The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

A busy day

Last weekend's tsunami continues to ripple:

Just another quiet week in 2020...

Observers see big stumble in American democracy

President Trump's ham-fisted photo-op in front of St John's Episcopal Church on Monday rattled friendly intelligence officers and emboldened our adversaries. Former CIA officer Gail Helt saw a familiar pattern emerging:

“This is what autocrats do. This is what happens in countries before a collapse. It really does unnerve me.”

Helt, now a professor at King University in Tennessee, said the images of unrest in U.S. cities, combined with President Trump’s incendiary statements, echo clashes she covered over a dozen years at the CIA tracking developments in China, Malaysia and elsewhere.

The impression Trump created was only reinforced by others in the administration. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper urged governors to “dominate the battlespace” surrounding protesters, as if describing U.S. cities as a foreign war zone. Later, as military helicopters hovered menacingly over protesters, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, toured the streets of the nation’s capital in his battle fatigue uniform.

Former intelligence officials said the unrest and the administration’s militaristic response are among many measures of decay they would flag if writing assessments about the United States for another country’s intelligence service.

Josh Marshall noted that the military, at least, rapidly distanced themselves from the event, which he views with some optimism:

Because, as I noted last night, it seems clear this was so crude and transparent and overplayed that they now appear to be in what we might call the political equivalent of an exposed salient. And most of those how had a hand in it are now claiming they were out of the loop.

We also need to keep in mind that the administration's attempts to justify a military presence in American cities relies on fabricated claims about civil unrest. Cities have experienced two kinds of violence over the past week: looting by criminals not connected with the peaceful protests that took place, and police using exactly the excessive force that people were protesting against. Federalizing the response to the protests would be a political, authoritarian act, not a public-safety measure. And people all across the political spectrum seem to understand that.

Re-reading the ur-text

Italian author Umberto Eco lived through the last half of Mussolini's reign, and through the fall of Communism in Europe. In 1995 he wrote an essay in the New York Review of Books entitled "Ur-Fascism," which seems like a timely read as cities around the country (but not Chicago, I'm pleased to report) looked a lot like police states this past weekend. It's worth a re-read:

I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.

This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, "the combination of different forms of belief or practice"; such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a silver of wisdom, and whenever they seem to say different or incompatible things it is only because all are alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.

As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. ... In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action's sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism...

4. No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

He lists a total of 14 characteristics. In the Trump-dominated Republican Party I count...hmm...14. Well, that's comforting.

Some other points he makes:

[B]y a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.

...

Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.

...

We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, "I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares." Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world.

In this vein, Matt Ford says American police forces "have become the standing armies that the Founders feared."

Channeling Chavez

In a move reminiscent of the authoritarian dictators he adores, President Trump yesterday had protesters forcibly cleared from the streets in front of St John's Episcopal Church in Washington so he could pose for a photo-op holding a Bible:

Moments before President Donald Trump vowed to use military might to stop rioting, police backed by the National Guard stormed into a peaceful protest outside the White House and scattered a large group of people protesting unprovoked police violence against African Americans.

At the time, none of the protesters or nearby journalists knew the reason for clearing the street. But the purpose became clear as soon as Trump finished his speech in the Rose Garden.

Trump left the podium and walked through Lafayette Square with staff in tow, crossed H Street NW, where the protesters had been assembled, and came to a stop at St. John's Episcopal Church, a congregation known as the Church of the Presidents, which was damaged by fire during an uprising Sunday.

Outside the church, Trump posed for photos with a Bible. And then he walked back.

It was a show of force for demonstration purposes, and it injected danger into what had been a calm protest as those in the street fled mounted police to avoid being trampled, struck by projectiles or gassed. It also came as a surprise to the protesters, who were flanked by police after National Guard and federal agents acted as decoys by advancing from the front in full riot gear.

The Episcopal Bishop of Washington was incensed:

“I am outraged,” [Bishop Marianne] Budde said in a telephone interview a short time later, pausing between words to emphasize her anger as her voice slightly trembled.

