Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Top Ten: Maverick Reader Favorites

Here are the most-read articles published on this site from 2008 to 2017, based on pageview statistics from Most of them were also published on other websites, including Center for Global Research, Toward Freedom, VTDigger, ZNet, Truthout, AlterNet, and Common Dreams. 

    Two of the three most popular stories have had staying power for years. "Remembering MLK" is an unusual take on the Civil Rights leader's death and a woman from his "secret" life, while "Do Psychopaths..." is a wide-ranging "rant" originally developed for radio.
     But the new #1 article looks at Jane Sanders' impact on Burlington College, which closed in 2016 after a disastrous land deal. Several posts on this site have focused on Bernie Sanders, but one on his relationship with Sandia Labs, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, went viral as he launched his presidential campaign. Also widely viewed is an article focusing on Bernie's first victory and accomplishments as Burlington mayor, expanded from my book, The People's Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution
    Perennially popular is "Fear Factors," a chapter from a series on counter-terrorism and disinformation in the late 1970s. It's also especially satisfying to continue seeing a key chapter from "Prisoners of the Real" on the list, along with its table of contents. New additions to the Top Ten include a look at the potential of a Progressive-Libertarian movement and the threat of a modern form of "friendly fascism."
Burlington Mayor James Burke’s allies considered him honest and fearless, driven by civic pride and a sense of duty. His political enemies questioned his motives and called him a demagogue. He sometimes called them “corporate interests” or “foreign capitalists.” This series of essays about the Queen City's early progressive era is excerpted from The Vermont Way, a multi-platform history of Vermont. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

It CAN Happen Here: Meet Friendly Fascism

“It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” – @realDonaldTrump #MakeAmericaGreatAgain" - Trump quoting and retweeting Mussolini, Feb. 28, 2016

Doremus Jessup could see it coming: a day when freedom, constitutional rights and truth itself would be lost in the United States. In Sinclair Lewis' 1936 novel, It Can't Happen Here, the Vermont country editor watches aghast as a racist, flag-waving demagogue wins the presidential election and establishes a repressive regime much like Nazi Germany. Soon the most liberal members of the Supreme Court resign, only to be replaced by unknown lawyers who call President Buzz Windrip by his first name.

A 1930s production of Lewis' play
At the time few people heeded Lewis' satirical warning, even though fascism had already come to Germany and Italy, and was about to be embraced by high-ranking officers in Japan. Western appeasement and indecision continued as Mussolini took control of Albania, Ethiopia and Eritrea, and as Hitler repudiated the Versailles treaty, instead setting up pacts with the other two Axis powers.

The tyranny imagined by Lewis didn't take hold in the US during the World War II years. But a more subtle form, what philosopher Bertram Gross named "friendly fascism," has been developing for decades. We're seeing its most recent manifestation in the media-fueled campaign of Donald Trump. It's a brutal nationalist approach to politics and governance.

If it fully emerges, a post-modern friendly fascism won't necessarily require complete control by the extreme right. It could emerge instead from within the "establishment" as it responds to crisis in an embattled capitalist world. And like the residents of Fort Beulah, Vermont who couldn't heed the warnings, we may well remain disoriented spectators until it is too late, under-estimating the threat as well as our own power to resist a grinning despotism.

Big business and big government. Together they have built the international establishment -- that elite club of corporate top dogs, CEOs, billionaires, and their favored friends -- from which some form of fascism could emerge. Since World War II its gatekeepers have befuddled the public with a series of false assumptions and myths. For example, we have constantly been told that communism and socialism are so dangerous (when they aren't totally bankrupt, of course) that they justify repression and a massive military to prevent the infection from spreading. There has also been a persistent effort to convince us that capitalism is based on competitive free enterprise rather than corporate and monopoly power, and that powerful economic entities don't really control markets and entire economies. When that fails, we hear that capitalism is about to be replaced by something new -- from the consumer society to the digital age. Choose your illusion.

Government-business symbiosis was already underway during the Carter and Reagan years, with the radical right increasing its reach since Reagan's time. But the deeper change has been a movement to the right by the ultra-rich. By 1984 the evidence included draconian federal criminal laws, politically-motivated Grand Juries, union-busting, arbitrary classification of information, purges and surveillance, and the gradual transformation of basic rights into privileges.

It was obvious decades ago that "terror" does not only come in the form of overt violence. The withholding of privileges or rewards by a powerful state can also be effective. Deep fears can meanwhile be fed by inflation, deficits or unemployment, job insecurity or nuclear anxiety. To name just a few.

