Archive for the ‘Civil Liberties’ Category


Homeland Security Graphic -- cops assaulting Statue of Liberty

–from our friends at Peace Supplies


There seem to be two explanations for Donald Trump’s attacks on the courts, media, and objective reality: 1) He’s a whining, self-pitying baby who simply can’t stand it when he doesn’t immediately get his own way; 2) He wants to pull a full-Stalin by undermining the institutions that stand in his way — the judiciary and free press — and by creating a false reality in which his followers simply accept his bald-faced lies and self-contradictory statements while ignoring abundant and immediately presented contradictory evidence.

These two explanations are not mutually exclusive; both are probably correct.

So, what do we have to look forward to from Trump and his Republican enablers?

  • Repeal of the Affordable Care Act without anything approaching an adequate replacement. Trump and the congressional Republicans will almost certainly take their cues from the insurance industry and big pharma, making healthcare less available and more expensive for the vast majority of people. Probability: Virtually certain. 7-stars-72

 

  • Assaults on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Congressional Republicans will push for “entitlement reform” (never mind that people paid for these things through payroll taxes), which will amount to at the very least reduction in cost-of-living increases for Social Security and reduction of benefits for Medicare and Medicaid recipients, and more stringent eligibility requirements for Medicaid recipients. Probability: Virtually certain.
    7-stars-72

 

  • Full-scale privatization of Social Security and Medicare. The more ideological (read Ayn Rand worshiping) Republicans, such as Paul Ryan, will push hard for this. If this happens, they’ll likely sell it by leaving a weakened Social Security system and Medicare in place for those over 45 or 55, and privatizing both for those under those age limits. This would result in not only younger people losing those benefits in decades to come, but also resentment among them at paying for benefits for older people which they themselves won’t get. Probability: All too possible. 
    4-stars-72

 

  • Increased voter suppression. The Republicans have used entirely manufactured scare stories about “massive voter fraud” at the ballot box, while providing no evidence whatsoever of it, to push through restrictive laws in states across the country that make it more difficult to register to vote (e.g., among the elderly without photo ID and the poor who don’t have cars who’d have to travel to get state ID) and to cast ballots (restricting early voting). This has resulted in the disenfranchisement, at minimum, of hundreds of thousands of voters, and more likely millions of voters. Now, the Republicans seem poised to do this on a national scale. They’re unpopular (look at their approval ratings), desperate to hang onto power, and are very obviously willing to do anything to retain it, including betraying America’s (supposed) democratic principles. Probability: Very, very high. 
    6-stars-72

 

  • Use of a terrorist incident to suppress civil liberties. The chance of Trump creating a “false flag” terrorist incident are low, simply because of Trump and accomplices’ overall incompetence and the outright loathing the intelligence agencies have for Trump; they very probably wouldn’t allow him to get away with this. On the other hand, if there’s continued instability in the Trump Administration, and continued appointment of the grossly incompetent to decision-making positions, it’s all too possible, in part because Trump is playing into ISIS’s and Al-Qaeda’s hands through his fear-mongering rhetoric and Muslim ban. If there were a major terrorist incident, we can expect demonization of all critical voices and opposition movements, legislation restricting freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly. Probability: Likely under 50/50, but only because of the professionals in the intelligence agencies. 3-stars-72

 

  • Worsening economic inequality. Trump’s economic policies overall, basically trickle-down economics (or as Jim Hightower puts it, “tinkle-down” economics), will result in continued and worsening economic inequality. Lowering taxes on the rich and corporations will do nothing to create new jobs, because demand creates jobs, not “job creators.” When low- and middle-income people receive more money, they spend almost all of it on food, consumer goods, utilities, and services — they have to. This creates jobs. When the rich receive more money, they spend it on stock buybacks, real estate (among other things, driving up the cost of housing), and luxury goods, such as yachts. This creates very few jobs. And this is the direction in which billionaire, entitled-heir Trump is headed. Probability: Virtually certain.
    7-stars-72

