Saturday, March 19, 2016


Today is the 13th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War – will there be a protest?

Will we see any mention of this in the media? The anniversary? The protest? Perhaps a temporary news cycle spike of attention to the issues of war and peace on the campaign trail?

In my last Speaking Their Language post I dove into the “tax and spend liberal” conflict narrative and how it is employed by both Republicans against Democrats and Democrats against other Democrats. When I come up for air I ask the question whose taxes are they anyway? Who gets to decide how we are going to spend them, and who is going to get paid?

I actually started
writing Part I prior to Count Every Vote, so all three pieces are related. It has been an odd couple of months politically. Within such a deluge of doublespeak, it can be challenging to keep track of who said what, or even to decipher what the hell was actually said. Language once easily tracked back to a particular political perspective, is ever more fluid; blurring boundaries, demanding deference. It’s the filmic dream within a dream sequence, where you wake up only to find that you are still asleep.

The other day I read this on Reuters:

“LaVoy was not ‘charging’ anyone. He appears to have been shot in the back, with his hands in the air,” the family of the Arizona rancher said in a statement through their attorney.

And this in the Washington Post:

Michele Fiore, a Republican assemblywoman in Nevada who is close to the occupiers, though, tweeted that Finicum was “murdered with his hands up.”

Robert “LaVoy” Finicum is, or rather was, the de facto spokesman for the militiamen occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He was killed on January 26th.

The initial media frenzy surrounding this latest flare up of the so called Sagebrush Rebellion saw armed militiamen widely referred to as simply “occupiers.” Dena Takruri produced several informative videos questioning double standards in response to the “protest.” Some questioned why men who had participated in an “armed takeover of a federal building” were not being called “terrorists”?

Janell Ross brings up some interesting points regarding the specificity of language used in conjunction with these events (or lack thereof) in her article for The Washington Post blog The Fix, but I find myself coming at this from a slightly different angle. Take this quote from her interview on Democracy Now:

And the fact that these occupiers have come to this space, they certainly have a right to assemble, they have a right to protest—this is the United States, that is certainly true. But to occupy a building is perhaps a different thing. It is not exactly the same as a protest.

Certainly, not all occupations are protests, and not all protests are occupations. The armed occupation of Iraq for instance, clearly not a protest. But while I can appreciate the passionate pursuit of specificity, I think we must take care not to demand an equivalency of terms that cedes control of the larger narrative. For example, how would the narrative surrounding the 2013 Dream Defenders occupation of the Florida State Capital be affected if we were to allow “occupation” to be defined as “not exactly the same as a protest”? How about the narrative concerning the 2011 occupation of the Wisconsin State Capital? The occupation of Liberty Square (Wall Street)? The occupation of Hillary Clinton’s NYC Senate office the day before her Iraq War vote? Five students occupied her office for 9 hours while she delivered her speech, “Therefore, on no account should dissent be discouraged or disparaged. It is central to our freedom and to our progress, for on more than one occasion, history has proven our great dissenters to be right.”

Photo by Fred Askew

Some things to consider from a slightly different angle. Is trespass the same as terrorism? Can the militiamen be called terrorists in the absence of actual violence? Does property damage count as violence? Does it make a difference if that property is private or public? Is “armed takeover of a federal building” an accurate description when the Refuge headquarters was, in fact, empty at the time of the “takeover”?

It’s not rocket science – those who wish to suppress dissent benefit from our acceptance of a narrative that limits protest to marching and chanting (with a permit of course), that delegitimizes any action beyond that narrow definition, that characterizes civil disobedience and direct action as inherently violent. When that doesn’t work, they use the “threat” of violence to justify a forceful response. As I have pointed out in multiple earlier posts, those who struggle against oppression must be cast as a malevolent force in order to make a defensive response seem reasonable. If they can be successfully cast as a threat, then their oppression appears warranted. If we accept this justification, in a rush to judgement, or out of some desire to see a more uniform response to address a double standard, then who gets to define what constitutes that “threat” going forward?

At the same time I’d just like to say, Chris, that you know, the answer isn’t to necessarily treat these white protesters the way that black protesters have been treated. The answer quite frankly is just the reverse. To say hey, if we don’t need the National Guard to deal with armed white men, maybe we don’t need the National Guard to deal with unarmed black men.

Former NAACP president Ben Jealous makes a good point here. If we demand that these armed “occupiers” be met with a pre-emptively violent response, does this set precedent for some sort of perverse equality of oppression, some blanket validation for the equal use of force elsewhere? Who benefits from this narrative?

Taking this a step further, who gets to define the demonstration (protest) narrative, its objectives, etc.? The authorities charged with keeping the “protest” under control? The media? Politicians and pundits that were not even in attendance? Whose revolution/rebellion is it anyway?

