Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why An App?

Since I announced I was making a David Rovics app – available now for free on both Google and Apple app stores – a lot of people have asked me why. My short response has been “the ability to send geographically-targeted push notifications.” For many people, this response does little to answer their question in a way that makes much sense to them. So, for anyone interested, here's a more thorough answer to the question.

Mainly I thought I'd run through this because it's interesting. That is, society, people and how we communicate is interesting. And how all of this has changed and then changed again multiple times in the past two decades is of particular interest to me.

The pros and cons of modern forms of communication are familiar to most of us by now. In a nutshell, we can now communicate more or less for free with most people from most of the world (pro). But we are so overwhelmed with Too Much Information that our ability to communicate with so many people so easily has many of us in a state of shell shock, and we end up having superficial relationships online with lots of people, rather than the deeper kinds of relationships that are an essential ingredient in the making of a happy human (con).

Everything may change by next month – my abilities as a futurist are extremely limited and I have no idea if that is or isn't the case. But I do have some understanding of how things are now, and how things have changed over the past two decades or so.

Communicating by email became extremely popular by the late 1990's, and pretty soon musicians like me stopped sending out postcards to our mailing lists, which is one of the main ways we used to tell our fans about our upcoming tours, new albums, etc. Sending out all those postcards was expensive. And for a while, sending these tour or album announcements to our email lists seemed to work almost as well in terms of the feedback, album orders, etc., of the people receiving them.

Over the next few years, as most people became inundated with more and more email communication, email lists, etc., reaching fans via email for us musicians became less and less effective. Then Google started doing email (Gmail), and soon around half of email users seemed to be using it. When Google later changed the default settings for their email users from the normal chronological list of emails received to a three-folder system, relegating anything on a list to the Promotions folder, my experience was that my email list suddenly became about half as useful, overnight.

Just to get into this point a little more, for Gmail to start dividing their users' inboxes into three folders made a lot of sense from the perspective of the TMI phenomenon. Now people could just look at their main folder, containing the most important stuff – emails written personally to them, mostly from people they actually know and want to hear from. And they could check out the other folders if they had a chance, or just ignore them completely, which seems to be what most users have done. Mostly I don't think they consciously chose to do this – they do it because it is the easiest thing to do under the circumstances of TMI and not enough time or desire to stare at a screen longer than necessary.

Now, these settings can be changed. There are various ways around the three-folder system that Gmail has adopted, for people who have the time, knowledge and organizational tendencies to set their inboxes up differently. The fact that settings can be changed doesn't seem to matter much, because most people tend to do whatever is easiest and simplest. Your spam filter works, but you're still on too many email lists, half of which you didn't even sign up for on purpose? You can unsubscribe from each list you don't want to be on, you can choose the ones you really want to pay attention to and set it up so that they appear in your Primary folder, etc. But that's not what most people do, as far as I can tell. They do what's easiest, and ignore their Promotions folder.

As these changes were taking place within the email world, at the same time, Facebook was becoming massively popular. In the beginning, the News Feed for people with Facebook accounts was chronological, as with their email inbox (as Twitter still is). Musicians like me who have thousands of people on our email lists soon had thousands of Friends and Followers on Facebook.

Posts can go viral, and this was the case in the earlier days of Facebook as well. But in the earlier days of Facebook, if you had thousands of followers, a significant percentage of them were likely to see your posts, especially if you timed your posts for hours of the day when many people tend to check Facebook. But then Facebook introduced their mysterious system of algorithms, so that which posts you see in your Feed are not necessarily related to who you're following or when someone you follow posted something. Suddenly, I had the same experience many other musicians had when Gmail introduced the three folders – the floor dropped out from under me again, in terms of any kind of reliability as far as who might see my posts.