“I ... was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [the area] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop,” Budde said.

“Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence,” Budde [said] of the president. “We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us.”

In a written statement, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, head of the Episcopal denomination, accused Trump of using “a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes.”

“This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us,” Curry wrote.

Even Republicans disapproved:

“We long ago lost sight of normal, but this was a singularly immoral act,” said Brendan Buck, a longtime former Hill aide who is now a Republican operative. “The president used force against American citizens, not to protect property, but to soothe his own insecurities. We will all move on to the next outrage, but this was a true abuse of power and should not be forgotten.”

“It was just to win the news cycle,” one Trump adviser said. “I’m not sure that things are any better for us tomorrow.”

But Trump’s campaign team viewed the visit as a success. By late Monday, campaign officials were already tweeting a black-and-white photo of him walking to the church with a coterie of aides in his wake. Tim Murtaugh, the campaign’s top spokesman, posted the picture without a caption.

As the president drives his poll own numbers down to bedrock with this crap, he will become more deranged and violent. He thrives on chaos, and doesn't care who gets hurt as long as he "wins." It's going to be a very long 22 weeks until election day.

Psycopathic response to state violence

Not content to give psychologists circumstantial evidence of psycopathy, the president became even more unhinged and reactive this weekend. Since he has no capacity for empathy or even, it seems, metacognition of any sort, one could have (and did) predict much of this. To begin, in a conversation with state governors today, he advocated increased state-sanctioned violence to counter peaceful protests against state-sanctioned violence:

As the country reels from nearly a week of intense protests marked by countless acts of police brutality, President Donald Trump on Monday pressured governors to deploy more aggressive and violent tactics against protesters, telling them they would look like “jerks” if they didn’t get tougher. He also threatened to unleash the powers of the Justice Department in order to empower law enforcement officials to “fight back” against demonstrators.

“You have to dominate,” Trump said on a private call with governors, according to reporting by multiple news outlets that obtained a recording of the explosive conversation. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run over you. You’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”

“You’ve got to arrest people,” he continued. “You have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years, and you’ll never see this stuff again.”

Fun fact: he (and bestie Vladimir Putin, almost forgot) wins when the country is divided against itself. And to him, nothing else matters except winning—even if he only wins the moment and loses the war.

While cowering in the White House basement, the president contemplated invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807 to deploy active-duty troops to American cities. The last time this happened, California governor Pete Wilson requested President George HW Bush send troops to Los Angeles in 1992 to help quell the Rodney King protests. But I think most people can see the problem of putting armed regulars on American streets against the express wishes of state governors, if for no other reason than we last did that in 1877. And in that case, the army went in to protect civil rights, not prevent them.

More views:

Unfortunately, all of this means that the president, being scared out of his tiny mind, will show even more psychopathic behavior, because that's all he knows how to do. Even on his best days he couldn't reason himself out of a losing game of Tic-Tac-Toe. These are his worst days, and they're getting worse for him.

On the left, we have to bang the drum from now until November 3rd that the president, not the protesters, is making America less American. Quoting Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer: “The president’s dangerous comments should be gravely concerning to all Americans, because they send a clear signal that this administration is determined to sow the seeds of hatred and division, which I fear will only lead to more violence and destruction. We must reject this way of thinking.”

Welcome to Summer!

Yes, June 1st, the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere (according to climatologists, anyway), and Chicago has never seemed more exciting. Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced last week that we would move into Phase 3 of the Covid-19 recovery plan on Wednesday, but then the weekend happened:

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she’s worried protests throughout the city this weekend could have been “super-spreading” events for the coronavirus.

The vast majority of people in Chicago’s protests wore masks, and some organizers set up their marches to allow social distancing. But there were crowds that gathered and marched throughout the city — and officials have warned for months large groups of people pose a serious risk of spreading COVID-19.

