On Testing, Trump Says the Quiet Part Loud

He’s now all but admitted that his regime deliberately slowed down COVID-19 testing for political purposes.

Of course it did. It’s something that made sense to suppose was happening at the time (i.e. February and March), because they USA was doing such an astoundingly bad job at testing that it was hard to chalk it all up to mere random chance.

Remember, community spread in the USA was first detected in Seattle, for the simple reason that Dr. Helen Chu, a researcher Fred Hutch, decided to ignore the regulations and conduct unapproved testing for COVID-19 anyhow. And then there’s the strange and (otherwise mystifying) decision for the Trump regime to develop its own testing, during a crisis, when time is critical, even though the WHO was distributing a test that was already successfully being used in the rest of the world.

Yes, it’s that bad.

So, the most logical answer to the question “Is Trump really meaning it when he talks about deliberately slowing the pace of testing?” is: “Yes he is and yes he did.” It is the answer that jibes best with observable reality.

Linux: Still Linux (Alas)

Mind you, I’d really like it if I could wholeheartedly endorse Linux as an alternative to Windows or MacOS for a general-purpose desktop operating system. But I just can’t.

Linux is great for some things. Servers, for instance. I run a Linux server at a colocation site for a variety of purposes. It was basically a no-brainer: it’s a rock-solid server OS. Linux on the desktop has improved to the point that for basic use (e.g. browsing the Web, reading email, maybe typing a document or two, or downloading and editing digital photos) it is now a totally viable alternative to Macs or Windows.

The problems happen when one moves beyond basic desktop use: one all-to-quickly ends up in a maze of twisty little passages of UNIX system administration arcana. Hardware support, in particular, seems to be a bane of Linux. I couldn’t even get one of the most common digital radio interfaces running with one of the most common ham radio applications on one of the most common desktop Linux distros!

Yes, yes: there’s distros expressly designed for ham radio. Well, what if I want to use that computer for more than just ham radio? I’m S-O-L, that’s what: instead of delving into system arcana trying to get ham software working, I’ll doubtless be delving into system arcana trying to get normal desktop productivity software running.

In fact, the very existence of such ham radio-specific distros puts the lie to the claim that Linux interoperates well with ham radio hardware. If Linux did interoperate well, it wouldn’t be necessary to create such specialized distros in the first place! (Why create a specialized distro, if all one needs to do is install a few packages and make a few quick, easy tweaks to a mainstream distro?)

Then there’s my experiences with the Raspberry Pi. Not having an HDMI monitor, and not wanting to clutter up my limited space with one, I opted to order a serial interface cable with my Pi. It worked: the Pi booted and used the serial console when I connected it. Until they “upgrade” the Raspbian distro to remove that feature, that is, and fail to properly document how to re-enable it. After pissing away half a week trying to get the thing to boot on the serial console, I give up.

Forget it. I retired from systems administration because I was sick of it. Doing systems administration for “fun” as a “hobby” holds precisely zero appeal for me. If it doesn’t work with a modicum of effort on my part, I’m simply not interested. Ham radio is the hobby. Linux systems administration is not.

Linux has definitely gotten better as a desktop system over the years, but it’s still not fully there. Sorry, fanboys.

So, What Next?

When it comes to social revolution, the ball is at this point pretty much in Trump’s court. He’s backed down, to the point of taking the temporary wall down (and the Smithsonian is saving some of the protest art added to it for its archives, which should give some indication at how significant historians believe this era is likely to prove).

So it goes. As I wrote earlier, politics is war by other means, and in war one is never in complete control of the situation.

The question is: what does Trump do next? He is an idiot, so he could well do something monumentally stupid that once again puts him in an extraordinarily weak position. The only thing to do is wait, see, and be ready to pounce if the opportunity once more arises.

At the very least, Trump is continuing to tank in the polls, making it increasingly likely that another big blue wave is coming and will sweep him out of office.

The above may in fact prompt the next revolutionary opportunity. What happens if Trump refuses to honor the result of that election? It is, in fact, more likely than not that he will so refuse. It is totally in keeping with his character, much more so than conceding defeat would be.