Of course, the situation we're in, whether we're on the marketing end of the equation – such as musicians trying to tell our fans about our upcoming gigs -- or the consumer end – people wanting to keep up on their email inbox and their Facebook feed without being overwhelmed by TMI -- most of us are in a situation where two megalithic corporations control our main platforms of communication, and change them at will. Unregulated global monopolies have a massive degree of control over every aspect of our ability to communicate with each other – how we communicate, who sees our emails or posts and who doesn't, what kinds of posts we see and what kinds we don't, etc.

Many people say that Google and Facebook made these changes in order to encourage people to buy advertising and reach people that way. There is no question that this is a big part of the story, and that they are able to make these random changes that affect the lives of billions of people because they are unregulated monopolies. Equally, what's also clear is global society is suffering from, among other things, TMI. In order to continue to be popular platforms that attract lots of users who see lots of advertisements, Google and Facebook decided to change the way their platforms work. That's also part of the story.

It used to be that if you wanted to invite all of your Facebook Friends to come to your gig, you could do that. This created a situation where many people were getting a constant stream of invitations to attend events that were essentially irrelevant to them because they were happening far away from where people lived. Facebook changed it so that you could only choose up to a certain number of Friends to invite to an event, which probably helped a lot of people target who they were inviting a little better. Of course it also meant that if you wanted more people to hear about an event that you wanted to invite everybody to, you were left with the option of paying to Boost your post or event.

Other platforms came along that were trying to address the TMI reality, in terms of musicians and their fans. Platforms like Songkick and Bandsintown came along. Their strategy for cutting through all the TMI was and is very sensible. You join Songkick or Bandsintown, you choose artists you want to follow and you tell the platform what part of the world you live in, and then you receive notifications via your Google Calendar, email, or by other means, that tell you when a musician you're following is playing within 50 miles of your home (or 100 miles or whatever you choose as your parameters).

These kinds of geographically-targeted notifications telling people about things they actually want to know about are handy. As much as I encourage people to use these services, however, I find that my numbers of followers on them remains anemic. The main reason, I believe, is that most people are too overwhelmed by TMI to bother signing up for yet another source of yet more information, even if it's information they really want to know about.

Another reason, I suspect, is that there's no significant incentive to use these services, aside from the fact that they work really well for helping people sort out their TMI.
If an artist has an app, however, the formula changes a bit. At least that's my working hypothesis. How does it change? Well, you can do what Songkick and Bandsintown both do so well – that is, you can notify people about something happening near them that they definitely want to know about, in a place they are likely to actually see. Unlike with these platforms, however, an artist can give away all kinds of exclusive digital material of whatever kind on their own app, in addition to having the ability to notify people about upcoming gigs, etc.

How does an app like this cut through TMI? I'll explain – but bear in mind that this all may change soon in ways that I don't understand and can't predict. But as things stand now, the way the Android and Apple smartphone platforms (that dominate the world) work is people download apps in their respective app stores that they want to download. So, unlike with email lists and Facebook invitations, you're unlikely to download an app that you didn't intend to download.

Once you download an app, you are asked if you want to receive notifications from the app, that appear on your phone when you open it. And you are asked whether you give the app permission to know your location, so that the notifications you receive might be especially relevant to you (such as an upcoming concert in your town).

What has been the tendency since the internet became popular is for the corporations that run different platforms to keep trying to evolve in ways that get more and more people to use their platforms for longer periods of time in a given day or week, and to maximize their profits at the same time. These goals don't always go well together – MySpace collapsed under the weight of all the advertising they introduced, for example. The corporation's efforts to increase their profit margin resulted in achieving the opposite.

So they have to be careful, to be sure. But once they achieve the monolithic level of popularity that Google and Facebook have achieved, the formula here changes, and the corporations have a lot more flexibility in how they change their platforms in order to maximize their profits -- without their users effectively having the ability to abandon the platform in favor of another one.

So if DIY musicians and others having their own apps becomes a way that we are effectively able to reach our fans without buying advertising on Google, Apple or Facebook, these corporations will surely at least try to find a way to limit the usefulness of apps or otherwise find ways to make us pay for the number of people we are able to reach.

