Monday, July 16, 2018

Today's word: Contradiction

Today's post is pretty quick...but maddening.  Yes, tRump's all-over-the-friggin'-map verbal vomit machine is at it again.

from Huffington Post, used without permission

So, this the Pacific time zone, both Putin and tRump asserted that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 elections.  A Time post on their joint press conference quoted the Cheeto-in-Chief, "My people came to me — [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin — he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be."  However, Politico reported that just yesterday, he told CBS's Jeff Glor, "The DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked. They had bad defenses, and they were able to be hacked."  So, on the one hand it didn't happen, but on the other it's the DNC's fault it happened to them.

In rhetoric, this is a simple contradiction.  Symbolically we could present it as this: Let A = Russia meddled with the US elections. For more than a year and a half, tRump has been asserting -A [not A], which would could be formulated as: It is not the case that Russia meddled with the 2016 elections.  However, his assertion that the DNC is at fault for being hacked by the Russians relies on a tacit assertion that they did, in fact, meddle with the elections by hacking the DNC.  Thus, the illustrious Cheeto is trying to assert both A and -A at the same time.  This is a pretty clear example of classical contradiction.

from, not used with permission

To make matters worse, the tRump's assertion contradicts his own Homeland Security team's concern about cyber attacks from Russia.  CNN reported that DHS Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, "warned state officials on Saturday that the threat from Russia targeting US elections has not dissipated."  She did try to walk back the level of the threat, saying that the threat seems not to be as great for the 2018 mid-terms as it was for the 2016 Presidential elections...but walking back still relies on A--that Russia did meddle with US elections.  Furthermore, tRump's Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coates, warned that Russian meddling in the 2018 mid-terms is at a "critical point" and that the lights are "blinking red" for cyber attacks.

So...which is it, tRumpty Dumb-pty? A or -A?  Isn't that a bit like saying, "No, my daughter's not pregnant" one minute, then blaming her boyfriend for not using a condom?

image by shadowjess2000 from Deviant Art, used without permission

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A response to immigration detention centers

I’m going to be a bit more “philosophical” in this post than I’ve been in others because I think it’s always good to articulate one’s principles.  The brother of an old friend of mine challenged a meme I posted about the current administration’s (CA) anti-immigrant policies and this got me thinking.  So, I thought I would take a bit of time to articulate some of the ideas that have been driving my opposition to the CA—I’m not going to try and be comprehensive here, but give some thoughts.

A rabbi and University of Alabama Professor I have gotten to know over the last couple of years, Steven L. Jacobs gave a presentation at a recent Holocaust and Genocide Studies conference, in which he warned against over-playing comparisons between the current socio-political climate with that of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, noting that there are some significant differences, but he did recognize that there are certainly similarities.  In my own everyday life, I have begun to refer to the CA as being “proto-Fascist” (I was grateful when Jacobs agreed with using this strategy).  I think it might be a good time to discuss what it is about the CA that puts it on the road towards Fascism.

For a basic starting point, I’ll take some ideas from Asaf Kedar’s entry on Fascism from SAGE’s Encyclopedia of Political Theory. [1]  I'm not going to try and be comprehensive here, but some of the salient points of Fascism at play in my critique are:

  1. virulent nationalism”—This idea is all over the CA, from the America First policy/doctrine to Steve Bannon’s touting of “economic nationalism.”   This is, of course, the source of the xenophobia and racism at the heart of Fascism.
  2. political authoritarianism”—This shows up statements from the President that he has authority to pardon himself,  to odd demagogic cabinet meetings that  start with praise fests, to his own declarations about "absolute right" to control the justice department, to Stephen Miller’s claim that immigration policy will be "unquestioned."  
  3. a systematic, hierarchical organization of society to harness it in service of the national interest—without, however, dismantling the fundamental structures of capitalism, primarily wage labor and private property”—This is a complex idea, but part of it making economics and national security the central pillar of every decision and pounding the proverbial pulpit with this language at every opportunity.  This showed up in the President’s announcing an end to war games with South Korea because it first “save us a tremendous amount of money” and then because they are “provocative” 
  4. sustain efforts of war and imperial conquest”—The current president’s fascination with the military and political violence is disconcerting from his dropping the largest conventional bomb ever built, to his unveiled threats against North Korea, to his near constant threat posture in the Middle East, even to the point of his own chiefs of staff questioning his judgement—take the proposed new space-oriented branch of the armed forces, or the push back against his desire for a military parade
  5. a deep, urgent sense of cultural crisis”—The CA’s rhetoric of crisis shows up in so many of its public statements.  Last year, the President tried to falsely claim that murder rates were the highest in nearly half a century and the administration still tries to make a dubious connection between immigration and a rise in crime…not to mention the claim that immigration is a drain on the economy, when research calls that claim into question at best.  
  6. active, systematic embrace of modern technology and an equally systematic manipulation of mass society, mass politics, and mass communication”—This shows up in multiple ways, most disturbingly in the administration’s attempt to discredit almost all news media outlets, except Fox and other overtly right-wing outlets...and let us not forget his odd relationship with Sean Hanity nor his policy by Twitter tendency.

