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The “Central Park Karen” is suing her former employer for firing her.

I hope she wins. Karening is gross. But it’s not your boss’s business.

Amy Cooper became the object of an internet “two minutes hate” last year when she called 911 on a Black bird-watcher who asked her to leash her dog, per the rules, and told the police he was threatening her and her dog. Unfortunately for her, the guy’s cellphone video showed no such thing.

The viral video was viewed more than 45 million times. Cooper was internationally shamed as an emblematic wielder of white privilege used to oppress people of color. The shelter from which she adopted her cocker spaniel two years earlier took the animal away. She was charged with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor. She eventually got her dog back, and the charges were later dropped after she completed racial-sensitivity training. The birder, Christian Cooper (no relation), declined to cooperate with the district attorney’s investigation.

Amy apologized the day after her confrontation. “I don’t know if her life needed to be torn apart,” Christian explained about his decision not to help the DA, saying he released the video to make a broader point about white society’s scaremongering about Blacks rather than Amy specifically. Yet Franklin Templeton Investments, where she had been a head of insurance portfolio management, decided to do just that, joining the pile-on in an epic display of corporate cowardice. “We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton,” the company tweeted.

You don’t have to approve of Amy Cooper’s Karen act or consider the nuances of her exchange with Christian (“I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it,” he told her, which might well freak out a nicer person than Amy) to see the danger in allowing employers to become judge, jury and executioner for her conduct, which occurred outside work and was unrelated to her duties for Franklin Templeton.

Executioner is no exaggeration. A certain rabid segment of woke America believes that those who misbehave ought not to be allowed to hold a job and thus not be able to feed themselves or their children. Let them die.

Speech, they say — and behavior — has consequences. Indeed, they do. And it did for Amy Cooper. Her 911 call resulted in public shaming and a movement to get her banned from Central Park. For several weeks, she worried that she might never see her dog again. The legal system considered her crime, deemed prosecution unlikely to succeed and settled for reeducation. The appropriate venue for sanctions, if any, is the justice system, not the workplace. Firing her was inappropriate. It ought to be illegal.

It is easy to imagine a case in which conduct off the job becomes fair cause for workplace cancel culture. Because the Associated Press had known and approved of news associate Emily Wilder’s online activism criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians before hiring her, they should not have fired her two weeks after she began in response to a write-in campaign by pro-Israeli Republicans. However, if the AP had not been aware of her stance and she had been assigned to cover the Middle East, a clear conflict of interest would have made it impossible for her to report credibly. In that theoretical situation, the AP should have reassigned her to a beat where she could be perceived as objective, or let her go.

All too frequently, workers are canceled by their bosses for engaging in speech that has no bearing on their job. A Berkeley, California, restaurant fired one of its employees because he attended the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. “The actions of those in Charlottesville are not supported by Top Dog,” read a sign on the hot dog joint’s door. “We believe in individual freedom and voluntary association for everyone.” Unless you’re a white supremacist. Then you’re supposed to be unemployed and homeless.

Bet that made the guy less racist.

The Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot prompted another surge of amateur detectives matching attendees to workplaces with the goal of getting them fired. An insurance company lawyer from Texas, an adjunct professor from Pennsylvania and a Chicago real estate agent were among many who joined the ranks of the jobless after their presence at the pro-Trump protest was unmasked.

Liberals have also been victims of livelihood cancellation. In 2004, Lynne Gobbell was famously fired by Enviromate, a company that made housing insulation, for driving to work with a John Kerry bumper sticker on her car. Because employment is at-will, neither Gobbell nor the right-wingers who have been canned over their politics had redress to the courts.

If the racist hot dog vendor and the rest broke a law (rioting, trespassing, etc.), let the authorities file charges. If the hot dog guy insults customers due to their race while at work, fire him. Except for egregious conflict cases — the Catholic Church shouldn’t have to keep you on the payroll if you blog that God doesn’t exist — employers should stay out of their workers’ outside-work activities. Free speech means nothing if you have to worry about losing your job, your health insurance and your home every time you open your mouth, carry a sign or say something on social media.

 

During last year’s campaign, Joe Biden promised to “listen to the scientists.” He repeatedly said his coronavirus-response policy would be “informed by science and by experts.”

On issues from the environment to teaching evolution in public schools to the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic, liberals often accuse conservatives of putting emotions ahead of facts. While recognizing that the scientific process of acquiring knowledge and putting hypotheses to an empirical test can and often does lead to shifts in consensus, we on the left claim to trust scientists such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease expert and unlikely media icon.

After Fauci and other authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told us to wear masks, Blue America listened. As of late June 2020, 86% of Democrats wore a face mask whenever they left home, compared with 48% of Republicans.

Now scientific consensus has changed. But lefties are choosing to ignore the new reality — not that it’s new. Beginning nearly a year ago , in July 2020, the CDC stated that wearing a mask outdoors was unnecessary unless one was less than six feet away from someone else. Aside from crowded events like rallies, sports and concerts, risk of outdoor transmission is lower than a rounding error.

Clarifying its long-held stance, the CDC said on May 13 that people need not wear a mask outdoors, unless they are in a crowd of strangers, or inside with their “pod” of friends and family members. Masking outside is “optional,” Paul Sax, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told The Washington Post — optional as in unnecessary.