For now, however, I'm banking on the notion that it will be worth my while to keep spending the $400 or so per year required to keep my app functioning and available, in the hopes that the Freemiums I'm offering – hundreds of free songs and an upcoming ebook that will only be found for free on my app – will inspire people to download the thing, so they might get – and see – the occasional messages I send to their phones when I have a gig in their area.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Thoughts on the Conventions: The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places

Very simply: all of the changes to the DNC platform are meaningless words until they become laws. And most of them can't become laws because implementing them would run right up against the goals of the TPP/TTIP -- "barriers to trade" in neoliberal speak -- which the current president and his party leadership actively support. These politicians -- whatever gender or color -- are bought and sold. (Yes, I agree that both Barack and Michelle give great speeches. Speeches, however, are not policy.) The proof is in their voting records. For them to support secretive, corporate-driven trade negotiations and pretend to be progressive is to render the term "progressive" completely meaningless. WTF is a "pragmatic progressive"?

What I seem to be witnessing is the two parties completing a 100-year process of mutual inversion, or whatever the term may be. For a century, the Democrats were the party of white supremacy and white labor -- the party of the white working class. That's how they sold themselves, essentially, for a century. The Republicans were the party of capitalism and freedom.

If that seems like a strange mix of values to you, well, it is, but I didn't make it up. And now look at the party leadership today. Of course what they do and what they say are two different things, but how are they positioning themselves in terms of rhetoric?

Trump wants to end taxation for people who earn less than $50,000 a year, close military bases around the world and use the savings in the military budget for domestic purposes. He wants to heavily tax imports in order to keep jobs in the US, and he opposes TPP and other neoliberal trade policies that he accurately says are bad for the US working class. He talks about the working people as if they exist. Every day. He positions himself as critical of the elites with which he is intimately familiar, while also blaming nonwhite people for all the world's ills in many different forms.

That is to say, in short, he has adopted the kind of rhetoric which was the backbone of the Democratic Party for the century or so before, during and after the US Civil War.

And the Democratic Party establishment? They talk pro-immigrant bullshit while deporting millions, they talk about peace while making war, they talk about civil rights while administering over a nation at war with its black and brown populations, they talk about working families without even mentioning the idea of rent control ever -- which is banned statewide in 48 out of 50 states, many of which are usually controlled almost completely by Democrats.

And they talk of prosperity and American "greatness" while supporting neoliberal trade deals that have and will continue to impoverish most Americans even further, along with so many others in the world, as the rich get even richer. They don't even pretend to oppose the TPP -- at least now that Sanders has been defeated and has declared his support for a proven neoliberal war-maker.

Trump is now the Democrat, and Clinton the Republican.

Can a guy who speaks out against empire-building, in favor of protectionist trade policies, and who routinely denigrates people of color get elected president in the US?

Well, minus the racism and xenophobia, the one candidate on the Democratic ticket who spoke out (at least somewhat convincingly) against empire-building and (much more convincingly) against neoliberalism has just told us to vote for the empire-building neoliberal.

And the one candidate remaining who makes a fairly clear case against "free trade" and empire is the Republican. Is his blatant racism and xenophobia enough to stop him from being elected, when he is seen by many as the only candidate willing to stand up to the banks?

Ask Woodrow Wilson. He served two terms. Oh, but maybe American democracy has evolved since then. If it has, it's a hard thing to measure objectively. What can be measured is the stratification of wealth, which is greater than it has ever been since the 19th century (just before Wilson got elected), and the only (major party) candidate now talking about what to do about that situation with any easily-understood, concrete proposals that don't sound like window-dressing is Trump.

I'm so tired of hearing people talk about the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany with every new US election in my lifetime involving a racist Republican (which is all of the elections in my lifetime) that I'm not even going to address that historical parallel, although there are always relevant comparisons to be made with lots of different periods of history. But what I find interesting is the election of the quintessential Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson, in 1913.

