There are two distinct strains of fascism. The first, what I call blackshirt fascism, comes about in the face of economic distress. This variant of fascism isn’t pathologically racist, inasmuch as minorities are willing to go along to get along and do as they are told there’s no problem. You can see this in Franco’s Spain or Mussolini’s Italy, as (respectively) Moroccans and Ethiopians were vital parts of both regimes’ militaries. That’s not to say that blackshirt fascists aren’t racist, but they aren’t genocidally so. The second, what I call brownshirt fascism, comes about in the face of national humiliation, which is where the Nazis came from. These fuckers are eliminationist when it comes to race and aren’t willing in the least to abide diversity, even when minorities are obsequious to the majority.
The difference comes in the nature of stress applied to a society. In a capitalist society suffering under severe economic dislocation that applies the kind of uncertainty that the working poor usually cope with to groups that don’t usually have to face it, like the educated and middle class, it causes society to turn to alternative perspectives on existing politics. The middle class usually breaks towards fascist narratives for a couple of reasons. It’s a vision that’s far more compatible with conventional systems of government than the end goal of leftist thought. It maintains (and strengthens) the state, plays on patriotism, and retains the existing economic power dynamic by retaining the capitalist mode of production. This compatibility reassures the middle class, who are by and large not used to facing these kinds of economic pressures the way the working class is. This desire for reassurance is also the root of why these groups are willing to cast away their right of self-determination and support a totalitarian form of government, as fascist societies always create rigid roles and boundaries for the people who exist within it. To this way of thinking, people who are fucked over by these boundaries deserve it for breaking these boundaries.
All of this applies to a capitalist country that has been humiliated as a nation, as economic stress usually follows a national humiliation. However, the difference comes from the motive for seeking reassurance. In blackshirt fascism, the motive is to feel secure again. In brownshirt fascism, the motive is to feel secure again by making the nation strong once more. This retrenchment towards ethnic and national identity takes the latent nationalism that is a feature of all fascism and makes it far more malignant. By binding the reassurance that a fascist society provides to national and ethnic identity, it virtually eliminates a fascist society’s already low level of pluralism, and reduces its tolerance of subjugation of those who share its ethnic identity: a German in 1927 might not give a fuck about the Sudetenland, but the same German in 1937 sure as hell does.
Which brings me to the Golden Dawn, a fascist party on the rise in Greece. From where I sit, they are a brownshirt fascist group. This is interesting because the economic uncertainty came before the national humiliation, as Papademos’ coronation as PM by the EU, the continual scapegoating of Greece for the eurozone crisis, and the damage to Greece’s sovereignty those two things represent occured long after the economic crisis set in. Their rise is extremely worrying and depressing. It’s worrying because they will likely not be tolerant of Turkish Cyprus or the way ethnic Greeks are treated in Turkey proper, which could lead to further instability in Europe as shipping to and from the Black Sea through the Med becomes uncertain. It’s depressing because Greece fought the Italians and then the Nazis long and hard during the Second World War, with people like Archbishop Damaskinos showing true courage in the face of such malevolence.
Some of this is the fault of the establishment left. PASOK is like most “socialist” parties in Europe: neoliberal shills who aren’t willing to take a stand for the average person. The KKE has been actively working against the trade unions, left-communists, and anarchists who are trying to fight the ruinous cuts being inflicted on the people of Greece. By not standing up, fighting back, and providing a genuinely left alternative to the existing neoliberal order, both PASOK and KKE are treading dangerously close to proving Walter Benjamin right: “Behind every fascism, there is a failed revolution.”
I can only hope that the other leftists in Greece are able to do what the KKE and PASOK aren’t willing to.
After locking out 465 members of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 27 in London, Ontario, Caterpillar decided last Friday to close its 62-year-old locomotive facility there and move production to newly “right-to-work” Indiana, where American workers will work for half of what Canadian workers would make. Caterpillar’s decision to close the plant after workers refused to agree to major wage concessions has provoked outrage across Canada in light of the fact that Illinois-based Caterpillar made a record $4.8 billion in profits in 2011.