There are, of course many other aspects of Fascism, but I want to get at the specific point, namely the immigrant detention camps.  Here is the meme I re-posted:

I think it’s important to consider the women who issued this quote, Aviva Dautch.  She recently earned her PhD from London University and is currently Poet in Residence at London’s Jewish History Museum and is the recipient of the Lily Safra Award from Brandies University for her academic work in Jewish Women’s History.  I point this out as a way of showing this is not simple pundit klatch, but is an observation of someone who has put in a good deal of time researching and publishing in the area of Jewish studies.

One complaint I have seen about the claim this quote rests on is that the comparison between these immigrant detention camps and Nazi concentration camps is over blown, that it is simply hyperbolic.  There is no system to exterminate immigrants, the complaints point out.  True enough, but this claim relies on a very narrow conception of Nazi concentration camps: the extermination camps.  In the entire camp system, only six built specifically for extermination: Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Majdanek.  The hundreds of other camps were for detention and forced labor.  The National Holocaust Museum offers this definition of the concept:
The term concentration camp refers to a camp in which people are detained or confined, usually under harsh conditions and without regard to legal norms of arrest and imprisonment that are acceptable in a constitutional democracy. 
Distinguishing between types of camps is crucial for critiques of immigrant detention centers.  The first concentration camps were built in 1933 and were originally for political prisoners, homosexuals, Gypsies, and Jehova’s Witnesses.  Importantly, these camps could be filled with potential enemies of the state, which could be defined as loosely as local authorities and the SS wanted to define it.  Significantly, as the SS took over the entire camp system, their actions were not subject to judicial review.  Jewish persons did not become specific targets until after the annexation of Austria (March 1938) and Kristalnacht (Nov 1938) and the original intent of detaining Jews was to deport them to Poland. [2]  There was even a plan to deport European Jews to the Island of Madagasgar.  Extermination camps did not exist until 1941 with the opening of Chelmno.  I recount this history to show how the assumption of death camps misses the point for those of us critical of immigration camp.  

