Archive for April, 2019

Facism Lying In The Shadows Of Democracy

Fascism refers to an authoritarian right-wing system of government and social organization that has always lurked in the shadows of democracy like a circling shark. Fascism is notably contemptuous of the democratic process. While some practitioners include racial superiority and personal supremacy, all Fascists require unquestioning obedience to a supreme “leader”. There have been many times in history when Fascism overtook democracies and we may be witnessing one of those moments right now. It is easy of course to call names at people whose behavior we don’t like and that makes it necessary to be quite careful when doing so. But as the old saw puts it: “If the shoe fits … etc..” One purpose of calling names is, of course, to dehumanize the targeted groups of non-believers and to create a common vocabulary with which to describe a taxonomy of common experience. On the other hand, there are also times when labels are exact, to the point, and necessary.

So then what exactly is “Fascism”?  Well, it cannot be whatever we want it to be as a label for people and movements we disagree with. I submit here Robert O. Paxton’s description of the intrinsic nature of Fascism which seems to fit not only the historical manifestations of Fascism but those which are current:

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood  …  and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

Historically the most powerful incubating conditions necessary for Fascism to emerge have been economic. When a majority of people in a society feel threatened by economic failure those fears are easily exploited by demagogues fingering immigrants, overbearing government bureaucrats, or foreign powers, a cleverly played “blame game” that exploits anxiety, insecurity, fear, ignorance, and makes irrational attributions of evil to necessary “others”, others being the most useful essential element in the equation. As a tactic, cynically playing groups within a society against one another almost always succeeds. Joseph Goebbels wrote during the Nazi takeover of Germany, “It will always remain one of democracy’s best jokes that it provided its deadly enemies with the means by which it was destroyed.” It is not difficult, as Hitler and his associates demonstrated, to play any class of people against any other, to vilify scapegoats, especially in difficult economic times. This scenario has been played many times throughout history. And, even as you read this, Fascism is rearing its ugly head in several places in the world including the United States. As Chris Hedges put it, “Thomas Paine wrote that despotic government is a fungus that grows out of a corrupt civil society. This is what happened to these older democracies. It is what happened to us.”

Robert Paxton also wrote that in Fascism  “ … a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues … without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.” I would add to this an inhumanity wrapped in callow religious piety. For example, one of the leader of the Republican assault on the Affordable Care Act in the US House of Representatives in recent years is a self-professed pious practicing Catholic who has been praised by his Bishop. We have to ask them, was the “fishes and the loaves” lesson not taught in that diocese? Given that the majority of those in this country who are perpetrating these wars against humanity are self-professed Christians one can’t help but marvel at their inhumanity and the apparent ineffectiveness of their religious beliefs. 

When I read comments made by elected officials that poor people are somehow lacking in effort and motivation it brings to mind reading A Tale Of Two Cities in high school – the poor people at the barricades, the infamous, “Let them eat cake.”  It could have been A Tale Of Two Worlds – rich and poor, advantaged and disadvantaged, powerful and weak, selfish and giving, employed and unemployed. Those are the contradictions Fascism tirelessly works to exploit. Fascism, today cloaked within the shadows of high finance and so-called conservative politics, is ready and waiting in the wings to overtake and drown our wounded Democracy in it’s own contradictions. The dichotomies describe social patterns repeated over the course of history which have led inexorably to political upheaval and violence. History does, of course, repeat itself- perhaps endlessly because human nature is what seems not to change. The Karmic wheel keeps on turning.

From Camelot to the Gutter,

Today comes to mind a play I saw in Poland many years ago immediately after the fall of Communism. In the darkened theatre an actor came to center stage and into a single spotlight. He was dressed in black. The man looked around at the audience in silence, paused, and said in a strong clear voice as in a declaration – only one word – żal. He bowed his head, dropped his arms to his sides, and the stage went dark. Silence followed. Zal is the Polish word for utter sadness and tragedy. It is żal that comes to mind today.

I remember, as a toddler , being taken to see Franklin Roosevelt. The great man appeared waving from the railroad overpass in Springfield, Massachusetts. The crowd roared a tumultuous greeting and I saw adults with tears in their eyes recalling, of course, the long Great Depression. I recall JFK and was in Wichita Falls, Texas at Sheppard AFB when he was assassinated in Dallas. I served as an Air Force SAC Combat Crew officer under his command during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In my life and memory I have now seen my country go from from the “Great Society” to separating children from their parents and putting them in concentration camps. Today we have a president who publicly mocked a disabled person and stands accused by several women of numerous occasions of sexual harassment. I have seen my country go from Camelot to the Gutter. żal!

