Today’s USA versus Weimar Germany: A Comparison

Which political order was stronger and more committed to democracy? Which was more willing and able to defend itself against threats? It is a common trope that the American system is stronger and more firmly established than the Weimar Republic ever was. Let us put that claim to the test by examining the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, and comparing it to the events of 6 January.

The 1923 putsch attempt did not happen in Berlin. It happened in a regional capitol, Munich. Its original aim was to settle a party leadership spat within the NSDAP (Nazi Party) by seizing control of a beer hall. The law enforcement and intelligence failures that allowed it to happen were related to planned actions at a private target in order to manipulate a private organization in a regional capitol.

The 2021 putsch attempt happened in Washington, DC. Its aim was to seize control of the national government by murdering and coercing the Vice-President and members of Congress. The law enforcement and intelligence failures that allowed it to happen were related to planned actions directed against some of the highest elected officials of the national government inside that government’s Capitol building itself, with an aim of seizing control of and manipulating the national government itself.

The 1923 putsch quickly escalated beyond its original aims, and went on to attempt a coup against the state government of Bavaria. Its first target was the Bavarian Defense Ministry. The State of Bavaria did not hesitate to vigorously defend its Ministry against the threat to it. Four soldiers and 16 Nazis were killed in the resulting struggle. The Nazis were routed and retreated in disarray.

The US government failed to defend its Capitol. Ample footage exists of Capitol Police officers passively standing by. Footage even exists of a few officers appearing to welcome the invaders. The invaders quickly routed the Capitol Police and achieved control of the Capitol.

After the routing of the putsch, Weimar Germany acted decisively against the top perpetrators, who were all arrested within a few days. They were promptly put on trial, convicted of treason, and sentenced to prison for their crimes.

After the routing of Congress, the USA has yet to act decisively against the top perpetrators. Trump, Giuliani, Hawley: none have so much as been charged. They remain free, and the mainstream news media have normalized their conduct by interviewing them as if they are part of the spectrum of normal political actors.

Yes, the chuds who followed the instigators’ lead are being prosecuted. That is inconsequential compared to prosecuting the leaders. The chuds are disposable. More of them can be found to take the place of any rotting behind bars. It is the leadership that must be disrupted.

Weimar Germany is rightly faulted by historians for failing to do enough to disrupt the Nazi leadership after the threat they posed had been demonstrated. Well, as the score stands today, the Weimar state of 1923 was strong, forthright, and robust in comparison to the present-day American one.

Maybe that will change. Maybe the Department of Justice is busily getting ready to file formal charges against the instigators. One of the faults of the Weimar prosecution was that it ended up falling flat and failing to accomplish much: the guilty served under a year of time, in a country club prison, and were promptly rehabilitated and welcomed back into the political life of the nation.

If the Department of Justice is quietly taking its time to do it right, good for them. But if not, then the American Republic is already a corpse, and we just don’t realize it yet.

Maybe I’m Not So Irrelevant After All?

The Washington State Legislature passed an impressive array of bills on a variety of progressive wish-list topics, but one thing they did not pass was any sort of draconian gun control legislation.

Gun legislation was limited to one common-sense measure banning open carry of firearms at or near a political demonstration. Leftists are already thoroughly — and often aggressively — disarmed by the cops at demonstrations, anyhow, so all this amounts to is a legislative order to be more balanced and to target the righties who show up openly packing heat.

As a leftist who supports gun rights, this is encouraging. Our numbers might be small, but this indicates we are a decisive minority, and that our opposition to draconian gun laws probably helped doom them, by tipping the scales just enough to make them political non-starters.

Back to Rain Soon

We sort of won the lottery last weekend: a completely sunny, warm one. In fact, if you are a sun-lover we won the lottery for nearly a fortnight.

Well, that “lucky” streak is about to end quite decisively. It is looking like the temperature on Saturday might struggle to reach the mid-fifties Fahrenheit. Quite a change from the “spring tease” we have recently been experiencing. Or more precisely, the rainy and chilly relapse is itself part of that tease.

Fire managers do not consider this recent warm and dry stretch to be good luck; it has done a frighteningly good job of drying things out. There was in fact a grass fire near Chilliwack last week, and there have already been red flag (i.e. extreme fire danger) warnings issued in Oregon.

While warm and dry spells are not unusual in April, this one has been astoundingly warm, and in particular it has been astoundingly dry. It is the low dew points that have done as much to dry things out as have the warm temperatures.

It is my feeling that the anomalous nature of this warm spell is probably related to global warming; however, that is only a hunch and it will take further data to establish the trend and settle the question.

Enemies of taking action on the climate crisis are fond of pointing such things out; however, it is critical to keep in mind that settling such questions and the issue of whether or not to take action now are two different matters. Although it is not possible to state the exact nature of the disruption that climate change will cause, it is still quite clear that odds are extremely high there will be significant disruption of some sort, thus common prudence dictates taking action so as to minimize those consequences.

