Saturday, November 26, 2016

How Can I Fight Fascism In My Country?

NOW READ THIS, from the Yale historian, Holocaust expert, and student of European history (and a Harvard Academy Scholar), Tim Snyder:
"Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.
1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You've already done this, haven't you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.
2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of "our institutions" unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don't protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.
3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.
4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of "terrorism" and "extremism." Be alive to the fatal notions of "exception" and "emergency." Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.
5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don't fall for it.
6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don't use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps "The Power of the Powerless" by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.
7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.
8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.
9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.
10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.
11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.
12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.
13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.
14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.
15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.
16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.
17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.
18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)
19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.
20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it."
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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Return of the End of the World

Welcome to the post-apocalyptic dystopia of America in 2017. Well, we're jumping the gun a bit since it is still 2016, but we can see the fire from here and it is headed this way. We will be in it soon enough, we might as well get ready for it. Brace yourselves!

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Changes coming down...

I don't really believe in the end of the world anymore, but I'm not sure what direction my blogging should take from here. I need to consider my options for awhile. I'll keep you posted. Thanks for playing!


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Liberal, not Communist

      Being a Liberal, and therefore on the left side of the aisle in terms of politics, there are people who automatically assume I am a fan of Communism. Nothing could be further from the truth.
      The problem with Communism, in my opinion, is that it is all about the revolution – why you should have one, how it should be organized, and who to blame for it being necessary. It has shown very little application in following up on creating a working government after the revolution. In fact, it has a record of putting some truly awful people in charge, who proceed to take dictatorial powers almost immediately. There is no working plan to create checks and balances, no plan to install accountability, no system of effective governance at all. It is a beautiful-sounding ideology that can be used to describe society and culture from a particular viewpoint, but sucks as a system of government.
      There are some nations, most notably in northern Europe, that have taken the concepts of socialism and applied them to their existing democratic governments over time. No revolution required, which means no massive reworking of infrastructure. Keeping the checks and balances while making the system more people-friendly. It works for them, and they seem to be thriving even in this disastrous economy.
      It is a mash-up of ideologies, a mixing of high-minded concepts with practical solutions, that seems to be the winning scenario. Free-Market Capitalism is proving to be as much of a disaster as straight Communism, and for much the same reasons. Any pure ideology is going to be antagonistic to compromise, which is essential to getting things done in politics.
      I don’t want a revolution. I just want a government that is more people-friendly. I don’t care if the rich get richer, I just don’t see why the richest nation on Earth should have any poverty at all. If we have so much wealth, why are there still poor people? When we give poor people money, they spend it on the essentials of life, which means they are contributing to economic growth. A thriving economy will have more jobs, and nobody likes to live on welfare forever. Educational opportunities also should be available for everyone, in order to further enrich the economy. We also need to take care of our sick and injured so they can be productive again instead of languishing in debt or filing for bankruptcy.
      All of this can be done with no changes to the Constitution at all. Everything still in place – all the checks and balances, all the infrastructure, all the legal protections of citizens remains intact. Some laws would be changed, but mostly it is just a matter of enforcing what is already there. Separation of money from politics needs stronger enforcement to reduce corruption, and taxation rates need to stop coddling the wealthy. Medicare can be expanded to become a single-payer system, which is not that big of a step from where it is now. The student loan system can be replaced with a system of grants without changing the qualifications. Reducing the size of our military can be done easily as soon as we stop trying to be the world’s police force. Do we still need so many bases in Germany? Are nuclear missile submarines still necessary? If you want to trim the budget, that’s where you should start, not cutting food stamps and welfare checks from single mothers.
      None of this requires a revolution. It just requires a change of attitude. We need to stop being so “every man for himself” and start being more “he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Town Mouse and Country Mouse

