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Posts Tagged ‘democracy

Orlando: The Stucco Gravestone of American Democracy

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American democracy is dead. No not from socialist government, or from terrorist broadsides and the Bush administration. It has been beaten to death by corporations, right out in the open, and you didn’t even pay attention to it as it screamed and kicked and yelled out to you for help. No better an example of American democracy’s slow, tortured death is there than Orlando, the capital of apathetic America.

Recently Jack joined a small contingent of activists from UCF’s Student Labor Action Project and United Students Against Sweatshops in protesting the NBA’s recent deal with sweatshop overlord Russel corporation. We had our demonstration at Amway (*gag*) Stadium during the final game between the Lakers and the Magic. Both because the deal should be a concern of basketball fans, and because unfortunately its one of the only civic spaces left in Orlando that has not been staked out by strip malls and suburbs. Well, not really…

Even though the old arena was built by the city, and of the $480 million for the new one 85% is payed for in Orlando citizens’ tax dollars (upfront costs only, not including the inevitable cost overruns), apparently neither stadium is public property. So one of the last bastions of civic space in Orlando is essentially owned by the Amway corporation, a company whose business plan is essentially a pyramid scheme, and has been successfully sued because of it. Therefore, unlike a public park, you have no right to free speech on the premises. So those who came to protest a disturbing activity related to the NBA could not speak on what by all rights should be public land. Those who attempted to so much as silently hand out fliers were immediately forced off the premises by Orlando cops. This is obviously not conducive to a democratic society.

While students protesting sweatshops were pushed off the premises, Amway founder Rich DeVos has used the same stadium to advance his own bigoted political message. As this publication notes (see by David Zirin, on page for details), the DeVos family is using the funds from the stadium to advance their right-wing politics. Most recently their support for the anti-gay marriage ban, amendment 2, to which they donated $100,000. Why are we allowing a man worth 4.4 billion dollars to use a stadium we’re building for his political and financial gain? If he wants to build a new stadium, to replace one that is barely 20 years old, he shouldn’t rely on us to do so, and then turn around to use the money he should be spending on the arena to fund his bigoted invasion into our bedrooms. At the very least the stadium should be public property, not his.

This shows how uncommitted Orlando residents are to democracy. The very bad idea of spending $1.1 billion on the three venues were opposed by a tiny fragment of motivated residents and professional activists. The plan was predicated on the revenue gathered by tourism and housing taxes, which was understood even then as financially uncertain. With the tourism industry taking a massive hit, the housing industry imploded, and a city government facing a nationwide tend of metropolitan budget shortfalls, the plan reveals the massive mistake that our city government has forced through.

The town halls concerning the venues back in 2006 were lessons in the corporate take over of government. Proponents were almost always members of the developer class or people with occupational ties to the Magic. One of the few organized elements of democracy were the worker’s unions, divided between the proponents in the form of the building trades and the opponents in the form of the fire-fighter’s union. Both unions turned out to be screwed by the deal, with the firefighters who correctly guessed that the venues would ultimately cause budget problems harming them, and the builders who have been screwed by the city backing out on its deal to use unionized labor for building and maintaining the stadium. In the democratic ghetto outside the stadium the students were joined by the latter who handed out fliers decrying the city’s use of independent contractors, who used undocumented immigrants rather than American labor.

One can blame a lot of our ills on our city government, which has been shown to be incompetent and corrupt, many times by our sister (in spirit) publication the Orlando Weekly. From Dyer’s opposition to allowing people to share food with the homeless, to Daisy Lynum’s innumerable business ties favoring friends and relatives (and her tendency to cry racism every time this is pointed out), that conclusion is certainly apt. However the larger conclusion is inescapable, their continued occupation of their positions is our fault.

Granted it is no secret in the political world that Dyer and his cronies are swimming in developer money, the venues deal and the light rail giveaway to the CSX corporation merely very visible tributes to these connections. However, despite enormous political baggage which could sink politicians much far more skilled, Dyer and his compliant city council have barely been challenged. Why?

Unfortunately, Orlando has several major impediments to democratic activism that should have ousted our crooks and cronies in charge. First, about one third of orange county moves within a year, many who elect to stay will more than likely move to an apartment in a new community. This means that they will be less interested in the upkeep of their community and will not participate in even the bare minimum democratic responsibilities that one would expect, like voting for city officials. Unfortunately, their unwillingness to maintain a bare minimum of democratic scruples screws those of us who do live here.

