Tag Archives: washington

SYNDICATED COLUMN: So What if President Trump is an Asshole? All the Presidents Have Been Assholes.

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President Trump is under fire and we’re all shocked shocked SHOCKED that his shithole mouth called the (predominantly black) nations of Africa “shitholes,” helpfully comparing them to (predominantly blonde) Norway to make sure nobody missed the point. To drive home just how pissed off people are about this (and rightly so), Trump’s shithole comment overshadowed news that the government accidentally told the citizens of Hawaii they were about to get nuked. As George W. Bush would say, that’s some weird shit.

This is a big deal unless you’re reading this more than a few days after this writing, at which point Trump will have raised more hell with some new idiotic utterance that makes us forget about this one.

Speaking of hell-raising: I managed to raise a few social-media hackles recently when I posted the following: “I honestly don’t understand why people are so depressed about Trump. Policy-wise, he isn’t much different than Obama. Trump is truth in advertising: he is an asshole, our country acts like an asshole. No need for phony smiles, PC rhetoric.”

This led to a discussion comparing Trump not just to Obama, but other American presidents. There were lots of great comments. Still, I was struck by something that few people seem to be aware of — America’s rich history of presidential assholery. Given how wicked smart my readers are, I was surprised to hear some of them refer favorably to Trump’s predecessors.

Trump is a thieving, lying turd. In that respect, he is as presidential as it gets. Going back to Day One, the United States has been led by white males behaving badly.

Trump gets attacked for using the presidency to line his pockets, and rightfully so. Yet The Donald has nothing on the Father of Our Country.

George Washington was worth more than half a billion in today’s dollars — riches he accumulated in large part by exploiting his political influence to loot federal coffers. He joined the Masons, married well, scored a few lucky inheritances and invested the loot in real estate along what was then the Colonies’ western frontier in Indian territory that he came across as a young land surveyor.

GW’s acreage was on the wrong side of the Appalachian mountains — but not for long. Talk about conflict of interest: as commander of the revolutionary army and president, he promoted settlement of the west by whites that pumped up the value of his early investments. The fact that those whites were engaged in genocide bothered Washington not one whit.

Even on the Left, some Americans point to Lincoln as a pillar of moral rectitude. But Honest Abe suspended the ancient writ of habeas corpus; in 2006, a militaristic asshole named George W. Bush relied on Lincoln’s 1863 precedent to abolish it altogether.

Since nothing in the Constitution bans secession, Southern states enjoyed the legal right to leave the Union. Defying the Constitution, Lincoln went to war — illegally — to bring them back. Not only was the Civil War a bloodbath, it left us with a nation that remains politically and culturally fractured to this day. Blacks were 13% of the population of the Confederacy. Had Lincoln chosen peace, a slave uprising might have brought down the Old South — and killed a lot of racists.

Lincoln cheated in the 1864 election by playing both sides of the secession. To justify the war, he claimed the breakaway states were still part of the Union, yet didn’t count Southern electoral votes because they would have cost him reelection.

You name the president, I’ll name at least one unforgiveable sin.

FDR? The New Deal was a grand achievement. But if trying to stack the Supreme Court isn’t impeachable, what is? When World War II broke out, Roosevelt played footsie with Vichy France while snubbing the Resistance. He turned away Jewish refugees and refused to bomb the Nazi infrastructure used to murder Jews. He dragged his feet taking on Hitler so that the Soviet Union would take the brunt of Nazi savagery.

Folks are already saying: “Barack Obama will be inducted into the league of Great Presidents.” Obama, most Democrats have already forgotten, broke his promise to try for a “public option” in the Affordable Care Act. He went on languid vacations while the global economy was collapsing, handed trillions to bankers no strings attached and did nothing to help the unemployed and people whose homes were stolen by the banks. And he slaughtered thousands of innocent civilians with drones — people who represented zero threat to anyone — just for fun.

If that’s a great president, give me a shitty one.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is co-author, with Harmon Leon, of “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” an inside look at the American far right, out now. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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The Little Prez

Public access to the White House and its environs has shrunk steadily since Andrew Jackson hosted a wild party there. Now the wake of a run by a deranged vet through the White House has security experts recommending that a safety corridor be extended several blocks beyond the White House fence. How safe is safe enough?