 

  • Continued scapegoating, fear-mongering, and demonization of all opposition. The Clintons, Barack Obama, and the other corporate Democrats paved the way for Trump’s success through their betrayal of those who elected them, through their abject servility to the corporate elite; this resulted in long-simmering anger among working and middle class people. Trump has taken full advantage of this anger and will continue to do so. Probability: Certain. 7-stars-72

 

 


Fidel Castro

 

by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

It’s time to speak ill of the dead.  It’s been time for nearly a century. Since 1918, the left in both the U.S. and Europe has had a dictator-worship problem. First it was Lenin; then it was (yes) Stalin; then Mao; most recently the dictator of choice has been Fidel Castro.

To illustrate the depth and nature of this problem, let me recount an incident from Cuba in the 1960s. In the 1970s, a maoist friend told me about his experiences there as part of a Venceremos Brigade a decade earlier. (Venceremos Brigades were bands of American leftists who traveled to Cuba to work in the cane fields in support of “the revolution.”) At one point, Fidel himself showed up where they were working in the fields. My friend told me that the reaction of his fellow brigadistas was like that of 14-year-olds at a Beatles concert.

Anarcho-Syndicalist ReviewSince then, the American left in large part has continued to idolize Castro and his Stalin-admirer cohort, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, overlooking their  crimes. We’ll get to those crimes shortly, but let’s first speak of Castro’s, and his “revolution’s,” achievements. During his half-century reign, Fidel Castro and the Cuban Communist Party achieved the following:

  • The literacy rate in Cuba in Cuba went from approximately 70% (figures vary) in 1959 to an estimated 96% today, thanks to the Cuban government’s literacy campaigns and universal education for those aged 6 to 16.
  • Cuba has universal, free medical care. One example of its success is that infant mortality in Cuba fell from 37.3 per 1,000 live births in 1959 to 4.3 per thousand today. (In contrast, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. is 5.8 per 1,000 live births today.)
  • Higher education in Cuba is free for most Cubans.
  • There is remarkably little street crime in Cuba.
  • Every Cuban adult is guaranteed a low paying job, with pay averaging about $20 a month.
  • The Castro regime did show that a Latin American regime can defy the United States government (and the corporations it serves) and survive.

Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Well, consider this:

  • Freedom of speech does not exist in Cuba, nor do the other freedoms listed in the U.S. Bill of Rights. Since its inception, the “revolutionary” Castro regime has jailed opponents for exercising their freedoms of speech and assembly. Human Rights Watch notes: “Many of the abusive tactics developed during his [Fidel Castro’s] time in power – including surveillance, beatings, arbitrary detention, and public acts of repudiation – are still used by the Cuban government.”
  • All media outlets (newspapers, magazines, book publishers, radio stations, television stations) are controlled by the Castro regime, and access to the Internet is tightly restricted.
  • Cuba is a one-party state.
  • In its first four-plus decades in power (ending in 2003), the Castro regime executed hundreds if not thousands of its political opponents. Amnesty International estimates that that regime executed 216 political opponents between 1959 and 1987. Other estimates run up well into the thousands.
  • The Cuban government maintains a surveillance network in every neighborhood in Cuba, the so-called Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs — more accurately, Committees for the Defense of the Regime), which not only spy upon residents, but have considerable control over their lives. As an example, The CDRs can ban political dissidents from even applying to institutions of higher learning.
  • One of the first things the Castro regime did when it took power was to destroy independent unions, either jailing or driving into exile unionists who opposed its takeover. For over half a century, all unions in Cuba have been controlled by the government. (See Cuban Anarchism: The History of a Movement, by Frank Fernández. Full disclosure: I translated and edited the book.)
  • There is no workers’ control, no workplace democracy in Cuba. All workplaces are tightly controlled by government apparatchiks.
  • The Cuban government denies its citizens the right to travel, the right to emigrate. Since 1959, over 1.5 million Cubans have fled the country (current population 11 to 12 million). At least hundreds of thousands fled on rickety boats and rafts, and at absolute minimum thousands of men, women, and children died in the crossing. The actual figure is likely well up into the tens of thousands. No one really knows.