Also, you may have noticed that Orlando is incredibly spread out, suburbanized nightmare. There are few places were Orlando residents will run into each other, outside of their cars, both figuratively and literally. Lack of civic spaces hampers activism, since without a public square , there are few locations were Orlando citizens are confronted with the cultural and political activity that is virtually required of the informed electorate envisioned by our founding fathers. Combine that with summers that turn our fair city into a sulfuric swamp in hell, you have even less likelihood that you can engage with someone outside of their air conditioned personal bastions.

Next throw in the impact of Disney, which unfortunately touches on everything in this city. While Disney employs much of Orlando, it also has a problematic and infectious ideology attached to it. It is consumer capitalism incarnate, encompassing the worst infantilizing characteristics outlined by Benjamin R. Barber in his testament to the subject Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, which Jack recommends. This ideology both directly and indirectly fuels the tenancy to eschew civic governance that is found in anti-tax fanatics on the right, complacent anarchists on the left, and the politically weary in-between.

All these factors are only some of the reason why Orlando is the veritable wet powder keg of activism. Unfortunately, we don’t have the answers as to how to get Orlando residents to stop seeing themselves as consumers and start acting as citizens. However, the only solution to Orlando’s incompetent city government corrupted by anti-democratic developers, is mass action. We at the Telepath hope that we (AND PARTICULARLY YOU) do something about this, and disprove our pessimistic belief that Orlando is the stucco gravestone of American democracy.

Visit us at populistpress.com. Join the Populist Press Partisans and take back our city through force of enlightened action!

Written by jackofspades83

June 25, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Magic Fans are Dumb Pricks

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Did the title get your attention? It was supposed to. Let me clarify something here; I do not have a problem with all or even most Magic fans. I do not specifically hate Magic fans as opposed to other basketball team’s fans, I just happen to live in Orlando, and we just happen to be the finals. I have been to Magic games and cheered for them, but my recent experiences with Magic fans have been anything but pleasant.

Recently a small contingent of United Students Against Sweatshops have come to Orlando to raise awareness of the NBA’s deal with notorious sweatshop exploiter Russel Corporation. Obviously the most influential constituency in getting the NBA to renounce sweatshop labor would be basketball fans. I think you can see where this is going.

I joined the USAS with my friends from the University of Central Florida Student Labor Action Project (UCF SLAP) to hand out fliers to people going to the Magic game last Sunday. It was perhaps one of the most depressing, if not the most depressing demonstration I have ever been involved in. In less than two hours I received a powerful lesson in some of the most troubling ailments of American democracy.

Orlando is already a very inhospitable place for activism of any sort, and is not only where people come to die, but where culture dies as well. About 30% of the population of Orange county (Orlando, Florida’s enveloping county) moves within one year, so in addition to the elderly migrants there are plenty of younger people who don’t care about the community around them as well. Too many people seem to come to Florida for the two reasons Tiger Woods claims to have, virtually no taxes and golf. Why care about the decay of society around them, they can afford to play golf!

It was already depressing that one of the last outposts of civic society is a basketball stadium. And while there is nothing wrong with a basketball stadium, they certainly shouldn’t be replacements for the town square. Yet in a town as spread out, suburbanized, and stucco scorched as Orlando, the Amway (*gag*) stadium was the last place to make contact with other people. Not that anyone wanted to make contact with us!

I understand that people came to the stadium to watch a basketball game, and its not like I feel like they had to pay attention to us. I might morn the passage of democratic responsibility and civic space, but the benefit of the town square was that you were simply exposed to politics and culture, not forced to participate. What bothered me was the open disdain people had for us, when all we were doing was handing out fliers. Not engaging people in conversation, simply offering a small sheet of paper to passerbys. It was already noxious enough that the last recourse of civic culture was a basketball stadium, I didn’t need snide douchebags passing by and making jokes about protesting sweatshops.

I could have probably tolerated just that, but there was something even more hideous. We had to be quarantined in an area away from the stadium, because the stadium was Amway property. It might not sound like something to be upset about, its their property right? Wrong!

