October 27, 2018

Right-wing violence? I blame Obama (in part)

No, I don't blame former President Barack Obama for being black, unlike the wingnuts who started getting butt-hurt — and potentially violently butt-hurt — over that as soon as he took office if not before.

I DO, though, blame him for singing Kumbaya with Republicans in Congress and conservative thought leaders behind them, even on this issue. I DO blame him for pretending to be, or naively or stupidly hoping and wanting to be, the nation's first "post-racial" president.

That's even after George Zimmerman of my snarking on Cesar Sayoc the mail bombing suspect (claiming there was a real "false flag" and an aged-out on booze and drugs Zimmerman did it) , had confronted and fatally shot Trayvon Martin. Even then, Obama tried to pretend this away, at least in public, with Kumbaya pixie dust. Continued after his re-election in 2012, even though he was full of crap.

The potentially violently butt-hurt? Obama's Department of Homeland Security warned about that in his first year in office. And a year ago, the author of that report, Daryl Johnson, in a non-gloating way, said "I told you."

That 2009 report was prescient. It said that some right-wing groups would recruit based on Obama as a black president. It said that others with anti-Semitic leanings would blame Great Recession housing foreclosures and such on "Jewish elites."

What happened? Caving to those conservatives and the right-wing talking heads propagating the message, Homeland Security threw Johnson under the bus and then did nothing about his warnings. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano originally stood by the report, though caving on the part that talked about recruiting of veterans. The same Obama who threw Shirley Sherrod under the bus without a second thought surely pushed her to do that, and more. The same Obama who threw ACORN under the bus by signing what I and many others said then was an unconstitutional bill of attainder?

And, it wasn't just Obama himself. His last Homeland Security head, Jeh Johnson, passed up the chance to call Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof a domestic terrorist, per this long, in-depth New York Times piece.

Others picked up on Daryl Johnson's report, like the NYT, during the Bundy standoff in Oregon. Some Congresscritters at that time asked Dear Leader to revitalize Johnson's old office within DHS, which he did not.

And, at least in potential, Johnson was right on the ex-veterans. Numerous stories have reported how the Army has lowered its recruiting standards as the War on Terra grinds on. That includes lower standards for things like gang affiliation histories, etc.

Oh, and most American terror-related violence is by right-wing political extremists. It's well ahead of both left-wing political extremist violence AND Islamic terrorist violence in the U.S.

Says who? Says the Anti-Defamation League, which has reason to play up Islamic terrorism if anybody does. Seventy-four percent of such violence was committed by right-wing groups in 2007-16. (And, on Islamic extremism, that stretch of time includes the Fort Hood shootings, which arguably would fall into that.

And it continues. The Kroger killings in Kentucky? May be a hate crime.

And, as I type, the shootings at Tree of Life Synagogue reportedly by an anti-Semitic winger. And, yes, it appears Robert Bowers is indeed that. Even if, as reported, he didn't vote for Trump, his "my people" ethno-nationalism, like that of Sayoc, had the ground for its growth, and the lowering of norms to lead him to do it, all fertilized by Trump — and unchallenged by Obama.

Oh, finally? Speaking of false flags? The false flag of "Bernie Sanders equivalency" over James Hodgkinson is also untrue, as he also had some sort of political interest in Ted Cruz AND Bernie Sanders never incited violence against conservatives or the media at campaign events, which Trump has clearly done.

Despite all of the above, though, federal law enforcement agencies have still devoted little work to gathering intelligence on right-wing extremists.

The real real problem was Preznit Kumbaya believing one can deal rationally with people who have no intention of operating that way in the first place.

This piece from The Walrus, a Canadian mag, tackles some of that. It references an American academic, presumably a social psychologist or similar, talking about "affective polarization." Yep, that's the ticket. Remember that in psychology, "affect" means "emotions." 

