Monday, January 23, 2017

Welcome! We've Been Waiting For You.

The Women's March on Washington, and affiliated marches throughout the nation, that took place this past Saturday were huge. Demonstrations took place on every continent on Earth and have been argued to be the biggest collection of protests in world history. I even saw on the social media this morning that a pair of political scientists had used crowd-size estimates to argue that roughly 1-2% of the entire US population was at a protest of some sort that day.

So needless to say, it was a pretty popular demonstration, the kind we haven't seen since the dawn of the Iraq war (and those demonstrators, it bears constant repetition, were pretty much right about everything).

The incredible popularity of this past weekend's actions put those of us regular demonstrators in an odd position, as we're not used to nearly this much attention nor support. And I have to admit, it's easy to feel like a demonstration hipster (indeed, in creating a back patch to wear to Saturday's rally, I cut up an old demonstration shirt I had made that read "I was against the war before it was cool").

To be fair, this isn't an entirely glib point about something niche suddenly becoming mainstream. As many have pointed out, none of the problems folks were discussing during Saturday's many speeches are new in any way, and while Trump is a terrifying specter indeed, it's not as if the election of Clinton would have made these problems go away. I'll admit that as much joy as I felt witnessing the thousands who were marching along side me and the many millions more marching elsewhere, more than once my mind returned to the speaker at an emergency post-election meeting I mentioned here before who pointed out that had Clinton won, these problems would still be here, but it's pretty unlikely everyone would be organizing emergency meetings and mass demonstrations to address them.

So yeah, there's definitely a sense that many of the people who showed up to the protests this past weekend were only doing so because they felt like all of the problems in the world might now start applying to them. I think the feeling is captured quite eloquently by this sign, which I've seen multiple versions of popping up in various photo collections from Saturday:

It raises a good point about participation, and less directly, about how these demonstrations were policed compared to many others; as more than a few people have pointed out, if there were Black Lives Matter rallies this big all over the nation, it's hard to believe police would be so polite and helpful, or that we would see so few pre-emptive riot police and tanks on the street.

These issues are real and important, and definitely should not be dismissed, but instead form a central part of the discussion on where to go from here.

But as important as these issues are, and as fun as it is to be holier than thou about such things (and it's very fun!), in my ongoing quest to learn some form of humility, I'm going to try my best to remember that everyone starts somewhere. And while people should be held to task for not caring about an issue until it effects them personally, I think it's also important to ask which is more important during these times -- excoriating those who didn't get to the movement soon enough, or building as massive a movement as possible to push back against the Trump agenda and toward social justice?

So in that vein, I'm going to do my best to try and welcome people to the resistance. Even if they didn't get here on time or in the right way, they got here, and it's a lot more important where they go from here than where they've been before. Because simply put, we need them. As ol' Leon Trotsky put it, "Without a guiding organization the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston-box. But nevertheless what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam."

Or for a bit more contemporary spin on that same though, I'll let Dr. Angela Davis have the final word:

Friday, January 20, 2017

Today is a Shitty and Depressing Day

I've already written at length about my reaction to the election, and I don't have anything particularly erudite to add to that right now. Today is appropriately grey and foreboding, fitting the mood of much of the nation. It's shitty and depressing and feels like little can be done right now (but actually, much can be done. I'm going to go march and shit tomorrow and probably feel a lot better).

In the meantime, while I can't offer inspiring words, I can offer a cute picture of an adorable dog happily sleeping at my feet. It's worth something:

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Your Credulity Regarding Trump Rumors Is Concerning

Alternate Title: 2008-2016 -- Unverified and Error-Filled Accusations the President is an Operative of a Foreign Government is an Affront to the Very Concept of Democracy; 2017 -- All Unverified and Error-Filled Accusations the President is an Operative of a Foreign Government are Obviously True

Alternate Alternate Title: Partisanship is a Helluva Drug

First, something I shouldn't have to spell out but will for the sake of this argument: Trump is a shitty human being whose presidency will likely be a disaster at best. He is a bad man and I don't like him.

Ok, that being covered, I need to ask a semi-rhetorical question: has the entire Democratic left lost its collective mind?

The steady stream of "Trump is a Russian Puppet!!1!!1!!1!!!1!" reports coming out every day and being breathlessly shared on social media and throughout the center-left sphere are nearing the point of anti-Obama hysteria in 2008 (and yup, to address your criticism, Trump is certainly a worse person than Obama. That is quite irrelevant). And yet, as Glenn Greenwald has done a yeoman's job documenting, not a single one of these accusation have a shred of evidence connected to them. The closest any of them get to anything resembling evidence are the anonymous and unverified accusations of CIA operatives. And if you're willing to believe what the CIA tells you without any shred of evidence, then well...I've got a Latin American regime to sell you.