So how are the immigration centers like concentration camps?
  1. The first similarity is that the centers are being created for detaining persons the CA would prefer to deport.  Granted, the reasons for deportation are different; thus,while the basic intent is not equivalent, it is comparable.
  2. The next is that there is pretty open xenophobia associated with these camps.  The President's antipathy towards people  from south of the border is pretty well demonstrated in his comments about Latino populations and policies that will likely have a detrimental effect on Latino populations. This, of course is just an aspect of his general xenophobia, demonstrated by his "shithole" countries comment in January.
  3. Part of the current anti-immigrant wave is the threat of MS-13 gang members and the "rapists" and "drug dealers" coming in to the country.  Evan Sernoffsky and Joe Garofoli pointed out in a recent San Francisco Chronicle piece that while MS-13 is a threat to California communities, that threat is not ubiquitous and has actually lessened in some areas; in Los Angeles, where the gang was first formed, it is at its weakest point, according to Jorga Leap, a UCLA professor of social welfare.   Furthermore, she asserted that the CA's constantly calling attention to the gang may actually be aiding in recruitment efforts.  This, is of course, just one state, but it shows that the threat narrative rests on shaky ground. A Senate Judiciary report found that only 0.02% out of 260,000 youth coming across the border were associated with MS-13.  That is cause for concern, but it seems to fall short of the apocryphal narrative the administration puts forward.  Additionally, as pointed out in point 5 above, there is no real solid evidence that immigration and crime rates are positively related.  Recently, the President has linked a so-called rise in crime in Germany to immigration, claiming that last year there was a 10% increase in crime.  According to Philip Seibt from Germany's news magazine Der Spiegel,there has been no such jump in crime.  Last year, actually, reported crime was the lowest it has been since 1992.  Interestingly, Seibert's work does show an uptick by crime from certain immigrant groups--southeastern Europeans and North Africansbut not enough to warrant the doomsday scenario the President has presented.  Related to this is an exaggerated sense of illegal immigration; Katie Benner and Caitlin Dickinson in a recent New York Times piece wrote that the number of Border Patrol stops this past year has been the lowest since 1971. 
  4. Associated with the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany were the Nuremberg Laws, which basically disenfranchised Jews and even criminalized some activities.  Now there doesn't yet seem to be anything this drastic in the works for the current CA, however, Attorney General Jeff Session's recent policy changes regarding people seeking refugee status for fleeing domestic and other "non-state" violence sends a similar kind of message to potential immigrants: You are not wanted, stay and die in your own country.  It is using legal policy in the service of nationalism.[3]  
  5. Just this week, the President tweeted that he wants deportations with "no judges or court cases."  He is advocating for ending due process and judicial review.  As stated above, this became a feature of the Nazi concentration camp system.  Thus, the President is openly pushing for a power enjoyed by the SS.
  6. Just this week, a papers were filed in federal court in which six Latinos held in a Virginia youth detention center allege they were abused and mistreated, including being handcuffed to chairs, having bags placed over their heads and being "left nude shivering in concrete cells."  This, unfortunately, fits in with a very discomforting pattern of abuse in the Border Patrol and ICE ranks.  The ACLU and University of Chicago Law School recently published a report on over 30,000 pages released under FOIA that document many cases of abuse between 2009 and 2014, including physical, verbal, and even sexual abuse.  Additionally, Alice Speri of The Intercept, recently wrote about 1,224 documented complaints against the Border Patrol and ICE between 2010 and Sep. 2017.  Most of these complaints, of course, predate the CA showing that there may be an pervasive pattern of abuse of child immigrants among immigration services already.  An atmosphere of abuse, of course, was a key feature of concentration camps; and, while the level of abuse may not be as extreme, is any level permissible?
  7. Just as I was getting ready to post this, a story appeared in The Daily Beast about current and former military personnel being opposed to these detention centers being housed on military bases.  Steve Kleinman, a retired Air Force veteran said the plan "smacks of totalitarianism."  Raf Naboa, former Army sargent, lamented “America’s military once liberated people from concentration camps.  It beggars the mind and our morality that it might be used to secure them.”
So, many of us recognize that there is not a one-to-one correspondence with the Nazi concentration camps, but there very disconcerting similarities.  Again, the Nazi camp system started as a series of prisons and detention centers, but quickly escalated to something far more sinister.  Would that ever happen in the US?  Well, yes it has.  Concentration camps were used during the forced migrations of Native Americans.  In a column for Indian Country Today, Elicia Goodsoldier quotes  Pulitzer Prize winning author, John Toland, who wrote:

Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the wild west; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination—by starvation and uneven combat—of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.
Toland specifically named the Bosque Redondo served as an inspiration.  Naomi Gingold did a piece for PRI about an internment camp in Prescott, AZ in which both Japanese and Native Americans were held, working on a large irrigation project.  This, of course, touches on the Japanese internment.  Many of us who oppose the immigration camps do so with the idea of not seeing this kind of thing happening again. 

1. Asaf Kedar.  (2010).  Fascism.  In Marc Bevir (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Political Theory, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.  Retrieved fromSage Knowledge EBooks, 9781412958660.n168 

3. Of course, fleeing non-state violence has not been part of immigration policy for very long (in 2014 Obama made it a valid condition), but it was a policy recognizing the many reasons people immigrate to the US in the first place, including many of European descent.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

What might an honest letter from the NRA to America's school children and teens look like?

Today, I wondered what an honest National Rifle Association response to the high-school shooting in Florida would  look like, given the tepid (at best) responses from the gun lobby giant and its minions--e.g. tRump and Floridians like Sen. Marco Rubio and Governor Rick Scott.  Let's be honest, if the safety of children (especially at school) were really of concern, things would look a lot different.  Dr. Jay Livingston, Montclair State University's sociology department chair, asked whether schools in Europe have the same rate of shootings as the US does and did a quick, informal study on the question which he posted on his department's blog (I have linked to a reposting of the blog on The Society Page, a general sociology blog). The answer was pretty depressing, frankly:

Image from The Society Pages
So, between 1980 and 2014, when Dr. Livingston wrote his post, there were almost ten times as many school shootings in the US than Europe even though we have 60% of the population.  The difference?  Not the kids.

Sculpture by Penny Byrne
The US has a civilian gun ownership rate of 88.8 per 100 people, meaning that there are more guns in America than adults; the next highest rate belongs to Yemen at 54.8--yes, that Yemen...the basically-failed state embroiled in civil war and one of the poorest countries in the Middle East.  Therefore, it should not be surprising that the US also has the highest homicide rate involving firearms, about four times higher than our nearest "competitor" in the developed world.