On that same show Chris Hayes asked then presidential candidate Rick Santorum about the “standoff in Oregon.” I imagine many of my readers probably don’t give a rat’s ass what Santorum thinks, but the way that Occupy Wall Street gets pulled into the conversation is pretty telling...

CH: Let me just sort of ask you about this finally about this standoff in Oregon.

RS: Yeah

CH: Which it feels weird to even call a stand off because there’s only one side to the standoff. There’s these folks occupying the sanctuary, there’s not like…

RS: Yeah and I mean people are talking about violence, I mean there’s no violence. Nobody’s threatening any violence. Everyone’s basically…

CH: Well they’re all armed right?

RS: Well…

CH: I mean it’s a little different. Look I mean I’ve watched protestors sit in Rahm Emanuel’s office in Chicago right? It would have been real different if they were all packin’. I mean let’s be honest.

RS: Well you had the Occupy Wall Street people and you had no idea what the heck was going on in those places. So…

CH: Well they weren’t – yeah, but you knew that they weren’t…

RS: You don’t know, you don’t know what was going on there…

CH: But it would have been very different if they all had long guns on them

RS: Well…

CH: If they were saying we’re here armed.

RS: Yeah, but, but the point is no one is threatening – if – just because they have those guns doesn’t mean there threatening to do something with those guns.

CH: But do you support what they’re doing?

RS: I support the cause. I mean – what the cause is that the Federal Government is through eminent domain and regulation basically robbing these people of their livelihood. Yeah I mean this is a huge issue in the West. It’s not just an issue in the West, it was an issue in Pennsylvania. This is a huge problem of government overreach and I think at some point people are just saying you know hey (ay?) if you guys aren’t going to pay attention to us we’re going to do something to make you pay attention. Now, do I support the fact that people are sitting there with guns? I…I.. You know I’d probably feel a little bit more comfortable if they didn’t have guns. And I don’t think frankly that they need to have guns, but the bottom line is they have every right to protest this. (CH: Sure, yeah. Well, to protest of course yeah) They have every right just like the Occupy Wall Street people. I didn’t agree with everything they wanted to do, but I agreed with their right to protest. And…

CH: Well there was… we should just make the distinction right? There was a protest, and then there was this occupation. I mean there were folks that did the protesting thing, and that’s the sort of majority, and then there’s this small group of people that are actually occupying… a bird sanctuary. (hahaha)

RS: Well… and the same thing… well…they were occupying… you know… what… Bryant Park… whatever the park was here…

CH: Zucotti Park, Yeah…right.

RS: Yeah whatever the park was here… they occupied and they did so for a long time and the government did what I think the government should do here – practice restraint.

Photo by Louise Macabitas

I think a major part of my inspiration for this post comes from repeatedly hearing Hillary Clinton attack Bernie Sanders with what sound like Republican talking points. But it is more than that – it is the disinformation that she vociferously presents and that is subsequently parroted by an acquiescent media. As I mentioned earlier, it can be hard to even keep up – another deceptive new talking point revealed with every debate. Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver released a statement addressing some of these falsehoods a while back.

Clinton delivered this carefully crafted attack
during the Flint, Michigan debate:

Well — well, I’ll tell you something else that Senator Sanders was against. He was against the auto bailout. In January of 2009, President-Elect Obama asked everybody in the Congress to vote for the bailout.

The money was there, and had to be released in order to save the American auto industry and four million jobs, and to begin the restructuring. We had the best year that the auto industry has had in a long time. I voted to save the auto industry.

He voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry. I think that is a pretty big difference.

This kind of language is typical of Clinton’s attacks.
Qualifying statements mixed in with half-truths, dependent on a lack of specific information on the part of the audience. She launched a similar attack during the New Hampshire debate concerning the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. Let’s see if we can decipher the truth:

Bernie was not against the auto bailout.

2. Bernie Sanders voted against Bush’s $700 Billion Wall Street bailout (TARP) in October 2008. Clinton voted for it despite widespread opposition and protest across the country: “you broke it, you bought it – the bailout is bullshit.” Bush’s Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs, would oversee the distribution of the TARP funds.

3. Sanders supported and voted for a separate $14 Billion auto industry bailout bill in December 2008. Clinton also voted for this bill. The bill failed due to Republican opposition.

4. In January 2009 Sanders voted against the second disbursement of Bush’s TARP funds. This is the vote that Clinton is referencing when she says
In January of 2009, President-Elect Obama asked everybody in the Congress to vote for the bailout.” This was not specifically an auto bailout vote, but the release of the second half of the original $700 Billion Wall Street bailout. He released this statement after the vote passed:
Today I voted to withhold more funding from the Troubled Asset Relief Program.  I have deep respect for President-elect Obama and I very much appreciate the difficult job he has in trying to remedy the economic damage done by the Bush administration’s reckless policies.
Nonetheless, I have strong reservations about continuing this bailout without strong taxpayer protections written into law. I also object to using middle-class taxpayer money to bail out the exact same financial institutions whose greed and recklessness led to the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. 
Furthermore, we need a major investigation into how this financial crisis occurred and who exactly was responsible.
5. In lieu of the passage of an actual auto bailout bill, $80 Billion in TARP funds was ultimately used to provide bridge loans and capital injections to the auto industry. There was no congressional vote to approve this specific use of the TARP funds.

Political revolution isn’t about deference to authority. It’s not about desperately handing over the people’s power to the “smartest guys in the room” so that they can decide how best to save us from a crisis they themselves have engineered.

It’s a strange kind of leadership that retrospectively validates delivering our treasure (our taxes, our labor, our resources, our commons) into grabbing hands by citing how much worse off we would be if some small part of that treasure had not been generously given back to us. Reagan’s “smartest guys” called that trickle-down economics. I don’t know what Hillary calls it but the proper term is neo-liberalism, and the Clintons are big fans.

When Clinton attempts to justify her Wall Street war chest by pointing out that “President Obama took more money from Wall Street in the 2008 campaign than anybody ever had,” citing his record of “taking on Wall Street” and “getting results,” she gets applause. But the point falls flat. Three of the four largest financial institutions are 80% bigger today than they were before we bailed them out, and there has not been one single arrest (or prosecution) of any senior Wall Street executive in connection with the events leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder has returned to corporate defense law firm Covington & Burling, that counts among its clients Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup.

“Break them up.”

Clinton claims that she is a “progressive that gets things done.” In 1984, Orwell gives us the concept of doublethink, where two contradictory ideas are accepted as true simultaneously. At face value it sounds like she could be touting her progressive policy accomplishments (whatever those may actually be), but underneath, the statement seems to be a coldly calculated jab at progressive policy makers who can’t get things done. It presents progressivism as ineffectual with the exception of the specific manner in which she claims to practice it. Her statement serves to give her ownership of the terminology while simultaneously neutralizing its actual meaning. Her claim on the term during the debate seems based on her ability to cite other “progressive” legislators who have taken corporate cash/Wall Street money.

I was looking around for my foam brick when Clinton brought up Paul Wellstone in this context. I was yearning for a Lloyd Bentsen moment via Bernie Sanders: Secretary, I served with Paul Wellstone. I knew Paul Wellstone. Paul Wellstone was a friend of mine. Secretary, you’re no Paul Wellstone.

Speaking of Wall Street money (and doublespeak), during the New Hampshire Town Hall Clinton said “I’m proud to have 90% of my donations from small donors and 60%, the highest ever, from women, which I’m really, really glad about.” As a percentage of contributors this 90% number appears accurate, but as a percentage of money raised the small donor number is actually only 24%. Taken one way, likely the way it was intended, it sounds like Clinton has a small donor base that rivals the Sanders campaign. But in actuality the 90% is simply a mirror of income inequality in the United States: 90% of donors giving small donations that add up to less than a quarter of her total money raised. More than three quarters of her total coming from 10% of her donors.

For comparison, the Federal Election Commission shows small donations to the Sanders campaign for the same period made up 85% of total money raised.

Even the language regarding delegates is doublespeak. Pledged vs. unpledged delegates. “Pledged” delegates are awarded proportional to the vote. Superdelegates are classified by definition as “unpledged,” but it would appear that a whole lot of these have already pledged to support Clinton. Of course, unlike the proportional pledged delegates, superdelegates can change their affiliation at any time. Despite this flexibility, these pledged unpledged superdelegates are being added into the totals we see in media coverage, as if they have actually been awarded through the election process. For example, Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire 60% to 38%, and the proportional pledged delegate split was 15 to 9 respectively. Clinton had 6 New Hampshire “unpledged” superdelegates (Sanders had 0), so the delegate totals were reported as 15 to 15. So who won the state? Was it a tie?

One person, one vote.

When I saw the CNN video of the protestors that shut down the Trump rally in Chicago, my first thought was how the incident could be spun to fit into a Chicago 1968/72 George McGovern narrative. The protestors are out of control – those peace loving hippies are actually violent communist radicals! As I mentioned earlier, I’ve seen many protests derailed and delegitimized through this kind of manipulation. I was concerned about the role of infiltrators and instigators. I thought briefly about who stood to gain from provoking a conflict – who would look more reasonable, who would look more presidential, who would play the victim and “need to defend themselves.” But when I looked more closely at the video, the “protestors” didn’t look like the usual provocateurs I have seen deployed at other “protests” in the past. They looked, strangely, like – the people. Imagine that.

