Bob Schwartz

Category: Politics

Letting Off Steam: Jokes About Hitler in Nazi Germany

Did German citizens tell jokes about Hitler during the Third Reich? Actual jokes like this:

Hitler and Göring are standing on top of the Berlin radio tower. Hitler says he wants to do something to put a smile on the Berliners’ faces. Göring says, “Why don’t you jump?”

Were these people punished? Did the jokes have any effect?

These are some of the questions addressed in Dead Funny: Telling Jokes in Hitler’s Germany by Rudolph Herzog. Herzog explains:

Contrary to a common myth, targeting Hitler using quips and jokes didn’t undermine the regime. Political jokes were not a form of resistance. They were a release valve for pent-up popular anger. People told jokes in their neighborhood bars or on the street because they coveted a moment of liberation in which they could let off a bit of steam. That was ultimately in the interests of the Nazi leadership. Consequently, the Führer and his henchmen rarely cracked down on joke-tellers and if they did, the punishments were mild – mostly resulting in a small fine. In the last phase of the war when the regime felt threatened by “dissenters,” though, this changed. A handful of death sentences were handed down to joke-tellers, though the true reason for this was rarely their actual “crime.” The jokes were taken as a pretext to remove blacklisted individuals – people the Nazis feared or detested because of who they were rather than because of what they had done. Among others, these included Jews, left-wing artists, and Catholic priests. As I show in my book, a staunch party member could walk free after telling a joke, whereas a known “dissenter” was executed for exactly the same quip.

We can’t deny the significance of laughing and humor during the hardest times, personal and social. Jokes, like other subversive art, have a way of digging deep and even encouraging change. There is the example of the king’s fool, who was allowed to say things that others feared to say. But make no mistake, when the king was unhappy, not even the fool was protected from retribution and punishment.

It took Nixon 1,734 days. It took Trump only 109.

It took Nixon 1,734 days. It took Trump only 109.

Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre took place on October 20 1973. Besieged by investigations into Watergate, on that night he fired independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox, which resulted in Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigning. That was 1,734 days after Nixon took office.

Today Donald Trump fired Attorney General James Comey, who was leading one of the investigations into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. It is 109 days after Trump took office.

It still took nearly a year, but Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974, in the face of certain Senate conviction of impeachment articles passed by the House. The articles begin:

ARTICLE 1

In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice. (emphasis added)

We don’t know that the Republican-led House will have the courage to hold impeachment hearings, let alone pass articles of impeachment. Unlike the Nixon situation, where Republicans cooperated in a bipartisan upholding of core American and constitutional principles, it is hard to tell exactly what some Republicans believe or will do in these circumstances.

The only thing certain is that with this firing of the FBI Director, we are in dark territory. Will it get even darker? Will we see the light? And will no Congress rid us of this turbulent president?

See The Case for Impeachment by Allan J. Lichtman

The Long Hot Summer

The movie Detroit will be released on August 4. Directed by Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow, it is about the Detroit riots in the American summer of 1967.

Fifty years ago, the summer of 1967—known as “the long hot summer”—was an unforgettable moment in American race relations. The Detroit riots were just part of it. That summer, 163 riots took place in American cities and towns, including in Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Tampa, Birmingham, Chicago, New York, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Britain, Rochester, Plainfield, and Newark.

And in Detroit. During five days there, 43 people died, 1,189 people were injured, 7,231 people were arrested, 2,509 stores were looted or burned, 388 families were displaced, and 412 buildings burned or damaged enough to be demolished.

As a result, President Johnson appointed the Kerner Commission to investigate and report. Months later the government published The Kerner Report: The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders.


From the Introduction to the 2016 reprint edition of The Kerner Report by Julian E. Zelizer of Princeton University:

The report remains one of the most insightful government examinations of the state of race relations in twentieth-century America, with lessons that reverberate today and others that were ignored….

