Notes on Trump 40

I started this post a month ago and have not been monitoring news on Trump (or Brexit) much since so had better get it out now with just a bunch of links at the end but no explanation of them.

1. Recent developments seem to confirm my take on Brexit a month ago:

Brexit April Fool’s day joke could be nearly over

Ministers now openly confirming they will have to request a postponement until after April Fool’s Day to sort themselves out whatever happens now:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-news-theresa-may-deal-article-50-extend-parliament-commons-eu-withdrawal-a8723281.html

I’m not following the death throes, but May seems focussed on defanging the Brexiteers screams of “Treason” when Brexit fails by setting up a situation in which they take the blame for voting “No Deal” to the only deal available thus making “No Brexit” inevitable after initial postponement.

2. As predicted when focus was on campaign finance, the campaign about Trump is now back where Trump wants it – firmly focussed on Russia:

Insane version:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/here-are-18-reasons-why-trump-could-be-a-russian-asset/2019/01/13/45b1b250-174f-11e9-88fe-f9f77a3bcb6c_story.html?utm_term=.6a08d7dee4b4

Less insane version (“we already knew”):

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-trump-putin-revelations-are-nothing-new-why-are-people-so-excited/2019/01/13/a3ab6434-1775-11e9-88fe-f9f77a3bcb6c_story.html?utm_term=.b815ec58de7b

The less insane one sort of prepares readers for a Mueller report expected to not provide any way to get rid of Trump while not preventing them from continuing to bloviate about him being a Russian “asset” instead of developing actual policies.

I haven’t followed the latest “shutdown”. Trump approval currently down to 45% after near 50% late last year. Seems plausible that he will end it with a “State of Emergency” to be quashed by Supreme Court so he consolidates his base by having done everything he could to deliver on promises but was stopped by Democrats.

Meanwhile Democrats have gone out of their way not to actually fight on immigration issues but support border security. So support for “the wall” (now actually a fence) has RISEN from a year ago:

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-gop-blamed-shutdown-crisis-fewer-oppose-wall/story?id=60337670

Now the minority support is 42%/54% while a year ago it was 34%/67%.

So Trump takes the blame for fighting hard for his promises while winning greater support for his policies.

Not much sign of “bipartisan” moves to help relect Trump by delivering on infrastructure spending, healthcare and massive deficits yet.

But this item on prison reform actually delivered is a straw in the wind – especially relevant to reducing the black turnout for Democrats:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/12/19/trumps-prison-reform-win-great-trump-paradox-it-reveals/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.bcf87f0d94d8

3. I don’t know what’s going on with Syria policy.

Kurds and Turks clashing in northern Syria indicates increasing irrelevance of both Daesh and Assad regime, despite Daesh still existing and regime still holding ALL the cities.

Turkey seems to be stepping forward as the protector of Sunnis with a US withdrawal and Russian military police in areas that fighters withdrew from under cease fire agreements potentially able to hand over to them.

Al Qaeda is now the main threat to democratic revolution and has strengthened its position in Idlib embedded in close alliance with other Sunni forces, although now isolated from the opposition to regime in other areas. Interesting that Turkish tanks are being openly moved to the border of Idlib:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-turkey/turkey-reinforces-troops-on-border-with-syrias-idlib-anadolu-idUSKCN1P51MU

Some deal was arranged between Russia, Iran, Turkey and the more democratic resistance long ago, but I only know it could not be for long term occupation of Syria by Russian and Iranian forces and the other option of an Alawi enclave in Latakia has been foreclosed by the regime’s occupation of all cities. Media claims victory for Assad (and Russia and Iran). They are clearly wrong but I don’t know what is happening or when.

For an opposite view, here’s “Voice of America”:

https://www.voanews.com/a/arab-nations-inch-toward-rehabilitating-syria-president-assad/4741186.html

Meanwhile Trump’s focus is clearly domestic and his withdrawal announcement will be popular with the overwhelming isolationist sentiment in both his base and the Democrat base while the denunciations for “playing into Russian and Iranian hands” will only reinforce isolationist sentiment among Americans who might support democratic revolution but are rightly unenthused about maintaining imperial boundaries against other powers. As long as there are few US casualties it won’t matter much domestically whether the announced withdrawal actually happens or whether covert and air operations continue. Isolationist sentiment will still be strengthened and Trump will still benefit from the announcement. As for the impact in Syria, the Turks are far more important and the Kurds would be well advised to pull back and not turn towards the regime.

