A Prediction on the Conventions

Published at 12:59 on 19 August 2020

The Democrats have done an exceptional job of making lemonade out of lemons, creating a slick and effective media spectacle in lieu of a standard, in-person nominating convention.

The Republicans will not do anywhere near as well as the Democrats have done, for the simple reason that their inability to acknowledge obvious facts (about COVID-19) prevented them from being able to prepare for a virtual convention as far in advance as the Democrats did.

In fact, key GOP’ers are doubtless starting to scramble like mad, now that they are realizing how badly their plans for next week’s convention fail to leverage opportunities as well as the Democrats’ plans have. It probably won’t much matter; at this stage, it’s too little, too late. To the degree that the Republicans change their plans, it will make things come off as hasty and ill-prepared.

“Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.” — Umberto Eco.

A Tale of Two Popular Rebellions

Published at 13:20 on 16 August 2020

One is in Belarus, where a strongman president is refusing to leave office after cheating his way to victory in a crooked election. Here’s what CNN‘s home page has to say about what’s happening in Europe today:

Another is in Bolivia, where a right-wing “caretaker” president, who should have held elections as promised last May, has chosen to cling to power by postponing them a second time (and counting). Here’s what CNN’s home page has to say about what’s happening in the Americas today:

The Washington Post has a similar story on its home page: there is one story on the unrest in Belarus featured, and none on the unrest in Bolivia.

But of course. The rebellion in Belarus is convenient to the interests of the US Empire. It seeks to unseat a pro-Russia president and replace him with one more friendly to Western interests. The one in Bolivia, by contrast, seeks to replace a leader convenient to Western interests with a socialist inconvenient to them (the democratic socialist MAS-IPSP has consistently been leading in preference polls).

Racism likely also plays some role: one rebellion is being staged by mostly indigenous people, the other one by white Europeans.

Both rebellions rightly seek to unseat authoritarians, yet only one is convenient to the interests of Empire and Capital, so only one has the capitalist-owned domestic media expending much effort trying to instill public sympathy for it.

So It’s Harris

Published at 11:27 on 14 August 2020

Could have been better, could have been a lot worse.

Yes, she’s “a cop” (actually, an ex-prosecutor), with all that implies. Look, it’s Establishment politics here. You were expecting something other than a helping of shit from Establishment politics? Dream on. Exactly what rock have you been living under?

But she’s not an Amy Klobuchar or Tim Kaine type. She is actually one of the more politically progressive US Senators. Michael Moore (an astute political observer and no Establishment figure) really seems to like her (Facebook post reproduced in its entirety below for the benefit of those without Faceborg accounts):

Kamala Harris! Biden could’ve swung right (Susan Rice), but he swung left. Kamala is one of the most progressive Senators in the US Senate and will, as Shaun King says, be the most progressive Vice President in the history of the United States. She is and remains one of the first co-sponsors of Bernie’s Medicare for All bill. In fact, go down the list — she checks nearly every box on Bernie’s platform: Living Wage, Choice, LGBTQ+ equality, peace, child care, etc.

It says a lot about Biden that after she rightly confronted him about race in that first debate that he held no grudge, no animosity. In fact, he might say it gave him pause and a chance to consider how his friendship with segregationist Senators might have been hurtful to people of color and that, even at this age, he can change, he can do better. As progressives, isn’t that at the core of what we stand for? Isn’t that the change we are fighting for? Our belief that America can do better and that our fellow Americans will join us in this movement for a more just and equitable society? Kamala Harris is one more step in that direction.

I’ve met her a few times and I can tell you (and you know I won’t BS you on this because I pretty much despise all politicians), she’s sincere, she has heart, she’s on our side. No, she’s not you or me. But we’re not on the ballot. WE are the movement, which in the long run is what is going to get us what we need. We keep building that movement, we will succeed. And one of our missions in 2020 is to crush Trump, reclaim the Senate and bring down the system of greed, racism, misogyny and white male privilege that gave us Trump — because that, my friends, is what has thrown us into the mad, dark hole we’re in. Our movement is on fire now, tens and tens of millions of us in the streets, at the polling sites, at home, organizing online, young people at the forefront, Black America once again saving us and forcing us to be what we say we are but never were. This is our moment.

And it is now the daughter of two immigrants, born in the last ten weeks of the Baby Boom (but seemingly with the soul of a millennial), possessing skill and smarts, a woman of color who could and did obliterate Bill Barr at a Senate hearing — she and we have a chance in 83 days to do something the entire world is desperately waiting for us to do. Good on you Joe Biden, congrats Kamala, onward!

