A short note on the alt-right and nonviolence

“There’s a contrast between the alt-right and the well-minded people that find themselves somewhere else on this one-dimensional axis: whether you’re liberal, conservative, not sure or don’t know: condemning the alt-right nonviolently is only sane.”

In Jesse Singal’s careful, pragmatic case against punching Nazis, Singal makes a convincing case for nonviolence, a method of protesting that has existed for thousands of years and has caused the successful disruption of government time and time again. Strikes are an excellent example. Albeit more prevailing in the past century, when most workers were still unionized, they have had considerable effects for strikers and their families. As for an older example, take the period of the Conflict of Orders in Rome (494 B.C. to 287 B.C), when the common Plebeians sought to achieve political equality with the aristocratic Patricians. In 494 B.C. this consequential period started with the first ‘secession of the plebeians’, who nonviolently seceded to the sacred mountain, just outside Rome. Eventually, a series of protests and conflicts led to further democratization of the Roman Republic. For more timely examples, note the relatively nonviolent Bolshevik revolution, India’s struggle against British rule or King’s civil rights movement.

counterprotest
Counter-protest

As Trump fails to fully condemn the far-right fringes of the political spectrum and hence further isolates himself in indefensible immorality, nonviolence is the only acceptable reaction. Singal argues the same, on the grounds that for liberals and progressives, violence is always a last resort, ‘the last refuge of the incompetent’ to quote Asimov. Who would not agree with Singal? The relatively small alt-right feeds on violence by its counter-protesters: it’s ‘proof’ that the ‘alt-left’ somehow suppresses the white American who is peacefully exercising his right to free speech.

For this message, I strongly urge you to read Singal’s article, however, I disagree with his categorization. At the end, Singal concludes that progressives and liberals should refrain from “punching Nazis” and that “in most other situations, progressives understand — or claim to understand — the moral gravity of calling for violence. They shouldn’t let a scary but small group of deeply loathed bigots steer them off course.”. The assertion that only liberals and progressives agree that violence is a method of protest so childish and primitive that it should be avoided at all cost, undermines his point.

Singal seemingly understands that neo-Nazism and white supremacy attempt to argue for a society so unsupported and feared that they are vastly outnumbered by their saner countrymen, however different it may appear on Twitter. None of this means, however, that we should group people according to their political beliefs again. There’s a contrast between the alt-right and the well-minded people that find themselves somewhere else on this one-dimensional axis, whether you’re liberal, conservative, not sure or don’t know: condemning the alt-right nonviolently is the only sane thing to do.

As a short addendum, a Martin Luther King quote:

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.

Bannon possibly ousted as chief strategist

According to the New York Times, who cite two administration officials, Trump has decided to remove Bannon from his powerful position. Considering Trump’s loyalty seems to last only a short time, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Considering that Bannon is, despite my mild praise yesterday, the chief engineer of his alt-right base and therefore a valuable asset in maintaining his most consistent following, it is.

Whether this is a noticable change remains to be seen, Bannon’s influence in the White House seemed close to none in recent weeks. The chief strategist even refuted Trump’s statements concerning North Korea in an interview last Wednesday.

Nonetheless, quite interesting.

Fine reasoning overshadowed by ill-informed foolishness

Damore’s Google memo could have been much more.

The combined quarterly revenues of the five largest technology firms clocked in at 142 billion dollars. Of these five companies – Alphabet (Google’s mother-firm), Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft – three have their headquarter in Silicon Valley, Microsoft and Amazon find their head-bureaus elsewhere, nonetheless, both employ swaths of employees in the vibrant area. Furthermore, we find Twitter, LinkedIn, Netflix, Tesla Motors, eBay, Intel, Hewlett Packard, the list goes on. Besides geographically referring to the southern part of the Bay Area, Silicon Valley has become a metonymy for the tech industry as a whole. James Damore’s controversial memo, although first circulated via Google’s internal mailing lists only, has to do with the metonymical tenor of Silicon Valley, it has to do with the ever-growing technology sector by and large.