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Coverage of the anti-NSA Protest is an Example of a New Way to Disseminate Government BS

Redirection to Water Down the Potency of Dissent

On Saturday, October 26th several thousand people gathered near the Capitol Building in Washington to protest National Security Agency spying against Americans. As juicy news, it didn’t amount to much: no violence, no surprises. Politically, it marked an unusual coalition between the civil liberties Left and the libertarian Right, as members of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements stood side by side. But that’s not how it was framed.

The way U.S. media outlets chose to cover the march provides a fascinating window into a form of censorship they often use but we rarely notice: redirection.

The message of the marchers was straightforward. According to the British wire service Reuters, the protesters carried signs that read “Stop Mass Spying,” “Thank you, Edward Snowden” and “Unplug Big Brother.”

USA Today reported another sign —  “No NSA mass spying” — and that  marchers chanted “no secret courts” and “Hey hey, ho ho, the NSA has got to go.”

The message of the marchers was unambiguous: they demanded that the NSA stop spying on Americans, or be shut down. If the signs and the slogans and the things marchers said weren’t clear — “this isn’t about right and left — it’s about right and wrong,” USA Today quoted Craig Aaron — the group that organized the event is called “Stop Watching Us.”

Not “Keep Watching Us, Albeit With Increased Congressional Oversight.”

Stop laughing. I know, I know, no one in the history of protest marches has ever called for half-measures. U.S. Partly Out of Vietnam! Somewhat Equal Rights for Women!

Yet that’s how the media covered the anti-NSA event.

First line of USA Today‘s piece: “Thousands rallied against NSA’s domestic and international surveillance on Saturday by marching to the Capitol and calling for closer scrutiny of the agency as more details of its spying are leaked.” [My italics, added for emphasis.]

Associated Press headline: “NSA spying threatens U.S. foreign policy; protesters demand investigation of mass surveillance.”

MSNBC: “‘Stop Watching Us’ sees a chance to reform the NSA”

It is true that “Stop Watching Us” sent a letter to Congress. But there’s no way for a fluent English speaker to interpret their statement as “calling for closer scrutiny” or “reforming” the NSA. “We are calling on Congress,” the group wrote, “to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data collection programs.”

Unambiguous.

“Stop Watching Us” didn’t call for “reform.” Nor did the October 26th matchers. They called for the NSA to stop spying on Americans. Some of them called for the NSA to be closed.

No one called for less than a 100% end to domestic surveillance.

USA Today lied about the rally. So did the AP. As did MSNBC.

They did it by redirecting a radical, revolutionary impulse into a moderate, reformist tendency.

The U.S. is an authoritarian police state with democratic window-dressing. Stopping NSA spying on Americans would fundamentally change the system. There’s no way the government, or its mainstream media outlets, would voluntarily give up their info trolling. What they might do, however, is “pull this back,” as Al Gore said. “I think you will see a reining in.”

Categorizing strong political views of swaths of Americans as weaker, more moderate and watered down than they really are is a relatively new tactic for American media gatekeepers. Until recently, the standard tool of the U.S. censor when confronting dissent was to ignore it entirely (c.f., the 2003 protest marches against the invasion of Iraq and the long time it took for them to cover the Occupy movement of 2011). For activist groups and protesters, this might seem like an improvement. Which is what makes it pernicious.

Getting covered by the media isn’t always better than being ignored. If your radical politics get expressed in public as moderate reformism — and you tacitly acquiesce with this misrepresentation by your silent cooperation — you’re serving the interests of the system you oppose, making it appear open to reform and reasonable, and you less angry than you really are, though neither is true.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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Come Back When There’s Video

Now that a crazed gunman has slaughtered 20 white kids in an upscale Connecticut suburb where a lot of media live, the gun lobby is ready to negotiate gun control legislation. But they’re not offering much.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Prequel to a Beginning

Why Occupy Wall Street Still Matters

      It was the middle of September. An ad hoc coalition of political groups, mostly left of center but not all, whose members mostly were young but not all, came together to express their opinions outside the officially approved two-party paradigm.

United by their anger and energy, these people held general assemblies (they called them “sit-ins.”) They marched. Throughout that fall and into part of the following year, they caught the attention of the news media, inspiring activists around the country. In the end, the powers that be did what power powers that be usually do: they sent in the cops. Beaten and swept away in mass arrests, the young activists drifted away. Voters, convinced by the system’s propaganda that the movement threatened law and order, turned to the right.