That she has the other baggage associated with her is to be expected given the nature of Establishment politics. See the second paragraph of this post.

Remember, those of us seeking radical change can never expect the Establishment’s mechanisms to easily yield it. When we vote, we vote not for what we want, but for the sort of opponent we want to face. And a Biden Administration makes for a much more favorable opponent than a second Trump term would.

Where We Are Now: Addenda

Published at 10:05 on 14 August 2020

The biggest oversight in my recent post is its failure to consider any potential role the Supreme Court might play.

The Court may well play a pivotal role, much like it did in 2000 with Bush vs. Gore. As I wrote several years ago:

Nobody much likes to admit it, but the show that Supreme Court justices put on about adhering to higher principles rather than just going for what their gut wants is quite often just a show. Witness how often conservative justices forget about states’ rights the minute they are asked to rule against a state doing something they consider unacceptably too far to the left.

This principle is likely to play to the Democrats’ advantage this time, despite how the Court tilts to the right. The Supreme Court’s conservatism tends to differ from the present-day “conservatism,” which is basically just warmed-over fascism centered around a latter-day Duce. This can be seen by how conservative justices have screwed Trump over in a number of their recent rulings, by siding with the liberal minority.

Fascism really isn’t very conservative in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, fascism holds contempt for very the status quo that conservatism is based around the reverence of. Conservative justices are heavily biased towards the doctrine of stare decisis, even when this hurts Trump and the GOP.

Plus we have the institutional bias of every justice on the Court to consider: they all, with the possible exception of Justice Kavanaugh, consider the courts to be an important institution, whose co-equal status amongst the three branches is to be jealously guarded and preserved. They know that if Trump is allowed to serve a second term, he will probably run roughshod over the Judicial Branch’s independence, much as he has already done over the Legislative Branch’s.

So the incentive is strong for a majority to rule against Trump in any big dispute that comes up. Higher principles will of course be cited, but the ruling will be what it is.

At that point, the military comes into the picture. Many of the generals don’t much like Trump, either, because so much of what he is flies in the face of military culture since Truman desegregated it. At the same time, that military culture considers intervening in politics anathema. A Supreme Court ruling favorable to the Democrats neatly solves the dilemma: the generals can merely state that Joseph R. Biden is the lawful president and commander in chief, and that they are merely executing his lawful orders.

This, in turn, neatly solves the frightening dilemma faced by the anti-Trump side: that we are, by and large, disarmed and helpless, while Trumpers are armed and willing to use force. If it comes down to an armed contest between the might of the US military and random ragtag weekend militias and rogue police unions, the US military wins, handily.

This fact is obvious enough to probably take much of the fight out of the pro-Trump side. Oh, there will still be fight in them, mark my words: we will be in for a period of domestic terrorism the likes of which this country has never seen, and this in and of itself presents risks, but the immediate conflict would highly favor the anti-Trump side prevailing.

It is important to note that action in the streets will play a role here. The unrest will prompt orders from Trump that the generals are queasy about following. It will further prompt conservatives on the Court to issue a ruling against Trump, as a means of quelling the unrest. Any favorable Court ruling will, in effect, constitute the system using its means to concede the demands of a popular rebellion.

Finally, note that none of this is certain. The Republic is already far closer to death than most are willing to acknowledge, and the illness may well prove terminal. While it is possible (and likely even probable) that the Supreme Court and/or the military may save the day, it is far from certain, and in that case the American left’s pathological obsession with pacifism, and its general aversion to arming itself, will prove to have been one of history’s greatest and most tragic follies.

Where We Are Now

Published at 14:18 on 10 August 2020

Disclaimer: My Vision Is Faulty

Specifically, I have a real blind spot when it comes to telling when, if, or which Republicans are going to push back. There’s no way I could have predicted that Marco Rubio would fall into line behind Trumpism, while Rick Wilson or Charlie Sykes would join the ranks of anti-Trumpers. More recently, Moscow Mitch’s pushback against Trump’s idea of cancelling or postponing the election came as a surprise to me.

This is all very significant, as we soon shall see, because it is of critical importance in guiding the course of likely future events. What I have tried to do here is to hedge my bets by considering the two major types of alternative, and to rely on the judgment of trustworthy others in those areas where my own vision falls short.

The Old Order Is More Dead Than You Realize

Since he has taken office, Trump has:

  • Enacted a Muslim ban via executive order,
  • Started building a wall along the southern border via executive order,
  • Staffed his Cabinet and agencies without the consent of Congress,
  • Successfully rebuffed Congressional subpoenas, and
  • Sought the influence of a foreign power in the electoral process.