Image from the article linked to in the previous paragraph.
So, with that as a backdrop, here is what an honest open letter from the NRA to America's school children and teens might read like:

Dear Children and Teens of America,

Like many of you, we are saddened by the recent shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in which fourteen of you were gunned down by one of your former peers (possibly more given the number of wounded).  It was easily the most traumatic of the 127 acts of gun violence reported that day.  We are, in fact, deeply saddened by the fact that 451 of you have already been shot to death in the 49 days of 2018, a death rate of 9.2 of you per day.  We are saddened by each of the other 238 school shootings since the tragic December 2012 incident at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which have resulted in 138 dead and 300 wounded.  If we assume a 9-month school year, that works out to 4.98 shootings and 2.88 killings per month.  According to our analysis, though, that is quite a negligible risk. 

The fact is we cannot support stricter gun laws because of our organizational culture and mythos that relies on fear.  Many of our members and supporters believe that our federal government poses a greater threat than their fellow citizens.  A great enough threat, in fact, that they feel they need to arm themselves with assault weapons similar to the ones used in national militaries and paramilitary groups the world over in which AK-47s are so popular.  Some even feel so threatened that they sometimes carry them in grocery and convenience stores (a simple Google image search will provide visual evidence of this); additionally, thousands and thousands of concealed weapons are carried on a daily basis in the same areas. We appreciate that we need to appear as if we find it prudent to oppose such excess, which we occasionally do, but the fact is that our existence relies on such hysteria.  For years we have perpetuated the myth that a “good guy with a gun” can prevent such tragedies as mass shooting, even though research opposes our claim.  Incidentally, this is one reason we have pushed so hard and successfully for suppressing federal funding for research into gun violence.  

We feel it important that, during this time of national mourning, we come clean and admit that your lives are of secondary importance to us.  Perpetuating the mythos of overwhelming danger, especially in the form of some vague threat from the federal government, and providing access to deadlier fire arms and accessories such as silencers and bump stocks is and must remain our priority.  Others claim that you are at greater risk in schools than your counterparts in other developed nations, which some of us might admit, but protecting you is not the aim of our organization and so cannot be a  priority, hence our policies of opposition and foot-dragging. 

We are sorry for your trauma and fear and our thoughts and prayers are with you, but please be assured we will continue to support policies that will increasingly put you in harms way and will continue to contribute millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians who will either do nothing to protect you or will suggest solutions like arming teachers which will result in greater numbers of fatalities.

Yours truly,

The National Rifle Association

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Dead Prezes Tweet tRump

Amazing what you can find when you dig around in Twitter!  Turns out some of tRump's dead colleagues are pretty skeptical about the Tantrumer-in-Chief...

Would it be safe to say that Lincoln still has more cred with African Americans that Lord Cheeto?


Of course, looks like Taft may be a bit friendlier...but...#SarcasmHappens...

Friday, January 26, 2018

Today's Word: Vorbild

Image by @markheybo from Flckr, CC BY
A German word I'm fond of is Vorbild, a word that can be translated as "example," "model," "role model," or "archetype."  When we break the word into its parts though, the interesting aspects of the word really pop out; vor means (roughly) "in front of" or "before," the ancestor to the English prefix, fore.  The second part of the word, Bild, can be translated as "picture" or "image."  So, on the level of literal translation, a Vorbild is an image we carry in front of ourselves and to which we aspire or to which we are drawn.  In this sense, Obi Wan Kenobi is a Vorbild for Luke Skywalker.

Images from and  
This matter of having Vorbilder (the plural form) is a rather significant part of being human and...yes, can lead us to the Dark Side.

This week, I have had an interesting and disturbing epiphany about a potential Vorbild for Stephen Miller:

Images from and 
A month before the infamous Wansseekonferenz in which the Nazis hashed out the Endloesung (the Final Solution), the annihilation of European Jews--before that, they were apparently only in second gear?--there was another meeting of high-level Nazis that Josef Goebbels (Nazi propaganda minister) attended and wrote about in his diary:
With respect of the Jewish Question, the F├╝hrer has decided to make a clean sweep. He prophesied to the Jews that if they again brought about a world war, they would live to see their annihilation in it. That wasn’t just a catchword… If the German people have now again sacrificed 160,000 dead on the eastern front, then those responsible for this bloody conflict will have to pay with their lives.
To me, this passage is chilling when we consider the combative nature of Stephen Miller, one of the last remaining "original" advisers to tRump and the junkyard dog of immigration in the Pennsylvania Ave. circus.  Miller is a staunch nativist and a belligerent player in the current debate on immigration and the future of the Dreamers.  He attended the meeting where tRump called Haiti and African nations "shithole" countries and was part of the sloppy clean up efforts afterwards.

