is this what a revolution looks like?

I don’t want to pile on to the huge op-ed-fest regarding the phenomenon that is the rise of Trump and Sanders’ sudden rise in popularity in the presidential race, but I blog on my website for my own sake and I need to jot down some quick thoughts and reflect on what’s going on in this country for the sake of my own sanity.

(For the hands down best piece on Trump and his popularity, you should read this piece by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone if you haven’t.)

We’ve already been this frail…all that’s happening now is that the symptoms of our disorders are finally appearing.

Our political and economic institutions have failed the U.S. majority for so long. It might’ve been only a matter of time before something like this would happen.

The masses hitting back at the wealthy elite and their establishment that have ruled through their a puppet democracy for at least a generation. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are catalysts for the latent frustration and despair among the low- to middle-classes that are finally fed up with watching this charade.

There’s obviously major ideological differences between the movements growing behind these two candidates, but central to both is a drastic re-questioning of the economy, government, and the relationship between the two. All the mainstream political discussions about wealth inequality, corporate money in politics, trade agreements, etc. to me signals a beginning of a popular movement to upend entrenched systems of power.

Whatever ends up happening with the presidential race, I don’t think this popular rage and discontent could ever be bottled back up. People—both left and right, bigot or moderate—are starting to articulate widespread problems in a way that is going to make it almost impossible for establishment officials to try and sell their current scheme of governance to the public. Only people who feel comfortable within this current paradigm could say that the current system is fine. Most people are NOT fine, and enough people have now realized that they’re not alone in this, that this is a systemic failure.

So this feels to me like the beginning of a revolution. Trump’s brand of it is horrifying and bigoted, but alongside that is Sanders’ fiercely optimistic and cooperative vision for America. So who knows what’s going to happen, but at least these long overdue conversations about our society and how we want the government to work people is finally happening. That’s gotta mean power in this country is going to shift in a huge way, and very soon.

 

Cooperatives: The Hope for Trickle Up Democracy?

An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.” — Arthur Miller

I spend a lot of time thinking about how and why our laws are created. Each rule is a way to resolve a specific problem or to achieve a certain objective. Law is a way for us to have a common understanding of how we all interact each other. Taken altogether they can reflect the priorities of our society: for example, which social programs we fund or what kinds of activities we prohibit. But all of that is assuming there’s a functional system in place to enact law based upon addressing real issues in peoples’ lives. When they don’t, or in practice result in causing more difficulties for everyone, then there’s a problem with how that society designs its own rules.

We’re now way beyond the point of asking whether the US political system is broken. The question now is how we fix it.

The problem with initiatives like Rootstrikers is that it’s trying to use the system to fix the system. Our lawmakers aren’t doing their job of addressing their constituents’ needs, because they’re more often representing the interests of those that have the money to finance their election campaigns and spend the resources to convince lawmakers that their enterprises are crucial to the economy and the creation of jobs. Lawmakers are already failing to represent their constituents’ interests on more specific policies, so how would they even begin to address the brokenness of our campaign system? Especially when all of the private, wealthy interests combined have a stake in keeping the system rigged in their favor?

I think we need to step back a little and address a larger element at play: the extreme power that corporations themselves have to influence government. While greater taxation and regulations can remedy some of the symptoms, they’re just patches to the underlying problem that big companies largely dictate state policies in their favor, in the interests of their CEOs, board members, and investors. Corporate executives will make any decision to maximize profit, even if it means laying off their workers or giving them terrible working conditions.

And that’s the point: corporations don’t even function in the best interests of their own employees because they don’t need to. Many times, they’re even economically incentivized to undermine their own workers’ interests. Which is why it’s necessary to have a paradigm-shift about what it means to have a successful, valuable private enterprise. As of now, all we measure and celebrate is how much wealth and resources they accumulate. What if companies were at least forced to prioritize the interests of their very own employees?

Co-operative businesses are a direct challenge to the corporate business model. Co-operatives are by design enterprises that function in the interests of its workers, consumers, and communities. The model for management in co-ops vary widely, but there’s always going to be the assurance that the enterprise won’t do anything harmful to its workers in the name of maximizing its profits.