Wilson ran for president in the wake of empire-building wars that the US led in Cuba, the Philippines and elsewhere that were very costly in terms of money and lives, during a time when the US was severely stratified economically and was experiencing a massive wave of emigration -- both people coming into the US from Europe, and people moving within the US. Reacting to the situation as a typical Democratic politician would at the time, Wilson spoke out against empire-building, capitalist oligarchs, and any nonwhite people wanting any kind of recognition or resolution of their particular negative circumstances.

He got elected, and of course proceeded to decimate the entire working class, white and otherwise, forming the US's first national police force (called the FBI), employing thugs to burn down union halls across the country, arresting and killing many union organizers. And he sent hundreds of thousands of American workers to their deaths in the "war to end all wars," which was a very deadly and very successful empire-building exercise that saw the dissolution and western take-over of the vast Ottoman Empire -- setting the stage for a century of war and conflict unparalleled in world history.

Back then, if you opposed war, capitalism and racism, you would not have a candidate to vote for. You'd have had to choose between the anti-war and anti-capitalist racist, or the pro-war and pro-capitalist guy who was supposedly more sympathetic to immigrants and people of color.

We know what happened after Wilson got elected. His opponents, people like Theodore Roosevelt, were the ones who had just made war against a lot of different countries a few years earlier. Would the US have stayed out of World War 1 if Roosevelt had won another round instead? Would you have been telling me to vote for Roosevelt back then because he was supposedly less of a racist than Wilson?

I think I'm going to start looking into getting a Hungarian passport. I'm so glad I'm going to be on tour in Europe in September or October. I just wish I were getting out sooner.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

WTF 2016 Q&A

I know a fair number of people who just got involved with activism as a result of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and are feeling betrayed at the moment.  I also know a lot of people in Europe who are trying to understand what is happening in the United States, particularly in terms of the current election cycle, gun violence, and police killings.  I know many people as well who feel a lot of anxiety about where things are going, sensibly enough, on both sides of the Atlantic.

While I most certainly don't have all the answers, I do have some relevant perspective here, as a libertarian socialist, world traveler and history buff.  So here is a Q&A I've put together which echoes a lot of the stuff I get on Facebook and such.  It's musically annotated -- the links will take you to songs on the subjects at hand.

Why did Bernie Sanders just endorse Hillary Clinton?

After finding many eloquent ways of saying that Hillary is not a progressive, he has now said she will make a great president.  Many people are shocked by this, because they projected their ideals onto a man named Bernie Sanders, rather than examining his political record.  As the song I wrote last August makes clear, I and many others expected him to endorse Hillary if he didn't get the nomination.  He even said he would, over a year ago.

Bernie Sanders is certainly one of the most progressive people in Congress, and has been for decades.  I opened for him once in Vermont at a labor event.  He used the sound system that is sitting in my closet a few feet away from where I sit right now.

Many of my friends in Vermont have protested Bernie Sanders over the years, though, because, although he opposes TPP and other bad free trade bills over the decades, he also voted for emergency aid for Israel so it could keep bombing Gaza, he voted for the bombing of Libya, Bill Clinton's 1996 Crime Bill, and other really horrible things.

Bernie Sanders actively campaigned for John Kerry in 2004, and for Barack Obama in 2008.  He was once an independent and he still may indeed be a socialist, but he made his peace with the Democratic Party and the idea of dragging it further to the left a long time ago.

But maybe dragging the Democratic Party to the left is a good idea?

Maybe.  But it's kind of hard to say.  Because we have a very primitive and very corrupt system of pseudo-democracy, the option of a viable third party seems unrealistic.  Progressive third parties have held and do hold local office in various parts of the country -- there are some socialists and Greens in local offices in some places, and historically there have even been progressive third parties in state office such as the Rent Strike Party in New York and the Progressive Party in Wisconsin.