Photo by Tannen Maury

Back in January, during the South Carolina debate, 23 year old vlogger Connor Franta asked “how are all of you planning on engaging us (young voters) further in this election?” Clinton (the only candidate allowed to answer his question) brought up making college affordable, helping people pay off student debt, and creating more good jobs. All solid campaign talking points, but utterly predictable. She then moved into (just as predictable) defending our rights, saying “turning over our White House to the Republicans would be bad for everybody especially young people.”

Here was a young man asking a specific question about political engagement and being given an answer that basically amounted to, vote for me (us) or else (you risk losing everything). Growing up with supportive parents, that taught me to see my young self as an equal to the adults around me, has allowed me to recognize and value young voices, young people, in a way that many in our hierarchical society do not. Engagement is more than just “voting,” it is about being part of the process all the way through. It is about mutual respect and empowerment. It is about creating space for everyone to speak for themselves rather than forcing them to choose among sanctioned choices.

I think Bernie gets this. The political revolution he speaks of, and the decentralized organizing model his campaign is using are a demonstration of these ideas. One that over time, with each new person that gets involved, gradually replaces a top down vision of what we don’t want with a self actualized vision of what we do.

I don’t think the so called “enthusiasm gap” in the Clinton campaign is really about young voters. It is more likely a systemic organizing problem, one that I have seen countless times before. A kind of organized demobilization. Asking (or threatening) people to support something that they are not passionate about already, is a non-starter. Engaging people where they are is essential, but this only works if you genuinely care where they (we) are, and what matters to them (us). And ultimately, you have to be willing to prioritize caring for one another, over controlling one another. Savior politics just will not cut it anymore. “They don’t have to be for me, I’m going to be for them,” isn’t a dialogue, and there’s no democracy without dialogue.  

The media is spending a helluva lot of time building fear, pushing us to feel that events are beyond our control. Fear of a Trump presidency. Fear of a political revolution. There is a lot of hand-wringing and shoulder shrugging. Who will save us from ourselves? The air is thick with inevitability. So, just for a moment – S T O P.

Take a breath. In... and Out...

Remember. You are living in a democracy. This “political revolution,” it’s not just yours – it’s YOU. You, in solidarity with all your sisters and brothers, can and will make this all happen. The fear is meant to immobilize you, to restrain you, to distract you. Don’t let it. Move past it. The doublespeak is meant to confuse you, to mislead you, to discourage you. Don’t let it. Move past it. You know the score. You’re no spring chicken. The establishment (or are they the anti-establishment? whatever they call themselves) is trying its damnedest to provoke a fight, because that is what they do best, and because that is all they got. It’s up to you, to us, to all of us, to decide how we want to move forward.

I’ll end with this bit from an earlier post appropriately called SHUT IT DOWN:

You decide to make some vegetable soup. The recipe calls for Thyme, but all you have on hand is Oregano. You could always switch the labels on your spice bottles. Of course renaming your spices will not change the flavor of your soup. But then sometimes soup is like that - made out of whatever is on hand. Now, if you switch the label every time you need another spice, you’re just going to end up with a big pot of Oregano Soup. Not a particularly desirable outcome unless you’re in the business of selling Oregano. Politics is like that. Lots of politicians in the business of selling Oregano (or weapons, or oil, or debt, or indentured servitude, or some other damn thing), constantly switching the labels to make it more palatable to the public, but no matter what you call it - Oregano is always Oregano. This political switching of labels isn’t just about not having the right spice, it’s about making sure that no one uses any other spice. That’s what we used to call a monopoly, and we used to have anti-trust laws that guarded against it. Switching labels is also great strategy for keeping constituents off balance and dependent on “knowledgable” leadership. After all, how can you hope to make your own soup when you can’t tell one spice from another? With all this label switching can you tell Republican Soup from Democrat Soup? With so many of the same ingredients can you taste the difference between Neo-Liberal and Neo-Conservative Soup? Switching labels ultimately makes the selection process meaningless. You never know what you are going to get in that bottle. More importantly, it makes dialogue concerning the process equally meaningless by removing any common point of reference. This obfuscation is the real objective 1% is after, a complete disruption of your ability to make any political decision for yourself. He’s not just looking to discourage you from choosing what kind of soup you want (voting), but looking to make it impossible for you to write your own recipes - grow your own spices - make your own soup.

Related articles:
The Six Questions Missing From the 2016 Election Debates – Andrew J. Bacevich
These Quakers Are Asking Tougher Questions Than Many in the Press
– Lee Fang
Goldman Sachs chief: Sanders’s criticism is “dangerous” – Peter Schroeder
The End of the Establishment? – Robert Reich
The Problem With Hillary, Chez, Is I Don't Vote Republican – Russ Belville
The Nation is Not Divided and Still Prefers Bernie Sanders – Gregory Harms