It is also possible that the total overall effects of the uprising that is now winding down have yet to materialize. If Trump’s popularity continues to decline, a tipping point may be reached where his Congressional allies turn on him. At that point, his rule has been so lawless that any number of things could form the basis for a second impeachment, one which this time would succeed.

Who knows? As for now, we are in wait, see, and be prepared mode.

They Seem to Be Blinking

The Pentagon is backing off a bit. More then likely, Esper realizes how vulnerable his side is. More than likely, there has been private pushback from active officers that makes the public pushback from retired officers (of which there has been no shortage) look tame by comparison.

The question is, what happens after Esper is fired. Make no mistake, he will be fired. He has gone against the orange god-king’s wishes.

My guess at this point is that the clock is going to start running out. For a variety of reasons, these protests have been many things, but a good (or even an incomplete and halfhearted) implementation of social distincing they have not been. I may expound more on this aspect later, but the important fact right now is that the virus doesn’t care about what’s personally important to you.

It doesn’t care, because it can’t care. It’s a virus. It can infect people via protest rallies as easily as it can infect them via church services. As such, a big spike in cases is coming, and sooner rather than later. There is about a two-week incubation period for COVID-19, and we are now at day eleven of the protests.

The virus will therefore soon do what Grandpa Ranty has been unable to do by angrily tweeting and making shows of force, i.e. quell the energy in the streets. The window for revolution (which really does exist) will close and pass.

Such is life. Politics, to invert von Clausewitz, is war by other means, and in war one is never totally in control; so much of it depends on what one’s enemy does, and what happens in the overall environment.

One thing it does mean is that the unexpected economic uptick last month is likely to prove itself a blip and not the start of a trend. Not only is there going to be a resurgence in the pandemic, there are also many fatally wounded but not yet defunct businesses which will inevitably fail in the coming months.

Ideology Blinds Us: Resist

Eric Arthur Blair (more commonly known by his pen name, George Orwell) is one of my favorite political authors, and his essay Notes on Nationalism is perhaps my favorite essay of his.

One of the things Orwell does in that essay is to list a set of facts which are both indisputably true, yet impossible for the adherent of a given ideology to acknowledge. In that spirit, here are two indisputably true recent facts, one which it is impossible for most radicals to acknowledge, the other which it is impossible for most liberals to acknowledge.

Radicals

It will be demonstrably better to face the prospect of agitating for a better society under a Biden Administration than it would under a second term of the Trump Administration. Furthermore, there is not currently anything near the level of political consciousness or organization to attempt anything like an anarchist revolution in the near term. The choice really is between Biden or Trump. As such, it should be our duty to see to it that Biden replaces Trump.

Liberals

It took over a week of nationwide unrest, unrest that rose to the level of rioting, for the State of Minnesota to (reluctantly) arrest and press charges against the three officers involved in the extrajudicial execution of George Floyd to merely be charged and arrested. That is in a state controlled by Democrats, whose Democratic Attorney General is a darling of the progressive left (i.e. is about as far to the left as you can be in the USA and still get elected). This shows how fundamentally rotten the system is, and how merely electing the right sort of people in and of itself offers no hope for significant change. It also shows how political unrest, including rioting, can have positive outcomes, outcomes that would have almost certainly not happened absent the unrest.

There Is No Contradiction

Part of the problem may be a failure to think fearlessly. At first, I think it appears to many that there is a contradiction between these two facts. Therefore obviously only one of them can be true, and it is personally convenient to conclude that the untrue statement is the one that challenges your viewpoint.

But there is no contradiction. The choice is not between electing Biden and being satisfied with that versus pressing for more fundamental change using means outside those of electoral politics. One can do both.

We Can’t Be Rojava, but We Can Be France

My previous post mentioned that a successful (and, for the most part, nonviolent) revolution is probably possible (as in the immediate future), but what sort of revolution would it be?

Not an anarchist one, like what happened in Catalonia or Rojava. The average American’s mind has simply been too polluted from birth with bourgeois propaganda for that to be feasible. Perhaps no nation’s national identity is so bound up with the rhetoric of laissez-faire capitalism as is ours.