So given that third parties have never really succeeded in holding national office in the US, the two viable parties developed factions.  For a long time your basic choices were between the party of capitalism -- the Republican Party -- and the party of white supremacy -- the Democratic Party.  There was an abolitionist wing of the Republican Party which was actually in control of the Congress for two years, during the Civil War, when the ten southern states couldn't vote.  But otherwise the capitalist wing has been dominant.  The Democratic Party partially rejected white supremacy in the 1960's, and lost some of its white support as a result.  Democratic Party stalwarts generally don't know about this history or would rather imagine it doesn't exist, but it does.  Every major war in the twentieth century that the US was involved with began under Democratic presidents.

Still, since the 1930's the Communist Party has been trying to drag the Democrats to the left, and the Civil Rights movement largely took up this cause in the 1960's, joined soon thereafter by significant elements of the antiwar movement, in the failed presidential campaign of George McGovern in 1972.  The first protest march I ever participated in was during Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign in 1984.  That was another such failed effort.

But really, wouldn't Hillary be better than Trump?

If you grew up, like so many of us in the US did, in a family led by people who felt a deep attachment to the Democratic Party as the party that more closely represented their beliefs in egalitarianism, peace, and things like that, it can be hard to come to terms with the actual reality, that the Democratic Party is led by wolves who dress themselves as sheep in order to successfully move things further to the right in so many ways, while claiming to be doing the opposite.

The pattern becomes so clear over time that it is maddening to hear people defend the Democratic Party is a more progressive alternative to the Republican Party.  If you ignore the rhetoric and pay attention to the actual deeds involved with ruling a country -- or a world, as the case often seems to be -- it is the Democratic administrations that have been the more successful imperialists and pushers of free trade agreements.

To put it another way:  Hillary Clinton voted in favor of every war and free trade bill that ever came across her desk.  How much worse can someone's voting record be before you admit that you truly have no way of knowing if they are actually any worse than the opposition?

But now the Democratic Party has a more progressive platform, doesn't it?

Every four years, the Democratic Party puts on a show to convince us that it's progressive, but their politicians need people to get excited enough about voting that they actually bother to do it.  This year, Bernie Sanders is key to the show.  But talk is cheap.  Progressive platforms don't usually result in progressive reforms as far as I know.

What happened after Mr Hope and Change and his party had the majority of both houses of Congress for the first two years of his presidency?  More war, more military spending, more bank bailouts, no prosecution of war criminals or the bankers who had just destroyed the economy, more fracking, more free trade bills, more offshore oil drilling, more deportations, more jailing of whistleblowers and sabre-rattling over others, more drone strikes.

But now, with a new platform, and Obama's former Kissinger-loving Secretary of State at the helm, things will now improve?  Optimism is a good thing, but only if it is well-placed.  Having faith in Hillary Clinton is not optimism, it is a pipe dream.

But what about the Green Party?  In Europe third parties take power sometimes -- why not in the US?  And by the way, what's going on with England and the EU and all that?

The Green Party in the US has a very impressive platform and lots of wonderful people involving with it, including the presidential candidate, Jill Stein.  However, because of the way "democracy" works in the US, with the winner-take-all system, the corporate control of the press, corporate control of most popular internet platforms, and the amount of money involved with elections here, third parties never get control of much, if any, of the state or federal legislatures or other elected bodies.

In Europe, there are important differences and important similarities.  In countries with different forms of proportional representation it is actually possible for third parties to sweep aside what used to be the major parties in a given country.  This happened recently in Greece, for example.  In other countries, like in Germany, both right and left parties gained significantly in recent elections.

In fact, there is so much democracy in Europe that most EU countries spend less than the required 2% of their national budgets on the military in a given year -- thus violating the rules of the military alliance most EU countries belong to (NATO).  The reason military expenditures are so low is because any major party pushing for more military spending and less social spending will tend to get voted out of office.  In the US, by contrast, that can't really happen, since both major parties are completely committed to wasting half of our federal taxes on empire-building with every new spending bill (including those Sanders has voted for).

