freedom

Death of Democracy

Part 1

Before the [civil] war, it was said ‘the United States are’, grammatically it was spoken that way and was thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war it was always ‘the United States is’ as we say today without being self-conscious at all.

~ Shelby Foote, historian

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”   So begins the preamble to the Constitution of the United States.   “We the People…” began with the idea of banding together in the spirit of democracy, in order to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”  Oh, well! Could this period in which we now live represent the beginning of the death of the democratic experiment that was and is supposed to be the United States?

charlottesville.jpgCharlottesville, 2017  – image by Andalou Agency/Getty Images

As a second follow-up to Tim Snyder’s article On Tyranny, the post this week links to a lengthy article only briefly mentioned in last week’s post.  The article is called “We need political parties. But their rabid partisanship could destroy American democracy” (which appeared in Vox on September 5th, 2017).   The article, by Lee Drutman  is quite long, but well worth working your way through as it presents a series of issues we should all consider, including:

  • Our fundamental disagreement about what it means to be an “American”
  • The value of political parties
  • Reasons for why we maintain relatively intractable political positions and staunchly maintained polarization
  • How and why division in current U.S. politics is preventing democracy from functioning as it should
  • How the current political climate in the U.S. threatens to create a breaking point akin to the Civil War
  • That inequality and polarization have grown in tandem for the last few decades
  • That the intrusion of money into the electoral process is fueling voter discontent and the disjuncture between the public (actual constituents) and campaign donors (paying constituents)’.

As mentioned, the article is lengthy, not very sexy, but well worth the effort to understand what it presents.


Extending the Drutman article’s focus on political division, next week’s post– Death of Democracy – Part 2—frames this problem into a slightly more embedded historical context, reaching toward addressing our need not only for less division but toward more proactive socio-political solidarity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coup d’Etat

As the first of potentially multiple follow-ups to a previous post about the book On Tyranny by Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder, here is a link to an excerpted interview with Mr. Snyder you might find illuminating.

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In modern day America, we have largely settled into relative complacency regarding socio-political strife.   We have certainly seen an uptick in street demonstrations since the most recent presidential inaugurant settled into his new White House digs.  However, unless you are of a certain age, you have probably never experienced major violence nor upheaval associated with civil unrest leading to death in the United States.  Many twenty, thirty or even forty somethings are not old enough to know much about and certainly too young to have been present (as were some of us) for events such as the killing of two students at Jackson State in May 1970, the killing of four students at Kent State University (sometimes called the Kent State Massacre which occurred only eleven days prior to the Jackson State killings) or the Watts Riots (also known as the Watts Rebellion) in 1965, when thirty-four people died.  Most people cannot conceive of upheaval of such magnitude.  Perhaps this is partially why Charlottesville was so shocking.

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A Little Gratitude

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While a follow-up piece around Tim Snyder’s book On Tyranny was planned for this week, given the tragedy unfolding in the Houston area (and the general tragedy occurring in the U.S. in general), perhaps we should pause and give thanks for some instances of Good and the people who initiated them.

Jennifer-Hofmann (small)This week, on her weekly Action List, under the “Acts of Gratitude” section, Jen Hofmann posted the following entries (appearing here verbatim, but be sure to check out Jen’s list).

Acts of Gratitude
Get out your stamps, postcards, and sparkle markers for some gratitude mail.
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On Tyranny

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In a country fond of seeing itself as “the land of the free”, in the last couple decades, fear seems to have considerably tarnished this idealistic notion. We say we want freedom, but for whom? Too often, such notions suggest that we want freedom within the boundaries of what we idiosyncratically define as “US”—a term that has increasingly become more grounded in exclusivity than inclusion. This “US” comes to inform our socio-politically charged definition of freedom. In an attempt to stave off fear, our expectations are tinged by a new found xenophobia; we redefine a continually shrinking concept we used to refer to as “a free American”. In so doing, we open the door for those who would exploit our assumed sense of vulnerability. But when freedom does not apply to all, ultimately, it will fail to encompass any of us.