Take, for instance, the latest report making the rounds with its incredibly salacious stories of Trump apparently having Russian hooker parties which the Kremlin is using to blackmail him. This would be quite the explosive set of allegations. Would be if there were any evidence. Any evidence at all. Except in place of evidence, we have a report written by an anonymous man paid by the Democratic party to dig up dirt on Trump that relies exclusively on unverified reports from anonymous sources. Hell, not only did it not have sources or even details to corroborate its fantastical claims, it's full of spelling errors and basic geographical mistakes. Seriously, go read the actual report. Hell, even official Hillary Clinton public relations firm Jezebel had to admit the report "contains some clear errors and mistakes." Even Buzzfeed, the outlet that broke these allegations, had to admit that there is "serious reason to doubt the allegations.”

But the allegations make the other side look bad, so people whose identities are wrapped up in the Democratic party and its success will apparently continue to latch on to any rumor, no matter how fact free and obviously implausible it is. But hey, maybe someone will find an old picture of Trump in "muslim garb" and then we can demand he prove he wasn't born in Kenya!

To me, what this sad on-going spectacle really displays is the inherent problem with a two-party system and the odd loyalties it engenders, especially when it leads otherwise rational people to support really, really odd positions only on the basis of being on the other side of the bad people (a/k/a the other major political party).

Much of this hysteria around Comrade Trump's Secret Russia Directives reminds me a lot of a conversation I always think of when prompted to remember the idiocy fostered by a two-party system. Several elections ago I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who I must point out is a very intelligent, highly-credentialed, and all-around thoughtful human being. This was the first election in which the possible legalization of recreational marijuana had a real chance of passing, and I was really surprised to learn this friend of mine opposed such measures. This was very strange, as he's an intelligent man and ending prohibition is an intelligent thing to do, not to mention that I know this particular fella likes to indulge in the devil's lettuce from time to time himself.

So when I asked him why he was taking such an out of character position, his explanation was that when medical marijuana was first proposed, Republicans opposed it because they saw it as a backdoor to legalizing recreational marijuana, to which Democrats argued of course it wasn't, it was just for people who needed it medically and there were no plans for its legalization for recreation. So my friend went on to explain that by now advocating for its full legalization, we would be proving the Republicans correct, and we can't have that.

This is, of course, a terrible argument. As I pointed out to him, if your political opponents claim that taking one measured, logical action which benefits many will only lead to us taking further measured, logical actions that benefit many, that's not really an argument against taking that action. That is, actually, how politics is theoretically supposed to work.

To my good friend's credit, he came around on this point eventually, but I keep coming back to this conversation as so perfectly laying bare what's happening with so much of the left right now. The very same people who spent 8 years mocking conservatives who questioned Obama's loyalty to America and his right to the office he was elected to, the very same people who wondered how anyone could be so stupid as to question the outcome of free and fair American elections, the very same people who spent months before this election saying anyone who challenged its outcome would be a traitor and threat to the very concept of Democracy...these are now the people who will gladly parrot any unsubstantiated and almost impossible to believe report that makes Trump look bad and call for the CIA to depose him. I feel like this shoots straight past simple irony to some form of super, dodecahedron irony indescribable in words.

Again, Trump is a terrible human being and I legitimately fear the damages his presidency will inflict upon the world. But we're reaching 9/11 truther levels of derangement here, people. But then what do I know? I'm probably just a Kremlin operative so brainwashed I don't even realize it. Makes about as much sense as most of these other rumors.

Monday, December 12, 2016

From You, Alright! I Learned It By Watching You!

This is possibly the most iconic anti-drug ad of my youth (though not the best, that would unequivocally be this one), and it seems especially fitting for today's hysteria revolving around possible Russian interference in our most recent presidential election. The anonymous CIA leakers spreading the story have caused quite the uproar here, providing us another one of those odd spectacles when Leftists completely contradict everything they stand for and are simply aghast that anyone would question the word of the CIA!