Recently Orlando’s bumbling city council lead by the fat fool (who’s neck blinks more than his eyes do) “Buddy” Dyer made a giant investment into building a new arena for the Orlando Magic with tax payer money. Because instead of the myriad other potential uses for our money, apparently it was far more important to spend upwards of 500 million dollars to build a new stadium to replace one that is barely twenty years old for a billionaire who runs a corporate pyramid scheme. Out of the total cost of the stadium, the Magic have only ponied up at most 70 million, less than 15 percent of the upfront cost of 480 million. In addition, the billionaire owner of the Magic, Rich “Douchebag” DeVos, used the stadium as a protest venue for a group promoting the gay marriage ban (you can read more about all this in Dave Zirin’s excellent article “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Lakers”)!

If Orlando’s citizens are going to pay upwards of 85% of the costs of the Amway (*gag*) stadium, it should be a public facility. If DeVos wants his own stadium he can pay out of his 4.4 billion he happens to have, otherwise he should be happy that we let his team play there, much less placing his wretched company’s name on it. There is no defense of his ownership of a stadium he did not pay for, he should not be allowed to host demonstrations against gay marriage when we cannot protest sweatshops on what is at least 85% ours! I think Orlando citizens and Magic fans should be appalled. its one thing for an elected city government to build a basketball stadium, its quite another to give away our tax money to a billionaire and let him use public land to advocate his hateful brand of right wing politics. Are we going to take this lying down? I hope not!

Written by jackofspades83

June 17, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Spotlight on the Mainstream Maniac Machine

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-Comrade Jack

Today’s enlightened rant is sponsored by Paul Krguman of the New York Times, as seen here. This observer has noticed this trend of madness that has become more and more acceptable in the ever more homogenized American infotainment/media/news(?)/crap sector. However, what this observer missed was how the recent right-wing lunatic murderers of abortion doctor George Tiller and the white supremacist shooting up the holocaust museum, show how right the Department of Homeland security was in a recent report. Jack did notice the report, and at the time and without much attention, believed it to be an over-exaggeration made by a department Jack never liked in the first place (mostly because of its connections with America’s dumbest president). It seems that all the critics of this report have some explaining to do. Jack feel a little humbled, and I’m sure the offended teabaggers and RNC flaks would if they weren’t so deluded by our media’s maniac machine.

Jack doesn’t blame the right wing for being upset by Obama winning the election, he would feel more than a little peeved if old man McCain had won. What he is bothered by is how more than a few folks on the right end of the American political spectrum have given in to what appears to be a media feed madness/temper tantrum. Obama is not the Antichrist, and no one should have to argue against that. A 3% tax hike is not “oppression”, and makes anyone who would claim it look like a douche (as in, try explaining to a Chinese factory worker that you’re being oppressed by a minor tax increase).

Perhaps most disturbing to Jack, is the idea that Obama is a Marxist. To anyone who will, (and they will) claim that Obama is a Marxist, please be prepared to defend your point based on Marxist principle (site actual Marxist theorists or you will be ignored). If you don’t think you can do that, it explains why you are not qualified to offer an opinion on who is or is not a Marxist. Let me clue you in on a basic fact ignored by almost every single person in North America. Government control is not socialism, per se. Socialism is direct democratic control of the economy. As the decisions of the Fed are not democratic, it is not a socialist body. Obama is a social democrat, a capitalist who believes in a social safety net and Keynesian economic theory. End point.

To return from Jack’s ideological rant tangent, what Krugman has shown us is that there is a serious problem in the lunatic right today. Unlike the American lunatic left, which today is mostly pacifistic and narcissistic (see Jack’s last rant), there is a tiny fragment of the right that is not only fanatically crazy, but homicidal at that. It is receiving serious ideological support from a large segment of the media that seems to have completely lost its mind. Jack would like to take this moment to speak to all Americans and ask for people to calm the f*ck down.

Bush nor Obama is the END OF THE WORLD. Put your guns back in their lockers, and try not to treat your fellow Americans like something you just scraped of your shoe.

Jack Fears that American Democracy is Eating Itself

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It is posts like this one that have me worried about the state of American democracy. Over thirty years of anti-government hysteria seems to have made Americans forget the point of us rebelling from the crown. What started out as a somewhat justified argument against a government too reliant on Keynesian economic tactics, has become an argument against democratic governance itself.

