Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Bombs, Smokescreens and Fig Leaves of Progressive Zionism



It has certainly not been a slow week for news, as the pundits say. Military conflict between India and Pakistan, threats of war against Venezuela from both ruling parties in the US, as the empire slides ever faster towards open fascism. Trump met Kim in Hanoi while simultaneously making new threats at Iran and Cuba while his former lawyer testified in Congress. Scandal continues to embroil the governor of Virginia and other politicians there, one of whom says he's the victim of a right-wing witch-hunt. Parts of California that were on fire last fall are now underwater, the Catholic church is holding hearings on the sexual abuse of children and nuns by priests and bishops, a new proxy war threatens to break out in Mozambique, and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel has just made an alliance with a party/hate group called Jewish Power, made up of followers of the preacher of mass murder, considered a terrorist even by the Israeli and US governments of his day, Rabbi Meir Kahane. And now the prime minister is being charged with corruption by his own Attorney General. He says it's a left-wing witch-hunt.

I didn't even touch on most of the major international news stories of the week in that list, nor do I intend to. But occasionally surfacing in the headlines, in some places more than others, are a number of more or less national-scale scandals, ostensibly involving anti-Semitism.

Almost never surfacing in the headlines of the western press, but covered constantly on some Arabic networks, is the fact that last Friday Israeli troops committed yet another massacre of unarmed civilians at the fence walling off the open air toxic prison known as the Gaza Strip from its occupier, the country that controls and lays siege to all of its borders and prevents its access to the sea to the west or to the air above, Israel. You in the west hearing my voice may be surprised to know that the IDF has committed such a massacre every Friday since March of last year, leaving hundreds dead and thousands in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives.

But this missive is only partially about that hidden piece of weekly news, that after-every-Friday-Prayers massacre most of us are unaware of. I say only partially because it's actually impossible to separate these massacres from the aforementioned anti-Semitism scandals -- and that is by design, as I will explain.

In the US, a Congresswoman made a reference to US foreign policy being influenced by one of the largest donors to US Congressional campaigns, AIPAC. In England, the leader of the Labour Party and some of his associates are being smeared as anti-Semites because of a visit to a PLO cemetery during an official trip to Tunisia. And in France the entire political class along with the entire mainstream media are frothing at the mouth over their efforts to paint the Gilets Jaunes as anti-Semites.

In Paris, a group of Yellow Vest protesters called a self-described Zionist philosopher a Zionist. The word "Zionist" was preceded by an expletive, so this is apparently now to be understood as that old corporate media trope known as veiled anti-Semitism. Which is usually a label for things they wish were anti-Semitic, but aren't. This was clearly also the case with Jeremy Corbyn in England and Congresswoman Omar in the United States: opposition to Israeli policies of weekly massacres, embargoes, bombings, indefinite detention of children and wanton legalized bribery of American politicians is all construed somehow as anti-Semitism.

How is it possible to conflate opposition to the theft of Palestinian land or the bribery of American politicians with hatred of Jews? Here are some bits of history and some word definitions necessary to understand the convoluted logic involved with these accusations which are wrapped up with the discussion of what is and what isn't anti-Semitic speech and behavior.
  1. For much of European history, as Jews were being kicked out of southern European countries, they were emigrating to eastern European countries, where in some cases the sophisticated new migrants became disproportionately wealthy and thus despised by much of the general population who lived in poverty. Therefore ever since that time, any criticism of wealthy people, bribery, usury, lobbyists, capitalism, and especially banks are seen by some as anti-Semitic or at least veiled anti-Semitism.
  2. Throughout its existence, leaders of the state of Israel have referred to Israel as "the Jewish state" and AIPAC has referred to itself as "the Jewish lobby." However, when non-Jews use terms like "the Jewish lobby" these days, this is often seen as some kind of anti-Semitic generalization. A generalization it is, and an incorrect one, but one that AIPAC and the Israeli government both encourage us to make as often as possible.
  3. Although millions of Jews proudly refer to themselves as "ardent Zionists" and support Zionism -- the successful movement to settle on and steal Palestinian land in order to form a state controlled explicitly by Jews, now known as Israel -- if a non-Jew calls someone a Zionist (whether there is an expletive preceding the term or not), this is now understood to be yet another form of veiled anti-Semitism.
  4. The term "Jew" is not an insult, any more than the term "Christian" or "Muslim" is. About 20% of the population of the Jewish State is not Jewish, however, so when Palestinians are being attacked by Israeli soldiers they don't say "the Israelis are coming," because it's specifically Jewish Israeli soldiers coming to kill them. They don't say "the soldiers" are coming because these are not just any soldiers, they are not Jordanian or Egyptian soldiers, they are Jewish Israeli soldiers. So they say "the Jews" are coming, when the Jews are coming. This may be a profoundly uncomfortable reality, but it's also a profoundly real one.
For most people in most of the world the whole discussion around Zionism and anti-Semitism is absurd. Anyone who knows anything about Israel outside of the capitalist west knows it's an apartheid state run by people called Jews (most people in the world have never met one) and that these people who run Israel regularly engage in building walls, demolishing homes, bulldozing olive groves, buying American fighter jets and killing unarmed Palestinian children. If people know about Israel, that's what they know. None of this Zionist nonsense about flowers growing in deserts.

