Thursday, August 25, 2016

Is Our Revolution a Step in the Right Direction--or an Aimless Lurch Meant to Dissipate Our Energy?

House parties for Our Revolution were held throughout the country last night. My wife and I hosted one such event attended by seven people:

From left: Liz, Michael, Marnia (hostess), Karina, Amanda, Paul, Amy, & Toni.

We gathered to watch a livestream from Vermont that featured Bernie Sanders and a number of other speakers.

None of us knew what to expect, but the livestream managed to disappoint expectations nevertheless.

Most of us had already heard about the resignations within Our Revolution following the appointment of Jeff Weaver as president of the organization. Weaver's commitment to raising revenue in traditional ways for spending on traditional television advertising troubles lots of folks for various reasons. From my own perspective, it is primarily objectionable because it fails to recognize that grassroots movements in the era of corporate media can only be successful to the extent that they subvert and defy that corporate media. The last thing we need to be doing is pouring millions of our own dollars into the very machine that is stifling our agenda.

Hours before the livestream even began, Debbie Lusignan put together a video in which she asked Our Revolution and Bernie Sanders to get out of the way of those of us who seek the large-scale changes that Sanders advocated throughout his campaign. I thought her video was unjustifiably harsh before the livestream aired.

Afterward, I could only conclude that Lusignan was prescient.

Some of the comments on the livestream from YouTube viewers reflected my own frustration as I watched Sanders rehash much of his stump speech. No one watching needed to be persuaded of the fact that we Americans must transform our nation from a marketplace into a society by seeking social, economic, racial, and environmental justice. We all share a sense of urgency concerning that task, and we need to discuss the best plans for achieving that goal.

Sanders could have explained why hiring Weaver (over the objections of the thirteen leading organizers who opposed Weaver's appointment) would help to achieve that goal. Instead, he told an aw-shucks story about how he had met Weaver.

Although Sanders never stooped to pleading for support of Hillary Clinton, he pointed to the non-binding platform document of the Democratic Party as evidence of some kind of progress. He even went so far as to assert that anyone who thinks that platform will simply gather dust in the coming years is "mistaken."

Color me mistaken.

I didn't need to hear about Republican governors who are suppressing the vote. I didn't need to hear about Democratic candidates who have agreed to advocate free tuition at state institutions of higher learning.

In fact, most Sanders supporters are sick of talking about the wrong things the GOP does and the right things the DNC says.

We're ready for a drastic departure from politics-as-usual. We're ready to knock on doors and pass out fliers. We're ready to phonebank, facebank, and textbank. We're ready to sacrifice our time and energy in the name of getting the right people elected. So what we needed to see from Sanders in the livestream was a demonstration of the vetting method that Our Revolution would be using to steer us towards supporting the right candidates in our local elections.

Instead, we got . . . it's not entirely clear what we got.

But whatever we got, it wasn't very helpful. Our guests stuck around for more than an hour after the livestream to discuss the practical steps we can take to make Austin as progressive as it pretends to be. Nothing that anyone said built on the livestream in any way. When the conversation stopped (a little before 11 p.m.), it was because people needed to get to bed--not because we were finished talking. 

If we had spent more time talking to each other and less time watching the livestream, we probably could have cobbled together a concrete plan of action before dispersing.

We hope to finish our conversation via email. And in fairness, even if the livestream from Our Revolution was largely a waste of time in terms of the content it provided, the house party did at least manage to put Marnia and me in touch with some knowledgeable and energetic people here in east Austin. 

But since it also put us in touch with some reluctant Hillary supporters who continue to bash Jill Stein as an "anti-science" candidate, I want to close this blog post by linking to an article from Counterpunch concerning "media as propaganda." Peter Lavenia's purpose in the article is to refute claims that Stein is "anti-vax" and "anti-wifi," but his larger claim about the propagandizing role of media only makes it harder for me to understand why people like Sanders and Weaver and even Stein herself continue to believe that the best way to reach people with their message is to give millions of dollars to the very organizations that are working overtime to distort and discredit that message.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Trump's Climate Change Denial Plays in the U.S. Because Our Corporate Media Ensures That Voters Value Advertising over Education

The echo chamber of corporate news has completely displaced reality for my parents.

My mother has always been patriotic. When I was a child, she wanted to prove America's superiority to Europe to me, so she showed me pictures of European children my own age who were missing limbs because their mothers had taken Thalidomide while pregnant. "We didn't have birth defects like that in America," she boasted, "because the FDA refused to approve that drug."

But after decades of listening to Fox News, she is now convinced that government regulation of the marketplace is the root of all evil.

My father has always been capitalistic. He used to say that climate change was a hoax made up by people jealous of the money raked in by the oil industry.

But after listening to Rush Limbaugh for years, he now argues that climate change is probably for the best because huge swaths of Canada will soon be comfy and warm.

My parents are hardly unique. There are millions of Americans just like them--mostly in their retirement years, mostly nostalgic for the America of their youth (the 1950s), and mostly responsive to Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.

But the problem of a worldview warped by disingenuous reporting isn't limited to people like my parents. It includes plenty of people my own age (and younger) who believe that corporate media only distorts the perspective of older people who lean right.

We want to pretend that corporate media doesn't have a toxic effect on younger people who lean left (or at least left enough to think that there shouldn't even be a discussion about restricting abortion rights or LGBTQ rights or any of the other issues that the Democratic Party attempts to conflate with progressive values).

But how many people under 50 remember (or even acknowledge) the critical role that The New York Times played in securing the re-election of George W. Bush by postponing the publication of James Risen's story about warrantless wiretapping?

How many people under 50 object to the fact that our media spends more time covering Ryan Lochte than the flooding of Louisiana? How many of us grasp that corporate news outlets are choosing to focus on Ugly Americanism abroad so as to distract us from how ugly we are to our fellow citizens at home? After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, our professional reporters began calling the American citizens displaced by flooding "refugees." One reason these same media voices have such a hard time talking about the Louisianans displaced by flooding in 2016 is that "refugees" is now being applied to Syrians. The Syria problem stresses our vocabulary because we are temporarily out of words that can refer to poor (and mostly black) Americans without quite acknowledging their American-ness.

And how many people under 50 understand how bizarre it is that here in the U.S., our two major presidential candidates either deny that climate change exists (Trump) or pretend that it's under contol (Clinton)?

Trump and Clinton don't represent alternative solutions to the problem of pollution; they are simply two different brands of the same response. 

How does that happen? Is it really all because of Fox News? Or is it that one so-called journalist after another (in print, on radio, and on television) finds something other than the carbon-poisoning of the atmosphere to talk about?

It's not hard to understand how it happens once we recognize that Americans value advertising over education.

What we learn in school is less important than whatever agenda our advertisers promote via the airwaves. I learned all about the greenhouse effect of carbon emissions as an eighth-grader in public school (even in a state as backwards and oil-dependent as Texas!). But understanding the chemistry behind the problem is irrelevant in a nation in which no one ever talks about it. And we won't talk about it as long as almost every journalist gets a paycheck from an organization that is receiving hush money from the fossil fuel industry.

This is why I think that UK professor Ryan Thomas has no idea what he's talking about in a diatribe he released earlier today.

Thomas thinks MSM-bashing is dangerous because citizen-journalists lack the training/discrimination/critical thinking skills necessary to replace the journalism done by the mainstream media: "I’m unconvinced that rubbishing the BBC and The Guardian and getting your news from some bloke who makes graphs on Twitter is a wise move."