So much for the bad news. It would still be a revolution in a distinctly leftward direction, towards a vision of a society with greater equality.

And perhaps more important even than that, a revolution that would shatter the spell that the US political system is something handed down on sacred golden plates from demigods, never to be seriously questioned. It would be a revolution that will serve to make further revolution possible.

If there is one society that a post-revolutionary United States would most look like, it would probably be France.

Let there be no mistake, France is a deeply flawed society. Roughly one-third of the French voted for a fascist political party in the most recent election (and that is not an anomaly).

Likewise, our Trumpist fascists are not going to magically disappear, either. They are going to harbor grievances about a “coup” organized by the “globalists” having deposed their orange god-king. There will doubtless be violence as a result (they tend to be armed).

They will be violent regardless of how Trump is displaced. They do not believe anyone but their side has moral legitimacy to lead. As such, they will oppose any transfer of power, no matter how mundane its mechanism.

But, keep in mind that there are several kinds of Trumpers. There are the true believers, who are fascists to the core of their being. Then there are the opportunists, who jumped on the fascist bandwagon because it was politically convenient and they were too weak-willed to resist it. Those latter fascists are much less likely to be the sort of problem that the former ones will be; there is hope for them transitioning back into garden-variety center-right politics. Not all of the 40% will be the hard core that causes lingering problems.

Despite their presence, progress will happen. Even conservatives like David Frum are now talking about the need for things like greater financial equality, strong universal health care and statehood for the District of Columbia. And this is what a conservative is advocating; most on the prevailing side won’t be conservatives.

Do not underestimate the ability of a surge in consciousness to move society forward significantly more than the conventional wisdom deems possible. Lincoln did not campaign on freeing the slaves, yet events acquired a life of their own and ended up compelling him to do so.

France has had more center-right administrations than center-left ones, yet there is still significantly more social equality there than there is in today’s USA.

France, like the USA, has its persistent racism. It is not for nothing that the events in Minneapolis have inspired demonstrations, not just in other major US cities, but in Paris.

France is a former world power that clings to the notion that it is still a power; the French state is noted for its military adventurism. Likewise, US military adventurism will not magically vanish, either, despite it now being all-but-inevitable that the USA will be eclipsed by China as the global hegemon.

But it would, to reiterate, be a different political culture. The French Republic, like the American one, got its start in an eighteenth century revolution. The French have never really forgotten this, while we in America (particularly those on the center and liberal left), have by and large become shamefully docile. That can change, and a successful popular revolution, however limited from an anarchists’ point of view, is highly likely to change it.

It would, in short, not be a perfect world. Far from it. It will merely be a better world, one where it will be possible to realistically dream of a better one yet.

Trump Is Weak and Vulnerable. Persist.

Some leftists believe Trump to be a fascist mastermind. He is not. He is a fascist idiot, a toddler in adult’s clothing. He is every bit as stupid and immature as he appears to be.

Hitler and Mussolini took under a year to consolidate power in a way that Trump never has been able to in over three years. Now, Trump is trying to consolidate that sort of power but is too stupid to know how to actually do it.

That he has advisers who are not stupid does not much matter, because he refuses to listen to those advisers. In fact, he tends to fire advisers who offer him actual advice. Three years into his administration, this process has served to weed out all but sycophants from his inner circle.

The invention of photography changed the world, because photographs allowed evils like slavery, poverty, warfare, and child labor to be graphically documented. Now, the presence of widespread photography is changing the world again.

When only a few people had cameras with them, persistent but sporadic evils like police brutality against people of color went largely unphotographed. Now nearly everyone has a cell phone with them with a camera that, while it might not be the best of cameras, still produces serviceable images and is always there, ready for use.

Instances of police brutality that formerly were dismissed or played down by an Establishment media uncomfortable with the idea of challenging authority are now being documented in a way that is impossible for them to ignore.

It was only a matter of time until enough such documented instances prompted widespread eruptions of outrage. In fact, up until very recently, I had been mystified (and more than a little frustrated) that such an eruption had not yet happened.

