The Past is Prelude

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When I first saw the image on the right of Donald Trump, our newly elected President of the United States, it immediately brought to my mind the striking portrait by Arnold Newman of industrialist Alfried Krupp, who oversaw German factories during World war II that were largely worked by slave labor from concentration camps. The devilish image of the millionaire industrialist, taken in 1963, has long haunted my increasing concern for rising fascism in the United States.

The Trump election just concluded is not a victory of populism over elitism, as the Trump team has portrayed. It is a victory of ignorance, fear, intolerance, xenophobia and nationalism over rationalism, critical thinking, and engagement in democracy and community.

The Trump campaign has mobilized millions of people who feel disenfranchised from the political and economic processes. The Great American Dream has become a nightmare for many, and recent politicians have done nothing to engage the people of this country nor even acknowledge their needs and fears. As Greg Palast has noted, we have The Best Government Money Can Buy, and with a political system dominated by corporate funding, only those who support the economic status quo are allowed entry into the process in any meaningful way.

Does Donald Trump’s election mean that fascism has triumphed in the United States? It remains to be seen if candidate Trump will continue unmodified as President Trump. It remains to be seen if the United States’ system of checks and balances has survived recent Neocon attempts to strengthen the independent role of the President. It remains to be seen how millions who voted for Trump will respond to the reality of President Trump. It remains to be seen how millions who voted against Trump will respond to the challenge of a fascist insurrection.

There is some of candidate Trump’s rhetoric that I agree with: abandoning global trade agreements, tighter controls on immigration, cooperative relationships with other countries, abandonment of US imperialism, global economic hegemony. These positive propositions are seemingly at odds with Trumps overt xenophobia, misogyny and intolerance, so it’s difficult to reconcile his bombastic public appearance with any rational government foreign policy.

But then, the government is much more than its titular leader, and the proof will be in Trump’s selection of cabinet and informal advisors. Judging by the ghosts of politics past hovering about the President-elect’s flamboyant hairdo, the future looks grim indeed.

Trump had it right that the election was rigged, probably because he has the receipts. Trump represents a Neocon victory far greater than that of George W. Bush, in that it is a victory of one Neocon darling over another. The fix was in on both sides of the ballot; the outcome was preordaned.

Krupp’s fascism was destroyed in the ashes of World War II. Whether or not it rises Phoenix-like in the new guise of President Donald Trump depends on the engagement of the people of the United States in the day to day political process of Democracy.

“Eternal vigilance is not only the price of liberty; eternal vigilance is the price of human decency.” Aldous Huxley

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Will Digital Democracy Save Us from the Broadcast?

In an article in Counterpunch: Stolen Fire: the Future of Democracy in the Age of Network Technology, Michael Welton, a professor with Athabasca University, considers the utility of network technology in advancing and sustaining democracy.

Many have put their hopes for democracy in digital form, as blogs, forums and other forms of electronic communications. Here on the Left Coast, an organization know as Civinomics proposes to augment local democracy through online discussions and “voting” on local topics of political interest, and making the results available to local politicians and government staff.

One might think this would be a positive direction, engaging the interest of the public in local issues and providing an easy forum to express their opinions.

However there is an enormous difference between expressing one’s opinion and taking part in the process of democracy.

Democracy is not voting, electronically or with traditional pencil and paper. Democracy is taking part in the day to day process of decision making by meeting with representatives, attending public meetings and hearings and meeting with neighbors and community members to discuss problems and situations in our local communities and work out our ideas for solutions. We then take these ideas to the public forum, bring them to our representatives and follow and support the progress of their adoption.

We don’t always get what we want, of course. It’s a synergistic process in which the outcome is determined by an ever fluctuating interrelationship among those taking part in the process. The important thing is, unless one is part of that process, one’s views and opinions are not represented in the outcome.

Electronic voting does not and cannot substitute for face to face involvement in the process of representative government.

I am a long-time proponent of anarchism, the body of thought regarding a social system based on non-hierarchical, decentralized, self-rule; that is, rules but no rulers.

I am forced to admit that human beings are not capable of sustaining such a society.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been involved in an attempt to protect a section of coastal California from a small, dedicated, vociferous, group of people intent on continuing their practice of allowing their dogs to run off-leash despite local leash laws prohibiting the practice.

At first, this might seem a contradiction. Laws? Illegal? Rules? Rulers? What does this have to do with anarchy?

Not much… and everything.

The off-leash dog proponents claim it is their right to allow their dogs to run off-leash whenever and wherever they want, despite ample evidence that off-leash dogs attack and injure people, other dogs and wildlife. It is clear that the common good requires rules restricting people from allowing their domesticated animals to roam freely in shared public space, hence, in our non-anarchic society, leash laws.

There seems to be a growing movement in the United States (the only country I know) of disregarding laws by considering them “obsolete.” It’s part, I think, of the “on demand” society created, at least in part, by the ubiquitous presence of television, computers, “smart” phones ( a “dumb” idea), and other instantaneous access technology that reduces human attention span, increases demand for material possessions and increasingly emphasizes personal individuality and desires over the common good.

Thus, those who want to go to the beach with their dogs off-leash seem to see this as an “entitlement” that no one else has any right to tell them they cannot do. They want it. They want it now. Any rules that stand in the way are “obsolete” because they don’t agree with them.

“You don’t know me well enough to tell me what to do” is the oft-heard and experienced attitude.

This trend, if it is a trend, is 180 degrees away from the ideals of anarchy. In this world view, every individual is an authority, there is no common good, the needs and desires of society are subservient to the needs and desires of the individual.

So we’re stuck with some form of hierarchical society until Homo sapiens grows up enough to take responsibility for its individual self and relearns the concept of responsibility to the wider society.

