Author Archives: Heather Mark

Communism, Socialism. Same Difference, Right?

MarxHow often have you, either in jest or out of frustration, referred to someone as a communist?  What about, horror of horrors, a socialist?  I will admit that I often besmirch my husband’s good name as a result of failure to appreciate the splendor that is the game of baseball.  The term “communist” is not infrequently hurled in his direction during baseball season.  (He’s a remarkably patient man in that respect). Seriously, though, these two terms are often used interchangeably and usually to cast aspersions on someone’s political ideology.  Scratch the surface, though, and the common understanding of these terms is fairly shallow.  That’s not to denigrate anyone’s intellectual abilities.  It’s simply that as Americans, we tend to have a visceral reaction to these terms.  A vestige of the Cold War, for those of us that experienced it.  (Another vestige of the Cold War, for your viewing pleasure).  This election cycle seems likely to bring these terms to the forefront again, particularly with the candidacy of Bernie Sanders.  I, for one, am very interested to see how he handles running on a democratic-socialist platform.  It seems like a good time for a quick primer on the distinction between communism and socialism.

Both socialism and communism are primarily economic models.  The basis of both is a common ownership in the means of production.  Socialism is practiced widely in Europe and for some reason, Americans tend to equate socialism with healthcare. While certainly state ownership of the healthcare system (commonly referred to as a “one payer system) can be a component of socialism, the reality is that socialism is much more than social programs. There are a number of different variations of socialism, as there are in democracy (see this post).  State socialism denotes state ownership of the means of production.  When you hear of industries being nationalized (France and their semiconductors), this is an example of state socialism.  You can easily see how state socialism may lend itself to inherently non-democratic tendencies – Venezuela and the oil industry under Hugo Chavez.  Libertarian socialism, on the other hand, explicitly rejects state ownership as oppressive and seeks to place ownership in the hands of workers (unions) and prefers a weak, decentralized state. Communism takes socialism a step further, advocating for a society without classes, and ultimately without a state apparatus. Read the rest of this entry

What is a Populist, Anyway?



As Hillary Clinton launched her campaign officially, many journalists described her message as being distinctly populist.  The New Yorker, in fact, described her speech on Saturday by saying, “If there was ever any doubt that Hillary Clinton was going to run a populist Presidential campaign, she dispelled it on Saturday with her speech on Roosevelt Island. Seeking to move beyond the controversies surrounding her family’s charitable foundation and her deleted e-mails, she spoke about the great disjuncture in the modern U.S. economy, and portrayed herself as an indefatigable battler for ordinary Americans.”  It’s notable that she spoke on Roosevelt Island, and the theme of her speech was the “four fights,” which hearkens back to Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech. (A seminal speech in American history, which I strongly encourage everyone to read.) Read the rest of this entry

Evolution of the Fifth Amendment

5thAmendmentIn the uproar over the SCOTUS decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Prop 8, was what I feel is a pretty significant decision on our Fifth Amendment rights. Most of us are familiar with our Fifth Amendment rights, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything that you say can and will be used against you. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you…” These are, hopefully, familiar to us because we like to watch police procedurals like Law & Order. The actual text of the Fifth Amendment reads, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Read the rest of this entry

Who You Gonna Call?

That’s what the government wants to know.  News broke overnight that the National Security Agency (NSA) has a warrant to get information on every call made over the Verizon network.  There has been no word yet as to whether or not other carriers are under a similar order. According to a report in the Washington Post, “The order appears to require a Verizon subsidiary to provide the NSA with daily information on all telephone calls by its customers within the United States and from foreign locations into the United States.”  Seems pretty outrageous, right?  But the order is signed by a judge overseeing domestic intelligence surveillance.  The Obama administration maintains that this is required to help fight terrorism.  The ACLU maintains that the practice of collecting these records is “beyond Orwellian.”  What is at play here is the inherent tension between the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Fourth Amendment. Read the rest of this entry