Yes, in some of the above, Congress has tried to stop him. Tried, but not tried as hard as they could have tried. Tried, but failed. In other words, he has gotten away with it.

Such is as it has long been with Republican abuses of power, and the imperial presidency in general (i.e., regardless of party). There was very little accountability for the George W. Bush administration’s war crimes (remember, they outright used torture as an official policy). There was a lesson in this to Republicans, and that lesson was: you will get away with it. As such, Trumpism should really come as no surprise.

As it goes with the Republican Party, so it goes with Trump personally. He was a child of privilege, whose inherited privilege has taught him, time and time again, that laws and social norms are for the little people.

Given all that, and given what the polls say about his current popularity with the American public, of course Trump is going to attempt to prevent a free and fair election, one capable of unseating him, in November. Not only is he going to attempt it, it is entirely plausible that he will be successful in this attempt.

This much is virtually axiomatic; anyone who doubts it is a fool spewing nonsense.

But It’s Not Quite That Simple

At this point, my faulty vision gets in the way. To reiterate, I was actually surprised when McConnell and some other prominent Trumpers threw cold water on Trump’s postpone-the-election trial balloon, but throw cold water they did. Was that anomalous behavior, or was it a portent of a future trend? I honestly cannot say, so I must hedge my bet and consider both alternatives.

If There Is Pushback

It will probably happen after Labor Day. I am relying on the knowledge of Washington insider pundit types here; many of them have whispered that Republicans in Congress might become rats deserting a sinking ship if Trump is still polling as badly after Labor Day (now under a month away) as he is today.

The window is short. If it doesn’t start happening within a fortnight of Labor Day, I don’t see it happening. Realistically, if it doesn’t start happening within a week of Labor Day, I don’t see it happening, but I’m going to err on the side of caution by doubling the size of the window.

It will take an impeachment. This is because of how Trump’s entire life has shaped his personality. It will simply not be possible to convince him that it is in his best interests to adopt strategic long-term thinking (something he seems utterly incapable of) and act lawfully (when laws have never before presented serious obstacles to him). It will be necessary to force him from office. Any lesser measure will prove ineffective at ensuring an at least somewhat free election.

If There Is Not

It will still be necessary to force Trump from office. It’s just that, given that both impeachment and the electoral process will have been mooted, extralegal means will be necessary. I’m talking about a mass popular insurrection, the likes of which have swept many governments from power in many other nations throughout the world.

It will be possible. Six months ago, I would have been very glum about the prospects of this, given how shamefully passive most liberals had been up until then. Now, after the waves of Black Lives Matter protests, I am rather more optimistic about the prospects for free and open society continuing to exist.

I don’t think liberals are there quite yet, but I think the destruction of the electoral process will probably serve as a sufficient radicalizing agent to turn most liberals (and many centrists, and a few conservatives) into revolutionaries. Not full-fledged anarchist revolutionaries, mind you, but revolutionaries nonetheless.

The Stakes Are High

In 1940, during the early days of the Second World War, Churchill remarked:

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

Make no mistake, what we are fighting is the new fascism, and the stakes this time are every bit as great as they were eighty years ago.

The RTL-SDR Blog V3

Published at 10:35 on 6 August 2020

I purhased this device recently in the hopes it would solve the issues I’ve been having with attempting to decode P25 signals. Those hopes proved overoptimistic, but I’m opting to keep it. Despite costing approximately three times as much as the inexpensive one I ordered from an eBay seller in Asia over four years ago, we’re talking $25 versus about $8, not a huge price premium in absolute dollars.

The new device behaves basically as advertised: it is much cleaner and more stable, with vastly fewer birdies to contend with. It has a standard SMA antenna connector (I already have SMA adapters in my box or RF connectors and adapters), instead of an oddball (in the USA) PAL connector. It still has the same 8-bit analog-to-digital converter inside, so it has the expected dynamic range issues.

It’s over four times less expensive than the least-expensive 14-bit device I’ve been able to locate, and it works well enough for my purposes, so paying nearly $100 more for the next step up is not a justifiable expense. Just playing around in GQRX I was able to easily spot an automated marine weather station on 161.65 MHz that I had up to this point been unaware of, because on my old dongle it was lost in a forest of birdies.

That said, I have no complaints about the cheapo dongle I ordered years ago. It was a very inexpensive way to find out what software defined radio was like, and given the rock-bottom price, it was not realistic to expect top-notch performance. I still recommend ordering a dongle from Asia as a good, penny-pinching introduction to SDR. Just be careful and get one with the right chipset that can be put into general-purpose mode; some of them are useless for anything but receiving DVB television broadcasts (which makes it useless in North America, which uses ATSC and not DVB).

