Thursday, January 19, 2017

About #theresistance

There's a Twitter hashtag / meme / whatever: "#theresistance". At first glance it appears, mostly, to be a vehicle for ex-GOP current Dem people like Frum and Brock to continue to try to keep influential positions by making the alternative to Trump be a neocon one, using the techniques of manufactured outrage that doesn't go anywhere that they learned in the GOP.

But there are some people with similar ideas who are well-meaning and sincere. For instance, here is an article by B Sales-Lee: Keep Calm and Protect Democracy. It has the characteristic combination of two assumptions (or, in this case, what are presented as the professional judgements of a historian): 1) we're close to fascism, or at least close to authoritarian martial law; 2) we best prevent this in the short term by being calm and not breaking the rules. Further characteristics not present in the Sales-Lee article are that the goal of this resistance to fascism is implicitly or explicitly to put things back to how they were, back to "functioning democracy" and "functioning government" and generally back to the neoliberal order as it was under Obama, either because this is good in itself or because it is a lesser evil way station on the way to better things.

I have my doubts about whether Trump is really going to lead us to authoritarian martial law or fascism or however you'd like to describe it. He's a very unpopular and in many ways standard GOP politician, promising to do many of the things that Reagan promised and could not do. As Corey Robin has been writing, it's quite conceivable that plain political opposition will stop him. #theopposition doesn't have the glamour of #theresistance, of course.

But let's say he is. People are then taking the position that fascism is fast approaching and that we'd better be polite about it. This I just don't understand. It only works if you can get everyone to be polite, but of course you can't, so it predictably ends up with liberals as the "peace police": enforcing their standard of behavior on others and finally turning them in to the police or not supporting them when arrested in order to save us from fascism. (B. Sales-Lee, I should note, isn't a liberal, but rather a pacifist socialist.)

I really don't have a problem with the center-left saying that Trump is a very bad GOP pol and that we have to oppose him through normal political methods. There are always some people playing the "inside game" in politics, and that's their role. But if that's really what they are going to do, they should stop presenting themselves as resisting imminent fascism, because they aren't. Or if they do really think there's imminent fascism, then they have to recognize that this will in most people's minds demand actions that they aren't comfortable with. I think that a lot of the lower-level #theresistance talk is from people who are realizing that the Democratic party will not do even ordinary political opposition, so they are trying to ramp up expectations rhetorically.

There is one thing, though -- actual resistance is dangerous. I don't see why anyone should do it if the goal is to, explicitly or implicitly, return to the neoliberal order. That same order created the conditions that made Trump possible as a political leader in the first place, and if we return to it, those conditions will return and we'll get a worse Trump. An actual resistance has to be based around shared values that would not lead to a return to that order. Until people in the center-left are ready to treat the left as serious interlocutors rather than as encumbrances on the way towards putting everything back as it was, those shared values are impossible to work out.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Buzzfeed leaked document

Buzzfeed has leaked the dossier on Trump supposedly compiled by a former British intelligence person for election opposition research purposes. This document is apparently the ur-source of all of the claims that Russians have compromising material on Trump, that he is a Russian agent, etc. -- the David Corn article, the Reid letter, the supposed FBI investigation, etc. There's just one basic problem with this dossier. Anyone who reads it, rather than summarizing its contents, has to realize that it's crazy. It's not just "unverified" or "unsubstantiated" or "contains errors" or whatever the latest weasel words are: it's kook-conspiratorial and I defy anyone to read through it without laughing, preserving their sense of its credibility to the end. If, as Buzzfeed claims, this is the document that everyone has been looking at, then the system is full of credulous fools.

Here are some of the assertions in the document:

* That the Kremlin has been feeding Trump intelligence on his opponents, including HRC, for years. (Who were his opponents for the years before he even decided to run?) And offering him deniable bribes as real estate deals. But he apparently never used any of this information or took any of these deals.