It feels tedious to have to point the above out, but having to do so is simply a natural consequence of living in a political system badly divorced from obvious reality.

Anyhow, I hope everyone enjoyed how warm the last weekend was, because the coming one certainly will not be.

Not a Complete Surprise

Yesterday’s guilty verdicts were not a complete surprise to me, for two reasons:

  1. Darnella Frazier’s decision to whip out her cell phone and film nearly ten minutes of George Floyd being strangled to death.
  2. The collapse of the so-called Blue Wall. Even the chief of the Minneapolis police testified that what Chauvin did was not justified.

The two are related. Had it been a shorter video (or had there been no video at all), the cops would have been able to argue the standard bullshit of “that clip may look bad, but it takes things out of context and once you know the whole story it’s not really excessive, policing is hard for civilians to understand, blah blah blah.”

Now, while it’s good to see a killer cop finally be held accountable, it is important to understand that at this stage what we have is basically a “dog bites man” story, an exception that proves a general rule. Although I could perceive the above two signs, and the verdict was not a complete surprise, it would also have not been a surprise if the system had failed to hold Chauvin to account, given how poor its overall track record is in this regard.

The guilty verdicts were not a slam-dunk. It would have taken only one different juror, and there would have been an 11–1 hung jury. There is no shortage of right-wing boot-lickers out there bemoaning the verdict, so this is hardly a far-flung scenario.

Where we were was basically an opening, where for once accountability was possible, but it was not highly likely. Where we are is quite similar: this could conceivably form a turning point, but it could just as conceivably prove to be an anomalous blip in a continuing dismal trend.

Where it goes is largely up to us, and by “us” I mean the people in general and not the political class. The latter has always had the power to do something about police brutality, yet until very recently has almost never done much about it. The only reason this was different was that a random teenager, an individual in no particular office of authority, was in the right place at the right time, and made the right decision about filming something despite the personal risks she faced in doing so.

As always, in the words of Frederick Douglass, “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

The Inevitable Finally Happens in Afghanistan

It was obvious from the moment it became crystal-clear that the US ruling class was not serious about Afghanistan, that the military operation there was doomed to failure.

It would have been an extremely heavy lift even if the ruling class were firmly committed to the pursuit of victory: the USSR, which had the advantage of Afghanistan being a neighboring country, had still been forced to retreat from Afghanistan in humiliation and defeat. That land is not called “the graveyard of empires” for nothing.

So there we had the USA, trying to chintz out on foreign aid to the Afghans, and getting promptly distracted by Saddam Hussein and launching a war of lies against his regime instead of focusing on finishing something already started in Afghanistan. The conclusion was foregone; the only question was how much time it would take before the inevitable happened.

The rationalizations put forth for invading Afghanistan were crap, too, by the way. The Taliban are vile, but really not much more vile than longtime US allies the Saudi regime, which engages in its own repression of women and has its own Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. So much as for harboring terrorists like Osama bin Laden, well, Pakistan did that, and it was possible to deal with bin Laden (poorly; he should have been arrested, interrogated, and tried, not summarily executed) in Pakistan by means that fell short of all-out invasion. But I digress.

What sucks now is that the Taliban is primed and ready to once more rule the roost there. Expect Biden to be blamed for that or any other immediate fallout from his acceptance of defeat.

In a way, he will have been responsible, though not in the immediately proximate way that Establishment rhetoric will paint him to be. Biden was one of the Democrats who fell for the Bush regime’s snow job about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. He deserves blame for that, and to be honest, he has in hindsight accepted at least some blame for it.

Again, US defeat became a foregone conclusion in about 2003. The only question was how long it would take to finally admit it. And Biden is not a unique president in this regard: Trump basically conceded the same thing, and was planning an even earlier pullout than Biden now is. So no matter what the outcome of the 2020 election was, the US was going to be pulling out of Afghanistan.

The Anti-Sanders Cult

Something interesting recently happened. Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed expanding Medicare to age 55 or 60.

One would think this would make many loyal Biden Democrats happy. Biden campaigned on a robust public option, and now Biden’s chief opponent in the primary has come around Biden’s own position and is proposing a form of a public option. He even watered it down a lot (Biden proposed a public option for everyone; Sanders is proposing it begin at age 55 or 60) to increase its chances of passing through a Senate where nothing gets through unless Manchin and Sinema support it.

The chief complaint from the right wing of the Democratic Party is that the party’s left wing is too idealistic, too impractical, and too unwilling to compromise. And now we have one of the leaders of that left wing proposing one of the very same “practical” things party’s right’s own horse in the race campaigned on, and compromising on it to increase its chances of passage!