The constant massacres, bombings, bulldozings, rampant torture of children and other nasty habits of the self-proclaimed Jewish state give it a bit of a credibility issue among normal humans who aren't in the US Congress or the British Parliament and aren't Germans drowning in guilt for the fact that their recent ancestors are largely responsible for Zionism becoming so popular among the Jewish diaspora in the first place, with all the death and destruction it has wrought. (Though in truth even with the Nazi Holocaust to encourage Jews to flee Europe -- which my extended family in Minsk unfortunately failed to do back then -- most Jews didn't want to go to Palestine, they wanted to go to the US. But because the great humanitarian Roosevelt administration didn't lift the quotas on eastern European refugees until 1944, they had to go somewhere else if they could. Or just die, as most of them did.)

But to the extent that the settler-colonial Zionist movement did gain popularity among Jews, and, with backing from the big, supposedly former colonial powers of the day, did successfully take over the neighborhood by force of arms, kick out the inhabitants, and never let them back in, it did so with support from all sorts of different varieties of Zionists. Yes, there's not just one brand of Zionism, but to complicate matters, there are many.

It has long been the case that the best friends of the state of Israel around the world have been other settler-colonial states (Australia, South Africa, the US), so-called former colonial powers (Britain, France, Germany), and a selection of the most far-right, torture states that happen to be in power in the world at any given time (currently including countries such as Hungary, Guatemala and Brazil).

However, there are other factors that cause the whole question of Zionism and anti-Semitism to get truly complicated. One is the fact that although there are among the ranks of those around the world who oppose Zionism lots of principled, ecumenical enemies of oppression in all its all forms, the ranks of anti-Zionists also include actual fascists who hate Jews for being Jews.

The other, probably far more destructive factor in the whole equation, is the fact that among the ranks of those who support the Zionist project – that is, the state of Israel, and all the disenfranchisement and slaughter of Palestinians that necessarily goes along with maintaining power over an occupied people who don't want to be occupied and aren't dead yet -- are people who otherwise appear to be progressive.

Which then brings me to the title of this little rant. Who are these long-time Labour Party members attacking Corbyn as an anti-Semite on my Facebook page? Who are these otherwise sophisticated French philosophers who can't tell the difference between hatred of apartheid and hatred of all of his fellow Jewish people? Who are these union and civil rights-supporting Americans making oblique references to "anti-Semitism on the left" on the basis of a Muslim Congresswoman's anti-lobbying tweet?

First of all, they're real people. Yes, some of them are working for intelligence agencies who make those posts -- this has been well documented and in fact the Israeli government is proud of their propagandists on social media, as are lots of other government agencies globally. But there are real people -- lots of them -- who live with what to most of us seems like an impossible disconnect. In this case, we're talking about people who, for one reason or for many reasons, have developed a worldview where for them it is consistent to go out on the streets to oppose the US carpet-bombing of southeast Asia or even of Iraq, but when it comes to Israel, they support emergency military assistance when Israel runs out of bombs as it's destroying Gaza for the seventh time in the past decade (this is a reference to Bernie Sanders, among others).

Unfortunately, with so many otherwise progressive supporters of Israeli apartheid -- Zionism -- among us, particularly in places like the US and England -- we end up in a situation where far too many people are intimidated by what is, admittedly, sometimes a complex and multifaceted debate.