Let’s pivot toward hope. Nearly half of American adults have been fully vaccinated, and Pfizer is vaccinating children ages 12 to 15. We can go outside, have fun and socialize within the new liberalized guidelines, yet too many people remain traumatized and grimly coasting on paranoid inertia. “It’s the return of freedom,” said Dr. Mike Saag, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Weeks after the latest CDC guidelines were issued, however, normalcy and freedom are still in short supply in liberal bastions like my neighborhood in Manhattan, where Biden won 91% of the vote. In compliance with the CDC, I walk outside without a mask because it’s unnecessary. Moreover, I’m fully vaccinated. Rules require that I put one on when I go into a store or ride the subway.

Furrowed brows, glares and general stink eyes still abound. My neighbors are ignoring the CDC as much as right-wingers in West Virginia did last summer.

One would expect attitudes to evolve with the passage of time, but that hasn’t been the case so far. When a fellow tenant confronted me recently about my masklessness in the lobby — where I’d been alone prior to her arrival — I informed her that I’d been fully vaccinated. “Everyone in the building has probably been vaccinated,” she said, “but here we still wear them.” I asked why. “It’s just the right thing to do,” she replied.

At a full-serve gas station in Manhattan, the attendant demanded that I put on my mask before giving me a fill-up. “We’re outside,” I pointed out. It was windy to boot. “The CDC says you don’t need a mask.” “I don’t care what the CDC says,” he told me. “I’m going to keep wearing a mask forever, like in Asia.”

Half-empty streets in majority-Democratic areas — where people are far more likely to get vaxxed — are still, CDC be damned, dotted with people wearing one or two masks on sidewalks where no one can be seen for hundreds of feet. Many of the bemasked will tell you that they have been fully vaccinated. You’ll see people jogging down lonely country roads, riding bikes and driving cars while wearing masks.

“You can understand that when people have been following a certain trend for a considerable period of time that it may take time for them to adjust” to the new mask rules, Fauci said on May 21. “So I would not say that that’s irrational. I’d say that’s understandable.”

Go ahead, wear a mask indoors if you want to, despite being vaccinated. Wear one outside if you feel like it. However, you are — sorry, Dr. Fauci — acting irrationally. What’s the point of the jab if you behave the same way as a year ago when we wiped down our groceries, bleached our counters and wore plastic gloves out of since-debunked worries over surface transmission?

Masks have devolved from medical imperative to virtue signaling. According to a May 5 Ipsos poll, 63% of vaccinated Americans were still wearing masks outdoors, down from 74% in April but still a surprisingly high number. That number ticked up to 65% the following week. President Biden has begun appearing in public with his face fully exposed, yet his supporters are not following his example.

What’s the harm in a fashion accessory that, as the vaxxed-yet-masked crowd informs you, merely tries to make other people feel more comfortable while also sending a subtle anti-MAGA message? It’s about thinking straight. Democrats can’t credibly claim the scientific high ground unless they adapt to the latest medical consensus.

You have the right to be anxious and illogical, not the right to be catered to. No one should wear a mask outside. Vaxxed Americans shouldn’t wear them at all.

 
• Category: Ideology, Science • Tags: Coronavirus, Masks 

Your opinion doesn’t matter — not by itself. No matter how heartfelt or important to you personally, your thoughts about Gaza or legal weed or the war on skinny jeans don’t mean anything merely because they reside inside your brain.

Your opinion matters only if you express it. Expression of an opinion doesn’t change anything unless it’s done effectively. Opinions expressed en masse, alongside others who share your views, are more likely to effect change — but that’s not enough to move the needle. What changes policy, what improves lives for the foreseeable future, what makes history on a radical scale is a sustained mass movement that expresses an opinion so aggressively that the ruling classes are forced to change course or risk losing their power and privilege to revolutionary overthrow.

American liberals and leftists have strong opinions on a variety of issues. But they express them on the couch or online rather than in the streets, where it matters. On the rare occasion when we venture into the public sphere, our protests are usually sporadic and unsustained, like the annual anti-Donald Trump women’s marches with the pink p—— hats, or militantly nonviolent, like the antiwar protests leading up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Neither had any effect. Lefty demonstrations rarely assume the dangerous character required to scare the powers that be: violent, or nonviolent while brandishing a credible threat of violence.

Last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests were an exception, continuing every day for well over 100 consecutive days in over 500 cities, involving between 7 million and 22 million people. Though mostly nonviolent, BLM demonstrations featured sufficient property damage and violence to lend the peaceful events a menacing swagger. Which is why BLM was effective.

Racist and brutal police are still a big problem. But BLM moved the ball down the field more than anyone would have expected previously. Defunding the police went from fringe to mainstream with cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco actually moving millions of dollars in their budgets. Chokeholds have been banned in dozens of cities. Confederate statues, the Stars and Bars at NASCAR, the names of sports teams and products whose names invoke the legacy of racism are biting the dust. Equity has become a policy priority for public educators.

Liberals, progressives and leftists should take note of BLM’s successes and emulate its tactics for other causes. It’s time to relearn the lessons of the 1960s. Street activism works when it’s sustained — and a little dangerous.

For the first time in memory, a majority of Democratic voters tell pollsters they support the Palestinians in their struggle against apartheid in Israel, and the brutal occupation and theft of land in the Palestinian Territories. Nice to see. But your disgust at the Israeli bombing of Gaza can’t be enough to help the Palestinians or pressure Congress to cut off the $4 billion in aid Israel receives each year from U.S. taxpayers. You have to fight for it.