Along with the Reagan administration's merging of big government and business came an open-ended commitment to military "superiority"  and increased concentration of wealth at the top. Uncle Ron was, after all, a career spokesman for corporate America. But Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were no saviors, just friendlier faces. Without a clean break, the choices are always limited.

Still, there are signs of hope, trends deeper than the outcome of one media referendum known as a presidential election. There are promising movements, along with sporadic surges of participation and slow-but-steady progress toward a more democratic social order and economy. Most such grassroots uprisings share a disgust for elitism and waste, a suspicion of bureaucracy, and an enthusiasm for participation, accountability and real productivity.

The current encounter with fascism may be unavoidable. It definitely feels like a possibility. But the best way to resist and change the outcome is to hold onto realism, skepticism, imagination and our aspirations for a better world. We don't need to settle for the narrow definitions of freedom, diversity, democracy and rights. And we certainly don't need to trade off the pursuit of happiness for the false security of "law and order."

It is still possible to envision a society in which people control their government and economy rather than the reverse. What we need is to keep a hopeful vision in sight while rejecting the friendly fascists at our door.

Originally posted on Feb. 28, 2016

Imagining Trump's Rule: November 6, 2015, WOMM-FM  

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Dangerous Words: A Political Memoir


  Dangerous Words: A Political Memoir
   By Greg Guma


Audio Prologue ON THE AIR: Burlington Reflections (May 2016)
(One month later Burlington College was closed)

Part One: Education of an Outsider (1960-1968)

Part Two: Fragile Paradise  (1968-1978)

Part Three: Prelude to a Revolution (1974-1978)