One year later, it was clear to most that the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley had failed.

Students had demanded that school administrators allow political organizations, including civil rights groups, to table and solicit contributions on campus. (In 1964 only the campus Democratic and Republican clubs were allowed to do so.) There was a concession: the acting chancellor grudgingly opened the steps of a single building for open discussion and tables, but only during certain hours. By the fall of 1966, however, UC had a new right-wing president and California was led by a new right-wing governor, Ronald Reagan, who had promised to “clean up the mess in Berkeley.”

Now we understand that the FSM was a prequel to a beginning. The FSM morphed into a campus movement that inspired widespread social unrest of the 1960s that centered on opposition to the Vietnam War. Everything that followed–feminists burning bras, gays rioting after the bust at the Stonewall Inn, America’s withdrawal from Vietnam–had its roots in that “failed” movement.

Keep the “failed” Free Speech Movement in mind as you read and watch this week’s coverage of the anniversary of Occupy. One year after activists set up the first Occupy Wall Street encampments in New York and Washington, D.C., the Occupy movement is described as in “disarray.” Indeed, it’s hard to remember how big OWS was. Were there really more than a thousand Occupations? Did 59% of the American public support OWS when it was barely a month old? What happened?

“I think they’re idiots. They have no agenda,” Robert Nicholson, who works on Wall Street, tells The Los Angeles Times. “They have yet to come out with a policy statement.”

“The movement [grew] too large too quickly. Without leaders or specific demands, what started as a protest against income inequality turned into an amorphous protest against everything wrong with the world,” argues the AP.

I was at Freedom Plaza in D.C. and Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. I’m a member of my local Occupy chapter on Long Island, Occupy the East End. (Yes, we’re still around.) I agree with Mikell Kober of Brooklyn, who was protesting in front of a Bank of America branch. She told a reporter that OWS is “about creating a public space where people could gather and have a conversation about the things that need to change.”

Coming up with a list of demands isn’t the point. Thinking outside the D vs. R box is. Now people know that electoral politics is theater. Real politics is in the streets. For the first time since the Sixties, we know that.

The flaw in Occupy, the seed of its future destruction, was its basic original premise: occupying public space nonviolently.

Occupying nonviolently is an oxymoron. If you decide to be nonviolent, you leave peacefully when the police show up to evict you. Which is what happened last winter to the OWS encampments.  If you are determined to occupy–and remain in–public space, you must resort to violence in order to defend yourselves from police violence.

OWS ought to have decided whether it wanted to be nonviolent or whether it wanted to occupy public space. If it chose nonviolence, it could have engaged in acts of resistance–flash mobs, demonstrations, strikes–that did not require setting up and defending encampments.

Also, a political movement is defined more by what it is not than by what it is. OWS was a movement outside of the duopoly, yet many “Occupiers” worked with, and got co-opted by, Democratic Party front groups like MoveOn.org who stole OWS’ “We are the 99%” slogan.Though the physical presence of OWS is a mere shadow of its presence a year ago, the Occupy idea remains colossally important–largely because the two major parties still refuse to engage the biggest problem we face: America’s growing poverty. “I don’t think Occupy itself has an enormous future,” Dr. Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University, told the Associated Press. “I think that movements energized by Occupy have an enormous future.”

Like the Free Speech movement nearly a half century ago, Occupy is the prequel to the beginning.

Of course, change doesn’t always mean progress and inspiration isn’t always positive. “Reagan’s political career owed a lot to the [FSM] people who used the [UC] campus as a radical base for political activity. It is an irony that helped elect him,” says Earl Cheit, executive vice chancellor at Berkeley from 1965 to 1969.

(Ted Rall‘s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Executive Privilege: Another Presidential Lie

Why George III Would Be Jealous of Obama

The Phoenix bureau of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sold over 2,000 guns to operatives they believed to be working for Mexican drug cartels between 2006 and 2010. According to the ATF, “Operation Fast and Furious” was an attempt to track the weapons to higher level criminals.

Things went south—literally—when ATF guns began turning up at crime scenes, including the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent. Now, as part of its investigation, the GOP-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is demanding that the Obama Administration turn over documents relevant to the botched ATF operation.

President Obama has refused, invoking “executive privilege.”

