November 5, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Star Wars Politics (Thomas Bruscino, 11/05/18, Aero)

A few years after the Star Wars prequel trilogy came out, after we had all had time to digest just how unsatisfying it had been, an independent filmmaker named Mike Stoklasa produced a series of online videos picking the movies apart, figuring out just exactly why Anakin, Jar Jar, computer Yoda and the rest bothered us so much. Published under the imprimatur of Red Letter Media, the videos are quirky and profane--and also masterpieces of film critique. [...]

[A]s Stoklasa points out, something was off about this particular galactic star war. If you look just a little bit closer, you will notice that, as grand as the stakes appear to be, the conduct and effects of the war do not extend much beyond a small handful of individuals. There are only a few dozen Jedi fighting on one side, and, by rule, two Sith on the other. Their armies are made up of literally disposable droids on one side, and nearly disposable clone troopers on the other. Most importantly, at few points is this galactic fight connected to the people that make up the galaxy, least of all on Coruscant, the capital planet itself. [...]

As I write this, the current galactic problem is the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and the sexual assault allegations leveled against the nominee. [...]

By the time this comes to print, we will have moved on to something else. Whatever that is will be so important that we must all line up in our digital armies, increasingly backed by the implied or even literal threat that someday soon those armies will be virtual no longer.

The specific issue doesn't matter, really--not when we treat all issues as if they were battles in wars raging across our galaxy.

We are so partisan these days precisely because, given the broad consensus on nearly all policy issues at the End of History, the only stakes are which party gets to govern.  The Kavanaugh nomination was illustrative not just because the nomination fight got so ugly but because he is pretty much indistinguishable from Merrick Garland.

And, if we look at the "something else," we have moved on to, Americans (Republicans included) overwhelmingly support immigration, which Donald has staked this election cycle on opposing and Republicans are running on their support for Obamacare, which was after all just the Heritage Foundation plan. or the GOP plan from the '90s.

Look behind the partisan bickering and you find an American electorate that has a historically high popular overlap on most actual policy questions: not just pro-immigration and pro-trade but in favor of limits on both guns and abortion, while party leaders take the most extreme positions, and even in favor of universal health care, which the UR was too conservative to propose.  

Of course, if we stick with the Star Wars mode of analysis, we can find another fruitful point: it's not even apparent that "our" side is preferable to the "dark" side:  

The Case for the Empire (JONATHAN V. LAST, May 15, 2002, Weekly Standard)

Lucas wants the Empire to stand for evil, so he tells us that the Emperor and Darth Vader have gone over to the Dark Side and dresses them in black.

But look closer. When Palpatine is still a senator, he says, "The Republic is not what it once was. The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling delegates. There is no interest in the common good." At one point he laments that "the bureaucrats are in charge now."

Palpatine believes that the political order must be manipulated to produce peace and stability. When he mutters, "There is no civility, there is only politics," we see that at heart, he's an esoteric Straussian.

Make no mistake, as emperor, Palpatine is a dictator--but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet. It's a dictatorship people can do business with. They collect taxes and patrol the skies. They try to stop organized crime (in the form of the smuggling rings run by the Hutts). The Empire has virtually no effect on the daily life of the average, law-abiding citizen.

Also, unlike the divine-right Jedi, the Empire is a meritocracy. The Empire runs academies throughout the galaxy (Han Solo begins his career at an Imperial academy), and those who show promise are promoted, often rapidly. In The Empire Strikes Back Captain Piett is quickly promoted to admiral when his predecessor falls down on the job.

And while it's a small point, the Empire's manners and decorum speak well of it. When Darth Vader is forced to employ bounty hunters to track down Han Solo, he refuses to address them by name. Even Boba Fett, the greatest of all trackers, is referred to icily as "bounty hunter." And yet Fett understands the protocol. When he captures Solo, he calls him "Captain Solo." (Whether this is in deference to Han's former rank in the Imperial starfleet, or simply because Han owns and pilots his own ship, we don't know. I suspect it's the former.)