4. Now here’s what I started a month ago:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columnists/byron-york-sudden-shift-in-get-trump-talk-now-its-campaign-finance-not-russia

This summary of current Democrat theme looks about right to me. Only missing a couple of points.

1. They won’t drop Russia and are starting to convince themselves that Trump’s lawyer thinking about bribing Putin with an apartment at a hoped for Trump tower in Moscow could at last be proof the Kremlin has something on him that explains how they lost the election.

2. Trump benefits from Democrats impeaching him and splitting about such idiotic tactics.

But it does confirm they are headed straight for it, even on something as utterly pointless as trying to convince more than a third of GOP Senators to remove him from office (and later get removed themselves by GOP primaries), for using his own money to pay off people he had sex with not to talk about it during his campaign.

Sudden shift in get-Trump talk; now it’s campaign finance, not Russia

by Byron York

December 10, 2018 03:48 PM

Prosecutors investigating President Trump made big news Friday, but it wasn’t about Russia. Rather, in their sentencing recommendation for fixer Michael Cohen, lawyers with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York wrote that in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, candidate Trump directed Cohen to pay off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who wanted money to keep quiet about sexual dalliances. While such arrangements are legal, prosecutors argued that since the payoffs occurred during the campaign, they were violations of campaign finance laws.

Cohen, who is cooperating because prosecutors nailed him for tax evasion and bank fraud in his private business, pleaded guilty to two felony campaign finance violations. So no one has to talk about an “alleged” campaign finance scheme; there’s already a guilty plea. But what was really significant about the sentencing memo was that prosecutors specifically said Trump told Cohen to do it.

“With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election,” prosecutors said. “He acted in coordination with and at the direction of [Trump].”

Those words caused a sudden shift in the debate over investigating the president. What had been a two-year-long conversation about Trump and Russia instantly became a conversation about Trump and campaign finance.
“Prosecutors are now implicating the president in at least two felonies,” said CNN.

“Federal prosecutors in New York say that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to commit two felonies,” said NBC’s Chuck Todd.

“At least two felonies,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy.

“Implicated in two felonies,” said anti-Trump gadfly George Conway, husband of top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.
And so on.

“There’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him,” said Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who will become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee next month, “that he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time.”

Jerry Nadler, the Democrat who will chair the House Judiciary Committee, said the campaign finance charges “would be impeachable offenses because, even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office.” Nadler said he has still not determined whether the charges, even thoughthey could be the basis for impeachment, are important enough to actually go forward, at least yet.
Nadler’s public caution is understandable; his committee will have the responsibility of starting the impeachment process, if that is what Democratic leaders decide. But the fact is, a number of Democrats clearly believe they already have enough evidence to impeach.

One significant problem could be that the campaign finance charge against the president is a pretty iffy case. Back in 2010, the Justice Department accused 2008 presidential candidate John Edwards of a similar scheme — an alleged campaign finance violation based on a payoff to a woman with whom Edwards had had an affair (and a child).
Edwards said he arranged the payment to save his reputation and hide the affair from his wife. The Justice Department said it was to influence the outcome of a presidential election.

The New York Times called the Edwards indictment “a case that had no precedent.” Noting that campaign finance law is “ever changing,” the paper said the Edwards case came down to one question: “Were the donations for the sole purpose of influencing the campaign or merely one purpose?”

The Justice Department failed miserably at trial. Edwards was acquitted on one count, while the jury deadlocked in Edwards’ favor on the others. Prosecutors opted not to try again.

President Trump would point out that the accusation against him differs in at least one key respect from Edwards. Prosecutors accused Edwards of raising donor money to pay off the woman. Trump used his own money, which even the byzantine and restrictive campaign finance laws give candidates a lot of freedom to use in unlimited amounts.
So even more than Edwards, if the Justice Department pursued a case against Trump, it would be on unprecedented grounds.
But the political reality is, it doesn’t really matter if it is a weak case. And it doesn’t matter if Trump himself has not been indicted, or even that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Because now, Democrats can say, “The Justice Department has implicated the president in two felonies. Two felonies. TWO FELONIES!”

Politically, that’s as good as an indictment of Trump. Perhaps even better, since it does not give the president a forum to make a proper legal defense.