If Thomas confined his anti-MSM-bashing to his own side of the pond, then his article wouldn't be so irritating to me because the BBC isn't nearly as brain-deadening and tunnel vision-inducing as network TV in the US.

But the purpose of Thomas' piece is to stress the importance of entrusting journalism to the professionals--a notion that, if applied in the US, means leaving journalism in the hands of the very people who are being paid to subvert it.

Should I trust some "bloke who makes graphs on Twitter" more than Wolf Blitzer, Chris Wallace, Rachel Maddow, and whatever corporate shill NPR has hired to lecture me for an hour about how the threat of terrorism requires the US to bomb more people who might become terrorists?

The answer obviously depends on the bloke in question because I can't know in advance whether the graph on Twitter might actually be designed to inform me. But I do know in advance that whatever the newscasters are telling me has been designed to deceive and distract me.

I don't mean to suggest that professional journalism is entirely dead. Lee Fang of The Intercept is just one clear example of print journalism being alive and well. Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! routinely conduct eye-opening interviews with experts from around the world concerning topics that might otherwise receive zero attention. The idea that we must choose between network propagandists and blokes on Twitter is obviously a false dichotomy.

But when people outside the US pontificate about the dangers of bashing the MSM, I have to assume it's because they don't really understand the extent to which our MSM frames the discussion of everything in this country.

We're never allowed to examine the fact that Hillary Clinton sold influence to foreign governments in her time as Secretary of State because our MSM reporters are always eager to talk about something else--whether it be the latest preseason NFL football game, the "racist" overtones of a picture tweeted by Ellen DeGeneres, or the schadenfreude we can all experience when discussing Ryan Lochte.

Americans are going bankrupt every day because of skyrocketing healthcare expenses, but the lobbyists of our big pharmaceutical companies bribe our politicians to convince us that the only solution is to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership so that our medications can become even more expensive.

Jimmy Dore is the bloke on Twitter who exposes that faulty logic by asking, "How can Americans possibly afford cheaper medications?"

If I understand Thomas correctly, I should tune Dore out to listen to all the network and newspaper reporters who want to talk about anything and everything in the world that doesn't matter at all so that the exploitative status quo can chug along unimpeded.

On my side of the pond, we almost never use the word "bloke," so I'll leave it to Thomas to determine whether I've used it correctly in this blog post. He can also be the judge of whether I'm correctly employing another idiom I associate with the UK as I say "Bugger off" to him and anyone else who imagines that corporate media in the US is anything less than a sustained and coordinated propaganda campaign by corporate interests that have already transformed the US into a market rather than a society and are intent on doing the same throughout the world.

Go ahead, Professor Thomas. Take your potshots at citizen journalism. Prop up the powers that be. And when the BBC and The Guardian become as manipulable by corporate interests as ABC and The New York Times currently are, you can choose between elected officials who refuse to acknowledge or address any of the issues that matter most to your fellow citizens. Enjoy.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Trump Is the Ruse de Guerre That Justifies Every Other Ruse de Guerre

Yesterday's word-of-the-day from the Oxford English Dictionary was "ruse de guerre," defined as "A stratagem; esp. one intended to deceive an enemy in war. Hence: a justifiable trick or deception."

The idea that deceptions and betrayals are acceptable under certain circumstances is really the defining feature of the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Clinton's supporters aren't just willing to overlook the lies and corruption of their candidate. They're positively eager to do so in the name of defeating Donald Trump.

Do they know that she's lying about her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership? Yes, but they have to support her anyway . . . because Trump!

But wouldn't they prefer it if she would just be honest about her support for the TPP? No--because honesty might cost her some votes. 

Will they be disappointed when she signs the TPP into law as president? Of course not, since her phony opposition to it is simply a ruse de guerre to defeat Trump.

The same logic applies to every lie Clinton tells, every question from a reporter that she dodges, every vulnerable community that she sacrifices on the altar of "centrist appeal." It's all justifiable--every bit of it . . . because Trump!

As long as Clinton supporters accept Trump as the "existential threat" to the U.S. that he's made out to be, they will feel completely justified about their own betrayals of the democratic process, the Constitution, and their fellow citizens.

But Trump isn't an existential threat to anything.

He's simply the ruse de guerre that makes it easy for the Clinton media machine to justify every other ruse de guerre.

Trump is the neo-fascist strawman that allows Clinton to define herself negatively (as "not-Trump") instead of positively (which would be impossible, since there isn't any "there" there with Clinton).

I've been on the fence about Trump's intentions until today. Sometimes it looks like he doesn't know what he's doing, but sometimes it looks like he's trying to lose.

I considered the rumors that his campaign is a false flag operation for Clinton. I understood why some people believed that, but I never saw evidence that struck me as conclusive.

But when Fortune reported that the Trump campaign hired CrowdStrike to deal with a recent hacking episode, the scales fell from my eyes.

Cybersecurity companies like CrowdStrike can't do what they're hired to do without having access to the computer networks of their clients, so such clients must be willing to trust their data guardians with their most important secrets. 

The fact that CrowdStrike is a high-profile cybersecurity firm with a track record of investigating hacks of political campaigns is perhaps a good reason to trust them.

But the fact that CrowdStrike is already working for the DNC is a much better reason for the RNC candidate not to trust them.

I don't know what this hire looks like to the rest of the world, but to me, it's a plain signal that the data networks of the Clinton campaign and the Trump campaign have now been fused through CrowdStrike.

And when we later learn that CrowdStrike was able to coordinate Clinton's coronation through an analysis of data voluntarily provided to them by Trump's campaign, the Clinton supporters will smile at the impoverished and imprisoned people of a toxic, smoldering planet and say that merging the campaigns was a ruse de guerre. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Crony Conspiracy Mongering: Getting in on the Ground Floor of the "Blame Russia" Industry

U.S. government officials have been reluctant to blame Russia for hacks of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). We should expect the same reluctance from them in response to recently reported hacks of the Clinton Foundation.

But private cybersecurity firms have spent months echoing (as shrilly and stridently as possible) the hysterical accusations of the DNC (whose former head, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, casually invoked "Russian spies" to divert attention from her own professional failings in a recent debate with Tim Canova).

The most clear-headed and technologically competent analysis of the (mis)attribution of the cyberattacks to Russia is Jeffrey Carr's "Can Facts Slow the DNC Breach Runaway Train." However, my own summary of connections between various private cybersecurity firms remains relevant to the discussion.

One of the first companies to "corroborate" CrowdStrike's assertion of Russian involvement was FireEye/Mandiant. The Washington Post accepted Mandiant's conclusion as "independent" even though it was based on data provided to Mandiant not by the DNC itself, but by CrowdStrike as an intermediary.

Earlier today, The Daily Caller reported that FireEye has now been retained by the Clinton Foundation (CF) to investigate a suspected hack of that organization. We shouldn't expect FireEye to waste any time before assuring us that the same Russian fingerprints from the DNC hack are all over the CF hack.

This hire is significant for the Clinton media machine in two ways.

In the first place, it addresses the chief rhetorical weakness of the DNC's exclusive reliance on one private company (CrowdStrike) to diagnose the breach. Wherever we used to see "CrowdStrike" in stories about hacks relating to the Clintons and the Democrats, we'll start seeing "the cybersecurity industry" invoked as a whole.

But the second (and more insidious) development we should be able to foresee is that more and more cybersecurity firms will begin to issue press releases of their own in support of whatever CrowdStrike and FireEye have to say. Any such firms that have been paying attention have just learned that those who chime in with the appropriate take on the "blame Russia" campaign (as FireEye did back in June) will be first in line to receive consideration for contracts from the various outfits connected to Hillary Clinton's candidacy.