But the most compelling evidence that the Empire isn't evil comes in The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader is battling Luke Skywalker. After an exhausting fight, Vader is poised to finish Luke off, but he stays his hand. He tries to convert Luke to the Dark Side with this simple plea: "There is no escape. Don't make me destroy you. . . . Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy." It is here we find the real controlling impulse for the Dark Side and the Empire. The Empire doesn't want slaves or destruction or "evil." It wants order.

Significantly, on all the "issues" listed above Americans just want some order restored to our lives and we are sick of the apocalyptic partisanship because it is so disordered.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Florida yoga shooter spouted misogynistic and racist views on YouTube (Kalhan Rosenblatt and Brandy Zadrozny, 11/04/18, NBC News)

Scott Beierle, the man who killed two women at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida, before apparently killing himself, appeared to have posted dozens of misogynistic and racist videos and songs to YouTube and SoundCloud before the attack.

Tallahassee police identified Beierle, 40, as the shooter who killed Nancy Van Vessem, 61, and Maura Binkley, 21, and injured several other people inside Hot Yoga before turning the gun on himself on Friday.

An account that appears to be Beierle's posted several grainy, dimly lighted videos four years ago, which show Beierle discussing his misogyny, as well as his racist beliefs, including that interracial couples stem from mental illness and that women who are promiscuous should be crucified.

Posted by orrinj at 12:08 PM


The GOP is running plenty of racist ads this cycle, but how is this different?

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 AM


More than 4,884,528 Texans voted early in the midterm election (ELBERT WANG, DARLA CAMERON AND CHRIS ESSIG UPDATED NOV. 3, 2018, Texas Tribune)

Early voter turnout in the 2018 midterms surpassed turnout from the 2012 presidential election in the 30 Texas counties where most registered voters in the state -- 78 percent -- live. In the entire early voting period, 4,514,930 Texans cast in-person ballots and 369,598 cast mail-in ballots. This means 39.9 percent of the 12.3 million registered voters in those 30 counties have voted.

With days to go, contest for attorney general shows signs of a competitive race (EMMA PLATOFF AND PATRICK SVITEK NOV. 4, 2018, Taxeas Tribune)

Less than 36 hours before Election Day, the race for attorney general is showing signs of competition that have been absent in just about every other statewide contest.

Republican incumbent Ken Paxton, who was indicted more than three years ago on felony securities fraud charges, has been running a relatively quiet campaign with the comfortable advantage of a GOP incumbent in a state that has not elected a Democrat statewide in more than two decades.

But now he is firing back at his Democratic challenger, Justin Nelson, with a new attack ad -- the first one from Paxton that addresses the indictment -- and getting a fresh influx of high-dollar campaign donations, signals that Republicans are not taking anything for granted in the race for Texas' top lawyer.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don't Know How to Stop It.: For two decades, domestic counterterrorism strategy has ignored the rising danger of far-right extremism. In the atmosphere of willful indifference, a virulent movement has grown and metastasized. (JANET REITMANNOV. 3, 2018, NY Times Magazine)

The first indication to Lt. Dan Stout that law enforcement's handling of white supremacy was broken came in September 2017, as he was sitting in an emergency-operations center in Gainesville, Fla., preparing for the onslaught of Hurricane Irma and watching what felt like his thousandth YouTube video of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va. Jesus Christ, he thought, studying the footage in which crowds of angry men, who had gathered to attend or protest the Unite the Right rally, set upon one another with sticks and flagpole spears and flame throwers and God knows what else. A black man held an aerosol can, igniting the spray, and in retaliation, a white man picked up his gun, pointed it toward the black man and fired it at the ground. The Virginia state troopers, inexplicably, stood by and watched. Stout fixated on this image, wondering what kind of organizational failure had led to the debacle. He had one month to ensure that the same thing didn't happen in Gainesville.

Before that August, Stout, a 24-year veteran of the Gainesville police force, had never heard of Richard Spencer and knew next to nothing about his self-declared alt-right movement, or of their "anti-fascist" archnemesis known as Antifa. Then, on the Monday after deadly violence in Charlottesville, in which a protester was killed when a driver plowed his car into the crowd, Stout learned to his horror that Spencer was planning a speech at the University of Florida. He spent weeks frantically trying to get up to speed, scouring far-right and anti-fascist websites and videos, each click driving him further into despair. Aside from the few white nationalists who had been identified by the media or on Twitter, Stout had no clue who most of these people were, and neither, it seemed, did anyone else in law enforcement.

