Sunday, July 19, 2020

Last Dance (Tonight)

Welcome one and all to the final installation of the old blog. My team has been working tirelessly on Spartan Considerations 2.0 for weeks. It will have a new look, a new web address, new content (of course!), and a rather new/renewed focus.

My plan was to address some of this with Post One, but I would rather use that first essay to look entirely outward as opposed to this more introspective piece.

We find ourselves in perilous times. Not so long ago, after the fall of the Soviet Union, some political scientists (and politicians for that matter) were heralding the “end of history.”  Despite the many pressing societal and economic challenges facing what was described as “the West,” the debates centered far too often on how best to manage liberal democracies – with two predominant schools of thought.  On one hand, you had corporate-friendly slightly-left-of-center parties (Bill Clinton and the New Democrats, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and New Labour) who often accepted the fundamental premises of the right-of-center parties but positioned themselves as being more inclusive on social issues.  On the other hand, there stood conservative parties such as the Republicans and Tories…also corporate-friendly but less forward-thinking on matters pertaining to race, gender, sexuality, etc..  But even the latter groupings tried to communicate a spirit of progressivism, to a certain extent…with pre-9/11 GW Bush running as a “compassionate conservative” and David Cameron attempting to reshape the image of the Conservatives as a more “modern” vehicle for change as opposed to offering a full-throated embrace of back-to-Thatcherism.

But with the endless wars, the Great Recession, and now a combination global pandemic/deep economic crisis, people began- and are - looking for answers outside of the old Consensus.  Unfortunately, people’s movements have only enjoyed limited success…as evidenced by the rise (and sad fall) of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and the impressive-yet-going-only-so-far accomplishments of the Bernie Sanders campaigns in 2016 and 2020.     

So here we stand, with egregiously horrifying examples of ethno-nationalism, government lawlessness, police riots, fascism, racist acts that are hurting and taking the lives of Black, Brown and indigenous people, a likely demented president with decidedly authoritarian leanings and ambitions served by his toadies, a Congress unable and/or unwilling to exercise its Constitutional authority in service of the rule of law, and a major political party that is hell-bent on holding power through both legal and illegal methods including, but not limited to, voter intimidation and vote suppression.  And all of these are occurring on a daily basis within the United States.

Neo-liberalism is not demonstrating that it is up to the task of providing a meaningful, coherent alternative. Keir Starmer is not showing that he will stand up to the Tory governing paradigm and Joe Biden, well, he is no “man of the future” but, importantly, he is not Donald Trump. 

Where I am going with this?  Right here.  In short, I have been distracted, sometimes by legitimate issues but other times by nonsense.

I believe that a better world is possible.  And I need to spend more time discussing issues and proposing ideas and solutions that will serve that cause.

Do I sometimes utilize a Manichean approach to political debate?  Yes, I do.  I only regret it when I might alienate potential allies or when I think to myself, “you know, I can do better than this.”  This occurred quite recently, on both fronts.

The closer I get to 50, the more I think about lost time and squandered opportunity.  Too often, I put out first drafts.  Do they make my point?  For the most part, yes. Will I still denounce the fascists and their supporters?  Absolutely, but I will be more thoughtful about it.  I know with more reflection and less of a willingness to engage in depressingly boring knife-fights, I can help further the cause that former British MP Aneurin "Nye" Bevan described as: “the only hope for mankind – and that is democratic socialism.”  

Being human, I cannot guarantee that my words and deeds will always align with such lofty ambitions.  That said, I have a lodestar and I need to focus my attention in that direction. The “break” afforded by shifting from the old platform to the new will hopefully help in the fulfillment of this goal.

Finally, it is my hope that you, the reader, will enjoy the content. In addition to the blog, I am in the early planning stages of developing other avenues for engagement…such as fora where those on the left, of all stripes, can discuss public policy matters and electoral strategies in a constructive, non-schism-inducing manner.  Perhaps now more than ever, we need a popular front.  

That is all for now.  107 days until Election Day 2020.  One throwback for old times’ sake:  

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

In solidarity.



Thursday, July 9, 2020

Disingenuous, Dysfunctional, Demeaning, and Disturbing

Why Howard County?  Why do you compel me to write these articles?  I am, as we speak, developing the rules for a game I call Quar-Ball. It’s the ideal game for these times.  A combination of dodgeball, kickball, volleyball, badminton, squamish, and (at the advanced level) snooker – it is going to be the sport everyone will be playing in the autumn.