Since Castro’s death last week, the American left has, by and large, continued to sing Fidel Castro’s praises. To cite but one example, a few days ago Amy Goodman, on her generally excellent “Democracy Now” broadcast, devoted a full hour (bar the first few minutes devoted to news) to Castro. There were a few seconds (considerably under a minute) near the start devoted  to generalized mention of the repressive nature of the regime, but there was no mention whatsoever in the rest of the hour of any of the crimes listed above. It was largely a love letter to Castro.

One might mention that many antiauthoritarian Latin American leftists and anarchists deeply resent the largely uncritical support given Castro (and until his death Hugo Chávez in Venezuela) by the American left. They see it as a betrayal of principles — and themselves — and consider it utterly hypocritical, especially when coming from those who loudly proclaim their allegiance to human freedom, human rights — in the United States, but not Cuba (or Venezuela). They believe that the typical leftist refrain, “Well, we wouldn’t want that repressive system here, but the Cuban people are better off for it,” is grossly patronizing to those who are the victims of repression and those who struggle against it.

They have a point. If you believe in human freedom, in civil liberties, you believe in them everywhere, and you support all those struggling against repression. You’re either for freedom of speech or against it. You don’t make excuses for repressive regimes because you know “what’s best” for the people in those countries, because you know better than the Cubans (or Venezuelans) struggling against repression. If you make excuses for authoritarian regimes, if you don’t stand against repression everywhere, please don’t pretend that you have principles, please don’t pretend that you’re anything but a political apologist, a political hack.

If you think a one-party state, suppression of civil liberties, government control of the media, suppression of independent unions, replacement of capitalist bosses by “Communist” bosses, secret police, prisons, executions, a network of neighborhood informers, militarism, and a personality cult are a good tradeoff for the Cuban people in exchange for free health care, free higher education, and a guaranteed low-paying job, by all means support the Cuban dictatorship, and continue to sing Fidel Castro’s praises.

 

 


We put up our 1,000th post about three weeks ago. Since then, we’ve been looking through everything we’ve posted, and have been putting up “best of” lists in our most popular categories.

This is the ninth of our first-1,000 “best of” lists. We’ve already posted the Science Fiction, HumorMusicInterviews, AtheismEconomics, Science/Skepticism, and Addictions lists, and will shortly be putting up our final “best of”: Religion.

Here, we’ve folded three categories (Anarchism, Libertarianism, and Politics) into this post because of the relative paucity of posts on Anarchism and Libertarianism. We hope you’ll enjoy at least some of these posts.

Anarchism

Libertarianism

Politics


wendell phillips

“The time to assert rights is when they are denied, the men to assert them are those to whom they are denied. The community which dares not protect its humblest and most hated member in the free utterance of his opinions, no matter how false or hateful, is only a gang of slaves.”

–Wendell Phillips, “Mobs and Education”

* * *

Quoted in The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations

Front cover of "The Heretic's Handbook of Quotations


Here’s a post from one of our favorite sites, Slashdot:

Mark Zuckerberg has decided to keep billionaire VC Peter Thiel on Facebook’s board of directors. The decision comes after weeks of controversy over whether it was appropriate for billionaire Thiel, who recently admitted to secretly funding a campaign of third-party lawsuits to bankrupt Gawker Media (more relevant but paywalled link), to remain on the board of a company that now plays such a powerful role in publishing. From a Gizmodo report: At Facebook’s annual shareholders meeting today, every board member was up for re-election. The decision was made by shareholder vote, but ultimately fell to Zuckerberg, who controls more than 60 percent of the total voting power on the Facebook board.


by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

(All of the things I refer to in the following post are matters of abundant public record. Doubt anything here?  — look it up.)