On the subject of GQRX, it has improved in the past four years. (I assume the gaggle of Windows-only SDR clients have also improved, but radio is a hobby for me, hobbies are for fun, and fighting with Windows is not fun.)

Revolution, Reform and the Way Forward

Published at 16:56 on 4 August 2020

It’s necessary to process some insights which I think are very difficult for many to process, because they require a conception of how broad the universe of belief systems is.

Human society is a very large and complex thing, and we struggle to understand it. By virtue of its very nature, different people get subjected to different aspects of it. That, plus different individuals’ preconceived biases, all interplay to create a world in which different individuals firmly adhere to vastly different ideologies.

And the thing is, for each adherent’s belief system, said system perfectly explains various things that life experience has demonstrated to the believer are beyond the shadow of a doubt true. These things are often the very same ones that have played a disproportionate role in that individual’s life.

The easiest and most natural conclusion for an individual to draw is that he or she (and his or her ideological comrades) are merely acting logically and rationally, while the entire rest of the world is either lying, evil, naïve, ignorant, or foolish.

And so it is on the issue of reform versus revolution. The reform camp sees the various revolutions that have gone very wrong (and there is no shortage of such examples, alas), the numerous examples of elections having demonstrable consequences, and comes to one conclusion. The revolution camp (disclaimer: this is the one yours truly aligns with) sees how political orders inevitably become ossified, how revolution played an indisputable role in securing the freedoms that do exist in bourgeois society, and comes to quite the opposite conclusion.

And the thing is, there is an iron-clad historical narrative, supported by clearly-demonstrated facts, to back up both Weltanschauungen.

Which brings us to the subject of the coming election. Adherents of Establishment politics, be they liberals or (never-Trump) conservatives, see the coming election as the critical thing, the only practical way of unseating Trump. That is despite all the evidence that history has already for the most part moved on from that old political order, like it or not.

Such is the natural outcome of mankind being for the most part a rationalizing, not a rational, animal: intellectual facilities are engaged, not to replace the emotional world of gut feelings with one of logic, but out of a desire to find a more lofty pretext with which to justify pursuing those gut feelings. The evidence in favor of the (to Establishment types) revered status quo being already mostly dead points to an unpleasant truth, therefore in the name of ignoring the truth, the evidence in favor of it is also overlooked.

The presence of such people is in turn an unpleasant fact that many radicals refuse to face. That is unfortunate, as our numbers are small: we are vastly outnumbered by adherents of Establishment politics. Complaining about how unfair this state of affairs is does nothing to challenge the indisputable fact that it is the current state of affairs.

What it all boils down to is that while it probably will take a popular revolution to unseat Trump, such a revolution cannot happen until electoral politics first fails, or at least shows all signs of failing to, achieve this same outcome. Trump’s successful interference with electoral politics appears to be the most likely motivator for vast masses of liberals and centrists to be radicalized into pursuing change via direct action. Absent that, we will simply lack the numbers needed for a successful insurrection.

Until this happens, it is the duty of radicals to quietly prepare for the opportunity and to wait for it. When the opportunity manifests, it will be our duty to not push people away from the struggle because they’re upset about the bourgeois concern of the election being meddled with. Revolutions must be pursued with the masses that actually exist, not the masses that radicals might wish existed.

There is a chance we won’t get there after all. Mind you, Trump definitely wants to give cancelling or indefinitely postponing the election the old college try. The question is how much support from the rest of the Republican Party there will be. Moscow Mitch definitely did not sound very enthusiastic about that idea when it was floated. Maybe he perceives that there’s limits to how much they can push things, particularly in light of how much unrest there has already been this summer. Maybe he has enough lingering garden-variety conservatism in him to still be repelled to some degree by fascism. Who knows? What matters here is what he does more than why he does it.

I’m following some insider Establishment type pundits, and they all say that the world may start moving after Labor Day; individual Republican politicians may perceive Trump as doomed and their personal chances as being better if they turn on him. If this happens, it will be a tipping point, and tipping points happen suddenly, unexpectedly, and rapidly.

But if Trump’s party does not turn on him (and, please note, the GOP has proven itself to be quite receptive to the idea of being a fascist party in recent years), then he very likely will be able to successfully cancel, postpone, or sufficiently invalidate the election to stake a claim to continuing in office.

If that happens, norms and laws (up to and including the U.S. Constitution) won’t help very much. Widespread popular insurrection will be the only option. It is the duty of those of us capable of seeing this to prepare for it, and to realize the nature and limitations of the sort of insurrection that will be possible.