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Archive for the ‘U.S. Domestic Affairs’ Category

BDS in the Crosshairs – An Analysis (9 January 2016) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

Most readers will know that the United States has served as the patron of Israel for decades. Why has it done so? The commonly given reasons are suspect. It is not because the two countries have overlapping interests. The U.S. seeks stability in the Middle East (mostly by supporting dictators) and Israel is constantly making things unstable (mostly by practicing ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, illegally colonizing conquered lands and launching massive assaults against its neighbors). Nor, as is often claimed, is the alliance based on “shared Western values.” The U.S. long ago outlawed racial, ethnic and religious discrimination in the public sphere. In Israel, religious-based discrimination is the law. The Zionist state’s values in this regard are the opposite of those of the United States.

So why is it that a project that seeks to pressure Israel to be more cognizant in foreign affairs of regional stability, and more democratic and egalitarian in domestic affairs, is now under fire by almost every presidential candidate standing for the 2016 election?

That project in dispute is BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, promoted by civil society throughout the Western world. BDS is directed at Israel due to its illegal colonization of the Occupied Territories and its general apartheid-style discrimination against non-Jews in general and Palestinians in particular.

Part II – The Candidates and BDS

With but two exceptions, every presidential candidate in both parties is condemning the BDS Movement. Lets start with the two exceptions. The first exception is the Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who has taken the accurate position that “the United States has encouraged the worst tendencies of the Israeli government.” She has pledged to use both diplomatic and economic means to change Israeli behavior, behavior which she rightly believes is in contravention of international law and violates human rights.

The second exception is the Republican candidate Donald Trump, who recently told a meeting of Jewish Republicans that he didn’t think Israel is serious about peace and that they would have to make greater efforts to achieve it. When he was booed he just shrugged and told the crowd that he did not care if they supported him or not, “I don’t want your money.” Unfortunately, this appears to be the only policy area where Mr. Trump is reasonable.

Jill Stein gets absolutely no media coverage and Donald Trump gets too much. And neither is in the “mainstream” when it comes to American political reactions to BDS. However, the rest of the presidential candidates are. Here is what is coming out of the “mainstream”:

— Jeb Bush (Republican), 4 December 2015: “On day one I will work with the next attorney general to stop the BDS movement in the United States, to use whatever resources that exist” to do so.

— Ted Cruz (Republican), 28 May 2015: “BDS is premised on a lie and it is anti-Semitism, plain and simple. And we need a president of the United States who will stand up and say if a university in this country boycotts the nation of Israel than that university will forfeit federal taxpayer dollars.”

— Marco Rubio (Republican), 3 December 2015: “This [BDS] coalition of the radical left thinks it has discovered a clever, politically correct way to advocate Israel’s destruction. As president, I will call on university presidents, administrators, religious leaders, and professors to speak out with clarity and force on this issue. I will make clear that calling for the destruction of Israel is the same as calling for the death of Jews.”

Hillary Clinton (Democrat), 2 July 2015: In a letter to Haim Saban, who is a staunch supporter of the Zionist state and also among the biggest donors to the Democratic Party, she said, “I know you agree that we need to make countering BDS a priority, I am seeking your advice on how we can work together – across party lines and with a diverse array of voices – to fight back against further attempts to isolate and delegitimize Israel.”

Bernie Sanders (Democrat), 20 October 2015: “Sanders’ fraught encounter with BDS supporters who challenged his defense of Israel at a town hall meeting in Cabot [Vermont] last year was captured on YouTube.” Sanders told them to “shut up.”

Part III – The Legitimacy of Boycott

This hostility to the tactic of boycott runs counter to both U.S. legal tradition and the country’s broader historical tradition.

For instance, advocating and practicing BDS can be seen as a constitutionally protected right. It certainly is more obviously protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech than is the use of money to buy elections. Thus, if Zionist lobbyists can use money to buy support for Israel, why can’t anti-Zionists use their free speech rights to challenge that support? It should be noted that, in this regard, most Americans of voting age think it is the Zionists, and not the anti-Zionists, who have gone too far.

According to a December 2015 Brookings Institute poll, 49% of Democratic voters and 25% of Republican voters think that Israel has too much influence with U.S. politicians. Those supporting BDS in the United States might give some thought as to how to use these numbers to uphold their cause.

Then there is the fact of well-established historical tradition. The war for American Independence was build upon a framework of boycott. In November 1767, England introduced the Townshend Acts, requiring the colonists to pay a tax on a large number of items. The reply to this was both a boycott of British goods by many colonial consumers which was eventually followed by a boycott on the importation of such goods on the part of colonial merchants.

Subsequently, Americans have used the tactic of boycott against:

— (1930s) Goods produced by Nazi Germany
— (1960s and 1970s) California-grown grapes in support of the United Farm Workers
— (1970s and 1980s) All aspects of the economy and cultural output of South Africa
— (1980) The Moscow-hosted Olympics of 1980
— Myriad number of boycotts of various companies and products ranging from Nestle (baby formula) to Coca Cola. See the list given by the Ethical Consumer.

The reality is that the tactic of boycott has long been as American as the proverbial apple pie.

Part IV – Conclusion

Apple pie not withstanding, the legal and historical legitimacy of boycott no longer has much impact on the attitudes of presidential candidates or, for that matter, members of Congress. Nor does the fact that the changes the BDS movement seeks to make in Israeli behavior would be to the benefit of U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Instead what the positions of the candidates seem to indicate is that there will be an almost certain attack on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, coming from the very highest levels of U.S. power, sometime soon after the 2016 elections.

How is it that such a contradiction between national interests and established tradition on the one hand, and imminent government policy on the other can exist? The answer is not difficult to come by. It is just a matter of fact that constitutional rights, historical tradition, and indeed the very interests of the nation, can be overridden by special interest demands. The demands of what George Washington once called “combinations and associations” of “corrupted citizens” who would “betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country” in favor of those of some other “favorite nation.” It is exactly such demands that are now given priority by the politicians in Washington.

This form of corruption will go on as long as the general public does not seem to care that it is happening. And it is sadly clear that the BDS activists alone cannot overcome this indifference. Thus, the politicians can dismiss the Brookings Poll numbers mentioned above. They can shrug and say, So what? As long as that majority does not express their opinion by actively demanding a change in the situation, as long as they are not successfully organized to do so, their opinion cannot compete with the millions of special interest dollars flowing into political campaigns.

In many ways our greatest enemy is our own indifference to the quiet erosion of important aspects of the democratic process. Allowing the attack on BDS only contributes to this disintegration of rights. A combination of localness and ignorance sets us up for this feeling of indifference. However, in the end, there can be no excuse for not paying attention. One morning you will wake up to find that valued rights and traditions are no longer there for you.

Global Warming Redux: Another Ticking Bomb Out of Paris – An Analysis (29 December 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I – COP21

Paris was certainly 2015’s center for ticking bombs. The year was bracketed, first in January then again in November, by major terrorist attacks and ended with a December environmental conference which, given its non-binding results, opens the door to even more terror, albeit of a different kind, into the next century and beyond.

The 21st Conference of Parties, or COP21, ended in Paris on 12 December 2015. If you are not familiar with the name or acronym, it refers to the latest gathering of nations (195 of them) looking toward a collective decision to limit global warming by slowing the release of greenhouse gases. Following the conference closure there was a short spate of positive reactions that has now been followed by a rather ominous silence.

