MonthSeptember 2009

The crushing of the air traffic controllers union and the downfall of labor in the US

A la Nick P‘s “Secret History” series, apropos recent conversations, here’s some background on the crushing of the US labor movement under Reagan:

Two days later, on the basis of an obscure and previously unenforced 1955 law banning strikes by government unions, Reagan fired all 11,359 controllers who had defied his back-to-work order. Thus began a massive government union-busting operation that ended with the permanent dismissal and blacklisting of the workers, the seizure of PATCO’s finances, and the decertification of the union.

It included the spectacle of PATCO leaders being led to jail in shackles and FBI agents and federal marshals converging on the picket lines. Four PATCO members were jailed by the federal government in the spring and summer of 1983 for participating in the strike. Ron May, Gary Greene and Lee Grant were leaders of PATCO in the Dallas-Ft. Worth region. Along with Dick Hoover in Houston, they were singled out by the Reagan administration for their militant role in the strike, convicted on felony charges of striking against the government, imprisoned, fined and permanently stripped of their civil rights. […]

The defeat of PATCO was the signal for a wave of union-busting, wage-cutting and mass layoffs carried out by big business in every sector of the American economy. Once again, the fierce resistance of workers in auto, steel, the mines, the airlines, meatpacking, transport and other industries was sabotaged by the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions. The result was a vast decline in the social position of the working class, the destruction of gains won in previous decades of struggle, and an immense growth of social inequality.

The consolidation of the financial oligarchy that dominates every aspect of American society and plunders the social wealth to increase its already staggering personal wealth is directly bound up with the betrayal of the PATCO strike and the struggles that followed. These betrayals set the stage for the intensified attack on jobs and living standards that is now under way, with General Motors and Ford slashing tens of thousands of jobs and gutting health and retirement benefits, and the auto parts maker Delphi demanding wage cuts of 60 percent.

World Socialist Worker Web Site: 25 years since the PATCO strike: A historical turning point in the class struggle

(Thanks to Nick P for the correction – it’s World Socialist Web Site, not World Socialist Worker)

Bush Officials Objected To Awarding Medal To J.K. Rowling Because Harry Potter Books Promote Witchcraft

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civil award, and is given to individuals who have contributed to: 1) the security or national interests of the United States, 2) world peace, or 3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

In his new book, Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor, former Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer reveals how politicized the revered Presidential Medal of Freedom became during the Bush administration.

Latimer writes that administration officials objected to giving author J.K. Rowling the Presidential Medal of Freedom because her writing “encouraged witchcraft”

Think Progress: Bush Officials Objected To Awarding Medal To J.K. Rowling Because Harry Potter Books Promote Witchcraft

(via Disinfo)

Gore Vidal: ‘We’ll have a dictatorship soon in the US’

Vidal now believes, as he did originally, Clinton would be the better president. “Hillary knows more about the world and what to do with the generals. History has proven when the girls get involved, they’re good at it. Elizabeth I knew Raleigh would be a good man to give a ship to.”The Republicans will win the next election, Vidal believes; though for him there is little difference between the parties. “Remember the coup d’etat of 2000 when the Supreme Court fixed the selection, not election, of the stupidest man in the country, Mr Bush.”

Vidal originally became pro-Obama because he grew up in “a black city” (meaning Washington), as well as being impressed by Obama’s intelligence. “But he believes the generals. Even Bush knew the way to win a general was to give him another star. Obama believes the Republican Party is a party when in fact it’s a mindset, like Hitler Youth, based on hatred — religious hatred, racial hatred. When you foreigners hear the word ‘conservative’ you think of kindly old men hunting foxes. They’re not, they’re fascists.”

Another notable Obama mis-step has been on healthcare reform. “He f***ed it up. I don’t know how because the country wanted it. We’ll never see it happen.” As for his wider vision: “Maybe he doesn’t have one, not to imply he is a fraud. He loves quoting Lincoln and there’s a great Lincoln quote from a letter he wrote to one of his generals in the South after the Civil War. ‘I am President of the United States. I have full overall power and never forget it, because I will exercise it’. That’s what Obama needs — a bit of Lincoln’s chill.” Has he met Obama? “No,” he says quietly, “I’ve had my time with presidents.” Vidal raises his fingers to signify a gun and mutters: “Bang bang.” He is referring to the possibility of Obama being assassinated. “Just a mysterious lone gunman lurking in the shadows of the capital,” he says in a wry, dreamy way.