CAW members, who have already been blockading a completed locomotive from leaving the London plant, have vowed to continue blocking any products from leaving there as they attempt to extract a better severance from the company. The CAW local is also considering occupying the plant. “The CAW has occupied workplaces when employers have shown disrespect,” Canadian Auto Workers Union President Ken Lewenza told Bloomberg. “It’s a tool. It’s an option.”
As I reported last week, under the Investment Canada Act, foreign companies taking over Canadian companies must demonstrate a “net benefit” to Canada. Critics claim that the government allowed a foreign-owned company (Caterpillar) to buy a Canadian company without having any intention of providing any “net benefit” to Canada.
I really hope the CAW follow through with that occupation, because fuck Caterpillar and because Stephen Harper won’t stand up for them. They might not be able to save their jobs, but they might be able to make this a Pyrrhic victory for Caterpillar.
In addition, don’t think that the recent dues freeloading law passed by Indiana has absolutely nothing to do with this decision by Caterpillar, because it has everything to do with it. Caterpillar is staggeringly profitable, and the wages paid at this plant aren’t insane. They are decent, skilled-labor wages, but the environment in the US is conducive to a race to the bottom, the jobs go away and lives get just a little better for those in Muncie and a whole lot worse for those in London.
This whole sad story yet again proves exactly how morally bankrupt the existing economic system is. This plant closure will ruin people’s lives. It will unhome people, it will impoverish people, it will cause a whole swath of societal ills that won’t be addressed because of Mike Harris’ public sector cuts in the nineties. I remember very clearly supporting my teachers’ picket line in 1997 because of what Harris was looking to do was so repellant. What’s happening in London is the inevitable continuation of that neoliberal effort. There is literally no reason, none at all, to do any of this aside for sheer naked avarice.
The Liberals will probably try to make hay over this, but they have supported similar efforts in the recent past under Martin. The only party that’s in a position to really slam Harper and the Tories on this is the NDP, recently ascendant to the Official Opposition after the last election. However, I fear that the leadership vacuum within the New Democrats after Layton’s passing will leave them unable to really go after Harper for allowing and even supporting this kind of asset stripping. If Layton was still alive, they would have easily been able to absolutely shellack the Tories on this bullshit, but with their leadership election taking up all the air in the room, it will be an afterthought at best.
In the end, I’m hoping for the best, but I don’t think this turns out happy for the CAW workers. It’s really fucking sad. I hope someone burns down the house of Caterpillar’s CEO.
Greece is, to put it simply, fucked, and the Greeks realize it. The EU and IMF are meeting today to figure out how to fuck them over further in the name of preventing a default and thus triggering another crisis of capitalism when we haven’t even remotely come close to recovering from the last one. If anything, a Greek default could cause a bigger crisis because of how precarious things are right now.
Yet the Greeks have been remarkably resistant and the EU’s decision-makers have yet to figure out the best way to make Greece play by the privatize-and-burn neoliberal model that’s been forced down the throat of dozens of countries in the developing world. This is, to some extent, due to their unions and some of their left wing (their Communists are regrettably moving in lock step with the government). Lagarde, Merkel, and Zapatero had hoped, like in every other instance this particular model had been rolled out, it could be pushed through in an undemocratic fashion as fast as possible because ‘there is no alternative’ and ‘this is a crisis and you have to take bold action’.
Except that there is an alternative to what the European Commission and the IMF have planned for Greece, and some workers at a hospital in Kilkis have decided to take bold action, just not the bold action the international financiers were hoping for.
Health workers in Kilkis, Greece, have occupied their local hospital and have issued a statement saying it is now fully under workers control.
The workers have responded to the regime’s acceleration of unpopular austerity measures by occupying the hospital and outing it under direct and complete control by the workers. All decisions will be made by a ‘workers general assembly’.
The hospital has stated that. “The government is not acquitted of its financial responsibilities, and if their demands are not met, they will turn to the local and wider community for support in every possible way to save the hospital defend free public healthcare, to overthrow the government and every neo-liberal policy.”