Sixty-eight percent of voters want to add a public option to Obamacare. (And 55% want Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All.) The public option was one of President Biden’s campaign promises, but now he’s reneging. Two out of three voters is a big number, but Democrats won’t have to make good on their promises as long as we sit on our asses at home.

Sixty-three percent of Americans say they want the minimum wage to go up to $15 an hour immediately. Yet Democrats haven’t even announced a bill for their watered-down, half-hearted proposal to scale up to $15 by 2025. Biden and the Democrats talk to big-business donors and lobbyists, not you and me. Public opinion doesn’t matter by itself.

Want the U.S. to use its enormous military and financial influence over Israel to force movement toward a two-state solution that emancipates the people of Palestine? Get out into the streets. Stay there. Be militant. Don’t stop until you get results.

Want Congress to finally get serious about America’s insane for-profit health care system so that anyone who’s sick can see a doctor? Fill the streets of hundreds of cities for months at a time and refuse to leave until the corrupt fools in Washington see reason and let us join the numerous other nations that provide for their people’s basic needs.

Want a living wage for anyone who puts in a full day’s work? Don’t just think it; do it. Go out there and confront the cops. Refuse to be cowed. Make everything stop until employers are forced to do the right thing.

Last year’s BLM protests were fueled in size and intensity by the COVID-19 lockdown and high unemployment. Now that workplaces, schools and entertainment venues are reopening, it’s tempting to return to the ad-hoc passive activism of the pre-pandemic era. But wimpy succumbing to “free speech” zones to express grievances on the occasional Saturday or Sunday didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. We need to rock the streets every day, hard, as if it were 2020 or 1968.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Black Lives Matter, Israel/Palestine 

No one is blameless in the ongoing violent conflict between Israel and stateless Palestinians. Both sides target and kill civilian noncombatants. But let’s put an end to false equivalence. “A pox on both houses” is not a morally or politically sound response to the one-sided war between Israel and Hamas.

Israel wants war. If it wanted peace, it would have it.

Any attempt to assign all or most of the blame to one side in a long-running drama like the crisis in the Middle East is inherently pointless. No matter what arbitrary date or event in history you begin with in order to argue that it all started with this or that atrocity, someone can point to an earlier episode to which said act was a justifiable retaliation. Then there’s reality. Practicality and geography dictate that Israeli Jews and Palestinians (who are not all Arabs) have to live in the same country or (future) pair of countries and are economically intertwined and therefore must figure out a way to get along. The question for them and for the part of the world vested in the issue is: Which side has to compromise — and how — in order to achieve lasting peace?

In any conflict between the strong/rich and the weak/poor, the burden of compromise falls disproportionately upon the former for a simple reason: The latter have fewer concessions — financially, territorially, militarily — to make. The ongoing deluge of Israeli propaganda doesn’t obscure the obvious truth: If there is to be peace, Israel will have to meet the representatives of a future Palestinian nation-state 95% of the way.

Israeli citizens have fallen victims to Hamas rockets. Every death is a tragedy. No one should die that way. Unlike its citizens, however, the state of Israel is no victim. In this struggle, Israel is the clear aggressor.

Israel enjoys every advantage over its adversary. It has a seat at the United Nations; formidable moral authority created by its founding by the U.N. as a refuge for victims of the Holocaust; and the most powerful ally on Earth, the United States, which gives it $4 billion a year. Israel’s GDP is 13 times that of Palestine. The 15-year-old Israeli naval blockade of Gaza has driven the unemployment rate to a staggering 49%. Israel’s is 5%. Though many countries recognize Palestine as a state, it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to travel between the three Palestinian territories of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, much less overseas. Israel agreed to allow travel between Palestine’s noncontiguous regions in 2005 but has always ignored its commitment. Israel is a fully integrated part of the international community.

Israel steals Palestinian land. “Israel’s settlement enterprise and related infrastructure, including roads that are off limits to Palestinians, cover approximately 42% of the occupied West Bank,” according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding.

Israel’s F-35 jet fighters and sophisticated missile guidance systems reflect its extraordinary military prowess. Neither Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, nor Fatah, which runs the West Bank, has any air force. Hamas’ Qassam rockets are unguided pieces of crap that are easily intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system. As a result, death counts between the two sides are always lopsided. In the summer of 2014, “more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and 7 civilians in Israel,” according to the BBC. At this writing, 192 Gazans and 10 Israelis have been killed in this month’s battles.

Regardless of where you stand on the existence of Israel as a Jewish state or who is more to blame, it is important for the sake of logic and reason to ignore the silliest and most intellectually bankrupt lines of propaganda used by the wealthy and powerful Israelis to justify bombing the desperately poor people who live in one of the most densely populated places in the world.

Foremost among these is the human-shield argument used to give cover to actions like destroying four high-rise buildings in Gaza that Israel claimed were used by Hamas. “Those buildings also contained homes and the offices of local and international news media organizations,” noted The New York Times. “The building contained civilian media offices, which Hamas hides behind and deliberately uses as human shields,” the Israel Defense Forces explained in a tweet, which probably doesn’t match the coverage of the Associated Press or Al Jazeera disrupted by the blasts.

Occupiers from the Nazis in Europe to the Americans in Iraq always complain that resistance fighters hide among the civilian population. Why, they complain, don’t these cowards put on proper military uniforms, build easy-to-see military bases and come outside to fight like real men? The question is so prima-facie silly that leftists dismiss it with an eye roll. But right-wing corporate media repeatedly give the human-shield argument so much currency that it requires a direct response. So here it is.