The technology industry is one of exceptional entrepreneurship, innovation and, evidently, growth. Despite its admirable results and profits, or ethical questions about its implications on privacy and freedom, talk of sexism is its most timely problem. And rightly so, women are often paid less, find themselves in top positions less often and, according to surveys, have to put up with unwanted sexual advances. With Silicon Valley seemingly synonymous with ‘cosmopolitan liberal’, sexism is oddly out of place. CEO’s wholeheartedly condemn sexism with Google CEO Sundar Pichai, as well as his boss, Alphabet CEO Larry Page, for example, openly – albeit rather frivolously up until now – speaking against it.

“Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”

James Damore was a Google employee who felt that his more offbeat and unorthodox opinions were suppressed by unwritten and written rules. I can only sympathize with Damore at this point; as an engineering student I agree with him that a hyper-biased and charged atmosphere at universities and larger technology firms might discourage some from being able to fully express their opinion. That would certainly explain why his pamphlet has caused such a stir.

Too bad that’s where the good points come to and end. As with anything that I deem remotely interesting for its daring boldness there is a substantial ‘but’. The pamphlet is reasonable and supremely sharp in its call for debate and “honest discussion”. The second part, however, falls flat on its phase in its fallacies and, sadly, negates the apropos first half. Damore starts to argue that underrepresentation of women is not a result of discrimination. On the contrary. Damore argues that innate differences make women fare worse in the industry. The alt-right – ever embracing of ill-informed foolishness – swiftly embraced his argument that congenital personality traits make women less suitable for a job in Silicon Valley.

Before I fall prey to expected criticism: however insignificant, personality differences between the sexes might indeed be present (nature v. nurture is an entirely different debate), it would be frivolous to argue that the two sexes are indistinguishable. However, to argue, as Damore does, that women are “more interested in people than things” or “look for more work-life balance” rather than “status” is utterly backward.

I am well aware of figures (such as Rebel media’s Gavin McInnes) who have consistently made the point that, by innate difference, women prefer spending time with their kids but have strayed away from ‘nature’s ideal’ because of feminism. McInnes backs these claims up by noting that women are, on average, less happy than they were a hundred years prior. His statistics are correct, his induction is short-sighted. Contrary to McInnes and hard-right publications, I don’t consider myself a credible expert without truly diving into the subject, therefore, I will leave comment to this article, which explains the differences in a most factual and well-referenced manner. Nonetheless, as per scholarly ideals, research is and should be available on the internet, some links can be found below for the interested reader.

Damore’s pamphlet could have been one for the history books. It wasn’t, to my dismay. Sharp arguments in favor of debate and openness are overshadowed by the poorly substantiated second half. My hope is that the media manages to pick up on this first section and shines a light on the fact that Damore also wrote that “honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots”. Honest discussion is, as I hope we can all agree upon, a fundamental necessity in any workplace.

Some interesting links concerning Damore:

Some interesting links concerning congenital differences between the two sexes:

For a typical example of sensational media coverage: CNBC did not even mention Silicon Valley’s ‘ideological echo chamber’, it went for a more ominous ’10 shocking quotes from the viral Google manifesto’.

The US and North Korea, business as usual?

However daunting it may seem, the most recent feud with the North seems – lest some notable exceptions – business as usual.

Opinion writers take pride in linking Trump’s win to certain phenomena – a shifting Democratic base, contemptuous liberals, changing media landscapes, Trump’s radically different campaign and his calls for hard power, the Russians, the list goes on. As with foreign policy, electoral victory is dependent on innumerable factors, all aforementioned ingredients add in some way to the serving but it is no secret that Trump seeks to grow the military, increase the US’ hard powers and decimate the state department. The results start to show in the most serious crisis encountered by the Trump administration yet. Trump’s disconnect from the state department and the accompanying absence of thought and thoroughness is sadly unsurprising and, as he called for ‘fire and fury’ or even tougher action, the state department was predictably sidelined.

Exporting threats

Ironic as it may seem shortly after the strictest batch of sanctions was passed, the regime’s prime export product remains free to cross the border: threats. Japan and the US, as well as the North’s southern neighbors, have been subject to its intimidation so frequently that, at first sight, it seems miraculous that none sparked an armed conflict. Over the years, there have been similar diplomatic moments of razzle-dazzle or, for a less British euphemism: a verbal tug of war. However you’d like to call it, commentators and analysts alike have not feared comparisons with the Cuban missile crisis or the invasion in Iran.

