Make sure to “hide your power level”

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Make sure to “hide your power level”

The ugliest instances of today’s far-right resurgence — Charlottesville, the Muslim ban, the Quebec City mosque shooting, the surge in hate crimes, etc. — often belie a more fundamental urge from which all such examples ultimately spring: an ever-breathing struggle to smuggle fascist, racist and discredited ideas back into the mainstream.

There are several ways to do this: electoral politics, attacking “political correctness,” online organizing, exploiting mass media, etc. But the single thread that runs through these methods — one that lies just beneath the sheer spectacle and cacophony of today’s politics — is simple, unadulterated deception.

Imagine for a moment that you’re an active alt-right figure trying to exploit the moment and have your 15 minutes of fame in the mainstream.

You’ve pushed the envelope enough that people are starting to ask you about your beliefs and the media is wondering how you feel about things like White supremacy. If you’re not careful, these questions might “out” your true opinions. And, so, pushed into a corner, you do what everyone seems to do when they’re in such a predicament: lie.

I don’t think that the printed word here is capable of demonstrating just how common, accepted and ubiquitous this kind of dishonesty has become. I don’t mean the dog-whistle politics that uses euphemisms like terrorism or immigration or crime to galvanize constituents who eventually absorb/interpret such terms through much darker, racist sentiments or emotions.

We’re way past that. What I’m referring to is much more straightforward. It’s what one particular, run-of-the-mill alt-right bro on 4Chan referred to once as “hiding your power level” (appropriated from a scene in the Japanese manga/cartoon “Dragon Ball Z”). 

In other words, keep your true, racist beliefs covert. Just lie about your opinions on whatever it is you’re asked about: race, gender, Muslims, Jews, etc. Don’t reveal your actual beliefs (i.e., how racist you actually are) until you’re sure that no one’s looking, the walls are soundproof and you’re among your “own people.” When asked, just say to the public that you’re not a racist.

Like Milo Yiannopoulos did plenty of times as he shot into mainstream fame (and fizzled out just as spectacularly) and a $250,000 book deal. Then, when he thought no one was looking, he had his Breitbart drafts edited and vetted by White nationalists and prolific racists.

Or like Faith Goldy, who says time and again that she’s not a White supremacist, but then showed up at a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and spoke on a Daily Stormer-affiliated podcast.

And it’s not just the alt-right. John Derbyshire, considered a respectable conservative voice for years at the National Review — itself a mainstr

Official Conservatism vs. The “Loonie” Right

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Official Conservatism vs. The “Loonie” Right

Observers who warn against increasing levels of radical, far-right activism in the U.S. and Canada are often met with a retort of “it’s just a few crazy people.” In other words, “It’s clearly just a few dozen losers on the corner with signs, so why panic?” These fringe characters, the argument goes, are so unacceptable to the mainstream that it’s inaccurate to see them as being in any way representative of a larger right-wing movement. And since they don’t constitute a larger threat, why worry?

Such a liberal interpretation of today’s troublesome status quo is worryingly naïve.

First of all, let’s take a second to remember that it doesn’t take 50, 20, 10, five or even a pair of determined nutcases to do real damage these days. It takes one. Critics of “Islamic terrorism” always note without fail how today’s technological and societal circumstances allows one—just one—nut job to do the damage that only armies could do centuries ago. Well, the same applies to far-right or alt-right nut jobs.

Almost exactly a year ago, it took one such murderer—Alexandre Bissonnette—to walk into a Quebec City mosque and shoot dead six Muslim men and injure 19 others. He wasn’t a trained tactician. He had no military or Special Forces background. But he was dedicated to his task and got his hands on a deadly weapon. That’s all it took.

Sticking with this example, how fair is it to point to such a killer—who was known for loving Trump and hating on refugees—as an extreme product of the prevailing political atmosphere?

Well, if we’re being honest, it’s totally fair.

Some in Quebec’s provincial legislature recognized the connection (and how bad it made them look) and offered an acknowledgement of the kind of rhetoric that might have contributed to such a toxic atmosphere. It’s a scary thing to remind oneself of from time to time, but an individual’s extremist actions are almost never carried out within some sort of sealed social vacuum. Human beings are connected, now more than ever, to the sociopolitical “ether” surrounding them.

Today’s atmosphere has facilitated a rise in xenophobia against minorities, from Muslims to Jews to the transgender community and so on. This shift in political climate, this increase in the public legitimization of so-called politically incorrect speech, constitutes the direction of today’s cultural wind.

Foremost among those whose job it is to gauge such winds are, of course, elected officials who rely on the voting public for legitimacy, support and a career. It goes without saying that, regardless of where one looks on the political spectrum today, politicians in North America and Europe are well aware of the far-right resurgence and are working to orient their public image according to it.

Sadly, this act of political orienting has too of

Protocols of the Elders of Mecca

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Fighting the Religious Right to Save the Johnson Amendment

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Fighting the Religious Right to Save the Johnson Amendment

This is the second part of a two-part series. Part one gives an overview of the Johnson Amendment and how it affects minorities in the United States.

