‘How Democracies Die’ Authors Say Trump Is A Symptom Of ‘Deeper Problems’

‘How Democracies Die’ Authors Say Trump Is A Symptom Of ‘Deeper Problem’

January 22, 20181:25 PM ET
Heard on Fresh Air

Fresh Air

Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are experts in what makes democracies healthy — and what leads to their collapse. They warn that American democracy is in trouble.

How Democracies Die
by Steve Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Hardcover, 312 pages purchase


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who’s off today. If watching President Trump and listening to American political discourse these days makes you feel something’s gone wrong, our guests today will tell you it’s not your imagination. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have spent years studying what makes democracies healthy and what leads to their collapse. And they see signs that American democracy is in trouble.

In a new book, they argue that Trump has shown authoritarian tendencies and that many players in American politics are discarding long-held norms that have kept our political rivalries in balance and prevented the kind of bitter conflict that can lead to a repressive state. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are both professors of government at Harvard University. Levitsky’s research focuses on Latin America and the developing world. Ziblatt studies Europe from the 19th century to the present. Their new book is called “How Democracies Die.”

Well, Stephen Levitsky, Daniel Ziblatt, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, you write that some democracies die in a hail of gunfire. There’s a military coup. The existing leaders are imprisoned or sometimes shot. Not – this is not the kind of death of a democracy that you think is most relevant to our purposes. What’s a more typical or meaningful scenario?

STEVEN LEVITSKY: Well, the kind of democratic breakdown that you mentioned was more typical of the Cold War era, of a good part of the 20th century. But military coups, although they occur occasionally today in the world, are much, much less common than they used to be. And, in fact, the primary way in which democracies have died since the end of the Cold War, over the last 30 years or so, is at the hands of elected leaders, at the hands of governments that were often freely or close to freely elected, who then use democratic institutions to weaken or destroy democracy. And we’re very hopeful that America’s democratic institutions will survive this process. But if we were to fall into some kind of crisis, surely it would take that form.

DAVIES: And it doesn’t typically happen the week or month after the elected leader takes power, right? It unfolds gradually.

DANIEL ZIBLATT: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, that’s one of the things that makes it so difficult, both to study and also as a citizen to recognize what’s happening. You know, military coups happen overnight. I mean, they’re sudden instances – sudden events. Electoral authoritarians come to power democratically. They often have democratic legitimacy as a result of being elected. And there’s a kind of gradual chipping away at democratic institutions, kind of tilting of the playing field to the advantage of the incumbent, so it becomes harder and harder to dislodge the incumbent through democratic means.

And, you know, when this goes through the whole process, you know, at the end of the process – this may take years, it may take a decade. You know, in some countries around the world, this has taken as long as a decade to happen. At the end of that process, the incumbent is firmly entrenched in power.

DAVIES: And just to define what we’re talking about, we’re talking – when we say a democracy dies, we mean there is a circumstance in which there are relatively freely elected leaders and, at the end, what?

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so at the end of this process, it’s hard – it becomes harder and harder – it takes different forms in different countries. I mean, so what’s happened in Turkey over the last 10 years, essentially President Erdogan has entrenched himself in power, weakened the opposition, and so it’s become harder and harder to dislodge him. So there may continue to be elections, but the elections are tilted in favor of the incumbent. The elections are no longer fair.

Through a variety of mechanisms, the president’s able to stay in power and to withstand criticism, although public support may not fully be there. Media is – you know, there’s kind of a clampdown on media and sort of a variety of institutional mechanisms that an incumbent can use to kind of keep himself in power.

LEVISKY: Right. As Daniel said, very often these days, the kind of formal or constitutional architecture of democracy remains in place, but the actual substance of it is eviscerated.

DAVIES: And does that describe Russia today? Is its democracy essentially dead?

LEVISKY: Yeah, well, I…


LEVISKY: Russia was never really much of a democracy. If it was a democracy, it was one very, very briefly, so Russia’s really at the other end of the spectrum in terms of the strength of its democratic institutions. But yes, Russia has the trappings of democracy. They still hold elections. They’ve got a Parliament. But in practice, it’s an outright autocracy.

DAVIES: You have a chapter called “Fateful Alliances,” and it’s about circumstances – cases where a populist demagogue, who turns out to be an authoritarian, got help along the way from mainstream political figures or political parties. Do you want to give us an example of that?

