In a state known for its pandering to the middle, Virginia’s Democrats are leaning further to the left than usual. Both Democratic Gubernatorial candidates appear to be staking out territory decidedly to the left of the Trump administration which– in the context of the rest of the world– makes them normal.
The actual policy differences between Tom Perriello and Ralph Northam are slight. They both support a $15 minimum wage and some form of tuition-free community college, and they oppose offshore drilling. They are both relatively sane in terms of women’s issues, and both, significantly, have stumbled on the road to political purity.
Early in his career, Perriello voted for the so-called Stupak amendment to the Affordable Care Act, which would have prohibited the use of federal funds “to pay for any abortion” and was actively pushed by anti-choice Democrats. He later called it the worst vote of his career. Northam has been a consistent defender of women’s rights, but he also voted for George W. Bush—twice– for president. In 2009, Northam toyed with changing parties, though friends say it was just a ploy.
There are a few other places where you can find daylight between the candidates, though and these differences accentuate the ‘type’ of candidacy they are trying to represent. In recent debates, Perriello has made clear his opposition to two planned natural-gas pipelines, Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline while Northam has repeatedly said that the projects should meet environmental requirements but that the decisions to approve these projects are up to federal regulators at FERC.
Additionally, Perriello has called for a tax increase on the wealthy to fund social programs, while Northam has urged caution against big spending. Perriello broke with prior Democratic governors to call for a repeal of the state’s “right to work” law that bars union membership as a condition of employment, which Northam described as a fight Democrats cannot win.
It’s a good indicator of what separates the two candidates—a willingness on the part of Perriello to mix it up, even if there’s only a slim chance. Northam, conversely is more of a diplomat, cautious and unwilling to engage in fights that from their outset appear unwinnable.
Indeed, Perriello’s initial candidacy might have been described as unwinnable, and, until Trump took the Presidency, unthinkable. Perriello said he would have not entertained running, but Trump’s unlikely victory galvanized him into action.
Nationally, Perriello has received endorsements from the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both of whom appeal to the Democrats’ activist base; unlike the party establishment which, by all accounts, were hoping to install Northam into the governor’s chair without much of a general election, much less a primary. But as Perriello and his supporters have often said, “call off the coronation.”
Virginia’s Democratic Party power players, including both senators and the governor, are all squarely behind Northam. The establishment is “furious with Perriello,” Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics said. Northam, who thought he had the primary locked up, is now spending campaign cash in a fight against another Democrat. Sabato contends that Perriello “isn’t well-known either, because he only represented the 5th for two years, but the activists who tend to vote in primaries tend to be more liberal, and they are charged up and they are everywhere,” Sabato said.
Northam leads Perriello in name recognition with Democrats overall, 50 percent to 45 percent. But more new voters — those who didn’t vote in the 2009 or 2013 gubernatorial elections, who are likely to be younger and more liberal — know who Perriello is (31 percent) than know who Northam is (28 percent). Those voters, young, energized and some already activists in their own rights are being fought over by both campaigns. And, as so often happens, that fight, itself, has caused stumbles.
In a recent push poll by the Northam campaign, much was made of his fight against the infamous mandatory transvaginal ultrasound bill from 2012 in the Virginia General Assembly. The problem? Some activists from that fight are contending that Northam is over selling his work. “He didn’t lead the fight. We led the fight. We made the phone calls, we organized the marches, we showed up at the General Assembly building and the Board of Health meetings—and protested long and loud enough that our representatives finally began to listen.” Northam probably meant he debated on the right side of the bill in the General Assembly, but it’s hardly the type of leadership the activists I talked with are asking for. They are also less than enchanted with Northam’s position on the pipelines which they describe as a “sell out.” It doesn’t help that Northam still receives generous cash contributions to his campaign from Dominion Power—the huge utility company
behind the ACP– while Perriello, along with 50 other Virginia House Delegates have refused funding from the power company.
In their view, and the view of many Virginia voters, the primary taking place this coming Tuesday is a referendum on the failed strategies of the national Democratic party. Both nationally and locally, they argue, there seems to be a fixation on identity politics and neoliberal policies and a singular lack of urgency regarding the environmental crisis and economic issues confronting the younger generation. Both of these later issues Perriello champions loudly, while Northam prefers a more conciliating manner. The national political establishment will be watching this coming Tuesday to see which approach gets the best traction.
Remember to vote!
Over the last two weeks, the changes coming out of the Executive Branch have been fast and furious. In keeping with the pace, APV member Kathy Walker wrote a set of rapid responses on social media which we have collected below. Please feel free to engage with your own observations in the comments area below.
- One good thing comes out of the Devos confirmation: knowledge that we are on our own. If the Republicans won’t stand up to block the nomination of someone so flagrantly unqualified, they damn well aren’t going to impeach Trump. It is going to be a long two years until we can vote one of these bastards out.
- I realize that there are all sorts of charlatans around today who spend a lot of time and energy trying to prove that when Jesus said all those things about helping the least of these, he didn’t really mean disadvantaged people, and when he said the thing about the rich having a hard time getting into the kingdom of heaven, what he really meant was you should hoard money like a tick hoards blood.Believe in Jesus if you want, don’t believe if you don’t want to, I don’t really care, but if you’re going to say you believe, don’t twist every last thing your prophet said into the opposite of what it means….
- We are about 35 years behind in this fight. It was about that long ago that the religious right started showing up at local and state republican conventions (In VA) and shutting out the more moderate folks who had been doing the work, and pushing the party far to the right. So yeah. Anyone wanting change should start showing up at the local level, and taking over, and pushing things back to the left. The good news is so few people show up that taking over should be feasible, now that everyone has noticed that we are three inches from fascism. The bad news is that local political meetings are deadly dull, not nearly as fun and empowering as all these protests, and they are so annoying, but despite their lack of sex appeal, that’s where the work gets done.
- I really wish a million people had shown up when Bush lost the popular vote, and might have lost the Electoral vote too, if the count hadn’t been stopped by the Supreme Court. Where was everybody then? Oh well. Water over the dam.
