Category Archives: Random Blogging

No More Dog Whistles

To my readers: Watch President Obama’s eulogy to John Lewis, and remember what a President looks and sounds like.

Now I return you to my regularly scheduled screed….

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Can you stand one more post on Republican bigotry? I ask because there’s a new story every day.

For example, there was a recent report from The Hill about a display in the office of Representative Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.)–  an 1897 book, “General Robert Edward Lee; Soldier, Citizen and Christian Patriot.” People waiting for a meeting with the Representative reported that

the book was opened to a page that read: “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race, and, I hope, will prepare and lead them to better things.”

Just another day in GOP-land.

A post devoted to enumerating explicitly anti-Black  behaviors by multiple Republican officeholders would be both long and redundant. There has been less focus on the party’s growing willingness to express its anti-Semitism, despite the fact that prejudice against Jews is another reliable element of White Nationalism.

I was reminded of the prevalence of that anti-Semitism by a recent news article–also from Georgia.

A political Facebook ad for Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue’s campaign has been pulled after sparking controversy and charges of antisemitism. 

At the helm of the controversial ad is a photo of Perdue’s Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff with what appears to be an exaggerated nose. In an investigation lead by The Forward, a media outlet geared toward a Jewish audience, it was determined that Ossoff’s nose was both “lengthened and widened.” 

Perdue’s campaign team says the ad was designed by a third-party vendor and that any distortion of the image was unintentional. The campaign team added that incumbent Perdue has a strong record of standing against antisemitism and all forms of hate.

 On Monday, Ossoff addressed the offensive photo seen in the ad by tweeting, “I’m Jewish. This is the oldest, most obvious, least original antisemitic trope in history. Senator, literally no one believes your excuses.”

Perdue said that Ossoff’s nose was “inadvertently” widened when the picture was resized for use in the ad; however, observers pointed out that the nose was the only part of the photo that was affected. They also noted that the ad showed Ossoff together with Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (who is also Jewish), and accused them of trying to ‘buy Georgia,’ a not-so-subtle allusion to centuries-old anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish people.

The Intercept recently had an article  about Trump’s ironic attack on Muslim Representative Ilhan Omar, calling her anti-Semitic for two insensitive tweets about Israel (for which she has “unequivocally apologized”) and saying she should resign. The article highlighted six Republican members of Congress it said “should resign first” for having exhibited far worse anti-Jewish behaviors.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, representative for California’s 23rd Congressional District, has promised to “take action this week” against Omar over her tweets.

This is the same McCarthy who took to Twitter in October 2018 to accuse three Jewish billionaires — George Soros, Tom Steyer, and Michael Bloomberg — of trying to “buy” the midterms. He posted his tweet just a day after Soros received a pipe bomb at his home in New York.

McCarthy never apologized.

The article listed five others: Steven Scalise, who in 2003 spoke at a convention of the white supremacist European American Unity and Rights Organization, a group founded by David Duke; Louie Gohmert (enough said); Matt Gaetz, who invited the notorious Holocaust denier Chuck Johnson* to be his guest at the State of the Union, and who has appeared on Alex Jones’s “Infowars” show. (Among other canards, Jones has accused George Soros of funding the caravan of migrants from Central America); Steve King (again, enough said); and Paul Gosar,

Rep. Paul Gosar, the Republican who represents Arizona’s 4th Congressional District, has claimed that the far-right rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 — at which marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us” — was “created by the left” and led by an “Obama sympathizer.” He has also suggested that Soros funded the event and falsely claimed that the Jewish billionaire “turned in his own people to the Nazis.”

In fact, Gosar is so brazen in his conspiratorial, anti-Jewish bigotry that his own family has felt the need to publicly denounce him.

Republican anti-Semitism has become so widespread and obvious that a new website has been developed to track it.

The website — which is part of a broader campaign against white nationalism launched earlier this year by progressive Jewish group Bend the Arc — aims to educate the wider public on the explosion in far-right antisemitic incidents since Trump became the Republican presidential nominee.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the GOP has abandoned its dog-whistle in favor of an out-and-proud White Nationalist bullhorn.

In November, we’ll see how many Americans endorse that bigotry.

A White Nationalist Hail Mary

Too bad Covid-19 isn’t black or brown. Perhaps then, Trump would be enthusiastic about defeating it.