Until very recently there was a large number of people, mostly business people, lobbyists, and politicians, who denied that human practices, such as the use of fossil fuels, had any significant impact on planetary warming, and some dismissed the idea of warming altogether. These numbers seem to have shrunk, and most of those still adhering to such notions are not often heard in public. This muted opposition helped pave the way for the at once limited and over-hyped result achieved at the Paris conference.

The overall goal of COP 21 was an international agreement that would hold global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2100, and then reduce the amount of warming even more in the years following. This goal was certainly agreed to in theory, but the conference also left us with no convincing reason to believe that the goal will be met in practice. According to Science (18 December 2015), the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, commitments were indeed made to pursue relevant “technological development,” mobilize “climate finance,” enhance transparency in the reporting of overall greenhouse emissions and have developed nations acknowledge their “legal responsibility” (but “without liability or compensation”) for the damage global warming is doing to poorer nations. All of this is well and good in a half-hearted sort of way, but it should be noted that the entire deal will only go into effect in April 2016 if “55 countries representing 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions have formally signed it.” And even if this happens, subsequent follow-through in terms of the reduction of greenhouse emissions is still hypothetical. Thus, as the Guardian newspaper reported (12 December 2015) in a confusing, contradictory way: “The overall agreement is legally binding but some elements – including the pledges to curb emissions by individual countries and the climate finance elements – are not.”

That should be quite sufficient to instill serious doubt about the ultimate outcome of COP21. Nonetheless, reactions were still upbeat. Everyone wanted to find the glass half full. Many climate experts, when asked if there was something about 2015 that made them hopeful, pointed to the Paris conference. Michael T. Klare, writing in Tom’s Dispatch (13 December 2015), proclaimed that as for those advocating the continued use of fossil fuels, “the war they are fighting is a losing one.” The transition to renewable forms of energy is inevitable. However, looking at the next hundred years, no one would say with certainty that the conference’s decisions would actually make a crucial difference. Thus, Andrea Germanos writing in Common Dreams (12 December 2015) quotes commentator George Monbiot in reference to COP21, “by comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.”

Part II – Why a Disaster?

The Science article cited above puts the situation in historical context. “The individual national climate plans in the run-up to the meeting could still result in as much as 3.5 degrees centigrade of warming by 2100.” At 3.5 degrees we can expect sea levels to rise anywhere from 3 to 7 feet. Science goes on to explain that “much of the agreement’s promise hinges on the fine print to be hammered out in the coming years. And the provisions for individual nations to curb emissions further – crucial if the world is to limit warming to 2 degrees centigrade or less – has limited legal bite.”

In truth, even the 2 degree goal is insufficient. Those at most risk, such as the Pacific island nations, wanted to hold the line at 1.5 degrees. However, their fate, which in some cases is already terminal, was not deemed important enough to warrant the sacrifices the rest of the world would have to make to meet this demand. This in itself is a very bad sign.

There will, of course, be increasing efforts by environmental organizations, seeking to mobilize mass sentiment, to bring pressure on governments and industries. As one such mass movement leader declared at the end of the COP21 conference, “Now it is time to hold them [national leaders] to their promises. 1.5? Game on” (Common Dreams, 12 December 2015). No doubt such mobilization, like the hope for investment in renewable energy technology, will be very important in the long run. That it can achieve its ambitious goal in the short run is doubtful because there are other, even larger, organizable masses out there who will resist rapid, necessary change.

For instance, there are the inward-looking elements of the populations and leaders of the United States, China and India – the world’s biggest contributors to global warming. In the United States at least a third of the voting population is supportive of the conservative, anti-regulatory Republican Party that currently controls the congressional side of government. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has dismissed the COP21 agreement as “no more binding than any other agreement” on global warming made in past.

China has recently admitted that it has been underreporting its coal burning in recent years. This calls into doubt that nation’s collective will to meet its COP21 pledges. To do so will unavoidably impact economic growth and increase unemployment with all the accompanying political consequences. A major part of India’s pledge to lower and/or compensate for growing greenhouse emissions is the preservation and expansion of the country’s forests. However, approximately “275 million Indians subsist on resources extracted from forests,” including forest wood itself, and past efforts at conservation in this area have led to political unrest and significant cheating through official corruption.

It is not that these three countries won’t make efforts to, say, move to renewable energy whenever and wherever feasible. They will. However, it is both politically and culturally unlikely they will be able to do enough to hold down warming to 2 degrees, much less 1.5 degrees.

 

Part III – Conclusion

At this point one should ask what the Marshall Islands in the Pacific have in common with lower tip of Manhattan on the Atlantic coast of the United States. The answer is that both are threatened with inundation by 2100. In the case of lower Manhattan, it might be possible to build a sea wall to temporarily hold back the rising sea level. No such effort is possible for the Marshall Islands. It looks as if that island nation, with its roughly 53,000 people, is doomed.

The prospect that 195 nations can successfully coordinate their efforts to put in place policies that, over the next hundred years, will negatively impact their economies and the standard of living of significant numbers of citizens is far-fetched. Not impossible, mind you, but from a historical point of view, highly improbable.

What is probable is that local interests will promote denial long enough to make the necessary sacrifices politically unac.hievable. They certainly have done so so far. That means our grandchildren will almost certainly live in a very different atmospheric and geographic world than we do. And, of course, going forward, no one should invest in seashore real estate

Converging Fears – An Analysis (19 December 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I – Economics and Public Safety

Converging avenues of fear are eroding the political and social status quo in the democratic West. Healthy democracies strive to maintain an equatable balance of forces within their political, economic and social spheres. Balance is a salve that induces comfort and confidence. Fear and uncertainty, on the other hand, are irritants that can quickly throw things out of balance. It seems that, at present, fear has the upper hand.

The scenarios that are increasing popular fears reflect issues of economics and public safety. The economic policies that have prevailed in the West since the 2008 financial crisis have not been corrective and have allowed for an ever deepening divide between the wealthiest strata of society and every one else. In the case of the United States, a Pew Research Center study, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer on 10 December 2012, announced that the “middle class” has shrunk to the point where “most adults no longer fit into the category.” The exulted “American Dream” is centered around a belief that all citizens can attain middle class or better economic status. The Pew report calls that possibility into question for most Americans and, as this slowly dawns on the public, the resulting economic fear and anxiety becomes a politically and socially destabilizing factor. A similar scenario can be found in Europe’s Euro Zone nations. Another Pew Research Center report on a poll conducted in this region the summer of 2015, and reported by the New York Times (NYT) on 11 December 2015, found “extraordinary gloom about the state of their economies.”

Simultaneously, a second avenue of fear and anxiety has been created by an ongoing series of terrorist attacks, the latest in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California. These attacks were carried out by Islamic extremists and the media on both side of the Atlantic have exaggerated the threat they represent. This, in turn, has given rise to a growing Islamophobia. Indeed, we have gotten to the point where, in the mind of the public, the term “terrorism,” now means the violent actions of extremist Muslims. Yet this is a dangerously restrictive definition. For instance, in the United States, similar and much more frequent violence carried on by non-Muslims is often not labeled terrorism. The truth is that throughout the West the violence carried on by a small number of fanatics identified with the Middle East has become an obsession with a growing number of citizens. According to the NYT article cited above, 19% of adult Americans define “Islamic terrorism” as the “top issue facing the country.” Their number is sure to grow. Muslims have become the scapegoats of our age.