What's not complex, or shouldn't be, are the following points:
  1. Only a minority of Jews identify with Israel or live in Israel, and Israel does not and has never represented the entire Jewish diaspora.
  2. To use terms that people proudly identify with, such as "Zionist," is not anti-Semitic, if we are describing a supporter of the state of Israel.
  3. The United States government is run by the highest bidder, it is an auction, this is well-known, and pointing this out is not anti-Semitic, any more than pointing out that the United States is in North America is anti-geographic.
  4. Israel is an apartheid state that has been recognized as such by all rational visitors to the occupied territories, including me, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, all kinds of UN human rights commissions and other human rights groups, and a lot of other people.
  5. The fact that Israel calls itself the Jewish state, is run by Jews and has an almost entirely Jewish army that kills Palestinians every day will tend to cause some confusion in the world about what all this means. Some people will draw the erroneous conclusion that this self-proclaimed Jewish state represents all Jews and that because an army of Jews kills unarmed Palestinians every day, that this Jewish army represents the Jewish diaspora. It doesn't. Just a lot of them. (Like for example some of my Zionist relatives who no longer speak to me because they think I'm an anti-Semite.)
I was raised in part by a German Jew who was so traumatized by her childhood that she pretended to be an English Catholic for her entire adult life. She never mentioned Israel or even the fact that she was Jewish. She assimilated, in a state of terror, into her new home. Though in New York City she was literally surrounded by millions of Jews, she was still afraid to be Jewish.

This degree of fear hopefully provides some idea why the Jewish people are now so divided around the issue of Israeli apartheid. There are so many reactions to trauma, and there was probably no trauma suffered by humans in the known history of the planet as terrible as the Nazi Holocaust. There were many victims of this holocaust, and Jews from across Europe were principal among them. People so deeply traumatized had three main reactions:
  1. Many, like my nanny, hid, assimilated, lived in fear, tried to be someone else. Untold millions of people in many different situations have done this in the history of humanity, including Sephardic Jews many hundreds of years ago (from whom I'm also descended). This is where the term "living in the closet" came from. That's where they kept their menorahs.
  2. Many embraced the idea that the horror of Nazism should never destroy any other society, either. This is partially why the radical left in so many countries is so disproportionately full of Jews.
  3. Many others embraced Zionism, which you can translate as the idea that "never again" means "never again to us." Zionism was an escape further into sectarianism.
Throughout Jewish history, as with the history of other historically marginalized groups, these various tendencies have been manifest. There were always different responses to anti-Semitism in Europe -- and anti-Semitism was a major, driving feature of European civilization for over a thousand years. Among Jews and non-Jews alike there were those who could be successfully divided and conquered and those who resisted this tendency. But naturally, grouping together and protecting others who you see as being part of your group is a sensible thing to do, and so it's easy to see how Zionism could gain popularity in a year like 1940.

Unfortunately, there is ultimately no safety or security on stolen land, surrounded by millions of resentful, impoverished, desperate refugees that you've created. Safety and security for Jews was really never the interest for the outside powers that have always been the benefactors Israel has depended on to make such a go of it up til now. For the great powers, it was always about having a European colonial outpost in a part of the world that Europeans have never been able to successfully colonize.

But the progressive Zionists are able to repress all that awareness. It's hard to do that, so they're generally not much for rational conversation when it comes to the question of Israeli apartheid. Even calling apartheid apartheid upsets them. I think they're still calling it "the only democracy in the Middle East," in fact, despite the fact that the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli military rule in the West Bank and Gaza are unable to vote in the Israeli elections that determine their fates.

Unable to defend the indefensible, they attack. This is how you end up with supposed Labour Party progressives calling Jeremy Corbyn an anti-Semite. According to their narrative, those PLO people buried in that Tunisian cemetery are all terrorists. They killed innocent Israeli Olympic athletes, among others. And so for them, the entire, bloody Israeli occupation, the theft of all those homes, the millions of refugees and squalid refugee camps, this is all just irrelevant to the point that terrorism -- the killing of innocents -- is wrong. So if you lay a wreath in a cemetery where some of those who died in the course of this national liberation struggle are buried, you are then associated with the worst things any of them ever did, of course. So then if you lay a wreath at a cemetery with dead RAF pilots in it, does that mean you're endorsing the killing of each of the 50,000 civilians who were asphyxiated or crushed when the RAF bombed Dresden? If you lay a wreath on the graves of Israeli soldiers who died in their "War for Independence," are you endorsing the permanent expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from their homes by Jewish terrorists who induced fear through massacres and the threats of massacres?