I put “executive privilege” in quotes because, like terms such as “enemy combatant,” it does not appear in law. Presidents of both parties—indeed, presidents of parties that no longer exist, all the way back to 1796—have asserted that the constitutional separation of powers grants the executive branch an “inherent” right to ignore subpoenas issued by Congress or the judiciary.

The standard argument is that compliance would reveal the internal deliberations of the President, his Cabinet officers and other government officials who require the presumption of privacy in order to engage in internal debates and deliberations.

This is Obama’s first use of “executive privilege,” but both by historical and current legal standards it is radically overreaching. The closest we have to a definitive word on executive privilege dates to the Watergate scandal, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Richard Nixon’s attempt to stonewall Congress. As long as a prosecutor could argue that the relevant documents were essential to the justice of a case, and did not compromise national security, Chief Justice Warren Burger said, the president would have to fork over the documents.

Operation Fast and Furious, a law enforcement matter, doesn’t qualify under the Burger ruling. It’s hard to imagine making a credible case that national security would be compromised if the details were made public. Since run-of-the-mill ATF memos would be covered, the usual top-level internal deliberations justification doesn’t apply either: “Obama’s claim broadly covers administration documents about the program called Operation Fast and Furious, not just those prepared for the president,” reports Larry Margasak of the Associated Press.

Once again Obama is following precedent established by George W. Bush, whose legal advisors seem to have missed the class about how Americans decided not to be ruled by a King. Bush, who promoted another legal fiction, a “unitary executive” branch, invoked “executive privilege” six times, such as when refusing to release the minutes of Dick Cheney’s meetings with corporate energy executives, Karl Rove’s refusal to testify in the politically-orchestrated firings of federal prosecutors, and in the cover-up of the “friendly fire” shooting of former football player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.

We’ve come a long way since 1796. Because the Constitution grants the Senate (but not the House) the right to ratify treaties, George Washington refused to turn over notes about the negotiations of the Jay Treaty with Great Britain to the House, claiming “executive privilege.” But he did give them to the Senate. And the Supreme Court overruled Thomas Jefferson’s 1807 claim that providing his private correspondence to Aaron Burr’s defense in his treason trial would imperil national security.

In case after case, the whole idea of executive privilege has been made up, used by both parties to protect secrets and cover up malfeasance, yet has little to no constitutional basis. But it’s hardly the only example of how the Constitution is routinely ignored. The most glaring, of course, is the way presidents have stolen the exclusive right to declare war from one wimpy Congress after another. By some measures the U.S. has fought hundreds of wars, yet only five have carried the legal standing of an official Congressional declaration of war.

Americans enjoy the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair and speedy trial, by a jury of their peers, under the Sixth and Seventh Amendments. Yet President Obama—building on a secret assassination program against so-called “terrorists” begun under Bush—asserts the right not only to deprive U.S. citizens of these rights, detaining them indefinitely and denying them a trial, but to assassinate them. According to The Washington Post, all they need to subvert more than two centuries of constitutional law is an internal memo: “The Justice Department wrote a secret memorandum authorizing the lethal targeting of Anwar al-Aulaqi, the American-born radical cleric who was killed by a U.S. drone strike [on September 30, 2011], according to administration officials,” reported The Post. “The document was produced following a review of the legal issues raised by striking a U.S. citizen and involved senior lawyers from across the administration. There was no dissent about the legality of killing Aulaqi, the officials said.”

We’re not even allowed to look at the text of the secret memo.

“Executive privilege.”

Too bad the Tea Party’s Constitutional purism is so inconsistent, focusing more on fighting the Democrats than protecting our freedoms. With no one to push back, we’re no longer a democracy. We’re Might Makes Right, not a nation of laws.

What’s worse, most Americans don’t care.

The United States is un-American.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at MSNBC.com)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Cut-and-Paste Revolution, Part I

Winter Looms. Occupy Movement Wiggles Fingers. What Next?

“Let’s recreate Tahrir Square.” The email blast that began it all in June, a call for opponents of America’s wars and bank bailouts and rising income inequality and a host of other iniquities to occupy a public plaza two blocks from the White House, drew its inspiration from the Arab Spring.