I think that a large part of the reason why our democracy is broken is because most people lack shared decision-making and ownership in their work. A mass adoption of the co-operative business model may atomize the economy in a way that fosters more community awareness and a heightened value for the commons. On a more practical level, it’ll force people to be more engaged with others and learn how to negotiate and compromise in a way that I think most people just don’t have the opportunity to do outside of their nuclear families.

Not all types of businesses should be co-opted into co-ops (sorry, had to do that). I’m also not saying co-operatives are going to be the be all end all towards a perfectly stable, more equitable society. But I think promoting co-operative businesses are a step in the right direction, not just for democratizing workplaces but also because they could lead to better services in general.

Can you imagine if you could join a co-op insurance company? You would pay your dues every month and feel completely safe knowing that if anything were to happen to you, you’ll be taken care of. They won’t have a reason to swindle you out of coverage, since it exists to protect you and all of its members.

How about co-op publishers? It would do everything to provide the best service for its writers and creators. It may even have “member readers” so it’d be intimately familiar with all sides of the consumption experience. A co-op publisher likely wouldn’t push for harsher, more extreme copyright enforcement provisions since it’ll also be concerned about its readers’ interests.

And even credit unions, which really are just co-op banks. I have accounts at two different credit unions, and they don’t change up the fees without proper warning. I love knowing that they’re likely not taking giant financial/investment risks at their members’ expense.

In general, I’m getting tired of only thinking about problems and their temporary solutions without coming up with some effective strategies to move past them. I’m definitely not the only one. When people lament about the Occupy Movement, or act like it was a big waste of time, I have to disagree with them. Up until that point, huge swaths of the population was simply in denial that our problems were institutional. I think a lot of people felt that they were alone in suffering. What Occupy did was bring people together to share their experiences of living with economic insecurity.

Strong communication and patient consideration are necessary for coming to shared decisions, but both of these I think, take tons of practice and it’s always going to come with its frustrations. By building enterprises that themselves necessitate regular exposure to collaborative problem-solving and shared responsibility, maybe we’d all grow to be better at civic engagement.

However we do it, it’s time to take back our democracy. It’s not enough to hope and plead that the system is capable of reforming itself.

Our National Insecurity (a rant)

Whether or not my job necessitates me to constantly pay attention to the brokenness of our society, I’d do so anyway. There was a turning point in high school Morality class when we were discussing the morality of war. A fellow student who claimed to be the most faithful to Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior, said that the invasion of Iraq was well-justified in our hunt for terrorists. Moreover, that the lives that were lost were unfortunate, but unimportant in the scheme of things because we had to win the War on Terror and bring justice to the lives lost on 9/11. National security must be restored, she said.

At that point I lost it. Without a word, I shoved everything off my desk, threw my chair backward, and stormed out of the classroom to find a place to cry. I ended up in a fire escape, where I promised myself I’d fight against such ignorant callousness in any way that I could. As that girl continued to spew neoconservative garbage throughout that semester, what stuck to haunt me ever since was the concept of “national security.”

Really though, what the fuck is “national security”? I may not know exactly what it is, but I do know where it isn’t.

It isn’t in a society that allows millions of people to fall through the cracks of the broken educational system and throws them aside into poverty because it recognizes no use for bodies no longer capable for manual labor.

It won’t be found in a system wherein billions of dollars of value is held by a few thousand individuals who can buy their way through democracy and rig the rules in their favor.

It isn’t in a world where discrimination based on gender, race, sexual preference, religion, ethnicity or any other characteristic is exacerbated by violent and savage rhetoric that is perpetuated out of unsubstantiated cowardly fear.

And it definitely won’t be found in a state that uses technology to intimidate, surveil, and kill innocent individuals for the sake of state-defined interests.

 

The U.S. has become a crumbling fortress from which we coerce our neighbors and shoot at our illusory foes. We bully others through the manipulation of international law, and cultivate enemies through state-sanctioned violence.