As I’ve stated earlier, this is what Occupy here in the US will have to move towards doing. It requires a big leap of faith and a lot of courage, because the first successful one will be attacked by police just as savagely as Occupy Oakland was on the 28th and heaped with scorn in the media, likely in the vein of, “look at those Occupy hippies tryin’ to get jobs AND THEY STILL CAN’T DO IT RIGHT!”
It will get attacked by the cops because taking over a failed capitalist institution and turning it into a going concern outside that framework is intolerable to the employing class. An enterprise like reopening a failed business as a worker collective shows their method of organizing society to not be the only way, but potentially a less successful one. So out come the enforcers with tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent this from even making a short-term run at success. I’d also add that it’s important to take over a closed business and not start up a new worker co-op. Part of the point is to be provocative and confrontational, and by doing so draw attention to this effort.
Once the cops have cleared the reoccupied business, it then becomes necessary to figuratively poison the well, to keep people from trying something like this again, which is where the media reaction to this fits in. Occupying abandoned buildings for community centers and the like is at least noble in intent, which is why you barely saw why the OPD embraced their inner blackshirt on January 28th mentioned. If an Occupy reopens a shuttered business in this time of massive un-and-underemployment, that would be entirely too good of a story to just ignore, but the media couldn’t afford to depict in in a positive light.
The media narrative would be along the lines of, “Well, those Occupy hippies have done it again! They finally got jobs, but since they are dumb hippies, they can’t just do things normally like getting a job at McDonalds. Get this…they took over an abandoned business and started it back up again, and since they are dumb hippies, they decided to run it democratically! How crazy is that! How can they function without a boss! Good thing the cops went in and cleared them out before something bad happened.”
Granted, the actual phrasing would probably be a bit more subtle than all that, but that would be the general tone. Make no mistake: the Occupy protests in their current form have the employing class worried. The reoccupation of foreclosed homes has them alarmed. A shift to this kind of occupation, just taking over shuttered businesses and running them democratically, would scare the fuck out of them and push them to try and break up the Occupy movement for good. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s possible to win this particular battle.
So if I’m right about the reaction to such a workplace occupation, how do you successfully defend it? Firstly, you take over the space quickly and quietly. You don’t announce it beforehand, you don’t launch the start with a march. You pick out a dozen or so people from the group who are interested in doing this, take over the space, and get it up and running. Operate it quietly as any other business for a couple weeks if possible. Then launch it as an Occupy effort. Have the march, the big press release talking about putting power back in the hands of the people, the whole nine yards. When the cops come to clear you out, to hell with Chris Hedges’ liberal ass and fight them off. Make the cops go full-on stormtrooper to shut down the business and make sure you capture them doing so on video (this last part probably won’t be a problem) and slam them for physically assaulting ‘job creators’. Finally, when the media comes to pass judgement on this enterprise, have another two reoccupations in the pipeline that you can launch so you can prove them to be liars when they say it was unsustainable.
The next stage of this movement has to be reoccupying closed workplace. I’ve said that for a while, and I think this Kilkis hospital takeover hints at me being correct about this. I’m going to watch what news emerges from that like a hawk because it presages what’s feasible here in the US. A better world is possible, we just need to bring it into being.
Ever since Obama took office, everyone on the far right seems to bleat endlessly about ‘class warfare’. Mitt Romney does it when he talks about the politics of envy. Newt Gingrich does it when uses Dinesh DeSouza’s bullshit line about Obama being a Kenyan anti-colonialist. Paul Ryan does it when people call him on his shit-awful Medicare plan. All the various bloviating Fox News talking heads go on and on about it whenever a moderately fair tax rate is proposed for the wealthy.
I want to make something perfectly clear: what Obama is doing isn’t class warfare, at least not in the way they think. For the record, this is what class warfare actually looks like.
On Saturday, workers violated a court order preventing them gathering within two hundred metres of the factory. The protests turned violent, workers set company cars on fire, and clashed with the police. The Police used sticks to beat back protestors, and then opened fire when their initial attempts at dispersing them had failed.