Vidal now believes, as he did originally, Clinton would be the better president. “Hillary knows more about the world and what to do with the generals. History has proven when the girls get involved, they’re good at it. Elizabeth I knew Raleigh would be a good man to give a ship to.”The Republicans will win the next election, Vidal believes; though for him there is little difference between the parties. “Remember the coup d’etat of 2000 when the Supreme Court fixed the selection, not election, of the stupidest man in the country, Mr Bush.”

Times Online: Gore Vidal: ‘We’ll have a dictatorship soon in the US’

(via Disinfo)

American Fascism: What It Is, How To Fight It

When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross

So now that we’ve established to some degree what fascism is, how do we fight it? Well, first and foremost, we do not fight it by begging the Democratic Party to “move to the left” and “get tough.” That’s been, historically speaking, a recipe for disaster. Organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, which rely upon the cops and courts have a woefully inadequate analysis of what fascism is, and thus are completely unprepared to fight it. Fascism cannot be fought using cops and courts. […]

They [fascists] cannot, and should not be debated or provided with a platform to spew their filth. They should be met with overwhelming physical force and run out of town on a rail. The early days of the Anti-Nazi League in Britain (before they were co-opted by the Socialist Workers’ Party of Great Britain- the co-thinkers of the grotesque, pro-cop reformists of the International Socialist Organization) provides a great example of how to respond when the fascists- of whatever brand- want to show up in your city. A better model are Labor/Black Mobilizations against the Klan and, more recently, the Minutemen.

Because fascism is, in the final analysis, a cowardly movement. But like a coward, it needs to be confronted with sufficient force to get it to crawl back into the slime-filled hole from whence it came. A thousand screaming trade unionists, Black activists, and militant anti-fascist youth (possibly armed with such rudimentary and legal weapons as small baseball bats, bike chains, and sawn off pool cues) should be sufficient to spook any mob of racist thugs right the fuck out of town. But, unfortunately, this is only enough to deal with the foot soldiers on the ground. Defeating fascism ultimately means building a political movement to destroy the economic and social system which makes fascism a viable alternative in the first place.

Black Sun Gazette: American Fascism: What It Is, How To Fight It

Wanted: Home Computers to Join in Research on Artificial Life

In October, a small team of Silicon Valley researchers plans to turn software originally designed to search for evidence of extraterrestrial life to the task of looking for evidence of artificial life generated on a cluster of high-performance computers.

The effort, dubbed the EvoGrid, is the brainchild and doctoral dissertation topic of Bruce Damer, a Silicon Valley computer scientist who develops simulation software for NASA at a company, Digital Space, based in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Mr. Damer and his chief engineer, Peter Newman, are modeling their effort after the SETI@Home project, which was started by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, program to make use of hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected computers in homes and offices. The project turned these small computers into a vast supercomputer by using pattern recognition software on individual computers to sift through a vast amount of data to look for evidence of faint signals from civilizations elsewhere in the cosmos.

New York Times: Wanted: Home Computers to Join in Research on Artificial Life

(via Chris Arkenberg)

Fascism by the numbers

As a follow-up to my recent post Is It Too Late to Stop Fascism in the US?, I worked from the definition of fascism proposed by Robert Paxton.

There are several other definitions of fascism, many of which are listed on the Wikipedia entry Definitions of Fascism. I’ve decided to go through the definitions that include specific lists of criteria and see which of them the United States fits.

I’ve made the case before that when Ronald Reagan signed the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Officials Act, he was quietly declaring martial law and creating a police state (and that the US has never really lived up to its liberal democratic ideals). I’m sure those with more knowledge of the right-wing populist movement of the 70s that culminated in Reagan’s election and with the Reagan administration itself could make the case that fascism, under many standard definitions, actually started then. I have more knowledge of the conteporary politics, so I’m focused mostly on the actions of the Bush administration, and to a lesser extent, the Obama administration.

I should also note that by the definition many of the pro-capitalist right wing definitions of fascism, which essentially equate fascism with the left, the entire world is fascist and the US was has been fascist at least since the New Deal. Still, I focus here on elements from contemporary America. For the most part, I’m considering business interests (especially Wall Street), right wing media (especially Fox News and talk radio pundits), the “Tea Party” Movement, the Republican Party, and to a lesser extent the Democratic Party to be one loosely connected coalition (even though some of them often fight amongst themselves).

