Thursday, November 29, 2012

Music Makes the People Come Together

All other worldly matters aside, this has been an incredible year of live music for residents of Portland.

Morrissey and the Melvins were here last month; Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo both played solo shows (Ranaldo was actually here twice within the span of a few weeks); and in a matter of hours, I will be seeing the reconstituted Dinosaur Jr. for about the third or fourth time (I've lost track).

Additionally, Fionna Apple performed songs from her amazing new album, The Idler Wheel... The Deftones made it up to Bangor. Snoop Dog and Barack Obama visited Portland on the same day (for whatever that's worth). And, while I do not particularly care for them myself, Mumford & Sons generated a lot of interest when they played the Pier this summer.

This Saturday, the (also reconstituted, but with a new line-up) Smashing Pumpkins will compete with a sold-out Steve Earle show at the Port City Music Hall. And the new record the band is touring behind, Oceania, is actually pretty solid, in my opinion.

Say what you will about us folks up here in Maine, but we certainly do attract some great musical acts. You can celebrate below with videos for Dinosaur's "Little Fury Things," and a live, acoustic clip of Earle's "The Revolution Starts Now" from the album of the same name. (Do I really need to explain why it's my favorite?)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When Austerity Attacks

Coming soon to a country near you (likely your own): “Austerity Attacks II: The U.S. Version.”

In all seriousness, lawmakers seem poised to bring the same devastating budget-cuts and austerity measures that have crippled Portugal, Spain and Greece here to the United States. Under the pretense of averting the “fiscal cliff,” Congress is eyeing so-called “entitlement” programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
And here you thought these programs would be safe under President Obama. Silly liberals.
Let’s fill in the details for the uninitiated. The so-called fiscal cliff—for those who have been living under a rock for the past two months—is the dramatic, sound bite-worthy name given to the series of spending cuts (including the Bush-era tax-cuts for the very wealthy) which are set to automatically expire at the end of 2012. Economists (well, some of them, anyway) fear a failure to determine which spending programs to maintain will send the U.S. “over the fiscal cliff”—i.e. the shit will hit the fan, economically speaking. President Obama has signaled for weeks now that he is willing to work out a “Grand Bargain” to avert economic disaster. Many fear Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid—the crown-jewels of not just liberalism, but social democracy--could be part of this bargain.

As I said, not every economist is convinced the fiscal cliff is really as menacing as the cable news talking heads make it out to be. As Nobel Prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman points out in the New York Times (11/09/2012), the fiscal cliff “isn’t really a cliff.”
“It’s not like the debt ceiling confrontation where terrible things might well have happened right away if the deadline had been missed,” he writes. “This time nothing very bad will happen to the economy if agreement isn’t reached until a few weeks or even a few months into 2013.”
Author, James K. Galbraith takes this criticism even further. In an article for AlterNet (“Six Reasons the Fiscal Cliff is a Scam,” 11/22/2012), Galbraith calls the debate “policy-making by hostage-taking,” and a “contrived crisis.”
He writes, “Stripped to essentials, the fiscal cliff is a device constructed to force a rollback of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as the price of avoiding tax increases…”
A trumped-up crisis or not, there are a few things readers should know.
First off, it is important to understand these programs are not really “entitlements” as they are routinely referred to by critics so much as earned income benefits. Social Security and Medicare are programs Americans pay into, through paycheck deductions, throughout their working lives.
Furthermore, Social Security does not contribute one dime to the federal deficit. And, contrary to Republican talking points, there is nothing wrong with Social Security's overall sustainability. The program may need some minor tweaking down the road, but all reports indicate it is structurally sound for the foreseeable future. Medicare, likewise, is projected to remain financially viable until at least 2024, and even then there will still be enough left in the fund to pay 87 percent of benefits.
Indeed, I suspect much of the misinformation about how we can “no longer afford” these cherished programs, which are crucial to helping provide for the elderly, the poor and citizens with disabilities, is being promoted by free-market-obsessed elites who never approved of them in the first place. Now they see their opportunity to obliterate them forever.
Second, there are two main drivers of this fiscal disaster which the media seem all too willing to overlook: The Bush tax-cuts for the rich, and our two unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Raise taxes on the wealthy and bring our troops home from both countries (yes, there are still “non-combat” forces in Iraq), and there would be no cliff.
It angers me to no end when the uber-rich mock and deride the “freeloaders”— “parasites” in their Randian lexicon—as a financial drain on the system, when most of them are getting unwarranted and undeserved tax-cuts.
Yet Wall Street robber barons—the very same people who crashed the global economy—under the guise of a group called Fix the Debt have no qualms about publicly calling for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and the like. One such member of the Fix the Debt crusade, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein stated on a recent appearance on CBS Evening News (11/19/2012):
“The entitlements and what people think they’re going to get…they’re not going to get it.”
But wait, you ask: Surely Blankfein’s view was juxtaposed with a critic of cutting benefits, right? You know—in the interest of “objectivity” and all that?
Well, I must have missed that segment of the program. In fact, throughout all of last week, CBS’s Scott Pelley only spoke with corporate CEOs from the Fix the Debt clan. No contrarian voices were featured. Hmmm… I wonder if this is an example of the media’s “liberal bias” I constantly read about in the Portland Press Herald’s letters to the editor section?
Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are part of the New Deal promise to society’s most vulnerable that they would be taken care of. They are not “handouts,” and those who receive them are not “moochers.” To jeopardize these federal programs while millionaire CEOs continue to rake in record profits, and many global corporations avoid paying income taxes entirely is unconscionable.
The ever-growing income disparity in this country is not only immoral, it is ultimately unsustainable. As John Steinbeck observed in The Grapes of Wrath, the poor, exploited masses will not tolerate their oppression forever. “How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children?” he wrote. “You can’t scare him—he has known a fear beyond every other.” 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Greens Support Wal-Mart Flashmob on Black Friday

