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It’s becoming increasingly clear that we can no longer afford to imprison nearly 2 and a half million Americans, a disproportionate number of them black and Latino.  The choice is clear: break the bank to continue to punish people for mostly nonviolent offenses, or figure out a new way to operate “criminal justice” that actually heals people rather than just putting them in cages.

If we continue down a neo-fascist path we will be unable to treat prisoners as human beings, and continue to drive a racial wedge into the heart of the nation. Obama must remember that he is Black and stop these Jim Crow shenanigans. [alex]

The New Jim Crow
How the War on Drugs Gave Birth to a Permanent American Undercaste

By Michelle Alexander

Originally published by TomDispatch.

Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation’s “triumph over race.” Obama’s election has been touted as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow, the bookend placed on the history of racial caste in America.

Obama’s mere presence in the Oval Office is offered as proof that “the land of the free” has finally made good on its promise of equality. There’s an implicit yet undeniable message embedded in his appearance on the world stage: this is what freedom looks like; this is what democracy can do for you. If you are poor, marginalized, or relegated to an inferior caste, there is hope for you. Trust us. Trust our rules, laws, customs, and wars. You, too, can get to the promised land.

Perhaps greater lies have been told in the past century, but they can be counted on one hand. Racial caste is alive and well in America.

Most people don’t like it when I say this. It makes them angry. In the “era of colorblindness” there’s a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have “moved beyond” race. Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:

*There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

*As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

* A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.

*If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste — not class, caste — permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.

Excuses for the Lockdown Read the rest of this entry »

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Sexism, egos, and lies: Sometimes you wake up and it is not different

By Lisa Fithian / March 22, 2010

Originally posted on The Rag Blog.

Brandon. Darby. Still from a video / videochannels.com

On December 31, 2008, the Austin Informant Working Group released a statement titled: “Sometimes You Wake Up and It’s Different: Statement on Brandon Darby, the ‘Unnamed’ Informant/Provocateur in the ‘Texas 2.’” It’s been over a year since then and here is my long-overdue version of that story.

It was on December 18, 2008, that I learned unquestionably that Brandon Michael Darby, an Austin activist, was an FBI informant leading up to the 2008 Republican National Convention protests in St. Paul, MN. He was the key witness in the case of two young men from Midland, TX, Bradley Crowder (23) and David McKay (22) who, thanks to Brandon’s involvement, have been convicted of manufacturing Molotov cocktails.

They are now serving two and four years, respectively, in federal prison. In 2010, Brandon will be a key witness in another important case to the Government — the case of the RNC 8, Minneapolis organizers who are facing state conspiracy charges.

The case of the “Texas 2” gained national media attention as a result of Brandon’s unique blend of egomania, the media’s attraction to charismatic and controversial men, and the persistence of the U.S. government to criminalize and crush a growing anti-authoritarian movement. I found myself strangely entwined in the story — past, present and future.

I knew Brandon, and I was given a set of the FBI documents because, as it became apparent from reading them, I was one of the primary people he was reporting on to the FBI. (I, like many others engaged in political protest, am suspect because of my politics not my actions.) Now all of us who knew Brandon and worked closely with him, have been coming to terms with what he did, how he was able to do it, how we were used and abused in the process, and what we might do differently next time.

The Texas 2: David McKay and Bradley Crowder.

Waking up

Some of us were more surprised than others when Brandon revealed himself as an informant. My first reaction was deep sadness. I then went through a range of emotions: disbelief, shock, anger, outrage, and at times vindication. I am still hurt and angry, not just with Brandon, but with the whole system that supports and enables him.

I am still struggling with forgiveness for choices made in activist communities and by some of my friends. I understand how difficult it was; Brandon, at times, was also my friend. In the end we must examine the behavior we experienced, reflect on the array of choices we had, and explore what we could do differently to insure this does not happen again.

Brandon’s behavior was problematic long before 2008. Whether or not he was actually working for the state, he was doing their job for them by breeding discord within our politically active communities. I raised my concerns about Brandon’s behavior in New Orleans, in Austin, and also in Minneapolis. Read the rest of this entry »


Yesterday, President Obama announced his new $3.8 Trillion budget proposal, including about a trillion dollars for war and military, including increasing expenditure on Nuclear Weapons by $7 billion!  Nuclear weapons? Really? That’s the change we can believe in?