Few people would say so, but in the convoluted logic of the progressive Zionists, it can be nothing but anti-Semitic to acknowledge the suffering of the Palestinian nation by laying a wreath in a cemetery or to express anger at a famous, self-proclaimed Zionist philosopher for being a Zionist at a time in history when the army of Zionism -- the Israeli Army -- has today just committed another massacre. Or to point out that the American Israeli Political Action Committee has undue influence on US politicians -- it most certainly, verifiably does. 'Cause it's all about the Benjamins -- like Omar (and Puff Daddy) said.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The War on Refugees



Note:  the State of Emergency I expected to be declared has been declared.  If you missed episode 28 of This Week with David Rovics, State of Emergency, you can check it out if you want.

I recently asked the twittersphere for advice on how to get more interest among the twitterati in my tweets.  One of the more interesting responses came from someone who appeared to be a Trump supporter, advising me to essentially use my communication powers for good and join the right.  After overcoming my initial revulsion at the idea, I realized he was correct.  Simplistic sloganeering and appealing to various sectarian impulses does often seem more straightforward than trying to kindle things like solidarity and a holistic understanding of the complex situation we find ourselves in on Planet Earth.

One of the tremendous advantages to being a rightwinger is it's always easier for people to identify with that which is most familiar, and for a whole lot of different reasons, the people physically near you are probably much more familiar than people who are far away from you.  The notion of making the planet great again is a bit vague, and making France or China great again doesn't have immediate appeal here, but making America great again is at least an idea people can get their heads around, whether or not it makes much sense.  We know where America is, at least.

The powers-that-be in countries like the United States learned long ago that they can rule most profitably when they successfully keep the people divided by concepts such as race and nation (blood and soil).  That way even if the racially-divided working class within the country ever manages to unite, they can always divide us again by fomenting nationalism.  If we don't hate each other enough, they can get us to hate someone else.

So in terms of communication, what the ruling class despotic types (such as those in power now and for the vast majority of the time throughout the history of the US) are trying to accomplish is division.  They want us divided from each other within the borders of the US, and they want us hating certain people outside of the US as well, for good measure.  Successfully divided, we'll tend to be more compliant, granted various other factors, such as keeping us totally ignorant of history and even recent events.  A very short memory is key to maintaining a divided population, because these patterns repeat themselves too often not to be recognized if you're actually paying attention.  Some of the patterns repeat every four years, in fact, like clockwork.

A tried-and-true method for creating division is to make sure the population has developed a sufficiently dehumanized view of the people we're supposed to hate.  If you've never met an Iranian or a Venezuelan, that helps to keep them all seeming very foreign.  If you have no knowledge of the history of US imperialism or why so many Iranians and Venezuelans despise our government, that's helpful.  And then other aspects of the foreignness of our current enemies can be brought to the fore, such as the tendency of most Iranians to practice a religion other than Christianity, or the notion that in Venezuela there are socialists, which we're supposed to understand is something very bad and inherently dysfunctional.

The process of dehumanizing or "othering" a person or population is basically a process of taking what starts out as being familiar, and making it unfamiliar.  You start out with people who walk, talk, eat, sleep, party, fall in love, work, cook, etc., just like you do, and then your task is to make them seem alien by emphasizing those aspects that are unfamiliar to your audience.

While the propagandists for the ruling class and those that they serve fully recognize the importance of dehumanizing those who they wish us to think of as our enemies, their policies indicate just how much they realize that our enemies are eminently human and so very familiar.

Whether or not the powers-that-be all had the prescience to realize that their imperial policies in Central America, the Middle East and elsewhere would provoke refugee crises -- and many of them were fully cognizant that they would -- they have universally dealt with the crisis by implementing policies which are designed to target the most basic, most familiar, most human thing of all:  our love for our children.

It's systematic -- you don't even need a pundit to interpret the news for you if you're following global developments at all regularly -- if you're from the US then you're of course familiar with the child separations at the border, the fact that ICE has detained thousands more children than they originally said, that they're being held in terrible situations where they're crying all the time and not allowed to hug each other, and the more recent policy of just not letting refugees to try to enter in the first place, by creating an intentional bottleneck, where they claim they can only process fifteen asylum applicants per day at a border crossing.