Outarmed and outmanned indigenous resistance organizations like Hamas and Islamic jihad do not “hide” within the civilian population. They live among the people, as Mao wrote in 1937, as a fish swims in the sea. Che Guevara echoed the sentiment, noting that “the guerrilla fighter needs full help from the people” or he will be ratted out to the authorities. Hamas fighters often are civilians, driving a taxi or teaching school during the day and fighting at night.

If an oppressed people like the residents of Gaza could support a regular army and had the manpower, training and material to construct and protect a military base, they wouldn’t be oppressed or occupied. Israeli troops couldn’t invade them. They could defend their territory from airstrikes and retaliate effectively.

If the Palestinians were able to fight “fairly,” as the IDF and its allies in the media say they would prefer, they would be full-fledged citizens of a fully sovereign Republic of Palestine; they would have a seat at the U.N.; and none of this would be happening again.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Gaza, Israel, Israel/Palestine 

Riding in the back of a truck into Afghanistan during the 2001 U.S. invasion, a journalist colleague from Russia who served in the Red Army during the 1980s asseverated that he was happy to be back in country. “Because this time,” he said, swinging his hands to indicate the swarms of refugees, bombed-out villages and nearby artillery fire, “all this s—- belongs to you .” He pointed at me, the American. I looked around and immediately drew the obvious conclusion: We should get the hell out of Afghanistan.

That was 20 years ago. We were just getting in. But us being us — trying to win hearts and minds with corrupt proxies — and the Afghans being the Afghans — only able to agree on one thing, their intolerance of foreign domination — humiliating defeat and withdrawal were inevitable from the start.

It would be impossible to overstate the advantages of not doing something, of not playing any role, of standing aside and allowing a situation to evolve or devolve without any involvement on your part. Like in the movie “War Games,” you win by doing nothing.

This is a lesson that American foreign policy makers need to internalize more than any other. So do American voters, constantly tricked into lesser-of-two-evils conundra. We don’t have to vote for either lousy candidate. We don’t have to get involved in other countries’ politics or wars. When all the options in a given situation stink to high heaven, the morally correct choice is to sit on your hands and let someone else wallow in the morass.

The latest ebullition of violence between Israel and Palestine makes the case for isolationism. Militant right-wing Jewish settlers encouraged and protected by the government of corrupt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are trying to evict hundreds of Palestinian families from homes they have owned for decades in East Jerusalem, the Arab-dominated future capital of a Palestinian state, if one were ever established. The settlers argue in court that the land in question was originally owned by a Jewish trust and should revert accordingly. However, as The New York Times notes, the apartheid regime treats people differently depending on their ethnicity: “Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim ownership of land they vacated in 1948, but denies Palestinians the right to reclaim the properties they fled from in the same war.”

The Israelis are brutalizing protesters and bombing Gaza; the Hamas government of Gaza is firing rockets into Israel. As usual, Israel is deploying disproportionately more violence: Sixty-seven people in Gaza and seven people in Israel have died so far.

The United States government sometimes pretends to be an “honest broker” in the Middle East crisis. Truth is, we have our fat thumbs on the scale, and everyone knows it. The abyss between our yay-peace-and-democracy rhetoric and the reality of our foreign policy is a steaming pile of hypocrisy.

The U.S. turns a blind eye to Israeli violence and theft of Arab land, rarely lifting a finger to move toward a two-state solution while loudly decrying Arab violence against Israelis. The U.S. sends $4 billion a year to Israel — enough to give free health care to 1.4 million Americans if we wanted to. President Joe Biden recently restored $235 million in assistance to the Palestinian Authority that had been cut off by former President Donald Trump — less than one-sixteenth of the package to Israel.

When the Israeli Air Force bombs apartment buildings full of civilians in densely populated Gaza City, Palestinians could get blown to bits using guided bombs and missiles fired from F-16s and F-35s made in Texas and California. The IDF reportedly targets street demonstrators in the West Bank with teargas canisters and stun grenades fired from launchers manufactured by a company based in Pennsylvania.

Israel’s mayhem is brought to you by America. Few Americans are aware of that. But Palestinians and Muslims around the world are.

Even if you support the existence of the Jewish state, and even if you think the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel goes too far, you should be able to view ending U.S. military aid to Israel (without boycotts or other sanctions) as a moral imperative. It would also be a smart foreign policy choice that would reduce global anti-Americanism as well as the chances of a future 9/11-type terrorist attack.

Contrary to Likud Party propaganda, cutting off military assistance would not create an imminent existential threat. Between the $85 billion of U.S. aid to Israel since 1949, its robust economy and closer ties to many of its Arab neighbors, there is little danger that this tiny, ferocious country would get pushed into the sea. And if that were to change, we could reevaluate the situation and resume funding — assuming Israel were to decide to try and make peace and cooperate with the establishment of a free and independent Palestine.

It is hardly surprising that Israel’s right-wing government cashes the blank check we send every year to do whatever the hell it feels like. The only way we can hold Israel accountable for repeated escalations, land grabs and ongoing brutality is to stop sending the gravy train. Will cutting off the cash change their behavior? Maybe. Whatever Israel decides to do on its own, however, it will do without our blessing and without our funding.

Often, the best thing to do is nothing at all.

 

As people of good will celebrate or merely breathe a sigh of relief in response to the conviction of Minneapolis former police officer Derek Chauvin for the videotaped murder of George Floyd, it is worth noting that this victory likely would never have occurred had it not been for a spectacular act of property destruction.

