To Arms, Teachers! Trumpism as Totalitarianism

I just finished Masha Gessen’s truly great The Future is History, her story of “how totalitarianism reclaimed Russia”. It was hard to read, not just because of the grey bleakness that choked out all Russian political space throughout the book, but because of the vast parallels between Russia and the United States…especially, of course, between the rise of Trump and the Reign of Putin.

I don’t mean, right now at least, in the strictly legal or political sense. The book doesn’t at all touch on potential collusion, or cooperation between the parties. Trump is really only mentioned a couple of times at the end, once where Gessen is talking about the growing global influence of Alexander Dugin, the philosopher of Putinism and Russia’s aggressive revanchism, with its white nationalism, hatred of modernity, anti-gay hysteria, political oppression, and swaggering love of upsetting norms.

In the epilogue, she writes of his growing international fame: “With the election of Donald Trump in the United States, the neo-Nazi movement known as the ‘alt-right’ gained public prominence, as did its leader Richard Spencer, an American married to Nina Kouprianova, a Russian woman who served as Dugin’s English translator and American promoter.”

This, I think, is part of the key. The philosophy behind Putinism, especially once his second terms started, has been aggressive and deeply conservative, almost atavistic. And that movement, which I’ve lumped as “white suprenationalism“, has been the driving moral force behind Trump.

This isn’t a full review of the book, nor is it trying to tease out the enormity of the Russian connection, in a spiritual, legal, and economic sense (indeed, every time I try to, I get lost in the vastness of the details, which might be the point). I hope to do a full review this week, and hope to bring out more connections as we go along.

But there was one passage that struck me, and that clarified a lot of what I have been thinking about when we talk about arming teachers.

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“Blue Apron” Food Stamps. Refugees. School Shootings. For the GOP, Meanness is The Goal

On Valentine’s Day, which will forever be known to the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland as the day their young lives became forever associated with trauma, Allison and I decided to watch something old, and romantic, so we could not talk about the daily horrors for a few hours. We had that luxury, of course.

We quickly picked Casablanca, which neither of us had seen for years.  What struck me watching it again, beside how great it still is, is that beside the main three (or four) characters, you are meant to deeply sympathize with the young couple trying to get out of the city.

Real people (2/3rds)

We’re primed to sympathize with them, to feel their plight, to feel the agony of their neverland time in Casablanca. This isn’t just because they are young and attractive, but because the opening narration perfectly lays out their situation.

With the coming of the Second World  War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully, or desperately,  toward the freedom of the Americas. Lisbon became the great embarkation point. But not everybody could get to Lisbon directly, and so, a tortuous, roundabout refugee trail sprang up. Paris to Marseilles, across the Mediterranean to Oran, then by train, or auto, or foot, across the rim of Africa to Casablanca in French Morocco.

Here, the fortunate ones, through money, or influence, or luck, might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon, and from Lisbon to the New World. But the others wait in Casablanca — and  wait — and wait — and wait .

You can feel their desperate pain. These are people whose lives have been upturned by the horrors of war, by the mad headlong rush of violence into their lives. They are broken and shattered and scared and lost, half-dead, barely clinging onto hope. We feel for them, because they are human, and we can see ourselves in them.

We have the same situation in Syria, today. Millions of people have had their lives turned inside out, blown apart by a savagely cruel war. They spent their lives under the cadaverous pallor of the Asad regime, and when some rose up, peacefully, they were slaughtered. Over the next 7 years, their country has been turned into a charnel house, ripped apart by warring factions inside the country (especially the regime), transnational groups like ISIS, and international actors like Russia, Iran, the United States, Saudi Arabia, now Turkey, maybe Israel.

They fled across the self-same Mediterannean. They fled to Europe, many with eyes toward America. But we didn’t see them as people. We saw them as others, verminous danger, and closed our doors.

Not real people

That’s clear in the latest budget, and it is clear in, say, the dozens of refugee resettlement centers that are being closed under Trump and Paul Ryan.

But that’s the GOP. That’s who they are as a party, and it is clear in issue after issue: cruelty is the point, and empathy is a weakness. It is not a coincidence, nor a distortion, that their President is a man entirely incapable of empathy, and whose primary instinct (other than self-aggrandizement) is to be cruel to those he thinks are weaker than him.

It’s how he became President after all, and in every move he makes and every reaction he has, and in every piece of policy crafted in the head of Paul Ryan, making the lives of actual humans even worse is the primary goal. Punching down, and pulling the last shreds of a decent life from those who have so little.