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so in our book, we recount a couple of these kinds of scenarios. And it turns out that often the way elected authorities get into power is not just through elections and appealing to the public but by allying themselves with establishment politicians. The most kind of recent example of this that we – and we have this – describe this in greater detail in the book – is the case of Venezuela where Hugo Chavez, kind of with the aid of President Caldera, who was a longstanding politician and establishment politician in Venezuela, was kind of aided along the way in some sense by being freed from jail by President Caldera and his – he kind of gained in legitimacy and then eventually was able to come into power.

A similar story can be told about the interwar years, as well – and interwar years in Europe. So these are the most prominent cases of Democratic collapse, really, in the 20th century – Italy, Germany in the – Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 1930s. In both of these cases, you have Mussolini coming along, who didn’t really – you know, he had some support. But he was able to kind of increase his profile by being put on a party list by a leading liberal statesman Giovanni Giolitti, who included him on his party’s list. And he gained in legitimacy. And suddenly, you know, here he was, a leading statesman, Mussolini himself.

And a similar story – this – you know, Hitler came to power in a similar alliance with mainstream conservative politicians at the end of the 1920s and into the 1930s – was famously placed as chancellor of Germany by leading statesmen in Germany. In each instance, there’s a kind of Faustian bargain that’s being struck where the statesmen think that they’re going to tap into this popular appeal of the demagogue and think that they can control them. I mean, this is this incredible miscalculation. And this miscalculation happens over and over. And in each instance, the establishment statesmen are not able to control the demagogue.

DAVIES: And you note that there have been figures in American political history that could be regarded as dangerous demagogues and that they’ve been kept out of major positions of power because we’ve had gatekeepers – people who somehow controlled who got access to the top positions of power – presidential nominations, for example. You want to give us some examples of this?

LEVISKY: Sure. Henry Ford was an extremist, somebody who was actually written about favorably in “Mein Kampf.” He flirted with a presidential bid in 1923, thinking about the 1924 race, and had a lot of support, particularly in the Midwest. Huey Long obviously never had the chance to run for president. He was assassinated before that.

DAVIES: He was the governor of Louisiana, right?

LEVISKY: Governor of Louisiana, senator and a major national figure – probably rivaled really only by Roosevelt at the end of his life in terms of popularity. George Wallace in 1968, and again in 1972 before he was shot, had levels of public support and public approval that are not different – not much different from Donald Trump. So throughout the 20th century, we’ve had a number of figures who had 35, 38, 40 percent public support, who were demagogues, who didn’t have a strong commitment to democratic institutions, in some cases were quite antidemocratic, but who were kept out of mainstream politics by the parties themselves.

The parties never even came close to nominating any of these figures for president. What was different about 2016 was not that Trump was new or that he would get a lot of support but that he was nominated by major party. That’s what was new.

DAVIES: Right. And you say that there were effectively, for most of American history, gatekeepers at the top of the political party – a process that tended to exclude these people that were more extreme. Describe what that process was like.

ZIBLATT: Yeah, so you know, through the 20th century, even going back to the 19th century, the way presidential candidates were selected has – this has changed over time. And really, only beginning in 1972 have primaries, which we now are all so accustomed to – where candidates are selected by voters – that’s when that began is 1972 to be a really significant system. Before 1972, the system throughout the 20th century has often been described as dominated by smoke-filled back rooms where party leaders got together and tried to figure out who would be the best candidate to represent the party and who they thought could win.

You know, there’s a lot to be criticized about this pre-1972 system. It was very exclusive. It, you know – it’s often picked mediocre candidates. I mean, you can think of President Warren G. Harding, who looked like a presidential candidate but wasn’t much of a president. This was somebody who was selected through the smoke-filled backroom. But the virtue of this system – if there is a virtue of it – is that it kept out demagogues.

DAVIES: So in – starting in 1972, there are multiple primaries in states that lead to the party’s nomination. There are different state rules. But voters get some say in a lot of it. And you’re right that there – but there was always sort of the invisible primary. That is to say you tended to be taken seriously if the party leaders gave you their nod or at least their approval to get in the game. So take us to Donald Trump in 2016. How did this pave the way for Trump?