Members of the Portland Green Party participating in a Black Friday Wal-Mart "Flashmob" (to the tune of Ke$ha's "Tick Tock"). Nice foot-work, guys!
Note the absence of local Democratic legislators. Where is Rep. Diane "Queen of the Labor Movement" Russell? Or Justin Alfond? I don't see either of them in this video. Just sayin'....

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dawn of the Shopping Dead

I wrote this one two years ago, but somehow "Black Friday" has only gotten more out-of-hand in that time.

It’s that time of year again: The annual post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping orgy known as “Black Friday.” Shoppers are expected to take to the malls and retail chains in droves this weekend, hoping to get early discounts on Christmas gifts.

Despite the economic recession and the fact that hundreds of Americans remain unemployed, retailers have beefed up their “Black Friday” promotions and advertisements. Popular stores at South Portland’s Maine Mall opened at 4:00 or 5:00 am Friday morning in anticipation of early shoppers hoping to be the first in line. (Wal-Mart and Old Navy opened at midnight.)

The National Retail Federation predicts 138 million shoppers will take advantage of Black Friday bargains, with an estimated 70 million preferring to do their shopping online. Should those numbers hold up, they will represent a slight increase in shopper turnout from last year.

It seems, despite the painfully slow economic recovery, we remain a nation of consumers. Indeed, one could view Black Friday as Day Two of a weekend-long binge-fest that starts with Thanksgiving. After gorging themselves with high-fat, calorie-loaded meat, gravy, pies and desserts, Americans then move on to overindulging on new laptops, cell-phones, Kindles and video games. The American feeding frenzy, the endless thirst for more, never ceases. George Romero was right: We are a nation of shopping zombies.

It is fitting then, that I recently re-watched Romero’s Dawn of the Dead—perhaps the best horror film to satirize consumer culture with the shoppers-as-zombies metaphor. Those themes are worth examining again in light of our recent Black Friday feeding frenzy.

(For purposes of clarity, I am referring to the original 1978 version of Dawn of the Dead—not Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake.)

In the sequel (what would be the first of many, for better or worse) to Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead, the nationwide “zombie-plague” introduced in the first film has reached Doomsday proportions. All forms of local and federal government seem to have collapsed as the few remaining humans struggle to escape the mayhem.

Four such survivors take refuge in an abandoned (well, abandoned of all human life, anyway) shopping mall in the center of town. Though initially weary of how they will escape their fortified shelter (zombies in pursuit of the humans descend upon the mall, surrounding the outside), the group members quickly realize anything they need (food, clothes, medical supplies) is readily available in the empty mall stores, free for their taking.