Murali Mohan a union leader and main agitator in the dispute was attacked by the police. Has was battered with batons, and died from his injuries whilst in police custody.
Nine workers required hospital treatment due to receiving bullet wounds, all of whom are said to be in a ‘critical’ condition.
After the news of Mohan’s death reached the workers, four hundred of them stormed the house of senior company executive, K. C Chandrekhar, and beat him to death.
Please note that there’s not a single mention of higher taxes or increased regulation in this story.
The far right is trying to tar President Obama, and it’s somewhat successful because no one in the American polity actually knows what class war looks like. This is mostly because what remains of the Left in the US is relatively quiescent or blends into the background whenever a larger issue comes to the fore until very recently. As examples, I’d point towards the lack of strikes by labor unions and the gays rights movement, respectively. Likewise, their rhetoric completely ignores the fact that there has been a sustained class war waged since 1980, only it’s been top-down as opposed to the scary bottom-up class war that has all the various Fox News luminaries so concerned.
Reagan breaking PATCO and advocacy for supply-side economics was class warfare. Clinton’s destruction of welfare and deregulation of financial derivatives was class warfare. Virtually the entirety of George W. Bush’s presidency was class warfare. Obama’s deficit commission and support for cuts to Social Security and Medicare is class warfare. The police repression of Occupy across the country is class warfare. It’s all class warfare, only waged against people like me on behalf of people like Jamie Dimon or Lloyd Blankfein and not the scary kind that’s the other way around.
That said, I think the era of an inactive Left is coming to an end. The mass protests in Madison was just the first hint that things were shifting. Then Occupy came about and now there’s an uptick in activity by and interest in the unions that can only do some good. And while the employing class continues to attack the working class (most recently in Indiana with their bullshit union dues freeloading law), you are finally starting to see those attacks galvanize (instead of shred the morale of) the Left.
We’re a long ways from India and storming an executive’s house to beat him to death with lead pipes (and I don’t think it’s really necessary to do that here unless you see striking workers get gunned down), but I think showing whiners like Romney and Ryan what class warfare actually looks like is coming so long as we get off our asses and get down to the hard work of waging it.
One thing that is absolutely inevitable about any empire is that once it stops growing externally, it turns inward to expand its control over the people already living within its sphere of influence. In some ways, the overseas territories end up getting used as a laboratory by an empire for effective methods of control. For example, twenty seven years ago when Margaret Thatcher’s government was facing down the Miners’ Strike, it used riot control techniques developed in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and informers on MI5′s payroll as well as wiretaps by that spy agency against Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Miners. This is part of the pathology of empire, and it’s true of every imperial state.
And, regrettably, it seems true of the United States now, as natural gas drilling companies hire psychological operations experts fresh from operating in Iraq and Afghanistan to deal with ‘insurgents’, i.e. people who don’t want the water coming out of their taps to be flammable.
Marcellus Shale gas drilling spokesmen at an industry conference in Houston said their companies are employing former military counterinsurgency officers and recommended using military-style psychological operations strategies, or psyops, to deal with media inquiries and citizen opposition to drilling in Pennsylvania communities.
Matt Pitzarella, a Range Resources spokesman speaking to other oil and gas industry spokespeople at the conference last week, said the company hires former military psyops specialists who use those skills in Pennsylvania.
For those that don’t know, psychological operations, or psyops, is the updated term for psychological warfare. Psyops specialists attack the morale of their targets by trying to get them to question their motives, their beliefs, and their trust in their cause. Through the use of both white (truthful and nonbiased) and black (an unending torrent of lies) propaganda, psychological operators seek to undermine the moral and logical foundations of the groups they are targeting and by doing so make it easier to wipe them out by reducing their numbers and marginalizing strong voices for the cause being targeted.
That the gas companies are hiring these sorts of people to engage with antifracking advocates in the court of public opinion is seriously one of the more terrifying next steps taken by corporate power recently. Unlike the other techniques reimported from Afghanistan and Iraq for use by those in power, like law enforcement getting access to unmanned drones, it isn’t the government hiring these people, it’s Corporate America. This is significant because it represents a removal of a layer of restraint on corporate power.