[update 2/5: I should also mention the completely misguided funding of nuclear power plants as well, see Obama’s Nuclear Giveaway]

This news came alongside an announced “spending freeze”, which would exclude military/war and only affect social programs, like jobs, housing, education and health care. These are precisely the programs which need to be dramatically increased in this economic crisis, not frozen. This proposed freeze would last 3 years, meaning for the rest of Obama’s term in office we could see no new spending on any of the social programs that are desperately needed. The poor, the middle and working classes, and everyone who has hope for a more compassionate United States is essentially being locked out in the cold.

Candidate Obama himself campaigned against exactly such an “across the board spending freeze,” as we may recall if we can muster our memories back through one year of hazy distractions (luckily Youtube never forgets):

If they’re so interested in reducing spending, why not cut totally useless and destructive programs – like NUCLEAR WEAPONS?

Why is Obama backsliding on all of his campaign promises? It just so happens that even though there’s no sane use of additional nuclear weapons (the US stockpile is already over 10,000 warheads, and the Cold War is over), nuclear weapons corporations like Lockheed Martin spend millions of dollars to lobby politicians for this funding anyway. And sadly, they’re getting it because Obama is afraid of the Republicans.

Once again we are seeing the continued march towards war, death and neo-fascism. The needs of the population – from decent jobs and housing, affordable education and health care, to a healthy environment – are being denied in order to protect corporate and financial interests.

Here’s Democracy Now! with the nuclear weapons story, and an article from Norman Solomon on the spending freeze below:

Despite Non-Proliferation Pledge, Obama Budget Request Seeks Additional $7B for Nuclear Arsenal

As part of a record $3.8 trillion budget proposal, the Obama administration is asking Congress to increase spending on the US nuclear arsenal by more than $7 billion over the next five years. Obama is seeking the extra money despite a pledge to cut the US arsenal and seek a nuclear weapons-free world. The proposal includes large funding increases for a new plutonium production facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico. We speak with Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico. Watch video.

Don’t Call It a ‘Defense’ Budget

by Norman Solomon

This isn’t “defense.”

The new budget from the White House will push U.S. military spending well above $2 billion a day.

Foreclosing the future of our country should not be confused with defending it.

“Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors,” the New York Times reports this morning (February 2).

It isn’t defense to preclude new domestic initiatives for a country that desperately needs them: for healthcare, jobs, green technologies, carbon reduction, housing, education, nutrition, mass transit . . . Read the rest of this entry »


This essay strikes me as deeply explanatory for the absurd political events that have been taking place in the US in the past year – from trillion-dollar bank bailouts, to the inability to create any meaningful health care reform, to the absolute mocking of the world’s attempts to deal with the catastrophe of climate change – the US government seems to have completely given up on pretending to represent the American public and aligned itself with huge financial and corporate interests, right out in the open.

Those of us with a radical understanding of power know this government has always served the interests of the powerful as its primary mission. But in the past, the politicians at least paid lip service to the public interest in order to save face. This was the era of “hegemony”, roughly meaning the consent of the ruled to their domination.

The public was being screwed, but somehow it was ideologically prepared to believe that “we, the people” had the ultimate say. This was supposed to be a democracy, after all. Sure, the police, prison system, military, and federal enforcement agencies would step in if things got out of hand, but much more effective at keeping the system intact was the “cop in our heads”. As long as we truly believed that it was all for our own good, the corporations just rolled right along, plundering the planet and destroying our communities. And the media made sure we believed it. That’s hegemony.

The reign of George W. Bush really started the break from this paradigm, as we saw for example the outright defiance of the US Constitution and US law when it came to imprisonment of political enemies, justifying torture, spying on millions of American citizens’ phone calls, excessive lying in order to invade and occupy strategic countries, etc etc.  At first the public somewhat accepted these moves as “necessary” in the face of terrorism, but Bush’s popularity waned terribly in his second term as people became more informed of what was really happening. In this light Obama’s rhetoric about “change” seems to have initially served to reinvigorate the system with a revived hegemony – to give the US a new image, one of tolerance, diplomacy, and the rule of law.

But the first year of Obama has already shattered these illusions. Obama and his Democrats now appear totally befuddled, their strategy (of putting a smiling face and a few meaningless reforms on a fundamentally broken system) lies in rubble. And a resurgent, perhaps racist, Right appears ready to sweep back into control by playing with the public’s justified resentment and frustration of a continually deteriorating situation.