* People don't go into details of the "golden showers" thing, because they are so ridiculous. The core compromising material that the Kremlin is supposed to have on Trump is that he specifically stayed in a Presidential suite at a hotel because Obama had stayed there and because he disliked Obama, and then defiled it by hiring prostitutes to perform a golden shower show in it (which the Russians secretly videoed). In other words, it wasn't even that he just secretly liked this fetish, it was supposed to be also that he was insulting Obama.

* Trump was supposed to be actively participating in gathering intelligence for the Russians by reporting back on the activities of the families of Russian oligarchs living in the US. Just imagine this for a minute.

* Trump also participated by hiring his own hackers, in addition to the Russian hackers, and by having moles in the DNC. Trump's known associates (his lawyer, etc.) are supposed to have had multiple, personal meetings with Russian agents in Europe. One doc in the dossier is titled "Further Details of Secret Dialogue Between Trump Campaign Team, Kremlin, and Assorted Hackers in Prague".

* Trump's team is "happy to have Russia as media bogeyman to mask more extensive corrupt ties to China"

* There are various tells, within the document, that it comes from a kook right-wing source. It's anti-Semitic -- one assertion is that the FSB is approaching "US citizens of Russian (Jewish) origin" as agents, rather than just any citizen of Russian origin. It says that the Russians are also supporting Jill Stein and *Lyndon LaRouche*.

That last bit is a telling detail. Lyndon LaRouche is utterly irrelevant, and the only people who tend to mention him out of the blue are LaRouchites. LaRouchites have a core skill in making up long tracts about how various world leaders are conspiring and having lurid sex with each other, and they're fascinated with Russia. My best guess is that some LaRouchite wrote this and it's since been circulated by people who know it's BS but want it out there anyways.

The document is full of specific claims, such as that a named lawyer went to Prague for secret meetings in a specific month. The lawyer, of course, denies having ever been to Prague. It is completely not credible that our surveillance agencies, the greatest panopticon ever invented, can simply not corroborate this assertion rather than proving or disproving it.

Laughing at Trump is fine. Actually believing in this stuff isn't, not if you expect people to believe in actual scandals about Trump.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Protest (III)

I wrote a previous post with a few notes about a FEMA training manual for police that Unicorn Riot turned up. Here are a few notes about another, older one (from 2008):

From here:

"Last week, after filing a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request, Unicorn Riot received a heavily redacted copy of the Denver Police Crowd Control Manual. Most sections of the manual relevant to the policing of protests (our primary interest) were redacted. One redaction was 15 pages long!

Since then, an anonymous source provided Unicorn Riot with an unredacted copy of the manual. This version is dated May 2008, while the redacted version via CORA request is dated October 2011."

This one doesn't have as much useful information as the FEMA one, but there are a few points of interest. From the "Denver Police Department Crowd Management Matrix":

* If you use passive resistance (towards police), i.e. going limp or remaining in a prone position, it is official policy that police are justified in using pain compliance techniques against you. What these are is not spelled out -- a strange or perhaps not so strange omission in a document that spells out a lot of other things. But basically, if you go limp, police are authorized to torture you into compliance by causing pain to move you along.

* If you use "Defensive resistance" (towards police), i.e. actions that do not attempt to harm an officer but instead are actions like attempting to flee, police are authorized to shoot you with a pepper ball. Additional text helpfully explains that people can be shot with pepper balls if they have climbed up trees, walls, signs etc. to get them to come down "when their elevated position or actions pose a threat to the field force".

* If someone is passively resisting, police aren't supposed to hit them with batons. They can use batons in "escort techniques" i.e. come-alongs. That isn't even considered to be a use of force and doesn't even trigger the paperwork of having to fill out a use of force report.

* There are the usual mentions of Shadow Teams to pick people out of crowds and of Cut Teams, which are groups of police specifically trained in how to cut peaceful protestors out of devices where they chain themselves to things or to each other in order to block something. People usually think of specialized police training as being in detective work or in how to handle various kinds of violent criminals, but some of it is in how to make people move along more quickly because they are in some business's way (complete with the above mentioned pain compliance).