Let’s consider who would be worse in the following areas:

Civil Liberties & Open Government — Clinton has a decades-long penchant for secrecy (see the e-mail scandal and her botched early ’90s attempt at healthcare reform) and has called hero-whistleblower Edward Snowden a “traitor.” Trump wants to make it far easier to sue people for their comments, and has called for the murder of Snowden. Who’s probably worse? — Tossup

Supreme Court — Who would appoint the most anti-civil-liberties, pro-corporate nominees? Clinton would probably appoint middle-of-the-road types, and Trump would likely play to his base and appoint rightist authoritarians. Who’s probably worse? — Trump

Wall Street Reform —  Despite his common-man pretensions, Trump, who inherited at least tens of millions, is one of the insiders, and Clinton is seriously beholden to Wall Street. Would she do anything to financially threaten her backers? Highly doubtful. Who’s probably worse? — Tossup

Job Creation — A certain level of unemployment is helpful to employers in keeping wages down, so it’s virtually certain neither of these corporate tools would do anything meaningful in this area. Who’s probably worse? — Tossup

Cost of Education — Fewer and fewer American families can afford to send their children to college, and millions of those who do go come out of college burdened with crushing debt. Trump, who never had to worry about such things, would very likely do nothing about this. Clinton would likely initiate a few token reforms, in effect applying a band-aid to a gushing hemorrhage. Who’s probably worse? — Trump (barely)

Universal Healthcare  — Both Clinton and Trump oppose it. Clinton has taken tens of millions from the private healthcare industry, and has promised to “build on” Obamacare rather than expand Medicare or initiate some other single-payer program. Instead, she’ll propose incremental changes to Obamacare that will allow big pharma and the insurance industry to continue to gouge the public. Trump will likely leave Obamacare alone for the most part, as the idea of depriving millions of voters of health insurance is politically radioactive. Neither Trump nor Clinton will do anything to advance universal healthcare. Who’s probably worse? — Tossup

Income Inequality — Trump is spewing the standard GOP Horatio Alger b.s. about “opportunity,” utterly ignoring the fact that the economic system is rigged in favor of the rich, and Clinton is running a “no we can’t” campaign, saying in veiled words that there’s nothing to be done about the theft of massive amounts of wealth from poor and working people and its transfer to the top 1%. Who’s probably worse? — Tossup

Foreign Policy — Clinton likes to kill people. She likes drones. She likes military intervention. She likes coups (e.g., the U.S.-approved coup in Honduras while she was Secretary of State). Trump, judging from his rhetoric, probably does too. But he hasn’t had the chance to fully demonstrate it. They’d both probably continue to support brutal, authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and elsewhere. But it’s certain that Clinton would do so; with Trump — given the incoherence of his statements and positions — it’s hard to tell.  They both want to prove how “tough” they are — in other words, how callous, brutal, and bloodthirsty they are. Mayhem will result no matter which of them is elected. Who’s probably worse? — Clinton

Israel/Palestine — Clinton is in the pocket of AIPAC and the Israeli extreme right, and her superpac has taken money from at least one extreme-right, extremely wealthy pro-Israel businessmen. She has pledged “unconditional support” for Israel, which if she actually means it (always an iffy proposition), means that she’ll place the welfare of the Israeli state above that of the United States. (The interests of the U.S. and Israel aren’t identical, and cannot be identical.) Trump probably is just as much a stooge for the Israeli extreme right, but he hasn’t  as abjectly demonstrated it. Who’s probably worse? — Clinton

Military Spending — Thanks to easily frightened idiot voters and vested corporate interests, the U.S. currently accounts for 43% of total worldwide military spending–more than the next eight nations combined.  Both Trump and Clinton worship at the altar of the military, and will almost certainly continue to do so. Who’s probably worse? — Tossup

