Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Liberal cynicism about the power of conservative propaganda media

"At the heart of the problem is that when it came to what conservatives were willing to believe and act on, 2016 was simply an exaggerated version of what had come before."

Paul Waldman has that and other valuable observations in a nevertheless overly cynical column, Democrats' Unsolvable Media Problem The American Prospect 09/17/2017:

There's a doctrinal basis to conservative media that makes it fundamentally different from liberal media, that makes Rush Limbaugh most definitely not the mirror image of a liberal radio host and Sean Hannity not the mirror image of Rachel Maddow. It's not merely about the conservatives' and liberals' respective adherence to truth or penchant for ugly demonization of their opponents, though they differ in that too. It's that an argument about the larger media world is the foundation of conservative media. Conservative hosts and writers tell their audiences over and over again that nothing they read in the mainstream media can be accepted, that it's all twisted by a liberal agenda, and therefore they can only believe what conservatives tell them. It's the driving backbeat to every episode, every story, and every rant.

Liberals complain about media coverage of one story or another all the time. What they don't do is tell their audiences that any news source that is not explicitly and exclusively devoted to their ideological agenda cannot be trusted. But conservatives do.
Where I think Waldman goes wrong is that he effectively concludes that this gives conservatives a decisive advantage that liberals can never overcome.

And yet, somehow Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate dearly hated by the right, won a clear majority in the 2016 Presidential election.

I don't say that to minimize the magnitude of the Democratic political disaster in 2016. It was genuinely historic.

But it shouldn't be used to justify cynicism, no matter how sophisticated the packaging. Cynicism in politics for most people is virtually the same as conservatism.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

An example of Fake News: Berkeley anti-antifa version

Lisa Amin Gulezian in Berkeley protest victim speaks after police say stabbing allegations are false ABC7 News tells the story of a false claim of a stabbing by an antifa protester:

Right-wing activist Kyle Chapman, known as the "Based Stick Man," started the rumor Saturday morning by tweeting, "A Ben Shapiro supporter was stabbed in the neck by Antifa terrorists last night in Berkeley CA."

Chapman, a 41-year-old Daly City man who's charged with felony possession of a leaded cane for allegedly brandishing a leaded stick at a rally in Berkeley in March, described the woman's attacker as a "demon scum leftist" and asked people to "please pray 4her."
The Berkeley Police Department flatly denied that such a stabbing took place:

In our current media environment, a claim like this can get posted and magnified by rightwing media and a potentiall fast number of retweets.

Stories are more persuasive than statistics. So statistics showing that the vast number of incidents of political terrorist violence in the US has come from rightwingers in recent decades don't have the same kind of emotional appeal as "leftwing anarchist in Berkeley stabs peaceful protester in the neck."

There's no magic solution to disinformation campaigns based on claims like this. But people who don't want to get suckered by disinformation will need to pay attention to the factual basis, or lack thereof, in such claims. Especially ones that start taking off as mass memes. That's why fact-checking sites like Snopes, TruthorFiction, and Politifact provide such important journalistic service in today's media landscape.

A September 13 item at TruthorFiction features another claim from a guy named Joshua Witt claimed that someone had stabbed him for looking like a neo-Nazi. Tom McGee reports on the case in He claimed he was stabbed for looking like a “neo-Nazi.” Now police say he bought the knife himself. Denver Post 08/28/2017:

Witt’s report followed blanket news coverage of a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned violent. One woman who was protesting the Unite the Right demonstration was killed when a white supremacist drove into the crowd.

Police became skeptical of Witt’s story when they reviewed surveillance video and saw no one running from the scene. They also found a transient who lives in the area who matched the description Witt gave, but cleared him as a suspect.

Video from a nearby sporting goods store showed Witt purchasing a small knife.

When police confronted Witt with that information on Aug. 24, he admitted accidentally cutting himself with the knife while in his car parked in front of the store.
Maybe claiming they've been stabbed by Mean Libruls is some kind of alt-right fad right now!

The wrath of Hillary?

Sophia McClennen of Pennsylvania State University has a thoughtful piece about The great Hillary Clinton paradox Salon 09/16/2017. McClennen sees the paradox as, on the one hand, Hillary claims that her prominent position as a woman in politics is a great strength and a reason to vote for her. And, on the other, she and her followers often seem to be trying to minimize or divert criticism by treating it as just a manifestation of sexism:

Unlike her run for the nomination in 2008, in 2016 the Clinton campaign specifically emphasized her role as a female candidate. She also had to contend with the aggressively hostile ways that Donald Trump and his supporters hurled sexist and misogynist epithets her way. From chants of “lock her up” to “nasty woman” to the various other ways that Trump displayed his disdain for women, the “woman card” was constantly in play.

But at times Clinton cast her role as a female candidate as a way to displace legitimate concerns that she was a Washington insider. Recall that in the first debate she responded to the question of being an insider by saying, “Well, I can’t think of anything more of an outsider than electing the first woman president, but I’m not just running because I would be the first woman president.”

And therein lies one key feature of the paradox: she both was and wasn’t running as a woman. That feature of the paradox was indisputable. Whether she highlighted her gender or not, it was certainly true that she had to contend with gender as a framing issue of her candidacy.
Rebecca Traister argues the case that Hillary suffered from a widespread prejudice against angry women in Hillary Clinton Is Finally Expressing Some Righteous Anger. Why Does That Make Everyone Else So Mad? The Cut 09/15/2017:

The question of whether Clinton could or should have found her own mad voice during the campaign hangs over What Happened. Should she have turned on Donald Trump as he paced behind her at the second debate, she wonders. Could she have found a way to communicate the anger many Americans were feeling? “I couldn’t — and wouldn’t — compete to stoke people’s rage and resentment. I think that’s dangerous ... Besides, it’s just not how I’m wired,” she writes, describing the mental diagnostics she was performing as she listened to Trump’s wrathful inauguration, wondering if “maybe that’s why Trump was now delivering the inaugural address.”

But if her failure to win the Electoral College hinged on Clinton’s inability to traffic in rhetorical fury, then the question she raises goes beyond her own wiring. Because she never could have turned around and screamed at Trump, never could have slashed her finger through the air and called for revolution in the style of Bernie Sanders, at least not if she had any hope of winning the presidency. Hillary Clinton is a woman, and there is almost nothing that Americans view as more repellent in women than anger.

Recall that every time Clinton spoke too loudly into a microphone while debating her screamy opponents, Americans seemed to rear back; consider that the one deprecatory remark she threw out — calling those who responded enthusiastically to Trump’s open racism “deplorables” — is still regarded by many pundits as her fatal error. Never mind that she said it while running against a candidate who called Mexicans rapists. Censorious anger from women is a liability; from men, it is often, simply, speech. [my emphasis]
There's a long time piece of cynical wisdom that says that when a man shows anger, he's called forceful. But when a woman shows anger, she's called a bitch. This is often used in the context of how women have to avoid pitfalls in rising professionally in the hierarchy of corporations and other large organizations.

But this now standard piece of conventional wisdom was always flawed in that inappropriate or uncontrolled anger is usually seen as very much an undesirable trait in male corporate managers, as well. Flying off the handle is generally seen as risky, and the more risky the more responsibility and public exposure a manager has. CEO's may sometimes act like medieval tyrants in private. But showing a lack of control and focus in public - the way Donald Trump does - would make a corporate board worry whether their CEO was still up to the job.

It's true that a woman's competitors in an organization, maybe especially male competitors, are often willing to appeal to prejudice against women in unethical ways. It's also the case that women in work settings may try to portray annoyance coming from a male colleague as intimidating or bullying. And since there are many ways in which interactions between members of a corporate workforce interact with, compete with and cooperate with one another, it's exceptionally hard to claim that one factor stands out in a distinctive way.

Olga Kazan provides an important perspective on this in Why Do Women Bully Each Other at Work? The Atlantic Sept 2017. She discusses findings that women in organization contexts often express an preference not to work for other women because of a perception that ambitious women will be especially likely to use aggressive tactics against them. This doesn't have to do with expressions of anger per se. But some of her examples show that successful women do express anger in office contexts and that it may benefit their careers.

In other words, it's important to avoid careless generalizations on this subject.

And I have to wonder what the basis is of Traister's claim, "Recall that every time Clinton spoke too loudly into a microphone while debating her screamy opponents, Americans seemed to rear back." Is there some basis for this other than Traister's own assertion?

It's also worth noting that Elizabeth Warren expresses various forms of outrage, annoyance and even anger in public. Maybe "Americans" also "rear back" whenever they hear that. And I'm sure that Republicans and corporate Democrats would like them to.

Hillary is a useful template for people to use to discuss issues of sexism and how men and women are often perceived. But when we're talking about whether any other one factor tipped the election, we are confronted with the same problem as with all the other factors. She won the popular vote by a clear margin. So only a minority of the voting population "reared back' from voting for her. And the Electoral College win was decided by less than 100,000 votes in three states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. That's a tiny margin, and it's exceptionally hard to attribute that to any one factor. The chronic media prejudice against both Bill and Hillary is a more likely choice. So is James Comey's infamous pre-election statements on the emails, the latest in a long string of Clinton pseudoscandals irresponsibly hyped by the mainstream press.

Also, there were cases in which Hillary expressed anger publicly. Here is one of them, from Greenpeace USA, in which Hillary chides a Greenpeace activist pressing her on her energy industry donations, Hillary Clinton Loses Patience with Greenpeace Activist Over Fossil Fuel Donations 03/31/2016:

I remember seeing it during the primary campaign, in which my own perspective was that of a Sanders partisan, and I thought it came off as churlish. From the post-election perspective of a year and a half later, it still sounds churlish to me. But it also stands as a minor irritation in a primary campaign with much more substantial points of conflict. But did Democratic primary voters "rear back" form that incident? I would guess that Hillary voters were happy to hear it, Bernie voters took it a confirmation of what they thought anyway, and most everyone else never saw it.