Now, we can set aside the fact that there's no evidence any of the email leaks supposedly orchestrated by those nefarious Russian were falsified, which would mean that people are essentially throwing a fit over the fact that we finally saw behind the curtain and learned how high-level politicians and political operatives talk about us when they think no one's watching. Or we can set aside the fact that there's literally no evidence Russia had anything to do with this, other than the aforementioned anonymous leaks by anonymous CIA officials. And I don't mean to get too crazy here, but I feel like there's a reason or two to doubt the anonymous claims of CIA operatives. Because of, you know, weapons of mass destruction. Or the bay of pigs. Or...well pretty much anything the CIA has ever done.

So sure, we could ignore those two points. Of course we shouldn't, because those two points in and of themselves pretty much invalidate the story from the get-go, or at least turn it from a pressing matter of concern to something that we should maybe wait a minute or two for some form of evidence before losing our collective shit.

But just for funsies, let's say those two very compelling points can be ignored, and that the anonymous word of people whose very job by definition is to operate in secrecy to ends that aren't known to the public can be totally trusted and that those damn Ruskies are back up to their Soviet-era tactics.

Even if we do all that, it's pretty fucking rich for the United States of America to complain about interference in their elections from another nation. For one, we currently have literally thousands of soldiers continuing to occupy two nations we invaded and overthrew the governments of. Which is, you know, maybe even a bigger deal than releasing some emails to influence their election. For another, there are the literally dozens of governments we as a nation have either overthrown or attempted to overthrow. Or hell, we could point out that Hilary Clinton, the candidate said to be harmed by this Machiavellian interference of a foreign government in our elections, has directly supported a coup in a sovereign nation and argued we should have interfered in the elections of another.

But even more to the point, we can't even claim to have clean hands in this specific instance, as the US has been more than happy to intervene in Russian elections in the past. Or much like our mustachioed pot-head dad wondering where his kid learned to smoke weed, maybe we should check out the cover of Time magazine from July 15, 1996 and ponder where they night have learned this from:

Thursday, December 08, 2016

What To Do When The Fascists Come To Town

Last week the university I work for hosted a talk by a fascist cut-rate Kathy Griffin in which he personally attacked a member of my department for several minutes. I won't link to the video or even use the guy's name because a) he deserves neither the recognition nor the web traffic, b) he's probably the only openly-gay fascist currently on a college speaking tour, so you can figure it out yourself, and c) in many ways, the particulars of this individual are not the point. After all, this clown is a dime a dozen; he's one of those political performers you can tell doesn't even believe a large amount of what he says, he just knows that his entire appeal (and income) is based on being the person who says Ka-Raaaazy!!1!!1!11! shit and that if he doesn't keep it outlandish enough, he'll be discarded for someone who will say even more incendiary things (as will happen soon enough, anyway).

To be fair to the university, he wasn't part of a speakers series or endorsed by the university in any way other than being allowed to use campus space due to being invited by the Campus Republicans, a registered student group. His speaking fee, as far as anyone has been able to figure out so far, was most likely paid by a private, non-university-affiliated individual. That all being said, many in the campus community point out that delivering a talk on campus definitely gives the appearance of being sanctioned by the university, accurate or not. So, not too surprisingly, many are upset the talk was allowed to happen on campus.

In this case, the objections stem from much more than the usual opposition to someone coming to campus to deliver the empirical definition of hate speech -- this time, he singled out and abused a popular instructor in the department of sociology and anthropology (in which I also work). This instructor (whose name I'll also refrain from using, but in this instance because he's currently sifting through dozens of pieces of hate mail as a result of the talk), happens to be gay, so the speaker projected a picture of him with the caption "fat faggot" underneath it for several minutes of his talk. He also described the instructor with that and similar terms quite a few times while, irony apparently being a concept this speaker is unable to grasp, decrying how liberals bully people who don't agree with them.

Shortly after the speech, the university president released the typically milquetoast response administrators always release, noting that while the speaker has freedom of speech and the university doesn't hold any particular political views, the speaker clearly went beyond the pale with such personal attacks and vulgar language. He quite pointedly did not use any terms such as "hate speech" or "hate crime" or any other such language that would have required taking anything resembling a stance, but again, that's not surprising, as that's what high-ranking administrators do.

But needless to say, it's been quite the subject of discussion in our department as we try to figure out how we can more productively respond to what was a hate crime being committed against one of our own. And I think it's quite a testament to the times we live in that a group of people who quite literally study society for a living have been having a difficult time figuring out what to do.