I predict that the next few months will show us that the Clinton media machine can play cybersecurity experts in exactly the same way that it currently plays journalists. The Clintons don't have to pay people to say whatever magic words they want to hear; they simply allow potential shills to observe that the easiest way to get a seat on the Clinton gravy train is to parrot whatever is being said by the people who are already on board.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

With Enemies Like Donald Trump, Does Hillary Clinton Need Friends?

Short answer: No.

Long answer:

Every politician in history has intuitively grasped the importance of kissing babies and sympathizing with the grieving parents of young veterans who died in the service of their country.

So either Donald Trump is a new kind of politician--or he's not a politician at all.

Many of us are betting on the latter option at this point because Trump does not appear to be trying to win.

Instead, his role appears to be to distract as much attention as possible from the glaring flaws of Hillary Clinton's candidacy by making one outrageous political blunder after another. The nonsense isn't even limited to Trump. It extends to his supporters (such as Rudy Giuliani, who conveniently forgot the 9/11 attacks in a recent speech in which he contended that there were no successful terrorist attacks in America during the presidency of George W. Bush).

Trump has already won the GOP nomination, so at this point he should be working to build a coalition with independent voters outside his party--if he is trying to win.

But he isn't trying to win, so he's focused strictly on shoring up the support of voters who are already behind him (the evangelical Christians, homophobes, and anti-immigration zealots who were never going to vote Democratic in any case).

As I've observed previously in this blog, Trump has already gone over as a heel with the American electorate, but Clinton has yet to go over as a face.

What I haven't fully appreciated until now is that the DNC doesn't care whether Clinton goes over as a face or not. As long as Trump is sufficiently repugnant, the Democrats expect voters to settle on Clinton by default.

Considering the stranglehold the two-party system has on Americans, this strategy from the DNC will probably work.

The only thing that can stop what appears to be a scripted coronation of Clinton is a sudden surge by a third-party candidate. so the Democrats are (predictably) dedicating themselves to smearing the candidacy of Jill Stein. They don't really care if they offend left-leaning voters by wrongly accusing Stein of being opposed to vaccinations.

What a lot of people concerned with social, economic, racial, and environmental justice fail to see is that the Democrats don't care if they alienate us in 2016. They don't need friends as long as Trump has a sufficient number of enemies.

For a sample of how deaf the Democrats have become to the cries of their own progressive base, please treat yourself to this analysis of how a purportedly progressive talk show host (Thom Hartmann) bullies and berates a caller who dares to express how tiresome that Democratic deafness has become:

My favorite bit is when Hartmann claims that Clinton "isn't half bad" as a candidate.

This is the same Clinton who just appointed Ken Salazar to head her transition team for the White House, which is only a red flag for anyone concerned about the habitability of our planet. Salazar has contended that "there's not a single case where hydraulic fracking has created an environmental problem for anyone."

Hartmann would never serve as an apologist for the Trump campaign. How could he associate himself with the likes of Giuliani, who claims that there were no terrorist attacks in America during the Bush presidency?

But Hartmann is eager to serve as an apologist for the neoliberalism of Clinton. It's not "half bad" for him to be on the same team as a politician/lobbyist who denies that fracking poses any danger at all to the environment.

Wise up, progressive voters. 

Clinton doesn't need to be your friend. She only needs to turn folks like Trump and Hartmann into your enemies to persuade you that there's no place left on the political spectrum for your point of view. If Trump is your enemy and Hartmann is also your enemy, then you and your movement don't exist. And now that you realize progressivism doesn't exist, you should find something better to do with your time than to oppose the TPP, the carceral state, perpetual war, and the fact that Americans are dying every day because they can't afford medications that are readily available to ordinary citizens throughout the rest of the industrialized world. 

Game. Set. Match. Inevita-Hillary.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Unblackening of Clinton Critics: Why the Voice of Larry Wilmore Had to Be Silenced

The biggest lie of the 2016 presidential election is the whopper Democrats routinely tell about their appeal to minorities.

These minorities are supposed to include the Latino population, but that's obviously not true--since Barack Obama earned the title Deporter-in-Chief by ordering the deportation of 7,000 immigrant children without so much as a court hearing on the subject. Even though some of those children came from countries savaged by Hillary Clinton's anti-democratic policies throughout Latin America, the Democrats like to pretend (without a scintilla of evidence) that America will treat Latinos at home and abroad better under Clinton than we have under Obama. (We won't.)

Minorities are also supposed to include Muslims, but it's hard for a president who uses drone strikes for extra-judicial assassinations of Muslim civilians (whether they are American citizens or not) to make the case that Democrats are as mindful of Muslim rights as they pretend to be. Clinton's unwavering commitment to interventionism should lead Muslims to expect her foreign policy to boil down to three sentences: "We went to the Muslim world. We saw the Muslim world. The Muslim world died." [Laughter.]

Minorities are also supposed to include the LGBTQ community--a community that is protected within the U.S. by laws and customs, not the presidency. Outside the U.S., if you want to torture, imprison, or execute people for their sexual orientations/identities, you'll need to make significant donations to the Clinton Foundation.

So who are these minorities that are so drawn to the Democrats? The way the Clinton media machine tells the story, there's only one minority community that really matters: the African-American community.

A central component of the DNC narrative in 2016 has been that Hillary Clinton appeals to "diverse" communities, but when Clinton was trounced by Bernie Sanders in Hawaii (the most ethnically diverse state in the country--with whites comprising less than 25% of the population), Clinton's surrogates refused to budge from their position that Sanders had no appeal in "diverse" communities

So when the Democrats accused Sanders of failing to appeal to diverse populations, what they really meant was that he wasn't appealing to black Americans.

But is that true?

The Clinton media machine doesn't care what's true. It doesn't care what Michelle Alexander has to say or how many people are listening to her (both inside and outside the black community).

It doesn't care what critics from the black left (such as Benjamin Dixon and others associated with Black Agenda Report) have been telling us for decades about how the Democratic Party shamelessly exploits black Americans for the political power it then uses to exploit those voters as citizens.

It certainly doesn't care if a Hindu from Hawaii (Tulsi Gabbard) wants to make a speech on Sanders' behalf at the Democratic National Convention.

But it cares a great deal about whether a black woman from Cleveland (Nina Turner) wants to do the same thing.

In fact, in Turner's case, the DNC cared enough to interfere by scrapping her speech at the last minute--because the worst sin that can be committed by corporate media in 2016 is to devote airtime to black voices that dare to be critical of Hillary Clinton (even if that criticism boils down to nothing more than supporting an alternative to her).

Accordingly, Larry Wilmore's The Nightly Show had to be canceled.

The official story from Comedy Central is that Wilmore's show was canceled because of poor ratings. Wilmore's show inherited the time slot that used to belong to The Colbert Report and is down to just over half as many viewers as the Colbert vehicle claimed.

By that logic, however, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah should also have been canceled, since Noah has retained just over half of the viewers who used to tune in to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Ratings aren't the issue. The issue is that Wilmore dares to be critical of Hillary Clinton and DNC hypocrisy while Noah dares nothing and does nothing.

When Clinton first announced her candidacy, Wilmore brilliantly compared her to Khaleesi from Game of Thrones and suggested (based on a line of dialogue from the series) that Clinton's campaign slogan should be: "Hillary for America. I will take what is mine with fire and blood. I WILL TAKE IT."

At the White House Correspondents' Dinner, Wilmore created anxiety among white liberal elites by observing: "Bernie's been hanging out with Killer Mike, or as Hillary Clinton calls him, Superpredator Mike."