There were no current intelligence reports he could find on the alt-right, the sometimes-violent fringe movement that embraces white nationalism and a range of racist positions. The state police couldn't offer much insight. Things were equally bleak at the federal level. Whatever the F.B.I. knew (which wasn't a lot, Stout suspected), they weren't sharing. The Department of Homeland Security, which produced regular intelligence and threat assessments for local law enforcement, had only scant material on white supremacists, all of it vague and ultimately not much help. Local politicians, including the governor, were also in the dark. This is like a Bermuda Triangle of intelligence, Stout thought, incredulous. He reached out to their state partners. "So you're telling us that there's nothing? No names we can plug into the automatic license-plate readers? No players with a propensity for violence? No one you have in the system? Nothing?''

One of those coming to Gainesville was William Fears, a 31-year-old from Houston. Fears, who online went by variations of the handle Antagonizer, was one of the most dedicated foot soldiers of the alt-right. Countless YouTube videos had captured his progress over the past year as he made his way from protest to protest across several states, flinging Nazi salutes, setting off smoke bombs and, from time to time, attacking people. Fears was also a felon. He had spent six years in prison for aggravated kidnapping in a case involving his ex-girlfriend, and now he had an active warrant for his arrest, after his new girlfriend accused him of assault less than two weeks earlier. On Oct. 18, the night before the event, Fears and a few others from Houston's white-nationalist scene got in Fears's silver Jeep Patriot for the 14-hour drive. Fears's friend Tyler TenBrink, who pleaded guilty to assault in 2014, posted video from their trip on his Facebook page. There were four men, two of them felons, and two nine-millimeter handguns. "Texans always carry," Fears said later.

Gainesville would be Spencer's first major public appearance since the violence of the Unite the Right rally two months before, and the city, a progressive enclave in the heart of deep-red north Florida, was on edge. Anticipating chaos, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency -- prompting Spencer to tweet out an image of his head making its way across the Atlantic toward Florida: "Hurricane Spencer." A few days before the event, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement sent out a small, bound "threat book" of about 20 or so figures, most of them openly affiliated with Spencer or with anti-fascist groups, which Stout knew from his own research meant they weren't the people to worry about. Anonymous online chatter on sites like 4chan, meanwhile, described armed right-wing militants coming to Gainesville to test Florida's Stand Your Ground law. Stout envisioned 20 white supremacists with long guns. We're screwed, he thought.

By the morning of Oct. 19, a fortress of security, costing the University of Florida and police forces roughly half a million dollars, had been built around the western edge of the 2,000-acre campus and the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, where Spencer and his entourage arrived that afternoon. More than 1,100 state troopers and local cops stood on alert, with another 500 on standby. There were officers posted on rooftops. Police helicopters buzzed the skies. The Florida National Guard had been activated off-site, and a line of armored vehicles sat in reserve. Hundreds of journalists from around the United States and abroad were in attendance, anticipating another Charlottesville.

Some 2,500 protesters had descended on the small area cordoned off for the event, where they confronted a handful of white supremacists, most of them Spencer groupies like Fears and his friends. "Basically, I'm just fed up with the fact that I'm cisgendered, I'm a white male and I lean right, toward the Republican side, and I get demonized," Colton Fears, Will's 28-year-old brother, who was wearing an SS pin, told HuffPost. TenBrink, also 28, told The Washington Post that he had come to support Spencer because after Charlottesville, where he was seen and photographed, he had been threatened by the "radical left." He seemed agitated by the thousands of protesters. "This is a mess," he told The Gainesville Sun. "It appears that the only answer left is violence, and nobody wants that."

But Will Fears told reporters he came to Gainesville to intimidate the protesters. "It's always been socially acceptable to punch a Nazi, to attack people if they have right-wing political leanings," he said. "We're starting to push back." [...]

