Posted tagged ‘tyranny’

One More Thing: I Do Dare Call It Treason

December 10, 2016

There’s no way to parse what happened in the few weeks before the election without recognizing that both FBI director Comey and Senate Majority Leader McConnell effectively colluded with Russia to throw this election.


Comey can’t not have known about the Russia connection to the emails, and yet chose to violate policy, precedent and explicit advice from Justice in his email letter ten days before the vote.

McConnell was specifically briefed on Russia’s efforts to influence the election, and he pressured (successfully, alas) the Obama administration to withhold that information from the public.

Both of them made choices that directly enabled Putin’s efforts.  Both of them knew, to a virtual certainty, that this was the case.

Both of them are in my view traitors — both to our country as it is now, and to the idea of a representative democracy America is supposed to embody.

And one more one more thing: Elaine Chao, McConnell’s wife, is Trump’s nominee for Transportation secretary. It is unconfirmed at this time that this is payment for services rendered.  It would, however, be irresponsible not to speculate.

Image: Andrea del Sarto, Study for a “Shame Painting” — In Italy, this form of execution was associated w. traitors. Before 1530.

…Til It’s Gone

December 15, 2010

(Cross-posted at Balloon Juice)

This is a follow up to John Cole’s Thug Nation observation.

He’s right, of course: we’ve allowed our fears, and the cynical manipulation of those night sweats, to lead us to surrender rights and values that a decade ago we might have thought untouchable.

It is funny – in a tragic kind of way — that someone like the odious Ken Cuccinelli can claim that a mandate to purchase health insurance is an assault on liberty, while actual, unequivocal, physical and mental tyranny passes without comment.

Which is not to say that I am unsurprised that the Big Lie party plays in that particular sandbox.  Rather, it is the fact that we don’t deny such folks the regard of civil society just shows how far we’ve sunk.

That is:  horrible as the story of Private Bradley Manning’s incarceration is, it should come as no surprise to anyone.

I say so so baldly because of a meaningless coincidence.  Just yesterday, I happened  to finish Dave Eggers’ remarkable book Zeitoun, a work I recommend to anyone reading this.

There, Egger tells the story of one family’s experiences during Katrina.  The title character, Zeitoun, a Muslim from Syria moved to New Orleans, where he met and married Kathy, a convert to Islam, and with her, put together a successful business as a painter, contractor, and property owner/manager.

When Katrina came, Kathy and their children left the city before the storm, eventually reaching friends in Phoenix.  Zeitoun stayed, feeding abandoned dogs, rescuing those he could with a canoe he’d bought at a yard sale, checking on his property around town – until he was arrested without warning or explanation, denied a phone call, and disappeared into a makeshift prison system set up by FEMA, in which all normal recourse to courts and process disappeared.

Here is Egger’s description of the first makeshift outdoor prison in which Zeitoun found himself, set up withing  a couple of days after Katrina hit in the New Orleans train and bus station:

…The parking lot, where a dozen buses might normally be parked, had been transformed…

Chain-link fences, topped by razor wire, had been erected into a long, sixteen-foot-high cage extending about a hundred yards into the lot.  Above the cage was a roof, a freestanding shelter like those at gas stations.  The barbed wire extended to meet it…

It looked precisely like the pictures … [Zeitoun had]seen of Guantánamo Bay.  Like that complex, it was a vast grid of chain-link fencing with few walls, so the prisoners were visible to the guards and each other….

The space inside [each] cage was approximately fifteen by fifteen feet, and was empty but for a portable toilet without a door.  The other object in the cage was a steel bar in the shape of an upside down U….

[Prisoners] could stand in the middle of the cage.  They could sit on the steel rack. They could sit on the ground.  But if they touched the fence again there would be consequences….

The men were not given sheets, blankets or pillows…They asked [the guard] where they were supposed to sleep. He told them that he didn’t care where they slept, as long as it was on the pavement, where he could see them.

It gets worse from there.  With Zeitoun’s arrest, the rest of the book reads as if Kafka met Cormac McCarthy in some dive in the French Quarter.

As Eggers documents, Zeitoun was both a witness to straight physical torture, and, if being forced to dig out an infected splinter with the shards of a broken Tobasco bottle counts, was a victim of it too.

The kind that leaves less marks — that too.  Certainly, if you run the simplest of tests:  what would one say of such treatment if it were documented in Iran, say, or North Korea, then what Zeitoun suffered- along with hundreds of others, American citizens and legal residents — was a gross violation of basic human rights.