The last few days have seen a big pivot in the campaign against Donald Trump. For two-plus years, it was Russia, Russia, Russia. But despite various revelations in the Russia probe, the case for collusion remains as sketchy as ever. Now, though, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have given Democrats a new weapon against the president. Look for them to use it.

A subsequent item indicates there is more solid grounds for eventually convicting Trump of a campaign finance violation than the Edwards case:

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/trumps-john-edwards-defense-further-dissipates

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/12/06/how-trumps-approval-rating-has-evolved-according-data-scientist-donald-trump/

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-12-06/trump-s-tariffs-could-clinch-electoral-college

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-12-06/huawei-arrest-gives-u-s-leverage-over-china-on-technology

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2018/12/07/latest-filings-show-that-nobody-can-save-trump-now/?utm_term=.2bf06befaf27

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/12/08/donald-trump-denies-wrongdoing-amid-accusations-prosecutors-mueller/2249001002/

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/12/07/michael-cohen-sentencing-memo-key-takeaways/2243428002/

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/dec/08/donald-trump-mueller-investigation-cohen-manafort

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/dec/08/donald-trump-mueller-investigation-cohen-manafort

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/12/08/europe/russia-putin-trump-bromance-intl/index.html

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/12/07/opinions/mueller-is-putting-the-puzzle-pieces-together-on-trump-honig/index.html

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/12/07/opinions/mueller-is-putting-the-puzzle-pieces-together-on-trump-honig/index.html

https://www.newyorker.com/news/swamp-chronicles/the-michael-cohen-sentencing-memos-are-damning-for-trump

https://www.smh.com.au/world/north-america/trump-s-tweeting-veers-into-suspected-witness-tampering-territory-20181204-p50jzk.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/12/08/george-conway-blasts-trumps-claim-that-cohen-filing-totally-clears-president/?utm_term=.71abf94e1d8e

Reminder of the spirit

Here’s something from my old files, from 1972, when Fergus Robinson and Brian Pola and I were imprisoned at Pentridge Gaol in Melbourne for contempt of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

I love the spirit in which my father, Loreto, wrote it – and the fact that he wrote it at all.

 

loreto york letter to vice chancellor myers, published in vanguard 13 july 1972

Word meanings and the left

We shouldn’t be so squeamish about terms originally developed, adapted or appropriated by religious minds as they sought to explain external reality and human experience. Granting religion defacto monopoly rights over words like spirit, effectively allowing them to turn appropriation into expropriation, is another matter.

 

images

James Brown was the Godfather of Soul.

 

 
Word meanings and the left

By TomG

The following thoughts on word meanings originated from a written or online comment contained in communication between old comrades some twenty years ago. I transcribed my response, filing it away on the cloud, many years later but the issues raised remain pertinent, hence this post. The disagreement was over a discomfort or ambivalence with the word ‘spirit’, and no, we were not talking about a stiff drink.

I have forgotten the precise gripe that this word raised – it will have had something to do with religious or idealist connotations – but I have not forgotten my irritation with the gripe and my liking of the word’s ambiguity, containing as it did the germ of all its definitions, idealist or materialist, secular or religious. Contradictions aplenty. And contradictions, how they emerge and relate to one another in their development, is supposed to be something we are both in favour of and up to speed with.

Two things in particular struck me about this:

1. What words mean, how we understand and use them, is developmental. Spirit, always about human vitality, human essence, be that defined idealistically or materialistically, was first thought of by the ancient Greeks to be about the breath. Not a bad stab at it given the constraints they operated under and not devoid of contradiction either. Was spirit extrinsic or intrinsic? did it come from within or without? delivered to us or created by us? As we know it then came to be predominantly associated with, indeed exclusively appropriated, by religion in its uses and interpretations. Since the scientific revolution of the 17thC and the Enlightenment of the 18thC, the tide has turned and by the 20thC non religious uses and interpretations were becoming common and predominant, liberated from the religious constraints spirit had suffered under.

2. The other thing is its identification with consciousness, about what is vital, quintessential, in people. So, what is consciousness? This is certainly something that, historically, has been seen to involve not just cognition, but notions of soul, spirit and heart. Use of the word ‘heart’ has been long liberated, and we probably have Harvey’s work in the 17thC on circulation of blood to thank for this. We all can and do, use ‘heart’ figuratively, without any angst or confusion. The same applies to ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ although for reasons I have only recently bothered to think about these continue to cause squeamishness among some radical circles. Recent advances in the neurosciences have added substantial weight to the materialist view advanced by Feuerbach in the 1830’s and it’s about time that the radical cum revolutionary left caught up. “The spirit develops together with the body, with the sense. …whence the skull, whence the brain, thence also the spirit; whence an organ, thence also its functioning. The spirit is in the head.”