Yet, by and large, there is no joy in Mudville. There is no shortage of grumping about Sanders and his proposal by that same crowd. Compromise, political reality, past policy positions: none of it seems to really matter. What matters most for many is the proposal came from the desk of Senator Sanders, and that means it cannot have any merit.

Remember that when you hear Sanders and his backers criticized as a political cult. There may in fact be such a cult, but there is also very much an anti-Sanders cult out there.

Thinking about Privacy Policies

I am in the process of developing and publishing an Android app to the Google Play store. Part of the process of doing so is developing and publishing a privacy policy.

Initially, I thought this would be super-simple: Don’t collect information, then there is nothing to share or to establish policies about sharing. Simple. However, in the real world, things are seldom so simple as they might at first appear.

The first complication came when I realized that although my app does not (and probably never will) gather and pass on usage statistics, the places from which users might download my app, which will include a web site run by yours truly in addition to the Google Play store, certainly will gather such statistics.

Virtually every web server on the Internet logs each and every request it receives, and these log messages typically contain, at a bare minimum:

  • The time a request arrived.
  • The IP address the request arrived from,
  • The URL of the resource being requested, and
  • Basic information on the user agent (i.e. web browser) used to make the request. Such information typically includes the operating system that the user agent was running under.

So, say you are an AT&T customer in Brooklyn who uses your Samsung Galaxy S21 to download a copy of my app. I (or Google) will be able to tell from your IP address that you are an AT&T customer in the New York City metro area. We may even be able to tell that you were in the borough of Brooklyn, and that you were using a Galaxy S21. If we share your IP address with AT&T Wireless, they will be definitely able to determine exactly who you are, what hardware you used, where you used it, and (if you were doing something unlawful and/or abusive) take action against you for what you did.

Some Internet users are shocked to discover this. If you are one of those, consider yourself educated.

Why is this done? Not always for nefarious purposes! In fact, not usually for such. Gathering such data can be extremely useful for dealing with things like abusive users (they exist), troubleshooting software and network problems (they are inevitable), or managing the growth of traffic to a web site or to a cellular network.

But it’s still pretty simple, right? So I am collecting basic usage statistics (and Google Play will doubtless collect some on my behalf that it can share with me in reports). Just do not share the information!

Well, there is the matter that I could end up in jail on a contempt of court charge for adhering to such a policy: what if a law enforcement officer or a process server arrives at my door armed with a warrant or a subpoena?

Okay, then, exclude that and nothing else. Solved!

Not so fast, yet again! What if my app becomes popular with violent white nationalists and neofascists? I am, after all, promising to gather a fairly minimum amount of information and to be as reluctant as possible in sharing it; that makes my app attractive to such individuals.

It also makes it attractive to those breaking laws to undermine oppression and to advocate for more freedom, which is my main intent. If that sounds reckless to you, just ponder that any oppressive order has always considered it a crime to undermine said order; revolutionary politics is intrinsically criminal politics. Lech Wałęsa was a criminal; Martin Luther King was a criminal; Mahatma Gandhi was a criminal. If the Founding Fathers of the United States had failed in their endeavor, they would have been prosecuted and for the most part executed for the crime of treason against the British Empire.

The only exceptions to the above rule are certain situations when the revolutionaries are judged to be sufficiently tiny in number and powerless so as to pose little or no threat to the established order. And as soon as they gain enough power to cease being so, watch out! The velvet gloves will be replaced by an iron fist.

But I digress. So now I must craft an exception for things like neofascist and white nationalist politics. While I do not want to, and do not have any intent to, regularly monitor the download logs, I want to be free to cooperate with antifascist organizations should my cooperation prove helpful to the cause of fighting fascism.

That, of course, begs the question of just what, precisely “neofascist and white nationalist politics” is. However I define it, it opens up the prospects of all sorts of word games: “No, I am not a ‘fascist,’ you stupid leftist. I am a ‘nationalist’ and an ‘identitarian.’”

Now I am stuck trying to anticipate those word games, all the while also having a privacy promise that still is meaningful to the vast majority of people, even people whom I might politically disagree with, who are nonetheless not fascists and whose beliefs must be accepted as part of the diverse spectrum of beliefs in any free and open society.

In the real world, things are seldom so simple as they might at first appear.

Danger, Joe Biden, Danger!

Make no mistake, the refugee crisis along the southern border represents a real danger for Biden and a real opportunity for the fascists.

The Democrats are already swimming against the tide: their majority in Congress is razor-thin, and midterm elections tend to go badly for the party that occupies the White House. A refugee crisis would be just the thing the fascists need to whip up their base and get people to forget what a disaster Trump was.

Remember how the Trump regime was rightly excoriated for the deliberate cruelty of its policy of separating children from their families? Well, now unaccompanied minors are showing up en masse at the border, asking for refugee status. They have, in other words, been pre-separated from their families, largely by the actions of those families themselves.