Now the eruption is happening. The police, as racist as ever, are operating in an environment where a fascist president is gives them license to act the quiet parts out loud. There is widespread support for Trump in the police force and particularly in the power structures of police unions.

Officers feel free to brutalize not only people of color in the streets, but the news media (generally disliked by Trumpers) who are documenting their outrage. This has served to bias the media even more against Trump (and to furnish them with footage providing graphic and dramatic evidence for the validity of such bias).

Trump’s stupidity and immaturity were on full show in Lafayette Square. If Trump had an ounce of sense to him, he would have simply waited a bit to stage his photo-op, because curfew hour was fast approaching. The Square could have been prioritized for curfew enforcement, the warning given at 7:00 pm, and any lingering protesters violently dispersed. More than likely, the clergy who were there would have left when they heard the warnings.

But no. The adult toddler wanted his photo-op, and he wanted it now.

Because Trump is stupid and immature, he is quite predictable, as all simpletons tend to be. Because he is predictable, his behavior can be engineered and exploited by others.

He wants the protesting to stop, and he’s willing to disregard established norms in an attempt to stop them. Fine. Make him. Keep protesting.

Make him look as bad as possible, i.e. protest, don’t riot. It’s not that riots don’t have their logic (they do), it’s that no tactic is universally applicable in all situations. In this situation, Trump will look worse if he orders state violence against mostly lawful (excepting curfew orders) protests than if he does against destructive or violent ones. So make him look worse.

Let him attempt to deploy the military. Already, one can find even conservative anti-Trump voices like Rick Wilson approvingly retweeting calls for the military to desert or mutiny if ordered to commit acts of violence against citizens. Put that one in your pipe and smoke it.

And no, it’s not far-fetched. Many senior officers despise Trump, because Trump has weakened the empire whose military they serve in. Enlisted men serve in an institution which, oddly enough, is one of the most progressive in the country when it comes to race relations. There will be discomfort up and down the hierarchy of command with orders to conduct domestic repression.

Military law even gives them a crutch. Soldiers take an oath not to obey their superiors, but to obey all lawful orders. When a soldier is given an order, one which is to be executed immediately, there is nobody to rely on to determine lawfulness except the judgment of the individual soldier him- or herself.

Having the protests be nonviolent and nondestructive will make it psychologically easier for servicemen to decide to desert. Make it easier for them.

Trump is not on the verge of winning; he is on the verge of losing, and losing in a decisive and humiliating way that no US president has ever lost: to a popular revolution.

AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS MOMENT

[The following was originally posted on 30 May by longtime Seattle activist Geov Parrish to his Facebook page. What follows are his words, not mine. I am reproducing them here so that those who do not have a Facebook account can find them via Internet search and read them.]

Thoughts on what just happened, and what lies ahead

Tonight, there were police brutality protests in scores of cities. In at least two dozen, there were fires or property destruction. Freeways were blocked. Stores looted and burned. Many of the protests were organic and apparently leaderless, expressions of inchoate rage, doubtless exacerbated by 12 weeks or more of hiding from a pandemic. (More on that later.)

This weekend is going to be critical. We are reaching, I suspect, a political and cultural inflection point.

As with the pandemic, there is no recent parallel in US history. This is bigger and much more spontaneous than the Occupy movement – a largely young, white, middle class affair which really took off only after social media spread images of police abuse at the original Occupy Wall Street protest, plus an officer cavalierly pepper-spraying seated protesters at UC-Davis. The anti-WTO protests (1999) and LA riots (1992) were huge but localized. You have to go back to the April 1968 riots after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to find something comparable to this week. The summers of that era – the long, hot summers of 1964-68, of Watts and Detroit and DC and Newark, but also scores of other cities – are perhaps more instructive to what’s unfolding now, in real time.

There were important differences between those riots and these. For one, in the ’60s they weren’t all simultaneous. Every week, another major riot or six would break out (Omaha? REALLY?) – 159 in the summer of 1967 alone – the National Guard would be called in, and after two to five nights of curfews ignored, massive destruction, fires, and looting, usually in the “inner city,” things would be brought under control. These were localized riots, in and of black neighborhoods, and the spark was almost always a local example of racist police abuse.