We shouldn’t be so squeamish about terms originally developed, adapted or appropriated by religious minds as they sought to explain external reality and human experience. Granting religion defacto monopoly rights over words like spirit, effectively allowing them to turn appropriation into expropriation, is another matter. Given that we have no problems about expropriation in other areas, we should have no qualms about re-expropriating here. (By the way, Shakespeare was a master at appropriating novel and common vernacular and his is a good example to follow). The word ‘fuck’ is a prime example and I don’t know anyone who is without sin, and happily so, in using it freely. Indeed it has now become respectable (almost) and we hear it uttered on radio and TV shows daily. Adapting language, actually developing language, is something people have been doing forever and we shouldn’t be shy about it.
Soul and faith are two words that carry heavy religious baggage, soul denoting the seat of our corporeal self and faith denoting acceptance, in the absence of any evidence, of God’s divine providence. How else could God move in mysterious ways, I say unto you?

But in the real, material world, populated by the proverbial common man or woman and in particular by the common adolescent or young adult, word use and adaptation reflects the dynamism we associate with the modern world, with modernity itself. And the old, original (if that’s what they were) religious meanings? Seriously, they’re terminal and on life support and I see little point in radicals – genuine or even pseudo – playing a role in keeping the life support switched on. Let me give three examples of what I’m talking about:

1. “Today’s music ain’t got no soul; give me that old time rock and roll.” belts out Bob Seeger and it’s pretty clear that he’s not referring to what the God botherers mean.

2. And what about Rubber Soul, courtesy of The Beatles? Try as I may I fail to detect God’s ineffable presence.

3. Faith’s principle meaning is now confidence or trust in a person or thing. While this is somewhat ambiguous, containing as it does contradiction, we identify with that aspect that reflects social being and scientific understanding. It is on this basis that we can say that we have faith in the masses (don’t we?), in the general direction of historical development, in scientific method, and that among the numerous ‘revolutionary’ grouplets or sects there will be a higher percentage of killjoys than among the general population etc

As mentioned above the meaning of words change and new ones invented, language being subject to similar developmental pressure and opportunities that are at play generally. The left’s distancing itself of words like spirit has not stopped this; it has only stopped our engagement with it and, more tellingly, with the throb of life associated with it. ‘Out there’, among the throng of real life inhabited by the working classes that we purportedly identify with, people engage with this process, be they conscious of this or not. It’s what gives etymologists a job.

We do not need to be etymologists of course but we can certainly take a leaf out of their book and be open to, and engage with, the ongoing process of how word usage and meaning changes. This is happening anyway and will continue to do so whether or not we engage with it ourselves. I just think it’d be a good idea for us to be conscious of and open to this process. While not a big deal in itself (no, we don’t have to lose sleep on where words may be heading) it is symptomatic of something that we should be losing sleep over: do we move with the times, consciously, trying to effect speed and direction, or do we stay behind the pack, whining about the packs backwardness and kidding ourselves that our position is actually in front?

Brexit April Fool’s day joke could be nearly over

I haven’t been following closely enough but my previous comments on Brexit since June 2017 seem to have held up reasonably well:

https://c21stleft.com/category/brexit/

Latest development is that the Tory party no confidence vote to remove Prime Minister May and replace her with nobody in particular has of course imploded. I didn’t predict that because I didn’t predict there would be such a vote. The reason the minimum required 50 letters to trigger a vote were not submitted long ago, despite far more Tory MPs than that having no confidence in May was that if she won, no further attempt could be made for another 12 months. This is intended to ensure such votes are called only when there is a clear replacement available with majority support (in which case the party leader would usually resign anyway). It was intended to avoid the recent shambles in both parties in Australia. Since May was appointed as a stop gap after Cameron blundered into the Brexit referendum and there is no plausible replacement I had no reason to expect that the 50 letters would suddenly appear.

Since she won by about a two thirds majority it is either yet another example of sheer irrationality and tactical ineptitude making the situation too unpredictable for analysis, or else some clever tactical maneuver that was intended to create the current situation. Given that the European Court of Justice had just announced that Britain does not need EU consent to end Brexit it could be certainty on that point has increased resolve among Tories who want to get it over with so they signed some of the 50 letters.