In conclusion, I'd note that Trainer quotes Hillary herself in a statement that is telling not only for her personal style but her ideological perspective: “I couldn’t — and wouldn’t — compete to stoke people’s rage and resentment. I think that’s dangerous ... Besides, it’s just not how I’m wired.”

I think it's fine for politicians to "stoke people’s rage and resentment" if there's a legitimate target on which to focus. Crooked bank CEO's come to mind, for example. But Hillary was running on a theme that embodied a certain kind of complacency, exemplified by her theme of "Stronger Together." Hillary didn't want to campaign on opposition and resentment against the power elite, the One Percent, the oligarchs, the super-rich - whatever term one prefers to describe the ruling stratum of the very wealthy in the United States. So we got lines from her like, "America is already great" in opposition to Trump's (pseudo-)populist theme of "Make America Great Again."

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Big Three in the Austrian Chancellor's race

On Friday, I had the chance to attend the "Big Three" debate between the three leading candidates for Austrian Chancellor in the election of October 15 in the Design Center in Linz. It was sponsored by the leading state/provincial newspapers, including Die Presse (Vienna) and the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten (Upper Austria). The video of the debate in German is available online at the Kleine Zeitung and at Bei Steuerplänen schieden sich die Geister, Lucian Mayringer et al, Oberösterreichische Nachrichten 15.09.2017. (The sound on both is low for the first few minutes.)

Austria has a parliamentary system, with the President elected as head of state in a separate election from the Parliament. The head of government is the Chancellor, whose function is called Prime Minister in some other countries, and is typically elected by a majority in Parliament, which often requires a formal agreement between two or more political parties. Since 1987, the government has mostly been composed of some combination of the center-left Socialdemokratisched Partei (SPÖ) and the center-right Christian-Democratic Volkspartei (ÖVP). The third-largest party is the Freiheitliche Partei (FPÖ), which we could (generously) describe as far right.

The Big Three (l to r): Sebastian Kurz, Christian Kern, HC Strache

In this campaign, the current Chancellor Christian Kern is candidate for the SPÖ, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz for the ÖVP, and Heinz-Christian Strache for the FPÖ. Technically, Kurz is running on the Sebastian Kurz List, but that's basically just a marketing ploy. Kurz is currently the leading candidate in the polls, and is trying to maximize the potential advantage of looking as he does 16 years old and to emphasize that he's a new and fresh leader. Actually, at 31, he's almost twice as old as he looks.

It was a relatively civilized debate, which the press commentary reflected. Here is one way in which an American has to remember that Austria is different from the US. In Austria, it's not considered normal for a candidate to, for instance, demand that their opponent be locked up. Or to complain that female reporters menstruate. But politics is inevitably about conflicts, so not everything was harmonious at the debate.

The topics included education, taxes, digitalization and employment, the budget, pensions, and immigration. But immigration and the status of non-citizens in Austria - a topic on which I don't pretend to be a disinterred party - was the main theme, thanks in particular to Kurz. Prior to 2015, xenophobia was mainly pushed by the FPÖ. For instance, in 1993 the FPÖ used an anti-foreigner referendum campaign to exploit nationalist and xenophobic sentiment. They called their campaign "Austria First." And in a fashion now all-too-familiar to Americans in our own politics, the FPÖ has consistently encouraged and maintained visible links to hardcore anti-democratic rightwing groups, some of which constantly flirt with neo-Nazi propaganda, the latter being illegal in Austria under the terms of the Independence Treaty of 1955 with the US, the then-USSR, Britain and France.

But Kurz has made the anti-immigrant theme his own. In Friday's debate, Kurz introduced an anti-Islam meme into a discussion of education ("Islamic kindergartens"). And he and Strache competed in beating the anti-foreign drums. Problems in the education system? According to Kurz and Strache, the only real problem there is that there are too many g*******d foreign children in Austria. Budget problems? Also because there are too many g*******d foreign children in Austria. Since current American levels of crassness aren't yet respectable in Austrian politics, they didn't actually use the cuss word.

Kurz claimed the low point for the day when he complained that there are too many Africans in Africa and they are still breeding more. Seriously! Maybe he was thinking that white South Africans have too high a birth rate. But I'm guessing not. It's a notable accomplishment for the leader of the ÖVP to come out of a face-to-face confrontation with Strache sounding like the more xenophobic of the two.

I was surprised that the word "terrorism" never came up in the debate, because Kurz and Strache have typically linked their hostility to foreigners with security questions. It was especially surprising because of the current report on Friday of what could have been an attempted terrorist attack in London.

But for me it was grim to hear with what a complete lack of compassion and realism the three candidate discussed the issue of refugees. All the three parties including the SPÖ have stressed the need to keep refugees out. Kern did introduce a bit of realism into Friday's discussion by talking about the real problems of war, climate change and economic crisis in the Middle East and North Africa. But it was discussed all but exclusively in terms of keeping the foreigners out of Austria.

I wouldn't want to minimize the seriousness of the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, which is far from over. On the contrary, it's a chronic problem that the EU is currently handling with the "extend-and-pretend" approach which has been the dominant characteristic of Angela Merkel's approach to both the euro crisis and the refugee crisis. The current perception of the crisis in Austria has been heavily influenced by the refugee surge in 2015, with chaotic scenes in the city of Salzburg and the town of Traiskirchen. Ferry Maier and Julia Ortner present some of the substantive issues on the handling of refugees in Austria, including the state of the national and state emergency services, in Willkommen in Österreich? (2017).

A not-especially-diverse pundit panel discuss the discussion afterwards

But the Big Three couldn't find much time to address those substantive issues on Friday. Instead what was mainly on display were the polemical techniques the xenophobes have used to transform the image of desperate people fleeing war and severe persecution into one of coddled foreigners getting special benefits that Austrians don't get. And specifically into an image of Austrians being threatened by the presence of foreign children. It's ugly stuff.

On the bright side, there wasn't much use of favorite Islamophobe buzzwords, except for "Islamic kindergartens." (There were no similar complaints in the debate about Catholic kindergartens, of which Austria has plenty.)

On the other issues, the most substantive point was made by Chancellor Kern on tax policy, when he stressed that tax cuts, which all three are advocating, should be targeted to lower and medium income earners, not to corporations or the wealthy. And he stressed - accurately - that the Kurz and Strache proposals would most benefit the latter. None of the three wanted to be very specific about what program cuts would accompany their tax cuts. No one even mentioned the issues a large tax cut might cause for Austria under the terms of the eurozone Fiscal Suicide Pact, officially the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, better known as the Stability Pact.

Kern and Strache were agreed in opposing the increase of the retirement age, which Kurz supports.

But on other entries, all three generally took seemingly safe, stock, anodyne positions on most issues. All three are in favor of good education. They all favor increasing government efficiency. All three are committed to the TINA (There Is No Alternative) Angela Merkel/Herbert Hoover economic policies that are currently dominant in the EU. A symptom of the latter is that all three used "education" as a magic conjuring word that would solve all economic problems. And, if it doesn't, well, it's your own fault for making those infamous Bad Choices. Along with the usual fantasies about unemployed workers in their mid-50s retraining for new and better jobs.

The discussion was moderated by Wolfgang Braun of the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten and Claudia Gigler of the Kleine Zeitung. Gigler was the only female journalist with a role in the discussion. Afterwards, there was a half hour discussion of the event by six commentators, all of them white guys. There was some diversity there, though. At least one of the six on the pundit panel was probably younger than 50.

Like their American counterparts, the journalist panel was particularly interested in the horse race speculation. Who will get the biggest vote? And what kind of party coalition could then be built? On that score, it was pretty obvious that Kurz and Strache were campaigning for an ÖVP/FPÖ coalition. That probably contributed to Strache's relatively restrained conduct in the appearance, which is not always his approach.

It struck me early on that Strache was the most experienced politician of the three. He was quicker on his comebacks and easily employed humor. Kern sounds like a Chancellor, which he is. But a glad-handing politician, not so much. I would agree, though, with the commentators who noted that Kern's performance could enhance his credibility at governance. That is, for the voters for whom that's important. Kurz comes off like a well-spoken teenaged conservative twit who thinks there are too many Africans in Africa.

For an American used to the tiresome rituals of our own TV Pod Pundits, it's refreshing to see journalists actually act like journalists and pressing politicians to respond to their questions and not just letting them repeat their preferred talking points. Braun and Gigler did a good job of that during the main event. What was missing, though, was some much needed fact-checking. Strache, for instance, ranted at one point about hundreds of millions of euros being paid to support non-existent children. Which would be a suspect claim even it weren't coming from someone like Strache, who lies like breathing on topics like this. Kern then ridiculed Strache's claim with a more credible-sounding number about the entire cost of the program in question. But neither Braun nor Gigler offered any kind of fact-checking on the topic, which would have really been helpful. Especially since Strache's claim is a popular xenophobic talking point right now. In his mini-rant about there too many Africans in Africa, Kurz also used population growth rate predictions that were fantasy nonsense, which also could have used a real time fact-check from the reporters. (Not that his point had anything to do with mastering demographic forecasts.)

A final cross-cultural observation: The Chancellor's debate included no discussion about whether Austria should nuke North Korea. Or start a war with Iran. Or send more troops to ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Comparatively speaking, from an American viewpoint Austria has a much preferable set of problems to wrestle with.