“This disease is still ravaging our Black and Brown communities, and our public health officials are gravely concerned that yesterday’s action could turn out to be a super spreader event,” Lightfoot said during a Sunday press conference.

No doubt some people spread the virus while they looted and burned businesses city-wide:

Throughout the night, police received call after call of lootings, shootings and fires on all sides of the city. There were several “10-1″ calls for officers in immediate need of help. It capped a weekend that was one of the most violent in recent years in Chicago, with more than 80 people shot, nearly 20 of them killed.

Police Superintendent David Brown said there were 699 looting arrests, mostly on the South and West sides. At least 132 officers were injured on Sunday and there were 48 shootings, with 17 deaths, he said. Chicago officials said they received 65,000 calls in a 24-hour period, 50,000 more than typical day.

The Tribune has a full timeline of the weekend's events.

In Washington, protesters sent the president scurrying into an underground bunker as the White House lights were turned off for the first time in decades. Around the world, groups showed solidarity with American protesters leading to hundreds of arrests in London and other cities.

I'm going to leave you with this 18-minute post from Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central's "Daily Show." He says a lot that we should all hear:

Shutting down

In 45 minutes, the entire CTA system will shut down to make it harder for wandering bands of hordes (my mom's expression) from continuing to cause havoc:

Starting at 6:30 p.m., CTA will suspend service on all CTA bus routes and rail lines at the request of public safety officials. Service is expected to resume tomorrow morning. CTA will provide service updates via transitchicago.com.

Earlier, the mayor and county officials claimed they had good evidence that much of the criminal behavior last night came from organized groups taking advantage of the protests:

Speaking at a Sunday afternoon press conference with other officials, Lightfoot didn’t say whether the groups are out-of-state left-wing anti-fascist organizations generally known as Antifa, right-wing agitators, local street gangs or something else. She said she’s asked three federal agencies—the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Attorney’s office—for help, with a focus on AFT’s bomb and arson unit.

“There is no doubt. This was an organized effort last night,” she said. “There were clearly efforts to subvert the peaceful process and make it into something violent.”

“There’s no question that both the people who were fighting and brought the weapons that was absolutely organized and choreographed,” she added. “It seems also clear that the fires that were set both of the vehicles and buildings that that was organized and that was opportunistic, as well as the looting.”

There were similar reports from other cities; the mayor of St Paul at one point claimed that all of the arrests in his city were of people from out of state; he later walked back the claim.

More distressing to me are reports that police in some places have targeted journalists. With weather getting warmer, and the coronavirus still keeping people cooped up inside, I believe (as does James Fallows) that this year could turn out worse than 1968.

Chicago in 2020 is not Berlin in 1924

A peaceful protest in downtown Chicago that began at 2pm yesterday devolved into violence by 8pm, leading to Mayor Lori Lightfoot imposing a 9pm to 6am curfew city-wide:

“I want to express my disappointment and, really, my total disgust at the number of others who came to today’s protests armed for all-out battle.”

Lightfoot singled out “the people who came armed with weapons,’’ calling them “criminals.“

“We can have zero tolerance for people who came prepared for a fight and tried to initiate and provoke our police department.’’

She ruled out calling in the National Guard.

The city lifted bridges and blocked access to downtown, shutting Metra and downtown CTA stations around 8:30. I live about 10 km away from the protests, but I have friends and family in the Loop and South Loop. One sent this photo of police blocking the Congress Parkway:

(Movie fans may recognize the section of grass along the river, top-center in the photo, as the location of the Abegnation housing complex in the movie Divergent.)

Looters smashed windows at Macy's on State Street and Nieman-Marcus on Michigan Avenue. In the South Loop, a friend reported on Facebook:

Will have to see in the daylight but I'm hearing the entire South loop is destroyed. Every business windows smashed and looted broken glass everywhere. From Ida B Wells down to Cermak from Michigan down to Canal. Can verify all the stores on my block are destroyed.