John T. Flynn’s list

1. Anti-capitalist, but with capitalist features;

Mostly missing (though there are some anti-capitalist elements. Change it to “anti-socialist, but with socialist features” and then we’ve got a match. I think this is fair because 1) What we’re seeing is NOT an authentic capitalist movement, at least as Flynn would define it 2) Mussolini used the terms “state capitalism” and “state socialism” interchangeably.

2. Economic demand management…

3. …through budget deficits

Check and check.

4. Direct economic planning, reconciled with partial economic autonomy through corporatism


5. Militarism and imperialism


6. Suspension of rule of law.


Stanley G. Payne’s itemized list of characteristics of fascism

the creation of an authoritarian state


a regulated, state-integrated economic sector


fascist symbolism

Recursive definition.


This is less obviously a “Check” than it seems. During the 20s and 30s, “liberalism” more likely meant what today we’d call libertarianism or individualism (though social liberalism was already beginning). But, still, check.




Missing. Mostly because this round of fascism is in the guise of conservatism.

Umberto Ecco’s list

“The Cult of Tradition”


“The Cult of Action for Action’s Sake”


This one is confusing, but Wikipedia helpfully clarifies: “This, says Eco, is connected with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science.”

Check Check and Check.

“Disagreement is Treason”

Check and check.

“Fear of Difference”

Check, check, check

“Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class”


“Obsession With a plot”

Check and check

“Pacifism is Trafficking With the Enemy” because “Life is Permanent Warfare”

Check and check.

“Contempt for the Weak”

I’m not even sure where to begin with this one. Check.

“Selective Populism”





Here are the characters from above that fit modern America:

Economic demand management through budget deficits
Direct economic planning, reconciled with partial economic autonomy through corporatism
Militarism and imperialism
Suspension of rule of law
the creation of an authoritarian state
a regulated, state-integrated economic sector
The Cult of Tradition
The Cult of Action for Action’s Sake (along with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and attacks on modern culture and science).
Disagreement is Treason
Fear of Difference
Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class
Obsession With a plot
Pacifism is Trafficking With the Enemy” because “Life is Permanent Warfare
Contempt for the Weak
Selective Populism

Here are the missing characteristics:

Anti-capitalist, but with capitalist features
fascist symbolism (technicality, due to recursive definition)

Geordi LaForge video-to-brain rig built at MIT

retinal implant

MIT boffins have devised a method of fitting a chip on the end of the optical nerve which can be used to input electronic images directly into the brain without any need for an eyeball. The technique could offer blind people a degree of vision using head-mounted camera/sensor equipment, in the style of Geordi LaForge from Star Trek: The Next Generation. […]

For now, however, the system has only been tried out in Yucatan minipigs. Three of the diminutive Mexican porkers have had the Star Trek/Gibsonesque implants for seven months, but as yet it’s difficult to tell just how well they work – as the pigs aren’t talking. The MIT boffins have fitted them with instrumented-up contact lenses to try to get an idea of what effects the implants have.

The Register: Geordi LaForge video-to-brain rig built at MIT

(via Grinding)

Louder than bombs: LRAD ‘sonic cannon’ debuts in U.S. at G20 protests

Pittsburgh police on Thursday used an audio cannon manufactured by American Technology Corporation (ATCO), a San Diego-based company, to disperse protesters outside the G-20 Summit — the first time its LRAD series device has been used on civilians in the U.S.

An ATC sales representative confirms to DailyFinance that Pittsburgh police used ATC’s Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD). “Yes, we sold one LRAD unit to a government agency — I don’t know which one — which was used in Pittsburgh,” the representative said. American Technology Corp.’s stock was trading up over 15 percent in heavy activity late Friday.

Daily Finance: Louder than bombs: LRAD ‘sonic cannon’ debuts in U.S. at G20 protests

Is it too late to stop fascism in the US?

(Image from this old post by Nick P, it’s NOT from a Tea Party rally)

First thing first, Robert Paxton’s definition of fascism:

Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline. […]

A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

Now, Sara Robinson on the question “Are we there yet?”:

And every time this question got asked, people like Chip Berlet and Dave Neiwert and Fred Clarkson and yours truly would look up from our maps like a parent on a long drive, and smile a wan smile of reassurance. “Wellll…we’re on a bad road, and if we don’t change course, we could end up there soon enough. But there’s also still plenty of time and opportunity to turn back. Watch, but don’t worry. As bad as this looks: no — we are not there yet.”