LEVISKY: Well, the belief among political scientists – and I think it was true for a while – was that winning primaries was hard. This was particularly before the days of social media, when you needed the support of local activists. You needed the support, maybe, of unions in the Democratic Party. You needed the support of local media on the ground in each state in order to actually win primaries. You couldn’t just get on CNN and expect to win a primary somewhere in the West because of what you – or what you tweeted.

You had to have some kind of an infrastructure on the ground. I’m talking about the 1970s, 1980s, even the 1990s. And so the belief among political scientists was you still needed the support of party insiders to win the primaries, to win – to cross the country and accumulate enough delegates, winning state by state by state. You really needed to build alliances with local Democratic or Republican Party leaders, committees, senators, congresspeople, mayors, et cetera.

That became less and less true over time in large part because the nature of media – the rise of social media and the ability of outsiders to make a name for themselves without going through that process, without going through that invisible primary. So Donald Trump demonstrated, you know, beyond any doubt in 2016 that at least if you have enough name recognition, you can avoid building alliances with anybody, really, at the state or local level. You can run on your own. You can be an outsider and win.

ZIBLATT: Yeah. I would add to that what’s an interesting – differences exist between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The Democratic Party has superdelegates. And so there is built into the Democratic Party presidential selection process – continues to exist – this kind of element of gatekeeping. The Republican Party does not have superdelegates. And so one of the interesting kind of things to think about is, you know, had there been superdelegates in the Republican Party, would have Donald Trump actually won the nomination?

Would’ve he run? Would’ve he won? And so, you know, I think that’s kind of an interesting thing to think about. And, you know, superdelegates are now up for debate within the Democratic Party after the Bernie Sanders-Hillary showdown. And so there’s a lot of people who think superdelegates should be eliminated so that – this is kind of an ongoing issue of debate.

DAVIES: Right. And superdelegates are – they’re typically elected officials or very prominent leaders or fundraisers in the party. But in the Democratic Party, there are – what? – like, 15 percent of the total delegates of the convention – something like that.

LEVISKY: Right. It’s about 15 percent.

Continue reading

Update ~ Announcements from Monday 1/22 – Thursday 1/25 (from Adrienne Fong)

ACCESSIBILITY: Please include Accessibility Information on Events! This is a JUSTICE issue

Check Indybay for other events: https://www.indybay.org/calendar/?page_id=12 


S.F. to Settle Case of Amilcar Perez Lopez, Man Police Killed With Six Shots From Behind


Item #11,  Wednesday, 3:30pm – 5:30pm, Noise Demo Against Racial Terror. Was originally scheduled for Tuesday – has been changed to Wednesday! 


Monday, Jan. 22 – Thursday, Jan 25 (a few) 

Monday, January 22

1. Monday, 5:30pm-6:30pm , SFPD Bayview Station OIS Meeting (weekly meeting)

SFPD Bayview Station, Community Room
201 Williams Ave.

Meeting being held on the SFPD killing of ‘ICKY’ on December 1, 2017 

NOTICE REGARDING 1/22/18 Officer Involved Shooting MEETING: The January 22nd meeting, at 5:30 pm in the Bayview Station Community Room, will be hosted by Lt. Perdomo. Captain Ford, regrettably, will be unable to attend the due to scheduling conflicts.

1:40 PM – 18 Jan 2018

Info: https://twitter.com/sfpdbayview?lang=en 

2. Monday, 5:45pm – 7:00pm, Solidarity with Immigrants 

SF Federal Building
7th Street & Mission

Today’s budget deal will fund the government for a few weeks and #CHIP for six years. The Democrats caved on immigration, in return for a vague promise to take it up from an unreliable GOP leader Mitch McConnell. We must support the Dreamers, TPS recipients, and all of the 11 million undocumented.

Instead of #TrumpShutDown, we will run a show of solidarity projections. Come join us if you’d like.

#DreamActNow #SaveTPS 

Host: Resistance SF

Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/961976620622167/

3. Monday, 6:45pm – 9:00pm, OccupyForum: Steve Zeltzner on Privatization, capitalism , trade unions and the democrats. 

Local 2
215 Golden Gate Ave.

Wheelchair accessible

Info fr. Ruthie

Tuesday, January 23 

4. Tuesday, 12Noon, #CleanDreamNow and full CHIP funding Speak-outs!

SF Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office
McKesson Plz.
Montgomery BART

Congress is striking a temporary deal to end the shutdown. But we still do not have a long-term budget that funds children’s healthcare and community health clinics, protects 800,000 dreamers, and funds disaster relief.