White supremacists and other far-right extremists have killed far more people since Sept. 11, 2001, than any other category of domestic extremist. The Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism has reported that 71 percent of the extremist-related fatalities in the United States between 2008 and 2017 were committed by members of the far right or white-supremacist movements. Islamic extremists were responsible for just 26 percent. Data compiled by the University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database shows that the number of terror-related incidents has more than tripled in the United States since 2013, and the number of those killed has quadrupled. In 2017, there were 65 incidents totaling 95 deaths. In a recent analysis of the data by the news site Quartz, roughly 60 percent of those incidents were driven by racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, antigovernment or other right-wing ideologies. Left-wing ideologies, like radical environmentalism, were responsible for 11 attacks. Muslim extremists committed just seven attacks.

These statistics belie the strident rhetoric around "foreign-born" terrorists that the Trump administration has used to drive its anti-immigration agenda. They also raise questions about the United States' counterterrorism strategy, which for nearly two decades has been focused almost exclusively on American and foreign-born jihadists, overshadowing right-wing extremism as a legitimate national-security threat. According to a recent report by the nonpartisan Stimson Center, between 2002 and 2017, the United States spent $2.8 trillion -- 16 percent of the overall federal budget -- on counterterrorism. Terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists killed 100 people in the United States during that time. Between 2008 and 2017, domestic extremists killed 387 in the United States, according to the 2018 Anti-Defamation League report.

"We're actually seeing all the same phenomena of what was happening with groups like ISIS, same tactics, but no one talks about it because it's far-right extremism," says the national-security strategist P. W. Singer, a senior fellow at the New America think tank. During the first year of the Trump administration, Singer and several other analysts met with a group of senior administration officials about building a counterterrorism strategy that encompassed a wider range of threats. "They only wanted to talk about Muslim extremism," he says.

One of Bill Clinton's under-rated successes was crushing the militia movement.  It's time for another round.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM


U.S. militia groups head to border, stirred by Trump's call to arms (Mary Lee Grant and Nick Miroff November 3, 2018, Washington Post)

Gun-carrying civilian groups and border vigilantes have heard a call to arms in President Trump's warnings about threats to American security posed by caravans of Central American migrants moving through Mexico. They're packing coolers and tents, oiling rifles and tuning up aerial drones, with plans to form caravans of their own and trail American troops to the border.

"We'll observe and report, and offer aid in any way we can," said Shannon McGauley, a bail bondsman in the Dallas suburbs who is president of the Texas Minutemen. McGauley said he was preparing to head for the Rio Grande in coming days.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 AM


New Al Jazeera film uncovers 'rotting foundation' of U.S. Israel lobby: A new Al Jazeera documentary provides a sobering look at a lobby that continues to defend Israel's control of Palestinian lives, despite the many Americans turning against it. (Antony Loewenstein, 11/05/18, +972)

There's a moment near the end of the four-part, Al Jazeera documentary on the U.S. Israel lobby -- censored by its own network due to pressure from the U.S. government and incensed U.S.-based, pro-Israel lobbyists -- where the show's undercover reporter, "Tony," films a key Israel advocate in Washington. Eric Gallagher was a senior manager at The Israel Project and admits that the dominant pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, faces an existential crisis.

"People at AIPAC know that something has changed," Gallagher says. "They know something is wrong. They are not as effective as they used to be." He worries that the day is coming soon when AIPAC wouldn't be able to deeply influence the Israel lobby crafted in the U.S. Congress, as it does today, and that the pro-Israel lobby will have to operate without AIPAC's power. "There's this big bowling ball that's being hurled towards them [AIPAC] and the response is to run faster," Gallagher continues. "They need to get on the bowling ball and start dancing."

Gallagher doesn't explain why so many Americans are turning against Israel in public opinion polls. The latest figures from The Economist and YouGov, an online data analytics firm, find that U.S. liberals, millennials, and women have turned against the Jewish state in large numbers. The 50-plus year occupation of Palestinians and their lands, constant killings of civilians in Gaza, and the Trump administration's obsessive embrace of Israel's hard-right are all factors.

Republicans and conservatives still back Israel in large numbers, as do many in the evangelical Christian community (though younger members are more skeptical). For the foreseeable future, however, Israel will likely receive unprecedented financial, military, and diplomatic support from the United States.