Friday, January 13, 2017

World Citizen: Garry Davis vs. National Borders

In September 1948, when delegates to the new United Nations met at the grand Palais de Chailot in Paris, a twenty-something American wearing the flak jacket of a bomber pilot pitched a tent on the Palais steps. Guards descended and angrily ordered him to leave, but he politely declined. I’m no longer in France, the young man explained, eyes twinkling. I’m standing on “international territory.”
     As a crowd gathered, so did the world press. With days the name of this pilot-turned-peacenik, Garry Davis, was known around the world. Newsreels captured a mounting drama that featured curious crowds, inspired celebrities and perplexed authorities.
     When a reporter asked Davis what he was about, he replied, “I’m a world citizen.” With that simple assertion a global movement was born.
     Garry Davis was part rebel, part performer and completely original, a world-class Don Quixote who for more than half a century jousted at one of the biggest windmills of all – nationalism. It was a wild ride that took him around the world, in and out of 34 jails, and across countless frontiers.
     After renouncing his US citizenship as an anti-war protest, camping out in Paris, and crashing a UN session to deliver a speech, Davis launched his first major organizing project, a registry for world citizens. More than a million people responded to the call. Forced out of France, he next went on tour, stateless and without documents. This time thousands of people turned out to meet him and local governments passed supportive resolutions.  Yet, over the next few years he was also repeatedly thrown in jail and deported.
     In 1953, for example, while he was appearing as an actor in a London stage production of Stalag 17, the show closed unexpectedly when the Queen died, and Davis found himself without a visa. A kindly magistrate gave him an idea: build a home on public property. But he was arrested anyway and taken to Brixton prison.
     Officials there laughed at first when Davis wrote to the new Queen. But they had to eat some crow when she responded with a thank you note. She would not step in, Her Majesty explained. But she did appreciate his situation.
     Three years later, wearing a homemade uniform and carrying a “World Passport” he had printed himself, Davis traveled to India. Necessity was helping him to become adept at intimidating low-level bureaucrats and exploiting the local media. His discussions with border officials were often hilarious, exposing the arbitrary rules and artificial boundaries of nations. But once inside country, he shifted focus to study with a Buddhist guru. The break also helped clarify his mission and prepare him for the next phase of the journey.
     At this point, for Davis, world government already existed. After all, he had announced its formation in a 1953 declaration. Before a small audience in Ellsworth, Maine, he had called it the World Government of World Citizens, and explained that its legitimacy was based on three laws – one God, one world, and one humankind. And although he was only one person, all humans were potential world citizens. They just needed to “claim their rights and assume their responsibilities.”  Yet Davis also understood that many more people would have to reach the same awareness before things began to change.
     In the early years, the tactics Davis used sometimes put not only his freedom but his life at risk. A year after his stay in India, for instance, Davis was almost shot before he could show his passport in Germany. It happened in Berlin after he left his bicycle near a barbed wire fence that separated East from West. Crawling under the wire in a pre-dawn mist, he was caught by several gun-toting police, arrested, interrogated, and ultimately put on a train to West Germany.
     As the scenery passed he could not help but remember another view of the same countryside --- from the cockpit of his bomber during the war – and also what the experience had taught him. “We are born as citizens of the world,” he realized. “But we are also born into a divided world, a world of separate entities called nations. We may regard each other as friends, and yet we are separated by wide, artificial boundaries.”
     Garry Davis spent the rest of his life trying to change that. One of his main strategies was to develop and issue documents, including the extraordinary World Passport. Recognized on a case-by-case basis by more than 100 countries – and officially by a handful – the passport has evolved into a convincing document in seven languages, issued to at least a million people over the years. Davis often argued that the right to travel, outlined in the passport, was grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
     Just as important as the fundamental right involved, however, was knowing how to use tools like the passport and other identity documents. As explained in Passport to Freedom, a book we co-authored in 1991, many nations have accepted World Passports and other documents issued by the World Service Authority, the non-profit organization Davis founded. But step one in effectively using them is to know what you are talking about. “The official, as part of the machine, knows little more than his narrow function and the regulations on which it is based. When you ask questions, you shift the burden of responsibility.”
     Other steps include remaining cool, going to the top of the chain of command as soon as possible, always assuming you are right, keeping track on your paperwork, choosing the right words, looking good, and remaining firm. It’s basic, but solid advice for anyone forced to deal with arbitrary authority. That said, over the years Davis refined the approach into a long-running piece of political performance art that he repeatedly took around the world.
     In April 1984, for example, he arrived at Tokyo’s Narita Airport. At this point Davis was already in his 60s and could look like an elder statesman if he wished. Determined as ever, he was nevertheless detained after a mind-boggling exchange and told he could not enter the country. The next night, however, when the authorities attempted to put him on a return flight, he protested so effectively that the captain threw him off the plane.
     A day later he escaped from detention and went downtown for public interviews at a daily newspaper.
     When he was caught, the Japanese put Davis in detention, then on a plane for Seattle. There he was told that he would be placed on trial for entering the US illegally. He was now classified as an “excludable alien,” the officials claimed. It was beginning to look like he was trapped in a Kafka-like tale.
     Two weeks after setting out for Japan, Davis stood before a US immigration judge. Both governments were refusing to admit him. ‘Quite a dilemma,” mused Judge Jones. But before he could decide how to handle the convoluted case, a telex arrived from Washington, DC. The news was almost inconceivable: Davis’ entire file had somehow been “lost.”
     As a result the Seattle case was closed and the world citizen was free to go.
     Five years later Davis was back in Japan. This time he opened an office in Tokyo and helped many undocumented workers and Chinese students who were fleeing repression. For them the World Passport and other documents meant proof of identity, access to a job, or a way to get from one place to another.
     During this extended visit, Davis met the Japanese Prime Minister and had a private, personal talk with Andrei Sakharov. The Cold War was winding down then, and the Soviet Union would soon dissolve. Like Davis, Sakharov had reached the conclusion that it was time to move beyond nationalism and create a democratic world government.
     After more than a year of looking the other way, however, Japanese Immigration eventually decided to pounce and had Davis arrested in July 1990. He was jailed for several weeks and questioned each day by the same immigration official who had handled his original case more than five years earlier. Gradually, Davis managed to convince this man his claim to world citizenship made sense. The Japanese deported him anyway.
     When Davis landed in Los Angeles in August 1990, he fully expected to be arrested again. This time he was handled a letter instead. It announced that the Secretary of State had unilaterally decided to classify him as a “parolee in the public interest” and let him go.
     During this period Davis moved to Vermont, a safe haven that remained his home for the rest of his life. However, he never stopped fighting for his vision for a world without borders. In July 2013, just a week before he died on July 24, just shy of 92 years old, Davis was still finding ways to spread the word. At this point NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was trapped in a Moscow airport after his US passport was revoked. For Davis the response was obvious: the World Service Authority would issue him one.
     The World Passport may not have reached Snowden*, but Davis made his point one last time. “All we're doing is conforming to the idea that human rights must be protected by law," he told reporters. "The world passport opens the door. Anyone can get it; everyone is a human being, everyone has a right to travel.'"

* It did reach contacts in Russia near Snowden, according to WSA's David Gallup, but whether Snowden received it wasn't confirmed.

Greg Guma knew Garry Davis for more than 20 years, co-authoring and editing two of his books, Passport to Freedom: A Guide for World Citizens and Dear World: A Global Odyssey. A memorial service for Davis was held at Burlington City Arts in Burlington, Vermont on January 5, 2014.