As the Presidential campaign moves into high gear, the White Nationalist buffoon in the Oval Office is trying out one racist “Hail Mary” after another. He’s claimed that if Biden is elected, “our suburbs” would be destroyed. And he wasn’t subtle about the nature of that destruction; he specifically called out a 2015 Obama-era fair-housing initiative that requires local governments to address historic patterns of racial desegregation.

NPR quoted Trump’s warning:

“Your home will go down in value, and crime rates will rapidly rise,” Trump said. “People have worked all their lives to get into a community, and now they’re going to watch it go to hell. Not going to happen, not while I’m here.”

White housewives, apparently, will be sufficiently terrified by the prospect of darker-skinned neighbors to ignore Trumpian chaos and failures to even pretend to govern, and vote Republican in November.

Never particularly tethered to facts, Trump has also warned that Biden will abolish the police. Biden, of course, has said nothing of the kind, but hey–a “law and order” President has to remind voters of the dangers posed by “antifa” and the leftists, even if his own government’s data shows pretty convincingly that there is no actual “antifa” movement, and that the real threat to public safety comes from the right.

As the Guardian has recently reported, 

Donald Trump has made warnings about the threat of antifa and “far-left fascism” a central part of his re-election campaign. But in reality leftwing attacks have left far fewer people dead than violence by rightwing extremists, new research indicates, and antifa activists have not been linked to a single murder in decades.

A new database of nearly 900 politically motivated attacks and plots in the United States since 1994 includes just one attack staged by an anti-fascist that led to fatalities. In that case, the single person killed was the perpetrator. 

Over the same time period, American white supremacists and other rightwing extremists have carried out attacks that left at least 329 victims dead, according to the database.

There’s so much else: Trump’s defense of the Confederate flag, and promises to “protect our historic monuments,” his attack on African American NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, and his constant and misleading rants against peaceful protesters rallying to the cause of Black Lives Matter. (No, Mr. Pretend-President, the protests are not being mounted by Americans who are trying to destroy the country.)

As Jennifer Rubin noted in a Washington Post opinion column criticizing the New York Times for its understated description of Trump’s “racially charged” references,

Trump is not conducting a seminar on race and culture. He is not calling attention to violence against racial minorities. He is making racist statements and venerating racist symbols. Period.

Rubin also reminds readers that Trump’s explicit and nauseating racism has effectively been endorsed by his political party.

And when the media generously describe Republicans as “bothered” or “uneasy” about Trump’s blatant racism, they exaggerate Republicans’ reaction and distort reality. The overwhelming number of elected Republicans do not say and do not act as though they are bothered or uneasy. The few Republican voices (other than openly Never Trumpers) whom mainstream reporters dig up to say negative things about Trump are generally retired pols (e.g., former congressman Carlos Curbelo) and lesser-known strategists who do not really take Trump on as much as they disagree with his premises and assertions, as if racist words and accusations are floating free in the atmosphere, untethered to a particular person. Let’s be accurate: Whatever personal qualms they might have, virtually every elected Republican either ignores, rationalizes or minimizes Trump’s racist appeals.

In November, Americans won’t just elect people to critically important public offices. We will render a verdict on the country’s original sin. 

The GOP has chosen to make defense of racism its political strategy. The party needs to be so soundly defeated that even the very stupid partisans willing to place party above both morality and country recognize the folly of that approach. 

 

 

 

AOC Explains It–Clearly

As Monica Hesse, a columnist for the Washington Post advised,

If you click on only one thing today, let it be Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Thursday morning speech, delivered from the House floor and directed to a fellow member of Congress, but really to us all.

I echo that advice. You can view the speech here; it’s ten minutes and it is absolutely worth your time.

For those who’ve been in a coma or otherwise out of touch, Ocasio-Cortez (familiarly “AOC”) was responding to an encounter with Rep. Ted Yoho (R. Fla.) on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. He was angered by a claim she had made during a discussion of crime, linking a spike in criminal behavior to poverty and unemployment; he called her “disgusting,” he said she was “out of [her] freaking mind,” and when the discussion ended, and she walked into the Capitol to cast a vote, Yoho turned to another congressman and said–in a voice loud enough to be heard by the reporters who were clustered at the foot of the steps– “fucking bitch.”

As a report of the incident in The New Yorker noted,  Yoho approaches matters of criminal justice from a decidedly conservative perspective, having recently voted against making lynching a federal hate crime. (He claimed that such a law would be a “regrettable instance of federal overreach”–to the best of my knowledge, he has yet to weigh in on the considerably more significant degree of “overreach” exhibited by sending federal goons to Portland and Chicago…)

The incident received considerable publicity, and Yoho found it prudent to come to the floor of the chamber and make a non-apologetic apology, in which he 

invoked his wife and daughters and said that he objected to Ocasio-Cortez’s views because he had experienced poverty when he was young. “I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God, my family, and my country,” he said. It was unclear who had asked him to apologize for his religious faith, his patriotism, or his love of family, but he was ardent all the same.