Tony films Gallagher in a Washington D.C. café explaining that "the foundation that AIPAC sat on is rotting. There used to be widespread public support for Israel in the United States...I don't think that AIPAC is the tip of the spear anymore, which is worrisome, because who is?"

It's a telling admission in a documentary that's full of them. 

The problem is that the Right loves Israel for the same reason other Americans have begun to criticize it: the divergence from American values in its oppression and attacks on Muslims. By appealing to those who love the state's illiberal exercise of power and driving away those who love Judaism, Israel is only adding to its demographic and theological existential crises.

Trump's veiled anti-Semitism comes home to roost in Pittsburgh: Trump is well aware of how white supremacists and others interpret his remarks. What makes it so sinister is that he keeps doing it anyway. (Edo Konrad, 11/04/18, +972)

[T]he president need not resort to Nazi anti-Semitism to inspire the bloodlust of Bowers and his ilk. After all, Jews do not categorically bother Trump. It is a particular kind of Jew -- cosmopolitan, progressive, anti-racist -- that Trump has adopted as a scapegoat for America's problems. His repeated attacks on George Soros, a Jewish billionaire who has historically funded liberal causes, is exemplary of the way right-wing leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hungarian President Viktor Orban are now deploying anti-Semitism: by using coded language to paint left-wing Jews as the source of a global conspiracy working to undermine everything their nationalist worldview represents.

Trump does not need to mention Soros' Jewish identity at all; the implication of mentioning Soros in the first place is totally clear. That's the beauty of dog-whistling -- the president doesn't have to talk about "the Jewish agenda" to make clear to his followers who or what he is referring to.

And while Trump may actually only be talking about Soros -- who holds significant political and economic power -- his most radical followers make no distinction between Soros as a person and Soros as codeword for "Jews." Robert Bowers may have despised HIAS and its support for refugees and immigrants, but his attack on a Jewish place of worship is proof that Trump's brand of veiled anti-Semitism is no less dangerous than the kind one finds on the front page of the Daily Stormer.

That is what precisely makes it so sinister: the president knows exactly what he is doing. He is well aware of what kind of violence his remarks can inspire and fuel, yet he continues to make them anyway.

In Pittsburgh, Naftali Bennett's Presence Highlights the Debate Between Netanyahu's Government and American Jews (Bernard Avishai, October 31, 2018, The New Yorker)

As Daniel Benjamin (my colleague at Dartmouth) noted in Time, earlier this week, a Pew "thermometer" poll last year found that Americans feel more warmly toward Jews than toward any other religious group--"one degree higher than Catholics, two higher than mainline Protestants, six higher than Evangelical Christians and 13 higher than Mormons." True, the Anti-Defamation League reported a fifty-seven-per-cent rise in anti-Semitic incidents last year. But for liberals, even Zionists with a liberal imagination, this could hardly be a surprise. Anti-Semitism "is bound to increase, because the causes of its growth continue to exist and cannot be removed," Theodor Herzl wrote in "The Jewish State," in 1896. The problem he pointed to was not Christian bigotry, which emancipation was slowly dispersing, but class conflict, which created workers, some of whom rise and some of whom fall. Jews, who tended to rise, naturally became the target of "mediocre intellects, who cannot find an outlet downwards or upwards," Herzl wrote. What would protect all minorities--in the case of the Jewish state, Arab Muslims--would be the same secular and liberal principles that one fights for in the West. That's why, ironically, Herzl's ideal Jewish state, which he laid out in his novel "The Old New Land," from 1902, looks much more like Squirrel Hill than like Bennett's airless settlements.