Part II – The Role Model Demagogue

These two converging fears, over failing economic security and threatened public safety, have created the most unstable socio-political environment since the interwar years of the twentieth century. Historically, it is at such times that the political parties of the “center” – the more moderate parties – begin to appear weak and the capacity of their leaders to control and improve conditions becomes suspect. It is under these conditions that more and more people are attracted to the campaigning of demagogues, war-mongers, and authoritarian opportunists. Policy proposals which, in more settled times would never be taken seriously, now begin appear reasonable to increasing numbers of citizens. And, this is exactly the trend we now see in both the U.S. and Europe.

The role model “leader” here seems to be the American presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Trump is a billionaire real estate tycoon and “reality show” star. For Trump, who has no political experience, all problems have simple and direct answers which are to be presented to the public, not so much as policy suggestions, as orders. And, as befits a businessman with an authoritarian personality, Trump has displayed real talent for this sort of behavior. What is Trump’s answer to the exaggerated problem of Islamic terrorism? Declaring that we are at war, Trump promises to defeat ISIS “big league” – a non-answer which allows for anything from the invasion of Syria to the use of nuclear weapons. He would ban Muslims from coming into the country (while at the same time deporting millions of immigrants from South and Central America), and set up internment camps for those already here. He would also kill the families of identified Muslim terrorists. That such policies, if actually implemented, would mire the nation in continuous war in the Middle East, spark a conflict with Russia, and leave constitutional law and protections in shreds, seems not to matter at all to Donald Trump. And, his supports don’t seem to mind such consequences either. According to the NYT article cited Trump currently has the support of “40% of Republican primary voters without a college degree and 26% of those who have a degree.”

When it comes to alleviating economic anxieties, Trump simply relies on the fact that he is a rich businessman to suggest that he can deal with such problems. This seems to suffice even though the problems come from the unregulated greed of big business people just like Trump. In times of trouble, image “trumps” reality (pun intended).

Europe too has its Trump equivalents ranging from France’s Marine Le Pen to Viktor Orban in Hungary. There is the Freedom Party in Austria and the Golden in Greece. And this is just a short list. All of these people and parties are presenting the kind of quick and direct actions that are much more dangerous and liable to get out of control, running roughshod over laws and constitutions, than the problems they purport to solve.

Part III – Cycles of Fear

Fears and anxieties are amorphous emotions which seem to come upon societies in an historically cyclical fashion. In the realm of economics this attests to the allure of power and riches that both individuals and groups, in the form of special interests and other factions, seem unable to resist. Without effective regulation capitalism is unstable and there is always exploitation leading to repeated recessions or worse.

Likewise, in a world of competing powers and ideologies insecurity seems forever just around the corner. This too comes in historical cycles. And, if such insecurity becomes deep enough and widespread enough it can threaten finely balanced democratic political systems as citizens forget about constitutional rights, which support peace and stability at home, and go looking for “strong leaders.”

In a country such as the United States, it is the political right that always benefits in such situations. Thus, Republican right-wing “populism” can support an array of war mongering, xenophobic, and simple-minded presidential candidates among whom Donald Trump is just the tip of the iceberg. The same fears and anxieties, mostly of the economic category, have kept afloat only one candidate who can be described as being on the political left, the relatively benign Bernie Sanders. Sanders ability to contest the Democratic presidential nomination is surprising in a country that has vilified the political left for much of its history. However, his success comes out the same present quest for new leaders and new answers.

Though I speak of historical cycles of fear and anxiety I don’t mean to imply that they are inevitable. In principle human beings can learn from history and improve their lot. Think of history, both personal and societal, as an undertow capable of driving one into potentially dangerous channels. Within these channels lie the demagogues and militarists who would drown us all. We know this is true because it has repeatedly happened before – the product of cycles of converging fears left unchecked.

Terrorism and Some Hard Truths – An Analysis (9 December 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

 
Part I – World War on ISIS

I was waiting for a doctor’s appointment with only the magazine rack for company. I usually don’t pay much attention to news magazines, seeing as how the range of politically acceptable points of view are pretty narrow in such sources. However, with time on my hands, I picked up Time magazine (November 30 – December 7 issue), the cover of which announced, “World War on ISIS.”

I focused on a particularly interesting (and mercifully short) piece on this topic entitled, “ISIS Will Strike America.” No doubt millions of readers will focus on this bit of prognostication. It is written by Michael Morell, former Deputy Director of the CIA. Morrell begins by telling us he has been an intelligence officer for 33 years and in that capacity his job is to “describe for a President threats we face as a nation” and then “look the President in the eye when his policies are not working and say so.” Given that Morrell managed the staff that produced George W. Bush’s briefings, one wonders if he ever practiced what he preached.

In any case, Morrell now figuratively looks his readers in the eyes and tells them that “ISIS poses a threat to the homeland” through “its ability to radicalize young Americans [why just the young?] to conduct attacks here.” In truth, this potentiality has been known for years and various police agencies and the FBI have even been involved in setting up various entrapment schemes to prove the point. One might assume that they had to do this to counter the fact that an American’s chance of being harmed by Muslim terrorists is less than his or her chance of being struck by lightning. Nonetheless, the probability of Morrell’s prediction coming true is certainly not zero, as the massacre in San Bernardino demonstrates. Yet, comparing attacks which have possible radical Islamic connections to the almost weekly gun-related attacks in schools, health clinics, court houses, movie theaters, domestic scenes and various street corner venues, we still have a very long way to go before ISIS becomes our number one source of domestic violence. However, Morrell does not put his “threat assessment” in this context – either to his reading audience or, one can assume, to the presidents with whom he has made eye contact.

Part II – Republican Presidential Candidates

I have the uncomfortable feeling that every Republican presidential candidate has also read this edition of Time magazine, because suddenly they are all aping the cover page’s battle cry of “World War on ISIS.” The trigger here is the recent tragedy in San Bernardino, California. According to the New York Times (NYT) of 5 December 2015 the San Bernardino attack has taken a “diffused and chaotic” Republican campaign and “reordered” it around the threat of Islamic terrorism. Thus, Chris Christie of New Jersey pronounced that “Our nation is under siege:… What I believe is we’re facing the next world war.” Ted Cruz of Texas said, “This nation needs a wartime president.” Jeb Bush of Florida, sounding a lot like his brother (whose foreign policy incompetence started this epoch with the U.S. invasion of Iraq), described “Islamic terrorism” as “having declared war on us” and being “out to destroy our way of life” while “attacking our freedom.”

In the same 5 December issue of the NYT, James Comey, Director of the FBI, said that the San Bernardino massacre “investigation so far has developed indications of radicalization [of] the killers and of potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organizations.” Actually, it sounds as if something is missing here. Certainly, the husband-and-wife team who carried out the attack were seriously agitated and had built for themselves a small arsenal of firearms and bombs. However, according to the FBI there is “no evidence that the killers were part of a larger group or terrorist cell.” Only late in this game, on the day of the attack, did one of the killers “pledge allegiance to the Islamic State in a Facebook post.” So it might be useful to ask if there were personal grievances that disaffected them and then, later, a “radicalization” process supplied additional justification for their acts? None of these fine points will mean much on the national stage.The Republicans are in full apocalyptic exaggeration mode and no doubt the Democrats will soon be swept along.

