Sunday, 1 October 2017

Taken What's Given

The range of thinking that views the Pledge of Allegiance as anything from a harmless ode to good citizenry to an important expression of respect for liberty does not entail a range of thinking at all. Accepting that kindergarten children will be made to recite the pledge daily is nothing short of obedience to doctrinairism, which could not be more at odds with liberty and is anything but harmless.

One can debate direct and indirect causes of the current climate in American sports until Sunday, but it's not a disrespect for a flag or that for which it stands that cause offense to the patriot consumer of a football game. It is rather their centuries long acclimation to the national tolerance of feel-good patriotism that has led to this affront to their authoritarianism. It's hostility rooted in ahistorically based hubris.


The anthem itself reads like the tale of an underdog having overcome an injustice to earn something it's entitled to. That underdog's birthright was first dibs on the genocidal quest to dominate the continent. It was not the first, nor would it be the last time they invaded someone under dubious pretenses:
But the June 1812 vote to go to war only narrowly passed the House and the Senate, and critics condemned "Mr. Madison's War" as a foolhardy adventure, motivated less by crimes at sea than by a lust for land. Indeed, the American offensive began with a land invasion of Canada. Why invade Canada? It was the closest British colony, but Madison also had political reasons for targeting America's northern neighbor. His Democratic-Republican Party drew much of its support from the rural South and what was then the American West — the territory stretching up the Mississippi basin to the Great Lakes. Frontier inhabitants were eager to strike at the British in Canada because they suspected them of arming Native American tribes that were standing in the way of America's westward expansion. Many Americans also believed that the invasion would be a cakewalk, and that ordinary Canadians were keen to shake off their British overlords. The "acquisition of Canada," predicted former President Thomas Jefferson, "will be a mere matter of marching."
Cakewalk. Greeted as liberators. Who are the greater American heroes: Madison and Jefferson or Cheney and Rumsfeld?

That military color guards trot out the red, white, and blue at so many public events is problematic enough. Under such conditions it was only a matter of time before it became part & parcel priority mail of the product they were pushing:
“Those of us go to sporting events and see them honoring the heroes; you get a good feeling in your heart,” Sen. Flake told NJ.com. “Then to find out they’re doing it because they’re compensated for it, it leaves you underwhelmed. It seems a little unseemly.”
Wait. You mean the NFL wasn't eager to stage on its own dime the worship of army men and women serving in... what country are they serving in again? That reaction from a certain Senator Flake begs the question. If there's a genuinely good feeling in anyone's heart, I've seen no evidence that it's anything but Pavlovian, which says nothing about the virtue of the alleged honor and least of all the unseemliness of the assumption of heroes.

At any rate it wasn't enough for the military branch of state that their tedious dirge was already being crooned by some American idol or another before every brutal football display, thereby serving well, via spectacular metaphor, the solemn violence of their brand of statecraft. No, as if inspired by the herculean tumescence of an NFL offensive line, the weapons budgeteers saw fit to enhance the performance of pre-game and halftime activities.

This is nevertheless not the advent of the collusion between public and private interests as it relates to the fetishizing of local warriors. I mean, it's common knowledge that everything in & about the armed services is a taxpayer funded affair that enriches people who build the most costly things in the nation's budget, a cost so costly that it raises to the highest stake the meaning of the cost of living: These things kill. Though, as gun advocates are quick to point out, guns don't kill, people do. Which brings us back to the heroes. Are they heroic because of something they did or because you've been told they're heroes?

One knee equals two feet
As to the inspiration of what brought us here. As would-be Black Lives Matter advocates are quick to point out, when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick first sat during the anthem before a game in 2016, it was to protest the flag of a nation that allows its black citizens to be murdered by its police officers. But even the boldness of Kaepernick's point proved negotiable. On subsequent occasions he began to take to one knee as a semblance of respect toward those in the military who happen to see their engagement as a selfless sacrifice to their countrymen, which, based upon the reaction, may or may not include Colin Kaepernick.

The thing is, I'm pretty sure the feelings are mutual. Which is to say that whatever points get lost in this mix, it is largely down to people speaking their mind as approved by what passes for acceptable. Respect didn't put Kaepernick on his knees, an attempt at more acceptable protest did. And the difference between him sitting in protest or kneeling in protest has done nothing to change the overall picture, or the minds of people who think you should just shut up and stand.

So contrary to the wisdom running in every other direction, the point is the anthem. The point is the flag. The point is patriotism. Every one of these things represent oppression. Every one of these is the expression of the authoritarianism forever branded Freedom.

