Thursday, August 04, 2022

Is Putin's Russia Fascist?

The article below claims that the definition of Fascism is vague; But asserts that Vladimir Vladimirovich is a Fascint anyway. Both assertions are wrong.

What the central features of both Mussolini's Italian Fascism and Hitler's German Nazism were is clear. It had three major features: Assertive nationalism, a capitalistic economy and extensive social welfare innovations, socialism, in short.

It is the latter feature that embarrasses the Left and leads to their unwillingness to define Fascism frankly. That both Hitler and Mussolini were assertively socialist gives the present-day Left so much embarrassment that it can only be denied. The historical record is clear, however, from Mussolini's "Dopolavoro" organization to Hitler's "Kraft durch Freude" organization.

Vladimir Vladimirovich displays only the first two features of Fascism. He is not a notable welfare innovator. Russia is actually less socialist than many other European economies

The author below has a very complex account about why the current invasion of Ukraine has taken place. It is true that Ukrainians tend to resent "big brother" Russia but the major cause of the war becomes clear only when we know what Vladimir Vladimirovich really is

He is a traditional Russian ruler, very much in the mould of the Soviets and back to Ivan the Terrible. Ivan was oppressive ("terrible") and controlling to his population while also being a very successful expansionist of Muscovite rule. That latter actually made him broadly popular among ordinary Russians.

And when it comes to political police, Vladimir Vladimirovich has the FSB,the Soviets had the KGB and the Tsars had the Okhrana.

The map below shows something that will undoubtedly loom large in the mind of Vladimir Vladimirovich: A map of the Russian empire as it was in the 19th century. The Soviets were pikers compared to the Tsars. Most of the world saw the collapse of the Soviet regime as a great advance and were puzzled when Vladimir Vladimirovich called it a disaster. From the viewpoint of a Russian ruler it was. Russia's destiny is to expand, not contract

image from

So in the context of history Vladomir Vladimirovich's actions are perfectly normal and require no particlar explanation. It is only in the context of Western thinking that his actions seem to require explanation. But he is not Western. He is Russian. He wants to expand his empire. Russians have historically been very good at that. Even shorn of its Soviet appendages, Russia is still the world's largest country, stretching right across the Eurasian continent from the Baltic to the Pacific. Vladimir Vladimirovich is acutely aware of that heritage and is determined to live up to it

What matters most in Moscow these days is what is missing. Nobody speaks openly of the war in Ukraine. The word is banned and talk is dangerous. The only trace of the fighting going on 1,000km to the south is advertising hoardings covered with portraits of heroic soldiers. And yet Russia is in the midst of a war.

In the same way, Moscow has no torch processions. Displays of the half-swastika “z” sign, representing support for the war, are rare. Stormtroopers do not stage pogroms. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s ageing dictator, does not rally crowds of ecstatic youth or call for mass mobilisation. And yet Russia is in the grip of fascism.

Just as Moscow conceals its war behind a “special military operation”, so it conceals its fascism behind a campaign to eradicate “Nazis” in Ukraine. Nevertheless Timothy Snyder, a professor at Yale University, detects the tell-tale symptoms: “People disagree, often vehemently, over what constitutes fascism,” he wrote recently in the New York Times, “but today’s Russia meets most of the criteria.”

The Kremlin has built a cult of personality around Mr Putin and a cult of the dead around the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45. Mr Putin’s regime yearns to restore a lost golden age and for Russia to be purged by healing violence. You could add to Mr Snyder’s list a hatred of homosexuality, a fixation with the traditional family and a fanatical faith in the power of the state. None of these come naturally in a secular country with a strong anarchist streak and permissive views on sex.

Understanding where Russia is going under Mr Putin means understanding where it has come from. For much of his rule, the West saw Russia as a mafia state presiding over an atomised society. That was not wrong, but it was incomplete. A decade ago Mr Putin’s popularity began to wane. He responded by drawing on the fascist thinking that had re-emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This may have begun as a political calculation, but Mr Putin got caught up in a cycle of grievance and resentment that has left reason far behind. It has culminated in a ruinous war that many thought would never happen precisely because it defied the weighing of risks and rewards.

Under Mr Putin’s form of fascism, Russia is set on a course that knows no turning back. Without the rhetoric of victimhood and the use of violence, Mr Putin has nothing to offer his people. For Western democracies this onward march means that, while he is in power, dealings with Russia will be riven by hostility and contempt. Some in the West want a return to business as usual once the war is over, but there can be no true peace with a fascist Russia.

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Public life needs more good losers

Jeff Jacoby

ON WEDNESDAY morning at 11, Hal Shurtleff and Camp Constitution will finally get to fly their flag on Boston's City Hall Plaza.