This is the reality of peaceful protest in America, long before Donald Trump.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Partisanship is no substitute for values

Today, Obama wrote in an official statement that "All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions." That is what Obama ran on, after all, hope and change and universal alarm.

It goes without saying that Russian interference -- if Russia was indeed behind the DNC hacks, which is far from proven -- amounted to releasing true but embarrassing Emails. Unauthorized journalism, in other words.

Since the election, the American center-left has shown itself as completely incapable of resistance to anything. Resistance requires integrity and solidarity and the guidance of strongly held values. There is no left value that says that embarrassing Emails from politicians should not be released. On the contrary, there are -- or should be -- strong left values against mindless war fever and unthinking trust in the security apparatus, and in favor of openness in the political process. Imagine that the Russians were responsible for the hacks. OK, then what? What kind of left idea says that the response should be escalation, tough-guy posturing, and ratcheting up tensions with a nuclear power that we have no essential grievance with? Defense of American institutions, even when those institutions are corrupt? Because the DNC certainly was corrupt: it used the Hillary Victory Fund among other means to slant the primary in favor of one candidate (thereby hurting the party in the general election). Should we retrospectively condemn Daniel Ellsberg for releasing the Pentagon Papers and harming America's defense forces?

Partisanship can not substitute for having some kind of basic idea -- both for oneself and for simple communication with others -- about what you do and don't support. The left can not be the party of trust-the-CIA and war posturing when that is convenient. The whole concept is sickening and should shame any putative center-left person who once mumbled something about what a shame it was, what the US did in Central America. Death squads then, trust now, all because of an election that the left legitimately lost according to the completely ridiculous but fixed rules of the US political process.

Since then the center-left has done almost everything that it accused the right of. Not accepting the election results and attempting to overturn the election with the "Hamilton Electors" foolishness. Believing in every fake news story that flatters their preconceptions. Accusing journalists of being Russian agents if they write non-approved stories. Allowing their party to be taken over by grifters (most of them ex-Republicans looking for easy pickings) who tell them whatever they want to hear. The main difference is that the center-left is ineffectual and when it does these things that doesn't even bring any results.

Both central American parties and tendencies are tottering, hollowed out and ready to collapse. What's going to come next? Something from the margins, from people who have the courage of their convictions, good or bad.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Anonymous sources are more credible than named ones

I'm doing some eldercare this week, so NPR has been on. A day or so back there was an earnest interview with someone who said that unnamed sources in the CIA assured them that Russia had interfered in the US election. Today there was a followup. They had gotten some kind of listener feedback about anonymous sources so they brought people back to say that all was well. We were given a kind of child's first reader of CIA reporting.

The text for this is probably up on the Internet somewhere, so someone who cares can impeach my memory. But what I remember being told is:

* Reporters assess anonymous sources carefully for why they are saying what they are saying (institutional interests, etc.)

* We should actually trust anonymous sources more than named sources (!). Whenever we hear a reporter citing an anonymous source from an intelligence service, that means that the reporter has done the utmost checking on whether the person is credible, has knowledge, and has a good reason to tell us

* Pretty much all reporting from intelligence services is from anonymous sources, because one of their rules is that they are not supposed to talk to reporters

* In fact, they take periodic polygraph tests where they are asked whether they have talked to reporters. The interviewer mused that anonymous sources must have to lie and hope that they pass the polygraph.

This is ridiculous, and no one who thinks about it for two minutes could not find it ridiculous. If everyone is given periodic polygraph tests where they are asked whether they have talked to reporters, then polygraph tests must not work. I find that pretty believable that they don't work well at all, but security services keep using them. Is it really credible that all of these "leaks" that favor the CIA's favored story really are from truth-tellers half-assedly hoping that they pass their next polygraph?

There's a much more credible story. All of these "leaks" -- the only things that reporters get -- are officially authorized leaks meant to tell a story that the CIA wants to be told. The people doing the leaking don't have to fear their next polygraph, because they were told to leak the information to the reporter. The reporters have every motive to play along, because if they don't, they don't get any news from this beat at all.