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Say No to Unity: A Quick Aside on the Scalise Shooting (and programming note)

Image result for alexandria shooting

(Apologies for the no posts in a week- have been working on a side project that goes off today, and will finally have time to breathe after this evening. Back to regular posting next week.)

As a quick aside on the horrific shooting in Alexandria yesterday. The shooter was clearly disturbed, and driven mad by the constant thrum of political anger that hangs over the country like a cloud of doomed, lust-mad cicadas, endlessly screeching to be heard before the reaping. And that is a very dangerous situation. The surprising thing isn’t what happened yesterday; it’s that it hasn’t happened more often.

(It has, of course, just not directed toward Congressmen. Hate crimes and race-driven murders have spiraled upward since Trump’s election, and of course, violence is part of the fabric of America. A gunman killed three in San Francisco yesterday, and it barely was a blip.)

But there are a few things about that, as we are met with calls for “unity” and “turning down the temperature” and everything.

  1. Donald Trump is still a uniquely horrifying President, who should not be in office. His policies hurt the United States, he is bone-dumb ignorant and childishly cruel, and his whole circle is based on corruption. Mueller is looking into obstruction of justice. That hasn’t changed because a crazy person also hated him. He still must be resisted.
  2. The GOP is still trying to destroy the environment, wreck workers rights, and take away the health care of tens of millions of Americans, which will lead to the deaths of thousands. That they were shot at by someone who is opposed to that doesn’t make their policies any less destructive.
  3. It benefits the party in power to call for “unity” and to ask people to stop being so gosh-darn angry.

Obviously, Point #3 isn’t conspiratorial. It’s just cynically convenient. It’s convenient to say that looking into all this colluding and justice-obstructing is “raising the temperature.” It’s convenient for the GOP to say that despite this assault, they’ll continue to do “the people’s work”, regardless of the fact the people are opposed to the AHCA with almost shocking bipartisan uniformity. It’s convenient for them to say they’ll soldier on courageously, and using the shooting to deflect criticism.

And, to be sure, it is brave, in a sense. What happened yesterday was horrifying, and I’m sure personally shocking. Granted, it doesn’t seem to have changed anyone’s mind on guns. Indeed, there are many calling for fewer restrictions, so that everyone there could have returned fire. (which, I guess, isn’t politicizing tragedy?) You can see the depth of ideological madness where the response to getting a taste of the violence that keeps this country on the butcher’s block is to sound out a clarion call for increased violence.

And that’s the point. Their policies are still ruinous and destructive. They still must be resisted. That Steve Scalise caught a bullet doesn’t make his push to destroy healthcare and shatter the lives of millions any more moral or understandable. The Mo Brooks came across pretty well doesn’t mean his promotion of total corporate mastery over labor and the environment any less hideous. Scalise didn’t deserve what happened, and nor did the people around him.  We all obviously hope they all recover fully, and live long happy lives.

But they still should be resisted, at every step of the way. They are trying to deny others that long, happy life. They are trying to turn humans and the earth into capital. This shouldn’t be met with violence, but with votes and with voices. Silence and unity, at this moment, will more destructive than anger.

Remote Control ISIS Weapons: Probably Not Good


While the advantage of remotely operating a direct-fire weapon such as a machine gun or sniper rifle is obvious, remote weapons can also make small bands of insurgent groups seem stronger and better equipped. The report covers one instance in which Kurdish troops attacked an Islamic State remote-controlled sniper rifle, losing men in the process while the shooter remained protected in a bunker nearby. Instead of using men to protect the remote weapon, the Islamic State instead tied up dogs around the system.

Experts are increasingly impressed and worried with the level of technological sophistication of tele-weapons used by militant groups in Iraq and Syria, especially ISIS. Mowing down Kurdish fighters with a remote-operated gun protected by dogs seems like a perfect combination of ISIS’s patented brutality and technological sophistication.

But really, it’s only the dogs, and the relatively crude-but-successful nature of the operation that make it any different from the way violence is changing, and becoming more remote and even automized. It’s one of the main issues of our day, and I don’t think it will ever be possible to have a real discussion about it, since we rush forward, and any attempt to say we shouldn’t have a weapon is lost in a deafening drum circle of retrograde chest-thumping.

Look for example at the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System. Even just the name makes it sound like a bad idea, but saying “this will protect the lives of Marines”– which could very well be true!– makes its deployment essentially a done deal. It needs human control now, but that’s just the first step.