In the past, when something like military force was needed by the wealthy for use against the poor, it had the police and the National Guard to serve their needs. This was true at Ludlow, at Blair Mountain, and at every major strike during the Great Depression. This meant, in theory, that elected officeholders could exert some oversight on the actions of these bodies while they defending the employing class. In practice, such oversight rarely, if ever, got brought to bear, but it still remained as a minor institutional barrier to excesses.
In this case there is no institutional restraint applied by the government, and given the ongoing flow of disinformation and lawsuit threats that are emerging from the fracking companies, there’s no such restraint from within the companies. This is a scary development, one that will continue to subvert democracy in the name of corporate profits and can be traced directly back to our imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We will be reaping the consequences of our overseas wars for a very long time. People talk about the war after the war. That phrase usually refers to wounded veterans coming home and having to cope with physical and psychological trauma, but it seems an appropriate term to use about this situation, where the former implements of a war are getting used against us in the name of corporate profit. It looks like our war after the war is one against democracy by the wealthy, and it is a tragic turn of events.
- 49% of people polled aged 18 to 29 view socialism in a positive light, with 43% viewing it negatively. Compare that to 46% viewing capitalism in a positive way, with 47% viewing it negatively.
- African-Americans and Hispanics polled viewed capitalism negatively (51 and 55% respectively), but only African-Americans viewed socialism positively as a majority (55%).
- Conservative Republicans polled viewed socialism far more negatively (8%-90% positive negative) than they viewed capitalism positively (66%-29% positive negative).
- Liberal Democrats views on capitalism are virtually tied (46%-47% positive negative). Their views on socialism heavily favor a positive perspective (59%-43% positive negative).
- Finally, supporters of Occupy are more likely to be pro-capitalism than they are to be for socialism, 45% to 39%.
I think there’s a few things going on here. One, there’s been a long-standing obfuscation inside American political thought as to what socialism actually is. I mean, you have Republicans calling stuff like PPACA “socialism” when it’s pretty clearly center-right social democratic (i.e. capitalist) in orientation. I think if people actually knew what socialism looked like and how it could operate (I wrote a little piece about that for DemandNothing yesterday), the numbers would look way different than what Pew got in this poll. Two, the generations of people who grew up during the Cold War have a much stronger negative reaction to socialism than people of my generation. I think this is because by the time we were in elementary and middle school, the Cold War was over and there was no real need to keep the anti-Soviet propaganda flowing hard and fast. As such Millenials have been able to reassess these ideas in the wake of the latest economic crisis and come to a different conclusion than our predecessors, who were figuring things out with the aid of an education that was heavily slanted against left-wing thought.
Finally, I think it’s absolutely fascinating that while the true believing GOP members HATE socialism, they are much less enthusiastic about their support of capitalism. Some of these folk might be victims of the latest crisis, put out of work for no good reason and struggling to survive. They cleave to what they’ve been told and despise socialism, their own experiences show them that capitalism isn’t as wonderful as Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh say it is. It might be possible to bring these people around to a different perspective through framing their experiences during the latest crisis in an anticapitalist fashion. Paradoxically, it might be easier to talk to them about socialism than some left-liberals. More on that later.
At any rate, there’s a couple of bright spots in this poll for me, but the one that I haven’t addressed yet is this one: despite how heavy and thick the rhetoric against left-wing thought has come from the Establishment, despite the lack of discussion of left-wing economic thought on news channels and talk shows, despite all of the howling and baying by the Koch-financed Tea Party about Obamacare as socialism and how evil socialism is…nothing has really shifted. The neoliberals running the show haven’t made any more inroads against the idea of economic democracy despite a concerted effort. As such I think it’s possible to start pushing back against them. It will take some time and it will be hard work, but I think by 2014 or 2016 at the latest you’ll see a significantly different political discussion taking place in society, one that includes genuinely left-wing thought.