In comparatively humane places like Denmark, appearances are that refugees are welcomed, housed and otherwise looked after very well.  But as the refugee crisis unfolded in 2015, Denmark was one of many countries in Europe that, while continuing to welcome the refugees that got there, was rapidly changing their laws to make their country much less hospitable.  The change in the law that refugees learned about most quickly and which had the most devastating impact in terms of where they were trying to seek asylum was when Denmark dramatically lengthened the amount of time someone has to wait after getting refugee status before they can legally get the rest of their family out of the war zone and into safety, back in the arms of their fathers, brothers, etc.

So you had the specter of thousands of refugees walking all the way through Denmark, refusing aid, with the single-minded aim of getting to Sweden, not because there's anything better about Sweden for them, other than the fact that they might not have to wait years before they can be reunited with their children, spouses, etc.

In Australia there has for decades been an effort on the part of both Australian ruling parties to intercept boats full of desperate refugees at sea and then house them indefinitely on a small prison island until they "voluntarily" decide to go back to the war zones from which they came.  In terms of geography we can be confident that if the US does start a war with Iran, the Iranians fleeing that conflict will join their compatriots among the mosquitoes and destitution on the prison island of Nauru.

This is the welcome they will receive from the west.  Whether they opposed their government or not, the corporate imperialists in power who created the crises in the first place in places like Australia and the United States don't care.  They only care that the refugees, like the wars, can then be used to further their capitalist agendas.  (This is the case whether said capitalists are being recognized as imperialists or being considered "isolationists" for a few minutes because it's a more convenient moniker for one reason or another).

Once we dehumanize the others, we not only lose any potential ability to organize as a class -- the global working class, the workers of the world, often referred to as "the people" -- but we also lose our humanity, of course.  We, or at least some significant number of us, then become capable of behaving in the most inhuman ways.  We can treat these foreign people much differently than we would ever treat members of the normative population.

At a policy level of course we can do the most devastating things, like bomb other countries.  And similarly devastating but less explosive policies like paying dictatorships billions of dollars to deal with the refugees for us, building taller walls, insuring that more people drown in the Mediterranean and die of thirst in the Arizona desert.

At a more up-close human level, some among law enforcement professions especially are able to do things it's hard to imagine anyone doing to, say, middle-class white suburbanites -- separating babies from their mothers as both wail in horror, calling in armed police to tackle elementary school children for misbehaving, and shooting at vehicles you're trying to pull over instead of making them stop by using one of more usual methods.

One of many examples of the way this phenomenon manifests took place while I was in Belgium last May.  It barely made the news outside of Belgium, but there it was a big deal for a while.

There are many refugees who have specific destinations in mind.  You might, too, if you were a refugee.  Going to countries where asylum policies are such that they're likely to be able to bring their families over is one thing.  But there are other factors, like people often want to go to countries where they already have extended family members (which in most of the world is just known as "family"), or where they already speak the local language.  So a lot of people who managed to make it to western Europe still want to go further -- to England.

So every night there are vans packed full of refugees making their way across the highways of Belgium, driving from the German border to the port of Antwerp, where people are hoping to manage to get on a boat one way or another.  And every night Belgian cops are looking for the vans full of refugees, playing cat and mouse.

On the night of May 17th, 2018, the driver of one van packed full of refugees refused to pull over when the police signaled for him to do so.  The police ultimately fired live ammunition at the van, hitting and killing one of the passengers.  She was a German-born Kurdish girl named Mawda Shawri.  She was two years old.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Facing Blackface



On the 160th birthday of the White Homeland (the state of Oregon).

As a kid growing up in Connecticut in the 1970's, browsing the few available TV channels that there were, one of the things you would be exposed to now and then was white men with darkened faces doing supposedly comedic skits mocking Black people. This came mainly in the form of re-broadcasts of older, black and white movies and TV shows, as far as I recall. If you grew up in the UK at that time it was the same, incidentally, and in some other countries they still haven't gotten the memo that blatantly racist entertainment is no longer acceptable on prime time.

Hearing the pundits dissecting the simultaneous scandals threatening to bring down the government in Thomas Jefferson's state of Virginia, the debates playing out just remind me of how it was that Trump got himself elected, and how US history has played out over the course of centuries.

As a student of history and a regular world traveler I've developed a little perspective by now. All the countries in Europe that I travel in regularly are way better off than the US, overall. People seem happier, less stressed, they work less, have much more disposable income, free health care, inexpensive housing, in many countries most workers are in a union and the vast majority of them earn actual living wages. Not only do they not need a second job, but they think the idea of one is completely nuts.