This is the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System, or MAARS for short. It's an unmanned ground vehicle that can be outfitted with a medium machine gun or a grenade launcher.

This makes me uncomfortable. Image from Tech Insider


There will be a point one day soon when robots will make the kill decision, algorithmically. I’m not a person afraid of a robot takeover, but I am apprehensive of them making what are essentially moral decisions. I’m also concerned that adopting higher and higher tech makes it impossible for us to condemn it, and keep it out of the hands of even worse actors. But barring high-level political action, I don’t see this as a road off of which we’re going to veer.

A Brief Note on Gabby Giffords Endorsing Kirk and Toomey, and the Myth Of Encouragement

Politico: Americans for Responsible Solutions, the anti-gun violence PAC founded by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, on Monday endorsed two Republican senators for their 2013 vote following the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre.

“In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, Republican Sens. Pat Toomey and Mark Kirk broke from the gun lobby and supported a bill to help prevent felons, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill from obtaining firearms at gun shows and online,” Giffords and Kelly wrote in aCNN op-ed. “This week, they are earning our organization’s endorsement.”

We just talked about Kirk, and his attempt to keep Republican votes while not losing everyone in Illinois who hates Trump, which is most people. Part of his (deserved) political reputation comes from things like bucking the NRA, even briefly, which is how he gets endorsements from groups like Giffords. But while, like anyone with a heart, I love Gabby Giffords, this endorsement is nonsense.

I get the instinct. If you “reward” Republicans with your endorsement in exchange for behaving like reasonable human beings on guns, you’ll get more support. That’s the theory. The other calculation is that Americans for Responsible Solutions can’t only endorse Democrats, because then they are seen as partisan actors. It’s a tough situation, to be sure.

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Reacted to the Gun: Yemen and the US; National Security and the Illusion of Exceptionalism


Pictured: Lunatics

Pictured: Patriots


Back when I was writing more or less exclusively about Yemen, the same conversation would always come up: “I’ve heard that there are so many guns in Yemen, and like, people just carry them around.” And that’s true! Yemen is a country completely awash in guns, and it was not uncommon to see people carrying rifles in the streets of San’a. Old rifles, generally, and rarely loaded, but yes. It’s something you got used to. The point of the question was generally not curiosity, but a way to explain how violent and dangerous and maybe even primitive a land it was, one ruled by savage bloodlust.

You clearly see where this is going. The person who asked was nearly always American, and my followup would be “yeah, by a lot of estimations Yemen has the second most guns per capita in the world!”, the first, of course, being America. But that’s where there was always a disconnect. Regardless of how the person I was talking to felt about gun control, there was never an idea that it was a similar thing. They had too many guns and that’s why it was so violent. We just have a lot of guns, is all.

Global Gun Policy Comparisons

A few notes on this graph from CFR. The last Small Arms Survey was in 2007. Some more recent estimates have US guns per capita at an incredible 112.6 guns per person, though the actual amount of gun owners has decreased. Just more people with an absurd amount of guns. Yemen has a wide variance, with some estimates putting it at 2nd (54.8 guns per capita) and others considerably lower.

I feel that people may be realizing just how insane this is getting, which the last terrible week may have shown. When Philando Castille was shot by a police officer, he was (reportedly) carrying a weapon he was legally allowed to. The officer, by way of exoneration, said through his lawyer that he was reacting to the “gun, not to race.” You can quibble about the role race played in how that gun was reacted to (spoiler: probably a lot!), but the key is the gun.

“Reacting to the presence of that gun” could be our national motto. We saw it again in Dallas, where protestors, enacting their legal right to armed carry, added to the confusion of an active shooter situation. This makes the incredibly difficult job of a police officer even tougher. How are you supposed to determine, in the moment, whether a person is a “good guy with a gun”?

For that matter, how are we? A couple of years ago, a man in Georgia went to a park with a Little League game, waving around a gun and bragging about how it was legal, and there was nothing anyone could do.

“Anyone who was just walking by – you had parents and children coming in for the game – and he’s just standing here, walking around [saying] ‘You want to see my gun? Look, I got a gun and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ He knew he was frightening people. He knew exactly what he was doing,” said parent Karen Rabb.

Rabb said that the man’s intimidating behavior panicked parents causing them to hustle children who were there to play baseball to safety after the man refused to leave.

After deputies arrived, they questioned the man who produced a permit for the handgun. According to authorities, since the man made no verbal threats or gestures, they couldn’t arrest him or ask him to leave.