Host: MoveON

RSVP/Info: https://act.moveon.org/event/trumpshutdown/19225/signup/?source=email-got-plans-in-city-default-your-town&s= 

5. Tuesday, 2:00pm – 5:00pm, Indigenous Peoples Day becoming official in San Francisco

SF City Hall, 2nd Floor
1 Dr. Carleton B. Goodlett Pl

San Francisco currently calls the second Monday in October columbus day. come and support the Board of Supervisors change the name of this day to Indigenous Peoples Day!

On Wed, The SF Rules Committee passed the legislation for the Full board of SUpervisors to look at this legislation. Come out and support to watch history happen!!!

there will be no public comment on the item but come out and support! Yeah lets have a holiday celebrate Indigenous Peoples and not a man who raped, killed, molested, caused geocide and paved the way for the slave trade in the americas!

Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/171408283631600/

6. Tuesday, 6:00pm – 8:00pm, Take Action in 2018: Immigration Talk + SF Election Event 

SF Women’s Building
3543 18th St.

Join us for a talk with ACLU of Northern California’s Staff Attorney Vasudha Talla and Investigator Theodora Simon who will share their work on immigration rights. Also vote on the 2018 chapter board and recommit to political engagement in the new year.

Host: ACLU Northern California Chapter

Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/956906841124546/

6. Tuesday, 6:30pm – 9:00pm, Human Trafficking in SF: Documentary Screening and Expert Panel 

Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinema
601 Van Ness Ave.

Ticket info: https://act.polarisproject.org/page/17582/event/1

The documentary “Save My Seoul” delves into sex trafficking in Seoul, South Korea through interviews of traffickers, police, members of the general public, and sex trafficking survivors. The documentary exposes the realities of the global sex industry that enslaves women across the world as well as the cultural and structural realities that make certain populations more prone to being trafficked in Massage Parlors in the U.S.

– Eddie Byun, Executive Producer of Save My Seoul
– Minouche Kandel, Women’s Policy Director at San Francisco Department on the Status of Women
– Antoniette Flores, Senior Inspector at San Francisco Department of Public Health
– Cristy Dieterich, Newcomers Health Program Manager, SF Department of Public Health

Moderator: Rochelle Keyhan, Director of Disruption Strategies at Polaris

Host: HEAT Watch and Polaris

Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/150026259106278/

Wednesday, January 24 

8. Wednesday, 10:00am, Fight the Hike: Rally against Tuition Increase

Sproul Plaza

tuition is about to go up by hundreds of dollars again?! On Wednesday the unelected and unaccountable UC Regents are going to raise tuition despite increased state funding. As students, we say HELL NO! Come out to Sproul Plaza to show that students refuse to allow unnecessary and unfair tuition hikes!

Governor Jerry Brown and his fellow neoliberal democrats in the Legislature refuse to provide enough funding to make UC free. But the numbers show that’s NO EXCUSE for a tuition hike. The Governor’s proposed budget actually INCREASES UC and CSU funding by 3%, but the Regents are still demanding a tuition hike from students while they give exorbitant raises to top administrators and giving unequal subsidies to hate groups like the Berkeley College Republicans and their shell of a newsletter. 

Hosts: cosponsored by the UC Berkeley Progressive Student Association (Bernie Sanders‘ Our Revolutiontion), CalSERVE – Cal Students for Equal Rights and a Valid Education Campus Mobilizers, UC Student-Workers Union – UAW Local 2865Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA)Our Revolution – East BayCYD Progressive Caucus, and Jovanka Beckles for Assembly.
Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/190612308349183/

9. Wednesday, 1:00pm – 4:00pm, Fossil Fuel Divestment Vote for SF 

1145 Market St., 6th Floor

It’s official. The San Francisco Retirement Board has posted a notice that they will hold a special meeting to consider fossil fuel divestment.