If Wilmore were white, he would be able to get away with this kind of schtick because the corporate media has done everything possible to accommodate the DNC myth of the Bernie Bro. White males can make cutting comments about Clinton because their criticism fuels the argument that the only people opposed to warmongering corporatism are white, privileged misogynists.

But when Clinton is criticized by one of the people who is supposed to be part of her firewall (a black man working in corporate media, no less!), that is cause for alarm.

It's hard to say that Clinton is a friend of African-Americans when she does everything possible to prop up the school-to-prison pipeline.

It's hard to say that Clinton is a friend of African-Americans when her response to Black Lives Matter is less political (i.e. supporting reform of police departments throughout the country) than politically expedient (i.e. co-opting Black Lives Matter though a cynical manipulation of Mothers of the Movement).

It's hard to say that Clinton is a friend of African-Americans when her closest political allies include Rahm Emmanuel (who has essentially sold out Chicago's minority communities to Wall Street) and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (who advocates for the payday lending industry that exploits minorities throughout Florida).

In fact, it's so hard to say that Clinton is a friend of the African-American community that the only way the networks can manage to say it with a straight face is to ensure that NO black voices of criticism are ever heard in response.

If one such voice ever got through, then the balloon of Clinton's arrogance about her firewall might pop.

And we can't have that--so take a long walk off a short dock, Mr. Wilmore.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Guccifer 2.0 Uses Doxing in a Curious Call for Curation

Guccifer 2.0 leaked a series of documents from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) on Friday, August 12, 2016.

Since the hacker's blog entry for the 12th was later censored by WordPress, the hyperlink above allows readers to view the original post via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

Of all the posts from Guccifer 2.0, this one is likely to seem the most schizophrenic to readers because it couples a callous exposure of private information (including unlisted phone numbers) with a respectable plea to journalists for help with curation.  

In his preamble to the hacked data, Guccifer 2.0 wantonly singles out a particular DCCC worker (Nirali Amin) as the source of various passwords that enabled him to access much of the leaked data.

It's certainly a failure on the institutional level for the DCCC to have kept "the user name and password the same" in so many cases, as Amin indicates in one email--but I'm not sure that many people would blame Amin herself for the oversight. And since Amin's specialization appears to be accounting (rather than cybersecurity), most people will be reluctant to fault her for responding by email to various emailed requests for passwords. (Should she have known better? We all know better on some level, but those of us who work at computer screens all day also know how customary it is to respond to requests for information without wondering who might be spying on our correspondence.)

Beyond singling Amin out for blame, however, the Guccifer 2.0 blog post goes on to provide readers with private phone numbers and unlisted email addresses for many Democrats serving in (or campaigning for) the House of Representatives.

Representative Nancy Pelosi, for example, complained of receiving "obscene and sick" messages on her private number after the blog post appeared. (Incidentally, that's about as close as any Democrats have come to confirming the authenticity of any documents leaked by Guccifer 2.0.)

In an article for Newsweek, Nicholas Loffredo explained why ordinary Americans (and not just those whose information was compromised) might question the integrity of the Guccifer 2.0 project:
[I]t's difficult to identify what public interest is served by sharing cellphone numbers and contact lists from within the DCCC, as Guccifer 2.0 did, or what truth is being uncovered by the release of a program from a political fundraiser. Despite Guccifer 2.0's gleeful tone, Friday's release is a minor footnote to the hack of the DNC, which showed committee officials arguably conspiring against former Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and which lead to the resignation of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz
On the one hand, our political representatives are so difficult for ordinary citizens to contact that there is something to be said for releasing their private contact information. But on the other hand, they are still private citizens (at least part of the time), and those of us who seek to protect the Fourth Amendment should respect their right to privacy as much as anyone else's.

And this is precisely what makes the blog post from the 12th so tricky: Clearly Guccifer 2.0 is concerned, on some level, with releasing information in a responsible manner. After sharing lots of personal information and passwords, he ends his blog post with a curious request for assistance from journalists:
Dear journalists, you may send me a DM if you’re interested in exclusive materials from the DCCC, which I have plenty of.
That's a strange move for a completely reckless hacker to make. If bringing information to light is all Guccifer 2.0 cares about, then why does he need to bother with journalistic middlemen? Why didn't he just post all the hacked documents directly to his WordPress site?

In other words, why should a hacker who doesn't mind doxing Democratic Congresspeople suddenly show scruples about exposing their internal documentation willy-nilly? 

Depending on what one assumes about the identity of Guccifer 2.0, there are lots of different ways to answer that question. But if we assume for the moment that the hacker is who he says he is (a lone cyber warrior attempting to expose the failure of democracy in the U.S. to the entire world), then his decision is a predictable result of anxiety over document curation.

He seeks to expose all of the publicly sensitive information that warrants exposure, but he doesn't want to expose it without professional guidance. Unfortunately, professionals won't give him guidance until they realize that he should be taken seriously--so releasing the privately sensitive information must seem (from this perspective at least) like an efficient way of demonstrating the validity of the hack.

Concerns about how Julian Assange would curate information leaked to him by Chelsea Manning led to persistent problems in his working relationship with The New York Times and Der Spiegel back when journalistic hacktivism was first establishing itself as an important 21st-century phenomenon.

Edward Snowden's asylum in Russia is indisputably a product of his relationship with Assange and WikiLeaks, but many people forget that Snowden reached out to Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald--not Assange--for help in disseminating his information, in part because of his concerns about how his sensitive materials would be curated.

The tension between Greenwald's journalistic approach to curation and Assange's increasingly strident commitment to exposing pristine documents is perhaps best illustrated by this tweet from Snowden:

I don't believe Guccifer 2.0 is who he says he is, but if he is, then it makes sense for him to be somewhat bewildered by the same questions that led to disagreements between luminaries such as Snowden and Assange.

Guccifer 2.0 does not appear to have broken any laws by publishing the contact information in the DCCC leaks. According to Thomas Fox-Brewster of Forbes, the hacker's entry from the 12th was censored by WordPress because it violated the website's "policy on sharing private information"--not because of a specific federal statute that forbids the sharing of such data.

Fox-Brewster also reports that the Guccifer 2.0 Twitter account was temporarily suspended, but it's not clear what justification Twitter used for the suspension. In any case, the account has been restored as of this writing, and the hacker used it to promote a new batch of leaked documents made available today (August 15th):
Those documents have not been censored by WordPress, and they don't seem to warrant censorship.

Complex questions about curation and censorship are too difficult to be resolved in a single blog post, but if we assume that there is only one bad actor in this scenario (the Democratic Party as an institution), then the seemingly schizophrenic behavior of Guccifer 2.0, Twitter, and WordPress is easy to explain as an attempt to process confusion and anxiety about how information should be regulated when the government that was supposed to be in charge of regulating it can no longer be trusted to do its job.

Friday, August 12, 2016

When Shooting the Messenger Isn't Enough: How the Guccifer 2.0 Contamination Justifies Shooting the Messenger's Acquaintances

Earlier today, ThreatConnect released another blog post about Guccifer 2.0. The post purports to investigate connections between Guccifer 2.0 and an upstart online publication called DCLeaks, but its purpose is actually much larger, as it seeks to discredit (or at least to distract attention from) the leaked correspondence of General Philip Breedlove (now retired), who was dedicated to provoking conflict with Russia in his capacity as Supreme Commander of NATO from May of 2013 to May of 2016.

As Lee Fang and Zaid Jilani of The Intercept report:
In the European press, Breedlove has been portrayed as a hawkish figure known for leaning on allied nations to ditch diplomacy and to adopt a more confrontational role against Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine. Breedlove, testifying before Congress earlier in February of this year, called Russia “a long-term existential threat to the United States and to our European allies.”
Der Spiegel reported that Breedlove “stunned” German leaders with a surprise announcement in 2015 claiming that pro-Russian separatists had “upped the ante” in eastern Ukraine with “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of the most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery” sent to Donbass, a center of the conflict.
Breedlove’s numbers were “significantly higher” than the figures known to NATO intelligence agencies and seemed exaggerated to German officials. The announcement appeared to be a provocation designed to disrupt mediation efforts led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In previous instances, German officials believed Breedlove overestimated Russian forces along the border with Ukraine by as many as 20,000 troops and found that the general had falsely claimed that several Russian military assets near the Ukrainian border were part of a special build-up in preparation for a large-scale invasion of the country. In fact, much of the Russian military equipment identified by Breedlove, the Germans said, had been stored there well before the revolution in Ukraine.
Clearly, our European allies saw Breedlove for the provocateur that he was even before DCLeaks released his emails, which reveal Breedlove's frustration with "Obama's instruction not to start a war" and his desire for advice on how he might change the president's mind. He reached out to Colin Powell on the question of "how to frame this opportunity" to escalate conflict with Russia instead of focusing "on ISIL all the time."

But what does Breedlove have to do with Guccifer 2.0?

Well, that's where the convoluted logic of the ThreatConnect blog post comes into play. 

The ThreatConnect research team begins by establishing a connection between Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks. They then question the identity of the supposed "American hacktivists" behind DCLeaks and call attention to the fact that the server these hacktivists use has the same name as the server used by "Fancy Bear" (CrowdStrike's name for one of two Russian cyberintelligence outfits that it alleges to be responsible for the DNC data breach).

The blog entry concludes by sounding an alarm that we've grown accustomed to hearing in conjunction with Guccifer 2.0--except that the alarm is now broadened to include DCLeaks by virtue of its association with Guccifer 2.0:
In our previous blog post, we indicated that Russia’s Guccifer 2.0 denial and deception campaign had evolved into an active measures campaign, or influence operation, by posting thousands of compromised DNC files to WikiLeaks. DCLeaks provides Russia with another platform that they can use to hide their hand and conduct influence operations in the US. Such operations may ultimately help Russia sway public opinion or media coverage in a way that benefits Moscow. Irrespective of what Russia ultimately hopes to achieve, the very fact that a foreign actor is attempting to influence the US election should prompt every voter to carefully inspect and weigh all of the data, all of the variables, and all of the facts that enter into their personal decision making process.
Yesterday, Bloomberg released an article in anticipation of the rhetoric we are now hearing from cybersecurity spokespeople such as the ThreatConnect research team:
Weeks before the Democratic convention was upended by 20,000 leaked e-mails released through WikiLeaks, another little-known website began posting the secrets of a top NATO general, billionaire George Soros’ philanthropy and a Chicago-based Clinton campaign volunteer.
Security experts now say that site,, with its spiffy capitol-dome logo, shows the marks of the same Russian intelligence outfit that targeted the Democratic political organizations.
The Bloomberg article isn't especially interested in the connection between Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks, but it's very interested in establishing the connection between DCLeaks and General Breedlove so as to reframe the discussion of his leaked emails:
The biggest revelation on DCLeaks involves U.S. Gen. Philip Breedlove, who retired in May and was formerly the top military commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. E-mails from Breedlove’s personal account show him complaining that the Obama administration wasn’t paying enough attention to European security. (“I do not see this WH really ’engaged’,” he writes at one point, later wondering “how to work this personally with the POTUS.”) The Intercept subsequently wrote a story about the e-mails, picked up by some cable news channels, inflaming tensions between the U.S. and its European allies.
Please look carefully at the way Bloomberg spins the Breedlove story. Despite what the leaks show us, Bloomberg doesn't want us to think that the commander of NATO was trying to get Obama's ear for the purpose of escalating tensions with Russia; we just need to understand Breedlove as a lonely guy who wanted the president to pay more attention to him. And even though any fair reading of the article from The Intercept would conclude that its primary purpose was to reduce tensions between the U.S. and Russia (by calling attention to the fact that Obama refused to be drawn into Breedlove's bellicose agenda), Bloomberg's assessment is that Fang and Jilani are "inflaming tensions between the U.S. and its European allies." (See how that works? If you don't want to bomb Russia, you presumably want to bomb France and Germany.)

Those who haven't been paying attention to the Guccifer 2.0 story probably don't realize it yet, but history will show us that the summer of 2016 was the period when much of the U.S. government and many of its allies in the corporate media plunged us into the 21st-century version of McCarthyism.

The red-baiting is a lot like the candidacy of Donald Trump. It seems too clumsy and absurd to be taken seriously. And yet, the media keeps giving the new Red Scare so much uncritical attention that it has become a fixture of our political discourse.

This habit of shrugging off new information by pointing an accusatory finger at the source of the information essentially makes our leaders unassailable. If our government officials do anything reprehensible, then instead of taking them to task for their actions, we're supposed to be in the habit of assuming that their misdeeds were revealed to us as part of a Russian disinformation campaign.

I don't know whether DCLeaks has as strong a connection to the Russian intelligence community as ThreatConnect suggests, but since the Clinton media machine appears to be working overtime to manufacture our consent for the war with Russia that Clinton wants, I couldn't really blame Putin for using leaks to inform American citizens that it's the political leadership class of the U.S.--and not the Russians--who are spoiling for a fight.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

We Won't Get Anywhere Until We Realize How Many Sanders Supporters Are Neoliberals in Populist Clothing

The definition of neoliberalism has changed over time, but for Americans in 2016, it boils down to doing what's profitable in the name of doing what's right--whether it's right or not.

Hillary Clinton will support green energy as soon as the people behind it are willing to give her more money than the fracking industry. Until then, you can expect neoliberals to insist that there's a profound moral difference between Donald Trump's refusal to acknowledge climate change and Clinton's refusal to do anything about it.

Barack Obama will support reforming police departments throughout the country as soon as doing so becomes more profitable than oppressing communities of color on a nationwide scale. Until then, you can expect him and his neoliberal media apologists to pay lip service to the problem by providing highly controlled and emotionally loaded (but politically impotent) coverage of Black Lives Matter and Mothers of the Movement.

Joe Biden and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz will support the war on drugs and the prison-industrial complex until someone pays them more to leave non-violent U.S. citizens alone than they're currently being paid to support locking folks up. Until then, they'll keep telling us that forcing Americans to rot in jail is the only way to protect us from ourselves.

Dianne Feinstein will continue to support spying on citizens until it becomes more profitable for Silicon Valley to protect the privacy of consumers than it is to compromise that privacy. Until then, she'll keep telling us that the slightest possibility of cyber-terrorism justifies the U.S. government's decision to terrorize its own population through constant surveillance.

Andrew Cuomo will continue to support attempts to quash the BDS movement until it becomes more profitable to recognize the humanity of Palestinians than to support their oppression. Until then, he'll keep equating empathy for human beings in Palestine with anti-semitism.

Loretta Lynch will continue to support prosecution of Edward Snowden for the crime of exposing the criminal behavior of our government until it becomes more profitable for her to protect the Fourth Amendment than it currently is for her to subvert it. Until then, expect her to keep insisting that national security considerations require us to treat the exposure of crime as a more grievous offense than the perpetration of it.

None of these arguments stand up to scrutiny, but the neoliberals can make them because the neoliberal media refuses to challenge such nonsense. However, thanks to the Sanders insurgency, more Americans are "woke" in 2016 than I ever thought possible.

More precisely, I believe we were always woke. We just had no idea how many of us there were until Sanders exposed us to each other.

Our problem is that with Sanders out of the race for the presidency, we're not sure what to do with our collective energy. Some of us are supporting Jill Stein and the Green Party. Others are more interested in Brand New Congress. Still others are throwing themselves into local politics. The one thing all of us have in common is a growing awareness that we're not using the current lull in the political cycle as effectively as we should be.

Even if we're aware, as Anoa Changa is in this video, that we have to go through the growing pains associated with figuring out how best to organize ourselves, that doesn't necessarily make us feel less frustrated about the fact that what was once a clear plan ("Let's get Sanders elected!") has become much murkier ("Let's continue the political revolution!").

So I want to call everyone's attention to an insight that Tim Black shared last night in a live broadcast on YouTube:

Tim is absolutely right to observe that if this disappointing time is good for nothing else, it is good for revealing who our true friends and allies are. We're learning that many of the people who seemed to be champions of the Sanders movement (such as Robert Reich, Shaun King, and Jim Hightower) are plainly less committed to the cause than they pretended to be.

Here's the problem with our fair-weather friends: Focusing on the danger that Trump poses to the present is simply a distraction from the danger that Clinton poses to the future. When Reich calls Chris Hedges nonsensical for pointing out the many policy particulars that are identical between Trump and Clinton, he is engaging in the same sort of neoliberal water-carrying as King and Hightower when they choose to become alarmist about connections between Trump and Russia.

Even if we don't all agree on what we should do next, I think most of us do agree about what we have to recognize, which is that neoliberalism is the chief threat to our future and that the people who insist on tilting at neoliberal windmills are not trying to help.

Instead of arguing with them, we need to figure out how to move forward without them.The question isn't whether the neoliberal powers that be are going to install Clinton. They are. The question is: What are we going to do about it? We won't find an answer by lamenting the betrayals of presumed allies; we'll find it by debating amongst ourselves, which is why it's even more important to pay attention to YouTubers such as Black and Changa now than it was before Sanders dropped out.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Alan Grayson: Proof that the Democratic Establishment Takes Your Spine before It Sends You Slithering to the Basement

It was always difficult to find Democratic officials who were willing to champion Bernie Sanders, so numerous Berners gravitated to Alan Grayson in February, when he endorsed Sanders based on a poll conducted among his own supporters (who preferred Sanders to Clinton by a 6-to-1 ratio).

Judged against the backdrop of so many establishment Democrats ignoring the will of their constituents and supporting Clinton, Grayson's endorsement of Sanders seemed bold--perhaps even heroic. Just think about that for a moment. A superdelegate takes a poll among his own supporters to see whether they prefer Clinton or Sanders, and when the results come back overwhelmingly for Sanders, we construe the superdelegate's endorsement of Sanders as bold even though it's a textbook example of political expediency.

Grayson didn't base his decision on Clinton's corruption or Sanders' commitment to social, economic, racial, and environmental justice. He took a poll and got behind the candidate that 84% of his supporters preferred.

So it was no shock to me when he exposed himself as a political opportunist in this cringeworthy interview with Democracy Now! after the Orlando nightclub shooting in June:

Grayson's condescension towards Vince Warren of becomes palpable when Grayson invokes the "real world" as his justification for championing the Democrats' "no-fly-no-buy" initiative over his own vastly superior call for a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.

The problem with Grayson's argument is that in the real world, the no-fly-no-buy legislation sponsored by the Democrats would not have prevented Omar Mateen from acquiring the assault weapons he used in his nightclub assault.

Yes, Mateen had once been investigated in connection with vague connections to Homeland Security concerns, but he wasn't under investigation at the time of the massacre.

The bill that would have prevented Mateen's atrocity is actually the one that Grayson himself wrote, a one-sentence request for a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban that was passed in 1994 and resulted in a 65% reduction in events such as the Orlando shooting before being allowed to expire.

Again, I want to let that sink in: The guy who wrote a bill that would have prevented the Orlando shooting stood in front of a camera and championed a different bill that wouldn't have prevented the Orlando shooting as his response to the Orlando shooting. He even went so far as to scold another adult human being (Warren) for pointing out the absurdity of his position.

This is the problem with Democrats. They don't want to stop mass shootings for the sake of stopping mass shootings. They only want to stop mass shootings if doing so allows them to expand the powers of the surveillance state. And when critics call them out for this hypocrisy, their response is to belittle and bully those of us who live in the real world for being unrealistic.

And what did Grayson get for putting the Democrats' bad bill ahead of his own good bill? Was he rewarded for being a good little soldier in the cause of his party?


He has now been hung out to dry as old charges of domestic violence are coming out to plague his campaign just as he seeks a high-profile debate with Patrick Murphy, an establishment Democrat who, like Grayson, seeks to win Marco Rubio's seat in the senate.

Do I support Murphy? No.

Do I know what to make of the domestic abuse charges against Grayson? No.

Do I suspect that Grayson's ex-wife was pressured into making her charges by operatives of the Democratic Party? It's possible.

But most importantly, do I care that Grayson (who remains a favorite of Sanders supporters) appears likely to lose his party's nomination to Murphy? No.

I don't see any reason to believe that Grayson was ever committed to progressive values. He appears to have been just another politician who was eager to ride in the wake of Bernie's populism. And if you ever have any doubts about that, just watch the way he speaks to Warren. Grayson is simply another entitled politician who wants to appear dedicated to standing up for the little guy (even as he steps on other people who are actually standing up for the little guy).

But the important lesson for progressives to learn from Grayson is that even the Democrats who make despicable compromises with the party will be run over by the party in the end.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Only Escape from the Corporate State Is for Us to Become Our Own Media: Khadi-the-Cord

Corporate media's job is to deceive and distract the population. Whether you're watching a dramatic series, a sporting event, a news program, or an advertisement, corporate television has the hypnotic effect of making you accept whatever is on the screen as a substitute for reality.

We need programming that reflects reality the way it is rather than the way a handful of corporate sponsors want us to see it.

For a model of a practical solution to such a quandary, we should turn to Mohandes K. Gandhi.

Everyone knows that Gandhi helped Indians use non-violence to address the lingering problems of colonialism. Those who have heard Gandhi's speeches or read his quotations know that he was also a gifted rhetorician capable of shining a spotlight on injustice.

But too many people have forgotten the practical component of Gandhi's plan for resisting colonialism: khadi (the reliance on homespun clothing).

It's not enough for us to recognize that neoliberalism is just as repugnant as colonialism.

It's not enough for us to applaud the rhetoric of those who expose the injustice of our political system and the hypocrisy of our political leaders.

We need to do something practical in our daily lives that will make a difference in the way we see and interact with the world. For Gandhi's supporters, the most practical form of resistance was to make their own homespun clothing so as not to support a British textile industry that exploited them both as producers of fabric and as consumers of clothing made from that fabric. For us, the most practical form of resistance should be to make our own media so as not to support the corporate entities that are misinforming us and misdirecting our energies with news coverage that is as vacuous as it is constant.