It's self-serving twaddle all around: from the CIA, from the reporters, from the listeners who want to believe the latest story that flatters their prejudices.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

First they came for Boeing

In between choosing supervillain names for members of his cabinet, Trump sends out tweets. One of these read "Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!"

All of the implicit claims in this tweet are pretty much true. Air Force One is more than one plane, and the project really is projected to cost something like $4 billion. It's also probably true that Trump tweeted this because the CEO of Boeing said something mean about him -- as far as I can tell, it was something in support of the TPP.

So cue all sorts of approach-of-fascism, this-is-the-end things from the center left. Trump was "tearing up a contract". (Well, actually, no. The President saying that a contract should be cancelled does not cancel the contract.) He tanked Boeing's stock and should be sued for that. (The stock was back to its previous value by the end of the day.) He was deluding his brainless followers, who wouldn't even check the blatant lies in his tweet. (Actually, of course, the people who were saying that the tweet was crazy hadn't checked for themselves at all.) He was calling the whole capitalist system into question by thuggishly pressuring a company using the leverage of government contracts.

Boeing is the second largest defense contractor in the world. It's the military-industrial complex. I was unaware that being on the left meant defending the sanctity of contract for big military business, or defending stock prices, or that we should leap to defend the TPP because Trump is against it. Pity poor Boeing's lobbyists who are being silenced as they try to speak truth to power! Of course Trump and Boeing patched this up in short order.

Trump's next target (there's probably going to be one every couple of days) was Chuck Jones, a Steelworkers union leader, and that was bad for Chuck Jones who got a lot of threatening phone calls from Trump supporters, but at least this Trump target was a) a person, not a giant corporation, b) telling the truth, not speaking out for the TPP, c) one of a group that is a traditional first target of the right and that people really should support.

That lasted a little while. Then Trump attacked the most important target ever, apparently: the CIA. And the reaction was "how dare he attack the CIA". Pity the poor deep state! They only want to speak the truth, which they have tortured out of a succession of innocent black site prisoners. They could not possibly be lying about nebulous evidence of Russian involvement in releasing DNC Emails. And how dare a foreign country interfere in some other country's election. The CIA's entire history shows that they are the guardians who stand strongly against that.

I know that I've written this a lot, but there is no anti-Trump alliance. The center left or whatever you want to call it does not share the left's values: they are motivated strictly by partisanship, and will instantly throw the left overboard as soon as they return to power or really whenever it's convenient, such as when they think they'll get a better deal out of Trump. They won't support us: they won't defend us: they don't even really want anything from us or have any use for us. They won't even defend their own voters or their own base. That's the first and most salient fact about the Trump era.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The twilight of neoliberalism (II): the free trade bait and switch

The support of mainstream economists (think, say, Brad DeLong or Larry Summers) for free trade agreements goes something like this:

1. Economists say that free trade mathematically helps everyone -- makes everyone richer.

2. But if hurts certain sub-populations within countries who work in certain industries. Center-left economists will then say that the "losers" of globalization or free trade should be compensated, helped or supported in some way.

3. But this hardly ever actually happens. Even though it doesn't happen, economists continue to call for free trade.

4. The losers of free trade revolt at the ballot box.

Why does it work this way? "Free trade" agreements are not simply agreements that countries will hold down tariffs. They are bundled in with all sorts of items that favor global elites and the global financial system: intellectual property, restrictions on regulation, restrictions on support of national industries. They are a vehicle for the managerial/professional class, negotiated in secret and without public input. These elites never will spend money on compensating the losers of free trade. For them to do so, these agreements would have to arise from popular politics, the product of organizations that would demand that vulnerable segments of the public not lose out. That is not the class background or ideology that produces free trade agreements, and that is not the power that backs them.

Mainstream economists have a dual function (or perhaps a singular function) as the ideologues of the global managerial class. That is why they will never cease supporting free trade even as the compensation of losers that they say should happen never does.