We need EVERYONE at the meeting to build maximum pressure on the Board and drive home the message that the public cares about this issue and hasn’t given up over their months/years of negligence and delay

***If you CANNOT attend (or just want to send a letter in addition to attending), please send a comment by email tonorm.nickens@sfgov.org. Address your comments to the Retirement Board, identify if you are a member of the pension system, and make clear you are in favor of full divestment from fossil fuels!***

Hosts: San Francisco Defund DAPL Coalition and Fossil Free SF

Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/147172285913115/

10. Wednesday, 3:30pm – 4:30pm, American Diplomacy in the Middle East 

UC Hastings, Alumni Reception Center – 2nd Floor
200 McAllister

Lecture in Memory of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens ’89: “American Diplomacy in the Middle East,” a conversation with Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Ambassador Anne Patterson. Moderated by UC Hastings Professor Joel Paul.

RSVP: https://uchastings.webconnex.com/stevens2018

Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/849796818535831/

11. Wednesday, 3:30pm – 5:30pm, Noise Demo Against Racial Terror (DATE CHANGED) 

Whole Foods Market (Oakland)
230 Bay Place

Whole Foods has been attacking folks of color within the past two years—going as far as attacking and racially profiling two black men, and a young, black teenager in recent reports. Their gentrifying organization must be held accountable for the threat they have posed to our community and it’s time that we make some noise to show resistance and intolerance to racial terror on any and all fronts.

Join us, next Wednesday (1/24) from 3:30-5:30 PM as we hold a noise demo in front of the store to demonstrate our intolerance for racism in our communities. Please bring any safe objects you have to make noise, signs, and bright spirits as we show up for the folks who were affected and targeted by this racist institution. It is imperative that we address racism on all fronts in our communities—especially in recent light of honoring King’s legacy and the path he has helped to pave with his work.

Direct all questions, comments, or concerns to: wassgoodlucy@gmail.com

Host: Bay Area Youth Activisim (from Lucy)

Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/358126127995640/ 

12.  Wednesday, 5:30pm – 6:30pm, PEACE VIGIL 

One Post Street in San Francisco.
(on the steps facing Market Street, below Feinstein’s office,
directly above the Montgomery BART/Muni station).

If it rains we will meet below the stairs to BART/MUNI

Themes vary weekly on  local, national and global issues

All are welcomed.

Fliers / Signage are provided. 

13. Wednesday, 6:00pm – 8:00pm, District 8 Crime and Public Safety Forum 

LGBT Center
1800 Market St.

 The use of TASERS and the SF Police Association’s proposal for the June Ballot is bound to come up!

Join the SF Police Officers Association and local law enforcement leaders for a community conversation around crime in the neighborhood. This gathering will focus on an update for D8 (Castro/Glen Park/Noe Valley) residents.

This is one of the first of several crime and public safety forums that will be held throughout the city – one will be coming to your neighborhood soon! All of these forums are open to the public.

Sponsors: Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, Mount Olympus Neighborhood Association, Castro Merchants, Fairmount Heights Association, SF Council of District Merchants Association, Friends of Dolores Park Playground, Noe Valley Democratic Club, and Residents of Noe Valley Town Square.

Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/2072830349620646/

14, Wednesday, 6:30pm – 8:30pm, The Business of Disaster 

UC Berkeley, Gifford Room
221 Kroeber Hall

Wheelchair accessible

Colonial Shock Doctrine & the Fight for Health Justice in Post-Maria Puerto Rico.

The ongoing catastrophe following Hurricane Maria’s landfall on Puerto Rico in September has provided a stark reminder that disasters are never merely natural. As with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, historical inequalities have played a clear role in shaping the government’s response. The enduring colonial relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico and the market-driven nature of governmental relief efforts are both critical to understanding the current crisis. Please join the California Nurses Association (CNA)/National Nurses United (NNU) and the Berkeley Center for Social Medicine (BCSM) for a timely and urgent panel discussion with the following speakers to analyze these forces.

• Vincanne Adams is a Professor in the Joint UCSF/UC Berkeley Program in Medical Anthropology and the author of “Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith: New Orleans in the Wake of Katrina.”

• Cathy Kennedy is a Registered Nurse, Vice President of NNU and Secretary of CNA who led nurse teams in providing relief work in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

• Javier Arbona is Assistant Professor of American Studies and Design at UC Davis. He has published numerous articles about Puerto Rico, most recently “How not to discuss Puerto Rico.”

This event is part of a series entitled Social Medicine for Our Times: A Series of Public Talks on Health & Social Justice being organized by CNA/NNU and BCSM.

Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/167418330658600/?active_tab=about

15. Wednesday, 7:00pm – 9:00pm, Planning Meeting – Rally for Reproductive Justice 

The Women’s Building
3543 18th St.