In tracking the mileage on this trip to perdition, many of us relied on the work of historian Robert Paxton, who is probably the world’s pre-eminent scholar on the subject of how countries turn fascist. In a 1998 paper published in The Journal of Modern History, Paxton argued that the best way to recognize emerging fascist movements isn’t by their rhetoric, their politics, or their aesthetics. Rather, he said, mature democracies turn fascist by a recognizable process, a set of five stages that may be the most important family resemblance that links all the whole motley collection of 20th Century fascisms together. According to our reading of Paxton’s stages, we weren’t there yet. There were certain signs — one in particular — we were keeping an eye out for, and we just weren’t seeing it.

And now we are. In fact, if you know what you’re looking for, it’s suddenly everywhere. […]

All through the Bush years, progressive right-wing watchers refused to call it “fascism” because, though we kept looking, we never saw clear signs of a deliberate, committed institutional partnership forming between America’s conservative elites and its emerging homegrown brownshirt horde. We caught tantalizing signs of brief flirtations — passing political alliances, money passing hands, far-right moonbat talking points flying out of the mouths of “mainstream” conservative leaders. But it was all circumstantial, and fairly transitory. The two sides kept a discreet distance from each other, at least in public. What went on behind closed doors, we could only guess. They certainly didn’t act like a married couple.

Now, the guessing game is over. We know beyond doubt that the Teabag movement was created out of whole cloth by astroturf groups like Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips’ Americans for Prosperity, with massive media help from FOX News. We see the Birther fracas — the kind of urban myth-making that should have never made it out of the pages of the National Enquirer — being openly ratified by Congressional Republicans. We’ve seen Armey’s own professionally-produced field manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine art of disrupting the democratic governing process — and the film of public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We’ve seen Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to “a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress.”

This is the sign we were waiting for — the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America’s conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country’s legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America’s streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won’t do their political or economic bidding.

This is the catalyzing moment at which honest-to-Hitler fascism begins. It’s also our very last chance to stop it.

Alternet: Is the U.S. on the Brink of Fascism?

Robinson has 2 follow-up posts: 7 Ways We Can Fight Back Against the Rising Fascist Threat and 5 Ways to Build a Fascist-Proof America

I don’t share Robinson’s faith that we can pull out of this. I don’t have her faith in the Democratic Party, which I think plays the role of “good cop” in what’s actually a one party system. I think the entire establishment media, not just Fox News, is a party of that system and can never be made to “get the story right.” I don’t think we can rely on the police to do the “heavy lifting.”

I have, however, been considering what can be done. I will share my thoughts and conclusions eventually (unless of course I do decide there really isn’t anything that can be done).

In the meantime, here are some other things to consider.

Naomi Wolf in her own piece claiming we’re in the late stages of a fascist shift: (from 2007)

A friend emails me a story from USA Today about a 24-year-old college graduate who testified before Congress about her family of immigrants and the difficulties they face; shortly afterward, the entire family was arrested by immigration agents. Another online piece reports that Blackwater is setting up operations along the US/Mexico border and an insightful post on Daily Kos describes how the TSA list will revert from the airlines to the management of the Department of Homeland Security shortly and that by February we may well face the need to apply to the State for permission to travel. If this proposed regulation goes through, we will move from 1931 to about 1934–when the borders started to close– with the stroke of a pen. Jews in America have hardwired into their DNA a sense of the distinction between those who got out before the borders closed and those who waited a moment too long.

And these thoughts about life during totalitarianism from William S. Burroughs and RU Sirius.

Miracle/Marvel Man to be reprinted at last – by Marvel

Miracleman/MarvelMan is going to be release by, ironically Marvel Comics. I wrote about the complicated IP mess of MM here (so I need not rewrite it here). The “irony” is “Marvel” legally sued to prevent Alan Moore’s “Marvelman” from being released in the United States because of trademark issues. The result? It was released as “Miracleman” and Moore has never worked for Marvel Comics since (given his godlike status as a comic book author, their BIG loss). Moore sees the comedic irony in Marvel Comics publishing the book and he has no problem with it. Moore won’t take a penny of profits from the reprint, will not let his name be associated with it, and is happy that the bulk of the royalties is going to Marvelman’s original British creator, now in his 90s with a sickly wife.

Positive Liberty: Kimota: The Holy Grail of Comics is Coming

(Thanks Bill!)

Update: the link above is dead, but here’s the announcement from ComicCon. Also, there will be a Marvelman primer in June

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