Yes, there was that damning video. True, the police chief testified for the prosecution. Those factors caused Chauvin’s rare conviction. But you can’t convict unless you indict first — and there was no move to indict Chauvin before city officials were scared into filing charges.

Floyd was killed May 25, 2020. Three days later, demonstrators burned down the Minneapolis Third Precinct police headquarters, which had been abandoned by fleeing cops. On May 29, the next day after the conflagration, prosecutors announced charges against Chauvin.

In October 2020, a member of the right-wing “Bugaloo Bois” was charged with setting the building ablaze. But no one knew that right-wing infiltrators had been involved at the time of Chauvin’s arrest.

Throughout the modern history of the American left, there has been a raging debate between militant pacifists who believe violence has no place in the struggle for political emancipation, and revolutionaries who think powerful institutions and individuals will never relinquish control or allow the radical solutions we need to our worst problems unless they face violence or the credible threat thereof.

(Many on the left do not believe that destruction of property is a form of violence. Ignoring this question in this essay because it would be a distraction from the issue at hand, I use “violence” here as shorthand for any act of political resistance or protest that goes beyond physical passivity, including vandalism, arson, etc.)

From the 1980s until the current Black Lives Matter movement, the pacifists won the argument. Marches against Reagan’s budget cuts and globalization, LGBTQA demonstrations and antiwar protests were coordinated with local authorities to obtain parade permits and internally disciplined by the ironically violent “peace police,” who separated violent pro-“black bloc” marchers from the cops. When I raised the temperature of my speech to the Occupy rally in Washington, D.C., shouting pacifist organizers dressed me down afterward for what they believed to have been incitement.

No one sane is against nonviolence as a tactic against oppression, even the dominant tactic to be used against a system we primarily oppose precisely because of its violence at home and abroad. But no one intelligent, no one who studies history, can deny that revolutionary change — the sweeping transfer of power from one class to another — has never resulted from the victory of a purely nonviolent movement. Indeed, the past 40 years of leftist activism in America, a period 99% characterized by nonviolent protest, is a case study in failure. Reagan’s destruction of the post-New Deal social contract was thoroughly internalized by presidents of both parties, including Barack Obama. Outsourcing American jobs and crushing labor unions is standard practice. We fight one war after another, none justified, all of them doomed efforts, though we can’t admit it. We can’t even increase the minimum wage.

No one knows whether the conviction of Chauvin will set a precedent that holds cops accountable for killing unarmed suspects in their custody. Personally, I doubt it. Very few police killings play out on video over nine minutes; defense attorneys can create a bucketload of reasonable doubt among jurors who wonder what they would do in the course of a few confusing seconds. As Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey pointed out before Chauvin was charged: “We are not talking about a split-second decision that was made incorrectly. … There’s somewhere around 300 seconds in those five minutes — every one of which that officer could have turned back, every second of which he could have removed his knee from George Floyd’s neck.” Frey called for Chauvin to be charged, but only after two days of rioting raised fears that the police had lost control of the city.

That’s when city officials decided to throw Chauvin to the wolves in a trial with a surprising feature: the police chief testifying against one of his own officers.

What we do know is that Chauvin’s conviction was a rare victory for a left unaccustomed to winning even when, as in the case of the brutal beating of Rodney King, the facts are not in question. We also know that that victory followed days of riots punctuated by a spectacular act of violence that terrified the powers that be into doing the right thing.

 

If you don’t dig deep, Joe Biden appears to be governing as the most liberal president since Lyndon Johnson. But conservatives needn’t worry. Biden is no progressive in centrist’s clothing. True, the president’s legislative agenda — after the coronavirus relief bill, which was undeniably progressive — would expand the social safety net, increase direct aid to citizens in trouble and pay for this expansion of the federal government with tax hikes the way we leftists like them (on corporations and rich individuals). That is, if passed.

Which it won’t. No one, Biden least of all, expects Congress to approve his big infrastructure or education packages. Recalcitrant Republicans and reluctant red-state Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia will probably water the proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill down to virtual under-$1 trillion insignificance. The $1.8 trillion education proposal, which would be funded by a capital-gains tax increase the GOP hates, is an even more desperate Hail Mary pass.

These bills aren’t serious attempts to legislate. Bidenism is a series of rhetorical feints, window dressing, kabuki theater designed to fail, just like Biden’s half-hearted, dead-on-arrival attempt to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Since the Senate parliamentarian ruled against attaching it to the stimulus package, increasing the minimum wage hasn’t been spoken of again.

The president’s agenda isn’t really an FDR-scale new New Deal. His true goal is to silence his party’s restive progressive base with so much slobbering lip service they won’t know how to hate him.

It’s working so far.

Biden had a front-row seat to the centrist-progressive split that tore the Democratic Party apart over the past quarter century. Though former President Bill Clinton’s politics of corporatist triangulation triumphed, early signs of trouble from the left emerged in the form of the anti-globalization movement and the 1999 “Battle of Seattle” that disrupted a meeting of the World Trade Organization. A full-fledged leftist rebellion began in 2011 with the Occupy Wall Street movement. OWS went after then-President Obama and establishment neoliberal Democrats, setting the stage for Bernie Sanders’ surprise insurgency in 2016. Damage from that split hobbled enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton, contributing to Donald Trump’s upset win and a slate of presidential primary contenders forced to lean left in 2020.