Oiling the War Machinery

Norman Solomon makes a persuasive case for awarding Bradley Manning the Nobel peace prize in Oiling the War Machinery.

As a nation at peace becomes a fading memory, so does privacy. Commitments to idealism — seeking real alternatives to war and upholding democratic values — are under constant assault from the peaks of power. 
Normalizing endless war and shameless surveillance, Uncle Sam and Big Brother are no longer just close. They’re the same, with a vast global reach.

American “Democracy” is not broken. This is the way it is constructed.

Never Forget Kent State

It’s important to remember that Kent State was not an isolated incident. It was part of a pattern of history of our country, a pattern that continues today.

We’ve been watching “The Kennedys,” a Canadian mini-series about the iconic Kennedy dynasty. It was controversial when it was first aired, partly due to some inaccuracies, but mostly because it challenges the popular image of the young, idealistic President and his family. The truth is sordid, grey, mundane human emotions and aspirations, just like everyday life. Grasping for power and influence. Opportunistic alliances among organized crime, government officials and the security establishment. All of which led to the Kennedy assassinations and the abomination of US hegemony that came after.
The startling public events of the 60s and 70s, assassinations, blatant quelling of dissent, militaristic confrontation, have given way to steady, day-to-day oppression, media control, covert intervention and overt invasion and occupation. The principles on which the United States was allegedly founded are ignored and rank expediency has taken their place. Government no longer serves the people, nor even cares what the people think, even those who do think, and act. The art of control has been honed to such a fine state that it blends invisibly with popular culture.
Kent State must never be forgotten. It was the warning shot across the bow, that, alas, has been forgotten or outgrown. It was the end of the beginning of the end of democracy.
Michael

Building Community

The New Year is a traditional time to reflect on the previous year and look forward to the new. While there is much to look forward to, there is also much that carries over from the last year and clouds the next.
Despite a relatively calm New Year’s Eve celebration, the news in Santa Cruz was dominated by crime and mayhem: a body found in a car trunk in Moss Landing, stabbings in Watsonville, stolen cars, burglaries, homelessness. It seems to be a high rate of crime reportage for our small community.
What’s behind the headlines? Is there more crime in Santa Cruz County than elsewhere? Do our local news sources concentrate on crime stories more than others? Is there no good news to report?
Much of the crime reported locally is gang related, a result of cultural clash, lack of economic opportunity, traditional family breakdown. Despite a well-financed and active Gang Task Force, gang activity continues, even though active gang members are well known to the local constabulary. Drive-by shootings, stabbings, robbery, graffiti and gang member confrontations have increased exponentially in the 10 years that I’ve lived in Santa Cruz.
The rising number of individuals living on the fly, camping out in town and out, and dependent on homeless shelters and mission meals, increases conflicts on our streets, in our neighborhoods and in our greenbelts and undeveloped margins. Those who cannot, or will not, contribute to local society create a further drain on the economy and community.
The declining U.S. economy contributes to all of these social problems, pulling money from our states, counties and municipalities, straining local budgets, businesses and banks. This creates a social discontinuity, since our consumer culture still tells us that personal worth is dependent on personal possessions. If we can’t have the possessions: new cars, large homes, wide-screen TeeVees, influential jobs, the latest clothing styles, we are told that we are worth less than those who do have these things.
How do we respond to this apparent downward social spiral?
Human beings are social animals, evolved to live together in supportive social communities. It is the lack of community that creates a feeling of despair, loss and hopelessness. It is through community that we rebuild supportive relationships for our youth, our working families and our elders.
Our central government can’t help us build community. It’s up to us. We can work together on the ground where we live, work, shop and play, to build cooperative social support structures to replace fading government institutions. Health care, child care, elder care, food supplies, housing, transportation, work and play can all be organized communally, not for personal profit but for community good.
As we work together to support ourselves, our families and our community, we will, quite naturally, work together politically, to insure that our neighborhoods, towns and counties support our communities. Democracy is the community talking to itself and deciding, together, on a course of action for the greater good.

In this new year of 2012, let’s take a close look at everything we do. Does it support community or personal benefit? How can we change our individual lives to help improve the lives of those closest to us?

Anarchy: Democracy Taken Seriously.

In a July 24 Commentary, Mark Dalton mistakenly compares anarchists to Tea Party opponents of raising the debt ceiling. This is as much a disservice to members of Congress as it is to anarchists and the theories of anarchism.

Anarchy means no rulers, not no rules. Anarchism is the body of political thought and writing calling for an end to authoritarian centralized rule, not government. An anarchist society is a society in which the people enforce common rules, rather than giving over their power to a central authority.

Anarchy is not chaos. Those who practice violent destruction in the name of anarchy are not philosophical anarchists, but opportunistic vandals, capitalizing on the popular impression of violent anarchism for their own political gain. If the world today were dominated by anarchists in anarchist societies, it would be much more peaceful. There would be no imperialism, no invasions of other countries to steal their oil and resources, no billions in profits to be gained by dominating the central government. We would look out for ourselves, our families and our neighbors, live within local cycles of resource availability, produce locally for local consumption and stop trashing the planet for corporate profits.

There is no single Anarchist Manifesto, as anarchism is not a centrally ruled doctrine, such as American Republicanism. Anarchism is the various ways people live, in their own communities, in their own bioregions, in maximum freedom of choice, assembly, and cooperation, giving each person, family, neighborhood and community maximum opportunity for free expression.

Democracy is indeed messy. We should try it in the United States some time. Real Democracy, not this faux Democracy Light of barely disguised corporate oligarchy.

Anarchism is democracy, rule by the people, taken seriously.