US Press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. Just answer the question (Boston Globe)

Debates don't make or break, says James E. Sununo -- they're not boxing matches. They are just another part of the campaign narrative.

2. The case for a third party candidate (Politico)

It should not be surprising that there is support for an independent option in 2012, writes Douglas E. Schoen.

3. Joe McGinniss: Why I used unnamed sources (USA Today)

Writer behind unauthorized Sarah Palin biography, The Rogue, argues that he utilized a method that is controversial, but defensible and necessary.

4. Is the Tea Party Over? (New York Times)

According to Bill Keller, for the answer, watch Rick Perry.

5. Stop treating medical marijuana patients as criminals (Detroit Free Press)

A new federal order barring users from possessing firearms is illogical and ridiculous, argues this editorial.

6. Youth pushed to the edge (Boston Globe)

The "Occupy Wall Street" movement is a direct strike to the nation's conscience by a population that feels excluded from the American dream, writes James Carroll.

7. Understanding the consequences of changes in the minimum wage (The Oregonian)

It may just be a "lousy" 30 cents to snarky activists, but to business owners could be the difference between 10 people on a shift or nine, and unemployment for the person losing out, says Michael Saltsman.

8. Steve Jobs and the Future of Newspapers (Wall Street Journal) ($)

Apple boss loved the printed product, says L. Gordon Crovitz, but told him: "our lives are not like that anymore."

9. The Party Spirit on Trial (New York Times)

Aaron Aster takes a look at how the coming of the Civil War destroyed the two-party system.

10. A GOP assault on environmental regulations (Los Angeles Times)

Republicans, though correct that environmental regulations cost money, are oblivious to the public health consequences of pollution and the economic costs of inaction, says this LA Times editorial.

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Is it OK to punch a Nazi?

There are moral and practical reasons why using force to stop a far-right march is justified.

It says a great deal about Donald Trump that for the second time under his Presidency we are having to ask the question: is it OK to punch a Nazi?

More specifically, after the events in Charlottesville last weekend, we must ask: is it OK to turn up to a legal march, by permit-possessing white supremacists, and physically stop that march from taking place through the use of force if necessary?

The US president has been widely criticised for indicating that he thought the assortment of anti-semites, KKK members and self-professed Nazis were no worse than the anti-fascist counter demonstrators. So for him, the answer is presumably no, it’s not OK to punch a Nazi in this situation.

For others such as Melanie Phillips in the Times, or Telegraph writer Martin Daubney, the left have seemingly become the real fascists.

The argument goes that both sides are extremists and thus both must be condemned equally for violence (skipping over the fact that one of the counter-protesters was killed by a member of the far right, who drove his car into a crowd).

This argument – by focusing on the ideologies of the two groups – distracts from the more relevant issue of why both sides were in Charlottesville in the first place.

The Nazis and white supremacists were marching there because they hate minorities and want them to be oppressed, deported or worse. That is not just a democratic expression of opinion. Its intent is to suppress the ability of others to live their lives and express themselves, and to encourage violence and intimidation.

The counter-protesters were there to oppose and disrupt that march in defence of those minorities. Yes, some may have held extreme left-wing views, but they were in Charlottesville to stop the far-right trying to impose its ideology on others, not impose their own.

So far, the two sides are not equally culpable.

Beyond the ethical debate, there is also the fundamental question of whether it is simply counterproductive to use physical force against a far-right march.

The protesters could, of course, have all just held their banners and chanted back. They could also have laid down in front of the march and dared the “Unite the Right” march to walk over or around them.

Instead the anti-fascists kicked, maced and punched back. That was what allowed Trump to even think of making his attempt to blame both sides at Charlottesville.

On a pragmatic level, there is plenty of evidence from history to suggest that non-violent protest has had a greater impact. From Gandhi in to the fall of the Berlin Wall, non-violence has often been the most effective tool of political movements fighting oppression, achieving political goals and forcing change.

But the success of those protests was largely built on their ability to embarrass the governments they were arrayed against. For democratic states in particular, non-violent protest can be effective because the government risks its legitimacy if it is seen violently attacking people peacefully expressing a democratic opinion.

Unfortunately, it’s a hell of a lot more difficult to embarrass a Nazi. They don't have legitimacy to lose. In fact they gain legitimacy by marching unopposed, as if their swastikas and burning crosses were just another example of political free expression.

By contrast, the far right do find being physically attacked embarrassing. Their movement is based on the glorification of victory, of white supremacy, of masculine and racial superiority, and scenes of white supremacists looking anything but superior undermines their claims.

And when it comes to Nazis marching on the streets, the lessons from history show that physically opposing them has worked. The most famous example is the Battle of Cable Street in London, in which a march by thousands of Hitler-era Nazis was stopped parading through East End by a coalition of its Jewish Community, dockworkers, other assorted locals, trade unionists and Communists.

There was also the Battle of Lewisham in the late 70s when anti-fascist protesters took on the National Front. Both these battles, and that’s what they were, helped neuter burgeoning movements of fascist, racist far right thugs who hated minorities.

None of this is to say that punching a Nazi is always either right, or indeed a good idea. The last time this debate came up was during Trump’s inauguration when "Alt Right" leader Richard Spencer was punched while giving a TV interview. Despite the many, many entertaining memes made from the footage, what casual viewers saw was a reasonable-looking man being hit unawares. He could claim to be a victim.

Charlottesville was different. When 1,000 Nazis come marching through a town trying to impose their vision of the world on it and everywhere else, they don't have any claim to be victims.