Press reports:

Sunday, September 10, 2017

What Happened? To pick such a title?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who made this connection:

A Mighty Wind (3/10) Movie CLIP - Wha' Happened? (2003):

Veränderung mit Verantwortung: Neoliberalism and the center-left, Austrian edition

Austrian parliamentary elections are coming up in October. Among the three most important parties are the social-democratic/center-left SPÖ (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs), the Christian Democratic/conservative ÖVP (Österreichische Volkspartei), and the rightwing/populist FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs).

The SPÖ and ÖVP have been coalition partners in the national government for so long it's a wonder anyone can tell the difference between them anyway. But why let that stop the SPÖ from blurring that difference even more?

The SPÖ had earlier in the campaign adopted the slogan, "Holen Sie sich, was Ihnen zusteht" ("Take what you deserve"), as we see in this poster featuring Kern as a kinda-sorta man of the people. As a slogan, it has a little bite, vaguely promising to the a defender of the unfairly deprived. The opposition parties criticized it. An opposition party criticizing your slogan, imagine that! Who could have known? They said it sounded like the SPÖ was encouraging street thieves.

And Heaven forbid that one of the legendary parties of the European left would use a slogan that might mildly irritate people who would never consider voting for them anyway. So, of course, they changed it to "Veränderung mit Verantwortung" ("Responsible change").

It just doesn't get more boring than this.

Responsible Change is right up there with Stronger Together and A Better Deal. As forgettable as they are uninspiring. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the SPÖ hired establishment Democratic consultants from America that told them that of course the smartest approach for a center-left party that has held the Chancellorship for years was to use a slogan as bland and inoffensive as possible.

This is why the social democratic parties in Europe are in real danger of shrinking to minor centrist parties. Since the basic social and economic assumptions of the neoliberal ideology are conservative ones, the conservative parties have generally been less damaged by militant centrism than the center-left parties.

Maybe Bernie or Elizabeth Warren can swipe the Take What You Deserve slogan, since the SPÖ decided they don't want it any more.

But Responsible Change? Good grief! And consultants get paid good money to come up with loser slogans like that.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Why the Republicans don't want to know about Russian intervention in the 2016 elections

Will Bunch reminds us that not only do the Republicans want to spare themselves the partisan embarrassment of what a thorough investigation of alleged Russian intervention in the 2016 election because it would remind everyone of how the Russians preferred Donald "Make American Great Again" Trump. Looking at election system vulnerabilities would inevitably bring suggestions for election system security that would make the Republicans' efforts to suppress black and Latino voting much more difficult than they are finding it to be right now. From Can America handle the truth of the tarnished 2016 election? Philadelphia Inquirer 09/03/2017:

American elections are easy to mess with because America’s election system is terrible — Russian hacking or no Russian hacking. Voters went to the polls in 2016 after years of efforts by mostly GOP-led state governments to make it hard for citizens — but especially non-white citizens, college students or the elderly — to cast ballots. Consider Wisconsin, the state where Trump pulled arguably his biggest upset, winning by only 22,748 votes. Critics have said Wisconsin’s turnout fell sharply because of its voter ID law (although maybe not by 200,000, as one study claimed.) Voters in the Badger State were also badgered with “fake news” — some of it undoubtedly from Russia. It’s hard to tell an array of innocent computer glitches and malfunctions from criminal hacking.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist or political scientist to figure out what needs to be done. In the long run, we need massive election reform — including a new and improved Voting Rights Act that would pinpoint the most pernicious voter ID laws, an Election Day federal holiday, and same-day voter registration. We need a voting system that leaves a real paper trail that can be routinely audited and easily investigated when there are allegations of vote tampering. And, as the Times article makes clear, we need a more thorough investigation of computer hacking and other problems that occurred in 2016 — regardless of the possibility that we might learn the unthinkable.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

North Korea, nuclear proliferation and regime change

Robert Parry makes an important point about a huge problem with US nuclear nonproliferation right now (How ‘Regime Change’ Wars Led to Korea Crisis Consortium News 09/04/2017):

... the current North Korea crisis, which could end up killing millions of people, can be viewed as a follow-on disaster to President George W. Bush’s Iraq War and President Barack Obama’s Libyan intervention. Those wars came after the leaders of Iraq and Libya had dismantled their dangerous weapons programs, leaving their countries virtually powerless when the U.S. government chose to invade.

In both cases, the U.S. government also exploited its power over global information to spread lies about the targeted regimes as justification for the invasions — and the world community failed to do anything to block the U.S. aggressions.

And, on a grim personal note, the two leaders, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, were then brutally murdered, Hussein by hanging and Gaddafi by a mob that first sodomized him with a knife.
Paul Jay and Larry Wilkerson discuss that point among others related to North Korea in Larry Wilkerson: North Korea is Not an Existential Threat - But Many People Benefit by Saying It Is The Real News 09/05/2017:

This report includes a recent clip of Vladimir Putin making that same point about the effect of the Iraq and Libya wars on nuclear proliferation. I suppose these days we need to specify that surely Putin has some possibly nefarious agenda in saying so. But that makes it no less true.

Wilkerson also wrote about North Korea three weeks ago, before the supposed thermonuclear test now in the news, The American Conservative 08/18/2017. And he references the regime change problem there, too:

[W]hat makes North Korean leaders so desperate about their capacity to fulfill that goal [of maintaining the current dynasty in power]? That too is not hard to answer: the military power of the United States, power that has been used to unseat Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi and in the attempt to unseat Bashar al-Assad. Recently, President Trump even threatened Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with a possible U.S. military intervention in that country.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Digby on Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III and DACA

Digby on the Trump Family Business Administration's DACA policy as announced by Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (Another step toward Making America White Again Hullabaloo 09/05/2017):

Trump and Sessions and the people who back them are dangerous racist fascists. And the only people who can stop them at this point [i.e., the Republican in Congress] are just as bad. They had their chance to fix this for the last five years and didn't do it. DACA wouldn't have been necessary if they'd passed Comprehensive Immigration Reform or the DREAM Act.

Maybe they'll do it now. But I wouldn't be too sanguine. So far they have not been able to show they can get anything done, much less something that their base hates with a passion. Does anyone believe that after the failure of Obamacare Repeal these people will legalize a bunch of Latinos?

Maybe they'll surprise us. I certainly hope so. This is a nightmare.

Trump and DACA: hideous xenophobia

Trump just announced that he is discontinuing the DACA ("Dreamer") program effective in March 2020: Sabrina Siddiqui, Trump ends 'Dreamers' program, leaving fate of 800,000 uncertain Guardian 09/05/2017; Gobierno de Trump termina con DACA La Opinión 05.09.2017

This shows a complete lack of compassion on his part and on the part of his segregationist Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.


The majority of Daca recipients are from Mexico, comprising roughly 78% of the program, according to the to US Citizenship and Immigration Services. California is home to more than 22,000 [sic; 200,000 was likely meant] initial Daca recipients, the highest in the country, followed by Texas, which has more than 124,000 recipients, and Illinois, with more than 40,000 recipients.

Recently, a bipartisan pair of pro-immigration reform senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Dick Durbin of Illinois, revived the Dream Act while urging Trump to address the young pool of immigrants with sympathy.
Among other parts of this atrocity, the March deadline could mean that college students in the DACA program would not get to finish the school year.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Middle Eastern complications for the US

As the confused foreign policy of the Trump Family Business Administration lurches forward, there are a number of places where things could go really badly. The Middle East being obviously one of them. Or even several of them.

Alastair Crooke writes about the shifting options at Israel's disposal in The Reasons for Netanyahu’s Panic Consortium News 09/01/2017:

Belatedly, Israel has understood that it backed the wrong side in Syria – and it has lost. It is not really in a position to demand anything. It will not get an American enforced buffer zone beyond the Golan armistice line, nor will the Iraqi-Syrian border be closed, or somehow “supervised” on Israel’s behalf.

Of course, the Syrian aspect is important, but to focus only on that, would be to “miss the forest for the trees.” The 2006 war by Israel to destroy Hizbullah (egged on by the U.S., Saudi Arabia – and even a few Lebanese) was a failure. Symbolically, for the first time in the Middle East, a technologically sophisticated, and lavishly armed, Western nation-state simply failed. What made the failure all the more striking (and painful) was that a Western state was not just bested militarily, it had lost also the electronic and human intelligence war, too — both spheres in which the West thought their primacy unassailable.
And he discusses Israel's current high-risk collaboration with Saudi Arabia:

The “new” corrective strategy from Tel Aviv, it appears, is to focus on winning Iraq away from Iran, and embedding it into the Israel-U.S.-Saudi alliance.

If so, Israel and Saudi Arabia are probably too late into the game, and are likely underestimating the visceral hatred engendered among so many Iraqis of all segments of society for the murderous actions of ISIS. Not many believe the improbable (Western) narrative that ISIS suddenly emerged armed, and fully financed, as a result of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s alleged “sectarianism”: No, as rule-of-thumb, behind each such well-breached movement – stands a state.
But that last phrase is also a bit of a red flag for me. One of the biggest strategic failures in the neoconservative theory of terrorism after 9/11 was the idea that terrorism was always a function of state sponsorship. And that can lead to some serious misreadings of the phenomenon.

Juan Cole reminds us how tangled the alliances in Syria have been in Turkey-Backed fundamentalist Militias attack US Troops in Syria Informed Consent 08/31/2017:

The US has tried to persuade rebel groups to concentrate their firepower on ISIL (IS, ISIS, Daesh) rather than on the Syrian regime of president Bashar al-Assad. It hasn’t been particularly successful. The Arab fighters, many of them linked to the old Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, still desperately want the regime to fall, and they’ve expended far more energy attacking it that they ever did in attacking Daesh.

