric from fascism (page 120):

“[T]he radicalized German petty-bourgeoisie which was experiencing in a confused way the post-war crisis, the iniquity of the Versailles Treaty, inflation, foreign occupation, etc., was interpellated by nazism as a race. All the anti-plutocratic, nationalist, democratic aspects, that is to say all those elements which constituted the identity of the dominated classes as ‘[the] people’, and which thus expressed their contradiction with the power bloc, were present in Nazi discourse but the interpellated subject was a racial one. Through this identification of popular traditions with racism, a dual aim was achieved: all the jacobin radicalism proper to a radical confrontation with the system was retained whilst its channeling in a socialist direction is obstructed.

That’s a rather academic way of describing what I wrote about earlier, that fascism is fundamentally about harnessing populist economic demands and repurposing and distorting them. Typically that’s done towards not just dictatorial or nationalist goals, but ultimately colonialist and racist ends designed to reorganize and “properly” stratify different social groups – think of the return of major industries and public amenities in fascist Germany into the hands of people then legally able to own them, almost entirely non-Jewish.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s insistent on his fitness for office and visceral stereotyping of Mexican and Muslim people, that seems to alarmingly coincide with his politics. His statements on immigration, namely that mass deportation would “help wages grow” in fact earlier coincides with the ethnically -charged way that the Nazi Party called for mass deportations in the name of “opportunity for a livelihood and way of life for” ethnic Germans. The unsettling part of that examination is that it implicates in the end most of the Republican Party, who if not fascist have for years encouraged fascist concepts within their Party and this country.

I suppose, ultimately, that’s my question for anyone who reflexively labels Donald Trump as a non-fascist: to what extent is that an avoidance of recognizing what it says about not only him, but his Party, and even our broader political system?  How much of that is about the chilling conclusion it implies?

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Study, mourn, and respond

TW: abortion, sexism, racism, islamophobia, police violence, gun violence

It seems like there’s violence and intimidation cropping up in almost every corner of public life in the United States. This past week, most media coverage and most of my writing on here has focused on the parsing Donald Trump’s language and politics. Today, let me link you to a few examinations and responses to that that were all too easy to overlook this past week.

Anti-abortion violence has crept across the US

UltraViolet came out with a new graphic showing the steady background noise that violence against abortion providers has become in this country. It ticks through the attacks on clinics that have happened in the past ten years, which reveal them to be periodic occurrences, a part of normal life for those working at them.

uv_abortion_clinic_attacks_since_1995

The image was created within a broader push for greater security at those and related locations, given a sense of urgency after the recent attack in Colorado Springs.

Japan: not quite your islamophobic ally

Originally posted by an NRA administrator but quickly picked up by a variety of conservative media figures, a graphic praising Japanese restrictions on Muslims’ freedom of movement and economic activities has gone viral overnight.

GlobalVoices has a great rundown of how critics from vloggers to Japanese public officials have debunked basically every bullet point it lists, but I suspect that’s not really the point. It’s something of a perfect collision of an overwhelming paranoia of Muslims and an exotifying and isolating view of parts of Asia (chiefly Japan) – the legal, social, and economic realities built by and for members of either of those groups aren’t really relevant to the racist revulsion and fascination now on full display.

The public memorial

In the wake of the many recent violent incidents and prominent calls for more violence, something like a memorial, a place for people to gather in mourning and to commit themselves to peace instead, has a lot of appeal.

A group of organizations, most of them multi-issue but growing out labor organization, have created something like an online version of that. It opens asking “Is this America?” before criticizing the violence against abortion providers, police violence towards Black people, and islamophobic and racist rhetoric. It ends with an affirmation that “We are better than this.”

If that fails to move you, you can continue scrolling, past the organizations and leaders who wrote this statement and into the thicket of average citizen signatories. You are not alone in wanting something better.

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In the aftermath

Trigger warning: terrorism, abortion, sexism, war, racism, police violence, violence against protesters

In the past couple of months, almost every region in the world has been rocked by a shocking and violent event. When writing about those, it feels like an easy trap to fall into where almost all coverage is about the immediate happenings, and the wake they have left behind is swept under the rug. Here’s a Friday Let-Me-Link-You rundown of some shocking and interesting observations that might otherwise have fallen through the cracks.

Making abortion a visible part of life

Following the Black Friday shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, many have asked how that might affect the public discussions on abortion and the on-going debates about various new restrictions on access to abortion and other reproductive health services. On Tuesday’s episode of Podcast for America, Rebecca Traister appeared as a guest, and highlighted recent and more long term coverage she has done on how the changing types of participants in public office has begun to alter the way these medical procedures are talked about.

At its core, she noted that not only are more (cisgender) women in prominent political positions, but that they are increasingly women of color and women from more difficult economic backgrounds. Able to raise their personal experiences in debates, they have helped transform abortion in public consciousness from a “dirty” thing “those people” do into a messy thing that many do.

Assad: the greatest threat in Syria?

Just as that shooting in Colorado has brought abortion rights and anti-abortion violence to the fore in the US, the attacks in Paris reignited predominantly Western interests in resolving Syria, as a hypothetical means of preventing further attacks in their part of the world. In light of that, President Obama’s staunchly anti-Assad policy has come under criticism, with a number of political powers all but declaring that they prefer Assad’s dictatorial regime to the violent start-up of Da’esh.

An image put together by the anti-Da’esh and anti-Assad Syria Campaign and shared on Facebook this week by the German activist group Zentrum für Politische Schönheit (ZPS) clarifies that anti-Assad policies’ roots. As it shows, a vast majority of deaths in Syria have been from Assad’s forces:

deaths assad daesh(From here.)