Part III – Guns

In truth there is a dual nature to the present “threat against the homeland.” The first and major aspect of the threat is the utterly insane nature of the country’s gun laws (or lack thereof), which allows practically every adult to arm him or herself to the teeth. The claim that it is access to all manner of assault weapons that keeps us all safe in our homes defies common sense and really constitutes an example of Orwellian doublespeak. In my estimation there is no organization in the world, including ISIS, more dangerous to American society than the National Rifle Association which insists that we all still live in some variant of the 19th century Wild West.

Of course the Republicans dismiss the gun issue out of hand. Marco Rubio of Florida made the comment “As if somehow terrorists care about what our gun laws are. France has some of the strictest gun laws in the world and they have no problem acquiring an arsenal to kill people.” Actually, Rubio is wrong about France. If you want to see strict gun control you have to go to the UK, Canada, Japan or Australia (none of which, incidentally, prohibit hunting weapons). Of course, he is correct that terrorists don’t care about gun laws. However, his definition of who is a terrorist is woefully inadequate.

Rubio and his fellow Republicans think that terrorism is only the violence associated with Islamic radicals, but that is just nonsense. Try to put yourself in the minds of those being attacked. If you are a child in a classroom or student on a college campus, a doctor or nurse in a health clinic, a judge and other official in a courtroom, a patron in a movie theater, or someone in any of a hundred other public and private American venues being shot up in ever more frequent episodes, does the religion or ideology of the attacker matter, in any way, to the terror you feel? No. And it wouldn’t matter to Mr. Rubio either if he found himself a victim.

So here is the truth of the matter: the ubiquitous presence of guns suffuses our society with the constant potential for terrorist violence (and the U.S. being one of the largest gun merchants to dubious governments abroad does much to transfer the potential throughout the world). The motivation of the one who triggers this violence is irrelevant to the terror it releases. The result is indeed an epidemic of terrorism in the United States that needs to be addressed, but that cannot be done by singling out ISIS. All that can do is make things worse by directing public concern against the least of the factors endangering them.

Nonetheless, that is what the politicians will do. They will take up the cry of Islamic terrorism because it frees them from any immediate need to take on the real – and politically dangerous – problem of gun control. Most of them are cowards when it comes to hard truths and the difficult need to lay them convincingly before the public. It is always more expedient to rile the masses than educate them.

Part IV – Conclusion

Much of the present breast-beating over Islamic terrorism is politically motivated exaggeration. Yet even here the U.S. government will not do much other than spy on its own citizens with ever greater intensity. To really make the U.S. safe from Middle East terrorism, Washington will have to dump Israel, play hardball with Saudi Arabia, and swear off the regime-change policy that has so disastrously driven its actions in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

Even if by some political magic we are able to get rid of ISIS and its propaganda, we would still face domestically bred terrorism. And this, of course, is the nature of the vast majority of our mass violence and mayhem. The fault is in ourselves, be it with economic inequality, recurring racism, xenophobia, or just a pervasive culture of callousness ameliorated by nothing better than scattered volunteerism and a constant demand for charity. And behind it all is what the New York Times now calls “the gun epidemic” – an epidemic that weaponizes a society that seems incapable of dealing with its own failures.

The Progressive’s Dilemma – An Analysis (11 November 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I – Jill Stein and the Green Party

The presumptive presidential candidate for the U.S. Green Party, Dr. Jill Stein, has long held definite ideas of what the party’s position should be on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And, despite some past skepticism from Palestinian advocates, Stein’s position is, from the progressive point of view, as near perfect as one is likely to get from an American politician. She has stated in a position paper the following:

“United States policy regarding Israel and Palestine must be revised to make international law, peace and human rights … the central priorities. … The United States has encouraged the worst tendencies of the Israeli government as it pursues policies of occupation, apartheid, assassination, illegal settlements, blockades, building nuclear bombs, indefinite detention, collective punishment, and defiance of international law. … We must reset U.S. policy regarding Israel and Palestine, as part of a broader revision of U.S. policy towards the Middle East.”

Stein has government actions in mind to make this policy change real, including the withholding of material support and the diplomatic and economic isolation of those who consistently violate human rights and international law.

If Stein prevails as the party leader and carries through her position into the party platform, it should be enough to cause every supporter of justice in the Middle East (and in other areas as well, for the party’s positions on many issues, domestic and foreign, are consistently progressive) to give serious consideration to supporting the Green Party’s national candidates. Certainly the Greens deserve to be on the ballot in every state and have enough supporters to make their candidacy a serious one.

Of course the actual election of the Green Party, with or without Stein, is an unlikely event. Modern American politics has never been congenial for third parties. On a national level the best the U.S. Greens have done was 2.74% of the vote when Ralph Nader ran as their presidential candidate in 2000, a result I will consider more closely below. The mass media gives the party almost no attention and, while the Green Party presidential candidate in 2012, Stein was not invited to any of the televised debates.

Even so, it is interesting to speculate what would happen if American progressives and others rallied around the Green Party and it actually attained power and moved to implement Jill Stein’s position paper on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Part II – What If?

First, we have to mention the actual role of position papers as well as party platforms. They are statements of “what we might do if we had sufficient power.” And indeed, it is rare that presidents are elected with such power – that is, with their party also in control of both houses of Congress. Nonetheless, Stein is a principled person and I have no doubt that, given the opportunity, she would attempt to turn these theoretical positions into practice.

Second, the Green Party president would have to monitor carefully the government bureaucracy attached to the Executive Branch to make sure its leaders actually did what she instructed them to do. This would require a lot of shifting around at the upper levels, where the State Department (including some embassy staff), Department of the Treasury, Department of Defense and some others are staffed with pro-Israeli appointees. After these reassignments are carried through the middle-echelon civil service bureaucrats would probably be fairly reliable and responsive.

Third, the Green Party president would find herself in a battle royal with Congress (assuming the Greens did not take control here too) over questions of aid and structurally created ties with Israel that lay outside of the president’s hands. For instance, much of the infamous $3 billion “aid” package given to the Zionist state yearly can only be altered by Congress. I think such a battle, carried out publicly, would be very beneficial for the country as a whole, but it also might end with a Green Party president having to compromise.

Part III – The Progressive’s Dilemma

The dream of a successful Green Party sounds great and it is heartening that there is actually a political party out there with the courage and wisdom to take a stand for international law, peace and justice. But, given the present political state of things, Jill Stein may run for office, but she really cannot win. And, that sets up the progressive’s dilemma – the question whether, under these circumstances, progressives should actually vote for the Green Party’s national ticket candidates.

The dilemma was first made apparent in the year 2000 when Ralph Nader, running for president on the Green Party ticket, got close to 3 million votes. The other two candidates in that race were the Democrat Al Gore and the Republican George W. Bush. The race proved close enough that some have seen Nader’s campaign as a “spoiler” drawing off enough otherwise Democratic votes to throw the race to Bush.

Actually, I cannot resolve this dilemma, but I can tell you that it begs the question of why the most reasonable and rational political party, the one with positions that actually deal with both the nation’s and the planet’s worsening problems, remains at best a marginal player here in the United States.