Though judicious at first—“Let’s just take what we need,” one character suggests—the humans are unable to resist the temptation to grab expensive bottles of wine, fur coats, chocolate, and a TV. (At one point during their raid, the character of Roger walks by a store mannequin that bares an eerie resemblance to him.) Even during times of crisis, Romero seems to suggest, citizens cannot suppress their consumerist urges.

A key scene occurs when the group first arrives at the mall. Wondering what leads the zombies to aimlessly roam the empty mall’s corridors, the character of Stephen suggests they are drawn to it by “instinct.” “Memory of what they used to do?” he offers. “This was an important place in their lives.” Romero is never particularly subtle with his social observations, no. But the truth of Stephen’s statement nonetheless stings. Ironically, a number of Black Friday shoppers told local newspaper reporters how “important” the post-Thanksgiving shopping tradition was to their families.

What is interesting is the almost imperialist attitude the humans take toward the mall. Throughout the film, the mall is never a safe haven so much as it represents unoccupied space for the protagonists to conquer. In the film’s second-half, when a moronic group of bikers attempts to commandeer the mall, the humans fight them off to defend it. “It’s ours,” says a furious Stephen, as he fires at the goons. “We took it.” (The characters become particularly angered when the bikers begin helping themselves to the unguarded money in one store’s cash register.)

Finally, Dawn of the Dead, like all the films in Romero’s series, invites critical analysis of exactly who the undead are meant to represent.

Like many scholars, I choose to view Dawn’s zombies as the underprivileged poor, or some other minority group. Romero drives this view home in the film’s first-half, wherein a SWAT team descends upon the home of zombiefied Puerto Ricans. During the ensuing fight, one SWAT officer makes crude racist remarks, leaving viewers to wonder which group (the zombies, or the Latinos) his hate is directed at. (Perhaps both…?) Similarly, Romero’s more recent Land of the Dead (2005) further emphasizes the zombies-as-underclass theme.

Clearly, one could write a lengthy academic essay on the cultural themes Dawn presents us with. Indeed, what I have provided here is a brief overview of the film’s social insights. Though typically associated with Halloween, I find Dawn of the Dead highly appropriate (prescient even) for this Black Friday weekend.

The Punk Patriot Says, "Support the Hostess Strike!"

My friend and Green cohort, The Punk Patriot weighs-in on the Hostess strike. You can read my piece on the strike here.

Just think Portland: This guy could have been our state senator. But you chose to re-elect the obnoxiously rich guy with the family name. I don't hear Alfond talking about democratizing the workplace. Followers should send Senator Alfond this video, and then ask him what his position is on democracy in the workplace. Seriously.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Race-Baiting in the NYT

Re: "In Wyoming, Conservatives Feeling Left Behind," New York Times, Nov. 19, 2012.

What is the purpose of this story? It is not often I read an article in the New York Times, or any newspaper for that matter, and ask that question but nonetheless... I mean why was reporter Jack Healy assigned it? What are the text-book "news values" (timeliness, proximity, impact, bizarre/unusual) it conveys?

Here's what I got from the article: Two weeks after the presidential election, racist, white red-necks from a deeply conservative southern state can't get over the fact that a black man is still president. That's the entire story in a nutshell. I was pretty "baffled" after George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, but no national newspapers ran to my town to interview me about it.

Which begs another curious question: Why would the "liberal" NY Times run a story like this at all? I mean isn't the Times a Communist paper? Indeed, Healy paints a rather sympathetic picture of these racist dinosaurs, err, I mean "Republicans."

For that matter, the story is not particularly "balanced" in the typical objective journalism tradition. Healy talks to five Wyoming residents who clearly are unhappy with the election results. Traditional "objective" reporting (I use quotation marks because, of course, there is no such thing) would suggest he then "balance" those five out with another batch who are supportive of Obama. But Healy does no such thing. The picture he paints of Wyoming is one exclusively populated by "self-reliant," white conservatives.

The story's one saving grace is its acknowledgment that Wyoming, like most "red states" collects more federal money than it contributes--which makes the comments of those interviewed about Obama supporters being "parasites" smack of hypocrisy. As FAIR's Jim Naureckas writes, "the story is roughly one part reality to 12 parts self-congratulatory race-baiting."

I would have to concur.