Those advocating the European Union over the past several decades have pushed it on the basis of peace within Europe, freedom of movement within Europe, solidarity between different European countries to develop a more united continent -- a big, happy, European family, basically.  But the reality of the EU has been very different in many ways.  There's been freedom of movement within the EU, and that's been very popular for every single European that I know.  Everybody likes that idea, and the concept of solidarity as well.

But as everybody in Europe knows these days, Brussels is full of lobbyists, much like Washington, DC is.  Big corporations are doing their best to run the show, and the rise of the EU has coincided with a rise in privatizations of all sorts of institutions, de-industrialization in many countries, and a brief period of debt-induced economic prosperity followed by years of devastating austerity measures -- for some EU countries, not for all.

For these and other reasons, many on the left in Europe are critical of the increasingly powerful pan-European institutions.  Throughout Europe, people are protesting the TPP, but most of their political leadership supports it, as do most of the lobbyists in Brussels.

Racism and xenophobia are also rife in Europe, increasingly in recent years.  These feelings were stoked during the Brexit debate by the right in England, and were certainly a big part of the 52% vote in favor of leaving the EU.  But only part.  I'm not sure it's really possible to know exactly how much.

And what about that?  Xenophobia and racism are terrible things, but what do we do about all this terrorism?  And what about the massive influx of refugees into Europe?  Can Muslims really happily coexist with other people in Europe?  And yeah, war sucks, but isn't it better to join the fight against Islamic State than to just stay out of it?

There's a widespread impression in the west that the Muslim world as a whole is intolerant of religious minorities, full of anti-Semites, misogynists and people with other undesirable attitudes.  The reality is that there is just as much variety of types of people within the Muslim world as there is in the Christian world or the Hindu world.  But historically, it is relevant to note that for about a millenia, while Europe was undergoing a constant process of crusades, inquisitions, and famines, the far more prosperous Ottoman world was welcoming European refugees and not persecuting religious minorities.  (Though both Christians and Muslims, Europeans and Arabs were very much involved with the African slave trade and I'm not saying everything was hunky dory in Constantinople by any means.)

So that's a little background.  Since the "Allies" in World War 1 destroyed and divided the Ottoman Empire, the region has often been in crises of one kind or another -- crises that often stemmed from divisive colonial and destructive neoliberal European and US policies.  This has all been stepped up immensely since the "War On Terror," which itself was a response to 9/11, which was a response to the US occupation of Iraq.

The US occupation of Iraq?  In 2001?

Yes, the US occupied Iraq back then, too, and throughout Bill Clinton's administration, during which time, according to UNICEF, over half a million Iraqi children died as a result of UN sanctions.

Anyway, Bush-Clinton occupation of Iraq and then the Bush-Obama wars in Afghanistan and Iraq destabilized the region, causing millions of deaths, millions of refugees who went to places like Syria, and almost inevitably causing a rise of militant groups chanting endearing things like "death to America."  Any sensible person would chant "death to America" when America was causing so much death.  Wouldn't you?

So then France and lots of other European countries got involved with bombing Muslim countries during the Bush-Obama presidencies, which then saw a rise of terrorist activity in Europe.  If you bomb somebody they may bomb you back.  If you appear to be indiscriminately killing civilians in someone else's country, they may decide it's appropriate to indiscriminately kill civilians in your country.

But so many of these terrorists are "home-grown jihadis."  They grew up in the US, France or Belgium and they're killing their own people now, right?

That may be how you see them, but how do they see themselves?  What comes first in your life -- your race, gender, country of origin, region, city, political persuasion, or something else?  Your allegiance to a football team perhaps?  Someone can see himself as a secular New Yorker, but suddenly one more person says "fuck off back home" and a US bomb kills people in his grandmother's home village and then he sees himself as an Afghan and a Muslim.

In short, the refugees and the terrorist attacks are coming for the same reason -- even if so many of the refugees are fleeing to Europe to escape the very same terrorist organizations who are bombing Europe.  That is, they are fleeing wars from a part of the world that has been destabilized by US and European foreign policies.