AOC began her “point of personal privilege” by saying she hadn’t planned to respond at all; as she noted, as someone who has waited tables and ridden the New York subway, the terminology was hardly foreign to her. And (in a passage I particularly applauded) she expressly disdained the pose of a “hurt” woman, a victim. She said she’d decided to respond only after Yoho’s non-apology on the House floor, and her target wasn’t Yoho–it was the cultural misogyny that permits men to behave despicably to women “with impunity.”

She took especial aim at the “pervasive and ludicrous concept that sexist men listing their female family members is an ironclad defense against charges of sexism — as if Harvey Weinstein, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump haven’t had wives and daughters.” As Hesse put it,

Most important, she made it clear that her grievance was not with a profane sentence, but with the story it appeared in — a long history of casual misogyny disguised as “passion” or even, God help us, as patriotism. Rep. Yoho presented his own explosive emotions as righteous, while allegedly casting Ocasio-Cortez as the b—- who made him explode.

It is worth noting that while Ocasio-Cortez lays all of this out, she does so in a tone of voice that never veers above mild irritation. In her floor speech, which totals about 10 minutes, she never raises her voice or resorts to calling names. She is exactly as measured as women are always expected to be, and as men are always assumed to be. And she made it clear that, to her, none of this was personal.

I found AOC’s conclusion especially powerful:

Having daughters is not what makes someone a decent man,” she said. “Treating people with dignity and respect is what makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he does apologize. Not to save face. Not to win a vote. He apologizes, genuinely, to repair and acknowledge the harm done, so that we can all move on.”

I have previously had mixed reactions to AOC; while I respected her intellect and tended to agree with her on policy (not always, but a good deal of the time), I’ve been put off by her disinclination to sit back and learn the ropes before jumping into the spotlight.

That reaction is probably generational, and her response to Yoho has converted me.

Consider me a fan–and watch the video.

 

Contagion

A few weeks ago, Time Magazine ran a story about Rutger Bregman.

I first heard Bregman’s name in 2019 when he participated in a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He made news by proceeding to criticise the businesspeople in the audience for purporting to care about the world economy and the plight of the poor while carefully avoiding any mention of taxation. Bregman, a Dutch historian, was quoted as saying “It feels like I’m at a firefighters’ conference and no one is allowed to speak about water.”

Bregman has a new book out, titled Humankind, in which he argues that the common belief that humans are hard-wired for selfishness is wrong.  Asked about the book, he explained his departure from conventional understandings of human nature.

The old fashioned “realist” position has been to assume that civilization is only a thin veneer, and that the moment there’s a crisis we reveal our true selves, and it turns out that we’re all selfish animals. What I’m trying to do in this book is to turn this narrative around, to show that actually, over thousands of years, people have actually evolved to be friendly.

There’s always selfish behavior. There are lots of examples of people hoarding. But we’ve seen in this pandemic that the vast majority of behavior from normal citizens is actually pro-social in nature. People are willing to help their neighbors. That is the bigger picture that we’re seeing right now.

Bregman went on to compare human behavior to the the Coronavirus; both, he asserted, are contagious.

If we assume that most people are fundamentally selfish, and if we design our response to this virus with that view of human nature, then we’re going to bring that out in people. Whereas, if we assume that most people are cooperative and want to help, then we can actually inspire other people. This may sound a bit cheesy, but there’s actually a lot of psychological research that shows that acts of kindness are really contagious. They really spread throughout a social network, even influencing people who you don’t know, who you haven’t seen.

Bregman also makes a point that several others have made–that the pandemic is teaching us which professions are genuinely “essential.” Hedge fund managers aren’t on that list, but people we pay poorly–garbage collectors, nurses, grocery store clerks–are. He suggests that the experience of 2020 should teach us some lessons about who to value–and how to structure society.

In a way, his insight is an old one: we see what we expect to see.

I think everything starts with your view of human nature, because what you assume about other people is often what you get out of them. So if we assume that most people deep down are selfish and cannot be trusted, then you’ll start designing your institutions around that idea. And you’ll create exactly the kind of people that your view of human nature presupposes.