What was developed as a means to combat tyranny by affording a measure of control to citizens is now seen as the enemy of the citizenry. Cynical Americans rightly angry by abuses of power have reacted not by attempting to right American democratic institutions, but by eliminating them at every turn. Becoming less active in government and actively supporting measures and candidates who designs place more of the responsibility for the common welfare to business interests, who without evidence, are sighted as being more efficient in the tasks of the people. Never mind that businesses are, by the very nature, not in any way beholden to the public good. In practice, it has been shown again and again, that businesses pursue business interests, not public ones.

This belief is not necessarily partisan, and is shared by political gradations between the left and right. The major difference between the two sides lies in where they will accept some government control. Anarchists on the left are tolerant of government intervention in the form of a social safety net and domestic concerns such as labor and the environment, where the rightward libertarians will eschew government involvement except in defense, and imperial military escapades. However, this is not so much a support of democratic governance, but rather a placid support for government policies that they appreciate. When it comes to civic participation both sides are too often focused on their own narrow interests and personal politics.

The last point is of vital importance. Despite their often political leanings, both groups are more involved in a narcissistic individualism that is hostile to the idea of democratic governance. Anarchists abandon society and form walled off collectives, and libertarians only involve themselves in politics to advance policies that limit and de-legitimize the very idea of democracy. The former, although often compassionate at least in theory, do not realize that they do a disservice to their democratic principles by isolating themselves (even when they believe they are being inclusive). The latter, although they have an almost religious interest in the founding fathers, are openly hostile to the civic element of democracy, that they savage whenever possible.

Libertarians, who are viciously capitalist to a point of compassion-less zeal, seem to look past the many, of what they would decry today as needless government interventions, that their beloved forefathers pioneered. America did not just pioneer the modern democratic state, but “big government” interventions such as the police, firefighters, libraries, schools, hospitals, roads, prisons, etc. They also are unable to understand that the modern world is very different than the one the founders lived in. What other political movement would chose Ron Paul as their public face, a man who has not put forward a single political policy that hasn’t already been implemented before the 1830’s.

It is important to understand that the America of the founding fathers was one that was only beginning to experience the birth of capitalism and the industrial revolution. The model of society that existed 200 years ago is hardly an exact model for the present. The industrial revolution has dramatically changed the family unit, and increased specialization to the point where individuals are not able to exist in modern society without relying on others to a much greater degree. The idea of the self-dependent family may have been possible when industry was nearly non-existent, but in the era of hi-tech information systems, and complex manufacturing processes it is no longer possible for families to exist as such autarkic units. Unless anarchists and libertarians wish to return to a pre-industrial society (and some do), then they will have to accept the fact that we are all reliant on each other, and democratic governance is the only instrument that is capable of sustaining such a society without economic ruin and drastic inequality.

It is still surprising to this observer how the arguments in defense of elite’s interests have become the arguments of the vox popli. Mass participation in democratic governance is the only weapon the people have against elite interests. By abandoning civic instruments for privatized control the overwhelming majority of Americans unintentionally surrender power to the very elements of government they claim to despise. Whether it is the corporations despised by anarchists or the political elites despised by libertarians.

In terms of healthcare there is no greater example of what happens when democratic governance is forsaken. Corporations make money hand over fist and secure their dominance by paying off the political elites who keep the system private. In a business of life and death, leaving such affairs to the private sector has shown that they neither care about the public interest or that they have even necessarily secured efficiency. America stands alone as one of the most inefficient and least pluralistic healthcare systems in the developed world. Americans may have the choices between healthcare providers, but this turns out to be anything but freedom, for ultimately their care is dictated by the bottom line of their provider, not in anyway by their health.

The other developed nations have realized that a public good such as health is something that must be handled collectively. The interconnected nature of modern society does not afford us the possibility to ignore our neighbors, no longer is the argument strictly moral. True, issues arising through bad personal choices such as obesity, drug use, and promiscuous sexual activity should not be born by the public, but these are precisely the issues that should be decided by the public, not the oligarchy of private wealth. The other democracies have done this, and while deciding between what should be treated and what shouldn’t has proven difficult, it has been a decision made by their respective populations. They have proven that democratic governance can not only be fair, but efficient as well. It truly is a sad day when Americans have to be instructed in why democratic governance is a good thing.

Written by jackofspades83

June 12, 2009 at 2:11 pm