Although these crises often passed silently, this feud is quite different. For one, Mr. Kim’s statements are almost indistinguishable from the president’s and in a verbal battle between an autocratic all-controlling leader and a president whose praise for such absolute rulers has remained throughout his time in office, tensions rise high. Quite the contrary to previous years, when it was easy to sideline and ignore the DPRK’s supreme leader as a ‘rambling lunatic’. Most importantly, however, according to the Washington Post, the country is able to miniaturize its nuclear capabilities and aim its functioning inter-continental missiles at the US, meaning that the regime’s long awaited insurance policy is no longer merely the subject of speculation.

nk_propaganda

Despite my lack of expertise in the area, it’s easy to conclude that North Korea’s perspective is very simple; keep the regime in power. State media portray the US as a force of capitalism and evil, a force that simply aims to topple its praised government. The DPRK argues it can only persists if its nuclear arsenal is up to spec. With nuclear miniaturization a possibility and ICBM’s ready, it seems that such an arsenal is no longer a fantasy. The DPRK knows very well that Trump won’t attack since the regime has the capabilities to not only destroy Seoul but to obliterate US cities. On the other hand, the regime won’t attack the United States first since Washington will most certainly claim victory in the war that follows. This, then, is the impasse the world has reached.

Deterrence?

The United States might like the option of regime change – it has a long tradition of crudely toppling regimes it dislikes – but, as John Cassidy writes in the New Yorker, Kim’s aforementioned insurance is paying off. However desired, the installation of a friendly government is not an option. 

Robin Wright, also a staff-writer at the New Yorker, spoke to retired navy admiral and former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Winnefeld. His advice was simple: “Let them stow in their own juices … it’s a fools errand to expect China to solve this”. The Economist aligned with Winnefeld and noted that if diplomacy fails and military action has such horrific consequences, “the only remaining option is to deter and contain Mr. Kim”. As Cassidy notes, it would be an acknowledgement that US policies aimed at the North not acquiring nuclear weaponry has failed. Failing to concede to its own mistakes is typical for the US, note Iran and Iraq during Mossadegh and later Khomeini and Hussein for example. Leaving characteristic Washington megalomania aside, deterrence, together with a thoroughly reviewed personal statement by the president is the only viable and respectable option.

@ Eat Pray Vote!

A business-like White House and John Kelly

In light of maintaining the US government’s international position and the need for a strong foreign policy, John Kelly will bring a welcome change to the White House.

From the campaign trail on, Trump has been pointing to the success of his business as physical examples of his leadership talents. It seemed only logical he would take his experience as a businessman into the White House, his experience in corporate America, however, seems quite the double-edged sword.

For one, running a business is – although it may seem so at first sight – not a one-man job, it requires advisory from both the private- and public sector, furthermore, no business thrives without the necessary channels of communication, the well-being of its employees and satisfaction of its customers. It is for these reasons that Republicans have enjoyed the thought of an executive run by a CEO-like figure on many occasions; Reagan, for example, established a commission that looked to the private sector for ideas with regard to efficiency and removal of the necessary evils that accompany federal bureaucracy. Fellow Republican George W. Bush promised to run government based on a ‘market-based’ approach. Both these examples fit snugly in the Republican mantra of small government.

On the other hand, however, businesses – in their essence – exist for the sole purpose of making money and distributing that money to its respective employees and shareholders. In the private world, customer satisfaction is merely a necessity in the process of making money, not a goal. Furthermore, corporate America prefers short-term dividends over long-term investment, which results in limited innovation. Although previous attempts to modernize parts of government by peering over the shoulders of the chief executive officer have sometimes lent themselves well to efficiency in the oval, a business-esque government falls flat on its face by the above arguments. By definition, this philosophy does not result in a government ‘for the people’, nor does it secure the ‘blessings of Liberty and Posterity’ of its citizens.