The Kerner Commission’s findings would be unlike almost any other report that the federal government had produced about race relations in America. Although the report stuck to conventional liberal ideas about how to improve racial equality, its analysis of the problems in the cities pointed to some radical critiques about the problem of institutional racism in America. The widely discussed report offered hard-hitting arguments about the ways in which white racism was built into the institutions and organization of urban America, so much that racial inequality was constantly reproduced over generations. The report tackled controversial issues like police violence against African Americans that had often been kept on the sidelines of mainstream political discourse….

In July, two major riots devastated the cities of Newark, New Jersey, and Detroit, Michigan. These were the worst of 163 riots that broke out that summer, in places large and small, ranging from Plainfield, New Jersey, to Wadesboro, North Carolina. On July 12, rioting started in Newark after rumors that the police had mistreated an African American cab driver whom they were arresting. To the eyes of some close to the Johnson administration, Newark’s unrest was the culmination of many years of frustration with excessive police violence. In fact, President Johnson refrained from sending in any troops to achieve calm, fearing that doing so would only stoke the racial flames engulfing the city. After five days of devastating violence, the riots ended with twenty-six people dead, hundreds injured, and massive property damage to the community.

The violence in Detroit started on July 23, not long after the smoke from the Newark riots had cleared….

The rioters, they found, were usually educated and had been employed in previous years. Most of them were angry about the kind of racial discrimination they faced when seeking employment and places to live. They were frustrated with the state of their neighborhoods and wanted access to the political system from which they had been disenfranchised. They also were described as wanting to participate in the consumer culture that American leaders had boasted about. The rioters were not driven by radical agitators, nor were they recent transplants to the city. The report depicted them instead as ordinary, longtime residents of neighborhoods who could no longer withstand the deplorable conditions under which they and their families lived….

No institution received more scrutiny than the police. The rioting had shown without any doubt that law enforcement had become a problem in race relations. Rather than constructive domestic policies, more aggressive policing had become the de facto response from city officials. “In several cities,” the report stated, “the principal official response has been to train and equip the police with more sophisticated weapons.” The police played a big role in almost all of the riots, according to the commissioners. Indeed, in contrast to the findings of the McCone Commission, the Kerner report noted that systematic police violence against African Americans was at the heart of the riots of this period, more so than almost any other issue….

In provocative fashion, the report blamed “white racism” for producing the conditions that were at the heart of the riots. With a powerful account of the history of race relations, the commission had traced the problems in the cities all the way back to slavery. The point was not that white Americans were intentionally committing racial injustice against African Americans, but that racism was imbedded in institutions….

There have been some notable improvements since the time the report was published, however. The civil rights legislation of the 1960s did legitimate racial integration, while social programs from that period—such as Medicaid and food stamps—created an important base of support to alleviate the conditions that the poor faced. A growing African American middle class has also been one of the most important positive developments in race relations.

Yet the problems highlighted in the Kerner Commission’s report remain hauntingly relevant today. Many parts of inner-city America remain as unstable, if not more so, than when Kerner looked into the conditions that existed in the late 1960s. Lack of jobs, inadequate education, racial discrimination, and police brutality all remain prevalent in modern times. Poverty has also been spreading to the suburbs, bringing these issues into new areas, while economic inequality has generally become more severe and hardened. The war on crime and the war on drugs have replaced urban policy. For those who didn’t make it out, hope for change has only diminished….

The Kerner report still stands as a powerful statement about the struggles that African Americans face in a country where racism shapes many of our key institutions. The Kerner report, a shining argument that government can indeed respond to national problems, still has a great deal to offer policymakers and citizens as they wrestle with racial tension in the aftermath of the racial unrest in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cincinnati, and Baltimore in 2014 and 2015. In all of these cases police violence against urban residents again brought attention to the racial disparities that afflict many parts of the nation.

New CEO: “I thought it would be easier.”

Imagine that you hired a new CEO for your very, very big company (annual budget: $3.8 trillion). The job he takes is universally considered the most difficult job in the world.

Imagine that not all the shareholders approved him. In fact, the shareholders were very, very divided on his being hired.

Imagine that in his early days, he demonstrated some serious gaps in his knowledge and ability to do the job.