So why can’t I focus on this soon-to-be-beloved-by-millions-and-highly-profitable-for-me past-time? Because of the Howard County Council Legislative Work Session (Web-based Virtual Meeting) of July 8, 2020.

Upon watching the first 28 minutes and final 10 minutes of the session, I heard comments and saw behaviors that included all of the words mentioned in the title of this post.  Check it out for yourself here:


Allow me one digression.  Of course these attitudes and actions are not limited to the Howard County Council…I see plenty of this on social media too.  From the squishy center sanctimoniousness from one FB group administrator to the “logical fallacy” FB group administrator. To the former: learn how to deal with public criticism.  To the latter: hey, what’s the logical fallacy for being a hypocritical gasbag? Ad homi-this, pal. 

Back to the main point, to expand upon a metaphor used recently in this context, the Howard County Council appears to be trapped in a five-way bad marriage. What I saw from this particular session, among other things, is the need for a strong commitment to antiracism.  I understand there are “reasons” why Howard County can’t move on this issue as Montgomery County did, with Councilperson Will Jawando pushing for a resolution declaring racism a “public health crisis” (which passed unanimously).  However, I think we can all agree that silencing a Black member of the Howard County Council, duly elected as the voice of the people of the district he represents, was reprehensible.  We need “unconscious bias and racial equity training for Councilmembers and County Council staff” now.  And we need the racial equity task force to launch ASAP, report their findings shortly after ASAP, and actually put into practice their recommendations (assuming, of course, they are quality anti-racist measures), ASAP after ASAP.

Some may decry the task force as mockery, or even a sham, but I disagree.  If the task force can change hearts, minds, and behaviors in such a way that more people, including elected officials, embrace antiracist beliefs and practices, then it will be a worthwhile endeavor.

Beyond (while still including) race, this County Council needs to get it together.  Otherwise, 2021 and 2022 are going to be very ugly years in terms of both local governance as well as electioneering. I guarantee it.

In solidarity.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

¡No pasarĂ¡n!

Bearing in mind the enhanced interest in anti-fascism while also noting the seemingly increased tolerance for fascistic speech and behaviors in the United States and other countries, what follows is my book review of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, by Mark Bray.

Published in 2017, Professor Bray crafted a highly readable, well-structured work on the philosophical underpinning of the antifa movement.  He readily admits that a compressed time schedule (driven by global events) compelled him to focus on the areas which he knew best – specifically American and European anti-fascist organizations.  He acknowledges that that is a shortcoming.  He does make an effort to explore intersectional themes: most notably pertaining to race and racism but also on gender and patriarchy.

The first 60% of the book takes us on a history of anti-fascism.  The history is broken out into three parts:  anti-fascism through 1945 (with a focus on the inter-war period), from the end of World War Two to roughly the outbreak of the Iraq War, and the modern era of 2003 to the present.

There are a number of sub-themes which, in and of themselves, could each make for a book of their own:  the propensity of police forces to support fascist actors and regimes, the divisions on the Left which inhibited their ability to fight back against fascism, the weakness of liberals who advocate for “neutral” values that (in effect) provide opportunities for fascists to exploit, and the leitmotif of people believing that fascist parties were “jokes”…until they actually came into power (usually via constitutional/parliamentary means).

The other 40% of the book offers some key “lessons learned” and practical organizing counsel as well as communications suggestions, such as on how to handle questions about “no platforming” and the “what about free speech for all?” whinging articulated by not only fascists but neoliberals of many stripes, including liberals.

Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook seeks to remind people about the dangers of false equivalences.  We see them all of the time, on television as well as on social media (If you do X, you are just the same as Y).  The reality is far different, both in principle and on the ground.  Fascists want to dehumanize, hurt, and/or kill people who are different from them…racial or ethnic minorities, those who practice different faiths, women, members of LGBTQIA+ communities.  Anti-fascists want to stop them, using a range of strategies and tactics.  There is no ethical “middle ground” here.

I strongly recommend this timely and accessible work, especially when one considers the potential for even more widespread fascistic violence occurring between now and January 2021.  It is important to understand how best to defend against fascism and help protect those most vulnerable to its depredations.