- So, trump rushed into his first military foray, and at least some of it went badly, and we lost an American soldier, and then Trump went to meet the family of the dead Navy seal and milked that for all it was worth. And then online I see a trump supporter actually make the argument that it is really great to have a president who will go to the funeral of a dead soldier, because Obama never, ever, did anything as patriotic as go to the funeral of a dead soldier, so it is a shame the mainstream media wasn’t going to cover Trump’s great patriotism, because the MSM was so biased [note: this while the story was being played on ALL the networks], which is why it was so unfair that when Obama went to those funerals he always got media coverage, and that’s why he was always going to so many funerals of dead soldiers, for the publicity.
It’s almost quantum, the way so many contradictory pasts can exist at once, jumbled up in one mangled argument. Or it could just be contrariness.
- I have heard people say they can’t believe someone would give up on friends because of politics. “just politics.”
There is no such thing as “just politics.” There is whether or not Gen X is going to at some point this year again lose most of its home equity and watch its retirement accounts evaporate for the third or fourth time since we started earning money. There is whether or not my international students can visit their grandparents in another country without being detailed or handcuffed when they return. There is whether or not my friends who are LBGT have to worry about their safety and their civil rights. There is the fear of my friends who are raising children who are nt lily white, not heterosexual, not whatever is defined as “mainstream,” that their children will become victims of police brutality or hate crimes or vigilantism. There is the erosion of financial stability from the middle class, which started in the 970’s and the desperation at the bottom, which is always with us. But there is no such thing as Just Politics and yes, I will give up on you if you don’t join us over here on the right side of history pretty darn fast.
- PBS American Experience is on right now, about Oklahoma City–Waco–Ruby Ridge. Just what I need to sleep well.
- Average working class salaries started to drop in the late 70’s. The upper 20% have been taking home an increasingly larger share of income since then. Most families didn’t catch on because that’s also when so many families went from having one working adult to two working adults. We have lost ground for decades, all of us, and as someone who works pretty hard, I am somewhat pissed off about that. We are all in the same boat. It’s not an excuse for the Right’s racism and sexism and authoritarian tendencies.
- Lately I have been thinking about the wisdom of pig farmers.
Don’t put lipstick on a pig.
Don’t teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.
Don’t wrassle with a pig. You’ll both get filthy, but the pig will enjoy it.
- The banality of evil. After WWII, so much effort went into understanding how ordinary people could have followed the Nazi’s orders so easily. We are seeing echoes of the great experiments again. As in the Asch study, we have Trump voters looking at pictures of the crowd at the inauguration and agreeing it was the biggest crowd ever. As in the [Stanley ]Milgram experiment, we see people blindly obeying authority. Homeland Security agents handcuffing a five year old who is here legally.
- It is freaking me out a bit how everything the right accused the left of doing is actually something that the right is doing. Orlando is a false flag, but Bowling Green Massacre really exists. Private email servers. Goldman Sachs. Hillary sneaking around murdering people vs Putin having people murdered .I am just waiting to see the reveal on whatever inspired the child porn/pizza parlor story.
- When people start talking about abortion these days, I want to start talking about my uterus. “So,” I want to say, “let’s chat about my uterus.” or “what do you know about my uterus?” And my guess is, if I ask this to these random people, they will not have much to say, which is funny when you think about it, because when they talk about regulating abortion, they are talking about MY UTERUS.
- Marching is great and all but we need to remember a few things about it. It won a few specific battles during the Civil Rights Movement, but …. marches and protests are symbols. You can use symbols to defeat symbols. Making people sit in the back of the bus is symbolic; it is a performance about power. It can be defeated by a protest, which is a performance showing displeasure with the current power structure.
- Many of the great battles of the Civil Rights movement were won in the courtroom. We remember the marches, but the strategy focused heavily on strategic lawsuits. Brown v Board of Ed. Loving v Va. Plus the countless suits that struck at segregated streets, housing covenants, job discrimination, etc. In many ways, the judicial system is much more conservative now than it was back then. Not sure the strategy will work this time.
- I’m wondering if Dan Clawson http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-465-02680-7 has recent numbers on how much $ a Senate candidate has to raise every week to wage a successful campaign. I seem to recall it was $10,000 a Week? or more? Anyone seen recent numbers?
- For you, Lynnie. I remember maybe 10-15 years ago now watching the Olympics, and there was a particularly annoying human interest story on between events about the sacrifices one of the athletes had made for her sick child, blah blah motherhood blah blah — motherhood being great and all that but the tendency here to fetishize it instead of subsidizing it like the other post-industrial nations do pisses me off. I digress. So, there’s this long story about this woman and the arduous struggle she went through to get medical help for her child– she was from a nation with a much less developed health care system –and finally she manages to get her child to Germany for life-saving surgery. And I was floored. Because any story on the air on a network during the Olympics is going to be closely following the accepted patriotic script… And I thought, When did our script change? When we were kids, the script would have been that she came to the US to get medical treatment for her child because we have the most rocking science. But instead, it switched to some regressive gender role crap. It really struck me at the time.
- Don’t even get me started about how we were supposed to have a super-collider (https://www.scientificamerican.com/…/the-supercollider-tha…/)
- The crowd that loves to chant USA, USA somehow has missed the fact that what made us great was two things: we had what Fitzgerald called “a willingness of the heart,” and we had an amazing dedication to science. We made it to the moon!!! And not too much time elapsed between the first flight and making it to the moon.
When a nation dreams of science, it can be a beautiful dream. Science is about hope and exploration and possibility. And now we are falling behind, and for the same few stupid reasons. Lack of funding, really short-sighted. Religious weirdness, corporate strangleholds (internet, energy)
- I have been worked up for a long time about how Republicans are so anti science, but now they have leapfrogged past me and started disregarding reality itself. The bar can always sink lower.
Some fan of the Orange one is on Charlie Rose right, talking about how great this is going to be, now that Orange One/Congress are repealing the limited safeguards put in after the last economic crash. And I saw a Republican Congressperson claim they were repealing regulations that had been a “boot on the throat of the common man.” We have a president who has no concept of what the job is supposed to entail, and half the American public is too benighted to be terrified.