Then imagine the new CEO is interviewed and says this:

“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

Would you:

  1. Keep him and expect him to get better at his job.
  2. Excuse him because he is new on the job.
  3. Fire him.
  4. Pray.

“Trump jokes about replacing Haley, takes it back”

Washington Post today:

There was a bit of awkwardness at President Donald Trump’s lunch with U.N. diplomats when he made an undiplomatic comment about Nikki Haley, his ambassador to the U.N.

Trump was kicking off Monday’s lunch with ambassadors of countries on the U.N. Security Council when he asked the room if they liked Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

Trump said that if they didn’t, “she could easily be replaced.”

The comment sparked some awkwardness, but seemed to be taken in jest. Haley and others gathered around the lengthy table laughed.

Above is a photo of Nikki Haley and Donald Trump at the lunch.

IAVA: “WTF!?!? A tax on our GI Bill!!”

I’ve posted frequently about the sorry state of veterans affairs in America. Hypocritical “Thank you for your service”—particularly from flag-lapel-pin-wearing ultra-patriotic politicians—followed by every effort to not serve those who deserve it.

Following is the text of an email just received from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) about the latest travesty. As the email says: “Yesterday, Congress took stupid to a whole new level.”


You’re not gonna believe this!

Yesterday, Congress took stupid to a whole new level by announcing a ridiculous plan to tax enlistees $2,400 to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill. Yes, some in Congress want to tax troops to use the GI Bill. It’s insanity!

It’s bad for veterans. Bad for our military. Bad for recruiting. Bad for our economy. And especially bad for families making a base pay of only about $19,000 a year.

And IAVA won’t stand for it. No way.

If you’ve volunteered to serve this country, you are entitled to your education benefits. It’s a cost of war. PERIOD.

IAVA created and passed the original post-9/11 GI Bill back in 2008. And we’ve been holding the line to defend it ever since. We fought to upgrade it in 2010. We’ve also helped hundreds of thousands of vets use it. And thanks to your support last year, we successfully fought $4B in proposed cuts.

But our earned wartime benefits are under attack again by politicians looking to nickel and dime our brothers and sisters–as bullets continue to fly at them in combat around the world.

IAVA will ferociously #DefendTheGIBill. Now and forever. We will fight to ensure all enlistees get the same benefits (or better) than we got. And we need you to have our back.

Sign our petition to send a clear message to Congress now: if you need money to pay for stuff, find it elsewhere! Not from the wallets of young enlistees.

Together, we will hold the line. And we will win.

Onward,

Paul Rieckhoff
Iraq veteran
Founder and CEO
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA

PS. We need fuel for this urgent fight. Donate now to #DefendTheGIBill.

Unpublished Book Jacket Copy for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (circa 1972)

Not for the first time (see here and here) I recommend reading some Hunter S. Thompson as a tonic for the times. Strange times then, strange times now. Like always maybe, only more so. (Obviously, the overlong pages of copy never made it to the book jacket.)


So now, in closing, I want to thank everybody who helped me put this happy work of fiction together. Names are not necessary here; they know who they are—and in this foul era of Nixon, that knowledge and private laughter is probably the best we can hope for. The line between martyrdom and stupidity depends on a certain kind of tension in the body politic—but that line disappeared, in America, at the trial of the “Chicago 7/8,” and there is no point in kidding ourselves, now, about Who Has the Power.

In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile—and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: Not necessarily to Win, but mainly to keep from Losing Completely. We owe that to ourselves and our crippled self-image as something better than a nation of panicked sheep … but we owe it especially to our children, who will have to live with our loss and all its long-term consequences. I don’t want my son asking me, in 1984, why his friends are calling me a “Good German.”…

The Swine are gearing down for a serious workout this time around. Four more years of Nixon means four more years of John Mitchell—and four more years of Mitchell means another decade or more of bureaucratic fascism that will be so entrenched, by 1976, that nobody will feel up to fighting it. We will feel too old by then, too beaten, and by then even the Myth of the Road will be dead—if only for lack of exercise. There will not be any wild-eyed, dope-sucking anarchists driving around the country in fireapple red convertibles if Nixon wins again in ’72….