I'm often shocked when I tell my fellow Americans about what life is like in some of these countries, and I get this response – including from people who consider themselves to be progressives – “those are small countries with homogeneous populations, so that sort of thing can work there. It's different here in the US.”

While the last part is true – it's different in the US – the first part is mostly just nonsense. It may be accurate that the size of the US makes organizing a national movement here harder than in a much smaller country, but the idea that the more prosperous countries of Europe are homogeneous is plainly ridiculous to anyone who has actually been to a major European city, and therefore the idea that it's impossible to have prosperity and diversity at the same time is false.

The underlying assumption in this false narrative is that large numbers of people of color in a society inevitably means the society has to be poor and crime-ridden. Although many European countries are both prosperous and ethnically diverse, the US is indeed largely poor and crime-ridden, and it is an even more ethnically diverse society than anywhere in Europe, so perhaps it makes sense to attribute this poverty and crime to the fact that the society is so diverse?

This is certainly what the mocking white men in blackface would have us believe, along with their white-hooded, church-burning brethren – including of course the current occupant of the White House, who comes from a family line of such people, though he likes to pretend otherwise.

In actuality, there is more than a grain of truth to the idea that there is some kind of association between the widespread poverty in the US and the ethnic diversity of the society. But the causality here is not that people of color somehow cause poverty or are inherently prone to the condition. It's that racism is continually used again and again to sow hatred and division in slightly new ways, always serving the purpose of maintaining the disunity in society required for the profit margins to be so much higher for the capitalists in the US than they are for their European counterparts.

There are the really obvious ways racism has been used as a sledgehammer of oppression through all of the means familiar to anyone who's heard of the Civil Rights movement and its more recent iteration in the form of Black Lives Matter. But in many ways the most powerful manifestation of racism that has successfully kept the US so poor and so divided for so long is the notion that permeates every element of the tradition of blackface humor in the US – the idea that “at least I'm better than you.”

There are many divisions in many societies, but you don't have to spend much time traveling to realize that the kind of broad-based notion of working class solidarity -- and even the notion of the existence of a thing called the working class – that clearly exists to a huge degree in countries like Great Britain, France, and Germany, is largely absent here. It's replaced by a society full of people who are more apt to identify themselves by other categories, especially by race.

Duped into an internalized belief in its own superiority, the majority group categorizing itself as white tend to classify their economic position in life with a descriptor that may or may not precede the word “middle.” They can be “middle class,” “lower middle class,” or “upper middle class.” Those identifying as “upper middle” are often very well off but don't want to brag. The “lower middle” are generally one missed paycheck away from life on the sidewalk, but to admit their destitute situation, in so many cases, is akin to admitting that they in fact are not better than those other people that they have learned their whole lives are their inferiors.

Every working class struggle here has to be fought on at least two fronts – there are always ethnic divisions sown that need to be overcome in every class conflict in the United States. The result of this centuries-old handicap is what we see today. The election of Donald Trump on his explicitly racist platform, the century-long history of the opposition Democratic Party as the self-proclaimed party of the white man, and these white men dressing in blackface a full generation after the Civil Rights movement are all symptoms of this pernicious divide.

The struggle against the bipartisan rule of the billionaire class that in other countries might take a more direct form – like a movement of the working class against the neoliberal onslaught of budget-cutting, deregulation and austerity we are being deluged by in so many countries, such as the sort of movement we see today in France -- is absent here. Instead of launching a militant movement to challenge capitalism itself, we seem always to be busy appealing to a corrupt, collapsing system to be more fair and less discriminatory, even as the system itself survives through fomenting discord. We seek more representation among the corrupt political bodies, within Hollywood's propaganda machine, among the ranks of law enforcement, and on the boards of the failing banks.

My adopted state of Oregon is an instructive example in the role of racism and perceptions about racial differences in shaping the US. Prior to the Civil War, once Indian land had been sufficiently taken over through disease, war, violence, fraud and broken treaties such that a territory had achieved a white settler majority, it was eligible for statehood. When Oregon was eligible, the question of whether to enter the union as a free state or a slave state was dealt with by banning both the institution of slavery and the presence of most people of color.

Exclusion Laws punishing people of color for existing in the state were not repealed until 1926. The small Black population the state began to develop in the 1940's is currently being rapidly lost, along with much of the rest of the working class population of the state, due to the skyrocketing cost of housing caused by the very deregulated, ultra-profitable capitalist class that racism has played such a pernicious role in preventing us from effectively challenging here in the USA.