On Tyrrany“European democracies collapsed into right-wing authoritarianism and fascism in the 1920s and ‘30s… The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

So writes historian Timothy Snyder in his recently published book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. On Tyranny is a tiny book, 126 pages measuring only about 4×6 inches. Each of the twenty suggestions forms a chapter consisting of only two to five pages.

Mr. Snyder does express certain biases (such as casting a jaundiced eye toward the Internet). However, for the most part, the book is largely written from a non-partisan perspective, focusing on various means of preserving freedom and staving off tyrannical control. As the book is quite easy to read, you can probably finish it in an hour (although you will likely ruminate over its contents for much longer).

Some of Snyder’s suggestions are expected (such as #3 – Beware the One-party State). Others are either surprising or defined in a thought provoking manner. For example:

  • #  2 – Defend Institutions
  • #10 – Believe in Truth
  • #11 – Investigate

All address–directly or indirectly–some of the more hidden aspects of what is currently happening in the United States.

In a Washington Post review, Mr. Snyder’s book is described as “a slim book that fits alongside your pocket Constitution and feels only slightly less vital.”  Some folks have been so taken with this little gem that they have bought multiple copies to distribute for free (a little over $6 on Amazon).

Requiem - Chomsky book coverOnce you have read through the Snyder book a couple times you might, on reflection, find yourself thinking a bit differently about the state of affairs in the United States. While the twenty suggestions Snyder offers are pointed and helpful, the brevity of the book prevents comprehensive treatment of any idea. As such, you might want to follow-up Snyder’s book and expand your understanding the mechanism of tyranny by tackling the more in depth descriptions of “reality” in the U.S. by reading Requiem for the American Dream, Noam Chomsky’s new book. Professor Chomsky addresses tyranny from the perspective of identifying various tactics of oppression such as reducing democracy, attacking solidarity and marginalizing the population—all of which have been happening and continue to occur as you read this. Like On Tyranny, Requiem is easy to read, although not quite so brief.

Finally if you are really committed to understanding tyranny and how it might have been the underlying mode of governance in the United States for decades, consider Sheldon Wolin’s more challenging and comprehensive book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.

Are We Prepared?

Make no mistake about it – enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.      ~ Adyashanti


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Naomi Klein: “The worst is yet to come!”

What happens when disaster strikes?  What do we do when all normalcy ceases?  To whom do we turn when events like the recent Manchester bombing, the Paris attack or events like those on the morning of September 11th, 2001 in New York occur?  In her new book, No is Not Enough, activist and author Naomi Klein encourages us to be prepared for such disasters—which she calls “shock” events—not so much for the event itself but for likely actions by the U.S. government in the wake of these occurrences.

In the video below, Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow! interviews Naomi Klein about her book Naomi Klein Interview.PNGand the general proposal that in the wake of a cataclysmic event, the U.S. government is likely to invoke a series of actions designed to tighten control of the general public.  Under the guise of national security relative to a shock event, the government is likely to suspend civil liberties, human rights and the right to privacy.  (Part 2 of the interview begins at approximately the 2:20 minute mark and lasts about 15 minutes).  In addition to the usual question and answer format, the interview presents a video within the video.  In the internal video, produced by the Intercept, Naomi describes a five step preparedness toolkit. She urges us to anticipate inevitable crises, at which times we need to be prepared to mobilize rather than comply with the government’s attempts to  contain us—to keep us in our homes, for instance, “for our own safety”.  We need to be mindful of the history of the previous U.S. government’s uncharacteristically freedom-destroying responses such as internment of Japanese-Americans during WWI, deportation of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the early 1930’s and abandonment of freed slaves in the wake of the Civil War. (more…)

July 12, 2017

This date – Wednesday, July 12, 2017 – has been designated by several organizations as aNational Day of Action” regarding the future of the Internet.  A large number of websites and companies have planned a protest against the attempts by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to undercut the current Internet freedom we enjoy.   The issue is what most of us know as “net neutrality”.