Though to be fair, it's a pretty tricky question -- after all, the schtick of this guy and those like him is that conservatives are under attack from crusading liberal professors who won't allow them to express their viewpoints (again, the irony of saying this while literally standing in a university classroom delivering your thoughts completely without censorship or any challenge being completely lost on them). As such, pointing out the many times he made empirically false statements, or the many gaps in his logic, or challenging his right to come onto campus and commit a hate crime against a university employee plays right into that argument. But obviously we don't want to just ignore this, so much to the credit of my colleagues, we're having an on-going discussion of how to respond.

One possibility that keeps coming up is some sort of debate or dialogue with the Campus Republicans who sponsored the speech and more likely than not fed the speaker the information that led to him attacking my colleague*. But the problem I have with that is that there's nothing there to dialogue or debate about; as I argued in our faculty meeting yesterday, our colleague's fundamental humanity is not up for debate. There's no discussion to be had about the way in which he was slandered and insulted, or the wave of hate mail he's received as a result of being publicly threatened by this speaker and his followers.

Aptly enough, immediately after that meeting I read this great piece by the always reliable Damon Young. Although his argument is not completely analogous to this situation, I feel the same logic holds -- there's merit to finding compromise and common ground with people of different opinions, but there's no merit in legitimizing hate crimes by being polite to those who commit them. Pretending this kind of vile attack is a simple disagreement over which we should be able to overcome through finding mutual shared interests serves to do nothing other than accept that this kind of hate speech is a legitimate argument technique even if not the correct analysis of the facts.

All this is a long way of saying that this is why I feel that strongly condemning the speech and the group that sponsored it and refusing to entertain further discussion of any merit the speaker may have even theoretically had is not at all a refutation of open debate or a challenge to the First Amendment or any of these other incredibly specious claims to civility by those committing hate crimes themselves. Simply put, physical appearance and sexuality are not things that alter any person's right to being treated a human being. To not justify these arguments with any response beyond complete and unconditional condemnation is the same as a biologist responding to creationism or an astronomer responding to geocentrism -- not only is there no "moral" or "political" debate to be had about these topics, there is no empirical debate to be had about them. We should not pretend there is.

*The short version is that someone told the speaker that my colleague a) fails students who don't agree with him politically, and b) was giving students credit to go to a different even that night so they wound't be able to attend his speech. Both of those claims are, of course, completely false.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Revolution IS What It Managed To Be And Not What It Wished To Become

I was originally going to write a really long-winded obituary on Fidel, but it's that point in the semester when I'm typically just too tired to think straight (coming off of stuffing myself full of food for a week probably doesn't help).

There's very little I can add to the conversation that hasn't already been said. Castro was a hero to many, a villain to many others, with many more holding complicated feelings toward him. Regular readers of this blog will have little difficulty guessing where I fall on that spectrum (though for those having trouble, I tend to agree with Nelson Mandela, a man Castro defended while my own president called him a terrorist).

Really the only surprise to me in the aftermath of his death was finding out how many liberals and other shades of the left despised him. While I typically hate the hand-waving condescension of saying people have fallen for propaganda, I guess if you call someone a brutal dictator enough, most people will believe you. I personally was accused of falling for propaganda when I happened to mention the oft-cited statistic that even though Cuba is a tiny island nation under embargo from most of the world, they manage to have significantly lower infant mortality rate than the United States. And maybe my accuser was right; if anyone is going to be peddling pro-Cuba false stats, it's gotta be the CIA. I guess maybe the 639th assassination attempt is killing him with kindness?

But yeah, Castro had his worts, as does any world leader. But because he was considered an enemy of the US, his sins are foundational and unchanging, unlike the many sins of the US, which are accidental and non-consequential. This leads to the bizarre spectacle of President Obama condemning the human rights violations of the Cuban government while he runs a literally lawless torture prison on Cuban soil.

While I searched around for the words to capture the heights and lows of Fidel's life, as is usually the case, it turns out someone else already said it better. So rather than ramble on any further, I'll instead offer my official endorsement of the poetic words of Eduardo Galeano on Fidel's life and legacy:

His enemies say he was an uncrowned king who confused unity with unanimity.
And in that his enemies are right.

His enemies say that if Napoleon had a newspaper like Granma, no Frenchman would have learned of the disaster at Waterloo.
And in that his enemies are right.

His enemies say that he exercised power by talking a lot and listening little, because he was more used to hearing echoes than voices.
And in that his enemies are right.

But some things his enemies do not say: it was not to pose for the history books that he bared his breast to the invaders' bullets, he faced hurricanes as an equal, hurricane to hurricane, he survived 638 attempts on his life, his contagious energy was decisive in making a country out of a colony, and it was not by Lucifer's curse or God's miracle that the new country managed to outlive 10 US presidents, their napkins spread in their laps, ready to eat it with knife and fork.