As I woke up this morning and shook off what bourbon was left in my system from last night, I was trying to figure out what I was going to write about today. There’s an almost impossible-to-resist impulse to make predictions or fulminate about how the year’s going to take shape, and as much as I wanted to avoid it, this piece is going to contain a little bit of that, because as artificial as it is the new year always holds some kind of promise of things being different or new.
First, I think the election is going to be a long, spectacle-laden drama with twists and turns that will ultimately change absolutely nothing. The Iowa Caucuses are less than two days away, and they will either anoint Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee or will winnow out several of the marginal candidates, and in either case, the net effect will be the same: the people of the United States will get the opportunity to vote for which member of the ruling class will lead the country for the next four years. For all the money that will get pumped into the election, we’ll get one hell of a story and not much else. If you doubt me, take this test and try to find even the most tepid center-left answers in it. There is literally no alternative as the polity continues an elite-financed rightward shift economically that’s utterly unsupported by the majority of Americans.
Second, I think (and hope) that the Occupy movement continues to march on in gutsy actions that show a cavalier disregard for what a legal system stacked against the average person has to say about it. They are already off to a good start with a big 68-arrest demonstration last night at Zucotti Park, but as I said earlier Occupy has to broaden their scope and start doing things that aren’t just symbolic but effect significant change right off the bat. The bigger Occupy Our Homes gets, the more need there will be to expand into Occupying closed factories and other workplaces. Occupy Harrisburg defending the Satori Farm is a good example of what I am talking about. It’s the next logical step, and it will probably be the one that really sets the cat amongst the pigeons in the elite, because it fundamentally challenges The Way Things Are Done.
Finally, I think the Arab Spring will continue to rage on. It might have been temporarily strangled in Bahrain, and Assad’s doing his level best to drown it in blood in Syria, but people looking to put an end to autocracy and totalitarianism don’t give up easily. The history of Ireland is instructive on this: pretty much once a generation from 1798 onward the Irish rose up against the UK in one way or another. Henry Joy and Wolfe Tone and Edward Fitzgerald set a spark in the tinder, and the British were never able to completely smother it. The 1803 rebellion, the Tithe War, the Fenian Rising, the Land War, the Easter Rising, and the War of Independence were the inevitable results of the UK trying to maintain its grip on Ireland in a most brutal way: no matter how many protestors Assad has mortared and machine-gunned in Homs, he’ll never reach the number of people Victoria starved during the Great Hunger, much less the other famines her empire presided over in India. It won’t be tomorrow, it might not be two weeks, two months, or two years from now, but it will come, and anyone with a conscience will dance on the graves of these tyrants.
In the end, I can only hope that these things come to pass, because while the new year (and maybe the double of bourbon I’m drinking as I write this) implies the chance at new beginnings, it only implies these things and doesn’t guarantee them. It doesn’t mean that all the obstacles that were in the way of genuine systemic change in 2011 are gone. These people and institutions still have their power and their money and they won’t just roll over and die because we hope they will. It’ll take a fight and struggle to change the world, and in the end, I hope it will be worth all the blood, sweat, and tears.
In my piece about Steve Jobs being a bloodsucker and rent-seeker, galudwig posed this question in a comment.
What is an economic democracy but a free market?
I was going to reply to this in a comment, but I figured that it’s a topic worth discussing in greater detail.
The free market isn’t a democracy. It can never be a democracy. It will never be a democracy. For it to be a democracy the allocation of resources must come under scrutiny from a democratic process, with everyone getting an equally weighted vote, i.e. one person one vote. The way the market is constructed and will forever be constructed is one dollar one vote. People with a lot more cash get to be primus inter pares while poor folk like myself can go pound sand, whether the people with the money are right or not, whether they got their money in an ethical manner or not, and whether they are intending to do good things with their power or not. And that’s not even addressing the autocratic nature of modern corporations.
So what do I mean by economic democracy if I don’t mean a free market? I mean Mondragon. I mean King Arthur Flour. I mean New Belgium Brewing Company. I mean Evergreen Cooperatives. I mean Just Coffee. I mean Semco. I mean Hotel Bauen. I mean worker co-ops and collectives. These are organizations that are more than capable of existing within our existing economic framework and still function perfectly fine with some kind of democratic process. And in some cases, the co-ops function better than their corporate equivalent, like FaSinPat, which was able to hire more people and build health clinics that were long promised once the workers of the Zanon factory kicked out their bosses and started to run their factory for themselves.