- For a measure of how far we have fallen from grace, politically, scientifically, think about how Jonas Salk didn’t patent the polio vaccine. Think about how the government used to put its resources into backing research for public health problems. We saw Lady from Shanghai at the Byrd last week. I was talking with Vance afterwards about the character of Bannister, lurching around on his canes, and how when the movie opened it would have been so taken for granted that he was paralyzed by polio that it is never addressed in the script. I don’t think that younger generations have an understanding of the implications of that, and that means they also aren’t going to see the dangers of having an anti-vaccine Cabinet.
- Interesting discussion last night on point 2. India suggests keeping lines of communication open. I could see some wiggle room with people who really just voted for the Thing because they always vote R. That was apparently the best predictor of who was going to vote for him all along. But people really should not be able to plead “didn’t feel like thinking this decade” as an excuse. The evidence has been there all along about who he is.
Now, the avid supporters, the one who are actively pushing his propaganda in my feed. They are gone. Fuck that. No more Photoshopped pics of Obama as a terrorist, no more Photoshopped pics of the Thing with Santa and Jesus. Because keeping these people as friends and leaving these offensive posts in my feed is a step towards normalizing what is going on, and I will not do that.
Where is the line, ultimately? What line does he have to cross before you can no longer maintain a relationship with people who support him? You don’t have to draw your line where I am drawing mine, but my advice is to decide right now where that line is, because he is going to cross it, sooner or later.
~By Kathy Walker
On January 20, 2017 America inaugurated its 45 president, a man so manifestly unqualified, so repugnantly vulgar and so clearly dangerous that on January 21, 2017 millions of Americans including half a million men, women and children in the same capitol that had hosted the inauguration the day before, went into the streets to show their resistance to bigotry, racism, xenophobia and a new, and uniquely squalid form of governance.
We asked our many members and friends who attended the Women’s Marchs to send us their photos and Stories. We’re pleased to share some of them with you today. It seems like we are under constant attack these days. Our country, our values and our very history are being chipped away at by a small, active minority backed by massive amounts of money and propelled by a concerted and coordinated propaganda campaign. Against that, one march might not seem that important, but on that day, we owned the streets and the world heard what we had to say. It was not an end, it was a beginning. We got some great responses, here’s a sample. Thank You All!
“It wasn’t a March, we never really moved, there were so many of us that we spilled out everywhere”
Nancy, Washington D.C.
“My Boyfriend got me up on his shoulders cause I’m short… so many people!”
Kelly, New York
“For the first time in a year, I felt hopeful”
Linda, Washington D.C.
“The election wrecked me, this reminded me how many good people there still are”
Denise, Los Angeles
“I was amazed at how patient everyone was”
Lora, Washington D.C.
“Right at the end of the rally a large, spontaneous parade of 20-somethings wound its way through the crowd shouting the slogans on their hand-painted signs, and their energy and passion gave me so much hope. Later, when I saw the amazing pictures from all the other marches around the world, I realized what was most important for me about the day: none of us were marching in support of a candidate or leader, instead we were there in support of the rights and values we all believe in”
Beth, Parkland Fl.
APV Member Kortenay Gardiner in DC Jan. 21, 2017
“I walked with my mom and my daughter, I was so proud to be there”
Don’t despair, we are gonna keep at this and we are gonna come out on the other side.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the mercurial speed with which Donald Trump is dispatching the Republic, you’re not alone.
And neither is he. It’s like a sign I read at the recent Woman’s March, “Don’t blame Trump, he did everything he could to prove he was unfit to be President.”
Indeed, even before his inauguration, his enablers–the Republican Party of America– had a Vote O’ Rama preparing the way to eliminate Obamacare once and for all. Well past midnight in the wee hours of January 12th, the GOP controlled Senate voted down amendment after amendment offered by Democrats trying to safeguard things like providing care for pre-existing conditions, allowing children to remain on their parent’s insurance till the age of 26, funding for the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), etc. In the deluge of news following his first week in office, that deeply disgraceful episode was lost in a whirl wind of announcements and orders—muzzling Executive Branch agencies, freezing all Federal hires, the resignations of the entire senior level staff at the State Department, moves to build a wall against Mexico, to build barriers against the Muslims, to end a trade deal with Asia, to allow black site torture chambers …once again. Oh, the lies, the pure quantity and velocity of his lies spewed out with the rapidity of an AK-47. Breathtaking stuff, really. HUGE.
On my Facebook wall, at last count, there were well over fifty separate calls to action. If I heeded each one, it would be a full time job. But of course, none of us are getting paid for this, at least I’m not, and most of my friends aren’t, which brings up another lie. When I told my father I was attending the Woman’s March, he said he heard that the attendees were all being paid. Well paid.
“Where’d you hear that?”
“A news source.”
“Which news source?”
“I don’t know, one of them, a good one.”
“Well, I’m happy to hear that. How much am I getting paid?”
“One thousand, five hundred dollars?” I repeated the longer format just to make sure I’d heard him right.
“Yes, the money is coming from Clinton. Her campaign’s war chest I suppose. What’s left of it.”
“Hillary Clinton, who didn’t even attend the march, really? She’s giving every marcher $1,500?”
“That’s what the news said.”
“Wow, so how do I collect this money?”
“That’s up to you, buddy boy. You’re the one with all the hotshot connections.”
Now, sad to say, my dad voted for Trump. Not so much a vote for Trump as a vote against Hillary Clinton and the so called liberal elite. He got on this band wagon way back in the Reagan era when the term limousine liberal was popularized and all those Republican heads exploded with thoughts of poor black women eating bon bons on the Government dole. Yet another lie that brings up a larger truth. This kind of nonsense has been around since the founding of the Republic (Here’s a quickie for you doubters out there. Most people mark Yorktown as the end of our own Revolutionary war. Yet 365 people were killed after that battle, more than at Bunker Hill, Lexington, Concord, and Quebec combined. But extending the end date would require explaining the Western battles against Native Americans, and young America’s awkward role as a proxy between Europe’s two great powers, England and France—not a great spin if you’re talking point is how the U.S. was a young, independent country. So we 86’d it. Just decided not to talk about that part of our history for the last 235 years or so. Never mind.).
Anyhow, it’s not the fact that some news is fabricated, or that nearly every interested party spins to a degree, it’s the velocity of the lies that are killing us today, and their quantity.