My NYT comment 4/8/19

Emanuele Corso | Penasco, New Mexico
I want to thank the NYT for their clear and unmitigated assessment of Ms Nielsen’s tenure and her execution of Trump’s cruel and inhumane treatment of refugees. I would say the woman got what she deserves – to paraphrase an ancient wisdom: whatsoever ye do unto others so shall it be done unto you. The acts themselves are despicable and reflect both on her and her boss but even more sadly they reflect on us as a nation and one must ask: What have we become in the tenure of the current administration? We have to ask of ourselves – what became of: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” ?

review: Truth in Our Times

Review: Truth in Our Times

  It must be must be quite interesting to be the New York Times’ lawyer in this age of constant whining about “fake news” and daily threats of litigation whenever some inconvenient truth is published . And which litigious threats are routinely whacked down by various courts around the country. “Truth in Our Times” was written by David E. McCraw, Deputy General Counsel of the New York Times, a newspaper that has somewhat routinely criticized the current administration of Donald Trump and thus earned itself routine and sundry threats. The first thing I learned reading the book is that Mr. McCraw is indeed a very busy guy as the Times seems to be sued by someone every other day.

The question McCraw posits is, what is the responsibility of news organizations local, national, and international to truthfully keep the public informed? To be sure news organizations are slanted every which way and you can choose for yourself which version(s) you prefer. We must always keep in mind a news outlet regardless of slant should present the truth and responsibly distinguish facts from opinions. Opinion must always be presented as such and clearly labeled. Of course in the world at large it isn’t always.

My own bias: I have been reading the New York Times since I began learning to read. My father bought the Times every Sunday to skim the news and retire with the crossword puzzle which, in his estimation, was the only such puzzle worth his efforts. I managed to stay with the newspaper through my college library, and when I was in the Air Force I read the Sunday edition paid for in advance, which arrived by Greyhound in Salina, Kansas, where I was stationed. Everywhere I have lived, from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, to Kansas, California, and New Mexico, I have arranged to get my Sunday Times. So, yes, you could say that I have a bias towards the Times. No matter what you think about the Times or another newspaper, we all have our biases for whatever source of news we favor. That’s a given. I don’t always agree with the opinions expressed in the Times but I trust the reporting. McCraw’s book gives us an important insight into the Times’ commitment to telling the truth especially today in the face of reflexive threats and public name-calling that rarely rises above a grade school playground level. 

Currently the running feud against the Times exercised by the litigious Donald Trump has been keeping the author busy, particularly with respect to the Mueller Report. Regardless of how you are biased towards the Mueller investigation into the shenanigans of the past national election, everyone should be concerned with the revealed facts derived from the discovery process. We are told by aggrieved parties that there are “alternative” facts. There are no such things as “alternative” facts. Facts are findings indisputably the case. An “alternative fact” is not, in fact, a fact but a perverted truism that is useful in distracting attention away from the “actual” fact. Only facts are facts, and that fact is the end of the story. McCraw carefully illustrates the routine diligence and care taken by Times reporters and editors to get the facts straight.

Of course facts can be presented in a biased manner. Lawyers make their careers successfully presenting “facts” in a manner biased towards a favorable outcome for their clients. To them facts become malleable arrangements of words carefully crafted to emphasize or obfuscate truth to suit their purposes. You might say lawyering can be a very creative activity. One would have to be utterly naive to believe otherwise. An example based on personal experience: “Yes, we concede he was hit in the head with the falling object, but he wouldn’t have been hit in the head had he not been standing there.” Of course there is no rational reason to contend he shouldn’t have been standing there except for the purpose of obfuscation. 

 McCraw’s job is to defend not just the Times’ responsibility to present the truth regardless of who likes it and, at the same time, anyone and everyone committed to truth-telling. The New York Times has a long and distinguished history of presenting the truth and the facts that support those truths. McCraw describes in detail the careful process of vetting facts. Threats of jail, financial ruin, and who knows what else – a plague of locusts perhaps – are the weapons used by those whose interests are not well served by truth. All of this keeps the Times’ legal staff busy and their work interesting. Because truth in these times has become a precious commodity I urge you to take the time to read Mr. McCraw’s book, to understand the difficulties of telling the truth and, above all, the absolute necessity and responsibility for all of us to be truthfully informed. Actual facts do not equate with alternate facts any more than honest and responsibly reported news equates with “fake” news. Facts do not “belong” to anyone – they live on their own.

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