Biden has drawn the lesson from Obama and both Clintons that dividing his party by stiff-arming the left doesn’t pay in the long run. His center-left incrementalist policy orientations don’t much differ from those of his predecessors. But his style is friendlier.

Clinton had one progressive Cabinet member, Labor Secretary Robert Reich, for a single term. Obama had none. Biden has appointed several. He populated second-tier federal posts with lefties and consulted with former Sanders and Warren staffers during the campaign. Now he’s pushing legislation that, though doomed, comes as a pleasant, symbolic surprise to the progressives traumatized by decades in the political wilderness.

“The Biden administration and President Biden have definitely exceeded expectations that progressives had,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, leader of the democratic socialist “Squad” in the House, told a virtual town hall meeting. “I think a lot of us expected a much more conservative administration.”

Biden’s approach is clever. Hey, man, we’re asking Congress for big, bold, progressive legislation. It’s not our fault there’s a filibuster and a 50-50 Senate.

It’s tough for lefties to argue.

The president may not hold a royal flush. But he’s hardly making the most of the hand he has been dealt either. From immigration to minimum wage to education, there is no indication that the administration is twisting arms or using its bully pulpit in the form of campaigning directly to the people in order to pressure his opponents — an approach used to great effect by Ronald Reagan even though Republicans didn’t control both houses of Congress, as Democrats do now.

Other members of the Squad see what Biden is up to. Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota wrote Biden to ask him to overrule the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling to detach the $15 minimum wage from the COVID-19 relief bill; Biden refused. Omar slammed Biden over reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were planning to complete the gaps in “Trump’s xenophobic and racist” border wall on the Mexican border. Silence from the White House. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts deplored Biden’s refusal to forgive up to $50,000 in college student loan debt. No luck there either.

Joe Biden plays a surprisingly progressive president on TV. But it is far from likely that he will leave behind a sweeping legacy that matches his rhetoric or his trial-balloon legislative offerings — not because he was beaten by Republican meanies but because he never really intended to try.

 

We’ve been in Afghanistan 20 years, Joe Biden’s generals told him. All we need is a little more time. The president overruled them, ordering a complete withdrawal of American troops by Sept. 11.

Madiha Afzal and Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution articulate the opposition to Biden’s decision to call it quits. Remove the U.S. occupation forces that have maintained stability, they worry, and civil war will soon follow, culminating in the overthrow of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul and the return of the Taliban. They think it will be the late 1990s all over again: women back under burqas, stonings, 14th-century Islam providing a safe haven for anti-Western terrorist groups like al-Qaida.

“(T)he most likely outcome of any quick troop exit this year is very ugly, including ethnic cleansing, mass slaughter, and the ultimate dismemberment of the country,” Afzal and O’Hanlon write in USA Today. “No one can see the future, of course, but this type of outcome seems much more likely than any smooth transition to a new government run by a kinder, gentler, more moderate Taliban.” They urge a slower long-term drawdown.

I think they’re wrong.

I’m not clairvoyant. Yet I did foresee that the U.S. would follow the British and Soviet armies and meet defeat in the Hindu Kush: “We’ve lost this war, not because they’re good or we’re not, but because of who we are,” I wrote from Afghanistan in December 2001, where I worked as an unembedded reporter for The Village Voice. “The American Empire can’t spend the bodies or the time or the cash to fix this crazyass place, because in the final analysis, election-year W. was right — we’re not nation builders.”

Unlike the Brookings authors, I’m more optimistic about Afghanistan without U.S. occupation forces than with them. First, whatever stability the U.S. and its allies have brought to Afghanistan is as artificial as the finger of the Dutch boy plugging the hole in the dike. The rural-based Taliban are like the sea, an inevitable force waiting to pour in. Whether or not we care for the end result, we can’t forestall the inevitability of a people’s self-determination at the cost of American and Afghan lives.

More importantly, the coalition presence has changed Afghanistan forever. When the Taliban ran most of the nation from 1996 to 2001, their draconian measures satisfied a desperate need for security in a place overridden with banditry, opium trafficking and addiction. Infrastructure was nonexistent: no phones, no electricity, no paved roads, no central monetary system. Afghans asked me to take their photos with my digital camera because no one owned a mirror; this was the first time in their lives they could see themselves.

Though security remains an issue, the coalition has built roads and highways throughout the country. We haven’t built a nation. But we have installed stuff. Cellphone service is more reliable and affordable than in the U.S. Cities like Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat are bursting at the seams with new construction. Access to the internet is widespread in urban areas. Mineral and oil reserves, previously untapped due to lack of capital investment, are beginning to come online thanks to China and other countries.

Two decades of occupation have changed culture in surprising ways. Herat, in the northwest near the borders with Turkmenistan and Iran, was dotted with pizzerias when I was there in 2010. Young men in Mazar brazenly ignored strictures against drinking and eating during the daytime during Ramadan. I saw a couple making out in a park in Kabul.

The Taliban — or, more precisely, the neo-Taliban who have replaced the Taliban — are more moderate because they operate in a modernized environment.

Though they share their name and religious fundamentalism with their ascetic forebears who grew up in the madrassas lining Pakistan’s tribal areas, today’s neo-Taliban are sophisticated cynics, men more concerned with making money than enforcing sharia law. The Taliban burned poppy fields. The neo-Taliban profits from them. The Taliban first gained popular support in 1996 by killing kidnappers. The neo-Taliban runs checkpoints and ambush points where they seize victims and hold them for ransom. So while the world has just cause for concern about what happens next, we should understand that forthcoming evils will be new ones, not a simplistic replay of Taliban 1.0.