Climate Change — Trump is (at least for primary-voter purposes) a climate change denier. Clinton seems to accept the science, but it’s doubtful how vigorously she’d address the problem. She opposes one of the most effective measures to reduce CO2 emissions, a carbon tax, and when Secretary of State she tried to push other countries into fracking. Who’s probably worse? — Trump

Immigration — Both Clinton and Trump would continue to back authoritarian governments and austerity programs overseas, governments and programs that drive people from their homes in droves creating the “immigration crisis.” However, Trump is overtly racist and has proposed horrendous measures at home. In contrast, Clinton would in all probability merely step into Obama’s shoes as “deporter in chief.” Who’s probably worse? — Trump

TTP and other Trade Deals — Hillary Clinton was in favor of TTP until she flip flopped on it last year. Previously, she spoke in favor of it more than 30 times and called it the “gold standard” of trade agreements. Make your own judgments about her sincerity. Trump is so incoherent on trade that it’s impossible to say what he’d do. Who’s probably worse? — Tossup

Reproductive Rights — Trump is openly pandering to his racist/misogynist/authoritarian base. Clinton, in turn, is pandering to those who are voting for her simply because she’s a woman (and who were presumably thrilled by the election of Margaret Thatcher 37 years ago). Nonetheless, one suspects that in this area Clinton actually has some principles and will act on them. In contrast, Trump, who previously publicly favored reproductive rights,  is now pandering to the religious right. Who’s probably worse? — Trump

LGBT Rights — Trump, who probably doesn’t care about this issue at all, is currently pandering to the religious right, endorsing its anti-transgender sideshow.  Clinton in contrast might actually care about this issue, and would likely deliver on LGBT rights should she be elected, because that would cost her corporate backers nothing. Who’s probably worse? — Trump

“War on Drugs” — Back in 1990, Trump said he was in favor of legalizing drugs to “win” the “war on drugs.” More recently, he’s flip flopped back and forth on the issue. Clinton, characteristically, has repeatedly refused to take a stand even on pot legalization. Given her “no we can’t” incrementalism, it’s highly unlikely she’d initiate any major reforms to scale back or eliminate the “war on drugs.” And she’d be wedged in by the authoritarian “drug warriors” in her own party and by the Republicans, who would very probably go nuts if she’d try to initiate any real reforms. Trump, in contrast, would be much freer to initiate real reforms. Who’s probably worse? — Clinton

 

Final Thoughts

One other consideration is that if Clinton is elected, and predictably does  nothing about economic inequality, there will very probably be an even more extreme far-right backlash than there is now,  as Fox “News” and the rest of the right-wing echo chamber present the authoritarian right-centrist Clinton as a “leftist” or even a “socialist.”  She’ll also almost certainly continue Obama’s war on whistleblowers and, under the guise of national security, will whittle away at what remains of our freedoms. And the Democrats will do nothing to oppose her. If Trump is elected, the Democrats will probably show what passes for spine, stand up to some extent to his authoritarianism (which they haven’t done against Obama), and there would likely be a relatively large leftist backlash against Trump and his inevitable failures.

In other words, Clinton’s election would likely lead to the growth of an outright fascist movement, while proto-fascist Trump’s election might lead to a significant antiauthoritarian leftist backlash. At the same time, Trump’s election might embolden his supporters and lead to an outright fascist movement that would attempt to crush leftist opposition. It’s an ugly, all-too-possible scenario.

The upside to all this? If Clinton wins, the look on Trump’s, Mike Pence’s, Jabba the Ailes’,  and Trump’s smug, entitled kids’ faces. If Trump wins, the looks on Bill and Hillary Clinton’s, Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s, Diane Feinstein’s, and Rahm Emanuel’s faces. And, if Trump wins, the iron hold of the authoritarian neo-liberal corporatists on the Democratic Party might be broken, or at least loosened.

It’s cold comfort.

Clinton vs. Trump? It’s a nauseating choice. That one or the other of these deeply dishonest, opportunistic, power-mad authoritarians will take control of the vast American surveillance/coercive state is horrifying.