The Walk for Life — a mass march organized by sexist, right-wing, Christian fundamentalists — will take the streets of San Francisco on Saturday, January 27, 2018. They are building a movement to take away our right to have an abortion and to limit access to reproductive healthcare, contraception, and sex education. They oppose the basic rights of women and other oppressed people to bodily autonomy and self-determination.

Host: Bay Area for Reproductive Justice

Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/1876427109354759/

16.  Wednesday, 7:00pm – 9:00pm, Fighting Back: Disability & the LGBTQ  Community 

The GLBT Historical Society
4127 18th St.

The latest in the GLBT Historical Society’s monthly “Fighting Back” series exploring contemporary queer issues in a historical context, “Disability and the LGBTQ Community” will offer a multigenerational conversation about relations and intersections between the LGBTQ and disability communities.

A panel of historians, veteran organizers and younger activists will discuss the history of challenges and successes related to disability awareness, discrimination and activism within the LGBTQ community and how this history can help inform today’s resistance movements.

Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/1980530765295659/

Thursday, January 25

17. Thursday, 8:30am – 6:00pm, Solving Homelessness: A Community Workshop

Impact Hub San Francisco
1885 Mission St

Tickets $30. – sold out

a one-day symposium and workshop to explore bold and creative ideas to solve homelessness in the Bay Area. The day will include a panel discussion on the current state of homelessness, an analysis of homelessness reporting and testimonials by individuals experiencing homelessness. Solution ideas will be presented and explored through facilitated workshops.

Hosts: SF Public Press & Impact Hub

Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/1780830818883632/

18. Thursday, 12Noon – 3:00pm, March for Mission St!. / Marcha por la Calle Misión! 

Meet at:

Mission St. & 20th St.

March is to SF City Hall.

Mission Street is becoming a playground for the wealthy and is in danger of becoming another Valencia St. Join us in solidarity and march to City Hall and say NO to high-end restaurants, NO to luxury development, and NO to the red lanes! Protect our working-class family corridor and keep Mission St for La Misión!

Hosts: United to Save Mission St. & 3 other groups

Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/445115049223895/

19. Thursday, 4:00pm – 6:00pm, Stop the ICE raids! It’s up to us 

630 Sansome

This past week ICE has raided 7-11 stores across the country and arrested immigrant rights leaders. Now they are preparing for a major sweep in the Bay Area to deport more than “1,500 undocumented people,” and “conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at work sites.” Thousands of human beings torn from their lives and loved ones! And the Department of (in)Justice is even considering arresting and prosecuting mayors and other public officials responsible for Sanctuary policies. THIS MUST BE STOPPED! When you attack immigrants, you are attacking us all!

An open white supremacist regime in power demonizing and persecuting “undesirables,” targeting political opponents, stripping away democratic rights… this is the logic of fascism. History has taught us that this is a road that leads to horrors. Silence and inaction = complicity.

In the coming days and weeks we will carry out political, non-violent actions to prevent these attacks on our immigrant brothers and sisters as we call upon the entire country to stand with us in resistance.

Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/1614954568590541/

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~


Community Town Hall 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


A New Way to Stop Police Brutality


The Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist

1661 15th Street


(nr. 16th Street BART) 

For too long, the San Francisco Police Officers Association (the police union) has taken hardline stances and used inflammatory tactics that destroy trust between residents and police. It has blocked or delayed common-sense reforms—like the city’s improved use-of-force policy—and has publicly attacked police accountability champions—including elected officials, prominent athletes like Colin Kaepernick, and its own police members. Unlike other unions focused on wages and benefits and reasonable working conditions for their employees, the SFPOA has used labor law to exert an enormous influence on public policy and public safety.

Right now, the SFPOA is negotiating a new labor agreement with the city. The city must not approve a new contract increasing police officer pay and benefits unless the SFPOA agrees to respect our values and increase public safety. The SFPOA shouldn’t be allowed to use its bargaining power to make San Francisco less safe.

We are a growing and diverse coalition of San Franciscans who care deeply about police accountability and community safety. We want to ensure the present negotiations of the SFPOA’s new labor contract reflects our values and our community’s need for safety. To influence these negotiations, we must act now before the contract is finalized by June 2018.