We have an entire agency committed to this thing “national security.” We throw billions of dollars at it, and all it does is undermine the exact values necessary for people to feel secure: trust and good will.

 

 

 

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 Sidenote:

I just finished listening to this week’s episode of This American Life and it made me furious.

“Trends With Benefits” is about the U.S. federal disability program where 14 million Americans receive monthly payments because they’re unable to work. In theory, because they are too “disabled” to have a job. They step you through the statistics, peppered with interviews with individuals who are part of the system to personalize the cold numbers. As the number of people on welfare has declined, the number of those on the disability program has about tripled in the last 30 years. Private sector groups benefit from the situation, as do states and counties across the nation who can relieve their ailing budgets of the thousands of individuals on welfare, by shoving them over to the federal disability system where they tend to receive better benefits overall.

You just have to read this piece or listen to the story. It’s nasty.

 

 

Happy birthday, Woody

Today’s Woody Guthrie’s would be 100th birthday.

Growing up, we always sang his songs at campfire during our weeks-long school camping trips. 25 or so hippy kids belt out “This Land Is Your Land” around the crackling warmth in the cold night after a long day of hiking and exploring in the desert. It was always my favorite one.

Little did I know that he was a revolutionary song writer, the kind I wish we now had to inspire us through the madness. He was a true political artist, who cared about getting his song heard and loved rather than purely find a profit off of them. I love this quote, as it shows that even back then the real creators and the makers had already seen through ridiculousness of copyright:

On the typescript submitted for copyright of “This Land Is Your Land”, Guthrie wrote:

“This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”

[source]

Then this one:

“I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. …

I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood.

I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.

And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you. I could hire out to the other side, the big money side, and get several dollars every week just to quit singing my own kind of songs and to sing the kind that knock you down still farther and the ones that poke fun at you even more and the ones that make you think you’ve not any sense at all. But I decided a long time ago that I’d starve to death before I’d sing any such songs as that. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your songbooks are already loaded down and running over with such no good songs as that anyhow.”

[source]

R.I.P.

Woody Guthrie “All You Fascists Bound To Lose”

"Kicking away the ladder" – Capitalism, development, & trade poicy

Friedrich List

Reading a great book right now called Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective by economist Ha-Joon Chang.

He apparently falls under the category of a “heterodox economist”, for simply founding his economic study on historical patterns, rather than hypothetical theories of market behaviors as mainstream Neoclassical economists apparently do. (Yes, been spending some time on Wikipedia).

Anywho, this Friedrich List fellow was one of the first major critics of Adam Smith, predating Karl Marx. He was convinced that Smith’s theory of capitalism wasn’t actually grounded in evidence or proof. More notably, he talks about trade agreements and how developed countries “kick away the ladder” for developing countries so that their economies aren’t able to enact the same beneficial policies that helped these already developed countries (Britain, U.S.) to mature. Protectionist laws that allow domestic businesses to incubate and thrive domestically are never allowed under (I think any) trade agreements.

So when they say “free trade” is good for every country…? Turns out that’s bull shit, and one reason is this: Businesses/enterprises in developing countries need some shelter away from strong multi-national corporations that are wayyy stronger and powerful than the vulnerable budding economies in these other nations. Britain and the U.S. did exactly this to protect themselves from other Europeans, and look how they ended up turning out. Now they’re denying developing countries the right to use the same methods that allowed them to prosper. It’s not a coincidence at all: This is the nature of Capitalism, baby. Individuals compete with other individuals over wage, companies compete over profit, and countries duke it out for market share.

Anyways, still in the middle of reading this book…Sort of in preparation for the next TPP negotiations that are happening in San Diego next week. It was recommended to me by my new partner in crime, Carolina Rossini, who is EFF’s new International IP Director. I need to understand trade agreements better if I’m gonna fight this. What’s that saying again? “To defeat your enemy, you might understand your enemy”? I know why these trade agreements are never good for the underdogs, but I need to know how and why they’re so awful. Hopefully this book will help me.