In solidarity.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

War On Boxing Day!!?

As my more attentive readers know, I am an ordained minister of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude (Reformed, as I like the Eagles).   Don’t believe the church is real?  See for yourself:   https://dudeism.com/.

Wayne Robey, Clerk of the Court for the Circuit Court for Howard County, noted in an email to an interested party that it would seem as though someone thus credentialed could, in fact, act as an officiant at weddings, funerals, etc…Of course, he acknowledged that his thoughts did not constitute “legal advice.”  My follow-up to that is that I provide my services at highly reasonable rates.

But enough of that.  You can imagine the intense chagrin I experienced upon reading an article in The Merriweather Post that stated that some local organizations were taking legal action to “shut down” the Symphony of Lights. 

I have read The Merriweather Post, dare I say religiously, for 35 years. I have never seen a headline in that august publication that has filled me with such horror.

I make a pilgrimage to the grounds where the Symphony of Lights occurs every December.  As I interpret the First Amendment regarding the free exercise of religion, it is not only a privilege but a right for me and my spiritual comrades to:

·      Drive very slowly through the winding paths as we look at the displays (and they damn well better be the same ones I saw last year),
·      Tune into a weak AM radio station with a four-song playlist and a signal that fades immediately after you cross Governor Warfield Parkway; and
·      Fork over $20 for the entire experience.

So, I am taking the American route to resolving this problem.  I am suing everyone in sight.

Specifically, my attorneys will be pursuing legal action against (but not limited to): the Columbia Association, the Inner Arbor Trust, the DCACC, the IMA, County Executive Calvin Ball, Delegate Warren Miller, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, that barista who “forgets” that I want a five-pump chai tea latte, and many others.  You will be hearing from my lawyers forthwith.

And God help Macy’s if they don’t have their holiday display up in September.

In solidarity.

    

Monday, June 29, 2020

End ICE, in HoCo and Beyond

Let us go back, as we must, to the Beginning.

It was March 1, 2003,  50 Cent’s single “In da Club” just reached the top of the charts.  Daredevil, the Ben Affleck/Jennifer Garner vehicle no one asked for, was wrapping up its box office run at #1.  Aaron Sorkin was still writing episodes of The West Wing.

The United States was less than three weeks away from launching “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

As part of the massive expansion of the national security apparatus (and the enhanced police state powers of a combined governmental-military-industrial nexus) following 9/11, The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency was brought into being.

ICE is now 17 years old, older than many of the children ICE has held in cages. One must ask the fundamental question:  Why does ICE exist?

The current activities of this agency seem far-removed from the original foci of engaging in counterterrorism and handling “threats to our national security,” especially as understood in the context of the times in which it was created.

Now, ICE could best be described as a tool of a lawless Administration, an ungloved fist thrown at whoever the Trump Clique considers an enemy-of-the-state (which appears to be an over-growing list).  ICE’s own numbers, reported upon by the Brennan Center, reveal that “the number of ICE arrests has increasedrising 42 percent between 2016 and 2017.” U.S. citizens are being detained, trapped in a legal and administrative limbo and, in many cases, for extended periods of time.  Legal residents are being arrested by ICE over old misdemeanors.  And, as is typical in ethnostates, racial and ethnic minority communities, our neighbors, are being targeted.   ICE’s tactics include kidnappings, of adults as well as children (see also: forced family separation).  These actions have caused  extreme hardships for the families impacted, financial as well as emotional.

Who is the real threat to our national security?

The Howard County detention center can and should be closed. There is no question that its presence represents a moral blight in our midst. And it is critical to consider the human impact on all those who are held in this facility.

As long as this corrupt system allows the existence of ICE, and provides this agency with the ability to shift the people they hold from one facility to another, often exercising police powers or collaborating with other law enforcement agencies to work-around regulations that limit their scope of authority, then one must also ask the question: If we oppose what ICE is doing, what is the best expenditure of our time, energy, and resources directed at ending it? 

Yes, it would feel good to shut down the Howard County detention center.  Yes, the people who are calling for that are overwhelmingly honorable and well-intentioned members of our community.  Yes, our public officials should sit down and listen to those who are advocating for the cancellation of the contract. And yes, shutting the center down would be a good thing to do.