Despite obvious faults and fallacies, it seems that the idea of a business-esque government is one of the current administration’s most consistent. Ramifications include an executive that is geared towards short-term wins, an executive that seems to take no interest in its example-setting role and a President that makes his decisions unexpectedly and abruptly, many based on the opinion of the last person or adviser he spoke to, none seem to involve the careful deliberation and thought that government so requires. Trump’s personality traits further add to the administration’s inability to function, for the sake of avoiding reiterations, it is sufficient to note that Trump’s satisfaction at reading his name in one of Magie Haberman’s headlines trumps his will to serve the country as promised.

The gatekeeper

Thermodynamic’s second law – namely that entropy, a quantitative measure of disarray, will always increase – still holds as the White House engages in an outlandish display of chaos; Scaramucci in, Spicer out, Priebus out, Bannon insulted, and, in a bizarre twist of events, Scaramucci out as a result of Kelly in.

Judging from media reports over, Reince Priebus has been a weak chief of staff. His nomination already seemed mostly the result of Trump realizing that ‘draining the swamp’ is more easily said than done, Priebus appeared merely a kind gesture towards the more ‘swampy’ Washington-folk. The previous chief of staff therefore never quite enjoyed the same friendliness with Trump as some of the more ominous, cartoonish figures in his administration, nor were he ever distinctly part of one of the White House factions.

Trump’s – and therefore Priebus’ – oval office has been described as a ‘Grand Central Station’, contrary to the ‘therapist’s couch’. Priebus has left the traditional gatekeeper role of which Chris Whipple speaks in his new book (The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency) at the door and seemingly tried to put Trump in the more accustomed environment of his Trump Tower office. As is plain from the above, the strategy has not worked: no campaign promises have been materialized nor has the swamp been drained, all the while Obama’s legacy still stands, international conflicts ask for dire attention and all that has manifested is either half-baked or hastily established via executive order.

This, then, is Kelly’s task: to promote thought and argument, demote sloppy advisory and first and foremost keep the gate. Whether supportive of Trump or not, whether supportive of his policies and ideology or not; the US government needs to be run and in the light of maintaining its international position, the general will most certainly bring a welcome change to the White House.

Short addendum; journalists have noted that the door to the oval office was often closed for the past few days, seeing patterns within this short while might be a tad optimistic but it seems that Kelly aims to take on the role of keeping the gate.

@ Eat Pray Vote!

The Trump-administration might slowly bring back bipartisanship

The Trump-administration might actually bring the legislative branch back from the dead.

William F. Buckley, respected by those on the left and the right and more than most anyone a father of modern conservatism, made for a weekly dose of civil- and substantive discourse via his Firing Line. Two seats and a small audience combined with Buckley’s wit and rhetorical talents amounted to the longest running one-on-one television show.

The episode that aired on the 18th of September, 1998, featured conservative firebrand Ann Coulter — obviously accompanied by the ever-skeptical Buckley. Coulter was invited to discuss her new book; High Crimes and Misdemeanors, which concerned with the impeachment of Bill Clinton. One would presume Buckley and Coulter could agree, however, in this episode one sees the clear distinction between the two: Buckley’s arguments constituted a revival of conservatism; Coulter’s arguments merely concerned with Republican electoral gain — partisanship.

Impeachment and partisanship

Let us note Clinton’s impeachment process when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich was the main voice of opposition. Although Clinton was impeached on charges of perjury, the Senate later acquitted him. The heated hyper-partisan shadow cast over the nineties may have then culminated to nothing as Clinton’s approval rates jumped up and the GOP’s plummeted, the process of impeachment and eventual conviction has, is and will be in the President’s mind at his every move. Ultimately, it’s congress’ only tool to remove a President from office when the next election is simply too far away.

Vice-versa, any Democrat would rather unseat a Republican President than he or she would one of his own. Whether the respective President is accused of perjury, adultery or obstruction of justice is of no importance. Simply for the sake of the party and therefore a healthy opposition to the other, partisanship and impeachment are intertwined, the procedure is thus not so much a tool of justice and righteousness, merely one of politics and power.