The US troops are closely allied with the Syrian Kurdish YPG or People’s Protection Units, a leftist paramilitary that favors women’s rights and cooperatives. As leftists, these Kurds are relatively secular-minded, though they are nominally for the most part Sunni Muslims (some are Yazidis).

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hurricane Harvey and neoliberal policies, a toxic mix

These two articles give a good glimpse of how the disaster that hurricane/tropical storm Harvey represents is in critical ways a result of the dominance of neoliberal economics and politics in the last four decades. And that's neoliberal in the Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, IFM, Washington Consensus kind of ideology.

Charlie Pierce writes about how We're Nowhere Near Prepared for the Ecological Disaster That Harvey Is Becoming Esquire Politics Blog 08/30/2017:

Once, long ago, the conservative activist Grover Norquist famously said that he wanted to shrink "government" to a size at which it could be drowned in the bathtub. Well, people actually are drowning in Houston now, and so is the political philosophy that reached its height when Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural that government wasn't the solution, but the problem itself. We all moved onto a political flood plain then, and we're being swept away.

Naomi Klein describes how Harvey Didn't Come Out of the Blue. Now Is the Time To Talk About Climate Change. The Intercept 08/28/2017. And about the kind of "disaster capitalism" policies we can expect from the Trump-Pence Administration in the wake of Harvey:

We live in a world in which the governing powers have shown themselves all too willing to exploit the diversion of a large-scale crisis, and the very fact that so many are focused on life-and-death emergencies, to ram through their most regressive policies, policies that push us further along a road that is rightly understood as a form of “climate apartheid.” We saw it after Hurricane Katrina, when Republicans wasted no time pushing for a fully privatized school system, weakening labor and tax law, increasing oil and gas drilling and refining, and flinging the door open to mercenary companies like Blackwater. Mike Pence was a key architect of that highly cynical project — and we should expect nothing less in Harvey’s wake, now that he and Trump are at the wheel.

We are already seeing Trump using the cover of Hurricane Harvey to push through the hugely controversial pardoning of Joe Arpaio, as well as the further militarization of U.S. police forces. These are particularly ominous moves in the context of news that immigration checkpoints are continuing to operate wherever highways are not flooded (a serious disincentive for migrants to evacuate), as well as in the context of municipal officials tough-talking about maximum penalties for any “looters” (it’s well worth remembering that after Katrina, several African-American residents of New Orleans were shot by police amid this kind of rhetoric.)
Another reminder that, while Mike Pence less erratic and emotionally deranged as Trump, he's also committed to a series of disastrous policies.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bay Area weekend protests

Two weeks ago today, Trump had his public decompensation in which he blamed the pro-democracy protesters in Charlottesville for the violence by the white supremacist/KKK/Nazi demonstrators on the previous weekend.

It took two weeks before good respectable liberals were jumping on the bandwagon to blame "antifa," which they are happy to define as Trump did in Phoenix as some vague evil Mean Librul thing. Scott Greenfield goes the liberal-troll route in this tweet:

Finally! A good excuse for nice liberals to blast people who actually protest against white racism as the Real Villains. And strike a smug liberal posture while doing it. Plus, it's a good way to be quoted in stories as "even-the-liberal so-and-so agrees ..."

Surprisingly, even-the-Green Chris Hedges, happily echoes Trump's Both Sides Do It position in How ‘Antifa’ Mirrors the ‘Alt-Right’ Truthdig 08/27/2017. Right down to using the "alt-left" trope:

Behind the rhetoric of the “alt-right” about white nativism and protecting American traditions, history and Christian values is the lust for violence. Behind the rhetoric of antifa, the Black Bloc and the so-called “alt-left” about capitalism, racism, state repression and corporate power is the same lust for violence.

The two opposing groups, largely made up of people who have been cast aside by the cruelty of corporate capitalism, have embraced holy war.
This 08/19/2017 piece by Kevin Drum doesn't fall into the both-sides-do-it trap, Nonviolence Is the Perfect Answer to Neo-Nazis Mother Jones.

Robert Reich posted this on his Facebook page 08/27/2017, responding to the specific occurences in Berkeley that day:

From where the text in the embed ends:

Some antifa protesters also threatened to break the cameras of anyone who filmed them, including journalists. One reporter tweeted that he had been pepper sprayed in one scuffle.

According to the Washington Post, black-clad anarchists attacked at least five people. More than 100 hooded protesters, with shields emblazoned with the words “no hate” and waving a flag identifying themselves as anarchists, busted through police lines.

If these reports are correct, the antifa and black bloc anarchists have given Trump supporters exactly what they wanted in coming to Berkeley: footage of violence perpetrated against them. [my emphasis]
I don't see that comment of Bob Reich's as indulging in both-sides-do-it. He's making a very legitimate political point, that the far-right protesters were seeking to portray themselves as victims.

Josh Marshall has a broader and nuanced take on Should We Be Punching Nazis? TPM 08/28/52017:

Now, hearing this argument you might think I’m arguing for a bloodless “I may disagree with what you say but I’ll fight for your right to say it” argument. It’s not. I actually like seeing Nazis get punched. Nor do I think all views deserve a right of equal hearing in a democratic society. Philosophies that seek to destroy democracy and the rule of law don’t merit equal validation by a democracy. We grant them certain rights because doing so is consistent with a larger system of laws and rights that guarantees a civil society that is the antithesis of what they believe in. Put another way, Nazis deserve to get punched. A few sucker punches here and there probably send a salutary message. But it’s not always wise to give people what they deserve.

I also think that in cases where the police either refuse to protect or are unable to protect the victims of fascist intimidation and violence that there should be defense groups that do so. That is defensive violence in specific situations. And more generally that only presupposes the breakdown of the state and its basic responsibilities which it should be our main goal to avoid.

The entirety of this seems still a largely marginal issue – a few street brawls in different parts of the country in which Nazis come out to march and intimidate and left-wing groups go out to meet them also looking for a fight. This is a tiny, tiny percentage of those counter-protesting these people. And I don’t include here people who simply defend themselves when attacked. But it’s still worth thinking this question through – even at a distance – since we live in troubled times.

Pushing civil society from talk and voting to violence and paramilitaries is what the fascists are trying to accomplish – moving from the rule of law to the rule of force. By every historical standard and also by almost every philosophical one, this is a victory for, if not fascism, then certainly authoritarianism. The answer to Nazis and white supremacists isn’t flowery talk or left-wing paramilitaries. It’s a stronger rule of law and an empowered state behind it. We have our work cut out for us.
It is the responsibility of the police to protect the right of peaceful demonstrators and to respond to obvious threat to the lives and safety of people in public confrontations. Like, for instance, if demonstrators show up with automatic weapons, like some of the rightwingers in Charlottesville did. And it's highly questionable, to put it mildly, whether the Charlottesville police responded in an optimal way to protect lives or the right of peaceful protest. (Aaron Davis et al, How Charlottesville lost control amid deadly protest Washington Post 08/26/2017)

Here are some of the news reports on the Berkeley protests Sunday:

We've been down this road before

And we'll be living with the consequences for a long time. From the previous one, I mean, i.e., the invasion of Iraq 2003.

Julian Borger, White House 'pressuring' intelligence officials to find Iran in violation of nuclear deal The Guardian 08/28/2017.

Yes, we've been down this road before.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Biden on the President and the Radical Right

Joe Biden's essay on opposing the far right is a good one ('We Are Living Through a Battle for the Soul of This Nation' The Atlantic 08/27/2017):

Did we think the charlatans and the con-men and the false prophets who have long dotted our history wouldn’t revisit us, once again prop up the immigrant as the source of all our troubles, and look to prey on the hopelessness and despair that has grown up in the hollowed-out cities and towns of Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania and the long-forgotten rural stretches of West Virginia and Kentucky?

We have fought this battle before—but today we have a special challenge.

Today we have an American president who has publicly proclaimed a moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and Klansmen and those who would oppose their venom and hate.

Comparing two Argentine presidencies, Carlos Menem and Mauricio Macri's

Atilio Boron has a longish article on Argentine President Mauricio Macri's politics, which includes five points of comparison he makes between the government of Carlos Menem (1989-1999) and Macri's (2015-present)
El macrismo y sus límites Página/12 26.08.2017

Carlos Menem
(1) Menem came to power as the head of the Peronist Partido Justicialista (PJ), an established party with a previous history of being a left party, and Menem came to power campaigning in that vein. His embrace of neoliberal/Washington Consensus economic policies took years to generate significant opposition within the Peronist movement, while the main opposition party, the Radical Civic Union (UCR), was fine with that approach.

Macri came to power with a motley political coalition called Cambiemos, which doesn't provide him anything like the solid, well-established institutional support that Menem had with the PJ.

Mauricio Macri
(2) The major media are far more concentrated than during Menem's Presidency, and are very partisan in favor of Macri and his government. Boron sees this as a major compensating factor for the weaknesses of his coalition's structure. But he also notes that this makes him vulnerable to possible turns in the media's approach in a way that Menem was not.

(3) Menem acted within the outlines of a neoliberal consensus that was not only dominant at the time in Latin America but was also more widely regarded as desirable. Boron mentions in particular Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Peru. While neoliberalism is still a dominant pardigm, Boron notes that "ese paradigma de política económica hoy ha caído en desgracia con el ascenso de Donald Trump a la Casa Blanca y el neoliberalismo que permea todo el 'equipo' de Macri da la sensación de ser anacrónico en más de un sentido" (this paradigm of political economy has fallen into disgrace today with the ascension of Donald Trump and the neoliberalism that permeates Macri's whole "team" gives the feeling of being anachronistic in more that one sense).