The level of understanding of these issues in “The Australian” is indicated by a report from Ticky Fullarton:

“Yesterday came news that the European Court of Justice ruled that Britain could delay Brexit beyond March 29. Were Johnson or any other alternative to take over they will need such a delay.” (p29 Tuesday 2018-12-11)

This of course is nonsense. The announcement was that Britain can unilaterally cancel its withdrawal notice under Article 50. It cannot unilaterally change the 2 year delay specified by Article 50 that was triggered by Britain’s unilateral notice. The impact is to reinforce that it is either the ridiculous deal offered, a “no-deal” crash from Brexit or “no Brexit” and it is entirely up to Britain to make its choice. This did not help Johnson or anybody else wanting to have their cake and eat it.

Ok anybody could make a mistake about the implications of news that is only a day old. But the same nonsense was repeated the next day, so nobody noticed.

Anyway, the current situation looks to me like this:

1. May cannot be replaced as Tory party leader until long after the current March 29 deadline. Johnson et al are now visibly irrelevant.

2. No deal that the EU could accept can be accepted by the current UK Parliament. There is no reason to expect the underlying reasons for that would change after a general election.

3. Nobody with any real influence wants the UK to have just crashed out with no serious preparations on April Fool’s day. This will now be admitted by everybody except those with no influence. Most support for Brexit was in fact based on the assumption that the UK could have its cake and eat it. Only a small fringe really want a well prepared Brexit with no deal. Pretence at preparations will cease and the bluff will no longer be available as a “negotiating tactic” so further pretence that the UK has anything to negotiate with will become pointless, which need not prevent such negotiations being vigorously pursued and solemnly debated, but does mean the negotiations won’t get anywhere.

4. The EU has no reason not to graciously allow a postponement of the deadline while the UK sorts itself out and both sides stop wasting resources on preparations for “no deal”. The whole point of most of the maneuvering has been to reduce the damage from hysteria whipped up by lying Brexiteers screaming “betrayal” to distract attention from the sheer absurdity of what they mendaciously promised and a majority of voters temporarily fell for. Refusing a postponement would only help the hysterics.

5. The EU also has no reason to let the farce of the past two years go on until after the next scheduled fixed term UK election 5 May 2022 or while people still governing the UK are threatening to crash out without paying their bills and with no deal. So the postponement will either have to result in:

5.1. A vote for an early election by a two thirds majority of the House. This would require a large number of Tories to support a vote for losing their seats earlier than they currently hope. There is no obvious reason why they would do this given that the outcome of such an election could not fundamentally alter the current situation.

5.2. A no confidence vote in the House that results in Corbyn forming a minority government. Possible if a much smaller number of Northern Ireland DUP and other Tories simply abstrain so that the Labour party gets stuck with the mess while the Tories sort themselves out. They would prefer a minority Corbyn government to the risk of a majority Corbyn government. Whether heading a majority government formed by election or a minority government, Corbyn could either put up a pretense of attempting to negotiate some other form of Brexit in Name Only – BRINO or “put it to the people” by holding another referendum.

5.3. Attempts by May to negotiate another form of BRINO, again ending up with “put it to the people”.

6. It would be theoretically possible for either Corbyn or May or somebody else to negotiate something similar to EFTA membership like Norway. This would do no great damage to the UK or EU or global economy but just reduce “Great Britain” to a similar importance to Norway in EU affairs, bound by the same rules, including free movement of labor, but with no vote. It would not defuse the hysterics about “betrayal” and would leave its supporters looking foolish. The EU might not object to such a BRINO since it would remove British obstructionism slowing down the ever deeper union. But Norway might not welcome it in the EFTA. So I would say, possible but less likely than the only other alternative – “put it to the people”.

7. My guess is that there is nobody stupid enough to call another referendum until the result is quite certain. So there will be lots of carrying on until a convincing majority are committed to ending Brexit.

8. No way to tell how long that will take but I think it could soon become reasonably obvious that this is the direction and the “negotiations” will most likely end with the end of Brexit rather than any BRINO.

9. It certainly doesn’t seem to be obvious to most of the media now. Strongest confirmation for my expectation that “no deal” is no longer a significant danger and “no Brexit” is now far more likely than any BRINO comes from Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor of “The Australian” with the diretly opposite view:

“Although I would trust no one’s forecasts on this – least of all my own – it would seem that the no-deal Brexit or the no Brexit at all are about equally likely.” (p12 Thursday 2018-12-13).