In a country where every gunman is for hire, the regime installed by the United States in 2001 relies far more on funding than direct military defense. With more than $12 billion in aid pouring in from last year through 2024, the government led by Ashraf Ghani could easily outlive most expectations. Still, it’s not hard to imagine the U.S. and its Western allies losing interest and cutting the cash flow after 2025, opening a power vacuum that the Taliban — which either fully controls or vies for control of 67% of Afghan districts — would fill.

Concern that Afghanistan will return to the barbarism of the late 1990s and that Afghan women will suffer dramatic setbacks is misleading because, in the rural majority of the country, the politics and culture of the late 1990s never disappeared. Women never stopped wearing the burqa and continue to be stoned to death, most recently last year in the Ghor province. Young boys are routinely raped. Were the Taliban to return to national power, life in most of Afghanistan wouldn’t change.

Nor would the more liberal cities be greatly affected. Afghanistan’s economy generates nearly $20 billion in annual gross domestic product. An incoming national government run by the profit-oriented neo-Taliban would be hesitant to interfere with the engine of that economic activity, the big cities and the “ring road” highway network that connects them. We would probably see a crude version of the “one country, two systems” form of governance that China uses in Hong Kong: girls schools and tolerance for personal freedoms in central Kabul, sharia law and grinding poverty out in the sticks.

As demonstrated by their engagement in the Doha peace process overseen by former President Trump’s administration, the neo-Taliban want trade and formal diplomatic ties with other countries, something the Taliban could not obtain from 1996 to 2001, when they were totally isolated from the rest of the world. The need to maintain international connections would be a moderating influence, making worst-case scenarios like harboring extremist groups, ethnic cleansing and disintegration unlikely.

None of this is to say that Afghanistan will become a Central and South Asian paradise if and when the neo-Taliban come to power in Kabul. The corrupt and dogmatic neo-Taliban will likely function as an authoritarian narcostate with trappings of rough religiosity, like a hardscrabble Saudi Arabia that exports heroin. Afghanistan will present new challenges. But it will be mostly up to the people of Afghanistan — traumatized, energetic and influenced by 20 years of Western values — to address them.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, American Military, Joe Biden 

The killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright by a Minnesota police officer during a traffic stop is the latest in a long line of high-profile shootings to have sparked widespread protests. As often occurs after these terrible incidents, politicians and editorial boards are floating ways to turn Robocop into Officer Friendly.

The trouble with mainstream proposals is that they would nip at the edges of a systemic problem, assuming that the cabal of powerful police unions were to allow their implementation. Nothing short of completely destroying existing police departments and their methods will fix policing that is authoritarian, predatory and violent to its core. We must radically reinvent the purpose, personnel and posture of police officers if Americans seriously want to free people of color (and everyone else) of the abject terror they feel each time flashing lights appear in their rearview mirror.

Many recent killings of Blacks by police followed stops or detentions over trivial matters. Brooklyn Center police said Wright was pulled over for an expired motor vehicle registration on his license plate; Wright told his mom the cop had an issue with an air freshener hanging from his mirror, a classic “pretextual stop” in which the police use a BS ordinance as an excuse to search for drugs or run plates for outstanding warrants.

The Texas state trooper whose arrest of Sandra Bland was followed by her death in jail three days later had a long history of zooming up behind cars so the driver would yield the lane and then writing the flustered motorist a ticket if he or she forgot to signal a lane change, as he did to Bland. George Floyd, whose videotaped asphyxiation under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer provoked outrage, was arrested after spending a counterfeit $20 bill. Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who famously cried, “I can’t breathe,” while being held in a chokehold by a New York Police Department officer in broad daylight and later died, stood accused of the heinous crime of selling “loosie” individual cigarettes.

None of these alleged offenses are the kind of cops-and-robbers scenario we watch on TV or the exciting manhunt for a dangerous criminal that makes kids want to join the police. Which makes them typical. A generic interaction between the police and a citizen who pays his salary is a traffic stop. A traffic stop is an attempt by the cop to bring money to municipal coffers: A smog inspection sticker is out of date; a headlight isn’t working; the victim made a bad turn or is driving too fast.

You could, and cops do, argue that these are issues of public safety. If the authorities really wanted to disincentivize reckless behavior, however, a fine would not be the solution. After all, rich people don’t mind paying tickets. Failing to keep one’s car properly maintained or repeatedly exceeding the speed limit could be sanctioned by non-financial inducements such as suspending the offender’s license. Cops care about making cash, not keeping you safe. They are literally highway robbers.

If city officials need money, let them raise taxes. Policing should have nothing to do with revenue enhancement.

Whether the police resort to physical force ought to be directly connected to the level of violence of the suspected crime. Depriving the City of New York of tax revenue and local merchants of the opportunity to sell tobacco products was the most nonviolent crime imaginable; if Eric Garner had walked away after being confronted by the police officer, the safety of New Yorkers wouldn’t have been negatively impacted in the least. The same was true about George Floyd’s counterfeit currency and Sandra Bland’s supposed failure to signal a lane change, as well as Walter Scott’s broken taillight. Scott, worried about a warrant for overdue child support, was shot to death by a South Carolina cop as he ran away. If these master criminals choose to flee, who cares?

The purpose of the police should be to protect the public from dangerous people and things, period. The only time they should pull out a Taser, a nightstick or a gun should be when they or another civilian faces imminent danger of serious bodily harm.