What does that say, that large numbers of families are now willing to impose the same cruelty on their children that hateful fascists once wished on them? The most logical explanation, I think, is that families are doing so because the conditions the children are experiencing when with their families, both in the refugee camps, and before the families fled their home countries, is so bad that, as bad as child separation is, it is being judged as better for the affected children.

Conditions, in other words, must be really bad for those refugee families.

Any solution to the crisis must therefore be focused on resolving that problem, and not just making things more difficult at the border itself. Such latter measures are unlikely to work very well. Most likely a massive military deployment (with shoot-to-kill orders), and the impressment of the survivors into Nazi-esque forced labor and death camps would do the trick, but obviously that’s beyond the pale for any civilized country to so much as contemplate.

Measures that fall much short of that are unlikely to be sufficiently discouraging. Remember, families are already volunteering to send their children into concentration camps that fall short of death camps. The border wall is both incomplete and porous (it is easy to defeat with standard tools, and smaller individuals, such as children, can squeeze through the slats).

The conditions that are pushing refugees across the border must be addressed. The quickest short-term fix would probably be to fund improvements at the holding camps in Mexico. Once COVID-19 is under better control, we can (and should) resume admitting refugees, and on a widespread scale.

The fascists will howl that the latter is being done to destroy their vision of America, and they would be right. This is very much a reason why we need more immigration to the USA.

Letting more immigrants in is good for many reasons, and one of those reasons is that it dilutes the power of the fascists, because recent immigrants tend not to become fascists. Immigrants, as a rule, simply make for better citizens of an open and free society than does Trump’s base of Christian fascists. It is probably politically toxic to admit this, however, so don’t expect any establishment figures to do so. (Such frankness is something I can get away with, because I am just a semi-anonymous nobody with a blog.)

That said, however, it is far better to not be compelled to flee one’s country of birth in the first place than to be admitted as a refugee in a foreign country. That is going to be a harder nut for establishment politics to crack, because it means questioning U.S. neo-imperialism, which is directly responsible for regimes like the one in Honduras (installed with the approval of the Obama administration) that are prompting so many to become refugees in the first place.

The bottom line is that Biden must move swiftly and decisively on addressing the issues that are forcing Central Americans to move north. Failure to do so would not only be a moral weakness, but a weakness from the standpoint of realpolitik as well.

Dumb Dems, Part Two?

In one of my more obvious (to me) insights, I correctly predicted that the Democrats would end up sorely regretting their decision to go nuclear in 2013.

Well, here we go again.

Or do we? The most likely measures fall short of an outright kill of the filibuster and are more a scaling-back of it. Of course, as the article linked above argues, that is likely to beget further scalings-back.

One thing that bears pointing out is that weakening the filibuster is less Constitutionally harmful than the continued evolution of an imperial presidency, and the latter becomes more likely if Congress is paralyzed by an unweakend filibuster. The filibuster is mentioned nowhere in the U.S. Constitution; it is merely one of the many “Rules of its Proceedings” the Senate chose to establish for itself per Article I Section 5, and it can just as easily weaken or abolish that provision as it first created and then strengthened it.

Yes, strengthened it. It is far easier to filibuster something today than it has historically been. A filibuster is nowadays mostly a simple matter of paperwork. It used to be the case that Senators opposing the measure had to actually be physically present and take turns speaking in order to talk a bill to death. In fact, returning to this past state of affairs is probably the most likely measure to be enacted.

In a real sense, this time, there is less room to maneuver. Fail to pass a new civil rights bill, and we head into a new Jim Crow era of near-permanent minority rule. So the Democrats’ hand is being forced in a way that it was not in 2013.

But this does not in any way change what Ruth Marcus wrote in the article linked above; a backlash is still likely to come. It is one reason for my general pessimism about the political future of the United States.

Relations with China Will Not Get Better

Really, this should come as about zero surprise; in fact, I predicted it back in 2019. (That was pre-pandemic, and I got many of the specifics wrong, but the general gist of relations swirling down the toilet with China not just being all Trump’s fault has aged well.)

Many Marxists foolishly supported (or refused to oppose) tyranny in the USSR, falsely believing that the principles of socialism would inevitably produce freedom despite the immediate result of the revolution in Russia producing a new and more oppressive tyranny. Many on the Right criticize such naïveté, and rightly so.

Well, it was equally stupid to think that a totalitarian dictatorship could inevitably be steered towards becoming an open society by the magic of capitalism and markets. Capitalism has proven itself compatible with states of profound unfreedom more than once, so it should come as no surprise to see it exhibit compatibility with so-called “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

A falling-out was going to happen regardless of Trump, so it should be no surprise that the end of the Trump era has not changed the general downward spiral of US/China relations.