Word of the scheduled ceremony came the other day in a press release from Liberty Counsel, the public-interest law firm that represented Shurtleff and his group after their request to host a flag-raising ceremony was rejected by City Hall in 2017. Boston officials had approved hundreds of such requests in the past, but said no to this one because Shurtleff wanted to fly the Christian flag (a white banner with a cross in one corner). The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court, which in May ruled 9-0 in Shurtleff's favor. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that Boston had unlawfully "discriminated based on religious viewpoint and violated the Free Speech Clause." So now, after a five-year legal ordeal, Camp Constitution's flag-raising can proceed at last.

The high court's unanimous ruling was, obviously, a total vindication for the plaintiffs. I asked Shurtleff whether anyone from City Hall had reached out to congratulate him or in some other way graciously acknowledge his (and the First Amendment's) victory. No one, he said. There hasn't been "one peep from any city official, elected or appointed."

I wish I could say I was surprised by such churlishness. But in politics and public affairs these days, the ability to lose with grace or to salute an opponent's accomplishment has gone the way of floppy disks and 8-track tapes.

In other areas of life, especially athletics, displaying class after a defeat is a highly valued quality.

Professional hockey has many traditions, but none is more striking than the handshake offered by every member of the losing team to every one of the winners following even the bitterest Stanley Cup fight. Similarly, at the end of a football or basketball playoff series or championship, the coach or key players of the team that lost make a point of offering congratulations to their opponents. When the Milwaukee Bucks last year beat the Phoenix Suns to capture their first NBA title in decades, Suns head coach Monty Williams went to the Bucks' locker room to praise the players who beat his team. "You guys made me a better coach," he told them. "You made us a better team."

In January, when Rafael Nadal won the Australian Open and became the first man in tennis history to win 21 Grand Slam titles, his archrival Roger Federer didn't sulk or sneer or throw a tantrum. Instead he publicly hailed his adversary for his "incredible work ethic, dedication, and fighting spirit."

There have been times when politics, too, has served as a showcase for exceptional graciousness. Al Gore's concession speech after the 2000 presidential election, which followed a ferocious month of post-election litigation over the results in Florida, was a model of democratic gallantry. "I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside," Gore told the nation. "May God bless his stewardship of this country."

In 2008, on the night that Senator Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party's nomination for president, his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, aired a TV commercial extolling the first Black man to top a major party's national ticket. "Senator Obama, this is truly a good day for America," McCain said. "Too often the achievements of our opponents go unnoticed, so I wanted to stop and say: Congratulations."

Today, when many prominent politicians revel in refusing to concede defeat, unabashed displays of good sportsmanship and character like Gore's and McCain's have become all too rare. One remarkable exception was the joint message delivered by Utah's Democratic and Republican candidates for governor in 2020. The two men recorded a video to emphasize that they "could debate issues without degrading each other's character" and to show the country that "win or lose, in Utah we work together."

Public life in America badly needs more of this. Gracious concession speeches, paying tribute to an honorable competitor, being a good loser — those aren't mere grace notes or niceties. In a democracy, especially one as troubled as ours, they are essential components of the legitimacy and goodwill that social health requires.

When Shurtleff holds his flag-raising on City Hall Plaza Wednesday morning, it will represent a victory for freedom of speech and the peaceful resolution of an honest constitutional disagreement. It would be a fine thing if Boston's mayor or her designee were on hand to mark the moment, and, like a hockey player who failed to win the championship, shake hands with the rival who prevailed.


Time to Eliminate the Federal Gas Tax—and Federal Road Building

President Biden returned from the Middle East recently without the hoped-for promise from Saudi Arabia to ramp up oil production. Not only that, he announced during his trip that he planned to double down on his efforts to wean the United States from fossil fuels—and, if Congress fails to act, would do so through “strong executive action,” which he previewed several days later (July 20) in a brief speech in Massachusetts.

This means Americans hoping for relief in high energy prices will have to be content for now with the White House’s proposal for a three-month federal gas tax holiday, an idea that hasn’t been picking up much support outside of endangered Democrats in marginal congressional districts.

The proposal will, however, perform a valuable service if it opens a long-overdue discussion over how and when to consign the gas tax, and the Highway Trust Fund it replenishes, to bureaucratic oblivion.

Signed into existence by then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower in June 1956, the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways was to be paid for by various taxes—including a truck and trailer sales tax and a heavy vehicle user tax—that would finance the Highway Trust Fund. Most notable was the tax on gasoline, which was set at three cents per gallon.

In defiance of every known law of taxation, the gas tax was supposed to be halved, to 1.5 cents per gallon, in 1972. That, of course, didn’t happen. It currently sits at 18.4 cents per gallon, with the tax on diesel fuel at 24.4 cents a gallon.

