Congress may take books, musical compositions and other works out of the public domain, where they can be freely used and adapted, and grant them copyright status again, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
In a 6-2 ruling, the court ruled that just because material enters the public domain, it is not “territory that works may never exit.” (PDF)
The top court was ruling on a petition by a group of orchestra conductors, educators, performers, publishers and film archivists who urged the justices to reverse an appellate court that ruled against the group, which has relied on artistic works in the public domain for their livelihoods.
With the whole uproar of PIPA and SOPA, it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that there are other efforts to subvert participation in the media landscape by the bulk of the population and not just media conglomerates. Bet your bottom dollar that this new power for Congress will inevitably get abused, as public domain works can get recopyrighted and sold to private hands. This is a bad decision, and one that is a further effort to preserve an intellectually bankrupt idea a little while longer.
Since the tie between content and its physical container has been severed by the computer, the concept of intellectual property has become increasingly obsolete. It is the artificial imposition of scarcity on an item that can potentially be perfectly copied infinitely. Copyright (and patents) are like trying to charge for breathing. As Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine, said when he released the method of making his vaccine into the public domain, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” His decision not to exercise his intellectual property rights prevented profiteering and by doing so probably saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Understand that I’m not saying artists shouldn’t be compensated for their hard work, because that’s literally as far from where I’m coming from as one can get. What I’m saying is that we need to come up with a new method of compensating artists than the methods we have right now, because the system we have isn’t working. As a stopgap, though, we should resist attempts by groups like the MPAA and RIAA to bulwark this system through legislation like PIPA and SOPA and court decisions like this, because it will only make whatever new method to compensate artists we develop more difficult to implement.
And for maximum irony, the lead plaintiff in this case won’t be able to play Prokofiev and Shostakovitch due to licensing fees costing too much. Yes you read that last one correctly, and yes it’s that Shostakovitch, the famous Soviet composer. You couldn’t make this shit up if you tried.
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.
A short post today since I have a lot of things to do. Oakland PD spent most of its time in front of the press lying by omission and commission about Occupy Oakland’s camp in Ogawa Plaza. In probably the most egregious example, OPD and Mayor Quan hid the fact that crime rates dropped by 19% during the camp’s active operation.
When Jordan received an update that crime was actually down 19 percent in the last week of October, he wrote an email to one of Mayor Jean Quan’s advisers.
“Not sure how you want to share this good news,” he wrote. “It may be counter to our statement that the Occupy movement is negatively impacting crime in Oakland.”
Police and the city said Occupy has had an ongoing impact on their ability to respond to crime.
This isn’t any real shock to those who are living in Oakland and those who participated in the protests, but it should serve as a warning to left-liberals and
concern trolls others who, “would totally support the Occupy movement if not for these questionable problems with police,” that you can’t trust a single word that comes out of the mouths of the cops when it comes to mass protests. These are people working for organizations whose primary remit is to maintain order in society by virtually any means required. Once you start doing things like marching or camping out in a public square to demand significant change to society, they will put a set of crosshairs on your back. This is because doing these things is outside of the electoral process, which is the Establishment-acceptable route that change is to take.
Remember that all change ultimately comes from the people taking action, and that the cops will lie through their teeth about the people taking action if it threatens the status quo. This point is especially important to remember on this day especially, because bastards like Bull Connor and George Wallace lied through their teeth about Dr. King’s courageous actions like the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches, the March on Washington, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Don’t believe what the Establishment says about an Occupy camp. Go down, talk to the people there, and make a decision for yourself.
On Tuesday, his last day in office, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi granted full and unconditional pardons to 193 criminals — an unusually high number for the state, and one that is likely to inflame controversy about Mr. Barbour’s pardon practices.
The governor’s outgoing pardons had attracted an outcry when it was revealed that he had pardoned five people last week who had been convicted of murder and had worked at the governor’s mansion while in custody, performing odd jobs.
Other Mississippi governors have issued full pardons to people convicted of murder — Kirk Fordice, for example, issued two such pardons before he left office in 2000 after two terms — but none have issued so many pardons to so many criminals.