And his enemies never mention that Cuba is one rare country that does not compete for the World Doormat Cup. And they do not say that the revolution, punished for the crime of dignity, is what it managed to be and not what it wished to become. Nor do they say that the wall separating desire from reality grew ever higher and wider thanks to the imperial blockade, which suffocated a Cuban-style democracy, militarized society, and gave the bureaucracy, always ready with a problem for every solution, the alibis it needed to justify and perpetuate itself.

And they do not say that in spite of all the sorrow, in spite of the external aggression and the internal high-handedness, this distressed and obstinate island has spawned the least unjust society in Latin America.

And his enemies do not say that this feat was the outcome of the sacrifice of its people, and also of the stubborn will and old-fashioned sense of honor of the knight who always fought on the side of the losers, like his famous colleague in the fields of Castile.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Mass Movements: The Silver Lining of The Trump Victory

I went to a large meeting last night centered on how we should respond to the election and how we can build movements and connections to resist what are most likely some terrible policies and laws coming our way in the next few years. The meeting itself was fairly useless, having obviously been thrown together last minute and with extremely little planning, but it was nonetheless nice that a hundred or so people showed up on such short notice. Better than nothing, etc.

But one speaker at the event enunciated a lot of what I've felt post-election, especially the way so many on the left have responded with their collective rendering of their garments and gnashing of their teeth. Not coincidentally, he was also the only person of color speaking at the event (again, pretty poorly organized, but that's not the point of this post).

He led off by talking about how he had joked before the election that he kinda wanted Trump to win, if only because it would make white people as nervous as Black people are every day in America. And as he pointed out, it sure does seem like a lot of white people just now realized America is a racist nation. It's not like Trump invented all of this; he capitalized off it, meaning it obviously predated him by quite a bit (I'd say by roughly 400 years, but that's a different conversation).

Perhaps the strongest point this speaker made, though, was in directly asking the assembled crowd how many of them would be attending an emergency anti-racist organizing meeting if Clinton had won the election. While a few in attendance sheepishly raised their hands, it was obvious his point hit home for many (as it damn well should). He went on to explain in much greater eloquence than I can recreate here that the upshot of Trump winning is that it forces white America to confront what Black American already knew -- that there is an incredibly strong current of racism in this nation which is barely concealed, but concealed enough so that comfortable people who don't want to notice it don't have to. But Trump's election removed what little cover this racism (and sexism, and homophobia, and nativism, etc.), forcing these same people to finally reckon with it.

While deserving of it's own post on another day, much of this is due to the blindness encouraged by the two-party system, in which anything done by their side is bad and anything done by my side is good, irrespective of what that action is. As Glenn Greenwald has exhaustively covered, the exact same policies and actions liberals condemned as borderline-fascist under Bush became ideas they cheered and defended under Obama. Hell, often times these liberals defended things Obama did that were objectively worse than those of Bush; while many were quick to denounce Bush granting himself the right to wiretap phones without warrant or any form of oversight, these same folks were conspicuously quiet (or even worse, in favor of it) when Obama granted himself the right to murder anyone he wanted without warrant or any form of oversight. Regardless of your politics, if you find warrantless wiretap a bigger cause for concern than warrantless murder, have a very inscrutable set of beliefs.

So a silver lining is that at least the terrible policies of the next four years won't have the cover of a putatively progressive president behind them, thus allowing people who would otherwise oppose them to actually oppose them. Take, for instance, immigration -- there is currently quite a bit of concern among liberal America that Trump's policies will lead to the deportation of upwards of 3 million people. And these folks are right to be concerned! That would be tragic and indefensible. But what these same folks seem to conveniently ignore is that is roughly the number of people the Obama administration has deported. In fact, the Obama administration has deported more people than any presidential administration in the history of our nation. And yet somehow that wasn't really concerning to these people who are now super concerned about the people Trump might deport (and if he's able to do so, it's only because Obama built such a massive deportation apparatus for him).

But the point of this isn't to make the argument that all presidents are the same so none of this matters or to chide liberals for conveniently forgetting their ideals whenever someone they like violates them (though they should be held accountable for that), but instead to again offer a sliver of hope in these dark times -- many of the people who would have stayed home during a Clinton presidency will be out in the streets during a Trump presidency. And as someone who firmly believes what happens in the streets is far more important and impactful than what happens in the Oval Office, that's actually some comfort.