Remember that David Hume said that reason the passions need always to follow the passions. By passions, he meant not the rage of some modern Americans, but deep-seated emotional values and drives. Hume did say that such passions, after stimulating thinking, should be reviewed in light of that thinking. While Hume didn't address modern ideas of the subconscious, in general, the passions align with that less than truly conscious self we think we have. (A naturalistic understanding of Hume's take on free will, per the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is vital here. Understanding at least basics of Hume's moral philosophy in general also helps. And modern philosophers who dismiss Hume as an outdated psychologist or similar do so at not just their own peril, but at damage to what Hume still has to teach.)

This is why liberals like Arlie Russell Hochschild get it wrong with "listening tours." Conservatives, at least in today's America, don't do that, and leftists with enough brains before going down that road are smart enough not to do it, but for different reasons than conservatives.

(The Canadian piece ain't perfect, though. It laments Canada's dependence on the American economy, and specifically mentions tar sands oil. It says nothing about getting off its dirty oil addiction. Nor does it ask if Trump's NAFTA 2.0 and Canada's tweaks to its dairy price system will piss off Quebecois.)

Remember how Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, talked about 9/11 being America's chickens coming home to roost? Well, this is some of Obama's chickens coming home to roost. Just.Another.Politician.™

October 26, 2018

High Country News surrenders to the Trump Train

Recently, High Country News, a once-great magazine about Western life and culture, ended online commenting on stories.

The magazine says the commentary feed had become too polarizing.

Its take on that, and its solution? Neither surprises me, per the "once-great" in the first sentence. More on that in a bit.

So, after an exchange of Tweets with whomever runs its account, I wrote a letter to the editor.

Here it is:
Dear Editor: 
I respectfully request you restore online commenting ability — with one change.
Only paid subscribers be allowed to comment.
 
I believe that much of what could rightfully be seen as increased polarization was driven by an increase in comment from non-subscribers, an increase that may have started, oh, around Nov. 8, 2016, and surely gained speed at about, oh, say, Jan. 20, 2017. 
Cutting off comments entirely is, in my opinion, not only too strong a price to pay, but an act of surrender. 
Sincerely
(Me)
I was then told by Editor-in-Chief Brian Calvert that HCN likes to have letters about current article and that this may not run, because of that. And, then, I see HCN run this letter. It doesn't address a particular story. It addresses the magazine's "tenor" and Calvert's editor's notes, but again, not any particular story. And I immediately tweeted that to HCN's account. And heard back not a word more than a week later.

Well, that's a Catch-22, at a minimum, even if it weren't being applied in a one-sided fashion. Another way of putting it is that it's a change in editorial policy that's being done without caring about subscriber opinion. That said, I was told that HCN has considered what I propose, but considers even that too wasteful of its resources.

To which I say: "Tosh." (That's a polite word, since as part of its attempt to moderate comments in the past, HCN doesn't like even mild alleged name-calling in its comments.) And, if calling a climate change denialist a climate change denialist, or a tea partier a tea partier, is me contributing to increased polarization, no, it's me trying to prevent your surrender.

First, limiting comments to subscribers only would itself be "auto-moderation," if one will.

Point 1A is that such auto-moderation would, in my opinion, address much of the need for actual moderation, as noted.

That said, I will allow for the fact that this is better than the old system. Most the pot-stirrers were non-subscribers and also Trump Train riders. The linked letter to the editor, of course, is from a subscriber, and someone who I don't recall seeing in online comments.

I'll admit to firing back at times with almost as much heat. But not AS much, and with more light.

But, moderated comments, with my simple suggestion on just using subscription as your single moderation tool, would be better. If nothing else, you'd force those more vitriolic Trump Train riders to subscribe!

But, this is no surprise, either.

HCN hasn't drifted, it's deliberately moved, in the 15 years or since I started reading. As in, like national Democrats or others, it's chased Republicans moving the Overton window.

Gone, as contributing writers and editors, are people such as Jeff St. Clair, the current publisher of Counterpunch, Felice Pace, who is an occasional contributor at Counterpunch, and I'm sure elsewhere, and Jim Stiles, publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr and self-appointed guardian of the flame of Cactus Ed/Alkie Ed Abbey.