Greg Sheridan has excellent reasons not to trust his own forecasts as he never has a clue. But this level of self awareness is something quite new. He used to be confident as a reliable echo of whatever the US State Department wanted Australians to think. Since there are no coherent briefings coming from the US these days, “analysts” like him have been left completely floundering in “a deep miasma or newilderment and uncertainty” as he said of the stock market last Saturday (p20):

“No one in British politics — no one — knows what’s going to happen.”

“May’s crisis is just one part of a broader crisis across the Western alliance that makes the global strategic environment more fluid, more uncertain, potentially more dangerous, that at any time since at least the end of the Cold War.”

In the absence of State Department briefings all he can do is echo British media that is divided between expecting a “no-deal Brexit” and “no Brexit at all” just as the “Stubborn May Crippled by Bexit Monster” (p12) said before winning a two thirds majority confidence vote.

When the state is unjust, citizens may use justifiable violence

The following is written from a classical liberal point of view but one does not have to be a liberal to agree with the conclusions. It brings to mind some of the thinking, and arguments, we had on the left back in the late 1960s and early 1970s when police routinely framed and/or beat people up on political demonstrations with a view to thwarting the developing mass movement and growing influence of revolutionary socialist ideas.

Article republished from Aeon under Creative Commons, written by Jason Brennan

* * * *

If you see police choking someone to death – such as Eric Garner, the 43-year-old black horticulturalist wrestled down on the streets of New York City in 2014 – you might choose to pepper-spray them and flee. You might even save an innocent life. But what ethical considerations justify such dangerous heroics? (After all, the cops might arrest or kill you.) More important: do we have the right to defend ourselves and others from government injustice when government agents are following an unjust law? I think the answer is yes. But that view needs defending. Under what circumstances might active self-defence, including possible violence, be justified, as opposed to the passive resistance of civil disobedience that Americans generally applaud?

Civil disobedience is a public act that aims to create social or legal change. Think of Henry David Thoreau’s arrest in 1846 for refusing to pay taxes to fund the colonial exploits of the United States, or Martin Luther King Jr courting the ire of the authorities in 1963 to shame white America into respecting black civil rights. In such cases, disobedient citizens visibly break the law and accept punishment, so as to draw attention to a cause. But justifiable resistance need not have a civic character. It need not aim at changing the law, reforming dysfunctional institutions or replacing bad leaders. Sometimes, it is simply about stopping an immediate injustice­. If you stop a mugging, you are trying to stop that mugging in that moment, not trying to end muggings everywhere. Indeed, had you pepper-sprayed the police officer Daniel Pantaleo while he choked Eric Garner, you’d have been trying to save Garner, not reform US policing.

Generally, we agree that it’s wrong to lie, cheat, steal, deceive, manipulate, destroy property or attack people. But few of us think that the prohibitions against such actions are absolute. Commonsense morality holds that such actions are permissible in self-defence or in defence of others (even if the law doesn’t always agree). You may lie to the murderer at the door. You may smash the windows of the would-be kidnapper’s car. You may kill the would-be rapist.

Here’s a philosophical exercise. Imagine a situation in which a civilian commits an injustice, the kind against which you believe it is permissible to use deception, subterfuge or violence to defend yourself or others. For instance, imagine your friend makes an improper stop at a red light, and his dad, in anger, yanks him out of the car, beats the hell out of him, and continues to strike the back of his skull even after your friend lies subdued and prostrate. May you use violence, if it’s necessary to stop the father? Now imagine the same scene, except this time the attacker is a police officer in Ohio, and the victim is Richard Hubbard III, who in 2017 experienced just such an attack as described. Does that change things? Must you let the police officer possibly kill Hubbard rather than intervene?

Most people answer yes, believing that we are forbidden from stopping government agents who violate our rights. I find this puzzling. On this view, my neighbours can eliminate our right of self-defence and our rights to defend others by granting someone an office or passing a bad law. On this view, our rights to life, liberty, due process and security of person can disappear by political fiat – or even when a cop has a bad day. In When All Else Fails: The Ethics of Resistance to State Injustice (2019), I argue instead that we may act defensively against government agents under the same conditions in which we may act defensively against civilians. In my view, civilian and government agents are on a par, and we have identical rights of self-defence (and defence of others) against both. We should presume, by default, that government agents have no special immunity against self-defence, unless we can discover good reason to think otherwise. But it turns out that the leading arguments for special immunity are weak.