The police have become increasingly militarized, from command structures that copy the army down to calling their cops “troops” to accepting decommissioned military hardware from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars to recruiting one-fifth of their members from the ranks of ex-soldiers. The blurred line between units that occupy war zones overseas and patrol in our neighborhoods should be sharply restored.

I would go further. Throw away the armored personnel carriers and bulletproof vests, yes, but also fire any cop who has been the subject of a civilian complaint about excessive use of force whether or not he or she was cleared by the fig-leaf internal affairs division, and start from scratch. Police departments have been accused of actively discriminating against applicants for being too smart, rejecting those whose IQs are “too high.” This is insane. Recruit liberal arts majors and intellectuals instead of lunkheads.

At many police academies, rookies are taught that their No. 1 job is to come home alive to their families at the end of each shift. That mentality breeds cynicism, insularity and the willingness to resort to violence even when it’s counterproductive.

A good cop cares most about getting you home safe and sound.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Black Lives Matter, Police 

Beginning in March 2016, I repeatedly and almost famously warned overconfident Democrats — who ridiculed me for saying so — that Donald Trump would probably win the 2016 election. Days after Trump’s “softly sensuous” inauguration, I accurately predicted the next four years: “Three scenarios show us what everyday life in Trumpian America will probably feel like: Third World dictatorships, prison and having an alcoholic parent.”

“In a dictatorship,” I noted, “particularly where the despot is a megalomaniac in the vein of a Saddam Hussein or a Muammar Gaddafi, citizens obsess over the Great Leader’s every move.” Never have the American people obsessed for four exhausting years over a president as we did over Trump and his autocratic style.

“People who have done time will tell you that it’s important to study the guards, particularly the sadistic ones,” I said. Like prison inmates, we studied Trump and his tweets and his strange, corrupt family incessantly in a vain attempt to isolate the methods to his madnesses.

As I concluded in January 2017: “It’s never fun to be Cassandra.”

Now it’s time to weigh in on what President Joe Biden’s first — and, despite his recent statement to the contrary, almost certainly only — term will probably look like.

Spoiler alert: It probably won’t last four years.

There’s a reason candidate Biden barely campaigned and almost never spoke extemporaneously, and that President Biden has only given one highly cringy press conference so far, a record low in the modern era. Biden, 78, is the oldest man to have taken the oath of office. And while a lot of 78-year-olds are physically vigorous and mentally sharp, Biden isn’t one of them.

Biden’s cabal of handlers from former President Obama’s era are doing their best to hide their fading commander-in-chief and his obvious-to-all-non-Democrats infirmities, running the country from behind the scenes. His media allies have sacrificed their last vestige of dignity in their heroic support for the Dems’ ridiculous “nothing to see here” narrative.

As professional gamblers evaluate the president’s health and political performance, posted odds that he’ll remain in office through Jan. 19, 2025 — when he’ll be 82 — have already plunged from 75% to 60%. My guess is that no one is more aware of Biden’s condition than Democratic National Committee bosses. They would like Biden to hang on until after the November 2022 midterm elections and then step aside in order to allow Vice President Kamala Harris a year of incumbency, which could bolster her case for 2024.

Biden can still read a speech. But he is a husk, a placeholder leader like Pope Benedict XVI, who, like Biden, was elected at age 78. Benedict resigned at age 85, citing old age.

Following Trump’s bipolar rule and violent departure from office, Biden’s courtly elder-statesman style and successful passage of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill has him enjoying high approval ratings. But failures of commission and omission lie ahead. It’s mostly downhill from here.

The next major item on the Biden administration’s legislative agenda is a $2.2 trillion infrastructure bill. Until recently, building stuff seemed like one of the few areas in which a bipartisan grand bargain might be possible. Now, however, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has united the GOP in opposition. With DINOs (Democrats in Name Only) such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia going wobbly, the bill seems destined for outright defeat or worse, because it only pretends to fix the issue and is severely diluted.

Voters judge presidential success and failure on two metrics. First, did the president correctly identify the problems people care about most? Second, did he fix those problems or at least do his best to try?

In part because they listened to progressives, Biden’s people wisely put money into people’s pockets to help them recover from the economic pain of the COVID-19 lockdown. As checks arrive this month, voters will feel warm fuzzies for the Democrats. But it wasn’t nearly enough. What happens in two or three months? Those single $1,400 payments, a tiny fraction of a whole year of fiscal pain, will be spent and gone. The eviction and foreclosure moratorium ends June 30. There is no indication that the White House plans another relief package.

Look for a long, hot summer as complacency deteriorates into despair.

Biden’s presidency will likely crash on the shoals of the country’s numerous long-neglected problems. Legislation to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour will be tepid to nonexistent. The same goes for student loan debt relief. Biden promised to add a public option to the Affordable Care Act, but there’s no sign of life there either. He talks a good game on racial justice yet offers nothing by way of forced federal reform of local policing.

If I’m right, the second two years of the administration will belong to Kamala Harris as of 2023.

She is young, charismatic and relatively energetic. She will make the most of her historical moment as the first woman of color to hold the nation’s highest political office; the media will be on her side. But if history repeats itself by punishing the party in power, Democrats will likely lose seats in the House and control of the Senate in the midterms, leaving her in an even worse position to get anything done in Congress. Nevertheless, she’ll be a formidable candidate in 2024.

As befitted him, Trump went out with a bang.

Biden will end with a whimper.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris