Monday, October 29, 2012

Are you listening?

As the wind gusts outside I find myself experiencing a peculiar kind of fatigue. Over the last couple days we’ve made a few trips round the neighborhood stocking up on supplies to prepare for this year’s big storm. The panic driven consumer frenzy that surrounds these storms always has me shaking my head. It’s only common sense to get prepared with a storm on its way, but I can’t help but note how this consumer reflex is becoming our response to everything. On the surface this consumption looks like preparedness, but is it really? Like so many other things in our culture, isn’t this just another way to cope with a situation we feel powerless to control? It reminds me of our current health care model: wait till it breaks, then attempt to fix it. If it’s too late to actually fix it (which it is more often than not) - medicate it so that the symptoms are at least tolerable. Today I heard one of “our” Senators explaining all of the different ways that people would be compensated for damages they suffer from the storm. There were even programs to cover lost business revenue. Here again, we respond to damage after the fact, accepting the outcome as inevitable rather than addressing the underlying cause. Perhaps the Senator is just trying to make us feel more secure, explaining that the government has our back when times are tough. Hey this is what you pay your taxes for right? This is one of those moments when we recognize the benefits of having a safety net, when something REALLY BIG happens and we can all feel... um... safe. So then what is my fatigue about? Buying emergency supplies wasn’t all that stressful. Yes, the lines were loooooong, but we are lucky enough to have food to buy. I have a roof over my head that will in all likelihood withstand the wind. I am fortunate to live in an area high enough to avoid the flooding. I’ve got the electricity to write this blog entry...

But I can’t shake this feeling. I’m tired. I’m tired and honestly, I’m a bit frightened. I’m tired of people not listening. A historic storm by all accounts, days before a presidential election, large enough to threaten the entire Atlantic coast - I feel like I’m living in some sort of Bizarro World vacuum. I want a bit more from “my” politicians than an explanation of how I can get compensation for damage done. Three debates and not one mention of climate change? Campaign ads airing between hurricane updates? Katrina. Irene. Sandy. She's raising her voice. How loud does she have to get before you listen?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Binders full of women - a debate stage full of men.

Today I am reading Romney’s “binders full of women” quote everywhere. While the issue brought up is clearly more substantive than Big Bird, does it really surprise anyone? I read article after article leading up to last night’s debate bemoaning the president not bringing up women in the first debate, and prioritizing the importance for both candidates to play specifically to women voters in the second. Well it would seem that Romney fulfilled expectations putting his foot firmly in his mouth last night saying, “We’re going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I’m going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they’re going to be anxious to hire women.” I imagine Ryan might say that Romney was “obviously inarticulate” in making this point, if he himself was capable of recognizing the problem with it. Perhaps Mitt is simply trying to say that employers are going to be anxious to hire good workers and women are good workers, but the statement comes off sounding like it says that employers are going to be “so anxious to get good workers” that they will even hire women.

So Obama gets points for Lilly Ledbetter, defending Planned Parenthood, and he has two daughters he wants to make sure “have the same opportunities that anybody’s sons have.” He sounds like he cares. And maybe he is being sincere, but watching two women (who are running for the same office) being manhandled and arrested by a bunch of burly officers outside the debate gives me pause. The Obama campaign is not simply complicit here, it is the Democrats and Republicans acting in concert through the false flag of the Commission on Presidential Debates that have excluded these women’s voices from the debates. The “Nonpartisan” Candidate Selection Criteria For 2012 General Election Debate Participation, Adopted on October 20, 2011, sets forth three specific “nonpartisan” criteria for selecting candidates to participate in the 2012 general election presidential debates: (1) constitutional eligibility, (2) ballot access, and (3) electoral support. Though I personally believe both the second and third criteria need redress, the candidacy of Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala actually meets criteria one and two. The third criteria, however, is a self-validating circle of nonsense:


The CPD's third criterion requires that the candidate have a level of support of at least 15% (fifteen percent) of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations' most recent publicly-reported results at the time of the determination. 

"Electoral support” is simply not the same thing as “indicators of electoral support," in the same way that “votes” are not “opinion polls.” Under these criteria, a candidate needs to have enough support to be selected to debate to get enough support to be selected to debate... nonsense. A debate is at its heart about finding out where the candidates stand on the issues that matter to us; and five selected national polling organizations, the CPD, and the two parties that run it should not be allowed to determine which voices we get to hear and which get to go to jail for showing and speaking up.

One other thing stands out to me about the debate and it’s critique: I’m seeing some very talented people that I respect taking Romney to task for his comment, “Government does not create jobs. Government does not create jobs.” But why not also take Obama to task for saying, “I think a lot of this campaign, maybe over the last four years, has been devoted to this notion that I think government creates jobs, that that somehow is the answer. That’s not what I believe.” I wrote a bit in an earlier post about mobilizing the American people to support legislation that they actually want, rather than simply adopting Republican talking points in some kind of hopeless crusade to out Republican the Republicans. When Obama declares “I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world’s ever known. I believe in self-reliance and individual initiative and risk takers being rewarded,” and tempers this with his fair shot, fair share, play by the same rules refrain; is he offering us the necessary vision to move beyond this win/lose competitive paradigm, or is he simply strengthening it? With the concepts of independence and competition so central to our core identity as Americans, is it even possible to address “fairness” without it being viewed as an affront to those very same ideas? If you insist on fairness aren’t you just making excuses for your own lack of success? Perhaps you are just too lazy, or unwilling (to work harder), or maybe you’re just not smart (educated) enough. Are we truly “free” if we cannot freely choose not to participate in this game?

Mark Halperin at Time Magazine posted the leaked Memorandum of Understanding between the Obama and Romney campaigns Monday, a 21 page legal document delineating the rules governing 2012 presidential and vice presidential debates. I read it this morning. And then I made a cup of coffee to try to wake myself back up. It did of course contain specifics regarding who gets to debate, the topics that will be “debated,” and the format of the debate (as I wrote in an earlier post); of the many restrictions here are a few that set off some bells for me:

1. (d) The parties agree that they will not (1) issue any challenges for additional debates, (2) appear at any other debate or adversarial forums except as agreed to by the parties, or (3) accept any television or radio air time offers that involve a debate format or otherwise involve the simultaneous appearance of more than one candidate.

So not only does the agreement restrict who can debate, but it also restricts the two candidates to only debating one another, and only in these CPD sanctioned debates.

3. Participants
If one or more candidates from the campaigns other than the two (2) signatories are invited to participate pursuant to those Selection Criteria, those candidates shall be included in the debates, if those candidates accept the terms of this agreement.

This effectively says IF you meet the criteria to be invited to debate that you still have to agree to the terms of the agreement (that your party had no hand in writing) IF you want to be included in the debate.

5. (e) The candidates may not ask each other direct questions during any of the four debates.

Ah well - rules are made to be broken.

7. Additional Rules Applicable to the October 16 Debate...

Too much here to re-type, but here is my summary: Audience members submit their questions to the moderator prior to the start of the debate. Moderator approves all questions to be posed and “eliminates” any questions she (and she alone) deems “inappropriate.” If any audience member poses a question or makes a statement that is in any material way different than the question that they submitted for review, they get cut off by the moderator and the Commission can cut off their microphone. All audience members describe themselves as likely voters. The audience is selected by Gallup Organization, but the campaigns have the final say on the “methodology” used for selection.

9. (a) (viii) All members of the debate audience will be instructed by the moderator before the debate goes on the air and by the moderator after the debate goes on the air not to applaud, speak, or otherwise participate in the debate by any means other than silent observation, except as provided by the agreed upon rules of the October 16 town hall debate. The moderator shall also state that, should an audience member fail to comply with this requirement, he or she will be will be subject to removal from the audience and from the facility. 

10. (a) ... Each campaign shall be entitled to receive directly from the Commission one-third of the available tickets (excluding those allocated to the participating audience in the October 16 debate), with the remaining one-third going to the Comission.

Basically, what we have here is some sort of facsimile of democracy in action, with all of the inconvenient randomness, diversity, and unscripted participation stripped out. And you are more than likely not invited.

An additional note: beyond the specifics relating to distribution of tickets, section 10. (c) of the memorandum specifies seating arrangements, in order to “insure that supporters of each candidate do not sit in a block and are interspersed with supporters for the other candidate and interspersed with tickets distributed by the Commission.” Notable here is that there is no specific allotment for supporters of a different candidate entirely, or neither candidate, or those who have simply not decided (it is a debate after all). Perhaps folks in these categories can sit anywhere they like? If not, they could always sit outside in the street, or better yet, in a jail cell...


Saturday, October 13, 2012

“I take your stuff...”

On the weekend of the Occupy Wall Street anniversary I attended a meeting of the Strike Debt assembly in New York. The meeting was a book release for The Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual, but also a working meeting to get input from all that attended. At the onset of the meeting a couple of people shared their personal stories of debt with the group. This sharing of stories was intended to address the shame, frustration and fear that many feel in connection with their debt. I could understand the logic here, but I found myself having a very strong reaction to the idea of shame being a common reference point for our discussion of debt. I wanted to share my story, but I didn’t think it fit within this construct. I’m in debt, but it is not shame that I feel, it is outrage. I don’t buy into the common American debt narrative: you are in debt because you bought something you couldn’t afford, because you were living beyond your means, because you are lacking in personal responsibility, because you are lazy, etc. The underlying idea here is that debt is a product of choice. But debt is about much more than choice, it is a deliberate and coercive means of control.

After several people involved with Strike Debt had spoken about different aspects of the project, a facilitator asked us come up with a question concerning debt to be posed to the group. I wasn’t really sure how to frame my question, but I was eager to offer my input and get some feedback. So when the mic came around to me I asked, “How does debt relate to theft of resources by 1% corporations?” When corporations go into countries and steal resources to sell them on the global market, often back to those they originally stole them from, how does this relate to debt? The facilitators wrote down the questions people had posed, inviting us to break out into smaller groups and choose one of the questions to discuss. The group I was part of was interested in discussing several of the questions, one participant even adding a question of her own to the list. A few people in the group were particularly interested in the question I had posed and asked me to elaborate on it. I appreciated their interest and enthusiasm, but at the time I felt reluctant to do so. I was much more interested in engaging in dialogue and listening, than in elaborating on my question. Deference to leadership is common within our culture, a show of respect for those who appear knowledgeable and capable (or, in seeming contradiction to the origin of this nation, are divinely appointed). When this is coupled with individual ownership of ideas, another root tenet of our culture, it can be difficult to contribute to a conversation without appearing attached to the ideas one contributes. But if we are truly looking to evolve “our” ideas, and not simply own the soap box, perhaps we should be seeking to free them from ownership, to let them exist independent of individual ego and belief, to invite and encourage modification of the ideas through alternative perspectives.

When it comes to movement building I have always been a big proponent of broadening our focus to include allies internationally, to more objectively understand and address the obstacles we face, as well as to learn and share successful strategies for moving forward. While focusing on a single issue may seem like good strategy for mobilizing a specific group of people affected by and passionate about that particular issue, it can also create a kind of tunnel-vision, blinding us to the broader interconnectedness of multiple issues affecting our larger community. Similarly, we can become trapped inside our own cultural identities, unable to recognize that many of the obstacles we face are a function of these identities. Inclusion of alternative perspectives, free of this cultural bias, can often allow us to see past these obstacles.

International debt relief has been a focus of the global justice movement for many years, but that concept of debt appears quite different from the American (USA) model. It occurs to me that the major difference here is this American illusion of “choice.” When a Bolivian farmer is made to choose between paying for water or feeding his family - is this really a “choice”? When our seniors are made to choose between heating their homes or medicine to keep them alive - is this really a “choice”? When our youth are made to choose between getting an education or supporting their families - is this really a “choice”? All of these “choices” have something in common: resources that have been privatized and then sold off to make a profit. The corporations and financial entities (and governments that empower them) that have privatized (stolen) these resources have no intrinsic right to them, though they often receive public subsidies to extract and/or refine them. We are so indoctrinated into a system of individual ownership in the US, the very concept of “property” enshrined in our Constitution, that we can scarcely conceive of the commons belonging to us. When we provide our labor, why do we not conceive of it as a resource? When we speak of success, why is it not as a function of the combined labor (physical and intellectual) of those who have come before us? When the air, water and land we need to live is jeopardized by corporate abuse, why do we not simply take it away from them? Even our genetic information, the very mystery of life itself, is but another resource to privatize and commodify. Key here is that, once the resources have been extracted, the people will require assistance to make up for the loss to their economies, their livelihoods, their ability to provide for their people’s basic needs. And, as if on cue, in swoops the benevolent benefactor (you know - the same one that stole all your stuff moments ago) to generously provide that needed assistance - at a price...

So how can we recast this American debt narrative of “choice” to be more in line with the one that is known throughout the world? One person in our break out group suggested that we might come up with a sort of overarching metaphor, something to cut through all the complicated financial bs that insulates debt from critique. I mentioned something about native cultures’ conception of land as communal, a gift from the creator, rather than as some thing to be owned. It got me thinking that a deeper look at the concept of ownership itself might be helpful when examining debt. As the break out groups were called on to report back to the larger meeting, I quickly jotted this down in my notebook:

I take your stuff, then I make you pay for it. I take the lion’s share then I make you fight for the crumbs. Then I offer you a “loan” to make up for your loss. Then I sell your debt/use it to make even more money.

I’m not an expert in finance or debt. I have a BFA, not an MBA. But swimming in this financial cesspool of intentional obfuscation, perhaps more expert testimony is not what we need. Perhaps a bit of intuitive common sense instead. When the banking/brokerage kings of finance are allowed to sell 30-40 times more debt (most of it in bundled home mortgages) than they can back up with actual cash money (liquid assets), turning profit on every sale along the way, knowing full well that our taxes will bail their asses out when the junk debt they’re selling goes belly up; maybe we need to be looking beyond the paltry sums that we “owe” them - to the massive amounts of profit they make dealing “our” debt. Whatever we decide to focus on, we should keep in mind: it is only through our common consent to their hoarding of our resources, that we remain indebted to them.

Today we will be meeting, marching, and MAKING SOME NOISE in New York and across the world. Perhaps you will join us wherever you are :)

I wrote a bit about the 1% austerity model in a related post here

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Psst... Romney’s not Reagan. Neither is Ryan. Steal & share. Click for larger image.


Apparently it isn’t enough to be a CEO playing a politician playing an actor playing the president - you actually need to have your vp candidate inform your base (and the media) that this is in fact what you are doing...

From October 7th (the day after I posted my split screen):
Paul Ryan Compares Romney's Debate Performance to Ronald Reagan

"Did Mitt Romney not knock it out of the park the other night in Denver?" Ryan asked a crowd of about 200 donors at a fundraiser here Saturday evening. "I was so excited to see that because I was thinking to myself, finally people are seeing the guy we know. Finally - I mean didn't you kind of think of Ronald Reagan when you were watching that?"

A donor interjected that Romney's debate performance actually reminded her of the man standing in front of them.

"We were thinking of you," a donor yelled.

Two Reagan’s for the price of one.

Friday, October 5, 2012


I am fully aware of how electoral politics is used to distract us from pursuing any kind of direct democratic action: as a siphon of limited time and organizing energy, but also as a restraint to keep us in line. If organizing a social justice movement (political campaign) without the stated objective of influencing electoral politics is ineffectual (as those in power brand it), then why bother? Just stick to voting every couple of years. Reading my blog, it may not surprise you when I write that the win/lose construct is one of the most effective tools to discourage us from participating in shared dialogue. That said, I feel like there is an opportunity for us to move forward here by simply recognizing the missing point.

Try this - when thinking about what was said at the debate, apply this filter: every single attack Romney made on Obama at the debate was for something that Republicans had requested, initiated, or modeled prior to Obama picking it up and moving it forward. Does this alter your perception of the debate?

A little background. There was a lot of media attention and speculation when Supreme Court Justice Roberts presented his “dissenting” opinion concerning the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act mandate. Left leaning media hailed it as a victory for Obama, citing dissension within the court between Roberts and Scalia. Strangely I did not find, and still don’t find, anyone writing about how saving the legislation would be a boon to the Romney campaign. The logic here is simple - “Obamacare” is the single most important issue specific avenue of attack that the Romney campaign has in its arsenal. Other values based issues have been used again and again in Republican campaigns, but this issue is specifically a product of the Obama Administration, often described as Obama’s “signature legislation.” Removing this issue from the table would have been disastrous for Romney, having spent so much of his campaign focused on “repealing Obamacare.”  Roberts’ re-contextualization of the mandate as a “tax” was widely panned as a stretching of the law, but it did do one thing perfectly: it defined a specific difference between Obama’s healthcare legislation and Romney’s Massachusetts healthcare legislation. Romney’s was a mandate, but Obama’s was a TAX. And Republicans love taxes.

After Paul Ryan gave his speech at the Republican National Convention, there was again an uproar in the press over all the “lies” he told from the stage. But again, I saw no specific critique that pointed out that each of the legislative problems Ryan blamed on the Obama administration was actually dreamt up and put into motion by Ryan and his cohorts. This was a blatantly transparent strategy of toxification. You have an issue that you will undoubtedly use against me in a debate. I preemptively attack you for creating the issue in the first place. My base believes my attack because they do not have any other information to dispute my claim. When it is time to debate, you cannot bring up the issue without immediately being blamed for it - it has been made toxic. Your ace in the hole is now my ace in the hole.

This is the strategy that Romney used throughout Wednesday’s debate. Once this strategy has been put into motion it is practically impossible to defend against. If all of what I witnessed on Wednesday was not simply scripted spectacle, then it would seem that Obama’s campaign is not quite as smart as they are given credit for. It is too late to mount a defense when you finally realize that each of the legislative compromises you made is a trap which will be used to attack you. If you defend yourself by saying “I gave you what you wanted,” they will only label you a weak, whiny liberal. When Romney flipped the switch attacking Obama repeatedly for making cuts to Medicare (under the guise of balancing the budget, reducing the deficit, reigning in spending, ALL Republican talking points) there was simply no defense he could mount. When Romney attacked Obama on Obamacare saying that it was a failure at a federal level while declaring (for the first time) that his own Massachusetts plan was a model for all states to emulate, what could Obama say? But my plan is based on yours? If yours is a success, then SO IS MINE!? How does one draw attention to the essential difference between oneself and one’s opponent when the majority of one’s “successes” come through compromise with them?

So why didn’t the Democrats see this coming? Is this just the ultimate outcome of bi-partisan politics? I don’t have any faith in this President, but I also know that Romney/Ryan could be even more of a nightmare, for the simple fact that their base offers little or no resistance to (and would even celebrate many of) the draconian measures they would certainly codify into law. Even with all of his outrageous expansions on policies initiated during the Bush (and Clinton) years, Obama still has to maintain a public image as benevolent leader that Romney will not. Of course, all bets are off during a lame duck presidency...

There really is only one way (that I can see) to deal with this Republican flip the switch strategy. Mobilize the American people to support legislation that they actually want. Basing new policy on past Republican policy proposals in order to garner Republican support? How’s that workin’ for ya? Yeah, not so much. Perhaps our current “great communicator” president wasn’t up to the task of popularizing a program of renewal with the American people, or perhaps his pragmatism keeps him from launching the kind of ambitious plan that Americans could actually get excited about, or perhaps he is actually just the smiling face of corporate control. Whatever the reason, it is up to us to recognize how these concepts link, and how they yield predictable results - if we don’t want to get swept up in the horse race frenzy that our political system has become.

Who won the debate? Who cares.

P.S. Regarding Big Bird - remember this? Are we really this easy to manipulate?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


I’m not going to try and convince you that Obama and Romney are exactly the same. I’m not going to make a case for not voting or voting third party. I don't yet know who I will vote for in November myself. And I like it that way. When is the last time that you remember going into an election cycle looking for the candidates to introduce themselves to you, to communicate their specific positions on issues important to you, to actually listen to you and reflect on what they can do for you as your representative? Do you remember that far back? Do you even remember that at all?

The first CPD sponsored presidential debate of the 2012 election cycle will take place tonight. By my count there are still more than two dozen citizens running for the office of president across the country. How many of those candidates will be allowed to speak in tonight’s debate?


Who gets to debate, the topics that will be “debated,” the format of the debate - all decided on and agreed to ahead of time by the Obama and Romney campaigns. So who is this CPD that sponsors the debates? The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is a private “non-profit” corporation started by former heads of the Democratic and Republican National Committees in 1987. It replaced the League of Women Voters in 1988 and has been sole sponsor of every presidential debate since that time. The CPD itself currently has seven sponsors including three companies, the largest of which is Anheuser-Busch (that's right Budweiser is sponsoring your democracy). While people mobilize across the country to battle efforts by the right to limit ballot access (a nice way to say steal the vote) , the CPD quietly acts as a limited liability shill (as corporations often do) for the censorship of any dissenting opinion at the presidential debates. It is only through the inclusion of alternative voices that the dialogue can be expanded and that candidates can be kept honest. This limiting of the number of voices at the debate by folks who are already in the debate is clearly a conflict of interest. My “more voices” graphic below includes four alternative voices (among many) that should be part of the debate: (from left to right in no particular order) Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, Jill Stein of the Green Party, and Anonymous. Please feel free to “steal” it and share it EVERYWHERE. Click to enlarge image.

I could go into depth about instant runoff voting (IRV), public financing of elections, voting “no confidence,” but there is one thought that I want to draw attention to above all the others. Representational democracy is about voting for the person that best represents your interests. So regardless of who you choose to vote for in November, I sincerely hope you will remember that it is your choice and not the choice of pollsters, pundits, or the CPD.

Democracy Now! ran a great in depth piece on the CPD today - watch it here

*Democracy Now! is airing a LIVE expanded debate tonight from 8:30 - 11:30 pm ET, pausing after questions to include equal time responses from Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party - watch it here

Learn more and get involved at

October 15, 2012 - Mark Halperin at Time Magazine posts leaked Memorandum of Understanding between the Obama and Romney campaigns - read it here

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Rahm Emanuel is the Democrat Scott Walker

Back in high school I had a professor who asked our class what we all thought was a simple question: “What is culture?” I had answered this question correctly a number of times before on various tests. You could even look it up in the index of the world studies book we were using. Yup, there it was in graphic black and white: “Culture - a way of life.” So you can imagine our surprise when we offered up this definitive answer in unison only to become the target of our professor’s scorn. Apparently we were all participating in something called “regurgitation,” and she quite forcefully demanded that we do something else instead - think. Well this didn’t sit well with many of our school’s best and brightest. Hell, we wouldn’t even have had the opportunity to be in this class if we hadn’t gotten that answer correct on all those tests I mentioned before. I'll never forget the silence in the class, the conditioned inability to respond to her question in depth. What the hell did she want from us? This is the single professor I admire most from my years in the public school system. When I invited her down to the art room toward the end of the term, to see the artwork I was working on all those 30 days in a row that I had skipped her class, she was honored her feedback was that important to me.

In the mid 90’s, while I was working in on-air graphics at VH1, I witnessed a major shift in the music industry: away from talented artists who had creative control over their music, toward generic musical acts that could be more easily manipulated to match market trends. Creating their own “artists” from scratch gave the record companies ultimate control over the product - no debate, no compromise, pure profit. All through the Bush (W.) years my political advisor and I would make jokes about the Friday afternoon press dumps, simultaneously launched from multiple sources within the administration and rarely ever in agreement. By Monday they would know which story had polled best and run with it, relying on the few people who actually kept up with such things to forget who originally said what. It’s a kind of consumer marketing campaign. Testing the waters, seeing what the consumers will accept and what they will reject, researching ways to get them to accept (and even support) an agenda that is not in their best interest. When I see Paul Ryan being rolled out as the standard bearer for the Republican Party, from relative obscurity, charged with championing a budget plan that seems all but DOA; I can't help but think of a certain young Illinois State Senator bursting onto the political scene at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. When Kerry conceded the presidency that year, Obama was all over the airwaves explaining away yet another stolen election, with a new democratic narrative connecting the loss to “moral values.” Who was this fucking guy I thought? Why was he lending his support to the Karl Rove strategy playbook? Prior to the election, I had a lengthy discussion with a friend over dinner about how the same-sex ballot measures engineered by Karl (“Bush’s Brain”) Rove were NOT really intended to increase turnout at the polls, but rather to be used retroactively as validation of yet another stolen election “victory.” Post election studies showed that voter turnout was no higher in states with ballot measures than in those without. Though I sincerely hope we don’t have to go through another stolen election this year, I think it’s important to keep in mind how our two party system uses these opportune election moments to roll out “next year’s model.” The more obvious spectacle is often just a cover for the machinations that are going on behind the scenes. 

Watching the teachers in Chicago take to the streets I immediately thought of the Wisconsin uprising. Reading a few articles on the Chicago Teacher’s Union strike I saw some bits about how the teachers were seeking higher compensation even though they were the highest paid in the country, how compensation was by law the only issue that they were allowed to strike over, how if the strike were allowed to go on that the parents might turn against the teachers due to the inconvenience of having to find something to do with their children. I was unfamiliar with the specifics of the strike itself, but all of this sounded like spin to me. I knew that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel; a Democrat, former Obama Administration Chief of Staff, had presided over the crackdown on Occupy Chicago (touched on this in my last post). I knew that his coming out against the Chicago Teacher's Union (CTU) was not something new. I knew that Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was the former Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). And I knew that all three; Obama, Duncan, and Rahm are proponents of education reform programs that include privatization of public schools and teacher/student evaluation through standardized testing. So I went to the CTU website and read a press release titled CPS Fails To Negotiate Fair Contract To Prevent First Strike In 25 Years. In it I found a bunch of information I hadn’t seen in the articles I’d read, most importantly this: “Another concern is evaluation procedures. After the initial phase-in of the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly 30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable. We are also concerned that too much of the new evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.” I was seeing a familiar pattern here, a political party running a controlled experiment to see what they can get away with through a combination of scripted narrative and sleight of hand. Wisconsin was the chosen test subject for the Republican attack on collective bargaining rights, but the model would be replicated in Republican run states all over the country. Their objective? To completely remove the ability of the opposition to mobilize on their own behalf, insuring that any future Republican legislation could be enacted with no opposition whatsoever. This is of course nothing short of an attack on democracy itself, with the Republican narrative casting democracy as an inconvenience in the face of economic crisis. Walker, Rove, the Koch Brothers, Rupert Murdoch and their whole cabal don’t seem to have any reservations about using actual people as lab rats (and as a vegan I don't use this term lightly) in their little poli-sci experiment.

When CTU refused to end the Chicago teacher’s strike, Rahm Emanuel released a statement claiming the strike was “illegal on two grounds – it is over issues that are deemed by state law to be non-strikable, and it endangers the health and safety of our children.” Further, he claimed that the strike was one of “choice,” and suggested that the children were being “played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union.” The state law that Rahm mentions in the statement? That’s SB7, legislation requiring an increase in CTU’s threshold to strike from a simple majority to 75% of its membership. What he is referencing specifically, though the law seems to have different interpretations, is a restriction of CTU’s right to strike to issues of economics only (wages, benefits, etc.). Emanuel lobbied for the passage of this legislation and unlike Wisconsin, where the Democratic legislators left the state in order to stop Walker’s plan to crush collective bargaining, the Illinois Democratic (majority) state assembly and governor voted FOR this “reform” legislation to restrict the CTU. The legislation passed almost unanimously (House 112-1 / Senate 54-0) in May of last year. As in Wisconsin, this is a set-up, a trap, a manipulation of circumstances in order to force the opponent to play the role that has been scripted for them. In Wisconsin the public unions were cast as lucky beneficiaries of a free ride at the taxpayers’ expense. In Chicago the union, and by association its membership, are cast as law breakers and a danger to children. Yup, that’s right your child’s teacher is a dangerous criminal - thanks Rahm.

These may sound like different strategies, but they actually issue from the same source - economics. The 1% austerity model involves engineering an economic crisis and then attacking those most impacted by it for not being willing to sacrifice even more than what has already been stolen from them. Proponents of “education reform,” push the idea that more education, more vocational training, more personal responsibility, will lift our poor and disenfranchised citizens out of poverty and ensure personal success and success for the country. But if the 1% create the crisis that causes your misery, and then cynically offer you a path out of misery working to make a profit for them, isn’t this just a modern take on indentured servitude? Of course, you’ll have to go into debt to acquire the level of “educational excellence” that is required to qualify for one of those “good jobs.” We have laws against child labor in this country, but no law against transforming our public education system into a private system of vocational training to make sure that our youth will be able to get those “good jobs.” Prioritizing education as a competition, a “Race to the Top,” an “escape from poverty,” de-emphasizes the importance of creative and critical thinking that is essential to our advancement as individuals and as a society. Our public education system can be so much more than a system of indoctrination to prepare our youth for a life of servitude. Yes Rahm, this is a strike of “choice,” a choice not to allow ourselves and our children to be used as lab rats, pawns, or servants in this bi-partisan 1% consumer marketing campaign.

Two weeks ago a Wisconsin judge ruled Walker’s anti-union law “unconstitutional.” Last week a judge ruled the mass arrests of Occupy Chicago demonstrators “unconstitutional.” The successful Chicago Teacher’s Union strike is inspiring educators, parents & students to stand in solidarity throughout the country, to look beyond the austerity narrative that they are being sold. We need not wait for the president to put on his comfortable shoes and join us on the picket line. Together we can revitalize our system of public education, infusing it with the creativity, the curiosity, and the critical thought to see past the 1% script and write a narrative of our own choosing.

While writing this post I came across an article with a similar theme (and a damn near identical title) by Joseph A. Palermo as well as another great article on the CTU strike by Matt Reichel.