But, you might say, he is free to kneel, just not free from the criticism that should follow. Free to kneel, too, are the number of teams and players who responded last week to their country's ultimate expression of a president, who, in doing his ever distracting best, whined that players who don't stand for the dedicated ditty to the rag spackled with stars should be fired from the NFL. As inspiring as it may have been when so many players and teams knelt in response to their country's convenient dolt, it's a bit of a stretch to say it didn't represent foremost a middle finger to the president, even if they do adequately represent the relatively acceptable expression of the freedom to kneel during America's default theme song.

This whole spectacle is just frothing with freedom out the kazoo! So where's the harm? Well, another case of acceptable behavior is being promoted in advance by the Commish of the NBA who expects basketball players to stand for the anthem, noting that his league has a rule requiring teams to "stand and line up in a dignified posture":
"These are highly complex and nuanced issues," Silver said. "One of the core principles of this country is freedom of expression as well. It is my hope, though, that with NBA players, that given the platform that they have -- whether it's the regular engagement they have with the media, whether it's social media, whether it's other opportunities they have to work in the communities -- that they have those opportunities for their voices to be heard."
And then stand and shut up, which, I guess is the NBA's idea of the ultimate expression of dignity in all its complexity and nuance. Or passes for it. Oh, say, we shall see.

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How far will citizens go in accepting their governments' invocation of state secrets in defense of the way armed forces and law enforcement conduct themselves? Everybody's gotta have spies and informants, right? How are we to conduct business otherwise? How far we'll go is on display in how far afield it leads in attempts to right unrightable wrongs:
The state parliament in Thuringia in eastern Germany voted on Friday to establish a fund to compensate the families of victims of the National Socialist Underground (NSU).

"The cooperation between the Thuringia Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the Thuringia state police office was marked by rivalry and mutual distrust that prevented successful investigative work," the committee said in its findings.

In the bill to create the fund, the coalition parties wrote that "the state parliament acknowledges its political responsibility to the victims, relatives, and aggrieved parties of the right-wing terrorist murders, attacks, and robberies of the NSU."
The bill cited in the previous paragraph was passed by the state government of Thuringia by a vote of 45 to 36, with the dissenters led by the Christian Democrats (CDU), abetted by the assurgent party Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), who you may have heard trumpeted in the press lately:
CDU MP Jörg Kellner accused the ruling coalition of preempting the courts. He said the justice system was responsible for establishing whether the state was partly at fault for the NSU's crimes.
The justice system. That's a nice bit of parsing by Kellner. But the bill is intended as compensation to victims and families who further suffered due to their having been the lone targets of the investigation of the murders, which continued for the better part of the first decade of the 2000s. This in spite of the fact that at least some of the investigators must have eventually suspected others. One less inclined to the infinite regress of the benefit of the doubt might say they had to have known.


Unresolved mysteries
But, wait a minute. How would the state be responsible at all for the activities of the NSU? I remind you that the short & acceptable answer to that question is "failures and mistakes". The more tangled version has to do with everything you're not allowed to know, plus a few things you'll find out in spite of that:
The Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, and many state parliaments set up investigative committees to shed light on the security authorities' failures in the NSU case. In the Bundestag's inquiry, members of parliament accused the prosecutor in charge, Herbert Diemer, of not having investigated evidence in order to protect domestic secret service agents and informants who may have had prior knowledge of crimes.

One major unresolved mystery remains that of Andreas T., an intelligence officer for the state of Hesse who was sitting in the internet cafe in Kassel on April 6, 2006, when the owner, Halit Yozgat, was shot dead. He at first failed to come forward and, when his presence there was disclosed, he claimed to be unaware that the shooting had taken place. His case awakened further fears that German intelligence agencies may have in some way colluded with the NSU.
For those keeping score, "fears of collusion" means "that which will remain unresolved". The decision by Thuringia's ruling coalition to compensate the victims amounts to a conciliatory admission of that fact. The otherwise informative article above goes on to include the boilerplate response you'd get from authorities, which you've heard if you've ever seen a police procedural television drama where the locals get pissed at the feds meddling, or the feds get pissed at the bumbling of the local yokels, depending on the sympathies of the show in question: Basically it's the "too many orgs/not enough cooperation" story that attributes incompetence to big egos that don't wanna share.

In other words, the investigation into the investigation of ten murders and two bombings now attributed to two dead guys and a lady on trial is shaping up to be a German version of the 9/11 Commission Report, which most people intuited as a failure from the outset, and with the typical meat thrown around that is contradictory enough not to come to anything but a confused conclusion.

The incompetency card being played, irrespective of who's playing it, provides cover to any officer who knew full well what motivated these murders but either kept mum about it or actively harassed the victim's families. Even if none of the investigating officers had direct knowledge of who committed this series of brutal assassinations, the cover-up mentality of undercover operations served a secret insult upon public injury:
Semiya Simsek's hands are shaking. "All of you -- the police, the media, society -- declared us guilty," she says. The police treated Semiya's mother as a suspect for a year and a half. They questioned neighbors and relatives. The victim's parents, suspicious of their daughter-in-law, severed ties with the family.