I got in a discussion/argument about this with former managing editor Johnny Thompson, as noted in detail in this blog post, with his comments added. And, I stand by the gist of it. As a newspaper editor, I know that magazines, even more, have editorial stances as far as what they accept from freelancers. Sorry, Jonny, and other HCN senior editorial staff, but the trio above, and others, no longer write stuff that meets your needs because you redefined your needs. It's not that they suddenly became craptacular writers. I see the problem as largely being just the opposite of what Mr. Mumaw says.

Side note: Per something Paul Larmer said a year or two ago about why the mag is still in Paonia, I think it sometimes has forgotten Ed Marston's warnings about not romanticizing the rural West. From Counterpunch, here's 10 more Western myths that High County News should challenge further. (Some, like the sage grouse and the ESA, or the oil and gas world, it has; others, about ranching and western ruraldom, it still doesn't so muuch.)

I think HCN has also ignored other advice from Marston, as noted in this profile, like standing your ground and fighting out battles when needed.

I've let my HCN subscription lapse before, for other reasons, some of them related to the commenting issue, some of them related to HCN's tacking rightward. I likely won't renew when my current one runs out.

Otherwise, HCN's had a number of good stories over the years, but per the "editorial stance" angle, it's had clunkers, like a story saying the West needs more of the cowboy myth. Per Paul Larmer defending keeping the mag in Paonia, Colorado, and overlooking that the West is the most urbanized portion of the U.S. that may have been a personal choice.

And, in comments not fired to combat Trump Train riders, but to add general clarity, or even correct an occasional mistake, that can't be done now, except at Twitter or Facebook. And, commenting via social media doesn't have the same flow.

Sadly, and in part due to finances, HCN was pulling punches more than a decade ago. (In this case, New West is right; allowing the edits without a signed legal settlement is stupid. And, why not ask if somebody like Earthjustice, or former staffer Charles Wilkinson, would be your legal mouthpiece?)

October 25, 2018

Swetnick referral: Will Avenatti self-immolate?

Charles Grassley, oftime GOP toady and officially the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has referred barratry-flirting, IRS-wanted and ethics-challenged celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti to AG Jeff Sessions asking for a perjury investigation re sworn info Avenatti presented to his committee.

So, is this "basta" for Basta? I think it could be, and if nothing else, it again leads me to invoke Idries Shah:
To 'see both sides' of a problem is the surest way to prevent its complete solution. Because there are always more than two sides.
This is obviously something that's not two-siderism, but let's look at how the two-sider world is playing it out.

First, given that Grassley et al did not fully investigate all allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, a very apparent liar, this seems like straining at gnats at best. Wingnut Twitter applauded, while at least some sections of Resistance Twitter acted like this:
Not so fast. If the actual FBI "investigation" was carefully scripted and controlled, what makes you think this will be different, especially when Avenatti, not Kavanaugh, is the focus?

Second, as for the allegations that Grassley states, on the surface, Avenatti and Swetnick appear on thin ice. Here's the nutgraf, from page 5:
Not only did Ms. Swetnick materially contradict the allegations of sexual misconduct she and Mr. Avenatti made to the Committee about Judge Kavanaugh, there is simply no credible evidence that Ms. Swetnick ever even met or socialized with Judge Kavanaugh. On the contrary, there is substantial evidence they did not know each other.
Well, that might be hard to prove one way or the other, but just throwing that in there makes it look both like Grassley will play hardball and that he had things to play hardball with.

That's backstopped by this:
Ms. Swetnick did eventually provide NBC News the names of four people she said attended these alleged parties with her, but according to NBC: “One of them said he does not recall a Julie Swetnick. Another of the friends she named is deceased. We’ve reached out to the other two, and haven’t heard back.”
Well, "goes to credibility, your honor."

Add in things like the AP piece profiling her right after Avenatti went public. The rest of the Grassley referral complaint digs into her non-Kavanaugh issues background, expanding on that AP story, as well as expanding on the links in the first paragraph.

As I noted at the time, her past legal issues don't mean that Kavanaugh didn't sexually assault her. They do mean, though, that any story she would tell would be horrible and immediately attacked. Beyond that, there's the redder flag that, in the one suit, she was allegedly the sexual harasser herself. A second suit has the air of gold-digger about it and more. In all of this, and in Avenatti's tissue-thin denials, the air of the gold-digger grows ever larger around him, too.

Per Watergate, I think we're at "credibility gap."

And, per Time's new piece, curious what Avenatti does with people just handing him campaign donations on the street. Just stuff them in his pocket? And, are this many people that anti-Trump drunk and desperate?

===

OOPS, and real problems. Beyond politics in the narrow sense. If there's any fire behind the smoke, Avenatti's Nov. 14 arrest on a charge of felony-level domestic violence has finished cooking his political goose.

"These Truths" is full of untruths

These Truths: A History of the United StatesThese Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book has been heavily touted, in large part because of the author's name, I think. I've seen authors better than Jill Lepore hit a foul ball, which is why I try to avoid, in my own reviews, touting books solely because of the author.

That makes it all the more disconcerting to see an error as early as page 8 and a whopper to boot. As I tweeted Penguin Random House, is this an issue of the ongoing cheapness of book publishers on second-level copy editing and fact checking in general, or is it an issue of "name" authors getting more and more of a pass on these issues?

Indeed, beyond that as representative of numerous errors of fact, there’s numerous arguable errors of interpretation, and dubious decisions what to contain and what to omit.

Behind THAT, as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, as far as I can tell, there’s no “there” there. All of this is so bad did one thing I've occasionally done in the past and another I've never done.

The occasional? I emailed Lepore a copy of my original Goodreads review, from which this is edited and updated.

The never-before? I tweeted a copy of that review to the book's publisher, Penguin Random House, as already noted. (Neither Lepore or Penguin have responded.)

With that, let’s dig in to everything wrong with this book, with the errors of fact carefully documented.

Page 8: No, pre-Columbian American Indians did NOT herd pigs because there were none in the New World!
18: Contra Lepore, plenty of plants went from New World to Old, and quickly became common parts of Old World diets. Tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize and chiles are the obvious ones.
33: Kind-of sort-of on the Virginia Colony. Its original grant went to today’s Canadian border on the coast; a reformulation in 1609 changed that. Hence the worries of the Separatists fears of settling in Plimouth in 1620, even though they had no charter from the crown for anywhere. They had intended to, and had publicly indicated their intent to, settle in Virginia.

By page 45 or so, I realized that I would find little to nothing in the book in the way of facts that were new to me.

So, I started skipping and grokking.

116ff. Ignores larger background of Shays Rebellion, and issues related to this in the Washington Administration, ie, the promissory notes for land offered to veterans, speculation on them and repurchase, etc. There's nothing new here. Standard American History 101.
145: America had political factions, and alliances, of various sorts long before federalists and anti-federalists. And the Founders knew that. 1790s newspapers did not spring parties into being, and the Founders should have known that.

World War I take? Wasting pages on Germany being criticized by fundamentalists for higher criticism, and making that the intro to Bryan and Scopes, with almost zero coverage of the controversy over entry into the war itself, and Bryan’s time as Secretary of State? Horrible. As for Wilson’s health, he arguably had at least one mild-moderate stroke, and more than one mini-strokes or TIAs, a few years before the War.
The whole all-too-brief section on the Great War, especially given that we're in the centennial, is simply unacceptable.

242: Polk couldn’t have “wanted to acquire Florida,” as the U.S. had acquired it all by 1821! This was before Polk had been elected to the Tennessee Legislature, let alone the U.S. House.
242: Russia had renounced its Oregon claims by the time Polk became President. Spain had in the Adams-Onis treaty sidebars, and thus, any later Mexican claims (contra Lepore, there surely weren’t) would be rejected by the US anyway.
250: No, the Mexican War boundary line did NOT end up at the 36th parallel of latitude after Polk allegedly gave up on seeking the 26th parallel. El Paso is at the 32nd parallel. The Mexico-California border is approximately 32°30’. Also, I’ve never seen claims that Polk wanted Mexico down to the 26th parallel. Indeed, Polk even specifically mentions the 32nd parallel in his December, 1847 State of the Union.

(I jumped back here after moving ahead to WWI, as she said little about Spanish settlement in today’s Southwest. She had little more on New Mexico of wartime Mexico’s possession.)

Even worse, on her Polk land-seeking claims, this heavily footnoted book had NO footnotes.

406: No, most the world did NOT support “free trade” before WWI.
408: No, the 1924 immigration bill did not make immigrant proportional to current (of that time) population. It went back to the ethnic numbers of the 1890 Census.
410: I see no need to put “illegal alien” in scare quotes after first reference.
450: Doesn’t mention FDR playing a behind-the-scenes role in the defeat of Upton Sinclair. Doesn’t even mention that he refused to publicly endorse him. Doesn’t mention that he tried to get Sinclair to drop out and that support was offered to GOP incumbent Merriam when he refused.
452: No, the American PR factory was not democracy’s answer to fascism. In the US, it goes back at least as far as Teddy Roosevelt. And LePore even mentions Emil Hurja’s pre-1933 work. David Greenberg has the correct answers on all of this in “Republic of Spin” as reviewed by me here.
548: AFL-CIO (and big biz) opposed Truman’s national health care plan, not just AMA. The unions saw health insurance as a recruiting tool.
717: Given that Bush v Gore was the apotheosis of a further rightward shift of the Supreme Court, it gets short shrift.

Per other reviewers:
32: Nope, Mary, Queen of Scots did not die the year after James VI (future James I of England and KJV fame) was born; it was 20 years later.
154: Nope, it was Burr and Jefferson, not Adams and Jefferson, who tied in the 1800 Electoral College.
293: Nope, there were 11 Confederate states, not 15.

Basically, after I got a little way into the book, beyond looking for errors of fact, I began wondering what her intended audience was, and what her angle was. I had in mind something like Howard Zinn’s book. Zinn had several errors of interpretation, but he had an interpretive focus.

With LePore, as noted, it seems to be no “there” there, per Gertrude Stein. Yes, she goes intellectual with the extended references to John Locke. Yes, she goes deep history with several pages about Magna Carta (without telling you it was honored by English kings more in the breach than the observance up to the time of Charles I).

Then I realized: Her target audience is readers of the New Yorker plus non-social science batchelor’s level Harvard grads or something like that. Socially liberal — the repeated las Casas references as an example — but not economically leftist or close.

Wikipedia says: She has said, "History is the art of making an argument about the past by telling a story accountable to evidence".

I’m still not sure what argument she was trying to make in the whole book. I eventually grew tired of trying to figure it out.

I did learn tidbits and things, and learn enough about Lepore's writing, not to one-star it. Plus, I thought a two-star review would be less easily dismissed. But, it's close. (I did one-star it on Amazon, where I very rarely review books any more. That's because of the plethora of perhaps bot-driven one-paragraph five-star reviews and because Amazon bounced my original review since it refuses to allow external URLs in the body of reviews.

With this all in hand, of course, I'll be highly skeptical of any future magazine pieces by her I see in the New Yorker (beyond my normal degree of skepticism about ANYTHING in the New Yorker).

One other note: I've seen more and more history books over the last decade (Douglas Brinkley being a big example) where it looks like large chunks of the book's research and even a first draft of writing were turned over to graduate students by professors writing history. I think Depore's book is another example of that, too.


View all my reviews

October 23, 2018

TX Progressives kick off early voting

The Texas Progressive Alliance urges everyone to get out and vote as it brings you this week's roundup. From the Alliance and elsewhere, we start with election-related posts.

Off the Kuff published an interview with Kim Olson, the Democratic candidate for Ag Commissioner.

SocraticGadfly, collating and expanding on several previous posts and Twitter interactions, explained why he plans to undervote the U.S. Senate race.

At Brains and Eggs, P Diddle said Whataburger Beto O'Rourke topped White Castle Ted Cruz in a split decision that may not be enough for the election.

Stace at DosCentavos got what he wanted in a Beto O'Rourke immigration ad. In fact, Beto hit Cruz pretty hard.

At the Texas Observer, Forrest Wilder wonders if gov candidate Lupe Valdez will benefit from a Beto bump, or if, on the flip, a bad loss by her will end the Texas Dem Party's lusting after Hispanics to top the ticket.