The disparity between urban and rural has been around since the beginning of civilization. Greek slave Aesop wrote about the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse between 620 and 560 BCE, suggesting that the distinction was already familiar even then. The world of the city is a very different place than living in the country, and people generally have a preference for one or the other. Rural people are more independent and self-reliant, accustomed to taking care of themselves and having a small number of neighbors. Urbanites enjoy the benefits of public services like police protection, fire fighters, paved roads, clean water, education, and hospitals; as well as convenient access to a large variety of goods and entertainment. More importantly, the higher pay of manufacturing jobs has traditionally made urban living more opulent than subsistence farming could provide. In spite of having a large number of neighbors, however, urbanites are typically less likely to have as many friends as their country cousins, though the constant association with a diverse population does make them more open to people unlike themselves.
The gap between urban and rural lifestyles has been getting wider throughout the industrial age, and shows signs of becoming much, much worse in the information age. Living in the country now means less access to internet and cell phone services, though satellites are bridging that gap – if you have the money. Increasingly, people who have the money to stay connected are moving to country estates for the privacy that country living affords them. Away from the cameras and surveillance that have become the new normal for city dwellers. The suburbs are no longer enough to get away from the problems of urban living, and even small towns are becoming increasingly urbanized.
In America, as with every industrialized nation in the twenty-first century, to live in the city means to surrender your anonymity. You are public. What secrets you have are becoming harder and harder to protect. There are advantages to the encroaching surveillance and intrusion – crime rates are down in places that have security cameras installed. We trade our freedom for security, which is becoming an easier pill to swallow as our lives become increasingly padded with technology. A cell phone with built-in video camera is a powerful weapon on the city streets, protection from police corruption and insurance investigators as well as the odd mugger or rapist. Better, in many respects, than a gun, which has its own hazards in this environment. Many city dwellers own firearms in the USA, but the situations where a gun is an advantage is unbalanced by even more situations where just having a gun will get you in trouble. Extreme care must be used when drawing a gun in a city, and poor judgment can cost innocent lives.
Living independently in deep rural environments means doing without most of the technological comforts or lack of privacy. You are responsible for your own security, which probably consists of a combination of dogs and guns and fences. Your security makes you more isolated from your neighbors, but the people you do meet are very likely to have similar ideas about such things – as well as similar tastes in music, religion, and politics. Education is harder to get, but also carries less of an advantage. Life is simpler – much simpler. It is easy to reduce complex issues to their most basic terms – everything is black-and-white. Freedom is paramount, because that’s really the only advantage you have over the city dweller.
This is the dividing factor in American politics right now – town mouse versus country mouse. Urban liberals against rural conservatives. In the long run, the numbers of the rural population will dwindle until they no longer represent a political force to be reckoned with, while the increased educational benefits of urban living will create a more diverse variety of liberals. In the meantime, the dying conservative movement is thrashing in impotent rage – their simplistic ideology still a powerful tool of the sociopathic industrialists. Things will get worse before they get better, but they will get better.
There is a new breed of rural dweller. More connected, less isolated, better educated. More open minded than the stodgy conservatives of a simpler time. Still fond of freedom, dogs, and guns – but also more open to new ideas. These people put up solar panels and/or windmills to improve their self-sufficiency. They recycle, and practice sustainable farming practices. They surf the ‘net and watch TV on a satellite service. Most importantly, less likely to be a tool for Big Business and evangelical grifters. This is the new country mouse. Not so different than the town mouse anymore, but still not exactly the same. City and country will always be different worlds, but as we continue to evolve into the twenty-second century, we will find that our differences are less important than our commonalities.
We are all human, and that is what binds us. No environment can change us so much that we lose that bond. We are too much alike to let small differences divide us, and the sooner we all learn that, the better our lives will be.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bad to the Boehner

(Apologies to George Thorogood)

(And, yes, I know it is pronounced “Bay-ner.” Let me have some artistic license, okay?)

From the day he was born,
Long before the election,
People gazed in confusion
At the orange complexion,
Pelosi spoke up,
Said "he must be a stoner"
She could tell right away
She’d be bad to the Boehner
Bad to the Boehner.
Bad to the Boehner.

He blocked all the bills
He let none of them through,
Anything that would help, baby
Help for me and you,
He promised us jobs,
But that bill was a goner,
He just pisses me off
That’s why I’m bad to the Boehner.
Bad to the Boehner.
Bad to the Boehner.


He makes poor people beg,
He lets rich people steal,
He turns Democrats red,
And makes Republicans squeal.
It’s just such a bad pun,
Yeah, in fact it’s a groaner,
But I just wanna be bad,
I’m just bad to the Boehner.
Bad to the Boehner.
Bad to the Boehner.


When he walks the streets,
Poor folks run and hide,
Every lobbyist he meets,
They all stay satisfied.
It’s still just a bad pun,
Yeah, in fact it’s a groaner,
But I just wanna be bad,
I’m just bad to the Boehner.
Bad to the Boehner.
Bad to the Boehner.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Global Inequality by the numbers