There was little reason to suspect any connection between some of the victims and the Turkish underworld. Did the investigators allow themselves to be influenced by prejudices about Turkish immigrants? Many media organizations, including SPIEGEL, suspected that Turkish criminals were behind the killings.
Of course the press suspected Turkish criminals were behind the killings. Even if their prejudices had not led them to the same notion, it's what the police were feeding them. Perhaps a healthy society would be one that doesn't lend the police credence by default and doesn't limit its vocal judgment to that deemed acceptable by an unhealthy society writ large.
The role of informants, who were often high-ranking figures in the neo-Nazi scene, has also come under particular scrutiny. Several of them received large sums of money from the state, some of which actually went toward supporting the neo-Nazi scene, and they were also often warned in advance of house searches.

It also emerged that shortly after Zschäpe's arrest, an official at Germany's domestic intelligence service, the BfV, had shredded several files pertaining to informants involved with the NSU. Other state agencies followed suit by destroying some 400 files and documents connected with the case. Officials said at the time that the files were destroyed to protect informants and stop state secrets becoming public.
I've written before about what I see as the hollow distinction between informants from the criminal milieu and badged infiltrators of the same. This applies in particular when officials with the relative protection of their offices start shredding paperwork pertaining to informants without it. Brethren, the twain shall meet, even if they're only covering their own asses.

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While not quite so hollow is the distinction between police who follow suspicions based on casual bigotry and are therefore more likely to shoot when encountering someone of a darker color, and police who are eager to shoot to kill based on the same prejudices, there is an overlap between the two that enables each. Bigot cops provide cover for white supremacist pigs in uniform the same way secret state security keep under wraps neo-nazis paid by the state, while the former in both cases can plausibly deny they're as bad as all that. They should know, but, you know, they ain't sayin'.

It is only natural that nations built largely upon race-based ideologies will foster the attitudes that enabled them even after their practice is forbidden by law. It is only natural that a society will be led by people who, in finding themselves worthy of leadership, harbor authoritarian tendencies, and will use the residual attitudes of their subjects to cast suspicion downward, cultivating their resentment and mistrust of one another. Some leaders are more explicit than others, some more skillful at playing opposites, more presidential. It is apparently natural for people to follow authority even beyond where one would like their conscience to allow.

Show me the longest and largest surviving nation built upon racist ideology and I'll show you a nation who's thought of itself as a moral authority, at least collectively, since before they managed to de-codify much of their racist law. Individually, its people's thinking diverges as far as the collective allows. Or, more appropriately, I say, as far as they allow the collective to allow.

For more than a century, US police have been gunning black people down in cold blood in a way that their white counterparts usually emerge from unscathed. The concept of "innocent until proven guilty" in these situations emerges in favor of the cop with a gun in the preponderance of cases. In every one of these cases, the victim is sentenced to death without the presumption of innocence.

For more than a century, the American military and US spies have been used to topple governments and manipulate foreign elections. Still today, at least collectively, the country presents itself as a moral authority on freedom and democracy and are playing the victim of democratic manipulation to the hilt. It is oddly fitting that the most upset promulgators of the "Russia hacked our election!" story view Hillary Clinton as heroic victim, as the last time she lived in the White House, things were different. Sort of:
WASHINGTON — A team of American political strategists who helped Gov. Pete Wilson with his abortive presidential bid earlier this year said this week that they served as Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin's secret campaign weapon in his comeback win over a Communist challenger.

The team is still secretive about some of its Russian business. Dresner prefers to stay mum about whether he was in touch with his old colleague Dick Morris, now Clinton's chief campaign advisor. Citing certain "agreements" that they refuse to explain, Dresner and Gorton acknowledge only that information about their work was made available to the Clinton White House.
Back to today, as they bray from their corner of the stage about the injustice of having landed an oh-so (can you say) uniquely corrupt president, and he tweets & moans ad vomitum from his corner about every slight in his general direction, together they continue to expand their defense department beyond any imaginable measure, the annual hundreds of billions cited notwithstanding, kicking in a few million here and there to propagate patriotism and a love for heroic troops.

They continue to stand for their national anthem, annually sung and or played 4860 times in baseball, 2460 times in each basketball and hockey, and 512 times in football, and that doesn't count the biggest stages of all, the playoffs. Then, of course, there are the combat sports.

Imagine standing for an anthem that appropriately embodies the reality of such a society. The anthem itself wouldn't be the farce that it is now, though it could be played as one.