Bregman offers a fascinating example: prisons in the U.S. and Norway.

Norway basically gives prisoners the freedom to do whatever they want–to such an extent that they are often given the keys to their cells. Prisons in Norway have cinemas and libraries, and prisoners interact on a friendly basis with the guards.

Now, if you look at that, from an American perspective, you’re like, these people are totally crazy. But then if you look at it from a scientific perspective, you look at the recidivism rate, right? The odds that someone who has committed a crime commits another one once he gets out of prison. Well, the recidivism rate is very high in the U.S. – it’s one of the highest rates in the world. But it’s the lowest in Norway. So actually the “realist” prison here is the Norwegian prison, where inmates are treated like humans and as adults, whereas many American prisons where inmates are often treated as animals, as beasts. At the moment those are taxpayer funded institutions to educate people for more criminal behavior. That’s basically what they are.

He’s right.

Over the past several years, I have come to the conclusion that culture is the most important factor in molding human behavior, and that the primary purpose of law is the creation of cultures that promote and incentivize socially-desired behaviors and attitudes.

I think Bregman is onto something.

Undermining Efforts To Vote–And Not Just By Mail

As the polls get grimmer for Trump and the GOP, the party’s efforts to sabotage November’s election get more frantic.

Trump has especially attacked efforts to expand vote-by-mail, in the face of a pandemic that has not only made voters fearful, but made it nearly impossible for election officials to find people willing to staff voting centers. It isn’t just threats and tantrums; the Washington Post reported on his installation of another crony as Postmaster General.

A top donor to President Trump and the Republican National Committee will be named the new head of the Postal Service, putting a top ally of the president in charge of an agency where Trump has long pressed for major changes in how it handles its business.

The Postal Service’s board of governors confirmed late Wednesday that Louis DeJoy, a North Carolina businessman who is currently in charge of fundraising for the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, will serve as the new postmaster general.

Trump had already been carrying on a vendetta against the Postal Service as part of his grudge match against Jeff Bezos; he is convinced that Bezos is “getting a deal” on the delivery of Amazon packages. His fear of vote-by-mail has ramped up his antagonism considerably.

Despite the wild allegations, voting by mail has been widely used in U.S. elections for many years and previously had widespread support from both parties. A recent Brennan Center poll found that four out of five Americans think that all voters should have a mail ballot option for Election Day, including 57 percent of Republicans. Every state allows at least some of its voters to cast mail-in ballots, and most states allow all voters to cast mail-in ballots. (And as many people have pointed out, Trump himself votes by mail.)

Nevertheless, Trump has ramped up its rhetoric, characterizing mail-in ballots as fraudulent, and expansion of the option as a way to “rig” the election. (Ironically, those attacks seem to be convincing mainly Republican voters–leading GOP operatives to worry that it will hurt their own turnout efforts.)

Paul Waldman recently pointed out that GOP efforts at vote suppression aren’t limited to the party’s frenzied assault on vote-by-mail.

Voter suppression is at the very heart of Republican electoral strategy, and, as the New York Times reports Monday, they plan to go all-out in November:

The Republican program, which has gained steam in recent weeks, envisions recruiting up to 50,000 volunteers in 15 key states to monitor polling places and challenge ballots and voters deemed suspicious. That is part of a $20 million plan that also allots millions to challenge lawsuits by Democrats and voting-rights advocates seeking to loosen state restrictions on balloting. The party and its allies also intend to use advertising, the internet and President Trump’s command of the airwaves to cast Democrats as agents of election theft.

The efforts are bolstered by a 2018 federal court ruling that for the first time in nearly four decades allows the national Republican Party to mount campaigns against purported voter fraud without court approval. The court ban on Republican Party voter-fraud operations was imposed in 1982, and then modified in 1986 and again in 1990, each time after courts found instances of Republicans intimidating or working to exclude minority voters in the name of preventing fraud. The party was found to have violated it yet again in 2004.

Waldman notes that, for Republicans, “Voters deemed suspicious” is shorthand for “black people, Latinos, students, black people, and also black people.”

He also reminds readers of what happened in Wisconsin, when Republicans stymied efforts to postpone a primary during the initial spike of COVID-19 cases. The effort backfired. Voters were pissed off enough to stand in long lines and literally risk their lives to cast a ballot.

The lesson Waldman takes from that election is that, the more attention is given to GOP voter suppression efforts– the more voter suppression itself becomes a campaign issue– the more likely it will be to boost turnout among Democrats.

Pass it on.