The local CBS affiliate had this:

So, it's scary—but in many ways, it looks a lot better than it would have looked in the 1960s or 1920s. This isn't societal collapse. The Chicago Police remained professional and disciplined throughout. (Other police departments in the US, maybe not so much.) They know what's at stake, and they also know that the "protesters" instigating the violence and attacking them are trying to provoke a disproportionate response.

One of my friends summed up the complexity:

It is entirely possible to support the protesters and stand with them and to be angry and devastated by the murder of George Floyd and by every other similar murder as well as the systemic racism that allows it, and also to be angry and sad about the destruction and looting. Vandalism and looting may be what Dr. King called derivative crimes. Uncontested and deplorable derivative crimes. The people doing these things are criminals.

Yet it is also possible to have anger at the people destroying and looting and also have empathy and compassion for the people doing the destroying and looting and understanding the underlying root causes of their actions.

George Takei Tweeted:

He also pointed out that the Hong Kong protests worked in part because peaceful protesters called out and filmed the agitators infiltrating their events. We should do the same.

Then there's The Onion from 2017. I'll just leave it there.

Continued ethnic unrest in former British colony

The Washington Post's Karen Attiah imagines how an American newspaper would cover the protests in Minnesota if it used the same tropes as typically found in Western articles on politics elsewhere:

The country has been rocked by several viral videos depicting extrajudicial executions of black ethnic minorities by state security forces. Uprisings erupted in the northern city of Minneapolis after a video circulated online of the killing of a black man, George Floyd, after being attacked by a security force agent. Trump took to Twitter, calling black protesters “THUGS”’ and threatening to send in military force. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts!” he declared.

Ethnic violence has plagued the country for generations, and decades ago it captured the attention of the world, but recently the news coverage and concern are waning as there seems to be no end in sight to the oppression.

Around the world, grass-roots organizations, celebrities, human rights activists and even students are doing what they can to raise money and awareness about the dire situation in America.

“It’s sad that the Americans don’t have a government that can get them coronavirus tests or even monthly checks to be able to feed their families,” said Charlotte Johnson, a 18-year-old Liberian student activist, who survived the Ebola pandemic. “100,000 people are dead, cities are burning, and the country hasn’t had a day of mourning? Lives don’t matter, especially not black lives. It’s like they’re living in a failing state.”

Meanwhile, opinion writers have ratcheted up the rhetoric as violence continues around the country.

Minneapolis police "inadvertently" arrest reporter live on air

As CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew asked riot police where they would like them to move early this morning, the police abruptly arrested the group:

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz spoke with CNN president Jeffrey Zucker shortly after:

Mr. Walz told Mr. Zucker that the arrest was “inadvertent” and “unacceptable,” according to CNN’s account of the call. By about 6:30 a.m. local time, the crew had been released and was back on television.

“Everyone, to their credit, was pretty cordial,” Mr. Jimenez said of his interaction with the police officers after his arrest. “As far as the people that were leading me away, there was no animosity there. They weren’t violent with me. We were having a conversation about just how crazy this week has been for every single part of the city.”

At a news conference on Friday, Mr. Walz issued what he called “a very public apology” to CNN for the morning’s events, saying, “I take full responsibility; there is absolutely no reason something like this should happen.”

Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international anchor, wrote on Twitter that “arresting journalists is the kind of thing that happens in dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. We live in a democracy.” Bret Baier of Fox News wrote that “this should never have happened. Period.”

The presumptive Democratic nominee for president, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., weighed in on the incident in a Twitter post on Friday. “This is not abstract: a black reporter was arrested while doing his job this morning, while the white police officer who killed George Floyd remains free,” Mr. Biden wrote. “I am glad swift action was taken, but this, to me, says everything.”

Exactly. I expect that someone in the Minnesota State Patrol will get fired over this, but probably not the person who ordered the arrest. I find it shocking that this happened in Minneapolis, one of the most progressive cities in the country.

But police killings have not declined despite years of attempted reforms. As Radley Balko wrote today, "White people can compartmentalize police brutality. Black people don't have the luxury."