A prominent and more timely example of partisanship when it comes to impeachment is the current Republican reaction to calls for impeachment by the Democrats. For one, the same Newt Gingrich and Ann Coulter whose calls for Clinton’s impeachment were among the most perfervid, now support the President in every way; defending his indecency, his incompetence and his role in the ever-deepening Russia-scandal. The sheer hypocrisy is a result of partisanship.

However ironic, both parties are obviously fighting a losing battle. The Democrats are becoming what they so loathed the Republicans for in the past eight years, namely an obstructionist party whose manifesto seems to consist only of ’stop Trump’. The Republicans aren’t fairing any better as they increasingly stray from their respectable conservative roots in their dogmatic defense of Trump — if any was left.

Bringing back collaboration

It is no secret that the GOP is too divided and uncontrolled to bring forward a decent ObamaCare replacement, the house bill only passed marginally, leaving Paul Ryan to lose every bit of credibility as a social conservative he had saved. Trump is merely a sideshow in the health care debacle; for one, he does not seem to care what it looks like as long as the AHCA is repealed, second, Trump has absolutely no idea how the promised bill should be advocated and promoted — surprisingly, health care is rather ’complicated’.

After eight years of negativism and obstructionism, Republicans jumped on the Trump-wagon in bare lust for power. Although — as noted — Trump’s input with regard to the legislative branch is non-existent, his candidacy has further divided Republicans, with some now choosing to not support the President in fear of losing their electorate – Sen. Collins is a notable example; while others provide deepening support for the President and find themselves deeper into the rabbit hole with every move. For those opposing the Republican party, current disarray is a happy confirmation that a party so experienced in its obstructionist opposition role can’t pass any serious legislation. For those same people, seeing the Democrats falling into that same position is a development less to their liking.

To conclude, we could note that with No. 45 further enveloped in his Russia scandal; breaking apart his administration — Sessions being the latest example — and causing his approval ratings to sink, house- and senate Republicans might come to their senses, starting to view the executive with a very healthy dose of skepticism. GOP House members and senators might once look at the honorable roots of their party and watch an episode of Firing Line, paving the way for a more bipartisan and therefore more representative and efficient approach and with that a legislative branch that is to be taken seriously again.

@Eat Pray Vote. Also, please note that all Firing Line episodes can be found on Youtube.

Quora discussion; liberalism and Marxism

Had quite an interesting conversation with somebody on Quora a few days ago. I commented on an answer to ‘Why don’t proponents of social democracy ever use Southern or Eastern European countries as an example for the US?’ after which the writer answered, the subject changed quickly and as such our conversation became much more about the world economy as a whole than it was about the pro-Russia, anti-EU governments that prevail in Eastern Europe.

The writer first wrote the following (Note that is an excerpt of his answer):

Calling it “austerity” (for you, not for them), the G20 is not only the cause of the 2008 meltdown, but now it offers the solution. Goodbye healthcare, goodbye pensions, goodbye social services.

And so, when you see mass demonstrations in the streets of some of these southern European cities, you’ll know why.

ADDENDUM: 1 in 5 children living in the G20 now lives in poverty.

My reply:

For one, I’d like to stress that your assertion that the G20 was established in response to the economic crisis is simply a fallacy. It was founded in 1999, where its principles entailed the involvement of less developed countries – such as India and Brazil for example. It was then re-energized as a result of the horrid effects of the economic crisis when Bush called for a leader summit.

Second, your answer does not answer the question, nor do I agree with your second assumption that mass demonstrations in the Southern countries are a result of capitalist deprivation. These mass demonstrations are – as far as they could be considered ‘mass’ demonstrations – a reaction to a failing, corrupt government that can’t control its bank as well as ever-growing migrant inflow from Northern Africa.

And third, your last sentence makes absolutely zero sense considering my first point, namely that the Group was founded with developing countries in mind.

At the time of writing, I was under the assumption that the user meant recent demonstrations in Italy, however, the demonstrations that he referred to took place in 2012, a direct reaction to further cuts as the eurozone seemed destined to enter another recession, as the user kindly pointed out:

They were MASS demonstrations and regardless of the cause of their discontent, the solution was to punish THEM in the guise of “austerity”. They know their government is corrupt. They don’t need G20 to jump on them with a second pair of feet. As for 3rd point, consider the nature of the G20 and how it operates, not what its charter might have said 18 years ago. Any way you spin it, the pain is not being suffered by the world’s giant corporations now is it?

The discussion now quickly became one of great importance as we got onto the subject of globalism and its humanitarian consequences. I followed up:

I’d like to get back on you concerning those demonstrations. If you are referring to anti-austerity demonstrations in Italy, it would be mostly frivolous to blame capitalism, or the G20, for that matter. Southern European financial crises are mostly a result of political instability. With the level of behind-closed-doors state intervention in financial institutions, political instability leads to further economic turmoil.

Getting back on my third point; you note that we must consider how the G20 operates now. I’d agree with you that – whether you support that or not – the core of the G20 is the absolute epitome of neo-liberalism and free-trade. However, to argue that 1 in 5 of the members state children lives in poverty as a result of its current way of acting would imply that poverty rates have only worsened in its member nations, which definitely isn’t the case.

And finally, I agree with you on the last point. Multi-national conglomerates do not feel such pains and its important to note that neo-liberalism has not only had good effects on our lives, because for a large group it hasn’t. Blaming capitalism or the G20 seems – again – frivolous, mainly because globalism has brought such wealth as well as cooperation on climate change and defense, that a large majority has benefited. What I mean to say is that on a netto basis, neo-liberalism has been a win for most of us. It’s incredibly important, however, to acknowledge and try to solve – by means of regulation or less political influence – problems for people who haven’t been as well off.

He quickly responded:

I see your point but I find these “gains” are not to be regarded as substantive as they appear. If you consider that much of this alleged rise in GDP for member nations is actually based on DEBT, that’s somewhat startling to contemplate. In other words, the economy is driven by people spending all right—but spending money they don’t have. Using the U.S. as an example, “real” wages haven’t increased for decades. The average American might say: “But look, I have a house, two nice cars and my kids are in college”.

Yes, but the house is mortgaged for 30 years, the cars for 72 months, and the kids owe $150K apiece in student loans.

It’s not good right now. I am quite concerned that the biggest players within the G20 do not realize that if you take out all your winnings in a poker game, the game stops.

Regarding demonstrations, I think the bottom line, the base cause, is economic—however one wishes to frame it. I tend to be somewhat Marxist in my views (couldn’t you guess—LOL!) and I do see things as a class struggle in those cases.

Corruption in Greece is just awful. They are among the worst.

From his response, the discussion was not only about the faults of neo-liberalism and globalism, it took on the much broader subjects of capitalism and Marxism. However, as I note in my answer below, his proposition that a debt-based economy is only rich in the minds of GDP-figures is rather benighted.

First of all, yes, corruption in Greece is awful, just as corruption in many other Southern European countries is awful. This is part – if not the biggest part – of the problem. In a country where banks and governments go hand in hand – which is quit logical considering Europe’s long tradition of state-meddling in financial institutions – economical stability goes hand in hand with political stability. It adds up; think about Italy’s history of countless different governments and coalitions or Greece’s aforementioned levels of corruption.

Your second point is a very interesting one. Although I may not be as well-versed in the subject as you might be, we both look at this in different ways, I guess. Loans are easy and cheap, for people as well as corporations. Let me also note that if people are able to pay off their loans, no problems arise, the money is not somehow gone or ‘taken out’, as you assert. The essence is that debt is absolutely no problem, provided that the economy grows, which it not always does.

Possible solutions include changes to the tax code, although huge tax code changes are out of the question for most if not all developed countries.Safe to say, it seems that a Keynesian style monetary policy is a temporary solution to this growth-based economy problem, and sometimes a temporary solution is more than sufficient.

After all, it was agreed upon that the economy as it is now is unstable and not as future- and fool-proof as some bureaucrats might hope. However much our views differed or however little we actually agreed upon, it’s delightful to find someone who is open to opposing views, quite a rarity in between the dogmatic, pseudo-intellectual, keyboard-warrior crowd that I usually find on Quora.