The answer to this question probably has to do with the way most Americans, confined as they are within their local venues, have been acculturated to see the world – a range of perception that, over the decades, has melded with the range of propaganda put out by the two major parties. This has left the more rational positions expressed by the Green Party vulnerable to the charge of naive idealism. In other words, most Americans, at least those who bother to vote, see the world through indoctrinated eyes and this makes it psychologically comfortable to vote for Democrats or Republicans even though doing so perpetuates old and deepening problems. Heading off in new directions means going beyond politically conditioned perceptual views. And, even if it is demonstrably more reasonable and promising to do so, such a change causes a lot of discomfort.

So are we stuck in a self-destructive rut here? Quite likely. And, if history acts as a guide, the most likely thing to kick the U.S. out of the rut is catastrophe – something even worse than the fiascos of Vietnam and Iraq, and the economic time-bombs of ongoing bank scandals. That is a really sad conclusion, especially since such a catastrophe could lead the nation toward the hard right rather than the progressive left. However, it just may be the truth of the matter.

Gun Cultures – An Analysis (14 October 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

Here is the question: What two “modern” societies have cultures that allow, and even idealize, the possession of guns? Answer: the United States and Israel.

Part I – The American Gun Culture

In the U.S. there are 88 guns floating around for every 100 people, which comes to about 300 million of these weapons in circulation. This includes military-style assault weapons, of which it is estimated there are about 3.75 million in private hands. This state of affairs makes the U.S. the most weaponized modern society on the planet.

This weaponized status is not because most Americans want it this way. As President Obama has pointed out, multiple national polls have shown that most Americans want stricter gun control, but that seems not to matter. Why? Because most Americans are not sufficiently politically organized around this issue to out-lobby the minority who are – mostly in the form of the National Rifle Association (NRA). We are here referring to a rather fanatical, though culturally decisive, minority who define freedom as, first and foremost, the right to “pack” a firearm or two, or ten, ad infinitum. They errantly believe that somehow owning a gun (almost any gun) is “a birthright and an essential part of the nation’s heritage.” They expend much energy on misinterpreting the Second Amendment of the Constitution so as to allegedly prove their point. In other words, for these folks, being armed with a gun is a cornerstone of American culture.

Isn’t this somehow a corruption of the democratic process? Shouldn’t that process demand that, in matters of national security (and this certainly is such a matter), the safety of the vast majority should prevail? Unfortunately this is not the American way of democratic politics. In truth the U.S. is not a democracy of individual citizens, but rather one of competing interest groups. The interest group that is the NRA is better funded and more politically influential than its opponents, and so, in the matter of gun legislation, it wins. And this is so despite the fact that its victories make society much more dangerous than it ought to be.

The NRA is in total denial of the fact that, ipso facto, to be armed is to be dangerous. They illogically deny that there is any connection between the publicly held three hundred million firearms in the country and the fact that the U.S. has the highest gun-related homicide rate in the “developed” world. You can find greater rates of gun-related murder, but you have to go to places like Honduras and El Salvador to see them. Indeed the best the NRA can do in the face of the deadly mayhem for which it is at least indirectly responsible, is the statement by Wayne LaPierre, the organization’s executive vice president, who has declared that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” – an absurdly simplistic assertion leading to the conclusion that what the nation needs is more guns and not fewer.

Part II – The Israeli Gun Culture

While the U.S. has evolved a self-destructive gun culture, it is not unique among the “modern” nations. There is also America’s “partner” in so much that is violent, Israel. It is hard to know how many guns are loose among the Israeli Jewish population. I remember that the first time I went to Israel, back in the early 1970s, it seemed that everyone, both men and women, was draped with military assault rifles. In later trips these became less evident but that does not mean less available.

Near universal military service followed by enlistment in the active reserves, means that most Jewish citizens over 18 have access to a gun. Some Israelis would qualify this assertion by pointing out that, unlike the U.S., Israel has “strict gun regulations,” including a ban on assault weapons. In addition, “a person must also show genuine cause to carry a firearm, such as self-defense.” But Israel is a chronically insecure place due to its expansionist policies and oppression of Palestinians. So “self-defense” is in the forefront of a great majority of Israeli minds. According to Liel Leibovitz, writing in the magazine Tablet, “It doesn’t take much of an expert to realize that these restrictions, in and of themselves, do not constitute much by the way of gun control.” Every Israeli Jew can justify wanting a gun and many possess them.

So why don’t we hear about killings in Israel similar to those in the United States? Well, it is not for the misleading reasons offered by Liel Leibovitz in his Tablet article: that Israelis are more responsible gun owners and, as a nation, Israel does a better job treating disturbed, potentially violent, individuals. As to this last assertion, Leibovitz fails to account for the significant number of armed Israeli fanatics running loose in the country’s illegal settlements. The truth is that we in the U.S. do often hear of the Israeli version of gun-related rampages. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t recognize in these reports the same sort of chronic murder we have generated here at home.

While Americans most often use their guns on each other, the Israelis primarily use their guns on Palestinians. The result is the daily harassment, injury and murder of an entire ethnically specific population by Israeli soldiers, police, settlers and other armed civilians. As a result over 9000 Palestinians have been killed and over 73,000 injured since 2000. This is reported to the world as acts of self-defense on the part of Israelis. But is it? Such an assertion is hard to sustain when one sees the lopsided kill and injury ratio between Palestinian and Israeli victims. Indeed, the numbers averaging around 33 to 1, suggest ongoing collective punishment against Palestinians audacious enough to resist Israeli occupation.

Part III – Conclusion

Both the U.S. and Israel have historically rooted gun cultures. Perhaps this is because both societies matured against the backdrop of territorial conquest, delusions of racial superiority, and near-genocidal treatment of indigenous populations. This sort of history has produced two related consequences: first, particularly among more conservative and traditionalist elements of the population, it has resulted in obsessive concerns with self-defense. Second, it has built up an association between the possession and use of deadly weapons and the image of the brave and independent citizen defending hearth and home.

These consequences are now underpinned by psychological states that are, apparently, impervious to counter-argument. Neither the NRA devotee nor the ardent Zionist is open to the proposition that their own ideas and actions have something to do with the dangers and insecurities they feel. And, in both countries such fanatics seem to be politically dominant. That means all citizens of these two “modern” and “developed” societies, even those rational enough to understand what is going on, are stuck within gun cultures and the explosive cycles of violence they produce.

On the Age-Old Tradition of Not Caring – An Analysis (6 October 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I – Deep Poverty

In the assessment of poverty in the United States there is a category known as “deep poverty.” The definition of deep poverty, as given in a recent article on this subject in the Philadelphia Inquirer of 30 September 2015, goes as follows: “deep poverty is measured as income of 50% or less of the poverty rate.” In other words, the current poverty level income for a U.S. family of four is $24,000 a year, which means that the same family receiving only $12,000 is in deep poverty. At this level, hopelessness prevails and one’s day-to-day goal is just staying alive.

The deep poverty rate for the United States as a whole is 6.8 percent of the population. Using the rounded-off 2014 census figure of 322 million residents, that comes to about 22 million men, women and children in deep poverty. This is a pretty shocking figure for what most regard as the richest country on earth.

It should come as no surprise that, according to the article, “deep poverty increased nationwide after 1996, when the welfare system was changed. … The number of people on cash welfare was drastically reduced and the amount of time people could receive benefits was limited.” This was a public policy decision taken by elected officials at the national level. All at once, the “safety net” for the poor, and particularly for those at this deep level of poverty, all but disappeared.