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In a previous post on the seekingGood.blog (May 11th, 2017), we described a proposal engineered by current FCC chair Ajit Pai in which he is seeking to reclassify telecommunication companies. Of course, such changes do nothing in themselves. However, Pai’s proposal, once implemented, releases telecom companies from their obligation to refrain from restricting access to any Internet site–either through denial of service, slowing down that service, or by instituting pay walls to access content.

Whose Freedom?

Remember when many of us went through a “cable cutting” phase?  The proposed rule changes will essentially give telecommunications companies the ability to turn the Internet into a collection of Internet companies–structured like cable companies–leaving us with no escape.  Even with regulations, several of these companies have unlawfully attempted content manipulation.  With no restrictions, telecoms can essentiallynet neutrality outquote.png own the Internet, behaving as they choose, forcing us to pay for what we now access freely.  Additionally, consider the manner in which we have come to voice our opinions.  We do not post notes on a message board in the public square.  We seldom write letters to elected officials to be delivered days later through snail mail.  And most of us do not take to the streets in protest of current governmental decisions.  For most of us, speaking against what we do not like or do not accept has become a matter of expressing ourselves electronically.  The demise of net neutrality also means the death of free electronic speech.

Thankfully, there is already bipartisan support for preserving net neutrality.  Still, nothing is guaranteed.  The more We, the People express our ideas to the government, the more that government is likely to ponder its actions as our representatives.  Wouldn’t it be a shame if our silence tacitly validated some last minute, backdoor deal to allow telecom companies to steal the Internet?

Think this will all just go away? Or do you need more convincing?   Take a look at this video for a general idea of what could happen to your Internet access.
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… or how about this one.

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Finally, look at this one (perhaps the simplest and the best).

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Defend net neutrality!


On July 12th, companies and organizations like Reddit, Netflix, Kickstarter, Vimeo, Amazon, The Nation and the ACLU among many others will participate in an online protest.  To find out more details, sign up here.

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Speak Out!

To let the FCC know your thoughts about potentially losing Internet freedom, follow the specific instructions, (originally posted by the Popular Resistance website) listed below:

Here are step-by-step instructions to help you submit a comment to the FCC.

  1. Click here to go to the page for Express Filings of comments. This is the simplest format to use.
  2. Type 17-108 into the top box called “Proceeding(s)”. Yes, in this Orweillian world Pai did title the proposal to end Internet freedom “Restoring Internet Freedom”. It should be called “Promoting Telecom Thievery”.
  3. Fill out the rest of the form. Yes, you do have to provide your address in order to be counted.
  4. Type your comment into the box at the bottom. See the advice [below] from Tech Crunch (midway down the page at this link).
  5. Review your submission and once you are satisfied, click on the ”submit” button at the bottom of the screen.

The window for your comments closes on July 17th – just a few weeks from now.  Voice your ideas!


Amy Kroin, Editor, edits all Free Press and Free Press Action Fund communications. She also edits and monitors the Free Press website and creates campaign, educational and outreach materials. Before joining Free Press, Amy served as a writer and editor for a division of Pearson, the media and education company, and earlier served as the arts editor of the Valley Advocate.

 

 

Net Neutrality

Net neutrality—the right to access all Internet content freely without your Internet provider slowing down or even blocking content at its whim—is fundamental to our democracy. As communities across the United States fight to speak out on contentious political issues, the citizenry needs to know that government-subsidized monopolies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon aren’t dictating which website we can access.  ~Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

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(Image from Ars Technica)

You have probably heard the flap about John Oliver and the FCC.  While his comedic delivery might be entertaining for some, his recent video presents details of a potential threat to all Internet users. The threat involves a proposed alteration of current laws governing the behavior of Internet Service Providers (ISPs).  If the change is enacted, net neutrality might be in danger.

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