The call worked. For the first time since the unrest of the 1960s, Americans joined spontaneous acts of protest and sustained civil disobedience in vast numbers. Why? Perhaps Americans, smugly dismissing the Muslim world as inherently inhospitable to democracy, were embarrassed to watch themselves shown up by people willing to face down bullets in Bahrain and Yemen and Libya. What’s a little pepper spray considering the thousands killed in Syria? Maybe Tahrir appealed because it worked. Or seemed to work. (Note to revolutionaries of the future: never trust the old regime’s military when they say it’s OK to leave them in power.)

The Arab Spring begat an American Fall. An aging Canadian magazine publisher cut-and-pasted the Freedom Plaza occupation (which still goes by the name of October 2011 Stop the Machine). Then he preempted STM, scheduling it to begin a few weeks earlier. He moved it to New York. Finally, he branded his cut-and-paste occupation with a better name: Occupy Wall Street.

Occupy Wall Street, not-so-new but much improved by its proximity to the national media based in Manhattan, began with aimless milling about the closed streets of the Manhattan’s financial district. It was ignored. A week later the collision of a thuggish NYPD officer, a dollop of pepper spray and four stylish young women made the news. “The cops spraying a bunch of white girls, well, our donations have tripled,” victim Chelsea Elliott told The Village Voice. Within a month, OWS was the beneficiary of an unreserved endorsement by The New York Times editorial board. On Sunday, no less–the most widely read edition.

More than a thousand cities now have their own occupations, cut-and-pasted from their format of their Washington and New York granddaddies. The Occupations trend white and young. They claim to be leaderless. Most of them cut-and-paste their tactics from OWS. They first take over public parks in downtown areas. Then they either apply for police permits to use a public park (as in Washington), obtain approval from private owners (as in New York), or take over spaces sufficiently unobtrusive so that the authorities grant their tacit consent (as in Los Angeles, where the encampment is in the city’s mostly disused downtown).

With a few exceptions like Denver, where police forcibly cleared out and arrested Occupy Denver members and confiscated their tents and other property, most local and federal law enforcement agencies have assumed a “soft pillow” approach to the Occupy phenomenon.

This missive to Occupy L.A. participants gives a sense of the modus vivendi: “The event organizers say they have talked to the police and the police say they are welcome. There are certain rules planned to be in place, such as moving tents off the grass onto the sidewalk at night. Please follow the directions of the police or any officials. The lawn has an automatic sprinkler system that someone who went and watched says turns on at 8 pm – 9 pm. The park area closes at 10 pm, but sleeping on the public sidewalks adjacent to the street is allowed from 9 pm to 6 am. That is the sidewalk surrounding the park area, not the sidewalk within the park area. Also, keep in mind you can be charged for clean-up and repairs, so wherever you go, be sure you do not create any need for clean-up or repairs. Please be very mindful of this.”

Aware of the fact that the movement has grown in response to official pushback–in New York after the pepper-spraying of the four women as well as after a threatened “clean up” operation similar to what went down in Denver–police are reluctant to create a spectacle of violent official repression. Protesters, meanwhile, are understandably reluctant to become victims of violent official repression. There have been hundreds of arrests, but no violent showdowns as we’ve seen in Athens. Leftist professor Cornel West seems to get booked every other day yet looks none the worse for wear.

In the absence of serious confrontation the occupations have become campsites. After police threatened to sweep up Freedom Plaza in Washington hundreds of supporters poured in to face down the police. The U.S. Parks Police blinked; now Stop the Machine has an official four-month permit. The same thing happened when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg scheduled a police-led “clean up” of Zuccotti Park. A night’s worth of phone calls by panicky city politicians made him back down.

Also, as The Nation reports, the NYPD wasn’t certain they had legal grounds for evicting the Occupiers from Zuccotti Park, which is public but privately-owned: “Jerold Kayden, a professor of urban planning and design at Harvard’s Kennedy School, says that these spaces ‘occupy a somewhat murky terrain in terms of what activities and conduct of public users within the space should be acceptable and what goes beyond the pale.’ That is, the protesters have been able to set up camp in Zuccotti not because of any regulation that protects their presence there, but precisely because of a real lack of any defined regulations at all.”

With free food, legal services, a press table and bilingual information booths–plus the passage of time–Occupy Wall Street looks increasingly permanent.