Widely diverse tax-exempt organizations agree that President Donald Trump’s May 4 executive order is not about religious freedom or free speech. The National Council of Churches, the Islamic Society of North America, and more than 97 other religiously affiliated institutions joined the National Council of Nonprofits and the Independent Coalition Sector to protest the directive. They defend the Johnson Amendment as a matter of good policy because they largely believe the issue is about money: Opponents want to be able to freely use 501(c)(3) organizations to produce “dark money” groups through which politically motivated donors can secretly influence elections. The pro-Johnson Amendment groups also disagree with their opponents’ characterization of them as alien supporters of America’s decline. These pastors and other religious leaders believe diversity will ensure a strong America.

There are also a handful of organizations that are attempting to get the IRS to apply the tax code evenly. These include Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, American Atheists, the American Humanist Association, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), among others. Over the last decade, the latter has asked the IRS to investigate more than 70 situations in which it believed the tax code was violated. Notably, these include instances in which a North Carolina pastor urged his congregation to vote for Barack Obama and in which Hillary Clinton campaigned at churches that explicitly endorsed her during services. The FFRF has also sued the IRS for not enforcing the Johnson Amendment against religious institutions, arguing this lack of enforcement constitutes “preferential treatment” not provided other tax-exempt organizations.

Unlike the ACLU and others who insist Trump’s Executive Order was a pyrrhic conservative victory not amounting to much, the FFRF has filed another lawsuit. Arguably, this may have been pre-mature because of the Order’s vague and obfuscating language. But the FFRF was not short-sighted and, unlike the ACLU, did not describe the Order as “toothless” and “an elaborate photo-op with no discernible policy outcome.” Conservatives fully intend to limit — if not fully curtail — the ability of the IRS to evenhandedly enforce the Johnson Amendment.

Six weeks after the President’s Order, the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees funding for the government, added Section 116 in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill. This provision strips the IRS of funds to enforce the Johnson Amendment against churches or their auxiliary organizations if the IRS Commissioner approves. If the Commissioner does not approve, IRS investigators must obtain consent from the Commissioner for each investigation, and the IRS must notify relevant House and Senate committees before beginning any such investigation. There is now, belatedly, Read more

Jettisoning Johnson Makes America Less Great, Again

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Jettisoning Johnson Makes America Less Great, Again

Conservatives have succeeded in infusing religion into our government. It has taken four decades for this slow, creeping, strategic effort to succeed, but it has succeeded. Nowhere has this been more obvious than in our laws and policies, and nowhere is this more visible than in two highly contested cases decided by the Supreme Court. In the now infamous Citizens United case, the Supreme Court decided corporations are entitled to anonymous, monetized free speech. Four years later, the Court decided in the Hobby Lobby case that corporations have the religious freedom to ignore health care laws. This means that religious entities, unlike all other American entities, do not have to adhere to all the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

The most recent culmination of this movement’s success occurred in May, when President Donald Trump directed the Internal Revenue Service to allow religious nonprofits to play active, partisan roles in politics while retaining their tax-exempt status, thereby nullifying the Johnson Amendment. These infusions of religion into government critically endanger minority communities and threaten the separation of church and state. As such, these Supreme Court decisions and Trump’s order must be undone.

The Johnson Amendment: What it does and its supporters

Trump’s directive to ignore the Johnson Amendment allows Christian and cultural conservatives to anonymously influence elections and public policy, especially as they seek to exclude religious minorities and immigrants from politics and society. This contravenes the explicit impetus behind the amendment.

Introduced in 1954 by Democratic Senator Lyndon Johnson, the amendment limits the political activity of tax-exempt organizations. Reflecting the historical, simultaneous concern about Communist and Christian “propaganda” in politics, Johnson’s legislation declares that 501(c)(3) organizations — which can include schools, hospitals, foundations and churches — “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for elective public office.” Organizations can espouse how individuals lead their lives, but they can neither advocate for or against a specific political candidate nor a specific piece of legislation upon which to base that lifestyle. Note that a Republican Congress adopted this Democratic-sponsored measure without debate, and Republican President Dwight Eisenhower signed it.

The reasoning for this decadeslong, bipartisan restriction is clear and straightforward. These organizations say they provide a public good like education, health care, welfare, religious services and the like. As long as they provide such goods, the government does not tax them and allows for other tax-deductible benefits. Also, those donating to these organizations can deduct their contributions from their own taxes. The IRS thus misses two opportunities for revenue. Moreover, unlike other 501(c)(3) organizations, places of worship and their integrated auxiliaries do not have to file a tax return with the IRS.

Trump’s American Exceptionalism is a Return to the Dark Ages

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Trump’s American Exceptionalism is a Return to the Dark Ages

It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society. — Jiddu Krishnamurti

In the eight months since Donald Trump was sworn in as president, there has been little evidence that his slogan “make America great again” has benefited anyone in the country, besides his own family and friends. Instead, his ongoing divisive rhetoric and rebuttals against “fake news” have further widened the chasm of antipathy across the nation.