Indeed, much like Trump, Bennett has fomented bigotry in electoral campaigns and from a state position. He lobbied feverishly for the discriminatory nation-state law. (He suggested that Israeli courts throw the Israeli-Arab civil-rights group Adalah "down the stairs.") He has led the fight against asylum seekers in Israel, calling them "infiltrators" and purveyors of "threat" and "crime." He has consistently opposed civil marriage and, as education minister, tried to suppress a book about an Israeli Jew falling in love with a Muslim. He supports his government's cozying up to the Hungarian President, Viktor Orbán, who has normalized attacks on George Soros. Bennett condemns "shooting worshippers," but he is the chief advocate for the kind of settlement policy in and around Hebron that, in 1994, produced Baruch Goldstein's notorious massacre at the mosque of the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

American Jews reflexively express affection for, and fascination with, Israel as a historical achievement. But they do not require history lessons from rightist Israelis who debase liberalism, or from any Israeli who cannot see how the distinct achievement and the continual struggle of American Jews rival those of Zionists. "Go home," David Simon, the creator of "The Wire" and "The Deuce," tweeted when he heard that Bennett was on his way. "Netanyahu's interventions in US politics aided in the election of Donald Trump and his raw and relentless validation of white nationalism and fascism. The American Jewish community is now bleeding at the hands of the Israeli prime minister. And many of us know it."

Last June, in the hamlet of Wilmot, New Hampshire, where I live half the year, the caretaker of the local white-clapboard Congregationalist church, next to the public library, discovered graffiti: "No remorse for the dead kike on a pike." It wasn't clear whether "kike on a pike" threatened the local Jews--of whom there are but a few--or the crucified Jesus. But the offense was certainly taken to be anti-Semitic. Unsure of what to expect, the minister, the Reverend Sara Marean, called on local ministers and residents to show the Jewish community fellow-feeling. The following Sunday, three hundred people gathered on the church green. The speeches and the songs sounded like America. Arthur Rosen, a retired public-relations executive and the representative of the Upper Valley Jewish community, wondered aloud if the person who had written the graffiti was in the crowd, and invited him or her to forgo inflammatory Web sites and come to his home for a forgiving conversation. Nobody left the gathering feeling that the scribbler had "prevailed."

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


'Trump has hijacked the election': House Republicans in panic mode (RACHAEL BADE, CARLA MARINUCCI and ELANA SCHOR 11/04/2018, Politico)

House Speaker Paul Ryan got President Donald Trump on the phone Sunday for one final plea on behalf of anxious Republicans: Please, please talk up the booming economy in the final hours before Election Day.

But Trump, unsurprisingly, had another issue on his mind. He boasted to Ryan that his focus on immigration has fired up the base, according to a source familiar with the call.

Two days out from an expected Democratic takeover of the House, Republicans focused on the chamber are profoundly worried that Trump's obsession with all things immigration will exacerbate their losses. Many of these same Republicans welcomed Trump's initial talk about the migrant caravan and border security two weeks ago, hoping it would gin up the GOP base in some at-risk, Republican-held districts.

The base may not be racist, but the Republican leadership obviously believes it is.*

[*] credit to Mr. Gillum

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


Twin Pillars of a Free Society (David Shribman, 11/03/18, Uexpress)

Religion. The press. Twin pillars of a free society. Each an affirmation of personal liberty and an assertion of individual and institutional autonomy, the two were woven together from almost the very beginning of our republic and tied in a circle of sadness here this week.

For it has been true from the start of this country, and apparent to us as journalists from the start of this week of remorse and remembrance, that the freedom to worship and the freedom to think, write and publish are inextricably linked in a way none of us considered before, in a way our neighbors and fellow countrymen very likely never considered before.

But the relationship is intimate, and it is indispensable.

"Those focal points of personal and communal allegiance are vital platforms for speaking truth to power and for affirming the reality of truths not subject to state manipulation," said Lawrence H. Tribe, the Harvard Law professor regarded as one of the leading authorities on constitutional law. "That's why every tyrannical regime begins by crushing both the independent press and independent religious bodies -- and by replacing the truth as perceived and pronounced by honest journalists and incorruptible clergy with an official orthodoxy."

Moments after I discussed this notion with Tribe, I sat with a gaggle of rabbis, grim-faced mourners in the brightly lit environs of the Milky Way kosher restaurant on Murray Avenue in the heart of Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill. They were here for the funerals, some from great distance, and it struck them that the connection was not a nuance but a fundamental feature of our national character.

"They're related, for sure, and they are at the core of the founding of the United States," said Rabbi Barry Gelman of the United Orthodox Synagogue in Houston. "If either of them is endangered, we are tearing at the fabric of what America is."