(4) The flip side of Macri's weakness on party organization compared to Menem is that didn't face anything like the popular resistance that Macri has since the beginning of his Presidency to his economic and political policies. Menem's neoliberalism, which eventually resulted in the crisis of 2001 after Menem had left office, also benefitted from the fact that he took office at a time of serious economic problems including an actual hyperinflation and major economic setbacks to small businesses and large portions of the population. So people were willing to cut him more slack for a longer time. While Macri took over at a time when the economy was stagnating in some ways and significant inflation (but not hyperinflation).

(5) Menem became President in 1989 in the period where the Communist government in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were falling, which resulted in the much-discussed unipolar moment of US predominance in the world. This gave the US the clout to more effectively act as a political and economic protector of friendly Latin American governments. But as Boron observes:

Macri se enfrenta a un mundo mucho más complejo y amenazante que el de los noventas y en donde la redistribución del poder mundial y la emergencia de nuevos centros de poder (Rusia, China, India) y el debilitamiento de Europa hace que aún con el ferviente apoyo de Washington la viabilidad de sus políticas esté marcada por la incertidumbre.

[Macri encountered a world that is much more complex and threatening than that of the nineties and in which the distribution of global power and the emergence of new centers of power (Russia, China, India) and the debility of Europe makes the viability of his policies is marked by uncertainty despite the fervent support of Washington.]
Boron expresses considerable doubt that Macri will be able to define the Argentine right over a longer period because his economic policies as well as his broader ideological position are garbled. Boron also thinks that Macri is conveying a strong image of governing for the benefit of large corporations.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Free Speech at UC-Berkeley

Anyone who has spent much time around the UC-Berkeley campus the last ten years will likely find it hard to believe that there is massive suppression of dissent, which is what conservatives have been trying to claim for years now. And gullible liberal commentators like Conor Fridersdorf have beaten the same drum, largely accepting the conservative provocateurs' version with little critical insight, e.g., UC Berkeley Declares Itself Unsafe for Ann Coulter The Atlantic 04/20/2017.

In the real world, the issues at Berkeley have largely revolved around legitimate safety concerns around speeches by particularly controversial characters, like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos was a hot star on the far right, despite being openly gay, until he slipped up and suggested in a podcast interview that he might approve of adults having sex with underage boys. (Mary Emily O'Hara, Yiannopoulos Quits Breitbart, Apologizes for Uproar Over Year-Old Comments NBC News 02/21/2017) Since that became public, his free speech hasn't been nearly as much in demand from his former fans, nor do they seem so eager to have him as a symbol for the alt-right movement. The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) cancelled a scheduled appearance by him at their conference earlier this year. A brief search didn't turn up any condemnations of CPAC from Friedersdorf over that cancellation.

Let's give him credit, though. After thinking about it long and hard, Fridersdorf did realize that, golly, an increasing number of conservatives have been wildly intolerant and insufferably nasty for, well, a long time. (What Critiques of 'Smug Liberals' Miss The Atlantic 05/03/2017)

University administrator public and private are highly attuned to publicity embarrassments. Those can damage "development" efforts (fundraising).

So it's no surprise to see current UC-Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ putting out a statement on free speech that shows every sign of having been tortured into existence via innumerable reviews by committees and lawyers. And probably committees of lawyers, Chancellor Christ: Free speech is who we are UC-Berkeley website 08/23/2017:
The law is very clear: Public institutions like UC Berkeley must permit speakers invited in accordance with campus policies to speak, without discrimination in regard to point of view. ...

But the most powerful argument for free speech is not one of legal constraint — that we’re required to allow it — but of value. The public expression of many sharply divergent points of view is fundamental both to our democracy and to our mission as a university. The philosophical justification underlying free speech, most powerfully articulated by John Stuart Mill in his book On Liberty, rests on two basic assumptions. The first is that truth is of such power that it will always ultimately prevail; any abridgement of argument therefore compromises the opportunity of exchanging error for truth. The second is an extreme skepticism about the right of any authority to determine which opinions are noxious or abhorrent. Once you embark on the path to censorship, you make your own speech vulnerable to it.
I'm trying to picture the conjured spirit of John Stuart Mill sitting at a conference table with University lawyers who would probably ban Abraham Lincoln from speaking on campus if they thought it might cause some legal inconvenience.

If they asked the spectral Mill if he thought it was wrong to postpone a speech when hooligans showed up throwing Molotov cocktails, which is why the first speech was cancelled, he might have pointed them to this passage in On Liberty: "Nevertheless, if a public authority, or even a private person, sees any one evidently preparing to commit a crime, they are not bound to look on inactive until the crime is committed, but may interfere to prevent it. If poisons were never bought or used for any purpose except the commission of murder, it would be right to prohibit their manufacture and sale."

Or this one: "If either a public officer or any one else saw a person attempting to cross a bridge which had been ascertained to be unsafe, and there were no time to warn him of his danger, they might seize him and turn him back, without any real infringement of his liberty; for liberty consists in doing what one desires, and he does not desire to fall into the river." University authorities postponing a speech due to imminent danger of violence due to, you know, violence already happening, probably fits into that condition. It may not speak well of the "black-box" protesters that were, after all, violating the law. But Mills would likely have held back on the finger-wagging at the University officials.

Mill would probably agree with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' opinion in Schenck v. United States (1919), "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic." Whether Mill would agree to its application in Schenck is another question. Mill's version:

... men should be free to act upon their opinions—to carry these out in their lives, without hindrance, either physical or moral, from their fellow-men, so long as it is at their own risk and peril. This last proviso is of course indispensable. No one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions. On the contrary, even opinions lose their immunity, when the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous act. An opinion that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn-dealer, or when handed about among the same mob in the form of a placard.
Chancellor Carol Christ statement continues:

This September, Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos have both been invited by student groups to speak at Berkeley. The university has the responsibility to provide safety and security for its community and guests, and we will invest the necessary resources to achieve that goal. If you choose to protest, do so peacefully. That is your right, and we will defend it with vigor. We will not tolerate violence, and we will hold anyone accountable who engages in it.

We will have many opportunities this year to come together as a Berkeley community over the issue of free speech; it will be a free speech year. We have already planned a student panel, a faculty panel and several book talks. Bridge USA and the Center for New Media will hold a day-long conference on Oct. 5; PEN, the international writers’ organization, will hold a free speech convening in Berkeley on Oct. 23. We are planning a series in which people with sharply divergent points of view will meet for a moderated discussion. Free speech is our legacy, and we have the power once more to shape this narrative.
We'll see if those September events with Shapiro and Yiannopoulos turn into another shitshow.

I will note that the phrase "That is your right" has taken on the connotation of "That is your right, you contemptible motherf*****s." But let's give the Chancellor the benefit of the doubt here.

But now that Yiannopoulos has fallen from alt-right grace, I won't be in the least surprised if his next appearance at Berkeley brings condemnations from the alt-right that UC-Berkeley is promoting pedophilia and child rape. That's just how they roll. And Conor Fridersdorf will probably find a way to say that it all proves that universities are full of hypocritical Mean Libruls.

Friday, August 25, 2017

John Danforth criticizes Trump

Democrats are real suckers for touting Republicans who agree with them and stretching at times to do so. I'm going to indulge that impulse a bit here and quote former Missouri Sen. John Danforth on his public warnings about Donald Trump and the need for Republicans to distance themselves from him.

But before I get all bipartisan here, I want to recall that Danforth was the Senator who sponsored Clarence Thomas to be a Supreme Court Justice. Thomas is African-American, of course. He is also a hardline conservative ideologue who generally opposes efforts to prevent discrimination. Thomas voted on the conservative/reactionary side on some of the most significant and damaging Court decisions of recent decades, including Bush v. Gore, Citizens United (allowing billionaires to flood political campaigns with their money), Shelby County (gutting the Voting Rights Act), and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (which rejected a voluntary local school integration plan in terms that seemed to reject the basic principles of Brown v. Board of Education. Responding to a pro-segregation dissent by Thomas in a 2013 case, Charlie Pierce wrote of him, "It's not often that you see anyone take this much utter self-loathing out for a walk without it ending up in gunplay or a dive off a bridge. ... If there's a sadder figure in American politics, I can't think of one offhand." (See my post Back to 1963 with the Roberts Court 06/27/2013).

That's Danforth's most important legacy to the American body politics. Keep that in mind.

Danforth at age 80 sounds good in terms of the physical and intellectual vitality he conveys. And since he's left the Senate, he has occasionally grumped about the Christian Right. This earned him praise from pundits for his statesmanship. Because in the Republican Party, making a statement now and again opposing theocrats and white supremacists who hate democracy counts as "political courage."

His latest turn on the statesmanship stage comes in a Washington Post op-ed, The real reason Trump is not a Republican 08/24/2017:

It isn’t a matter of occasional asides, or indiscreet slips of the tongue uttered at unguarded moments. Trump is always eager to tell people that they don’t belong here, whether it’s Mexicans, Muslims, transgender people or another group. His message is, “You are not one of us,” the opposite of “e pluribus unum.” And when he has the opportunity to unite Americans, to inspire us, to call out the most hateful among us, the KKK and the neo-Nazis, he refuses.