Con Artists in Politics

Here’s something that occurred to me today: The political movements of Fascism in Italy and Germany in the post-WWI era, and the Communist take-over of Russia at the same time, are often described as being polar opposites of each other, with Fascism usually seen as a backlash to Communism. But, if they are so politically different, why was their final outcome – complete consolidation of political power in the hands of a few – so similar?
Using different methods to gain control – Fascism by popular vote, where Communism usually required a military coup - they were popular with the majority of people living in those countries at the time. In hindsight, it is hard to imagine why. However, if you look at how these parties presented themselves to their people, you start to see the pattern.
Russia had just been through their revolution in February, 1917, to overthrow the Czar and was beginning to set up a popular democratic government. However, that government was slow to take control and was seen as bungling and inefficient by the majority of Russian citizens. When the Bolsheviks in Petrograd seized control from the weak democrats in the October Revolution of that year, it triggered the Russian Civil War that resulted in the formation of the USSR in 1922. The use of Marxist philosophy and promotion of the Communist ideology was designed to appeal to the working masses that had grown dissatisfied with autocratic rule under the Czars. However, in spite of such idealistic campaign promises, what the Russian people ended up with was a heavy-handed dictatorship that paid little more than lip-service to left-wing philosophy.
Germany and Italy, on the other hand, were suffering under intolerable economic conditions in the years following WWI. In Italy, when members of the Fascisto (an individual member was a Fascista, a group of Fascistas were called Fascisti) campaigned on a platform of re-building the economy and, at the same time, national pride, they found favor in the working classes. In Germany, the National Socialist Party used similar rhetoric to gain favor. Both parties laid blame for their nations’ suffering on outside forces, pointing fingers at enemies that were already being despised by the majority – foreign workers that seemed to be taking jobs away from domestic labor, any groups that seemed to be suffering less economic hardship than the majority, and minorities that suffered widespread prejudice for whatever reason. In any case, the goal was to fix the blame on anyone but the people who had the most votes. The use of outright flattery and appeal to the basic prejudices of their chosen demographics worked wonders. Both Hitler and Mussolini were elected by popular votes. They were given unprecedented powers by the people, who expected these men and their political machines to rebuild their nations and restore them to economic power and greatness.
In all these cases, the people were sold a bill of goods by expert con artists. For the Communists, the philosophies of Karl Marx were used to justify complete authoritarian dictatorships that had no intention of giving any “power to the people.” Fascists simply lied their way into power. While claiming to be the ultimate expressions of democracy, all of these governments put all political power in the hands of a few. Regardless of what they called themselves or what political philosophies they espoused, they were nothing more than despotic Autocracies.
With our complicated system of representative democracy, such a tactic has proven to be difficult to implement. Our checks and balances prevent anyone from taking too much power, at least not very quickly. Over time, however, our government is slowly being bought. Our Capitalist ideology is working against us in this case – power and wealth is being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer Americans every year. Our system of checks and balances, our very process of democracy, is being corrupted by lobbyists and SuperPACs. Money talks, and the rest of us are losing our voice.

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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Election Year

2012. A year of changes? Maybe. A lot of people saying Barack Obama can't get a second term.

I say:


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Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Market

One of the arguments that conservatives and libertarians like to bring up is that government regulations do not belong in a free-market economy. Such an economy would be inherently self-regulating by the market forces of supply and demand, and any outside interference would only hinder the control that the average consumer has on the market. This argument makes several assumptions in order to be considered valid.

The first assumption is that all participants in the market process are honest, or at least stupid enough to get caught in their deception. The consumer is not always aware that they have purchased an inferior product, or paid a premium price for a sub-premium product. Without the support of government regulation, the individual consumer's only recourse would be to withhold their business from the offending producer or vendor, and to make other consumers aware of the deception. In a very large economy such as ours, the loss of a few disgruntled consumers has little impact. Also, is it practical to research the background and honest value of every good and service we purchase? Not every consumer has that kind of time available.

Another assumption is that no consumer is coerced or influenced to purchase goods that they do not need. The modern science of consumer psychology used by advertising agencies is a powerful tool. Enough people are exploitable by the use of suggestion to make almost any product profitable, if it is pushed hard enough and broadcast over a large enough medium.

"Let the buyer beware" is often the supporting argument for free-market economics. This is a bit like blaming the victim of a con artist for being fooled by the scam. When someone takes advantage of human nature for their personal gain, should we answer that we need to be less human? And which is the more practical course to deal with the problem: Educate all consumers to avoid all possible deceptions from all producers and merchants? This information is freely available and there are many advocacy groups who promote intelligent and informed consumer practices. Still, the greedy and corrupt always seem to find a new way to take money from the consumer without providing an equitable product or service. Also, the larger corporations have the advantage of wealth, power, and influence - all of which the average consumer lacks by comparison - so that, even when caught in a deception, the corporation can simply bury the whistle-blowers in litigation, preventing further knowledge of their abuse from becoming wide-spread enough to effect the market.

The other option is create government oversight, in the form of consumer-protection regulations, to balance the power of the corporations with the power of law. This is also an imperfect solution, and there is still a need for consumer education and awareness, but the power of law gives the consumer a fighting chance, when the need arises. This serves to increase consumer confidence, which, in the long run, helps create a better environment for the market as a whole to prosper.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011


The Occupy Movement is over a month old, and showing no sign of slowing down or losing momentum. I believe this is, partly, because the majority of protesters are unemployed and angry about it, and therefore have nothing better to do. But, more significantly, there are also a lot of people who are fed up. Fed up with the lack of accountability of Wall Street and big business in general. Fed up with being lied to by politicians and the media. Fed up and frustrated by stagnant wages, rising prices, and lack of benefits, while watching the top 1% getting richer and richer - "The economy is doing fine, just not for most of us."

People are fed up with a lot of things, and taking this opportunity to express that feeling. This is why some people find it easy to say "I don't know what they want". There is not just one thing that people are angry about. There is a lot of problems that need to be addressed, that nobody seems to be interested in addressing. That's what the movement is really about. It is not a giant finger pointing out a single problem. It is a lot of fingers pointing at a lot of problems.

Adding to the confusion are the occasional anarchists and others who are there to generate chaos for its own sake. So far, these people have been held back by the more rational protesters, who want to keep things peaceful and non-violent - and are doing a better job at this than the police, who can't seem to tell the protesters apart.

Overall, the Occupy Movement is not about creating solutions to the problems it is pointing out. It is just the beginning. It is "Step One: Identify the Problems to be Addressed". Next comes "Step Two: Work Together to Solve the Problems."

Step Two is going to take some work.

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