Part II – The Tradition of Not Caring

The article goes on to state that “most Americans cannot fathom the level of privation that deep poverty represents.” I am not sure this is the case. Deep poverty is very visible. Consider that at present 81 percent of Americans live in urban environments. In such environments it is easy to encounter the homeless and the baggers, most of whom are in deep poverty. So ubiquitous are they that a Hollywood movie has recently been made about them. It is entitled “Time Out of Mind” and stars Richard Gere. Here is a quote from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s film review of 2 October 2015, “People talk on cell phones, run for the bus, head for meals – almost uniformly indifferent” to the fate of the homeless man Gere portrays.

Also keep in mind that it was not that long ago that people had older relatives who lived through the Great Depression, a time when deep poverty was even more visible. That story is a big part of the nation’s modern history.

Rather than pretending that Americans “cannot fathom” deep poverty, it is better to argue that popular perception is more complex. When the non-poor see that homeless person, they probably feel a bit of worry and disgust all at once. In the end, they turn aside and pretend not to see. And this denotes a collective sentiment of not caring enough about the problem to push for the policies needed to correct it – policies which go way beyond welfare.

Why would this be the case? Here are a couple of reasons:

First, there is the fact that the people of the United States, perhaps more than any other Western country, are still influenced by the primitive outlook of 18th and 19th century capitalism. In those centuries both the middle and upper classes favored government restricted to three functions: 1. defense of the realm; 2. police, courts and the enforcement of contracts; 3. and upholding the sanctity of private property. Care for the poor was the responsibility of the churches. This entire setup was designed to maximize individual freedom by keeping government small in both power and scope. Maintaining this status would also hold taxes down to a minimum.

You can easily see this attitude toward government in the ideology of the Tea Party and the conservative politicians who cater to that group’s complaints. For instance, take the reason given by Ben Shapiro, a journalist and Tea Party advocate, why the Republican Party was successful in the 2010 congressional elections: “In 2010, Republicans soared to historic victory because the much-maligned Tea Party spearheaded mass resistance to Obama’s takeover of the healthcare industry.” The statement is a gross exaggeration, at least as to the claim that the government had taken over the healthcare industry. It did no such thing, but rather moved to work with private insurance companies so as to facilitate healthcare for the poor and uninsured. However, spending tax money on the poor only fed into the paranoia over big government that afflicts Shapiro and his lot. Another angle on this sentiment can be found in the declaration of Michele Bachmann, another Tea Party advocate, that the Tea Party “stands for the fact that we are taxed enough already.” This statement is misleading at best. While it is true that those of moderate or low income are often highly taxed, those of high income are definitely not. In the U.S. the wealthy pay less taxes than those of moderate income. Finally, Elizabeth Warren, a liberal Democrat, has correctly concluded that the Tea Party is dedicated to “unraveling just about everything the federal government had ever built.” That is straight out of the playbook of primitive18th-19th century capitalism.

There is a second reason why many non-poor Americans do not actively concern themselves with poverty, deep or not, and that has to do with what I call “natural localness” – the generic tendency for all of us to concentrate foremost on our local sphere. Thus, caring, like charity, begins at home and usually does not go far beyond it.

We care for our family and friends, sometimes (though not always) for our neighbors, local co-religionists, co-workers or others in local social groups we might identify with. But we rarely actively care about strangers.

The primitive, yet still extant, capitalist ideology referred to above comes in here and reinforces this space between us and the stranger who happens to also be poor. This ideology teaches that poverty is a personal failing with moral implications. That is, if you are poor, it is your fault. It is because you are lazy and otherwise morally deficient. The possibility that poverty, and particularly deep poverty, could be a structural problem of both capitalist and racial or ethnically biased economies is never considered in this interpretation. And, tax-wise, it is cheaper to blame the victim in this case, than pay out adequate welfare.

Part III – Conclusion

The argument given here, that not caring is an age-old tradition, should not be taken to mean that there are no individuals out there who do in fact actively care and advocate for strangers who are poor, oppressed, and otherwise mistreated. These folks do exist. There are individuals who actively advocate for the ultimate strangers – people suffering on other continents. There are even those who dedicate their lives to giving solace to incarcerated murderers. The point is that these folks are a small minority amidst a sea of ultimate indifference. They are, if you will, counter-cultural, despite occasionally getting good press.

It might be the case that we could, over time, teach the nation’s youth to be more caring of strangers in need. After all, being human means that we are not necessarily slaves to evolution-rooted tendencies like natural localness. But to do this would be to challenge tradition and wage a political struggle against narrow-minded school boards. So, the odds are against it. It is easier to go with the indifference that just comes naturally.

Communal Upheaval – An Analysis (6 September 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – The Illusion of Solidarity

 

The insistence that Israel is somehow the national embodiment of the Jewish people has always been dangerous.This is so because it tied a diverse group spread over the globe to the apron strings of a single political entity and its ideology (Zionism). Thus identified, the Jews were allegedly what a bunch of Zionist ideologues said they were, and were also supposedly exemplified by the consistently unsavory practices of the Israeli state.

 

The Zionists tried to force the Jews into this Procrustean bed through the monopolization of elite Jewish organizations and the emotional blackmail of those who might have dissenting views. The mantra here was that if a Jewish person had disagreements with Israel, he or she should express them behind closed doors and never in public. Behind closed doors the dissenter could be contained. However, if he or she went public with their differences, they undercut the myth of Jewish community solidarity with Israel. To go public in this fashion was a mortal sin, and one risked being shamed within one’s community. Those who persisted were labeled “self-hating” traitors.

 

It is a long-standing effort at censorship. Some people might get upset with those who publicly accuse Charles Schumer of having dual loyalties involving Israel, but no one seemed to get equally upset with those Zionists who have accused thousands of Jews worldwide of being “self-haters” because they publicly came out against Israel’s atrocious treatment of the Palestinians.

 

Part II – On the “Verge of Fratricide”

 

It was inevitable that the Zionist requirement of public silence would get harder to enforce the more outrageous the behavior of Israel’s political leadership became. On the American scene, the combination of the brazen intrusion of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into U.S. politics (particularly his 3 March 2015 address to Congress) and the warmongering position on Iran taken by Jewish organizations openly allied to Israel seems to have been the tipping point. The combined adamance of this Zionist front has forced American Jewish congresspeople and senators to make a choice, and do so publicly. Those who have chosen, against the wishes of the Israeli government, to support the Iran nuclear agreement as reflecting the long-term interests of the United States (and Israel) are now treated to the same degree of defamation as those Jews called “self-haters.”

 

A national window on what Greg Rosenbaum, chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council, calls “the verge of fratricide in the Jewish community” was opened by a front page article in the 29 August 2015 issue of the New York Times (NYT). That article is entitled “Debate on Iran Fiercely Splits American Jews.”

 

The NYT’s main example of this near-fratricidal behavior is the case of Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York. Nadler, like the state’s senior senator, Charles Schumer, has spent his entire political career supporting Israel. The only difference between the two is that unlike Schumer, Nadler has come out in support of the Iran agreement. However, that is all it took to make him a target.

 

According to an interview with Nadler in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and reprinted in the 25 August 2015 edition of the Forward, the New York Representative was hit by “vociferous attacks” labeling him a “traitor,” one who wants to “abandon the Jewish people.” According to the NYT’s piece he has also been called a Kapo (the name given to Jewish collaborators with the Nazis), and a “facilitator of Obama’s Holocaust.” New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Zionist stalwart, has sworn to work for Nadler’s defeat come the representative’s next primary election and has been harassing him in various ways ever since he announced his support for the Iran deal.