To my fellow Republicans: We cannot allow Donald Trump to redefine the Republican Party. That is what he is doing, as long as we give the impression by our silence that his words are our words and his actions are our actions. We cannot allow that impression to go unchallenged.

As has been true since our beginning, we Republicans are the party of Lincoln, the party of the Union. We believe in our founding principle. We are proud of our illustrious history. We believe that we are an essential part of present-day American politics. Our country needs a responsibly conservative party. But our party has been corrupted by this hateful man, and it is now in peril.
And he declares, " There hasn’t been a more divisive person in national politics since George Wallace."

Mark Shields took the occasion to gush over Danforth a bit (Shields and Brooks on Trump’s contrasting speeches, GOP ruptured relations PBS Newshour 08/25/2017), "Jack Danforth comes with credentials as a senator, as the Senate sponsor, personal endorser of the only African-American ever nominated to the Supreme Court by any Republican president, Clarence Thomas, who had worked for him. So, he is — he is someone who has certainly street cred on this issue."

Did I mention that that Clarence Thomas has been a consistent reactionary in his Supreme Court votes?

Internal Democratic Party polemics these days

TYT Politics presents an interview with David Shuster about how corporate Democrats are also participating with the Republican right in trying to establish a left bogeyman, recently through the term "alt-left", David Shuster Slams Centrist Media’s “Alt-Left” Narrative 08/24/2017:

Here's a further report on the use of "alt-left" as centrist polemic against the left, Former MSNBC Host Calls Out Joy Reid & Joan Walsh The Rational National 08/21/2017:

Sam Kriss writes about The Myth of the Alt-Left Politico 08/16/2017:

The term “alt-left” was probably simultaneously invented hundreds or thousands of times, always bearing a slightly different meaning depending on its inventor. But up until now, the people who most forcefully pushed the idea of an alt-left weren’t Nazis or 4chan posters or anyone else in the orbit of Trump and pro-Trump Republicans trying to invent a mythical opposite to the alt-right. The alt-left is, first and foremost, a figment of centrist Democrats.
He continues by saying, "Something like 'alt-left' was always going to happen; it’s a product of whatever it is in our brains that conditions them to think in terms of opposites." I'm tempted to think that "our" in that sentence refers to mainstream reporters and pundits who are hopelessly addicted to the "both sides do it" narrative which always assume that any weirdness from one party is mirrored by something equally weird from the other.

But he usefully explains how the Clinton loyalists used the term, in the spirit of the good old and (thnakfully!) defunct Democratic Leadership Council (DLC):

After Clinton dragged the alt-right into the world’s headlines, use of “alt-left” exploded. Conservatives started using it too, as a reflexive insult lobbed at the Democrats in general, but for the most part it kept its original meaning. For the soon-to-be-doomed Clintonites, it was an incredibly useful term. If Clinton were simply to the right of Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump to the right of her, then her project could be seen by some on the left as one that meant drifting toward Trumpism, an unacceptable compromise with evil. The invention of the alt-left allowed centrist liberals to pretend that something entirely different was going on: They were sandwiched between two sets of frothing fanatics who secretly had a lot in common with each other. It established their particular brand of liberalism, possibly encompassing a few “moderate Republicans,” as the only reasonable ground, besieged by alts.

What was called the alt-left was simply the left (the socialist left, as opposed to liberalism), with its “alt” dangling as a meaningless appendage. But in the context of the alt-right, “alt” could be made to mean “unacceptable.” Calling their opponents to the left an alt-left implied, circuitously but unmistakably, that they too were racists and sexists, transphobes and anti-Semites, without ever requiring the courage to directly make the accusation. But what united the alt-right and the imputed alt-left most of all was their habit of being rude to liberals online. (Of course, liberals are also rude online—everyone is rude online—but that didn’t seem to factor into the calculations.) The alt-left primarily defined itself by a discursive tone: strident, snarky, unapologetic. This alone was often enough to put them in the company of Nazis — it’s as if the worst thing about the Nazis weren’t their genocidal beliefs, but the rude words with which they expressed them.

Recent years have shaken up the defining factions of the Democratic Party. In the 2008 Presidential race, Hillary Clinton stressed a DLC position that distanced her from the demands of minorities and attempted to appeal to the famous "white working class" by generally trying to appear as a more moderate Democrat than Barack Obama. For people who were listening closely, some of her positions sounded more liberal than Obama's, particularly on health care.

Pundits and politicos came to talk about the "Obama coalition," which was sometimes taken to be a vague conglomeration of "minorities and young people" (Justin Sink and Amie Parnes, Will the Obama coalition survive? The Hill 11/17/2014) and sometimes described in a broader sense as minorities, women and urban dwellers and new voters. Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin provide a longer analysis of what it was in The Obama Coalition in the 2012 Election and Beyond (Center for American Progress Dec 2012).

Teixeira and Halpin included a fact that gets short shrift in more capsule description of the Obama coalition as "minorities and young people":

President Obama and his progressive allies have successfully stitched together a new coalition in American politics, not by gravitating toward the right or downplaying the party’s diversity in favor of white voters. Rather, they did it by uniting disparate constituencies — including an important segment of the white working class — behind a populist, progressive vision of middle-class economics and social advancement for all people regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Should President Obama and progressives deliver on their agenda for the nation and improve the economic standing of middle- and working-class families, the potential for solidifying and expanding this progressive coalition well beyond the Obama years will only increase. [my emphasis]
And they explain this about the 2012 Presidential election results:

President Obama’s huge and stable margin among the growing minority voter population meant Gov. Romney’s hopes rode on his performance among white voters, particularly white working-class voters. Both history and pre-election polls suggested this group would be Gov. Romney’s strong point. Especially if Gov. Romney could widen the president’s modest 2008 deficit among white college graduates, it was conceivable that he could run up a large enough margin among white working-class voters to take the popular vote.

As we just saw, Gov. Romney did indeed increase the deficit in President Obama’s support among white college graduates, but Gov. Romney still fell far short of the margin he needed among the white working class. While he did improve on Sen. John McCain’s 18-point margin among this demographic in 2008, Gov. Romney’s margin of 25 points (61 percent to 36 percent for the president) was not enough. Indeed, that improvement among white working-class voters was actually less than he obtained among white college-graduate voters (7 points among the white working class versus 10 points among white college graduates). Gov. Romney would have needed about a 34-point margin among white noncollege voters (a 16-point improvement over the 2008 numbers) to win the popular vote, but he fell short.

Gov. Romney’s gains among white working-class voters were primarily driven by gains among white working-class men. Sen. McCain’s advantage in 2008 was 59 percent to 39 percent (20 points) with this demographic, which Gov. Romney improved to 64 percent to 33 percent (31 points). In contrast, Gov. Romney’s advantage among white working-class women was 20 points (59 percent to 39 percent), up just 3 points from Sen. McCain’s 17-point margin in 2008 (58 percent to 41 percent). Gov. Romney’s inability to make substantial gains among white working-class women was central to his general failure to run up large enough margins among the white working class.
I'm struck by the key qualifier there: "Should President Obama and progressives deliver on their agenda for the nation and improve the economic standing of middle- and working-class families ..."

But while Obama remained popular, the Democratic Party did not establish its credibility on delivering those improvements. So by 2016, Hillary Clinton faced a challenge from a candidate who identified himself as a democratic socialist, the latter term long thought to be a kiss of death in most of American politics. Bernie Sanders had a strong record on civil rights issues that are the focus of what is currently called "identity politics," another contested term of somewhat dubious value. But he attacked the role of money in politics and the neoliberal ("free-market") economics with which Bill and Hillary Clinton are so heavily identified. As is Barack Obama. I wouldn't necessarily agree that Obama's 2008 campaign presented a "populist" economic program as Teixeira and Halpin described it. But he did present a more traditional Keynesian perspective, which he successfully enacted to some extent with the 2009 stimulus package and Obamacare.

I don't want to minimize the significance of the stimulus package. Economists like Paul Krugman made a good argument at the time that the stimulus needed to be twice as large in order to secure an optimal recovery. But it's also widely recognized that the 2009 stimulus made a decisive difference in bringing the recovery, which has been stronger in the US that in the European Union.

But he insisted on packaging that success with flat-out conservative economic proposals that workers don't much care about (the balanced budget) or flat-out opposed (cuts in Social Security and Medicare). And that was a major part of the political background to the Democrats' historic rout at all levels in 2016.

The corporate Democrats seemed to be doubling-down on stressing civil rights as a way of passing off their deregulation economics and de facto acceptance of the Citizen's United campaign-financing framework. That includes the more-than-dubious practice of trying hard to paint "Berniecrats" as white racist and misogynist.

The thing about the attempt to stigmatize the "alt-left" as an unhinged and potentially violent bunch is partially in harmony with that stigmatizing strategy, and partially inconsistent. The inconsistency is that if they want to identify Berniecrats as kooky lefties, a lot of people will picture that as the left being more insistent on "politically correct" civil rights advocacy than anyone else. But that steps on the "identity" politics argument that Berniecrats are pandering to conservative whites by insulting and ignoring minorities and women.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The right builds its bogeyman of "violent leftists"

The discussion on political violence in the US has been particularly cramped for a long time. Not that it was ever as clear as one might have wished.