Like his fellow Republican George Ryan, who declared a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois, Haley Barbour, the outgoing Governor of Mississippi, decided to do something humane as he exited office. Barbour’s actions are significant, but the furor about this action is far more significant as it reveals a fact about the American polity that most people knowledgeable about the prison system have known for a long time: Americans have forgotten why we punish people in the first place.
The founding text of the American prison system is Cesare Beccaria‘s On Crimes and Punishment. Jefferson quoted from it heavily, as did Adams. The gist of Beccaria’s thesis is that it’s not the harshness of the punishment that acts as the deterrent to crime, but rather the certainty of getting caught, and excessively harsh punishments can cause criminals to commit more severe crimes than they otherwise would. Beccaria put it best when he wrote, “If an equal punishment be ordained for two crimes that injure society in different degrees, there is nothing to deter men from committing the greater as often as it is attended with greater advantage.”
The point of punishment is to correct someone who has gone astray. Harsh prison conditions and long sentences don’t fix the problem of crime because they rarely bother with the necessary programs for that rehabilitation. Given the harsh conditions within American prisons and our high recidivism rates, I think this statement bears out as true. Look at the rest of the industrialized world, and you will see a much lower recidivism rate and much milder prisons than the ones in the United States. Long sentences in terrible prisons doesn’t have most people leaving prison even able to turn over a new leaf, much less willing.
Then there’s the fact of how our prisons reflect on us as a people. As Montesqueiu wrote, “every punishment which does not arise from absolute necessity is tyrannical.” Is it absolutely necessary for punishment to make places like Pelican Bay and San Quentin and Ossining into hellholes out of which no person returns whole and normal? No? Then what we are doing is tyrannical, wrong, and unconstitutional, and it needs to change.
For Barbour, it likely means the end of his national political career, as any attempt for further office in this country would likely be met with ads similar to those run against Dukakis in 1988 by Bush about Willie Horton. This doesn’t make me sad, given Barbour’s policy stances and his recollection of the White Citizens’ Council, but I do have to applaud his courage to do something this courageous on his way out.
193 pardons. Goddamn. That takes guts.
Anti-terrorism resources are being used to target environmentalists, peace, animal and political activists who hold different views than the government.
It was recently revealed that a counter-terrorism firm spied on individuals who attended film screenings of the documentary Gasland. The film focuses on the practice of natural gas fracking and what impact it has on the environment and in the communities where it is used.
The FBI and other government agencies are cracking down on those who are not willing to say in line with the status quo.
In Pennsylvania, activists have faced terrorism charges for writing slogans in chalk on sidewalks. In California, 27 individuals are set to go on trial stemming for protest actions Elsewhere 23 anti-war, pro-labor and international solidarity activists may face a grand jury on trumped up charges. The FBI boasts 164,000 suspicious activity reports that are made up of activists who do not follow the governments view on matters.
Ask any left-liberal and they’ll probably blame this kind of behavior on the War on Terror. To hold this opinion requires significant historical amnesia. There’s a long and ugly history of the FBI using its massive power and budget to bludgeon political dissidents. Its forerunner, the Bureau of Investigation, had J. Edgar Hoover in charge of its newly-created General Intelligence Division, which was then used to investigate radical groups during the Palmer Raids. Then, under Hoover and formally created as the FBI, it was the primary apparatus of scouring the federal government during the Second Red Scare. It frequently ruined lives on little more than hearsay and never allowed the victims of this persecution to face their accusers. In addition, it carried out illegal burglaries of the National Lawyers’ Guild for having the temerity to defend the aforementioned people whose lives the FBI ruined and helped purge the labor movement of anyone with ideas more radical than those of a centrist Democrat.