In this context Jeff Strabone asks us if hegemony is becoming a thing of the past: “Will the state shamelessly turn itself completely over to serving the interests of a powerful few without bothering to pretend that it’s not?”

I’ve written in my synopsis about the end of capitalism and the possible emergence of neo-fascism, a militarization of society in order to preserve the interests of the powerful, regardless of the environmental and social costs. It seems to me that one indicator of this possible paradigm shift is the increasing shamelessness of the elites. In market-driven capitalism, image is crucial. If a corporation gets bad publicity, they stand to lose money in the stock market. This is one of the few areas of capitalism that is open to democratic intervention. Another area where the public can occasionally intervene is through electing progressive representatives into office.

But it’s these avenues that appear to be closing to us now. Goldman Sachs, Exxon-Mobil, and Blackwater have all gotten terrible publicity in the past few years for their theivery, pollution and murder; but their stocks have never soared higher. Then the public gave Obama and the Democrats an enormous mandate to “change” the country, only to see them cave immediately on almost every campaign promise. The bank bailouts, torturing, and bombing of civilians have, if anything, increased in Obama’s tenure thus far. Perhaps the final insult was the Supreme Court’s decision last week that corporations are “people” with a First Amendment “right to speak” by directly buying politicians. Have they no shame? Apparently not.

So if the consent of the governed is no longer sought, and we’re truly moving into a post-hegemonic era, what can we do to make sure that the breakdown of the capitalist system leads to something better, and not far worse? As Mr. Strabone proclaims, it’s time for civil disobedience. The system has failed us, we must cut off our allegiance from it, confront the powers that be, and start envisioning and constructing the world we want to see replace capitalism. I, for one, wish to see that world based on shared values of democracy, justice, sustainability, freedom and love, and I urge all of you to consider the alternative. [alex]

Post-Shame: Time for Civil Disobedience

by Jeff Strabone

Originally published by Daily Kos.

Tue Jan 26, 2010

One of the duties of the modern nation-state is persuasion. Each state aims to keep its citizens convinced of the legitimacy of its rule. The state may be run chiefly for the enrichment of a few at the cost of the many, but the endurance of the state is widely thought to depend on its ability to sell its rule to the many as a common-sense truism. Or at least that was how it used to work. We may be entering a new era in the evolution of the state, one where the state approaches a state of utter shamelessness.

Antonio Gramsci, in his prison notebooks, called this persuasive activity ‘hegemony’. According to Gramsci, hegemony occludes the domination of the state and the classes whose interests it serves. One does not have to be an Italian communist of the 1920s to see the usefulness of Gramsci’s groundbreaking insight. Broadly speaking, all political actors pursue their agendas by trying to narrow other people’s imaginations in order to make desired outcomes seem common-sensical and undesired outcomes outside the ambit of reasonable thought.

It seems to me that over the past decade, in the United States, the state and a narrow circle of powerful interests—banks, energy companies, and private health insurers in particular—have simply given up trying to persuade the rest of us that their interests were our interests. Could we be moving in the twenty-first century to a state that practices domination without hegemony? Or, to put it in plain English, will the state shamelessly turn itself completely over to serving the interests of a powerful few without bothering to pretend that it’s not? And if it does, how should we respond?

I am not the only one asking these questions. Read the rest of this entry »


On Thursday, The Supreme Court of the United States decided that corporations could now spend unlimited amounts of money on political candidates, opening the door for billions of dollars from Exxon, Pfizer, Blackwater, Lockheed Martin and others to further buy off our representatives in state and national office.  The decision affirms the legal notion that corporations have “personhood”, giving them every First Amendment right associated therewith. In fact, their rights go above and beyond that of an actual human, as normal citizens can only donate some $2,400 to a candidate for a specific election. This voice of the people will be drowned out by the literally billions that can now be spent by corporations.

This decision is a national disgrace and further invites direct corporate control of all aspects of society. Remember that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, the father of modern fascism, once said “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” We are headed down a dangerous path.

The only way to overturn this decision may be a constitutional amendment, redefining corporations as economic instruments accountable to the communities, and to nature, which they should serve rather than exploit. To achieve this will require a massive reinvigoration of democracy in the United States. [alex]

Whose Rights?