The wave of urban riots in the 1960s has pretty much been lost in all of the other huge cultural events of that decade, but it was an important impetus for other changes. It spurred “white flight” and suburban sprawl. Cities like Detroit never recovered from the damage.

And, in 1968, the violence, real and hyped, got Richard Nixon elected president. A former vice president and presidential loser in 1960, Nixon gained power with an explicit, dog-whistle “law and order” campaign that deployed the now-infamous “Southern Strategy,” peeling off the electoral votes of then-solidly Democratic states in the South by appealing to racist white Southerners who wanted to see those uppity blacks, especially the rioters, put in their place. He ran against Hubert Humphrey, an uninspiring establishment Democrat of his era who made his name as a liberal civil rights advocate before becoming Lyndon Johnson’s vice president. Nixon gleefully played up the contrast. Note that Trump’s “looting” and “shooting” tweet Thursday night wasn’t originally his – he plagiarized it from a notoriously racist Miami police chief in 1967. He’s already milking that cultural history.

The similarities between then and now point to obvious dangers. But the differences from a half-century ago are what make this moment so extraordinarily dangerous.

Today’s protests are being fueled in an era of social media. In the dozens of live feeds I watched tonight, the crowds were far more multi-racial than they were in the 1960s. They are, instead, defined more by generation, by a sense of alienation rooted, I suspect, in various oppressions, in economic desperation, and in fundamental alienation from a country in which the powerful rig all the rules in their favor and hope is fleeting; in which the country’s most powerful man, embodying all of those traits, routinely oozes corruption and expresses contempt for anyone not white, male, rich, straight, and (nominally) Christian, like himself.

If nothing else, these protests are, like those in the ’60s, a form of primal scream therapy: “I EXIST,” shouted by people made invisible and too often considered superfluous in this country.

The protests so far have been relatively small – a few hundred to a few thousand people in each city. But they have the potential to get much, much bigger. Minnesota’s governor spoke tonight of the Twin Cities’ combined police and National Guard forces being totally outnumbered and overwhelmed by many thousands of protesters across Minneapolis and St. Paul, many of them blocking freeways, setting fires, and otherwise upending normal life. There are millions of people living in American cities who feel similarly alienated, or endangered, and who haven’t participated in the Floyd protests. Yet. Hold that thought.

These protests are growing exponentially – one might say, virally. A curfew and today’s arrest of the cop who murdered George Floyd did nothing to dissuade Minneapolis crowds tonight that were far larger than Thursday night, and spread across more of the city, including middle class neighborhoods. Many of the protests have targeted wealthy downtown districts (Atlanta, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, etc.) They virtually beg for a backlash, and we have a president who will actively encourage it.

This fall’s election is one thing – Trump is trailing in the polls and desperate to distract from his abysmal pandemic leadership. This crisis is tailor-made for him to replicate Nixon’s 1968 platform, only far more viciously. He has never cared about any of the people now protesting, and he has everything (in his mind) to lose.

I haven’t mentioned one of the other critical differences so far between this week’s events and the urban riots of the 1960s. Tonight, one person was shot and killed in Detroit. A shooting Thursday night in Louisville has left two people in critical condition.

So far, those have been this week’s most serious known casualties. By contrast, in 1967, the riots in Detroit left 43 people dead. In Newark, 26 people. And so on. But Trump is not only gleefully sociopathic himself, only too willing to order the US military to shoot at civilians or to declare martial law. Trump alone is capable of ordering a massacre of American citizens who never really counted as Americans in his eyes anyway. He also has an army of well-armed, sociopathic cultists who have been fantasizing for years about “civil war” against anyone defined, however vaguely, as not of their tribe.

This moment is very fraught. Trump tonight “offered” to send the military to Minneapolis. By morning, amidst the incendiary tweets, I expect he’ll extend the offer to Atlanta and New York as well. And perhaps Las Vegas, Denver, Columbus, and anyone else who’s interested.