 

This sort of thing has been going on across the nation where American Jewry interfaces with national politics. It is interesting that the one who is trying to bring civility back into this internecine debate is a Gentile: Barack Obama. Again, according to the NYT’s article, Obama, speaking on “a webcast for major Jewish organizations,” called the treatment of Nadler “appalling” and then, ignoring a fast unraveling political status quo, said “we’re all pro-Israel, and we’re family.” Nonetheless, he concluded that “It’s better to air these things out even if it is uncomfortable, as long as the tone is civil.” Alas, President Obama sounds like a marriage counselor who comes too late to the party.

 

Part III – Persistent Incivility

 

The truth is that the tone of the edicts coming out of Israel both past and present, and then transmitted by elite Jewish-Zionist organizations down the line to the synagogues and community centers in the United States, has never been civil. Israel’s self-righteous position has always been that it has an unquestionable right to tell American Jewry when to support or not support their own (that is U.S.) national interests. And if you don’t follow their lead, you will be accused of betraying “your people.” This persistent incivility has just been below the U.S.’s public radar till now. We can all thank Netanyahu and his Likudniks for the fact that that is no longer the case.

 

So what does this mean for the future of U.S.- Israeli relations? Well, according to the NYT some are predicting “long-term damage to Jewish organizations and possibly to American-Israeli relations.” One thing is for sure, the abrasive Zionist modus operandi will not change. It is built in to the historical character of both their ideology and Israeli culture.

 

The real questions lie on the American side of the equation. For instance, will American politicians who have belatedly become uneasy with Israeli behavior come to understand that what they face is a fundamental difference in worldview? Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of JStreet, in a rare moment of clarity, was cited in the NYT article as having spoken of “a fundamental break between Democratic Party leaders inclined toward diplomacy and the worldview of a conservative Israeli government which has more in common with Dick Cheney.” Ben-Ami is surely correct here, even though he shortsightedly confines the problem to the current Israeli government.

 

A corresponding question is will American Jews who disagree with Israeli policies come to realize that this is more than a family squabble? It is a fundamental break between those who favor humanitarian values and sensible diplomacy, and those who favor the ways of war and ethno-religious discrimination. In truth, American Jews who support civil and human rights have no more in common with Israel and its culture then they do with xenophobic fanatics of the Republican right. They just have to accept that fact and, on the basis of that awareness, take a public stand.

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

It is probably accurate to describe current events as doing lasting damage to American Jewish organizations. It is not the case that “names can never hurt you,” and there has been a lot of harsh name-calling within these groups. From the anti-Zionist perspective this is all for the good. These organizations had long ago turned into fronts for Israel and have been hurting, not helping, American Jews.

 

As to the future of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, it is hard to know if the storm that has blown up over the nuclear agreement with Iran has delivered a lasting blow. The Zionist lobby still has a lot of financial power and an increasingly firm alliance with the Republican right. And, who knows, we might someday see those barbarians back in the White House. On the other hand, that evolving alliance will continue to alienate more liberal Jews and Democratic politicians.The safest prediction to make is that while recent events might not spell the end of America’s “special relationship” with Israel, they are surely a big step in the right direction.

Donald Trump’s America – An Analysis (date) by Lawrence Davidson

 

Part I – Understanding Donald Trump

 

It is really not too hard to figure out Donald Trump. The man is having fun. What we have witnessed so far is a demonstration of how a billionaire megalomaniac and narcissist has fun: having secured a national stage, he runs around and says whatever he pleases, even if it is blatantly obnoxious. If he gets positive feedback he does it all the louder. If he gets negative feedback he turns into a bully, which he also sees as fun. If his alliance with Fox “News” doesn’t work out, maybe he will buy his own network. If the Republican Party spurns him, he will no doubt start his own political party. He can afford it and, again, it’s a lot of fun. By the way, while Trump is having fun many of the rest of us don’t find him funny at all. Indeed, its a serious question whether Mr. Trump’s good time will, in the end, encourage him to become a dangerous demagogue.

 

Part II – Understanding Donald Trump’s Following

 

If explaining Donald Trump isn’t all that difficult, explaining why millions of people applaud him is more of a challenge. And it is, after all, millions. There are roughly 219 million Americans who are qualified to vote, but only approximately 146 million are registered to do so. Of those registered, 29% are signed up as Republicans. That is about 42 million people. According to a 4 August 2015 CBS poll, Trump has a favorable rating among 24% of that number. That is about 10 million people. We can assume that this is a low number, given it only counts presently registered Republicans and not independents.

 

There is a lot of speculation over why these people like Trump. Here are the typical reasons given:

 

— “Trump has found support from Republican voters looking for a successful businessman to jumpstart an economic renaissance.” This sort of sentiment is seconded by the opinion that, because he is a rich businessman, he must know how to “generate jobs.” Of course, this is an illusion. Most businesspeople operate within economic pockets and know little about “the economy” as a whole. Many of them get rich not by creating jobs but by eliminating them through mergers and downsizing operations.

 

— He is not a Washington insider, he has never worked in Washington or been “stained by political life.” This is a very questionable asset. Government is a bureaucratic system with well established rules. The notion that Mr. Trump can come into such a system and “revolutionize” it without causing chaos is fantasy.

 

— Trump “is a fighter” and “people want a fighter.” He tells it like it is and has no time for “political correctness,” of which most people are allegedly “deathly tired.” In other words, there is a subset of the population who don’t like minority groups or their demand for respect. They don’t like feminists and their concerns about women’s rights. They don’t like immigrants and the notion that the government should treat them like human beings. Trump has become their champion because he says what they believe, which, of course, passes for an assumed truth: all of this “political correctness” is an anti-American attack on traditional values.

That all of these Trump supporters are oblivious to the fact that they themselves are descended from both legal and illegal immigrants (and women) who had to fight the prejudiced sentiments of people just like them to become accepted citizens presents an almost laughable picture. Almost, but not quite, for their sentiments are also very scary.

 

Part III – The Permanently Disaffected

 

These sentiments are really the surface emanations of a crowd phenomenon that has deeper meaning and persistent historical roots. In all societies, one finds the chronically disaffected, frustrated and resentful. Their numbers may go up or down according to economic and social circumstances, but they never go to zero.

 

In the US this statistically permanent set of disaffected citizens seems to find itself most comfortable amidst the ultra-conservative right, with its hatred of “big” government and its resentment of just about any taxation. All of this is melded to national chauvinism and exceptionalism. Of late this minority has become quasi-organized in what is known as the Tea Party movement.

 

A Gallup poll conducted in October of 2014 suggested that 11% of voting age Americans are “strong supporters” of the Tea Party movement. If we use the 219 million figure given above, that comes to 24 million Americans. There is certainly an overlap here with the 10 million avid followers of Donald Trump.

 

What this means is that Trump, in his narcissistic pursuit of recognition, has tapped into a subgroup of the population that includes the permanently dissatisfied. He can rally them and perhaps bring them together into a bigger movement of, say, 20 to 25% of the population. But he can never satisfy that element’s essentially nihilistic grumbling. In other words, Trump is playing with fire and at some point he will have to wake up to just what sort of monster he has by the tail. Then he will have a decide: is he just out for fun or does he want to go the route of the demagogue?