Friday, January 22, 2010

YES! Magazine

A new Supreme Court decision promotes corporate rights at the expense of the rights of citizens. What happens when the legal structure itself stands in the way of democracy?

by Thomas Linzey and Mari Margil

Yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission-giving corporations the ability to spend money directly to influence federal elections under the Constitution’s First Amendment-was inevitable. It represents a logical expansion of corporate constitutional “rights”-which include the rights of persons which have been judicially conferred upon corporations. “Personhood” rights mean that corporations possess First Amendment rights to free speech, along with a litany of other rights that are secured to persons under the federal Bill of Rights.

The expansion of corporate rights and privileges under the law has been deliberate, beginning nearly two hundred years ago with the Dartmouth decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that private corporations had rights that municipal corporations-governments composed of “we the people”-did not.

For the past two centuries, new court decisions have only expanded corporate rights and privileges. For those who think that the way to stem this tide is to find the perfect lawsuit, stop looking. It doesn’t exist, for there is no magic bullet.

Rather, in order to reverse decisions like Citizens United, the whole concept of corporate “rights”-and the way they interfere with the exercise of rights by people, communities, and nature-must be examined. And, it’s not simply that corporations have “personhood” rights. It goes well beyond that.

Today’s structure of law gives corporations a spectrum of legal and constitutional rights which they routinely wield against people, communities, and nature. Corporations have more rights, for example, than the communities in which they seek to do business. They can and do use those rights to lobby Congress, impact elections, and to decide for us what we eat, whether mountaintops are blown off or not, whether there are fish in the oceans, and on and on. Their constitutional and other legal rights, together with their wealth, guarantee that they can define the debates that lead to the adoption of new laws-and often write the laws themselves. Read the rest of this entry »


A nice short essay about for-profit education in the age of the end of capitalism. Schools are scrambling to turn themselves into little corporations just in time for the entire paradigm of profit to unravel. The question is, as the country bankrupts itself and the markets dry up, how will schools proceed? Not just universities, but high schools, kindergartens, technical schools, etc? What will education look like in a post-capitalist world?

Will it be more authoritarian, based on mindless discipline and punishments in order to train students to be soldiers or prisoners? Or will it be more democratic, based on the free development of the potential of each child, and preparation for service to the community? That choice is up to us. [alex]

For-profit Education

Milton Friedman’s Dream

Something for advocates of public education to keep in mind now is the changed face of the enemy. The oligarchs; Gates, Broad, the Walton Family, the Bush Family, Bloomberg and the CEO’s represented in the Business Roundtable, had a plan for the destruction of the public schools. They were supremely confident they could bring to fruition Milton Friedman’s dream that education could become a highly profitable industry. Unbeknownst to them though, they had an Achilles Heel. Their plan was fatally flawed because it was inextricably bound up with the dynamic growth of a global capitalist economy.

That’s over with now. Why? For one, because globalization was so successful in its brief heyday. It penetrated every market on the planet. Who would have thought China could become the largest market for autos the way it has this year? It found the absolute lowest wage possible in the undeveloped world. They bumped right up against outright slavery and where possible went over the edge.

The effect of this success was profits on a scale heretofore unimaginable but it also exhausted the systems possibilities for growth. And growth is its lifeblood. Growth kept it healthy and dynamic. When that growth became impossible capitalism turned in on itself. It began to cannibalize itself. That’s when you get Wall Street turning investment banks into casinos and investment vehicles into logarithms. No more real wealth was being created so the bankers turned to magic tricks, in the form of derivatives, to give the appearance of wealth creation. That’s when you get some of the largest corporate entities ever created disappearing into the history books. So long General Motors!

The other thing a global economy had to have if it was going to work was a plentiful and cheap supply of oil. If the world is not now on the downside of the Peak Oil curve, its close enough for government work in the US, China, India, Russia, the EU. Rulers in these developed and developing countries have begun to act along those lines. For instance, the US won’t be getting out of the Middle East anytime soon for the oil supply it offers. US military presence there has nothing to do with silly bleatings over “underwear bombers” or terrorist threats. And for another instance, economic nationalism, in the form of US tariffs on Chinese steel to give one example, is the wave of the future. Globalization cannot withstand the end of free trade or oil driven trade but it faces both. Read the rest of this entry »


This a review of the newish movie ‘Collapse’, review written by a woman of color named Erinn, which I saw on the Bring the Ruckus website. ‘Collapse’ apparently features Michael Ruppert talking about his apocalyptic visions for the world, filmed from his hideout bunker underground somewhere.  Ruppert maintains a horrific blog and used to edit From the Wilderness, a conspiracy-oriented website that intermixes information about peak oil with 9/11 Truth stuff and other scary things.