If you watch corporate media, you will (whether you like it or not) participate in sprawling debates about Barack Obama's legacy. There will be plenty of approaches to take, plenty of points and counterpoints to consider. But the one position you won't be presented with is that the more obvious it becomes that American police officers oppress communities of color, the more urgently our first black president promotes the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Obama the neoliberal isn't concerned about his legacy. He certainly isn't concerned about the people of this country. He's concerned about doing the bidding of his donors as effectively as possible before leaving office. If that means putting in an appearance in Dallas to let the police know that he will do everything possible to protect them from citizens (while doing virtually nothing to reassure citizens that he will protect them from police), then he can and does get away with such nonsense only because the corporate media knows how to frame the coverage he receives.

There are no reasons to think Hillary Clinton the neoliberal will be any better--and abundant reasons to conclude that she will be much worse. But corporate media won't let viewers go anywhere near those reasons. Instead, our neoliberal pundits will focus on Donald Trump's thin skin as a problem that might get the U.S. into unnecessary military conflicts (which it might), but they will never consider the ways in which the DNC's hysterical accusations against Russia are likely to serve as a pretext for open war in Syria and the Ukraine.

The next time corporate media tries to make you feel angry about symbolically charged (but practically meaningless) topics such as Obamas's "legacy" or flag burning or restroom access, please try to remember the second verse of the Talking Heads' "Found a Job":
We've heard this little scene, we've heard it many times.
People fighting over little things and wasting precious time.
They might be better off ... I think ... the way it seems to me.
Making up their own shows, which might be better than TV.
Cutting the cord doesn't just have immediate financial consequences on some our most despicable corporate oppressors (such as Time Warner and Comcast). It also has a liberating effect on people who would otherwise spend their lives inside the echo chambers of Fox News and MSNBC.

The Indians who took Gandhi's advice on khadi didn't just deny revenue to the textile industry that exploited them financially; they also asserted their humanity, their agency, and their collective will. They essentially found a way to unionize against an insidious economic force.

Progressives in America must take a similar approach. We must unionize against the corporate media's insistence on distorting reality in such a way as to make us believe that politics-as-usual is acceptable even though we all know that politics-as-usual is killing us.

Maybe you'll donate the money you save on your cable TV bill to the Green Party or to causes such as Brand New Congress. Maybe you'll donate it to the brave progressives on YouTube that rely on contributions from viewers to create new content. Maybe you'll use it to buy the equipment necessary to make your own scripted dramas (as David Byrne's Judy did when she decided that it was better to spend time in "her bedroom inventing situations" instead of watching the garbage on TV in the living room).

There are lots of practical things that progressives can do with the money they will save by cutting the cord, just as there were lots of practical things Indians could do with the money they saved by making their own clothes.

But the first step is to realize that as long as we continue to allow corporate media to use pretty scenery and good-looking pundits to distract us from the ugly reality we live in (featuring toxic food, endless war, and a planetary meltdown), we will self-destruct before we ever break out of this self-destructive cycle.

So please: khadi-the-cord.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

For Berners, Dr. Jill Stein Inspires More Enthusiam than Confidence

I first /facepalmed myself in response to one of Dr. Jill Stein's media gambits when she tweeted to Samantha Bee:

For crying out loud, Dr. Stein, if you and your advisors can't spot a raging neoliberal when you see one, you're going to squander the golden opportunity being handed to third parties by the toxic Trump-Clinton binary.

Unfunny comedians such as Bee (along with Seth Meyers, Bill Maher, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Sarah Silverman) are all propped up by one thing and one thing only: their willingness to service the corporate agenda of the networks that sponsor their tiresome schtick.

They are professional neoliberal apologists. Their only role in life is to seem compassionate toward and connected to the people who are most beleaguered by the neoliberal agenda while pushing narratives designed to support that agenda. This is something that most American TV watchers grasp instinctively as teenagers, so it doesn't inspire confidence in us to see that such an intuitive life lesson has sailed over the heads of those leading the opposition to the two-party duopoly.

I'm not saying that Stein's inability to spot a neoliberal is a symptom of stupidity; it's probably just a function of the fact that she doesn't spend much time watching TV.

But she needs to be better advised by people who have some understanding of how the corporate media works 24/7 to keep Americans happy with the debt-slavery that our culture has successfully rebranded as freedom.

As the Green Party Convention was getting underway in Houston, supporters were called upon to contribute $27 to a money bomb campaign for the Stein/Baraka ticket.

I happily did so--and then /facepalmed myself again when I learned that the money would go to buy ads on MSNBC.

Are you Greens seriously that clueless?

MSNBC is the network that you can most reasonably expect to sandwich your ads between segments from pretend-journalists who will present Stein's skepticism about pharmaceutical companies controlling the FDA as somehow akin to an anti-vaccination position.

If the Greens imagine that their target audience includes the neoliberal zombies who are still watching Rachel Maddow, then they have absolutely no idea what they're doing--which is especially galling when they're doing it with money donated by those of us who grasp that the most significant problem facing the U.S.A. is neither Trump nor Clinton, but the phenomenon that spawned both candidates: neoliberalism.

Trump is, as Chris Hedges points out, a predictable neofascist response to neoliberalism. And Clinton is simply the cancer of neoliberalism manifesting itself in human form.

So I'm going to beg Dr. Cornel West, who speaks so compellingly about jazz and the blues, to make Stein understand the landscape of the corporate media in 2016.

The GOP and the DNC both have the resources necessary to staff full orchestras with woodwinds, strings, brass, and percussion. The Greens simply don't have that kind of personnel available. They may appeal to the odd Lisa Simpson character who can play a mean saxophone, but they can't afford a dedicated rehearsal space or quality recording equipment, and the music they play on the major networks is going to sound amateurish compared to the offerings of the major parties.

If Stein tries to poach voters from the DNC by advertising on MSNBC, the only winners will be the DNC and MSNBC, who will put the Green Party's money into the pockets of talking heads who will perform siren songs about how those who vote Green will end up crashing the ship of state on the rocks, whereas those who support Clinton will steer clear of Trump-as-Charybdis. (They'll be sure to cut to commercial before mentioning that Clinton is Scylla--but the point is they know she's Scylla --and are delighted by the fact that she feasts on the part of the population that doesn't include them.)

Dr. West, please familiarize yourself with the social media uprising that took off around the Sanders campaign. Don't make the mistake of looking to the major networks for the Green Party's John Coltraine. The corporate media doesn't know how to improvise, but improvisation is happening throughout the Bernie-or-bust movement with the work of people such as Tim Black, Jimmy Dore, Debbie Lusignan, Benjamin Dixon, and Mike Figueredo. A hugely underappreciated part of the appeal of watching someone like Black instead of corporate media is that his show, even if it lacks high production value, happens live.

There isn't enough money in the world for the Green Party to fight neoliberalism via corporate media because the only people still watching corporate media are the ones who are committed to neoliberalism for financial (rather than moral) reasons. Those folks don't want to have their assumptions challenged by a rousing anthem from Stein; they watch TV to be distracted or soothed by syrupy ballads.

So instead of wasting your money on networks whose viewers hold the Greens in contempt, please consider spending that money on campaign infrastructure. Rent offices and vehicles. Set up bases and networks of support for your volunteers--and leave the media blitz to the arenas (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) where the jazz and blues musicians of anti-neoliberalism are already making headway.

This battle is going to have to be won in the real world because the phony world of television already belongs (lock, stock, and barrel) to the neolibs.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Exploring Plans for a Brand New Congress

Brand New Congress (BNC) sounds like a great idea to almost everyone who learns about it. Americans of all political stripes need a way to fight back against the corrupt legislators who have a stranglehold on our laws, so the goal of targeting 2018 as the year when we will replace the professional politicians in Congress with engaged citizens who care about the future of our country is bound to have wide appeal.