This month is Oregon's statehood anniversary – the territory was recognized by the US Congress as a state on February 14th, 1859. Perhaps the founding fathers of the White Homeland would be happy to know that the race-mixing they feared 160 years ago is still feared by many white people today, and Black people are still mocked by white frat boys with shoe polish.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

State of Emergency



After decades of working as a professional musician I had to grudgingly admit that all the popular mythology about lip-syncing automatons was nonsense, and that the vast majority of actual pop stars are exceptional performers. After decades of observing political campaigns, I had a similar realization about most prominent politicians. They're not stupid, regardless of whether they think it's most expeditious to appear that way for one reason or another – which they often do.

To be a good politician you have to be a good actor, and if you act well enough, many people think you're being authentic. I'm often surprised at how few politicians do act well, despite how useful it would be if they could stop appearing so obviously slimy and untrustworthy. They usually feel it's important to emphasize their patriotic credentials – so if they've ever had anything to do with the military they'll tend to play that up. They need to appear to be normal people, so if they speak a second language other than Spanish they'll keep that under wraps, and they'll strictly avoid using words with more than three syllables in public.

A good politician needs to be skilled at thinking strategically while pretending to be doing something else, like responding to an imminent crisis (whether it was a manufactured one or not). A good politician is always the underdog, always defending, always righteous. They always have to keep their followers believing that they have an agenda for making everything better which, if they're just allowed to implement it, will deliver paradise on Earth. And anyone who is opposed to their plans is opposed to them because they are against the country, against the people, for the special interests – they are the enemies within. Or they're the more standard variety of external enemies -- the sort that aren't just generally bad, but who specifically mean us ill – but against whom we can defend ourselves if we have the right leadership.

Whether people recognize strategic thinking in political leaders or dismiss politicians as idiots incapable of such high levels of cognitive functioning, good strategists rarely broadcast their actual intentions.

In the US we have a particular problem with being able to comprehend a situation if understanding it might best involve drawing on the experience of people in another country. For example, because the cost of housing is skyrocketing in the two states in the US where rent control is not banned statewide, you'll hear people regularly say “rent control doesn't work.” The fact that it works just fine in many other countries where it is much stricter than it's ever been here just doesn't even register as a relevant point.

So it is when many people are trying to understand the events taking place today in the realm of national politics – in Washington, DC, at the border with Mexico, and elsewhere. “Unprecedented” is a frequently-used word to describe these days in the US. But there are a lot of other examples of the main elements of the current playbook being used at other times in various other banana republics and aspiring fascist states.

Traditionally, after you paint yourself as the savior, hold big rallies all over the country, and establish a narrative in the press that there is a crisis that needs powerful leadership to solve, you then establish a narrative that the current political gridlock prevents a democratic solution and necessitates the declaration of a state of emergency. Once declaring emergency rule, the next step is using your new emergency powers to either figuratively or literally eliminate the competition and further concentrate the power of the executive.

This process after the beginning of emergency rule involves the establishment of police forces, intelligence agencies and paramilitary organizations that are especially dedicated to the agenda of the new leader, and the dissolution or evisceration of organizations, agencies, etc., that try to create obstacles or assert their own power or importance.

Depending on how this process goes and which dictatorship playbook we're following, there are different possible routes. The one that seems most likely to me is the one where once power is sufficiently concentrated in the executive and internal enemies have been neutralized – once the wall has been built, both literally and strategically – then it's time to deal with those many external enemies, all in the name of fairness, justice, and righting past and ongoing wrongs done to our people.

At every step in this process, there will be those saying the administration is just shooting from the hip, bumbling its way through, always reacting. Thus discounted, we blind ourselves to the media-savvy, strategic brilliance that is actually on display, and we render ourselves unable to see it for what it is.

Meanwhile, those in a position to fight Trump in his own arena and win the hearts and minds of the US citizenry are impossibly hampered by the chains of “Blue Wave” Super PACs and rendered into nothing more than stand-ins for the banks and defense contractors, talking uselessly about change they long ago lost any capacity to deliver -- because they sold it to the highest bidder, and all they have left to offer are more band-aids to cover our society's gaping wounds, accompanied by matching outfits and enthusiastic chants of “USA, USA, USA.”

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