How did this happen? I don’t know but some people have theories. Back in the golden days of truthiness, circa 1984, there was a fellow named Duane Gish. He was a creationist, well versed in the art of obfuscation. His technique was simple. In the words of Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education– who had the misfortune of debating him at length– he spewed “forth torrents of error that the evolutionist hasn’t a prayer of refuting in the format of a debate.” She dubbed this approach “the Gish Gallop”
The Urban dictionary has an even more colorful definition for this technique:
“A Gish Gallop involves spewing so much bullshit in such a short span that your opponent can’t address let alone counter all of it. To make matters worse a Gish Gallop will often have one or more ‘talking points’ that has a tiny core of truth to it, making the person rebutting it spend even more time debunking it in order to explain that, yes, it’s not totally false but the Galloper is distorting/misusing/misstating the actual situation.”
So here’s the theory. President Trump’s tenure amounts to one enormous Gish Gallop. As all things Trump, it will be the biggest, the grandest sack of bullshit ever assembled in one Presidential term. Lies, distortions, obfuscations, scatterbrained ideas, wholly unworkable schemes, blue print cons and conspiracies, the whole works, presented under the imprimatur of the President of the United States.
I’m not sure how to feel about this, but it does have the ring of truth, don’t you think?
The recurring theme of a “War on Christmas” is now a tradition. Annually, stalwart intellectuals like Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, Michelle Bachman et. al. will take to the air waves and will announce that our Christmas spirit is somehow less than Christian because we say ‘Holiday’ rather than ‘Christmas.’ The only thing more vitiated of actual intellectual content is the peals of outrage over Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson’s suspension because he managed, in a single interview, to shred whatever veil of civility his on air persona once presented. There are millions of writers, thinkers, speakers of all political and cultural persuasions who will never garner the kind of audience Phil has, precisely because speech, of the variety that Phil has the privilege to practice, is NOT free. It is very expensive. Considering the banality of Phil’s assertions, it should cost him more than his pathetic job is worth.
But the ‘War on Christmas’…
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Hunter S. Thompson, whose visceral insight would be much appreciated today, said of Nixon’s election in ’72, “Everyone stopped doing psychedelics and speed, and started doing downers.” The natural impulse is to hide, clap hands over eyes or ears and pretend this isn’t the national nightmare it is.
Mr. Trump has triumphed, and whatever delight his supporters might take will be short-lived. The hangover will be in the way of buyer’s regret not unlike the British whose Brexit vote left everyone baffled. Why would they do that to themselves?
Indeed. But the answers come in truck loads: angry voters tired of political cant cast their anti-establishment vote. You could say they were sexist and racist and that’s probably true on the margins, but I suspect a little under 50% of the electorate is not racist or sexist. Many of them are simply fed up with the existing order of things. Healthcare cost traveling steadily upwards, retirement accounts vanished, college education– a second and third mortgage, tertiary jobs that still don’t pay the bills; while millionaire news anchors feed them a stream of nonsense. What this election should make liberal Democrats rethink is that extraordinarily near-sighted strategy of relying so heavily on identity politics to win national elections—and their concomitant decision to jettison blue-collar workers across the land. You can’t be both Wall Street and Main Street. Obama and the Clintons and the Democratic Party, in general, have aligned themselves with Wall Street throughout the last three decades. Their center right neoliberal policies have made a hash of the middle class, and eviscerated the poor. This started with Bill Clinton’s famous triangulation and has led us straight to here.
If you scan the electoral map, you’ll see the broad outline of Trump’s victory in the industrially devastated Mid-West and Appalachian regions of our country. Poor, white, less educated, left behind by a gutted manufacturing base, and sneered at by millionaire anchors hardly more literate than themselves, by commentarial dunces.
What’s happened is not hard to discern. Trump brandished a big loud ‘fuck you’ to the smug elites. He achieved what many a politician probably envy, traction with the common man by reacting authentically to being likewise snubbed by those same elites—his famously thin skin is a political asset for the voters who feel snubbed in the same way. Making ‘fun’ of Trump will do Democrats no good. Focusing on his abundant personality faults is a losing battle, because the people who voted for him voted precisely for those faults.
True, his cabinet picks are wildly disturbing. Pruitt, if confirmed, is a climate change denier who will be appointed head of the EPA. Ben Carson who favors dismantling much of HUD will be in charge of that agency. Pudzer, his Labor Secretary pick, is a fast food magnate who applauds the rise of robots as replacement labor and opposes raising the minimum wage. General “Mad Dog” Mattis has been anointed Secretary of Defense. He likes to talk about his enjoyment in killing people, or the necessity of it. “It’s fun to shoot some people…Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” But he does have sage advice for waging war, advice progressives should take to heart:
“The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”
Most of my friends have had a visceral response to Trump’s ascension. After the election night, a few simply refused to get dressed the next day. A pervasive sense of doom has descended upon the ranks of America’s most hopeful demographic. For what are progressives if not hopeful? The scope of the disaster seems unprecedented. And the fall– from sanguine plans of mediating a Clinton victory to quasi-fascist takeover– is breathtaking. But regardless of our feckless media, we still have serious issues to handle. Trump probably isn’t going to help, but we shouldn’t let him hinder us, either.
How does that work? Make a list of concrete things we need to accomplish in the next four years. Not just rear guard defensive actions, but items that we would have pushed for under any administration. My list consists of switching our energy grid from carbon emitters like petroleum and coal to renewable energy sources, solar and wind. Reform our local, state and national election systems by eliminating gerrymandering, reforming the electoral college, instituting IVR (instant voter runoff), and re-instituting the Fairness Doctrine. Decrease income inequality by passing the ERA. Use things like a financial transaction tax to debit each trade on Wall Street by a small percentage and apply those funds to college tuition grants, healthcare subsidies, etc. With regard to our retirement system, we could shore up any problems with Social Security by raising the base wage Social Security tax to include those making over $118,500. Currently, those who make in excess of that annual salary pay no Social Security tax at all. Ideally, Obamacare should be overhauled and a single payer system should be rolled out. This is by far the most efficient system on Earth and has a successful track record in almost every other Western Industrialized society except the United States which refuses because of the scary word ‘socialism.’ Increase job opportunities by funding much-needed infrastructure projects-including making our economy green. Eliminate the poverty to prison pipeline by repealing ridiculously harsh drug laws that disproportionately affect minority and lower class communities and stop using for profit prisons.