Occupy movement outposts utilize an anarchist-inspired “general assembly” structure to make decisions ranging from the profound (resolved, that we should jail Obama) to the mundane (what time shall we hold the next general assembly). Everyone gets to speak. A “mic check” of repeated lines pass everything said to the outer ring of listeners. Attendees indicate approval by holding their fingers up and wiggling them. Downward wiggling indicates disapproval; sideways wiggling reflects uncertainty. Forming a triangle with one’s fingers is a demand for a point of process.

Why this approach? No one asks. That’s how it goes with cut-and-paste.

Crossed arms are a “block.” Anyone may block any motion. A 999-to-1 vote means no passage. Blocks, we are told by non-leader facilitators, are a nuclear option. “You might block something once or twice in your lifetime,” Starhawk, a genre novelist introduced as an experienced facilitator at one of the D.C. occupations. But a lot of nukes went flying around. Occupy Miami took weeks to get off the ground because rival factions (liberals vs. radicals) blocked one another at every turn.

Cut-and-paste at every turn: the local occupations use similar interfaces, even typefaces, for their websites and Facebook pages.

The movement has grown nicely. But, just as Mao found it necessary to adapt industrial-proletarian-based Marxism to China’s agrarian economy with “Marxism with Chinese characteristics,” activists are about to face the negative consequences of trying to replicate Tahrir Square in the United States. The U.S. isn’t Egypt. It isn’t even European. Americans need Tahrir Square with American characteristics.

Conditions on the ground necessitate a reset.

Namely: the weather.

IN MY NEXT COLUMN: Winter is coming. What will happen to the northern Occupations when the snow starts falling?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Stop Demanding Demands

Connecting the Revolutionary Dots in Occupied Washington

“Our demand is that you stop demanding that we come up with demands!”

I thought about that line a lot this past week. (It’s from a recent cartoon by Matt Bors.) I was at Freedom Plaza in Washington, a block from the White House, at the protest that began the whole Occupy movement that has swept the nation: the October 2011 Stop the Machine demonstration.

It has been one of the most exciting weeks of my life.

Stop the Machine, timed to begin on the October 6th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan ten years ago, was based on a simple, powerful premise. A coalition of seasoned protesters including Veterans for Peace, CodePink, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Progressive Democrats of America and Peace Action would take over a public space, then refuse to leave until our demand–withdrawal from Afghanistan–was met.

Adbusters magazine preempted our demonstration, which had been widely publicized, with Occupy Wall Street.

It’s the sort of thing an unscrupulous businessman might do.

But it’s all good. The sooner the revolution, the better. And the Occupy folks did choose a better name.

Like other old-timers (I’m 48), I criticized Occupy Wall Street for its wanky PR and street theater shenanigans. Yoga, pillow fights and face painting for the masses, but do the masses give a damn? Critiquing with love, I joined others in the media for demanding specific demands. That, after all, is how agitators used to do things. Hijack a plane and ask for money. Take over a prison until the warden agrees to improved conditions. Strike until you get a raise.

That’s one of the things that changed on 9/11. No one ever claimed responsibility for the attacks. No group issued any demands.

The Stop the Machiners in Freedom Plaza are mostly Gen Xers in their 40s and Baby Boomers in their 50s and 60s-. There are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of them, many spending the night in tents. Eight blocks away in McPherson Square is Occupy DC, the decidedly younger and whiter (mostly Gen Yers in their 20s) Washington spin-off of Occupy Wall Street. As you’d expect, Occupy is wilder and more energetic. As you’d also expect, Stop the Machine is calmer and more organized.

Stop the Machine has Portapotties.

It even has a station where you can wash your hands after you use the Portapotties.

“What are your demands?” my friends back home emailed me. Trust me: No one is more aware of the need to issue demands than the protesters of the Occupy and Stop the Machine movements (who obviously ought to merge).

Coming up with demands is job one. But job one is slow going. This is not merely a non-hierarchical but an anti-hierarchical movement. Everyone gets an equal say. Influenced by the Occupy movement (and other progressive protests, such as the anti-globalization struggle), Stop the Machine has embraced a system in which all decisions are arrived at by unanimous consensus. Anyone, regardless of their social status or education, can block a decision agreed upon by hundreds of other people.

Before last week I thought this decision-making process was madness. No leaders means inefficiency, right? Well, right. Meetings drag on for hours. Often nothing, or very little, gets done. Discussions go off on tangents. Poorly informed and even mentally disabled people get to talk. And everyone–even those of us with years of political experience and education–have to sit there and listen.