This isn’t a crazy vision. There’s nothing utopian about it. All of these co-ops exist right now, employing hundreds of thousands of people, and several have existed for decades, weathering banking crises and recessions, business trends that favor offshoring jobs, and a political system that likes to pretend such enterprises don’t exist. If more of our business enterprises were established as co-operatives and worker collectives, jobs would be much harder to offshore to countries with weak labor protections and the upward reallocation of wealth created by labor would be much more difficult.
All power that does not derive from a democratic source is illegitimate on the face of it. That means our economic system isn’t legitimate because it’s not democratic. If we replace the business enterprises of our society with co-ops and worker collectives, it would go a long way towards giving our system some legitimacy again. That’s what I mean by economic democracy.
Note: This piece was first posted on DemandNothing.org.
The hottest thing in education reform amongst the center-and-far right in America is the charter school. On the surface of it, it seems like a decent idea: you devolve control over the school to principals and parents in exchange for promises to hit certain targets when it comes to test scores. They still receive public money, but by not having as much bureaucracy to wade through they can develop new and innovative techniques to teach the students of the school.
This view was popularized by Davis Guggenheim’s film Waiting For “Superman“, which is probably one the biggest hit pieces ever made and one of many reasons why I want to take a ball-peen hammer to his hands. Charter schools are bullshit. Roll that around in your head for a second and let that settle in. Charter schools are bullshit. The idea is a sound one, but the execution has basically become a form of backdoor privatization that Milton Friedman would be grinning at if he wasn’t a corpse.
A brand-new industry has sprung up after their popularization, and it exemplifies the absolute worst kind of rent-seeking behavior. It’s the charter school management industry, and it’s everything wrong with privatizing the public sector wrapped up into one gigantic wad of rotting garbage. It costs a lot of money to start up a charter school, and while a charter school receives money for upkeep from the state, it doesn’t get much in grants for the initial capital outlay of purchasing desks, chairs, computers, books, calculators, whiteboards, markers, paper, and a building. These things can add up, and in the wake of the latest crisis, finding sufficient credit through normal channels has become almost impossible.
Enter the charter school management company. They float a loan to the prospective charter school, and in exchange they get to take a taste (or in some cases almost all) of the money the state gives the school. In some cases, profiteering management companies charge students illegal fees, take over staffing decisions, slash teacher salaries and operate out of their space on the weekend as a nightclub; all in the name of dropping the overhead of the school and squeezing out a bit more profit.
This kind of corporate management causes high teacher turnover as teachers at charter schools tend to be paid significantly less than public school teachers, which doesn’t do any good for the students. But since that’s only a secondary concern to profit margins, it’s ok! Oh, and by the way, charter schools have a tendency to cherrypick students and overlook kids that would cost too much to educate, like those needing accommodation for physical, mental, and emotional challenges. Can’t let kids with cerebral palsy and autism get in the way of Charter School Management Corporation’s profit margin! That’d be un-American!
What kind of results do charter schools get compared to conventional public schools? Advocates like Guggenheim and Michelle Rhee (former head of Washington, DC’s schools currently under investigation for rigging standardized test results to make her efforts at ‘reform’ look better) tout the effectiveness of the Harlem Success Academies as proof that they are better than conventional public schools.
Reality (and Stanford University) disagrees: 46% of charter schools do about as well as public schools, 37% do worse, and a mere 17% doing better than public schools. But hey, advocates of privatizing everything have never let such paltry things like fact and reality get in the way of ideology, so the charter school crusade continues to march on.
Now, to be fair, there are great charter schools. There are several that have given impoverished kids a chance at a good education and a decent life. However, the schools that are like this all have one thing in common: the school is effectively run by either the parents or the teachers and not by a management company. Until these kinds of management companies are banned, and a funding method that doesn’t rely on horrible predation and rent-seeking is devised, they can only lead to further degradation of the quality of education provided by the American education system.