This list is not comprehensive by any stretch but the ideas are all based on concrete goals that are actually broadly shared by wide swaths of the electorate. Everyone wants a clean environment. Everyone wants decent affordable healthcare and education. Everyone wants a living wage. Even Trump supporters. In fact, especially them. Yet, not one of these goals has the word ‘Trump’ in it, nor should it. Neither do they have the word ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’. They are prioritized based on necessity, starting with the survival of the species (moving off carbon based energy sources), then political reforms that can lead to ameliorating the harsh binary world of income inequality that leads to elections results that we’ve just seen.
So don’t talk about what Trump will or will not do. He thrives off the attention. Rather, discuss what we need to do, regardless of Trump. He’s a troll who has managed to con a portion of the nation that desperately wanted to be conned. Focus on the concrete. Trump is a symptom of a deeper malaise, and the solution is not only to defeat Republicans like Trump, but neoliberals of either party. One way of doing this is to run insurgent left primary candidates (including avowed democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders) against mainstream Democrats as well as Republicans. They may not win, but it forces the Overton window to the left and makes discussion of income inequality, fair trade rather than free trade, the centerpiece of an election rather than an edge issue. Make your own list today and work on it. Run for office, locally, or nationally. And, for God sakes, whatever you do, don’t feed the trolls.
~by Jack Johnson
French philosopher, Michel Foucault once famously argued that society operates as a vast prison. While Foucault’s concerns were with an individual’s freedom constrained in such a system, maybe a more direct analogy to our current situation is how our judiciary and police force is used to control and literally imprison a vast swath of our lower classes.
It is no secret that in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson, much of the city’s income was derived from fines and court fees for minor traffic violations, essentially converting area police work from “public safety” officers to revenue collectors. These violations disproportionately fell on poorer individuals and minorities who may not have had the money to keep their hedges trimmed and their vehicles perfectly equipped. In effect, the tickets and citations amount to a regressive tax on members of our society least able to afford it.
In the wake of the Brown killing, Governor Jay Nixon signed a broad municipal court reform bill that capped court revenue and imposed new requirements in an attempt to end what the bill’s sponsor called predatory practices aimed at the poor. Good. The bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Eric Schmitt, said people have the right “not to be thrown in jail because you’re a couple of weeks … late on a fine for having a taillight out.” He called the current system in place in Ferguson, “taxation by citation.”
“Under this bill, cops will stop being revenue agents and go back to being cops,” Nixon said.
This is all good, too, and certainly the caps on revenue collection by police is a step in the right direction, but in the larger scheme of things, I’m not nearly as sanguine as Governor Nixon is about “cops going back to being ‘cops.’”
…in Southern states groups of designated white men would set out on patrols to round up runaway slaves during the antebellum period. The phrase for these men—paddy rollers, or patrollers — has come down to us as patrolmen or patrol officers and it’s not too much a stretch to suggest that in areas of the deep American South their function is much the same.
For one thing, the historical precedent that they might ‘go back’ toward isn’t exactly edifying, especially in Southern states where groups of designated white men would set out on patrols to round up runaway slaves during the antebellum period. The phrase for these men—paddy rollers, or patrollers — has come down to us as patrolmen or patrol officers and it’s not too much a stretch to suggest that in areas of the deep American South their function is much the same; that is, ensuring the safe keeping of property for the wealthy. In the North, police officers often functioned as barriers between the wealthy elites and the immigrant “hordes.” The history of industrialization and unionization in this country is rife with struggles between union supporters and police officers or private firm surrogates operating in their wake (such as the Pinkerton Detective Agency –fun fact, at the height of its existence, the Pinkertons had more agents than the standing army of the United States of America).
We like to think of police officers as neutral arbiters of the law, itself a neutral amalgam of well thought out rules for living, but whether rounding up runaway slaves or busting union organizers, the police have historically found themselves on the side of property owners. What this means in contemporary America is a focus on things like illegal drug use and sale, vehicle violations, public disturbance rules, and zoning laws that disproportionately hit the poorest members of our society first and hardest. If we run back through just the most noteworthy police shootings in the last year (topping 1,000 according to an unofficial list compiled by the New York Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/08/us/fatal-police-shooting-accounts.html?_r=0), most of the precipitating causes involved minor infractions, expired inspection stickers, broken signal lights, or tail lights, unpaid fines or alimony. Public service, protecting humans from harm to themselves or to others might be a nice ancillary outcome of a police officer doing his job, but it’s not the main event.
In fact, the idea that police are here to protect us is not much more than a happy slogan. In its landmark decision DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services,the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “the Constitution does not impose a duty on the state and local governments to protect the citizens from criminal harm.” The United States Supreme Court, in the 2005 case, Castle Rock v. Gonzales upheld that decision and extended it to include a state or municipality’s police force– codifying what many folks in poorer neighborhoods had long since suspected: neither the state nor the police have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm.
Strictly speaking, the police are law enforcement officers, they are present to make sure the laws as passed by city, county, and state legislators are followed. Towards that end they write tickets, and citations for breaking the law, make arrest and testify in court about their actions. This narrow interpretation of their duties is often clarified in training on the so called ‘public duty’ doctrine that provides that a “governmental entity owes a duty to the public in general, not to any one individual.”
Police are also warned—constantly—to look out for themselves. According to ex-Officer, Seth Stanton, writing in the Atlantic Magazine, “police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on almost religious significance.” Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the “first rule of law enforcement”: An officer’s overriding goal every day is to go home at the end of their shift. One slogan that is bandied about squad rooms sums up the mind set: “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”
Police are trained to fear the public they are nominally intended to serve. During their training “they are shown painfully vivid, heart-wrenching dash-cam footage of officers being beaten, disarmed, or gunned down after a moment of inattention or hesitation. They are told that the primary culprit isn’t the felon on the video, it is the officer’s lack of vigilance.” Writes Stanton, “in most police shootings, officers don’t shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred. They shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.”