Ordinary statecraft involves the application of violence, particularly through the police, the national security agencies and the prison system. This is considered legitimate violence when done in accordance with established law. This is the "state monopoly on violence" that is used to mark the difference between functioning national governments and "failed states." André Munro calls it "the concept that the state alone has the right to use or authorize the use of physical force. It is widely regarded as a defining characteristic of the modern state." (State monopoly on violence Britannica Online; accessed 08/23/2017)

Use of the police power is a general attribute of modern states and is usually not seen as political violence. But since political decisions involving class and other group conflicts set the legal parameters of legitimacy, there is something political even about legitimate state violence. Black activists in the United States have often argued that many if not all black prisoners were in a real sense political prisoners because of the ways in which the political system has excluded them from substantive contribution to political decision-making and because of racially biased policing. But since not only Democrats or Republicans but presumably nearly all splinter parties in the US would be in favor of banning armed robbery, police coercion in arresting an armed robber is not commonly regarded as political violence.

Political violence in the usual sense of using violence of some kind to achieve partisan or policy goals has been some part of American life since the beginning. The American Revolution was certainly an act of political violence, as were the Whiskey Rebellion, slave revolts, the localized civil war in "Bleeding Kansas, John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, the Confederate rebellion. The resistance to Reconstruction democracy in the South commonly involved violence as did the post-Reconstruction segregationist Jim Crow regimes. Sometimes the violence was superficially legitimate in that it enforced discriminatory laws aimed at African-American citizens. Sometimes it was law enforcement acting with de facto approval from their superiors in taking illegal action. Organized terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan were certainly part of the violence, as were mobs incited by public officials like the one in the Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) riot over integration in 1963.

There was also plenty of violence applied against labor organizers over the years, certainly not all of it "legitimate." (FYI, that's meant to be an obvious understatement!)

Political Violence After the Second World War

Unofficial political violence in the US - violence not undertaken by organs of the state - has been largely a monopoly of the Radical Right for decades. Not entirely, of course. Urban riots in the 1960s, political in at least a general sense, were widely perceived as acts by black people on the left. Unlike the largest urban riot in American history, the New York Draft Riot of 1863 which manifested overt pro-slavery, pro-Confederate and anti-black racist aims.

And some organized lelft groups undertook violent actions with political motivations in the 1960s and 1970s, of which the Weather Underground, the Black Guerrilla Army and the bizarre Symbionese Liberation Army are some of the best know. The Black Panthers advocated "armed struggle," though in theory and largely in practice they emphasized their right to exercise defensive violence against abusive authorities. The Black Panther Party's 10-point program of 1966 included, "We believe we can end police brutality in our Black community by organizing Black self-defense groups that are dedicated to defending our Black community from racist police oppression and brutality. The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States gives a right to bear arms. We therefore believe that all Black people should arm themselves for self-defense."

Given the success of the firearms lobby in loosening gun laws in recent years and in enacting "stand-your-ground" laws that make it easier for people to legally get away with murder, and the way in which gun proliferation advocates emphatically argue that people in the US in the present day need to keep firearms to defend themselves against tyrannical government, it may seem weird that during the 1940s and 1950s, people associated with the American Communist Party were arrested, prosecuted, deported and imprisoned for advocating the overthrow of the US government by "force and violence."

Actually, the US Communist Party of that period, like the German Social Democratic Party supported by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels during their lifetimes, advocated taking power via electoral means with the determination to use legitimate government police power to suppress any attempt at a violent revolution against any such duly elected left government. A series of Supreme Court decisions related to such cases drew clear distinctions between talking about the violent overthrow of the government in the abstract and advocating and preparing for immediate action toward that end, including Schneiderman v. United States (1943), Yates v. United States (1957), and Noto v. United States (1961).

Do I even need to mention that the evidence against the defendants in those cases was far less serious than what the Bundy Ranch crowd did in 2014? (Julie Turkenwitz, No Guilty Verdicts in Bundy Ranch Standoff Trial New York Times 08/22/2017)

The question of political violence and "armed struggle" was heavily influenced in the 1960s by the dispute between the Soviet Union and China over the national liberation movements of the time. The Second World War was followed not only by the victory of Mao Zedong's Communists in China but massive decolonization in Asia and Africa. The independence movement in India and the successful violent revolt in Algeria against French control made a huge impression on European publics. The USSR and China had a major division in the late 1950s over various issues, not the least of them Mao's seeming indifference to the idea of a nuclear third world war. The two powers vied for influence among the emerging independent nations and among insurgent movements, with Vietnam being the most significant because of the US military intervention there.

One upshot of this was that Mao and his partisans insisted that "armed struggle" was always necessary to establish the goal of socialism, while the Soviets stressed that a "peaceful transition to socialism" was possible and desirable in many places. In Latin America, the example of Cuba and the advocacy by Che Guevara for "one, two, many Vietnams" had a great deal of influence. Juan Perón encouraged a broad-based political resistance in Argentina, which included but was by no means limited to sabotage and guerrilla resistance. On the radical left in Western countries, that larger world environment heavily influenced the way in which political conflict was discussed. So a lot of elaborate arguments over the role of violence in politics were elaborated on the left. And while Western conservatives tried to use law-and-order rhetoric and policies in response to domestic unrest and guerrilla violence in other countries, the center-left walked a line between supporting reform and decolonization, on the one hand, and opposing social violence, on the other. In the United States, the Democratic Party was particularly split over the American Cold War policy of active counterrevolution in Vietnam and elsewhere (Brazil, Chile, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, etc.)

The violent Radical Right in the US in Recent Decades

The Patriot Militia movement of the 1990s was a significant development on the violent right. The Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 dramatically demonstrated how deadly the Radical Right could be in the United States. Bill Clinton's speech commemorating the dead in that attack is widely considered one of his finest moments as President. He delivered a message that aimed at comforting the victims and their families but also sought to deligitimize the far right cause as destructive and godless and something that should be taken seriously (Remarks at a Memorial Service for the Bombing Victims in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 04/23/1995):

To all my fellow Americans beyond this hall, I say, one thing we owe those who have sacrificed is the duty to purge ourselves of the dark forces which gave rise to this evil. They are forces that threaten our common peace, our freedom, our way of life. Let us teach our children that the God of comfort is also the God of righteousness: Those who trouble their own house will inherit the wind. Justice will prevail.

Let us let our own children know that we will stand against the forces of fear. When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life. As St. Paul admonished us, Let us "not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Yesterday, Hillary and I had the privilege of speaking with some children of other federal employees -- children like those who were lost here. And one little girl said something we will never forget. She said, "We should all plant a tree in memory of the children." So this morning before we got on the plane to come here, at the White House, we planted that tree in honor of the children of Oklahoma. It was a dogwood with its wonderful spring flower and its deep, enduring roots. It embodies the lesson of the Psalms -- that the life of a good person is like a tree whose leaf does not wither.
Deborah Lauter and Mark Pitcavage recall the federal response in the following years in a 2015 retrospective (Homegrown extremist threat remains 20 years after Oklahoma City bombing CNN 04/19/2015):

The attack's aftermath saw a storm of media coverage with themes such as "attack on the heartland" and America's "lost innocence." In fact, the bombing took the country by surprise. It wasn't simply the scale of the tragedy that drew attention, but the fact that the bombing exposed something new: American citizens targeting their own government with a deadliness hitherto unseen.

The public became aware of the true danger of the extreme right. Reports connected McVeigh and his accomplice Terry Nichols to anti-government ideology movements, such as the militia movement, as well as to white supremacist causes.

Law enforcement also played catchup. The Federal Bureau of Investigation's 1994 annual report on terrorism had given short shrift to the extreme right. Its coverage of domestic terrorism focused on the activities of Puerto Rican radicals and animal rights and environmental extremists.

In contrast, the report spent only a paragraph describing the threat from right-wing extremists. It ignored the rapidly growing militia and sovereign citizen movements ...
When it comes to domestic terrorism, federal officials have too often been blind in the right eye.

After Oklahoma City, everything changed. The FBI shifted its priorities, hiring new agents and reassigning staff to work on domestic terrorism cases. It significantly expanded the number of Joint Terrorism Task Forces and went to Congress with a lengthy "want" list.

The effort actually paid off. Increased scrutiny of right-wing extremists resulted in a flurry of arrests for everything from terrorist plots to hate crimes. Though it had paid a high price to do so, it seemed that the United States had recognized the dangers that right-wing extremists posed.
Since the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and with the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, Muslim terrorism has become a bigger concern compared more secular ideological ones. But in the US, domestic far-right terrorists have been more responsible for more terror attacks than Muslim extremists since 2001. We should be careful about the distinctions we're making, though. Muslim extremist terrorist are generally hard right theocrats in their politics. And many American far-right groups are heavily influenced by radical right Christian ideas, often stemming in some way from the Christian Identity movement.

Daryl Johnson was with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) when Obama became President. He was warning then about the growing danger of far-right terrorism, as he describes in I warned of right-wing violence in 2009. Republicans objected. I was right. Washington Post 08/21/2017:

Eight years ago, I warned of a singular threat — the resurgence of right-wing extremist activity and associated violence in the United States as a result of the 2008 presidential election, the financial crisis and the stock market crash. My intelligence report, meant only for law enforcement, was leaked by conservative media.

A political backlash ensued because of an objection to the label “right-wing extremism.” The report also rightly pointed out that returning military veterans may be targeted for recruitment by extremists. Republican lawmakers demanded then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano rescind my report. The American Legion formally requested an apology to veterans. Some in Congress called for me to be fired. Amid the turmoil, my warning went unheeded by Republicans and Democrats. Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security caved to the political pressure: Work related to violent right-wing extremism was halted. Law enforcement training also stopped. My unit was disbanded. And, one-by-one, my team of analysts left for other employment. By 2010, there were no intelligence analysts at DHS working domestic terrorism threats. [internal links from original not included]
Johnson also appeared in a Netroots Nation panel earlier this month which Dave Neiwert organized: The White Face of Domestic Terrorism: How Islamophobia Distorts the Reality of Terrorist Violence in America 08/12/2017 (scroll down to locate at the link). He expands on the subject and recent developments in that talk. As it happened, this panel started a few minutes after the news broke about the fatal attack that killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville.