Host on FB: Faith in Action Bay Area

Info: https://www.facebook.com/events/542094689500158/

Capitalism Is Defined by Concepts of Property, Not the Free Market

January 21, 2018 (johnlaurits.com)

Capitalism vs. the Market:
Mixing Up Two Very Different Ideas

Markets are as old as civilization itself. A “market” is just a place where stuff is bought and sold, whether that place is a bazaar in ancient Mesopotamia or a modern stock exchange. Despite the simple set-up, markets do some pretty neat things — they determine prices, gather and dispense goods and services, and turn complex interactions between many people into smooth, orderly systems. While markets have obviously been put to good use by capitalist systems, the idea that the market itself is somehow capitalistic does not hold up to reality. In fact, the market may have been even more crucial in pre-capitalist systems due to its usefulness in organizing large-scale social interactions that might otherwise have been impossible at earlier stages of development.

Capitalism showed up just a few centuries ago during the 1700s as the industrial revolution was building steam. The first use of capitalism as a term for an economic system was by libertarian-socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in the 1860s but it was rarely used before Werner Sombart published Der Moderne Kapitalismus in 1902. The capitalist system itself, however, had already been described in detail by Marx’s 1867 Das Kapital, which used the terms capitalistcapitalist mode of production, and capitalist system but not capitalism.* All three — Proudhon, Marx, and Sombart — understood capitalism as a system defined by its enforcement of private property rights.

Capitalism Is a Concept of Ownership

To understand what distinguishes a capitalist society from others, it is important to step back and get a good look at other historical ideas of ownership that existed in different times and places. Some indigenous American societies held different views of property than the European invaders — the Algonquian, for instance, owned land communally and honored an individuals’ temporary right to own part of it, established by use or a fair exchange of use-rights with others. Once a person quit cultivating an area, it reverted back to the public so that others could use it.

As another example, undeveloped nature outside of major cities in pre-capitalist Europe was owned by nobody and governed by customary use-rights. These areas were called the commons, which is where the term “commoner” comes from. Many English communities subsisted on the commons before England — the first mature capitalist state — seized and partitioned them by enacting policies known as enclosure. This is one of the more literal instances of the transition to private concepts of property — contrary to prior ideas of ownership, this was an exclusive ownership. Enclosure not only evicted commoners from public lands but it got rid of customary use-rights (such as the biblical tradition of gleaning) and built a legal framework of rights to exclusive ownership that existed outside of any social context.

[For a closer look at the enforcement of property ownership, read “Private Property Is a Police State” by this author and, for more on the topic of enclosure, read Ellen Meiksins Wood’s fantastic “The Agrarian Origins of Capitalism”]

Property Reflects the Structure of Power

The statement,”This is my property” actually means “I can access and control this, as well as grant or deny access and control to others.” Ideas about property determine how control over wealth and resources is distributed and transferred between the members of a society. In absolute monarchy, for example, nobody technically has property rights aside from the ruler who effectively owns all that is in the territory — the ideas of absolute power and absolute ownership are separate but their reality is identical. In contrast, property-ownership in the English commons was communally distributed within limits determined by the group without establishing exclusive or individual rights.

In systems of private property (aka capitalism), exclusive rights to property are determined for the private benefit of individual owners without social limitations. In capitalism, markets usually function as an arena where property-owners vie for greater shares in the society’s wealth but it is the private property that makes it capitalism, not the markets.

The Free Market & Laissez-Faire Capitalism

A lot of the blame for the confusion over capitalism and markets can be leveled against Ludwig Von Mises, an Austrian economist and patron saint of laissez-faire or “free market capitalism.” As an ardent anti-socialist and advocate of classical liberalism, a lot of Von Mises’ writings argued against socialism and attempted to re-frame capitalism as an economic model that suited his ideal of democratic liberalism rooted in a free market. Of course, Von Mises understood the real definition of capitalism (he wasan economist, after all) and in 1922 he wrote:

“The terms ‘Capitalism’ and ‘Capitalistic Production’ are political catchwords. They were invented by socialists, not to extend knowledge, but to carp, to criticize, to condemn. Today, they have only to be uttered to conjure up a picture of the relentless exploitation of wage-slaves by the pitiless rich. They are scarcely ever used save to imply a disease in the body-politic

While Von Mises’ work failed to change the public’s negative view of capitalism, Fredrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and other apostles of laissez-faire continued his work in redefining capitalism as an economy based on something people liked — the free market. The issue, however, was — and is — that other capitalist systems exist that are not characterized by markets.