“In most police shootings, officers don’t shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred. They shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.”
If you happen to peruse Police Magazine, you’ll find that the majority of the stories are about violence against police—and the weapons or tactics they can use to keep themselves safe. This month’s issue features a large photo of an Armalite AR-10 20-Inch Tactical Rifle that was initially designed for the US military. To drive home the point, Police magazine’s logo shows the O in policeman segregated by cross hairs, like a target.
Of course, in addition to the protect-thyself-first attitude, there’s also an underlying racial bias; probably because police officers fear blacks more than whites. In 2015, The Washington Post documented 990 fatal shootings by police, 93 of which involved people who were unarmed. “Black men accounted for about 40 percent of the unarmed people fatally shot by police and, when adjusted by population, were seven times as likely as unarmed white men to die from police gunfire.”
“The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black,” said Justin Nix, a criminal justice researcher at the University of Louisville and one of the report’s authors. “This just bolsters our confidence that there is some sort of implicit bias going on,” Nix said. “Officers are perceiving a greater threat when encountered by unarmed black citizens.”
The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black…
The report noted that officers may unconsciously develop biases over time. “In other words, the police — who are trained in the first place to be suspicious — become conditioned to view minorities with added suspicion,” according to the report.
So we have a fearful police force, over trained for self-protection with an underlying bias against minorities whose main job is not to protect citizens but to enforce legal codes that order society for the benefit of property owners (that will likely make a poor person’s life more difficult). Add to the brew, the over militarization of our police force (do we really need armored tanks on civilian streets?) and the fact that most police officer shootings are investigated by the police departments themselves and it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand how deeply dysfunctional the whole shebang is. I had one friend suggest that, given the stress our minority communities are under, it was surprising incidents like Dallas hadn’t happened more frequently.
But they haven’t– and perhaps that’s a testimony to what many police departments are coming to recognize—the necessity for retraining and community engagement. In fact, it’s a sad irony that the Dallas Police department has done an exceptional job in just this area. It’s obvious that Police Chief David Brown –whose own life is rife with personal tragedy—is dedicated to a community outreach program. Just hours before the killings began last Thursday night in Dallas, his officers took time to chat with protesters, even taking selfies with them.
“We saw police officers shaking hands and giving high fives and hugging people and being really in the moment with us,” demonstrator Sharay Santora said.
But then the shooting began, and, as if granted permission, police departments like those in Baton Rouge quickly reverted to form and began arresting activists on private property without cause or due process, much less warrants. In fact, they arrested the individual who provided video evidence of the Alton Sterling shooting. All of this should tell us that police forces in this country are as diverse as their leaders and the communities that they serve. Our own city, Richmond, Virginia, much like Dallas, has done excellent work in reaching out to the various communities here—including, surprisingly, the LGBT community. So it’s not hopeless, but no one solution will fit all the municipalities across the nation, and maybe one of the questions we should be asking is how well our expectations of police service match the reality? After all, as Chief Brown has noted, “Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve”
But then the shooting began, and, as if granted permission, police departments like those in Baton Rouge quickly reverted to form and began arresting activists on private property without cause or due process, much less warrants. In fact, they arrested the individual who provided video evidence of the Alton Sterling shooting
Many of our poor neighborhoods have a nearly round the clock police presence—from squad cars anyhow. Police appear, write up infractions, and arrest vagrants, keep an eye on shifty characters, “gangbangers” and the like. They do what they are trained to do. But the result isn’t a working society. The result, as I suggested in the beginning of this essay, is a carceral state.
Right now, if you are an Afro-American male, your odds of being in jail at some point in your life are 1 in 3. I doubt this is because 1 in 3 Afro-American males are genetically predisposed to periodic episodes of violence and criminal behavior. More likely, it has to do with the incredible dearth of job prospects made infinitely worse by a rap sheet and applying while black.
Police officers can’t solve that problem. They aren’t social workers or teachers or medical service personnel, as Brown correctly points out—but the nature of the system we have put in place allows all the problems of our society to flow downward to the cop on the beat whose one job is to enforce the law, but who we mistakenly believe can somehow catch all the detritus of a dysfunctional system and keep it working.
In Michel Foucault’s famous work, Discipline and Punishment, the ruling metaphor is society as a vast prison; a kind of panoptic nightmare—a word derived from Jeremy Bentham’s famous panopticon which was a prison designed so that every cell is view-able from a raised central location, like a watchtower plunked into the middle of a cell block. The point was to understand and react to the behavior of the individuals in the surrounding cells so as to control them. But even at this rudimentary level we are failing, for it’s obvious we don’t understand the individuals caught in our system and we aren’t really controlling behavior, we’re merely holding them in our prison cells precisely because we don’t know what else to do with them.
You can’t fix a mental health problem with an AR-10, any more than you can fix homelessness with a traffic citation, or drug abuse with an armored vehicle, or unemployment with a prison cell.
Our criminal justice system is trying to repair something it simply isn’t equipped to mend. You can’t fix a mental health problem with an AR-10, any more than you can fix homelessness with a traffic citation, or drug abuse with an armored vehicle, or unemployment with a prison cell. Perhaps if we, as a society, decided that the carceral state was a bad idea; if we decided, instead, to fund jobs programs and provide secure housing for those in need, if, indeed, we provided drug treatment programs instead of felony convictions we might resolve many problems before they become statistics. We can tinker with police community outreach, provide stricter guidelines for engagement and the use of force and institute better ways of policing the police (oh, please let us have a uniform standard for conduct and an external agencies that review police shooting across the nation), but in the end the panacea we are looking for won’t come from a guy or gal on the beat– with or without a gun. They will come from providing adequate resources to all our public workers, developing jobs programs and training for individuals from all walks of life, and from our own personal engagement with the community in which we live. Maybe it’s time to stop looking to the police to solve the problems of our deeply dysfunctional system. Rather, we should restructure the system so we don’t need the police—or not nearly as much. Maybe it’s time we all signed up.