Some people say we may not defend ourselves against government injustice because governments and their agents have ‘authority’. (By definition, a government has authority over you if, and only if, it can oblige you to obey by fiat: you have to do what it says because it says so.) But the authority argument doesn’t work. It’s one thing to say that you have a duty to pay your taxes, show up for jury duty, or follow the speed limit. It is quite another to show that you are specifically bound to allow a government and its agents to use excessive violence and ignore your rights to due process. A central idea in liberalism is that whatever authority governments have is limited.

Others say that we should resist government injustice, but only through peaceful methods. Indeed, we should, but that doesn’t differentiate between self-defence against civilians or government. The common-law doctrine of self-defence is always governed by a necessity proviso: you may lie or use violence only if necessary, that is, only if peaceful actions are not as effective. But peaceful methods often fail to stop wrongdoing. Eric Garner peacefully complained: ‘I can’t breathe,’ until he drew his last breath.

Another argument is that we shouldn’t act as vigilantes. But invoking this point here misunderstands the antivigilante principle, which says that when there exists a workable public system of justice, you should defer to public agents trying, in good faith, to administer justice. So if cops attempt to stop a mugging, you shouldn’t insert yourself. But if they ignore or can’t stop a mugging, you may intervene. If the police themselves are the muggers – as in unjust civil forfeiture – the antivigilante principle does not forbid you from defending yourself. It insists you defer to more competent government agents when they administer justice, not that you must let them commit injustice.

Some people find my thesis too dangerous. They claim that it’s hard to know exactly when self-defence is justified; that people make mistakes, resisting when they should not. Perhaps. But that’s true of self-defence against civilians, too. No one says we lack a right of self-defence against each other because applying the principle is hard. Rather, some moral principles are hard to apply.

However, this objection gets the problem exactly backwards. In real life, people are too deferential and conformist in the face of government authority. They are all-too-willing to electrocute experimental subjects, gas Jews or bomb civilians when ordered to, and reluctant to stand up to political injustice. If anything, the dangerous thesis – the thesis that most people will mistakenly misapply – is that we should defer to government agents when they seem to act unjustly. Remember, self-defence against the state is about stopping an immediate injustice, not fixing broken rules.

Of course, strategic nonviolence is usually the most effective way to induce lasting social change. But we should not assume that strategic nonviolence of the sort that King practised always works alone. Two recent books – Charles Cobb Jr’s This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed (2014) and Akinyele Omowale Umoja’s We Will Shoot Back (2013) – show that the later ‘nonviolent’ phase of US civil rights activism succeeded (in so far as it has) only because, in earlier phases, black people armed themselves and shot back in self-defence. Once murderous mobs and white police learned that black people would fight back, they turned to less violent forms of oppression, and black people in turn began using nonviolent tactics. Defensive subterfuge, deceit and violence are rarely first resorts, but that doesn’t mean they are never justified.Aeon counter – do not remove

Jason Brennan

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Assassinations of Raed Fares and Hammoud al-Jneid – the democratic revolution continues

Raed Fares best one

The assassination of Syrian democratic revolutionaries Raed Fares and Hammoud al-Jneid in Kafr Nabl was very bad and sad news. Raed was an icon of the people’s uprising, especially in Kafr Nabl, from where he ran an alternative anti-regime, anti-Daesh, radio station called ‘Radio Fresh‘.

It had received US funding until five months ago when President Trump stopped the US government’s $200 million in ‘stablilization aid’ to Syrian civil society organisations and humanitarian groups, including Radio Fresh. (Which must have pleased the anti-US-interventionist pseudo-left).

I followed Raed Fares on facebook over the years. Images of his satirical cartoons and political banners went viral. They had a distinct style and could be savage in their mocking of the regime and of the west’s failure to effectively support the revolutionaries.

There’s a lot of muck on social media but also great stuff, like the photos of Raed’s cartoons and banners, usually held up by groups of men in Kafr Nabl.

I’m republishing below a letter seeking support for Radio Fresh, to allow it to keep going.

Also, I’ve been gathering images of some of Raed’s work and share them here, after the letter below. My favourite is the one linking the Syrian uprising to the bigger picture of democratic revolution beyond Syria.