Die-hard Trump constituents, quietly brooding over continued hardships, have ramped up their unqualified support, despite, or perhaps because of, the negative portrayal of his efforts. Ideological foes, resisting him at every turn, are convinced he will carry the country to hell in a hand basket.

Meanwhile, all Americans are being anesthetized by the epic and unending wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, terrified by the unpredictable gamesmanship of North Korea, and confounded by the existential threat of nuclear confrontation with Russia.

While these horrendous events are being staged largely in the “Muslim world” and thus deserving of scant coverage in the media, the gut-wrenching topics that directly affect the quality of American lives remain in a death-defying suspension, especially the issues on which the election was pinned. Health care reform — one of the most polarizing election slogans — heads down a perilous vortex, the infrastructure stagnates, the environment asphyxiates, and the promise of job creation remains a cruel hoax for the countless believers who had yearned for the dignity and respect that comes from making a living wage and self-sufficiency.

Xenophobia is the only diet into which Trump’s disaffected followers can sink their teeth. Those who had felt marginalized and voted for Trump, expecting to improve their lives, are primed and programmed to scapegoat immigrants and Muslim refugees, well before (if ever) the “great” jobs materialize. Meanwhile, those who had denounced Trump as a charlatan burn with rage over his inability to act as the leader of the “free world” and stand up against Russian interference in our elections (a charge predictably denied by Russian President Vladimir Putin).

The issues of racism, xenophobia and jingoism raise questions about the intent of “make America great again.” If these extremist views reflect a dark side of America, how do they compare with other vastly divergent views on American exceptionalism?

In his article in The Atlantic (Feb. 2, 2017), How Trump wants to Make America Exceptional Again, author Peter Beinart closely examines Trump’s vision of America, compared with other recent leaders.

Mitt Romney said, “It is our belief in the universality of these (God-given) unalienable rights that leads us to our exceptional role on the world stage, that of a great champion of human dignity and freedom.” Newt Gingrich said it is America’s unfettered capitalism. And former President Barack Obama said it was for its ever-expanding circle of inclusion.

Meanwhile, Trump and travel ban architect Stephen Miller are defining a new and constricted American exceptionalism. It is undeniably deviant in focus and jing

Free-fall: Loss, Remembrance, Meaning

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Free-fall: Loss, Remembrance, Meaning

It’s that time of year again. This feeling of unease, which usually settles in around the middle of August, morphs into apprehension then dread as the 9/11 anniversary approaches. Each year seems to have a central theme — a flood of forgotten memories bubbling to the surface, new connections, revelatory insights. The close proximity to Hajj this year caused me to examine my personal journey as a firefighter and arson investigator in the New York City Fire Department (FDNY).

As I replay the numerous episodes of life and death drama sprinkled throughout my career, two experiences stand out that marked my first and last years. Aside from the symmetry of opening and closing my tenure, they are etched in my memory because they capture the fragility of life and the lasting consequences of the acts of a few on the many.

A knock on the door

It was 1982 and I was several months into my first year at Ladder Company 12 on 19th Street in Manhattan. As a probationary firefighter with less than one year on the job, I ritually checked out the truck and cleaned the tools after the morning roll call. This meant taking various tools of the trade to the slop sink at the back of the firehouse, scrubbing them with steel wool even if they didn’t need it, and applying a light coat of oil to prevent rust. There were the forcible entry tools of an ax and a Halligan bar, the latter an odd-shaped pry bar named after an FDNY chief in the 1940s. Then there were the long poled hooks used for pulling down ceilings to inspect for fire spread as well as for dropping the anachronistic fire escape ladders adorning the remaining tenement buildings at the advent of Chelsea’s building boom of high-rise luxury apartments.

I was checking the five-gallon fire extinguisher to make sure it was fully charged when the knock on the firehouse door came. I didn’t think anything of it until I heard a flurry of movement and my lieutenant telling the house watchmen to turn the truck out as he darted out the door. Thinking it was a fire, I followed him in hot pursuit lugging the fire extinguisher I had been assigned as the can man. As I ran down the street, I heard the overhead doors open as the truck edged out against traffic.

I looked for smoke but only saw a small crowd of people, soon joined by my lieutenant, on the far corner of 19th Street and Avenue of the Americas. As I approached, I saw that they were standing over a young man in traditional Hasidic garb, wedged between the curb and a parked car, who had just jumped from a 10th-floor window. Despite the pool of dark crimson blood spreading beneath the back of his head, his bewildered look revealed that he was still alive.

My lieutenant, a grizzled veteran of the Bronx and Brownsville firestorms of the 1970s, placed his fingers alongside the man’s neck. Subdued, he muttered softy to no one in particular that it was his goodbye pulse. Unable to move or speak, the man’s pale blue eyes seemed to lock onto mine until they glazed over like the eyes of an animal you had just put out of its misery.

The oppressive feeling of despair hung in the air like heat radiating from a hot summer sidewalk. An EMT crew bounded over but did a quick about-face when they grasped the gravity of the scene. The man’s co-workers came down in shock. Sure, he had been complaining about being unable to find a wife, but no one expected him to suddenly hurl himself through an open window for a permanent solution to the tempor

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