Miller has been so intransigent about immigration policy and his desire to make America white again, that long-time Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham (SC), who has never been accused of being too liberal, basically called him an obstructionist.

Goebbels hated Jews.  Miller hates immigrants.  Is Miller psychotic and evil as Goebbels?  Hopefully not, but we have to remember, that Luke was also young and naive...and look where he ended up.

Now, I realize that Miller could actually find this comparison to Goebbels flattering, which should be of concern to opposed to Amerikans.  Hopefully, though, he can keep in mind the fact that Hitler's main talking head ended up in a bad way--poisoned his children, double suicide with his wife, and then partially burned.  

Image from
I don't believe violence offers lasting solutions and the re-emergence of the open politics of hate reinforces this notion.  If we want the Stephen Millers to fail, we need to be part of the marching and yelling against him and others of his subspecies.  And hopefully Miller can end up repentant like Darth Vader.

Image from:

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Today's word: Gaslighting

Image from:

Oh, geez, where to start with this one!  If you haven’t seen the 1944 film Gaslight, you need to.  It’s an amazingly frustrating foreshadowing of the tRump administration…except that it’s a story that ends after 114 minutes, whereas the tRump circus just goes on and on and on. 

Image from, CC 0

Rebecca Lee, in a PsychCentral post on gaslighting, wrote that gaslighting is “an extreme form of emotional manipulation” that seeks to “[control] the way someone sees themselves and their reality” and “destabilize a person from the outside in” through “tactics such as denial, lying, and contradiction.”  Other writers add deflection, story changing, blame shifting, and emotional/psychological/verbal abuse to the mix of gaslighting behaviors.  In most cases, the abuser has a personality disorder, like narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, etc.

Image from
Unfortunately, gaslighting also describes very well the tRump White House’s modus operandi in dealing with the public and true to form, this past week has seen several attempts at gaslighting from the big cheeseball himself and his cadre.  Let’s look at the “shithole” debacle for a moment.   Last Thursday in a meeting with legislators, tRump complained about having to take in immigrants from “shithole countries” like El Salvador, Haiti, and African countries.  First off, tRump’s comment was a kind of contradiction to the apparent goodwill performance at the bipartisan immigration meeting he hosted at the White House just two days before…so there’s one symptom.  

Then there was this fecal nugget from the White House staff:
The President's "shithole" remark is being received much differently inside of the White House than it is outside of it. Though this might enrage Washington, staffers predict the comment will resonate with his base, much like his attacks on NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem did not alienate it. (From the CNN article in the previous link)
Yup, the White House is counting on support for tRump’s racist, xenophobic remark, expecting that his devotees will not just accept his abusive speech, but prefer and defend it.  A second symptom.   

Since tRump's oral diarrhea, pundits have tried pass off the comment as simple “bar talk,” a kind of deflection in that they have tried to steer attention away from the White House resident and towards some amorphous group of drunk everymen and everywomen.  Symptom three.  

Image from Max Pixel, CC 0
Next Rand Paul jumped in, trying to say that calling attention to tRump’s racism is an obstruction to immigration policy discussions: "You can’t have an immigration compromise if everybody’s out there calling the president a racist...They’re actually destroying the setting ... in which anything meaningful can happen on immigration.”  Shifting blame, a fourth symptom.

For a fifth symptom, we have denial on several different fronts.  First of all, tRump himself denies having said it, Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen swore under oath that she did not hear the comment, Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue deny that the comments were made, and there have been efforts to say the Adolescent-in-Chief said "shithouse" instead of "shithole" if that makes any difference.  All these claims and claims of absence run the gamut from obfuscation to outright denial.  Actually, they could also be considered a sixth symptom, story changing.

Lastly, symptom seven: lying.  On Sunday tRump said in a quick interview that he is not a racist:

“The least racist person”?  Whatever he was trying to say with that that little scatmint is hollow as his own head in light of the many instances of racism in his ridiculous history from unfair housing practices, to advocating for the death penalty for the Central Park 5 (who were exonerated in court, but the Donald still maintains they did it), to leading the birther crapgumbo, and on.  If you need a refresher, this opinion piece in the New York Times could help out. 

Oh, and there was this verbal defecation from Sarah Huckabee Sanders:

I'm not sure how to classify this unmitigated stupidity.  Her claim that tRump having a show on NBC shows he's not racist is mindbogglingly asinine.  What, TV shows are immune to racists and racism?  No.  As a matter of fact they are full of institutional and cultural racism...better now than in the past, more racism-lite than racism-free.  I guess sheer idiocy must be a new symptom.  Number eight. 

Given tRump's horrid diet, his gas stinks.  Just stinks.