So much, then, for The Road—and for the last possibilities of running amok in Las Vegas & living to tell the tale. But maybe we won’t really miss it. Maybe Law & Order is really the best way to go, after all.

Yeah … maybe so, and if that’s the way it happens … well, at least I’ll know I was there, neck deep in the madness, before the deal went down, and I got so high and wild that I felt like a two-ton Manta Ray jumping all the way across the Bay of Bengal.

It was a good way to go, and I recommend it highly—at least for those who can stand the trip. And for those who can’t, or won’t, there is not much else to say. Not now, and certainly not by me, or Raoul Duke either. Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas marks the end of an era … and now, on this fantastic Indian summer morning in the Rockies, I want to leave this noisy black machine and sit naked on my porch for a while, in the sun.

From The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson

The Rudest President Ever

In a tweet, the president called NBC’s respected political journalist Chuck Todd “Sleepy Eyes.” This was obviously meant as an insult, since trump has previously used tiredness and sleepiness and looks as an attack. (We know that trump sleeps little himself, so that could be the reason for this pejorative, though we’ll have to leave this for the psychoanalysts who get paid to explore the quagmire of his brain.)

We’ve had some pretty nasty presidents, though they customarily kept the worst of their invective private because…they were president. Even if you don’t want to be popular, when you are on public display, you at least want to maintain the good opinion of those who place some value on civility.

We’ve also had dealings in our own lives with very rude people. Some we can’t avoid (bosses, coworkers, family), others we have as little to do with as possible, running the other way when we can.

We have never had a president this publicly rude, not even close. Hardly even a public figure this consistently rude.

Why isn’t the president’s rudeness a bigger deal? Because his other flaws, shortcomings and failures are so great that rudeness doesn’t even seem to make the list.

But it should be on the list. As we all know, constant exposure to rudeness takes its toll. It tends to make us a little rude sometimes too, or at least normalizes it. And when rude is normal, even admirable, we have a problem.

Arcade Fire: I Give You Power, I Can Take It Away

The Clash used to call themselves “The only band that matters,” based on their political and social stances.

Arcade Fire has never been overly political, or overly self-promoting, just great. Their latest single, released in January, doesn’t make them the only band that matters, but it does confirm that they are a band that matters, and it is a track that matters.

If the band had just added Mavis Staples to the track, that might have been enough. But what she and Win Butler sing for us is an anthem pointed right at the heart of today. A reminder, an aspiration, a truth you can listen to and move to and shout and follow, when you’re feeling discouraged.

I Give You Power

I give you power, over me
I give you power, but now I gotta be free
I give you power, but now I say
I give you power, I can take it away
I can take it away
Watch me

I’m with Stupid and Stupid Is Me

I see that today a few people were reading a post I wrote a little more than a year ago, You Can Stop Worrying About Trump Being the Republican Nominee. But You Can’t Stop Worrying.

At the time, David Duke, ex-KKK Grand Wizard, gave Trump his imprimatur, saying he was in essence “one of us.” I totally believed this would end Trump’s chances of the Republicans giving him the nomination.

I was wrong about so many things. I overestimated the Republican Party. I underestimated the haplessness of the Democratic Party establishment. I overestimated the news media. I should have known better on all those scores but as the poet/political analyst Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is the thing with feathers.”

What I wasn’t wrong about, then or now, is this:

Forget all the talk about people flocking to Trump because of their frustration and anger about political gridlock and ineffectiveness. You don’t have to take a deep dive into the research to see that tens of million Americans want to roll back progress not to the Reagan years, but to the years before civil rights and other modern principles of tolerance and equality. (My sad favorite remains the Trump supporter wearing a baseball cap saying “Make Racism Great Again!”).

These people may not be your friends, but they are your neighbors and fellow voters. Whether there are enough of them to elect a President of the United States is an open question.

That open question is answered and closed. I am stupefied. I’m with me, and I’m with stupid. And for the moment, so are we all.