My friend of the deepest blue persuasion is pessimistic about Bernie Sanders’ chances. He’s a lefty for whom the term socialist is not a label of derision but rather one that brings up fond memories of galvanized workers demanding eight hour work days. And he’s from Canada! So when even he shifts uncomfortably at Sanders’ prospects, I lean in.
Rightly, he pointed out the difficulties. First, the odds of Sanders succeeding in the Democratic primaries is scant. The superdelegate count is going to kill him. He trounced Hillary Clinton by 20 percent in the New Hampshire primaries and the end result was a virtual tie in delegates offered up by that state. We can thank the Democratic Party’s odd primary rules for the outcome—odd primary rules that allow for so called superdelegates.
There are 712 superdelegates, about 30% of the 2,382 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination. They are ‘establishment politicians’ made up of every Democratic congressperson, sitting governor, and the President and Vice President. They also include members of the Democratic National Committee, like elected Democratic mayors and county executives, and other party officials. And, the main rub — they are allowed to back any candidate they want, regardless of the election results in their state.
So, my lefty friend noted, unless Bernie can come up with a convincing majority in the primaries—and not just ‘close’ ties, superdelegates will likely sway the outcome. And, he noted, these superdelegates were created precisely in order to give a bigger voice to the establishment who could better “figure out a way to unify our party.” Code, my friend said, for gathering both the conservative and liberal Democrats under one big tent.
“Needless to say, Bernie is no friend of the Democratic establishment. For years they have lived off of Wall Street’s largesse.”
“Not good,” I said.
“But that’s not all,” he added, “Let’s say something unusual happens. Something truly radical and Bernie Sanders actually WINS the Democratic Nomination.”
“Okay,” I agreed, eagerly, “Let’s say that!”
“He still has to govern an electoral body swayed far way to the right. The House will remain Republican for the foreseeable future. The Senate will be contentious, but even if a Democratic majority should prevail, the House will hold the purse strings. If you think they’re giving Obama a hard time, can you imagine their reaction to an avowed socialist? Gridlock doesn’t even begin to define that outcome.”
“Democratic socialist,” I grumbled, leaning back, my heart sinking a little as each wise word came thudding in. And yet, I couldn’t quite let it go, this idea that change was not just possible, but inevitable.
“Let me ask you, regardless of the outcome for the idea, don’t you think it’s important that we break up the big banks?”
“Sure, but it’s not going to happen.”
“Wait. Don’t speculate about what will or will not happen. Let’s just talk about the policy on its merits, isn’t that a good, important idea?”
My friend made a face, “Sure it is. We need to break up the big banks. They’re monopolizing our present, helping to buy off our elections and forfeiting our futures. But–”
“Shhh,” I held up my hand. “Wait. Now tell me how guaranteeing healthcare for everyone using a single payer system by expanding Medicare isn’t a good idea.”
“Of course it’s a good idea. I’m from Canada and I know exactly how well it operates. I also get insurance whenever I come down here so I don’t have to worry about paying $50,000 for a broken leg. You don’t have to convince me of that.”
“Okay what about reversing trade policies like NAFTA or TPP that route our jobs overseas? Or raising the minimum wage and making college tuition free?”
“Pie in the sky.”
“No, it’s not. If you can pay for endless war, you can certainly pay for these things. Here’s how that could work. You create a simple progressive estate tax on the top 0.3 percent of Americans who inherit more than $3.5 million. There’s another thing you can do that Bernie is proposing. You can enact a miniscule tax on Wall Street speculators who caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, homes, and life savings. It’s called a transaction tax. It’ll have two benefits. First, it will provide funding for those who can’t make it in our rigged system and second, maybe even more importantly, it will reduce the level of booms and busts on Wall Street by making ‘automated’ sell and buy orders less attractive. This isn’t pie in the sky at all. It’s absolutely practical and smart.”
“Okay, all that’s good, but, like I said, it will never happen.”
“So, let me rephrase that. You just said that everything in Bernie Sander’s platform is a net good, a positive thing for our country. Now he has a chance, even if it’s an outside chance. You know what the only thing really holding us back is?
My friend looked at me blankly, then quipped. “Um, superdelegates, a belligerent majority in congress?”
“No.” I said, “It’s us. The American electorate, if we don’t vote for what we really want and what we need.”
I’m not sure if I convinced him, but he looked a little bemused, then quipped.
“You have that endearing American trait; optimism.”
“Okay, call me silly, but I look at it this way. The civil rights marches and the gay rights movement didn’t happen because some pundit decided they were a good idea. Far from it. The Times tagged Martin Luther King as persona non grata for years. The level of animosity against such movements from the elite was massive, but the elites didn’t get to decide the outcomes for those movements. The people did. The elites were dragged along in the movement’s wake. The same thing can happen here. You change hearts, and then you change the system.”
“Sanders has already made it necessary to take income inequality seriously –he’s moved the issue to the center of the Democratic debate. And, by the way, even if he doesn’t win, the longer he lasts and the better he does the more attention it will get. And then, more hearts will change.”
“Will?” My friend raised his eyebrow.
“Yes, will. Then outcomes will follow.”
“Right?” He sounded equivocal, at best.
“Yes, first, hundreds of things change—perspectives and attitudes, a way of looking at the world, the context of even discussing subjects like free trade and income equality, but then only one little thing has to happen.”
The Virginia Presidential State Primary is next Tuesday, March 1st. Mark your calendar and please vote!
By Jack Johnson
I wonder what the folks at Davos are saying about the water in Flint, Michigan? Davos, if by some miracle you haven’t heard, is a Swiss mountain village where CEOs, hedge fund managers, economic leaders, political heavy weights, and a few celebrities meet to discuss the big issues of the day. Sometimes they come away with actual solutions to intractable problems. Mostly, though, they reaffirm their commitment to making deals and carrying on the neoliberal agenda for the world economic order by which they have grandly profited. This is why I suspect their conversations won’t really embrace the whole Flint, Michigan phenomena in all its seedy detail.
“Did you hear about the people of Flint?”
“The who? I don’t see ‘Flint people’ speaking at any conferences. Is it a new band?”
“No. Flint people are people who live in Flint, Michigan.”
“Michigan? Sounds dreadful. No ski slopes for miles.”
“Well, actually, what they need isn’t ski slopes. It’s water.”