And all of this was done through a “system” that most closely resembled the arbitrary exercise of the state monopoly on violence we associate with tinpot dictatorships.

Which is to say is that the transformation of America into anything  but a shining city on a hill has been unfolding for a while.

It was happening right in front of us back their in the Big Easy, when an incompetent and often criminal administration sought to mask their grotesque failures in fights against a mythical terrorist threat along the levies.

It was happening before that, when the GOP fought the 2002 election on the “with us or with the terrorists” platform.

It is sure as hell with us now.

I drove home tonight through the pleasant neighborhood in which I am privileged to live.  I looked at the quiet streets, the trees, the lights in ground floor windows as folks got ready for dinner.  And I thought of a friend of mine who lives a few blocks from me, a rich guy, who told me recently that he was moving a significant chunk of his money to Canada – that he actually went to Montreal in person to open the account – because as an old Jew whose dad had raised him in the memory of the ‘30s and ‘40s, there was the whiff of those times coming round again.

Travelling along these streets, there’s no visible sign that my friend might be right, that the banks may continue to go sour; that some crazy act in New York or Chicago or Dallas might set off another round of Hunt The Other; that passports might not work so well; or, as Eggers writes of Zeitoun, that men and women in black vests may burst into your own building and heave you down a hole into which you simply disappear.

But it could happen here.  To anyone, to any of us.  We know it can.  It already has.

Images: Fra Angelico, St. Lawrence before Emperor Valerianus, 1447-1450

Gustave Doré, Newgate Exercise Yard, 1872

Master E. S., Temptation of Despair, c. 1450.

A Day That Lives in Infamy: Remember January 30.

January 30, 2008

(This post winds up on a science-ish blog because of my long history with Albert Einstein, in the course of which I did the work that enables me to write what follows.)

As this New York Times piece reminded me, seventy five years ago, this was a truly bad day. Just past noon (about six hours ago, Berlin time) on January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler took an oath administered by President Paul von Hindenburg, and assumed the office of Chancellor of Germany.

That this would be a disaster was obvious to some. General Erich Ludendorff knew both the players in that disastrous moment. He had been, with Hindenburg, the leader of the de facto military junta that ran Germany in the last years of the so-call “Great” War, and he had conspired with Hitler in the Beer Hall putsch of 1923. After Hitler became chancellor, Ludendorff wrote to the President in despair: “I solemny predict that this accursed man will cast our Reich in the abyss…Future generations will damn you in your grave for what you have done.”

Albert Einstein also undertood what Hitler’s rise meant, much earlier than most. He and Winston Churchill, then in the political wilderness, commiserated in the summer of 1933, and that September, Einstein’s frustration with the world’s myopia burst out in a newspaper interview: “I cannot understand the passive response of the whole civilized world to this modern barbarism,” he said. “Does not the world see that Hitler is aiming at war?” (From Abraham Pais, Einstein Lived Here.)

Einstein, of course, was right, which doesn’t surprise me — I hear he was a pretty smart guy.

But what I want to emphasize here is one lesson I learned in the writing of that tome that seems to me to have resonance in other circumstances, even ours now, perhaps.

That is: Hitler’s ascension to the chancellorship was a disaster—but not an inevitable one.

He certainly did his part to reach that pinnacle, but there were literally dozens of points at which he could have been stopped – even up to the last months and weeks. The outcome turned on many factors of course, but certainly among them were the inaction of those who might have defended the German republic throughout its troubled birth and early years; and then, at the end, the disastrous folly of those who were trying to destroy it for their own ends – and hoped to turn Hitler to their purposes.

From which I conclude:

It doesn’t only require active, purposeful malice to incinerate a civil society (h/t Balloon Juice). Aloof disdain and especially pure self-interested stupidity act as accelerants to the bonfire. (I had a couple of links there – but I don’t want to Godwinize this post, so fill in the blanks as you will).

Remember January 30.

(If you want a little more on the background to the tragedy or errors that propelled Hitler to power, go to the jump for an excerpt from my bookthat talks a little bit about the disastrous choices made by a range of German political actors in the early thirties that created the opening Hitler took. There is a lot more to the story, in versions written by many others, of course – but this gives a bitter taste of the events in question.)

Image: Brandenburg Gate Quadriga at night. Photo by Johann Gottfried Schadow, used under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 license.

Update: tweaked a little for readability (horrible word).