Both Sides Do It?

With Trump and his loyal followers now holding up the "antifa" protesters as justification for far right violence, it was inevitable that we would start to see more media coverage of them. "Antifa" is a word taken from German, a short form of "anti-fascist." German and Austrian protesters against the far right have been known by that name for years. The name is used as a generic term. It's not a reference to any party or any particular political program or ideology other than activist opposition to the far right. Though Trump in his Phoenix campaign speech Tuesday used it in a way that may soon become another Republican cuss word for Mean Libruls. Cenk Uygur notes just after 3:20 that Trump used "An-TI-fa" as a carnival barker type call (Trumpamania Running Wild In Phoenix, Brotherrr! The Young Turks 08/23/2017):

Michael Shure and Nomiki Konst in that segment also note that Trump's supporters listening to the speech were probably not familiar with the term "antifa" yet. Which is why it could now morph into another Republican version of Mean Libruls.

Before we get into Republican and liberal-concern-troll versions, it's worth taking a look at Dahlia Lithwick's column in which she quotes participants in the pro-democracy counter-protests in Charlottesville describing how some protesters defended others from attacks by the white supremacist/KKK/Nazi goons, Yes, What About the “Alt-Left”? Slate 08/16/2017. One Charlottesville resident relates:

I stood with a group of interfaith clergy and other people of faith in a nonviolent direct action meant to keep the white nationalists from entering the park to their hate rally. We had far fewer people holding the line than we had hoped for, and frankly, it wasn’t enough. No police officers in sight (that I could see from where I stood), and we were prepared to be beaten to a bloody pulp to show that while the state permitted white nationalists to rally in hate, in the many names of God, we did not. But we didn’t have to because the anarchists and anti-fascists got to them before they could get to us. I’ve never felt more grateful and more ashamed at the same time. The antifa were like angels to me in that moment.
A minister gives this description:

Out of my faith calling, I feel led to pursue disciplined, nonviolent direct action and witness. I helped lead a group of clergy who were trained and committed to the same work: to hold space on the frontline of the park where the rally was to be held. And then some of us tried to take the steps to one of the entrances. God is not OK with white supremacy, and God is on the side of all those it tries to dehumanize. We feel a responsibility to visibly, bodily show our solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized.

A phalanx of neo-Nazis shoved right through our human wall with 3-foot-wide wooden shields, screaming and spitting homophobic slurs and obscenities at us. It was then that antifa stepped in to thwart them. They have their tools to achieve their purposes, and they are not ones I will personally use, but let me stress that our purposes were the same: block this violent tide and do not let it take the pedestal.

The white supremacists did not blink at violently plowing right through clergy, all of us dressed in full clerical garb. White supremacy is violence. I didn’t see any racial justice protesters with weapons; as for antifa, anything they brought I would only categorize as community defense tools and nothing more. Pretty much everyone I talk to agrees—including most clergy. My strong stance is that the weapon is and was white supremacy, and the white supremacists intentionally brought weapons to instigate violence.
It's helpful to look at accounts like these of the particulars in the protest events. They involve specific decisions about risks and assessments of danger in a given moment. Organizers have a responsibility to be clear with participants about known risks, especially in cases like those the minister describes in which violence against the participants is anticipated. The same is true of "antifa" groups who plan to defend other protesters against violence from armed militants. That risks includes the reality that police and prosecutors often are "blind in the right eye" in such situations and may accuse them of crimes for even purely defensive actions.

It's important to remember that there's nothing wrong with protecting someone against acts of violence. And there's nothing wrong with defending oneself from a violent attack. The kind of Ghandian militant pacifist resistance described by the minister is a particular kind of strategy in given situations. Taking such an approach may not involve a purely pacifist outlook. And even the few people who are genuine pacifists would generally not consider personal self-defense in the face of a violent attack to be wrong in all circumstances.

It's also a well-established tradition on the center-left to take any and all opportunities to distinguish themselves from the dirty hippies who actually organize and demonstrate for progressive causes and against reactionary ones. Good liberals are supposed to be polite and not ruffle too many feathers. It was such liberals that Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed in his Letter From Birmingham Jail.

Which brings us to Peter Beinart's The Rise of the Violent Left The Atlantic Sept 2017; accessed 08/23/2017:

Those responses sometimes spill blood. Since antifa is heavily composed of anarchists, its activists place little faith in the state, which they consider complicit in fascism and racism. They prefer direct action: They pressure venues to deny white supremacists space to meet. They pressure employers to fire them and landlords to evict them. And when people they deem racists and fascists manage to assemble, antifa’s partisans try to break up their gatherings, including by force.

Such tactics have elicited substantial support from the mainstream left. When the masked antifa activist was filmed assaulting Spencer on Inauguration Day, another piece in The Nation described his punch as an act of “kinetic beauty.” Slate ran an approving article about a humorous piano ballad that glorified the assault. Twitter was inundated with viral versions of the video set to different songs, prompting the former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau to tweet, “I don’t care how many different songs you set Richard Spencer being punched to, I’ll laugh at every one.”

The violence is not directed only at avowed racists like Spencer: In June of last year, demonstrators—at least some of whom were associated with antifa—punched and threw eggs at people exiting a Trump rally in San Jose, California. An article in It’s Going Down celebrated the “righteous beatings.”
Yes, even-the-liberal Peter Beinart agrees with Trump that "antifa" is a danger to good Christian white folks!

Anarchists are know for being an unruly bunch, though stereotyping them as particularly inclined to violence would be unrealistic and unfair. And the press is known for carelessly labeling people "anarchists" who may not identify themselves that way at all. That said, I've never had a particularly high regard for the group (or groups) of anarchists who show up in the San Francisco Bay Area to protests wearing black masks and displaying a penchant for fighting, throwing rocks through windows and minor arson. As I recall, I first noticed them in Oakland during some protest during the oughts. They didn't seem to have any distinct or coherent message. And one of my first thoughts was, masked people who show up out of nowhere to commit vandalism during protests: a perfect vehicle for official and unofficial provocateurs. A group like that strikes me an extremely likely target for police or homeland security agents seeking to entrap people in "terrorist" plots.

But nothing is safer for pundits and liberal concern-trolls than "both sides do it!" And Beinart happily goes there:

A similar cycle has played out at UC Berkeley. In February, masked antifascists broke store windows and hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at police during a rally against the planned speech by Yiannopoulos. After the university canceled the speech out of what it called “concern for public safety,” white nationalists announced a “March on Berkeley” in support of “free speech.” At that rally, a 41-year-old man named Kyle Chapman, who was wearing a baseball helmet, ski goggles, shin guards, and a mask, smashed an antifa activist over the head with a wooden post. Suddenly, Trump supporters had a viral video of their own. A far-right crowdfunding site soon raised more than $80,000 for Chapman’s legal defense. (In January, the same site had offered a substantial reward for the identity of the antifascist who had punched Spencer.) A politicized fight culture is emerging, fueled by cheerleaders on both sides. [my emphasis]
Yes, who can argue with that? On one side, we have white supremacist militants being actively encouraged and incited by the President of the United States. On the other, there are some masked anarchists with zero actual political influence. Both Sides Do It!

I won't try to fact-check all the claims in Beinart's piece. I'll just note here that he doesn't always make it clear just who is doing the violence in incidents for which he blames antifa.

I don't want to encourage people to break windows just for the heck of it. But it's probably time to recall the discussion in "the Sixties" in the US and Germany and presumably other places as well about the difference between "violence against things" and "violence against people." Yes, it's very rude, against the law and probably unnecessary in nearly all cases to toss a rock through the window of a Walgreens. But neither the law nor any sane system of values considers breaking a store window as morally or practically equivalent to deliberately ramming a group of people with a car. The latter, we should note, being a practice that Republicans in several state legislatures are attempting to decriminalize.

The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal got into the act earlier in August with A Berkeley ‘Escape Hatch’ 08/09/2017 with a snotty editorial about UC-Berkeley not taking a more law-and-order approach toward protesters. That was one of St. Reagan's favorite themes in his successful first campaign for California Governor in 1966.

Michelle Goldberg takes a more sober approach to reporting on what the antifa movement is all about The Public Face of Antifa Slate 08/22/2017:

After the riot in Charlottesville ... antifa is suddenly making headlines. The term antifa refers to a loose network of militant left-wing activists who physically square off against the far right, and often try to prevent those they deem fascists from speaking publicly. Antifa is sometimes used as a synonym for black bloc anarchists — the scruffy kids in black bandanas or balaclavas known for smashing Starbucks windows — but while the movements overlap, they’re not identical. ... The movement appears to be growing rapidly under Trump, though it’s impossible to put hard numbers to it; there are no membership rolls.
Michelle's article is a good overview that tries to deal seriously with the practical situation presented by aggressive white supremacist demonstrations. I'm impressed that she avoids any kind of simplistic "both sides do it" false equivalence. She's not doing the kind of liberal concern-troll criticism that Peter Beinart presents.

Speaking of which, Adam Johnson has a report on how Centrist Pundits Paved Way for Trump’s ‘Alt-Left’ False Equivalence FAIR 08/16/2017

In a pre-Charlottesville piece, Cecilia Saixue Watt reports on a small armed left group without getting mired in both-sides-do-it cliches, The Redneck Revolt: the armed leftwing group that wants to stamp out fascism Guardian 07/11/2017.