I was glad to read Erinn’s review, even though I’m not planning to see this film, because it highlights both the racist/classist elements, as well as the lack of grounding in analysis about social change, that continues to hinder the peak oil “movement.”

What Ruppert, and other scaremongers like William Catton of Overshoot and Jay Hanson of dieoff.com have failed to comprehend is that peak oil and other ecological limits do not in themselves guarantee social disaster just because capitalism is collapsing.  There are non-capitalist, non-fossil fuel-driven ways of organizing society, some of which would be much better, and some much worse.

Peak oil does present us with a stark dilemma, but like any dilemma we have two paths we can go down – of course there’s the path of continued plunder and violence, militarism and neo-fascism – but there’s also that of freedom, democracy, and sustainability.  By hiding this second path from their readers and viewers, Ruppert and other ‘doomers’ inadvertently present compelling arguments for the first.

There’s still plenty of resources to meet everyone’s basic needs of food, shelter, water, etc. But because those in power have control over production, resources are being diverted to socially and ecologically inappropriate ends, like the military, banks, private jets, prisons, tar sands, etc.  Never ever forget that there is always a fundamental political choice of how to allocate resources. Until the peak oil ‘movement’ catches on to this reality, it will continue to be dominated by scared, privileged white folks worried about a future catastrophe yet who don’t see the catastrophes that are already affecting most of the peoples of the world.

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Happy MLK Day!

[alex knight]

COLLAPSE: A Review

by Erinn

So, I went to see a movie called “Collapse.” I read about this movie a little bit before seeing it (full disclosure: I get caught it weird Internet spaces and was reading an article about Mein Kampf. This movie was mentioned in the article for some reason). The premise of the movie is pretty simple: Michael Ruppert believes that he know how and why the US and global economies are currently collapsing (Get it? That’s the movie title…and the country…). The ticket was like $4, which in LA is pretty much like highway robbery.

Originally I went to see this film because it looked interesting and because of the whole $4 thing. About 30 minutes into the movie, I realized that there was a larger discussion to be had here that went beyond reviewing a film. There are aspects of this film that I found interesting and problematic from a practical political perspective, but I think that there is even a more interesting discussion here on the limitations of some supposedly “leftist” and “revolutionary” political ideologies and the complicated nature of the political moment that is in our near future.

So, just to summarize: The film really focuses on Ruppert and the Peak Oil Movement (which to be fair I know little about.) For those of you that are in the same boat as I am, the Peak Oil Movement refers to the idea/scientific principle that there is a limited amount of fossil fuels in the world. Ruppert looks at the fact that Saudi Arabia, which has the largest, recorded landed oil reserves, now drills for oil offshore. As offshore oil drilling is a much more costly endeavor than drilling for oil on land, this could be an indication that the oil in Saudi Arabia, and thus countries with even less oil, is on the global decline as a “dependable” resource. Ruppert identifies the fact that the economic system that the US and the rest of the world operates with requires “infinite resources” while depending on the “finite resource” of oil as the central paradox of our existence today. The movie goes on to note the limitations of other fuel possibilities (with the exception of solar and wind power, Mike identifies other fuel resources as economically and environmentally unfeasible) and declares that “revolution” (which isn’t ever defined in the film) will come from the anger people feel because of the fuel and food shortages that will plague the world in the upcoming decades.

Ruppert constructs a parable to help the audience understand his perspective. He describes the Titanic and himself as a boat-builder on the ship. He’s just been informed that the ship is going to sink and that there are not enough boats on the ship to save everyone on board the ship. (While telling this parable Ruppert seems to be ignoring the racial and gendered histories of this moment…aka white dudes locking poor and “colored” folks in the engine room of the ship.)

Ruppert says that as a boat-builder, he can select from a group of three sets of people to help: Read the rest of this entry »


After a wild but empowering week of demonstrations in Pittsburgh, here’s a short media recap of some of the highlights. [alex]

$12 Trillion has been given by the US government to large banks and corporations since last year

$12 Trillion has been given by the US government to large banks and corporations since last year

 
Great short news video on why the protesters were in Pittsburgh.

Exposes the police repression felt by the whole city last week, not just protesters.

The successes of mass protest.

IVAW held a press conference and action Friday morning about no longer sacrificing for war

IVAW held a press conference and action Friday morning about no longer sacrificing for war

 

Finally, see this audio report from Free Speech Radio News for more context.

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