Then there’s COINTELPRO. Born out of Hoover’s frustration with having the judiciary restraining his efforts to persecute people for their political beliefs, COINTELPRO existed from 1956 to 1971. Targeting mostly left-wing organizations like the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Students for a Democratic Society, the American Indian Movement, and the Black Panthers as well as prominent Americans like Martin Luther King Jr. and Albert Einstein, COINTELPRO sought to disrupt and break apart these organizations. While a small amount of COINTELPRO’s resources were brought to bear against right-wing racist groups like the KKK and the National States’ Rights Party, it was primarily an organization designed to destroy any group that pushed for genuine left wing change.
In its fifteen year run, COINTELPRO did a lot of damage, the true extent of which is impossible to gauge because its files remain mostly sealed and what is released is thoroughly redacted. In addition some of attacks made by the organization against these groups defy quantification: would a group broken apart by racial tensions exacerbated by an FBI plant have done so anyways without any effort by the FBI? It’s an question that can’t easily be answered, so to avoid such ambiguity I’ll focus exclusively on the things that can be quantified as they are repellant enough to any free society.
While COINTELPRO was in effect, the FBI arranged for the assassination of Fred Hamption by the Chicago Police Department. It maintained a constant and continual observation of Martin Luther King Jr. to the day he died, including wiretaps. It released a black propaganda coloring book advocating violence against whites and blamed it on the Black Panthers. And even after COINTELPRO’s supposed end in ’71, the FBI would use the tactics learned from it to insert a spy into the American Indian Movement and frame Leonard Peltier for murder and lock him away for the majority of his life. And this is by no means an exhaustive list of actions taken by the FBI in this realm. If you really want to get a feel for the full scope of actions undertaken by the FBI during this time, this is worth reading. as are these books.
Moving up to the modern day, there’s really not much that’s changed. In keeping with America’s Forever War with Communism ending and the start of a new Forever War with Islam, the FBI has mastered the art of foiling terrorist plots it has planned. But since the FBI are the traditional sorts, they can’t resist any opportunity presented to them at framing leftists. Look at Eric McDavid and the poor fuckers Brandon Darby framed if you doubt this. And since hippie-punching and oppressing Muslims are two great tastes that taste great together, the FBI decided to kill one bird with two stones by going after left-wing antiwar activists on material support of terrorism charges. And none of this includes the poor bastards getting harassed by the FBI in the topmost link.
The FBI is like any other secret police organization in the history of modern governance. It operates free of oversight while violating people’s rights. The Bureau uses its power to gather information about dissidents and works to ruin them. It doesn’t protect you from terrorists, only occasionally protects you from criminals (presuming they aren’t wealthy), and will try to destroy any effort at systemic change that gets big enough to be scary to those in charge.
Put simply. the FBI is not your friend. Remember this always.
I find it interesting that a supranational union composed of ostensible democracies would allow this kind of behavior to happen. Between Fidesz’s naked power grab in Hungary, the austerity government installed by the EU in Greece that contains people who lead thugs for the Greek military junta from ’67 to ’74, and the fact that the European Parliament has literally no power over the European Commission, it’s becoming fairly clear that the European Union is highly undemocratic if not antidemocratic. Continuing the policies that buoy the wealthy and screw the rest, like ultratight monetary policy, the EU is going to bind the member states on the periphery into a cycle of misery that won’t be easily broken.
When you get right down to it the EU was never intended to be democratic. The European Commission is effectively free of oversight from the Parliament because of the latter’s lack of legislative initiative: it can only approve legislation proposed by the Commission. While other bodies (NGOs, member states, other European Union organizations) can propose legislation, they still ultimately have to get approval from the Commission to have the European Parliament to do anything. The Parliament is further hamstrung by forcing it to share most of its legislative power with the European Council, which is comprised of the heads of states of the constituent nations, including the budget process. And hell, if the Parliament wasn’t useless enough already, the Commission can act without legislative approval in several areas.