His dining companion, Rabbi Adam Scheier of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount, Quebec, Canada, chimed in:

"They're both efforts to try to make sense of the world -- the press with that which is obvious and confusing at the same time, and religion, which renders what we don't perceive but believe exists."

The First Amendment speaks of the responsibility of speaking truth to power, and of using the power of truth for the betterment of society. They are sacred responsibilities leading to sacred acts.

But there is a third element to the First Amendment, the right of the people to assemble peaceably.

That was expressed with eloquence as well in Pittsburgh this week, in vigils across the city.

Of all the poignant and potent messages, this one, expressed at one of those vigils by another man of the cloth, the Rev. Glenn Grayson, pastor of the Wesley Center AME Zion Church, seemed to speak to the moment with unusual power:

"A tragedy for Squirrel Hill is a tragedy for the Hill," he said of the historically black Hill District. "It's a tragedy for the whole city."

Second Amendment extremism is a quintessentially anti-republican effort to deny these core liberties.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Nationalism Isn't a Bad Thing, But Trump's Version Is (Hal Brands, October 3, 2018, Bloomberg)

[T]he reason nationalism gets a bad name is that collisions between the sharpest types of nationalism -- those that take a Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest approach to international affairs, that depict global politics as an unceasing clash in which one must dominate or be dominated, that exalt struggle as the ultimate test of a nation's worth, and that turn every international interaction into a zero-sum competition for glory and advantage -- have caused repeated geopolitical cataclysms.

This, in a nutshell, is the problem with Trump's America First nationalism. At a time when the international system is being tested by resurgent nationalism on the part of China, Russia and other powers, the Trump administration is undermining a system that has benefited the U.S. immeasurably by embracing a toxic nationalism of its own.

Trump built much of the momentum for his candidacy and presidency through foreign-policy pronouncements that have been openly hostile to the international system the U.S. built after 1945. Yet his speech at the UN was more subtly subversive. Some parts -- his paeans to the distinctive histories, cultures and traditions of different countries -- had a Kumbaya quality that might seem right at home in Turtle Bay. Until, that is, one realizes that by championing unrestrained nationalism in foreign policy, Trump is inviting a return of the brutal, destructive patterns that the UN and so much of today's international system were created to overcome.

The emergence of such hypernationalism was a critical driver of World War I -- at that point, the most violent conflict in history. Just 25 years later, the rise of predatory regimes motivated by some of the most unconstrained, aggressive nationalisms ever seen triggered an all-consuming conflagration.

This dynamic was hardly unique to the 20th century. As Charles Edel and I argue in our forthcoming book, "The Lessons of Tragedy," the clash of extreme nationalisms has been a recurring feature of geopolitics since the emergence of the modern nation-state system in the 17th century, and the result has often been to foster cycles of great-power war and all the accompanying devastation.

The determination to break this cycle was at the heart of the postwar system. Contrary to what the president argues, the U.S. never abandoned nationalism -- it never pursued a foreign policy that was intended to do anything other than promote a secure, peaceful and prosperous world in which America itself could flourish. But U.S. officials of the 1940s and after understood that the most vicious aspects of nationalism had to be tamed if the international system was not to be pulled back into violent, chaotic darkness. The great innovations of postwar foreign policy were thus expressly designed to cage and control nationalism.

America's promotion of an open global economy was meant to avert the protectionist, beggar-thy-neighbor policies that had set countries against each other in the 1930s, frustrating cooperation and hastening the spiral into depression and bloodshed.

The Right is so hostile to trade because capitalism is inherently transnational.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


When Faith in Your Fellow Human Is Ebbing, Look to Baseball (Gene Lyons, 10/31/18, Uexpress)

Watching the familiar ritual of the winners hugging, high-fiving and carrying little children around the Dodger stadium infield after winning Game 5 felt like a throwback to a better time.

In the wake of the atrocity in Pittsburgh, I felt exactly like The Washington Post's Alyssa Rosenberg: "For a few hours Sunday night ... the final game of the World Series felt like America as it could be .... When our most basic rules are regularly trampled, even a tiny, temporary restoration of the moral order provides some warmth against the encroaching cold."