But it cannot stop there.

How long-lived would that closure catharsis be once it was realized that the people held there would be shipped off to another locale where it is altogether possible they would face even worse treatment and/or even more challenging living conditions?  As long as the agency exists, given oxygen by an inhumane system, closing down one detention center as an “ICE prison” would be a minor and (from the perspective of those held there) perhaps Pyrrhic victory.

While I stand in support of the principles articulated by those who want to terminate the Howard County - ICE contract, I believe a more effective strategy would be to go after more than a single TIE fighter and focus on the Death Star itself.  ICE should be abolished. That approach offers the best prospect for a long-term and far-ranging solution to the bigger problem, which is not a single building access issue but the very existence of ICE and the organizations, individuals, and mindsets that allow ICE to terrorize local communities.

In solidarity.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Get into the Zone: Autonomous Zones

Until recently, the only famous Chaz’s were Bono and (albeit with an extra “z”) Palminteri.

Now, we have CHAZ, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle, Washington.  Although it also goes by CHOP (Capitol Hill Occupied Protest) as well as other names.

Several of the causes espoused by many denizens of the Zone are admirable and righteous, including but not limited to combating police brutality and other criminal justice reform proposals as well as greater funding for social services investments (such as community health).

The overall political outlook of the Zone is broadly anti-fascist.  And (according to news accounts), while democratic socialists are on the scene, it seems to the present author (based on those same accounts), that the protest/micro-polity is more animated by anarchist principles (see: Peter Kropotkin).  

From what I can tell, most of the protestors seem like sincere and committed activists. 

At the risk of being accused of (gasp) concern trolling, I nonetheless find myself wondering:

·      What are the possibilities of this protest being co-opted or undermined by bad actors (such as dilettantes, fame-seekers, profiteers, grifters, criminals, and/or state agents)?

·      Is this form of protest expending valuable organizing time, energy, and resources in the most efficient and effective way possible? 

·      Is this method of protest sustainable?  Is this about building a movement or just living a moment?

·      Will the desired outcome(s) be realized?

I am, of course, hopeful that such CHAZ-style protests will help bring about positive changes to the country.  Yet knowing the forces arrayed against them, I recognize that enthusiasm and good intentions are not enough to win.

In solidarity.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Calculated Misogyny

A member of the Howard County blogging community has come under attack.  No, not the usual “you are an idiot,” criticisms which all public affairs bloggers invariably face.  These are vile, sexist (often sexually explicit), and personally invasive assaults involving both words and deeds. Perhaps even more frightening is that these attacks, which largely center on misogynistic tropes and stereotypes, are being applauded in public fora.  Beyond that, some commenters choose to ignore or discount these hostile statements, choosing instead to word-police how she responds to these outrageous remarks.

By she, I am referring to the author of the Howard County Progress Report.  Note: I believe it is important to disclose that I am using this identifying information with her express permission.  While relatively new to the blogging world, she has already established herself as a significant influence on the local political scene…including publishing a piece that had a major impact on a Board of Education race.

Recently, she has been subject to a particularly horrifying strain of vituperation that has included:

·      Insinuations as well as unambiguous claims that she is “mentally ill”
·      Denunciations of her as having “a lot of unresolved anger”
·      The use of profane and, at times, obscene epithets directed at her (by both men and women)
·      Remarks and actions that delivered the message “we know where you live”

There is absolutely no place for this in civilized society.  And, for as much as people talk about Howard County in almost triumphalist terms, there is certainly no place for this misogynistic hate in our community.

Now, is anyone going to be shamed (by name) in this blog today?  Not today, no.  That said, rest assured that screen grabs have been taken. And the present author has no qualms whatsoever about sharing said screen grabs with the public.  It seems like some of you are very proud of your statements, so I am certain you would have no issues if they were signal boosted on multiple platforms and/or sent out widely via email to interested parties.

In short, stop the nonsense or face the consequences.  Imagine if you said those same words to her, or anyone, in person…you don’t think there would be repercussions?  Think about that.

One last thing, if you believe that someone defending themselves from such abuse is somehow a voice that is “negative” or “nasty”, maybe you should stow your laptop and retire from commenting while you reflect on the idiocy of your statements.

In solidarity.