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Dear friends,

I am still reeling from the news of Raed Fares’s assassination on Friday. The heartbreak and collective grief so many Syrians and people around the world share at his loss are almost unbearable. But with every hour that passes it becomes more obvious what we need to do. We need to keep his work alive, we need to keep Radio Fresh on the air and power the work of the hundreds of journalists and activists he trained.

As a prominent civil society leader and media activist, Raed knew his life was in imminent danger, especially in his last weeks. His work was always very dangerous and he knew that both the Syrian regime and Al-Qaeda’s thugs wanted him dead. However he was determined to stay in his hometown of Kafranbel and continue his work. Fearing he might be assassinated, he gave instructions to his loyal students about how to continue what he had built. Radio Fresh would continue. The United Revolutionary Bureaus he set up would continue.

I’ve had many conversations over the last couple of days with Raed’s kids and his team. No one is giving up. Everyone wants to continue what Raed started — he made it clear that that’s what he would’ve wanted.  

Raed launched a campaign to fund Radio Fresh three months before his death when international aid was cut to the project. His family and colleagues have called on us to do everything we can to continue the campaign, fund his work and keep Raed’s dream of independent radio alive.

Please donate now to keep Radio Fresh on the air, and share the link with all your friends.

Radio Fresh is an independent radio station in northwest Syria that resists both Assad and extremist groups. Raed considered Radio Fresh an essential service to the community – its brave reporters discussed local issues, investigated cases of injustice, and held authorities to account. They even warned the community of incoming airstrikes.

When he survived his first assassination attempt by an armed group in Idlib in January 2016, Raed posted this to Facebook:

“Freedom is an idea, and an idea cannot die

Fresh is an idea, and an idea cannot die

Ideas cannot die, people die, and we will stay here so the pain goes away

Oh my homeland, of sacrifices

I cannot thank enough those who stood in solidarity, and letters cannot do justice to my emotions, all I can say is: You are the Revolution, and the Revolution saved its children”

Let’s put our support now behind the hundreds of journalists and activists trained by Raed and let’s help continue their critical work. The extremists will not defeat his indomitable will.

Donate now to keep Radio Fresh on the air.

Raed’s death is huge loss to humanity, to everyone everywhere who believes in freedom, democracy and equal rights for all. The only way to honour him is to continue his incredible work.

Thank you.

Yours,

Kenan Rahmani

 

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Notes on Trump 39 – Democrats on about obstruction of justice and Russia again

I was wondering whether Trump getting Session’s resignation refuted my previous claim that Trump was deliberately playing up conflict with his Attorney General so liberal media would rally behind the Attorney-General that ends up prosecuting somebody. It was certainly strong evidence that I was wrong as the Democrats didn’t seem to make much of a fuss after having claimed any move to replace Sessions would be obstruction of the Mueller inquiry and a constitutional crisis.

Despite Trump’s best efforts the Democrats did not carry on much about Russia during the mid-terms and seemed resigned to the fact that the Mueller inquiry doesn’t look like delivering them from Trump.

But now it looks like they are falling for it AGAIN:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-11-22/donald-trump-jeff-sessions-mathew-whitaker/10517430

Scheduling acting appointments during vacations to avoid obstruction in the Senate is a long established practice. Obama needed it a lot because of a hostile Senate. If there was to be any replacement of the Attorney-General it was certain to be during the vacation after the midterms as even some GOP Senators had indicated they would hold up confirmation of any replacement. But I didn’t think there would actually be a replacement.

Now it turns out that Democrats have found a way to help Trump’s effortless maneuvers to get them to keep digging that hole.

There are over a 160 instances where a vacation appointment has promoted a replacement who has never been confirmed by the Senate for any office at all. So three Senators are asking the Supreme Court (which no longer has a liberal majority) to declare the latest such appointment unconstitutional.

If they succeed, they will have driven home the message that Jeff Sessions should be treated as trustworthy. That could be embarassing if he gets reappointed to fill the vacancy.

But there is little danger of them succeeding. The point is simply to make a fuss and carry on about the vital need to protect the Mueller inquiry thus further embarassing themselves when it winds up without saving them from Trump. Looks like they are committed to keeping the Trump obstructing justice “Russia thing” in the news just as Trump keeps begging them to. What I didn’t guess was that the way to ensure they kept digging that hole would be to follow up months of threatening to sack Jeff Sessions with actually doing it after merely repeating the threat had worn thin.