Of course, every MLB club's team picture these days looks like the United Nations: black and white, Dominican, Mexican and Venezuelan, and in Boston's case, Taiwanese and Aruban as well. But the Red Sox were also among the happiest teams I've ever seen. If there were any malcontents on the bench or in the bullpen -- as there nearly always are among highly competitive professional athletes -- they were impossible to identify.

Under the leadership of rookie manager Alex Cora, the Red Sox came to embody much of what's best about America: a passion for excellence, a personal and communal determination to succeed, and an unwillingness to be divided.

According to The Boston Globe's terrific baseball writer Alex Speier, the team's "remarkable cohesion" owes itself largely to Cora. Red Sox players unanimously praise his (bilingual) communication skills and his regard for them as individuals with lives off the baseball diamond. The new Red Sox manager didn't ask for a signing bonus before coming over from the Houston Astros; he asked for a planeload of hurricane relief supplies for his hometown of Caguas, Puerto Rico.

It's no exaggeration to say that the Red Sox and Houston Astros organizations provided more effective Hurricane Maria relief than the White House. Less bureaucracy, superior leadership.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps": A Coded Message? (K. V. Turley, 11/02/18, Imaginative Conservative)

In October 1932, Sir Oswald Mosley founded the British Union of Fascists (BUF). By 1934, BUF's membership had risen to 50,000. Rallies were impressive affairs. From its neo-Gothic fortress, Black Shirt House, on the King's Road in Chelsea, London, Black Shirted followers would travel to the arenas at nearby Earl's Court or Olympia where Mosley's oratory would electrify. The enemy, he pronounced, was clear for all to see: the Jews, the Reds, the whole corrupt capitalist system and its front: liberal democracy. For many, it seemed, at last, Great Britain's very own 'Strong Man' had emerged. The Hour of the Fascist had finally come. It seemed as if power was within the Black Shirts' grasp. The roars of appreciation from within and outside the arenas could be heard all over London, and indeed beyond. The national newspaper, The Daily Mail, ran an editorial entitled: 'Hurrah for the Black Shirts!' Gazing out over London from the top of Black Shirt House, Mosley must have wondered not 'If' but 'When'.

In the same city, to the north of fashionable Chelsea, was another London, Shepherds Bush. In its backstreets there existed an industrial facility: Lime Grove Studios. Built in 1915, its artisans did not make cars or armaments but films. And it was there that, in 1934, a young Alfred Hitchcock started to work on John Buchan's 1915 novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps. The plot of the novel had been changed, but its essentials were retained if stripped of the Edwardian paranoia around Empire loss. Now the story was brought up to date, and spoke instead of fears around national survival. As the thunderous applause still echoed across London from Earls Court for the Black Shirted Color Party as it carried forth into the night the Fascist flag of the BUF, just a few miles to the north, the cameras began to roll upon a thriller that spoke of fascism, of foreign agents and their fellow travellers.

The 39 Steps is one of five films that Hitchcock made in England about espionage in the mid-to-late 1930s. These films capture the growing threat felt in Britain from foreign powers. In their scenarios the nation's security was nowhere more threatened than by spies hiding in plain sight. In The 39 Steps this premise is never more clearly on display, startlingly so. [...]

Importantly, as film production commenced, the shooting script was altered. The 39 Steps 'secret' was no longer what it had been in the source material. As Hitchcock cries 'Action!' and Richard Hannay, played by Robert Donat, is pursued across the Highlands and eventually back to London, let us return to Broadstairs where truth is stranger than fiction.

On Broadstairs' North Foreland Estate there stands a 20-room mansion, called Naldera. The inspirational '39'--there were in fact 78--steps to the sea are there. For many years it had been the home of the wealthy politician, Lord Curzon. A frequent visitor to the house was his son-in-law, Sir Oswald Mosley. Mosley had married Curzon's daughter, Cynthia, in 1920.

By 1934, however, there was someone else living at Naldera. There was a man who, like the foreign agents in The 39 Steps, had impeccable manners and an immaculate English accent, and even, on occasion, was known to wear a monocle. His name was Dr. Arthur Tester. He claimed to be English. He was in fact a Nazi spy.