State Capitalism & Fascism

Under “state capitalism,” private property rights exist, often with regulated markets, but the state intervenes as manager when economic activity hinders the goals set by governing institutions. Depending on whose definition is used, this term could apply to the modern People’s Republic of China, which blends a planned economic model with more-or-less typical private property rights. According to others, the United States today might even be closer to a state capitalist system than to the laissez-faire policies it embraced during parts of the 20th centry.

Despite the contested definition of fascism and contradictory ideas of prominent fascist leaders, every fascist system has upheld vibrant rights of private property and it is often viewed as an especially authoritarian and nationalist form of state-capitalism. In fact, fascist officials in both Italy and Germany pioneered the most ambitious privatizations of public property in their time. Von Mises even commended European fascism for defending the institution of private property in the period of unrest after the Bolshevik revolt in Czarist Russia and the global depression in the ’20s and ’30s, though he disliked fascism’s tendency to use violence and interfere with markets. In his own words:

“It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization”

Capitalist Doesn’t Mean “Pro-Market”

All economic paradigms (so far) have included markets in one way or another, from ancient empires to European feudalism, mercantilism, and capitalism. Markets are pretty cool and there are even coherent ideas about “market socialism” that involve changing the scope of what is considered property while maintaining the free markets for other commodities. But whether you appreciate markets or not, the issue of what is bought and sold on the market is a really important issue that needs to be weighed carefully. Ask yourself — does exchanging trinkets in a market seem just as okay as exchanging the pelts of endangered animals? Should anyone own the sky? Are you okay with the idea of a business observing your online activity and selling informative reports about you? How does it feel to consider the idea of buying and selling human beings on the market? How about their houses? If you feel differently about those ideas (and I hope you do), it should be easy to see that the idea of property is socially determined — it’s a participatory thing. And if you feel the same about them — well, maybe you are a capitalist after all…

In solidarity,
John Laurits

Update from “First They Came for the Homeless”

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First they came for the homeless

January 20, 2018

The last few days have seen some victories for us. Here is a big one for us. Friends of Adeline has been paying for the public porta potty for months. Yesterday, the city finally had one dropped off, with a brand new wash station. The city will now pay for its public restroom.

Now, Friend of Adeline is out several thousand dollars, which really means that those of you who helped with donations did more than the city did to help it’s homeless.

Solutions through community!

–Mike Zint

OccupyForum presents . . . Steve Zeltzer on privatization, capitalism, trade unions and the Democrats

Steve Zeltzer to speak on privatization, capitalism, trade unions and the Democrats.
Announcement to follow!
Monday, January 22nd at Local 2 from 6:45 – 9 pm
215 Golden Gate near Leavenworth and Civic Center BART
Wheelchair access

Announcements will follow. Donations to OccupyForum

to cover our costs are encouraged; no one turned away.


Published on Jan 17, 2017

Features NSA analyst-turned-whistleblower who was a leading expert on metadata responsible for the world’s most sophisticated global monitoring effort: ThinThread
From Director Friedrich Moser • Executive Producer Oliver Stone

Ai Weiwei on Tiananmen and freedom

“If you don’t act, the danger becomes stronger.”

–Ai Weiwei

  • * * * * *

Journalist:  “Did you follow the events of ’89? [the Tiananmen Square demonstrations from April 15 to June 4, 1989]”

AW:  “I watched every hour, every second, every minute.  Yeah.  It was an exciting moment, which encouraged the whole Eastern Europe uprising and the the coming down of the Berlin Wall.  It all started from Tiananmen.”

  • * * * * *

“Freedom is a pretty strange thing. Once you’ve experienced it, it remains in your heart and no one can take it away.  Then, as an individual, you can be more powerful than a whole country.”

–Ai Weiwei

HEIST: Who Stole the American Dream?

Published on Feb 17, 2012

Please watch the newly updated trailer for “Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?,” the new, explosive documentary from Frances Causey and Donald Goldmacher exposing the roots of the American economic crisis and the destruction of the American dream. Visit www.Heist-TheMovie.com for more information on how to see the feature film and how to Take Action in restoring democracy and economic justice in the United States.