Bernie Sanders generated a lot of energy in the U.S. not simply by appealing to progressives, but by waking everyone in the country up to the possibility of meaningful change in the way our government conducts itself.

Americans have wised up to the tricks of our Congresspeople. We know that polarizing debates about everything from flag burning to restroom access are cynically deployed by our politicians to keep us arguing about distractions instead of facing the reality that the U.S. government is working overtime to destroy democracy here and throughout the world so that it can get on with the important business of destroying the world itself.

Nina Turner taught Berners to say, "Enough is enough,"—and we've said it for so many months now that it's impossible for the millions of us who became politically engaged to shrug off the nomination of Hillary Clinton with some halfhearted agreement to "try again in 4 years." That's not an option for us. We have to do something. We have to work towards practical gains because there's too much at stake.

BNC seems practical because it provides us with a realistic opportunity to change the fundamental makeup of Congress. Check out the methodical BNC timeline that details how we ordinary citizens, if we stay organized and committed for two years, can recapture the U.S. Congress from the corporate interests that currently control it.

I very much hope that BNC will achieve its stated objective of building a progressive Congress, but my initial experience with the organization was a painful reminder of how vulnerable progressive causes are to the entrenched neoliberalism of the Democratic Party. The organizers of BNC presumably have their hearts in the right place, but those of us who seek to continue the Sanders revolution have good reason to worry about the ways in which our "friends" in the Democratic Party will try to manipulate BNC into supporting a toxic corporate agenda.

My exploration of BNC earlier this week left me deeply skeptical about the willingness of Democratic operatives to separate the progressive agenda of BNC from the corporate agenda of the DNC. In the remainder of this blog post, I'll chronicle that experience partly as a warning to my fellow progressives and partly as a challenge to BNC to improve their sales technique.

Problem #1: Lack of information

BNC is just getting started, so it's unfair to fault them for having an under-developed website at this point. But my experience in reading their materials, corresponding with the volunteers at their help desk, and participating in a BNC conference call convinced me that their problem goes beyond the limitations of their online presence. They haven't yet figured out how to communicate effectively with the people who would be most inclined to support them.

The fundamental problem with BNC's website is that it fails to answer the question likely to be foremost in the minds of visitors: "How can I get in contact with like-minded people in my area to help support a progressive candidate from my congressional district in 2018?" The website can't answer that very simple question in a lot of places because there aren't enough people involved to make networking with local progressives as easy as it should be, but BNC promotional materials certainly lead curious readers to believe that if they participate in a conference call, they will have a chance to learn how they can support BNC both at the national and the local level.

That's simply not true at this point. Although the leader of my BNC conference call assured me that she would explain how BNC could connect me with other progressives in Austin during the "meat" of her presentation, she never touched on the subject in her 20-minute spiel. 

Problem #2: Structural flaws in the conference call setup 

In the Q&A session at the end of the conference call, another participant repeated my question about how to get in touch with local progressives, and the call leader's answer was that since BNC's website wasn't really set up to give people that information just yet, the working method was to visit BNC on Facebook, sign up within our own states, and see what activities were scheduled in our area. I did so; no BNC activities are currently scheduled in Austin, Texas—one of the most fiercely progressive cities in the country.

That's not BNC's fault. It's to be expected at this point in their development. But the problem is that instead of answering that question in a forthright fashion, BNC wasted three hours of my life (90 minutes of reading and 90 minutes of participation in a conference call) by evading the question so that they could get me to tell them what sort of volunteer work I was best suited to do for them. 

The folks at BNC assume that their bona fides are beyond question by progressives, so when they invite you to participate in a conference call, it's not because they intend to persuade you that they're a good fit for you; it's for them to find out what you can do for them. As an organization that will have to rely on volunteers in much the same way that Sanders did, it's obviously important for BNC to figure out how supporters can contribute to the progressive cause ASAP, but they skip the critical first step of convincing potential volunteers that supporting BNC is the best possible use of their time and energy.

Problem #3: Apart from repeated assurances of non-partisanship, nothing about the process of registering for BNC or participating in the conference call felt remotely non-partisan

Even though BNC is an avowedly "non-partisan" organization, my limited involvement made me feel like I was simply discovering a new way to hitch my wagon to the fading star of the Democratic Party. BNC has perfectly good reasons to use the Act Blue fundraising website, but their claims of non-partisanship were undermined when a browser issue (presumably a cookie created during my previous donations) caused me to finish my interaction with Act Blue on a Texas Democrats page. 

That may not be BNC's fault, but such problems will undermine confidence in their commitment to non-partisan progress. They need a clear cyber-signpost at the end of the registration process to assure people that their interaction with BNC has been concluded.

The single most disappointing thing about my conference call leader was her habit of using the word "we" to blur the lines between BNC and the Democratic Party. When she said that "we" only needed to elect a handful of senators for "us" to have a simple majority in the senate, she was plainly assuming that Democratic senators somehow automatically qualify as progressive. That's a huge part of the problem that independents such as myself have with the Democratic Party. We're sick of being told to accept warmongering corporatist advocates of the surveillance state as "progressive" simply because they are pro-choice. 

The call leader's response to my explanation of what made me interested in BNC was also disappointing. I explained that the main lesson I learned while protesting the DNC in Philadelphia is that voting for Jill Stein in 2016 isn't enough. I need to help progressives work for lower-profile, higher-impact goals.

She responded by saying that it was okay for me to vote for Stein.

What kind of person would be most likely to construe my comment as a request for permission not to vote for Hillary Clinton? A corporate Dem (or perhaps someone who spends a lot of time in the company of corporate Dems).

My skin began to crawl when she later explained that the non-partisan approach of BNC on issues like climate change would be to persuade Republicans that even if they don't accept climate change as part of reality, they can still get behind measures that will help us reduce our reliance on foreign oil. That doesn't sound like support for green energy to me; it sounds exactly like Hillary Clinton clearing her throat to explain why fracked natural gas will be a clean energy bridge to a green energy future.

Hey BNC, people like me are not going to help you raise money and win hearts and minds for the privilege of destroying the atmosphere with American natural gas instead of Saudi oil. If you're as green as your promotional materials say you are, we need you to come through on that message loud and clear.

Problem #4: I'm less confident about BNC's commitment to progressive policies after participating in the conference call than I was before

A few hours after the conference call, I received a survey from BNC with this question:

I would have checked the third option ("More skeptical") if the prompt had ended there. But I'm not more skeptical because of any doubt concerning the viability of the plan. I think it's a brilliant plan, and I absolutely think it can work. The problem is that I'm not sure it won't be co-opted by traditional Dems who will be happy to save their corporate sponsors a little money by promising not to rely on super-pac dollars. Just because candidates insist on taking small dollar donations from ordinary citizens, that doesn't mean they are committed to single-payer healthcare or ending perpetual warfare or recognizing the humanity of Palestinians or stopping the racist war on drugs or curtailing the powers of the surveillance state.

Sure, they can sign a pledge affirming that they have adopted progressive positions on all those issues, but I don't see reliable mechanisms built into BNC to ensure that the candidates BNC elects will really champion the progressive agenda once they're in office.

With all that said, I can end on at least one positive note. After I raised these concerns to BNC's help desk in a long email that I expected to go unread, a volunteer replied with a thorough and thoughtful response. 

She knew she couldn't allay all my concerns because BNC is still in embryonic form, but she did make an honest effort to engage those concerns with the information available to her at the time of the response.

For now, however, I remain unconvinced that BNC is where my civic energies can best be put to use.