“Water, really? Excellent. I have contacts at Nestle’s. We’ll send them high quality bottled water, tout suite!”
“I don’t think that will work.”
“They would prefer Pierre? Fine, I know an old fraternity friend who runs their import division. I’ll just reach out to him and we’ll set things straight, pronto.”
“No, no, no, no. They have water, it’s just been poisoned.”
“Poisoned? How very de Medici. The entire water system? Amazing. That sounds like the makings of a Hollywood thriller. Which terrorist group was responsible? ISIS? Boko Harem? Maybe we can get Kevin Costner on the project?”
“Actually, it wasn’t a terrorist organization at all. It was Governor Rick Snyder, and his emergency manager.”
“You don’t say. Well, I’m sure he had an excellent reason. You don’t go poisoning an entire city without good cause.”
“He wanted to save money.”
“The very best reason! We simply cannot be lavishing money on entire cities after all. Especially those darker cities if you catch my drift.”
“I do, but I suspect the move was ill advised. Now it’s come out that the children of Flint are suffering from lead poisoning and Rick Snyder is requesting federal emergency funds to bail his city out.”
“Oh, dear, more money! Tut, tut, it’s apparent to me that dear Mitch didn’t handle this crisis effectively. I have a PR firm—Burson-Marsteller– that can handle such things. Let me get them on the horn.”
“It’s too late. It’s already in the national news.”
“Oh that is dreadful. Nothing can be done, then.”
“Yes, yes it’s bad. Very bad. Mitch will be in for a rough ride. Yes, and I hear the children of Flint are dying, too.”
Of course, this is an imagined scene. I seriously doubt a conversation of even this short length would take place at Davos about such lowly concerns as Flint, Michigan’s water problems. Or Virginia’s water problems for that matter. In fact, there’s an excellent chance you haven’t heard about those issues either; because no one has died of them… .yet. But if you’re a Richmonder, you should probably know that on January 14th, the Virginia State Water Control Board approved permits that allowed the Dominion Virginia Power company to discharge water from coal ash ponds at Bremo Power Station, roughly 50 miles upstream of Richmond on the James River, and the Possum Point Power Station, located 30 miles south of Washington, D.C., at the confluence of the Potomac River and Quantico Creek.
Now there are a few things for us to keep in mind about this which our Water Board apparently didn’t. Residue from coal ash contains heavy metals like arsenic and mercury so there are significant environmental as well as health impacts to citizens downstream. Citizens in Richmond, Virginia, to be specific.
The odds of a Richmonder attending Davos are slight, but if someone from Richmond did attend, they are likely to be heading a big company, like Dominion Virginia Power for example.
Maybe next year or the year after, we’ll be able to imagine another conversation at Davos. Something along these lines…
“Did you hear about the people of Richmond?”
“The people of where?”
“Richmond, Virginia, darling. Oh, you haven’t heard of them? Well, you see, Richmond was an up and coming city. They were making quite a name for themselves as the river city of the East Coast, best urban white water rapids anywhere in the continental U.S., actually. They had a vibrant art scene and really wonderful restaurants. Foodies and creatives all over the place. And lots of tattoos. But then Tommy Farrell, you remember Tommy, don’t you?”
“Why, yes. Tommy and I used to play Mahjong together all the time! Heads that power company now, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, Dominion. Well he decided to bend a few legislative arms to get out from under some testy environmental regulators. You know Tommy had most of the Virginia General Assembly in his back pocket. He’s heaped about $1.6 million to statewide and legislative candidates since the start of 2013, so it’s no wonder some back water agency decides to do his bidding. Anyhow, it turns out pouring arsenic and mercury from old coal ash ponds into the drinking water for an entire city was not such a grand idea.”
“I don’t want to go into the details—they are…graphic. Let’s just say Tommy never learned anything from Rick Snyder.”
“You mean this made the national press, as well?”
“Yes. And it killed Richmond’s chance to be a first tier city. Who wants to live in a place where you can’t trust the drinking water, after all? There’s only so much Pierre in the world to go around.”
“Pity…. Poor Tommy.”
“It’s like that old Rime from the Ancient Mariner, do you remember that? We had to memorize the thing in our prep school days. How does it go again?”
“Something, something…’Water, water everywhere. And not a drop to drink’, that’s it, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s it. Say have you tried these canapés? They are amazing!”
-by Jack Johnson
So you may have heard there’s this guy running for president – no, not that guy! I’m talking about Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders! I’ll excuse you for thinking that I was going to talk about a certain billionaire demagogue for whom the mainstream media has been effectively, if not completely willingly shilling for since May. Of course, Sanders draws larger crowds, has a coherent policy agenda and a lifetime of experience in actual elected office, none of which said billionaire has, but that hasn’t helped Sanders.
His opponent in the Democratic primaries is also very well known, and while she has a coherent policy agenda and experience in governance, the press love her for the polarizing effect she has on the public and deserved or undeserved whiff of scandal that trails after her.
Secretary Clinton is the anointed choice of Democratic leadership, and their efforts to silence or marginalize Sanders by rigging the debate schedule, for instance, one can imagine encouraging the media blackout of his campaign would be expected in a high stakes, bare knuckle run for the presidency. But I suspect you will now hear a bit more about the Sanders campaign since a minor scandal seems to have erupted involving a breach in the NGP VAN voter data base which is vital to GOTV efforts for both the Clinton campaign and particularly the Sanders campaign.
So far, this doesn’t seem to amount to much but I suspect you will be hearing about it tomorrow night if you tune into the Democratic debate being held on the opening weekend of the most anticipated movie in recent history (thanks DNC), and more importantly on cable news channels that can’t find the will to concentrate on actual issues but love horse races and scandal.
With the collapse of the GOP into a shambling, drooling personification of the frightened Id of aging, rural white America is certainly an engaging storyline and worthy of better reporting than we’ve gotten from the press so far. The rebirth of a vigorous Progressive movement that has manifested itself in the Sanders campaign has simply been ignored, except in so far as it pertains to Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers. Let’s see if Bernie doesn’t get some press now that there’s a “gate” to suffix to whatever this database thing actually is.
~by Scott Price