The only senator to vote against final passage of the legislation creating the Highway Trust Fund was Russell Long, a Louisiana Democrat. Long, who later in his long career served as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, immortalized his philosophy of taxation in verse: “Don’t tax you / Don’t tax me / Tax that fellow behind the tree.”

Long’s doggerel captures the subsequent evolution of the federal gas tax.

In the 1970s, Congress began diverting a portion of the Highway Trust Fund to public mass transit, light rail buses and bike lanes. Today, about 20% of Highway Trust Fund monies are diverted to other purposes. The percentage going to mass transit—12.8% on average during fiscal years 2010 through 2019, according to the nonpartisan Eno Center for Transportation—is more than two-and-a-half times the percentage of Americans who use mass transit, 40% of whom live in just one city: New York.

Looking at the big picture, what this means is that rural and suburban Americans are subsidizing big-city transit riders. Bond traders and investment bankers taking the train from Chappaqua, New York; Darien, Connecticut; and Short Hills, New Jersey, may be fine people, but why should their transportation costs be subsidized by Chevy Celebrity drivers in Maine, Montana and elsewhere?

When the Highway Trust Fund was created in the 1950s, variations in miles per gallon were not large for most automobiles. Hybrids, electric cars and other alternatives to gas-powered vehicles have widened that difference to a chasm.

Very few hourly wage earners—and especially working poor—can afford to own electric vehicles, hybrids or BMWs. Their automobiles tend to get significantly worse gas mileage than those driven by the affluent. The federal gas tax, in effect, is a regressive weapon aimed at these lower-income Americans.

A mileage-based user fee would be “fairer”—but it also would call down the wrath of the Natural Resources Defense Council and other deep-pocketed Green Establishment organizations.

It seems that half the country is at war—rhetorical war, thank goodness—with the other half. California is not Nebraska, and Vermont is not Montana. America is a big place, and the needs of its 50 states are diverse. A return to serious federalism is in order.

To that end, Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, has introduced versions of his Transportation Empowerment Act in successive Congresses. The latest iteration would slash the federal gasoline tax to 7 cents per gallon, revenue from which would be expended only on projects related to the 46,876-mile Interstate Highway System.

The states would resume their constitutionally appropriate role in transportation policy. And pickup truck drivers in Wyoming would no longer be subsidizing well-tailored Manhattan straphangers.

The Interstate Highway System, while an impressive engineering achievement, cut a devastating swathe through many American cities, displacing upward of a million Americans—typically low-income working people with little political clout—and destroying many historic African American neighborhoods through the government’s exercise of eminent domain.

For better or worse, it is a finished product. Washington hates to sunset any program, but it’s time for a federal government whose competence and prestige are at historic lows to get out of the road building and maintenance business. This should be turned over to states, municipalities and private enterprise, whose promising experiments with toll roads would help restore the “user pays” principle that was embedded, however imperfectly, in the Highway Trust Fund as originally conceived.

Mr. Biden’s federal gas tax holiday proposal is just a three-month gimmick. Let’s make this holiday permanent.


Australia: Queensland birth certificates changes to recognise trans, gender diverse people coming to parliament

Major changes that would better recognise trans and gender diverse people on Queensland birth certificates are expected to come before parliament later this year.

Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman on Wednesday also confirmed the Palaszczuk government was considering allowing transgender people who have not undergone gender-affirming surgery to change their gender on the certificate.

Reforms to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act were expected last year however Ms Fentiman told her Budget Estimates hearing that there had been “some further feedback” from LGBTIQA+ stakeholders.

“There is now an exposure draft of the Bill where we are directly consulting with stakeholders and I hope to be able to introduce a Bill in the next few months - certainly before the end of the year,” she said.

The Attorney-General said the key purpose of the Act’s review was to ensure the state’s registration services remained “relevant, responsive and contemporary.”

“And that includes the consideration of arrangements which will allow trans and gender diverse people to have their gender identity accurately reflected in a birth certificate,” she said.

“And I do acknowledge this is such an important issue to many Queenslanders and consideration has been given to reforms that have happened in other states and the reforms as considered will bring Queensland into line with pretty much every other jurisdiction.”

Asked by Greens MP Michael Berkman whether these changes would include removing the surgery provision, Ms Fentiman said the government wanted Queenslanders’ lived identity to match their legal identity.

“Queensland is one of the only jurisdictions in the country that does require people to undergo gender reassignment surgery before changing that on their birth certificates and certainly that is one of the key reforms that we are continuing to consult on for this Bill,” she said.

The Attorney-General also confirmed that consideration was being given to how the Act could better recognise non-binary people as well.

“We are doing a lot of consultation on that issue and we are looking at the reforms in other jurisdictions, particularly Victoria and Tasmania, and that’s the work we’re doing now on the draft Bill, and we are continuing to work with stakeholders on those issues,” she said.




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