This complete and utter uselessness of the European Parliament leads to staggeringly low turnouts on MEP elections. and this leads to only cranks, loonies, and soulless bureaucrats contesting these seats. That only geniuses like Nigel Farange of the UKIP try to become MEPs completes the cycle and ensures that no reasonable person wants to see any kind of significant power invested in the European Parliament, despite being the “first institution” of the EU. This cycle ensures the Commission remains free of any appreciable oversight of pesky elected representatives. The bulk of this hamstringing of the EP happened while the Treaty of Lisbon was being ratified, which happened while the sovereign debt crisis was starting to rear its head, a bit of timing that might be coincidental but is fairly convenient. And now the central states to the EU are talking about bolstering the European Commission that allows that body to force austerity on the periphery states.
Because the Commission has never really had to be restrained in a democratic fashion, it sees no reason to defend that particular function of parliamentary democracy in its member states. Look at the freak-out that Merkel, Sarkozy, and the Commission President Zapatero had when then-Greek PM George Papandreou tried to put the austerity policies inflicted on Greece by the EU up for a referendum. Look at the deafening silence from the Commission and the ECJ as Hungary’s democracy slides into a half-dead state. So long as member states don’t literally install a dictator and round of political dissidents, I doubt the European Commission steps in to do anything to defend democracy.
In the end, the EU’s dead and doesn’t realize it. The people of the Europe will only tolerate shit like Pidesz trying to establish permanent control over Hungary and ex-fascist government ministers being installed at the behest of the Commission for so long before they decide to tear the fucker down because there is no democratic relief valve at the EU-wide level of policy-making, no place to direct reformers and incrementalists and hope they go away. The worst part is that all of the pain that will come from this is entirely avoidable if the EU wasn’t hell-bent on dismantling democracy..
leitmotif (noun) – a recurrent theme throughout a musical or literary composition, associated with a particular person, idea, or situation. – Oxford English Dictionary
A lot of my analytical focus is on how fascism can emerge in the modern day, but that’s not the only form of authoritarianism that is creeping in. Paul Krugman gave some space in his blog to Kim Lane Scheppele on this very topic and it’s worth a read, if a bit light on analysis:
In a free and fair election last spring in Hungary, the center-right political party, Fidesz, got 53% of the vote. This translated into 68% of the seats in the parliament under Hungary’s current disproportionate election law. With this supermajority, Fidesz won the power to change the constitution. They have used this power in the most extreme way at every turn, amending the constitution ten times in their first year in office and then enacting a wholly new constitution that will take effect on January 1, 2012.
This constitutional activity has transformed the legal landscape to remove checks on the power of the government and put virtually all power into the hands of the current governing party for the foreseeable future.
This is basically your bog-standard reactionary takeover, and it reads like a history of Hungary’s interwar years. A rightist party gained power with questionable democratic legitimacy, attempted to remove its center-left opposition from existence, and ended up getting flanked and overthrown by a fascist party and their allies from Germany. The big difference is that this time it’s not the fascists the Germans are supporting. It shouldn’t be terribly surprising that you can look backward and find examples of Fidesz’s behavior in the past. When you get right down to it, reactionaries aren’t very creative people, and as the man said, “All great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
Fidesz’s actions aren’t unique in Europe, either. It’s a pattern that’s playing out relatively quietly across Europe while the ongoing financial crisis rages on and draws the bulk of the media attention. When it does get mentioned, the context is about how good this kind of subversion of democracy is for Europe. Spain just put in power a rightist party whose roots go back to Franco’s regime in a low-turnout election. Greece’s EC-appointed government has people filling cabinet positions that beat the shit out of students with axe-handles for the military junta that was in power from ’67 to ’74. I have no doubt that there will be more of these kinds of government as this crisis continues to wear on because political behavior is rooted primarily in material concerns with cultural concerns coming in second. This kind of antidemocratic behavior spreading across Europe makes me pose the following question: is there something about the EU that is inimical to democracy?
More on that later.
LOS ANGELES (CN) – A man who spent 20 years in prison for a drive-by killing he did not commit says he was framed by “a known neo-Nazi, white supremacist police gang” within the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, known as the “Lynwood Vikings.”