Minneapolis’ crowds grew tonight despite a curfew, despite the arrest today of the cop who murdered George Floyd. In an age of social media, one radical action – the burning Thursday night of a police station in South Minneapolis – begat dozens more radical actions across the country today. If Trump tries to impose martial law he will quickly have an even more out of control crisis. THIS. WEEKEND. Because, if his follower(s), in one or another city, try to exact vigilante justice – and they egg each other on through social media as well – that will just inflame matters. There are millions of people who aren’t part of Trump’s America who will resist being targets of random violence. That’s how violent civil conflicts begin.

And all of this is in the midst of a pandemic that Trump is letting rage unabated. The crowds of marchers are going to cause even more of a public health crisis this summer. The resulting economic dislocation, in turn, will fuel even more desperation. Congress will be disinclined to help rioting cities.

But it’s the next few days that might determine whether Trump is exposed for the cowardly bully that he is, or whether he can permanently cement the autocracy of his dreams: To control social media, like the executive order he signed Thursday purports to do, shut down networks and newspapers that aren’t loyal, the “enemies of the people,” and ultimately ban all public expression of dissent. And above all, make the notion of free and fair elections a cruel joke.

The way dictators like Putin and Erdogan seized power in their once-democratic countries follows a pretty clear path. Trump is working from the same playbook, and this crisis, combined with a pandemic, might be his last, best chance to enact it.

Things are moving very, very quickly. Pay attention. Be smart. Know when to pull back, and when to push ahead. Stay safe. It’s time to be counted.

As the song went over a half century ago: Which Side Are You On?

The Logic of Rioting

Those on the right are fond of delivering sanctimonious sermons to those of us on the left about the human nature, the world that actually exists, and the non-existence of the world that one might wish would exist.

Very well then, let us discuss human nature and the world that actually exists for a while.

“But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.” — Martin Luther King

It’s not as if Blacks haven’t generally been upset at how law enforcement tends to treat them as a group for some time. This isn’t the first wave of rioting it has touched off, and if it remains unaddressed, it won’t be the last wave of it, either. In fact, in my entire adult life, I cannot think of any outbreak of widespread urban rioting in the USA that has not been triggered by police brutality against Black people.

Means for getting attention less extreme than rioting have been tried, and have generally proved themselves lacking. The last such campaign didn’t even involve breaking the law: it involved professional athletes silently taking a knee during the national anthem.

It didn’t work, of course. Under pressure of a White nationalist president, the NFL acted to oppress such athletes and stop their campaign.

That White nationalist president’s party has come to office twice in the past generation with a minority of votes, due to an archaic political system that gives reactionary White people a disproportionate voice in national affairs. All attempts to work within the system and correct that have failed.

It’s worse than that, actually: the system is so rigged against self-correction that there haven’t been any serious efforts made to correct it, because such attempts are so widely viewed as futile. The system is so rigged that even the supposed progressive party hasn’t made much change in its essential nature: Minneapolis, and the state of Minnesota, both have Democratic majorities in power.

Some will point out that the riots have so far failed, too. After all, racism and widespread police brutality still exist. There is some truth in this, but, the riots have been more successful at attracting attention than the less-extreme measures. Athletes taking a knee did not dominate the news cycle the way the rioting is.

The cold, hard fact is that rioting appears to just plain work in a key way that less-extreme measures fail to work.

To that we can add plain old human nature, and the observation that we are now nearly a quarter-millennium into the hypocrisy of a Republic founded on the supposed premise that all men are created equal, yet founded by the actual process of (to paraphrase Samuel Johnson) drivers of Negroes making yelps for liberty.

Such hypocrisy is bound to wear on those subject to the receiving end of it, and from time to time eruptions of widespread rage are therefore inevitable.

Would it be better if things were structured so that they didn’t get to the point of there being inevitable episodes of rioting? Of course it would!

Even that police station that was burned was still a structurally-sound building. It would have been far better to peacefully repurpose it into a library, a community health clinic, or some other facility dedicated to helping people instead of controlling them. Compared to that alternative, burning it was needlessly wasteful and polluting.

It would be a better world, but we do not live in that better world. We live in the world that actually exists, and the politics that actually exists must match both human nature and the world it exists in.

And, like it or not, that politics includes rioting.

Don’t like it? Work to change the whole damn system!