Now, should the US and France try to help un-fuck the situation they've created?  The fact that sensible people ask this question boggles my mind.  Isn't it obvious that if you've created a problem by instilling fear and loathing in a population who you've been torturing and killing for decades, you are not necessary the right person to then go in and create peace and prosperity?  "You broke it, you fix it" is about appliances, not countries.  Countries are more complicated than toasters.

Is there a parallel between these wars and terrorist acts and police violence and massacres of police officers in the US?

It seems to me the parallels are very clear.  If you bomb someone they may bomb you back.  If you keep shooting people, they may shoot back.  Also, the institution of policing in the US is inextricably tied up with slavery and anti-union thuggery.  It arose as a result of slave revolts and labor organizing.  If it's reformable, I don't see how -- not without eliminating the poverty and racism from the society first.  Otherwise, how will the rich stay in power?

Force is required to maintain this kind of system.  Force at home and force overseas.  When the rich and powerful feel unable to maintain power entirely through force, they make concessions.  That's why they freed the white slaves and gave them land -- in order to have someone reliable to keep the black slaves down.  These concessions were forced, through slave rebellions and farmer rebellions, and they had very little to do with any ballot boxes.

The rise in xenophobia, terrorism, wars, etc., is worrying on both sides of the Atlantic.  Is anyone heading for some kind of fascist dictatorship?

Efforts by people like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn and their many supporters notwithstanding, the general vibe in all the countries I travel in is a pessimistic feeling that the right is inevitably on the rise, and things like corporate globalization, mass privatization, and austerity are unstoppable trends.  The age of prosperity is over is what I hear everywhere, even among those are spend all their waking hours defending the rights of their people.  To me, this pessimism and the lack of coherent leftwing leadership against austerity, privatization, free trade bills, etc., is the most worrying thing.

When it is left up to people like Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen to oppose free trade bills that French "socialists" and President Obama are actively supporting, this is worrying.  There are towns in France where most of the people used to vote communist, and now they mostly vote Le Pen.  When the left leaves a vacuum, these things can happen.

Unless the far right gets a majority of the votes in a European election, it can't usually rule because even the conservatives won't form a coalition government with them (which is, incidentally, how Hitler got into power).  In the US it's different.  With the two-party system, the factions within each party battle it out during the primaries, and then usually the most mainstream faction wins.  That's what happened in the Democratic race once again, but not in the Republican race.

But now the party is supposed to get behind its candidate, thus potentially turning a fringe candidate into a mainstream one.  In a race between a Democrat with a history of supporting war and capitalism and a Republican with a history of being a racist, xenophobic demagogue, we are presented with a not-unfamiliar set of options.  Could Trump win?  Given the options, maybe.  Do we have any way of knowing that he would be worse than his Democratic rival?  I sure don't, and I'm sure you don't, either.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Don't Write Your Congressperson

To all of the organizations who constantly send me emails encouraging me to write my Congressperson or call the Attorney General for this or that reason:

You are not working for social change. You are obstructing social change. We do not live in a democracy in the United States. Stop acting like we do. You're just confusing people. Writing your Congressperson will get you nowhere. Calling the Attorney General will get you nowhere. They're laughing at you all the way to the bank.

History has shown in abundance that democracy is in the streets. Social change happens through social movements that take over cities and countries and stop business as usual from happening. Social change doesn't happen by calling or writing politicians. We need to understand that, and move past that useless tactic, but instead, you keep encouraging us to do these useless things.

You are pulling the wool over our eyes, whether intentionally or not, you who keep sending these messages. Just stop. If you're in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. If you don't want to do any real organizing -- which is desperately needed -- then go do something else. Maybe something that has a purpose. Go plant a tree. Raise a child. Whatever. Don't call your Congressperson. Your Congressperson will only pretend to care, while he or she keeps taking money from the corporations that own our government.