Francisco Carrillo Jr. also sued Craig Ditsch, the sheriff’s deputy who allegedly fingered him for the drive-by shooting and murder of Donald Sarpy in early 1991. Carrillo was 16 at the time.
“Mr. Carrillo spent 20 years in prison as a result of the actions of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies. The deputies’ created a false identification of Mr. Carrillo which was adopted by each of the six eyewitnesses. Without the deputies’ wrongful, unconstitutional conduct, Mr. Carrillo would not have been arrested or convicted for the Sarpy murder; he would not have spent 20 years in prison. The deputies’ conduct violated Mr. Carrillo’s civil and constitutional rights.
If anyone is wondering why trust in the cops is at all-time lows and declining, remember this story. Mark my words: situations like this are more prevalent amongst the police than any one of us wants to admit, and it would be very difficult to pull such groups up from the roots within the police. The kind of power that we’ve invested within the police as a function of the War on Drugs and the War on Terrorism combined with the traditional Blue Wall of Silence makes serious oversight of law enforcement extremely difficult.
How fucked is this nation when you have literal neo-Nazis running around with badges and guns framing minorities for crimes they didn’t commit?
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.
Yeah, it’s been a bit. I swear I’m going to start writing more frequently.
One of the popular conceits of the post-war era in the West is that fascism died with Hitler. I would disagree, and so would my homeboy Umberto Eco. This piece pretty much reads like a history of post-9/11 America, and there’s one part in particular that I’m going to focus on. In Eternal Fascism, Eco says this:
6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration.
That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.
Combine that with a quote from John Steinbeck:
“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
And I’d say you have the most incisive social commentary about America in 2011, and I’m going to use it to build a point.
Right now we find America in a place where the culturally ‘middle class’ (i.e. those who self-identify as middle class) is larger than it has ever been because of the expansion of what it meant to be ‘middle class’ during the 1950s and 60s. Taking Eco’s statement at its face value, that fascism finds its first supporters within the middle class during times of economic crisis and/or national humiliation, it’s no wonder that you start to see authentically fascist forms of thought coming about in the polity because what’s considered middle class nowadays is so damn big and the economy is so damn fucked. The anti-immigration movement, the anti-gay groups, the anti-women groups, the sort of dolchstoss rhetoric that’s flying around about Iraq and Afghanistan from the ultra-hawks, the ongoing war against science, the NDAA and SOPA just recently passed…it’s almost like Eco’s essay is a checklist for most federal politicians nowadays.
Without any doubt I think it’s fair to say there’s genuinely protofascist politicians in office in the US right now, primarily on the hard right party (the Republicans). Rick Perry is certainly an example of one, Newt Gingrich, too, but it’s not just limited to the GOP. The soft right party (the Democrats) aren’t immune: Joe Lieberman, Carl Levin, and even President Obama have their authoritarian moments. You can see it reflected in the crackdowns in Los Angeles and Oakland and New York and Seattle and Portland and Denver against the Occupy movement, most with Democratic mayors. You can see it in a SWAT deployment against a squat in Chapel Hill, ordered by a Democratic mayor. You can see it in the imprisonment of Tim DeChristopher and the trial of Bradley Manning. All of these are all tied to the same kind of authoritarian attitude that colors our politics.
It’s not too late to reverse course, but it won’t be easy. You basically have to convince a fair chunk of Americans that they aren’t, in fact, temporarily embarrassed millionaires, but genuinely exploited workers whose labor is being stolen to buy some shithead in SoHo a Maserati and a $10 million dollar condo. And moreover, you have to convince them to actually do something about it by organizing in the workplace and demanding their fair share of the profits from their labor. It’s this kind of mobilization that will make the difference and not political mobilization because…well, look at how mobilized Obama got people and look at how little good he’s actually done. But once that kind of mobilization happens, strap in folks, because then things will really start to change.
There’s one question that remains for me, and that’s why do working class people support policy that is hand-built to bugger them, and why is it so common in the US? Or put another way, why exactly did so many people start to self-identify not just AS the middle class, but WITH the middle class? More on that later.