I’ve gotten a couple of questions on what I mean when I say “protofascist”. In other words, what exactly is the difference between protofascism and fascism? Let me give you a couple of examples, one fascist and one protofascist and articulate the difference between the two. To some extent, it’s a Miller test kind of thing in that it’s fairly ambiguous. Generally speaking, for an act to be fascist, it requires both the act to be authoritarian in nature and must have intent towards that end. If the act is authoritarian in nature but has no specific intent behind it, it’s protofascist in my opinion.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich showed no sign Sunday of letting up on his assault on “activist” federal judges. During an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Gingrich suggested the president could send federal law enforcement authorities to arrest judges who make controversial rulings in order to compel them to justify their decisions before congressional hearings.
When asked by host Bob Schieffer how he would force federal judges to comply with congressional subpoenas, Gingrich said he would send the U.S. Capitol Police or U.S. Marshals to arrest the judges and force them to testify.
Independent journalist John Knefel, whose work has appeared in Salon, was arrested December 13 for the crime of filming police actions during an Occupy protest. Knefel and a majority of the sixteen others arrested with him were held in prison for more than thirty-six hours. Several members of the Occupy 17, as they’re now called, were punished with extended detention times after they refused en masse to submit to an eye scan.
Along with methods like fingerprinting and mug shots, the NYPD now uses iris scanners as part of an effort to “improve security and safeguard identities.” Jailed individuals are given the option to decline such an eye scan, but warned that doing so may slow down their processing. Knefel told me a couple of the Occupy 17 had to get out of jail quickly to go to their jobs, so they submitted to the scans. The rest of the Occupy 17, however, were held in prison for the full thirty-six hours.
I consider the latter example to be protofascist for a couple of reasons. It represents the sort of creeping expansion of police power that has marked the post-9/11 era. It’s unnecessarily intrusive and probably doesn’t do anything to actually improve security or safeguard identities, and keeping those who refused for the full thirty-six hours is a way of punishing people who have exercised a legitimate refusal of this intrusion. However, there’s no evidence that it’s being used specifically as a way to stifle dissent from Occupy, and it’s likely that anyone who is arrested by the NYPD is probably confronted with the same decision on whether to consent to the iris scan. That said, this kind of intrusion isn’t benign, but it isn’t actively malignant and could turn into something very nasty if the wrong kind of people are running the show. In that regard, I call it protofascist because the actual act could be used in a way that strangles dissent but doesn’t necessarily have that intent behind it.
Newt looking to call in the Marshals on “activist” judges, though, is as fascist as fascist gets, because you KNOW Gingrich only considers judges that disagree with his political agenda to be “activist”. The neutering of independent judiciary has happened in literally every fascist government in the history of the world, from Italy to Spain to the Third Reich to Chile, and make no mistake that this is Gingrich’s intent. The name of the game is tearing down any institutional impediment to his agenda. An independent judiciary is a strong firewall to intrusions on individual rights and can be a defender of fair elections (it can also retard legitimate political change and do sweet fuck all to defend fair elections, but that’s another topic entirely). By trying to intimidate it through use of police power and impeachment (a legislative act that removes a judge from the federal bench but requires the commission of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” of which disagreeing with Newt Gingrich shouldn’t count as), Gingrich wants to geld the American judiciary. In that respect, it is fascist in orientation, because it is an act that strangles dissent while centralizing power in a very real and very scary way and it is intended towards that end.
As an aside, I had called Newt Gingrich a protofascist in my earlier piece on the topic, but reading about this has me rethinking that. Part of the Republican Party’s dogma is a near-religious veneration of the Constitution and the men who wrote it. By calling for the impeachment of judges who have committed no crimes, it violates that dogma by going against what’s in the Constitution but in a way that benefits them. This is also a feature of fascism: a selective embrace of tradition. By Gingrich calling for this, he’s moved towards being more fascist than protofascist in my opinion, and that none of his fellow candidates have yet excoriated him for this idea shows the US is in a very scary place politically.