The Texas Trib wonders if the Trump rally in Houston will motivate Republicans more, or Democrats?

Juanita names her favorite moment from the Cruz-O'Rourke debate.

 =================

 And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Leah Binkovitz looks at the question of whether Houston's light rail line has helped to reduce traffic pollution.

Christof Spieler analyzes the so-called "sharing" economy as another aspect of sharing space in a city.

Better Texas Blog catalogs the ways in which our state tax system is unfair.

Texas Vox finds meaning in organizing after reading the IPCC report (while taking the report at face value, rather than noting reality is even worse because the IPCC pulled punches).

The Death Row Moratorium Network highlighted five exonorees in front of the Capitol.

October 22, 2018

All the black GOP is divided into four parts?

Charles Barkley: No
longer a poster child of
black Republicanism?
Hearing about a nutbar group which is basically Black MAGA and no I'm not linking to them backing a racist ad in an Arkansas Congressional race, I started thinking more about the black Republican world.

Per the header, here's my Tweets about that, which I will expand upon:

And
And
Yes, I'm going out on a bit of limb with this, but, like the likes of Doug Henwood, I don't have white liberal guilt, so let's dive in.

Many of the people in the first one-fourth are like Colin Powell in the third group: Veterans. The U.S. military, especially in the officer class, is very arguably about the most racism-free big business in America. (The ranks, especially in the Army, having to downgrade its recruiting standards as the War on Terra drags on and unemployment drops, is a somewhat different story.)

And, yes, since the military has no official affirmative action program, it's easy to believe that all America could just really be this way.

But, once you join the armed forces, you're forced shoulder-to-shoulder with people of other ethnicities. Unlike big business, you can't easily self-segregate. Plus, since the armed forces integrated earlier than private businesses, whites in the military have long been more likely to have minority bosses than people in the private sector.

In addition, the private sector has limits on what a minority boss can do to you if you wear racism on your shoulder. In the military? A black drill sergeant can tell a white hoodlum PFC "Gimme 50" day after day after day. Assign that person to perpetual KP or latrine duty. Etc., etc.

So, racism may still exist in the military, contra the Allen Wests of the world, but where it does, it has to be hidden more, too.

The grifters? Can't blame them.

Beyond obvious grifters, where do we put a, say, Charles Barkley? Remember when he was being touted as Alabama Republican gubernatorial material? Was he just along for the ride the whole time, or was he more in category one?

Other athletes pro and top-level college, like former Oklahoma Sooner J.C. Watts, have jumped on the GOP bandwagon before, only to become disillusioned later. Athletics, especially at the pro level, seems broadly similar to the military on lack of at least overt racism, and why.

On the pro athletes, if Dennis Rodman can be pigeonholed at all, it would be as a grifter. Shawne Merriman and Terrell Owens as Trump Train riders first, GOPers second. Herschel Walker would be a mix of No. 1 and No. 3. Latrell Sprewell? Trump Train rider, I guess. Karl Malone? The group 1 real deal.

Lynn Swann and Tony Dungy seem true believers, and unlike the likes of Colin Powell, social conservatives who will remain Republican. (How vocal a religious rightist like Dungy is about Trump's immorality is still to be seen.)

This issue applies even more to black Republican religious leaders like T.D. Jakes. So far, most of these folks have, if not going full Robert Jeffress in effusive Trump praise, at a minimum, kept their lips zipped on not offering condemnation of Trump's racism or his sexual immorality.

Then there's the black social conservatives who even repeat the canard that Margaret Sanger (who was definitely not perfect on race or class issues) intended abortion to be a black genocide. (These are often the same types of people who claim that Southern Democrats, and Dems in general, of today, are just like pre-LBJ Democrats in being the real racists. Just one step removed are the people who talk about long dead blacks like Zora Neale Hurston as black Republicans. And yes, I saw a website that did just that, as well as a very white New Zealander.)



Wikipedia has a page on "black conservativism in the United States." When 20 percent of the people listed don't have their own pages, you're barrel-scraping, even if who gets a Wiki page can be arbitrary.