Like many Obama administration policies, there is a very logical political and moral calculus behind the choice. In this case, all lost lives – Syrian and Western – are understood as tragic, and when tallied up it’s recognized that one of the greatest threats to life in general isn’t necessarily the flashiest or even the ones terrorists deliberately designed to shock.

South Africa Internet Availability: closing the floodgates

Meanwhile, international and local media in South Africa continue to pick apart what exactly happened at an October student protest in Cape Town that caught a lot of attention for its White participants’ attempt to shield protesters of color from the police. The underlying motivations behind the protest highlight familiar problems in higher education throughout the world – that tuition hikes are particularly affecting the poor and Black and particularly poor and Black, that the children of non-academic university staff are no longer guaranteed certain tuition benefits reinforcing class inequalities, and that the campus and curriculum valorize a colonial past.

That said, the history of Apartheid weighs heavily, and gravely concerns the many protesters who were born after the overtly legally-sanctioned racial hierarchy in South Africa was dismantled.

The Washington Post noted recently that this student protest was particularly innovative for South Africa in how it used modern social media to create discussion spaces, organize, and articulate activist goals. More than simply an importation of a global protest model, that also showed a reversal in terms of which parts of South African society could most easily use an online medium in political activity:

Social media has been a growing influence in South African politics for a while: think of how former opposition party leader Helen Zille (of the opposition party Democratic Alliance, or DA) has become known for tweeting from the hip, and landed her in trouble for unguarded remarks. Zille’s twitter dominance of course reflected racial disparities (then still largely skewed to the small white minority) in Internet access and use in South Africa. Not for long, though. Zille and the DA were gradually deposed by the Economic Freedom Front’s (EFF) Twitter smarts (especially that of its young MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and its leader Julius Malema) and what passes for#BlackTwitter in South Africa.

The government of South Africa appears to be rallying against these changes, according to an assessment of proposed legal changes published by Access Now earlier this week. The increasingly diverse twitter landscape in South Africa has motivated the creation of a “a series of new crimes for unlawful activity online” which just on the heels of this major protest would “pose a risk to freedom of expression”.

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Dark, darker, darkest

Trigger warning: racism, islamophobia, mass surveillance

Black Friday – it’s a kind of cartoonishly negative image of Christmas. All the (supposed) piety and charity in the traditional holiday is darkly countered in today’s crass materialism and determined search to maximize savings. It’s a day when the darker side of human nature comes out more than we might realize. Here’s a quick look at that in the news from today and earlier this week.

The New York Mag’s Jonathan Chait put together a somber examination of the dangerous rhetoric that’s become common stock in conservative politics. In the wake of the Paris attacks, one of his interesting observations is how President Obama’s ruling out of a full-scale invasion of Syria or Iraq has mutated the post-attack paranoia into a more inwardly-focused xenophobia. What I’d argue is the most haunting part of his piece, however, is this:

“[Trump’s] talent for manipulating the darkest emotions of the conservative id, while minimizing specific policy commitments, has been on full display. In every public appearance, he emitted new, authoritarian-sounding warnings. ‘We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,’ he vowed. ‘We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.’ Every new sound bite set off a profitable fervor of media speculation, forcing other candidates to raise the bidding or be left behind. ‘It’s not about closing down mosques,’ insisted Rubio, placing himself rhetorically to Trump’s right, ‘it’s about closing down anyplace — whether it’s a café, a diner, an internet site — anyplace where radicals are being inspired.'”

While the fear of the Other blazes in the background – America conventionally goes to its big box stores today. Economics journalists are sounding the alarm that the loss-leading sales that define the holiday aren’t as business-savvy as they might seem. Black Friday has managed to attract a deal-conscious fan base, not motivated by brand loyalty but by getting the best offer. In short, stores have to offer discounts that don’t actually make them money (or far less than usual) – but that’s acceptable since the point is to outcompete everyone else, not to turn a profit.

8211477498_34b6ee9b0a_o2012 Black Friday crowds in New York City, from here.

Faced with that type of market failure, where the fight is over who loses the least, there’s one basic solution: expand. Black Friday deals have begun coming to the UK – another corporate import from their former colony. If crowds can be turned out over there like those that created the deal-driven celebrations in the US, then maybe international companies can sell at a loss here and recreate their historical sales profits over there. That could keep them in the black, at least until a similar customer base for the holiday develops in the UK. Then, they go shopping for another set of buyers – maybe Australia next?

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One #YearWithoutTamir

Trigger warning: anti-Black racism, gun violence, police violence

Today marks the one year anniversary of Tamir Rice’s death in Cleveland. A Black twelve year old, he was playing in a park near his home with a legal, fake gun. Someone called the police, complaining, and within two seconds of their arrival on the scene, one officer had shot him. Tamir Rice died the following day – November 23, 2014. The killing was legally deemed reasonable after an investigation which the police department used to charge fees to Tamir Rice’s family for holding his body.

In commemoration, activists delivered some 20,000 signatures to a petition calling for the sitting county prosecutor to step aside or step down to his office. Their rebuke here is clear – the system has failed to work, and needs to be challenged to provide justice for the Black community of Cleveland and specifically Tamir Rice’s family.

tamir rice petitions

For more in depth coverage on this subject, I recommend Jamil Smith’s writing and recording at the New Republic. He ties what has happened to Tamir Rice to what is now happening to #BlackLivesMatter activists at Donald Trump rallies, both painting a moving picture of what has already been lost and delivering a haunting warning about who else is at risk.

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