It sucks. And it’s great. It’s great because it gets out from behind our keyboards and out into the streets and in direct contact with our fellow human beings.

I’m as snotty as they come. Out on the Plaza, however, snark is a liability. A scary homeless guy heckled me while I gave a speech calling for revolution over reform of the system; he went on so long and so intensely that a D.C. cop tried to take him away. I couldn’t just click away. I was forced to engage with him. To discuss. To agree to disagree.

Revolution is a messy, slow process. We are just beginning to claw away at the velvet ropes of alienation that simultaneously comfort and confine us. We’re beginning to see that the things we hold so dear–our place in the class structure, our educational credentials, our shrinking but oh-so-clever circles of friends–are means of oppression.

There were 15 committees formed to come up with demands about various topics, which would eventually be presented to the General Assembly for discussion and, with luck, approval by consensus.

I joined the Economics and Finance committee.

“I don’t understand the word ‘neoliberal’,” a woman who looked to be about 30 said.

“It means conservative,” a guy answered.

No it doesn’t.

I shut up. In consensus meetings, you quickly learn to choose your battles. Those battles can run late into the night.

I urged our committee to decide whether we were revolutionaries or reformists.

“Why does it matter?” asked our “facilitator” (the leader-who-is-not-a-leader).

We went on to waste the next several months debating the distinctions between revolutionaries who seek to overthrow the system, reformists who accept its basic structure but seek to improve upon it, and revolutionists-posing-as-reformers who issue what I call “unreasonable reasonable” demands–demands that are popular with the population but that the system can’t concede without undermining the essential nature of their relationship to the people, the idea being to expose the government as the uncaring, unresponsive monsters, thus radicalizing the moderates and fence-sitters.

OK, it was about an hour. It only seemed like months.

We only came up with two demands for the general assembly to consider. But that doesn’t matter.

The process of discussion educates everyone involved in it. Obviously, the better informed share information with the less informed. But the knowledge flow goes both ways. The better informed learn what is not known, what must be transmitted to the public at large. And of course the less informed about one topic are usually better informed about another.

Demands will surface. But there’s no rush. Let the intellectual cross-fertilization run its course.

Besides, it’s fun to watch the ruling-class-owned media squirm as they wait.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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AL JAZEERA COLUMN: The De-politicization of Political Media

US political ideologies are converging on the right, but the power of ideas doesn’t matter in this popularity contest.

“President Obama’s support is eroding among elements of his base,” began a front-page story in the September 16th New York Times. Experienced readers understood what was meant. The U.S. Democratic Party “base” is comprised of liberals, progressives (to the left of liberals), and self-identified leftists (composed of socialists, communists and left libertarians).

These and other groups that compose the Democratic coalition—feminists, gays and lesbians, labor unions, etc.—pursue separate agendas. For decades American media consumers received granular, detailed analyses of each segment, their goals, accomplishments and failures to influence the party and the nation. No longer. These factions are increasingly being excluded and omitted from coverage in favor of something new: a formless, mushy whatever.

Call it “the base.”

Conventional wisdom—in other words, talking points repeated by columnists for big-city newspapers and cable-television news commentators—holds that the American electorate is roughly divided as follows: 40 percent who consistently vote Democratic, and another 40 percent who always vote Republican. These 80 percent of party loyalists are their base: if they vote at all, they always vote for the same party.

The outcome of elections depends on the whims of the remaining 20 percent, “swing voters” who may vote Democratic one election, Republican the next.

With a few exceptions, strategists and candidates for the two major parties direct most of their appeals to this “vital center” of the ideological spectrum. “Where else are they going to go?” is the constant, cynical refrain of political operatives when asked about the bases of the parties. If you’re a liberal voter, in other words, you probably won’t vote Republican. If you’re a conservative voter, you won’t jump to the Democrats no matter how disappointed you are with “your” party. (Historically, however, the Republican Party tends to coddle its right-wing base—with rhetoric as well as policy shifts—more than the Democrats pay attention to the left.)

The quest for swing voters relies on simple math. Convince a “swing voter” to switch from their party to yours and you’re up two votes. Lose a “base” voter and you’re down one. Swing voters count double.

Read the full article at Al Jazeera English.

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