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

The American people are not immune to demagoguery. In fact Fox “News,” on the air 24/7, has made a lot of money showcasing demagogues of one sort or another: Bill O’Reilly might be the most well known of the lot. These people have had their predecessors, particularly during the Great Depression, such as Father Charles Coughlin, a Detroit-based Catholic priest who ended up supporting fascist principles. His radio broadcasts had tens of millions of listeners. And then there is Joe McCarthy, etc.

 

Donald Trump certainly has the qualifications to join the long list of history’s demagogues: good speech making abilities, no problem with playing fast and loose with the facts, and an affinity for the crowd, which energizes him. For him it also seems to be a lot of fun. For the rest of us it is just another aspect of living under the old curse of interesting times.

On Flags and Cultural Cures – An Analysis (2 July 2015) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I – Racially Motivated Murder

On the evening of 17 June 2015 a 21-year-old white man by the name of Dylann Roof walked into an old and famous black church, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in Charleston, South Carolina. The church was occupied by a Bible study group. Roof actually sat in on the class for an hour before pulling out a .45 caliber handgun and announcing that black people were ”taking over our country. And, you have to go.” He then shot 10 of the 12 people in the study group, nine of whom died.

It should be pointed out that at 21 years of age Roof doesn’t have a fully developed pre-frontal cortex (which, in part, means his risk- aversion impulse is not fully developed) – a fact that is likely to do as little good in court as it did Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (also 21) in his Boston Marathon bombing trial.

It did not take long for the authorities to identify and apprehend Roof. It turned out that he is a thoroughgoing racist with delusions of starting a second Civil War. He also had a thing for flags. Among the Facebook-posted pictures of Roof that soon surfaced were ones showing him with the flag of apartheid South Africa and the flag of white-ruled Rhodesia. Both of these are reported to be used as symbols of white supremacy here in the U.S. And, there is the picture of him, with his handgun displayed, with the Confederate battle flag – the same flag that flies over the South Carolina state house.

By the day after the shooting the issue for the media was no longer Dylann Roof (who had confessed to the murders). The issue was now whether or not the Confederate battle flag over the state house should be taken down. For much of the country that particular flag was a symbol of the racism that had moved Roof to commit his murders. As Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s governor, stated, The flag is a “deeply resented symbol of a brutally offensive past,” and literally overnight, the AME massacre galvanized most of the country to show their support for the victims by demanding the flag’s removal.

However, it wasn’t going to be that easy. It turns out that many white citizens of South Carolina and beyond don’t see the flag as a symbol of a “brutal past,” much less the symbol of the nine dead people shot down inside the Emanuel AME Church. No. They now claim that flying the battle flag simply honors their ancestors who fought in the Civil War for the cause of “states’ rights.” Based on this interpretation, Dylann Roof got it wrong when he sported that handgun along with the battle flag.

Well, most of the African-American population of the United States, along with many whites, think this ancestor story is a rather poor ploy. Honoring one’s ancestors who fought in a lost cause to sustain the institution of slavery (that is why states’ rights was important to the Confederate South) is a bit weird in today’s cultural environment, but one can do it in the privacy of one’s own home or even at a veterans center. However, making it an obligation of the state (in this case South Carolina) is downright dangerous – because what you have is half the population commanding the government to pay homage to those who fought to maintain the enslavement of the other half. From a socio-political standpoint, that justifies the actions of those ancestors in a way that may encourage their descendants (like Mr. Roof) to mimic them. This is just asking for trouble, and on the evening of 17 June, South Carolina – and the rest of us too – got it.

Part II – Why Does Dylann Roof’s Kind Still Exist?

The Civil War ended for over 150 years. So one can reasonably ask why Americans are still dealing with this issue of racism? Why is it that, as President Obama said, shortly after the murders, that “slavery still casts a long shadow” on American life? There is no shortage of those who recognize that racism is still deeply ingrained in U.S. culture, but there are few suggestions as to why that is and what can be done about it.

That being the case, I thought I might revive my thoughts on these questions – ones originally posted in March of 2013 in an analysis entitled Civil Rights Takes a Hit. It was written on the occasion of the Supreme Court’s consideration of an Alabama suit to rescind Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 allows the Justice Department to review any changes in voting procedures of areas of the country traditionally tainted by racism.

Here are some of the points I made in that essay:

— Cultures can evolve over centuries, yet once their major parameters are set, they have remarkable staying power. The notion that such parameters can be reversed in, say, 48 years (counting from the 1965 Voting Rights Act) is naive at best.

— Why would that be the case? A good part of the answer is that a culture of racism shaped the way of life, particularly in the southern United States, for hundreds of years. This culture was only briefly interrupted by the Civil War. After that war, there followed a period known as Reconstruction, when the U.S. Army’s occupation of the South interfered with ingrained racist practices. But Reconstruction lasted only a brief twelve years, until 1877. Thereafter the South reverted to racist ways under a “legal” regime commonly known as “Jim Crow.” That lasted until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Subsequent Republican administrations have been chipping away at civil rights laws and regulations ever since. Because, over hundreds of years, the interruptions in southern racial practice were relatively brief, racism has persisted in that region of the country to a relatively greater degree than in other areas.

— This pervasive and long-lasting culture was reflected in local and regional laws. Laws, in turn, are to be understood as educational tools that tell citizens what society deems to be right and wrong behavior. If laws are consistently enforced over a long period of time, most citizens will internalize these messages and they will become part of their moral code. Except for the 12 years of Reconstruction, the South had known nothing but legally sanctioned racist rules of behavior right up to the middle of the 20th century. And so it was racist rules that were thoroughly internalized.

— What the Civil Rights laws of the1960s did was to suddenly, and partially, reverse the behavioral messages based on the older racist laws. They did so only partially because these new laws concentrated on making discrimination illegal within the public sphere. You could no longer segregate public schools, hotels, restaurants and the like, as well as government offices. Today, African-Americans in the South check into a hotel, eat at a restaurant, shop where they want to without much trouble. However, if they do happen to have trouble, there is recourse under the law to deal with the problem. That has now been the case for 48 years. Yet this is not nearly enough time to have the message that racial discrimination is wrong penetrate deeply into the private sphere of a region where the opposite attitude has long been the default position. My guess is that among some southern citizens, the new egalitarian way of thinking is superficially there, and among others it is not there at all.

Part III – Conclusion

Communities with historically ingrained patterns of thinking and behaving may be bludgeoned, say, by violent revolution, into changing their ways. However, if you are to change them in a non-violent fashion you must bring to bear all of society’s traditional rule-making devices. These are primarily the law and the schools.

In the case of the United States, laws that enforce civil rights must be strengthened and steadily applied for multiple generations (at least four or five) until obeying these laws is habitual. That should permanently reform the public sphere. Yet if Dylann Roof’s actions teach us anything, the rules regulating the private sphere must also be addressed. The teaching of the essential correctness of civil rights and the essential wrongness for racist attitudes must be put into the curriculum and taught in all the schools, public and private, from K to 12, and probably in undergraduate college as well. This too must be universal (whether parents like it or not), consistent and multigenerational.

None of this is really impossible. It can be done. We know enough about psychology to recognize that such an effort is not a waste of time. All it takes is the political and institutional will to do these things with patient persistence. Not until there are clear signs that racism has been erased from both the public and private spheres should anyone breathe a sigh of relief.