(Again, if the man was black, he’d be dead, but move on). This is insane. Unless and until he started shooting, there was nothing anyone could do except hope this man wasn’t a murderer. That’s where we all live now. We are all on the front lines. We’re all at the mercy of chance, hoping we don’t get shot. We’re all just reacting to the presence of a gun.

But what does it all mean?  We’ve talked a lot about how our devotion to guns is a reflection of a violent national character — we’re a country whose national symbol of freedom, for many, isn’t the founding documents or the broken chains of even the Statue of Liberty, but a tool designed by man to kill other men. More than that, I think, the mere presence of so many guns has a distorting and fearful impact on who we are. It’s hard to go out to dinner without thinking, in the back of your head, that this is a great spot for a mass shooter, whether they are pledging allegiance to the Caliphate or just the voices in their head. I think it makes us more savage.

It makes us less safe, and makes us feel less safe. There are people who carry, and feel a little more secure, but really: if you actually felt secure you wouldn’t need to. And yes, in an era of global terrorism, nowhere is safe, but getting shot is far more likely to happen here, for no reason, not even a sick and twisted justification. Just because someone falls asleep angry every day and wakes up exhausted and has access to guns.

This refusal to look at the impact being flooded with guns has on our national character is the dangerous side of American exceptionalism. It’s easy to look at Yemen and assign a national characteristic based on loosely-understood ideas about gun culture. I think taking any one thing and making it as synecdoche is foolhardy, but there is something there. It is there a little in Yemen (tribal culture is inherently more a negotiating one than a violent one, but revenge always has to be in the toolbelt). And it is here in the US.

We aren’t immune from history. It shows in our borders (having migration issues a mere 100+ years after mass annexation is not unusual!), and it shows in the way we react to the physical presence of guns. But we refuse to have an actual national examination. It’s easy to say “Yemen has guns and so it is violent”; but we have a lot of trouble doing it here, a country that is way more gun-heavy and death-ridden. It’s the same mentality that says torture is OK if the US does it, because our inherent goodness alchemizes war crimes into justice. It’s this inability to look nward, this blithe shattering of every national mirror, that I think more than anything is responsible for our decline.

The Dallas Backlash: Joe Walsh Makes It All Clear

H/T Slate


I wasn’t calling for violence, against Obama or anyone. Obama’s words & BLM’s deeds have gotten cops killed. Time for us to defend our cops.

Joe Walsh is a dimbulb Tea Party punk who briefly became the face of yapping white suburban anger in Northern Illinois in 2010 before being put back in his place by Tammy Duckworth. He’s the voice of those who think that police don’t have enough power, who thinks that anyone of color who looks askance at a cop is a thug who deserves to get shut down, and who, it goes without saying, defends traditional family values.

The collar counties in Illinois go through spasms of reaction, like the seismic reverberations of white flight. Walsh rode that wave until it broke, but these horrible shootings (which now seem to be the broken reaction to police-based murder) are tailor-made for a racist like him. He’s one of those goons (who are also the entirety of the FOX News lineup, all of talk radio, and like 80% of elected GOP officials) who have wanted to bury Black Lives Matter since it came up, because an organized effort and consistent spotlight on systemic injustice makes them uncomfortable. It’s far better to imagine it a violent militant movement, with gun-toting cop-killing rapists around every corner. This plays right into his hands.

It also plays into the hands of Donald Trump, who has tried to rally the “Law and Order” white reaction to his side, with some success. Expect failed authoritarians like Rudy Guiliani to be all over tying this to Obama, and of course to Hillary, for not “defending cops”, as if anything Obama has ever said about it has been untrue.

What this does is allow any talk of black rights or black lives to be smothered in a sea of righteous anger. Your concern for your lives, it will essentially be said, is costing other people their lives, and their lives are, need we say, more worthy. They are the ones that matter.

Or, as Tommy Craggs said, ” A lot of subtext is going to become text in the next few days. Seems only right for Walsh to have gotten us started.”

Obama, and by connection Hillary, are “to blame” for this because they recognize that things aren’t right, and that we have a long history of violence toward black Americans. Black Lives Matter is hated because they refuse to conform to the official story, to the legend of justice. That’s why they have to be smeared. They have to be discredited. The mythology can’t stand up to the light.

The story is that official unwillingness to sweep police violence and the pervasive violence and injustice against the black community under the rug is un-American, and dangerous. Both might be true, but that tells you more about America than anyone is comfortable with.