Workingman's Blues (#2)

In a particularly humorous episode of The Simpsons (“Them, Robot,” Season 23, Episode 17), the wealthy, penny-pinching Mr. Burns fires the entire Springfield Nuclear Power Plant staff and replaces them with robots in order to avoid litigation costs for employee radiation poisoning. “This is the last time I pay the price for the irritating mortality of the human worker,” Burns sneers to Smithers.

They keep Homer on, of course, because, according to Smithers, they will need one human employee to oversee the robots and serve as “a scapegoat in case of a meltdown.” (Homer promptly accepts the job when Mr. Burns assures him he will have a reclining office chair.)

In reality, when workers become a nuisance--by striking against low wages or unjust working conditions, for instance—employers don’t need to turn to futuristic automated staff to run their company. They just shut the place down.
This is precisely how Hostess responded to a nationwide employee strike (which included the factory in Biddeford). The Associated Press reported Friday the snack-maker will liquidate its remaining stores, laying off over 18,000 employees in the process.
Hostess predictably blames the union and the striking workers for the company’s closure. In a memo posted on the company’s website, CEO Gregory F. Rayburn singles out “union wages and pension costs,” as the driving factors in its bankruptcy. What Rayburn does not mention—and the AP story conveniently relegates to the very last paragraph—is the fact that Hostess, maker of such high-fat desserts as Ding Dongs and Twinkies, has fallen out of favor in recent years as Americans increasingly become more health conscious.
Could it be that Hostess was brought down, not by greedy, demanding unions, but by basic supply-and-demand, free-market capitalism? Nah, it’s got to be the unions.
Either way, readers need not waste time worrying about Rayburn and other Hostess executives. They will likely sell off their assets and remain financially set for life. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the bakers who are now unemployed because they had the audacity to demand better pay and working conditions.  
The greatest irony of democracy is our constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly do not extend to the arena we spend the majority of our waking lives: The workplace. Indeed, your office can at best be described as a benevolent dictatorship. (And I have had plenty that were not even all that benevolent.)
As a result, much of the progressive gains of the twentieth century have been aimed at democratizing the workplace. The struggles of early labor organizers lead to common-sense worker protections like the eight-hour work day, weekends off, child labor laws, the minimum wage, collective bargaining agreements and the right to organize. In fact, most of those agitating for these laws were socialists—another bit of irony given the rancorous tone historically illiterate Americans have toward anything remotely resembling the dreaded “S-word.” Like that 30-minute lunch break your boss is legally mandated to give you during a regular work day? You can thank a socialist for that.
Any business—large or small—that cannot afford to pay its employees what they are worth does not deserve to be in operation. This is not a radical statement or something only “fringe” Greens believe. It is basic economic decency and is as American as apple pie.
I quote Abraham Lincoln: “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” So much for Ayn Rand’s dismissive view of working stiffs as “parasites,” mooching off the exalted “job creators.”
So why does it seem business is often contemptuous of its own work force? It was not always so. It used to be employers viewed a competent, well-paid workforce as a vital investment in their business. Managers understood a content, appreciated staff was the key to their success. Pay your employees a decent wage, offer them necessary health benefits and treat them with basic human dignity, and they will be happy at their job and increase work production.
But somewhere along the line, profit-driven employers came to view their staff as another burdensome expenditure. Industrialization, globalization and the 2008 economic recession have all contributed to an extremist, almost sociopathic form of corporate capitalism that places profit over human lives. In the current economic climate employers are increasingly selective in their hiring practices because they can afford to be.
In fact, capitalism, by its very nature, necessitates a certain permanent level of unemployment (what Marx termed a “reserve army of labour”). This way, when workers begin agitating for higher wages, managers can promptly point to the hundreds of desperate unemployed, and snidely remind the staff how easily they can all be replaced.
And, as I have pointed out numerous times, business tax rates are in no way related to an employer’s unwillingness to hire an adequate, full-time workforce. The idea that small business owners cannot “afford” to hire people (or, conversely, are forced to lay workers off) in order to “cover” their taxes, is a deliberately misleading right-wing lie. It is in no way grounded in any economic reality.
“Capital is dead labor,” Marx wrote in his 1867 economic treatise, Das Kapital, “which, vampire like, lives only by sucking living labor and lives the more the more labor it sucks.”
By the conclusion of the aforementioned Simpsons episode, the robots become sentient and rebel against their human, slave-driving masters. Perhaps we should take a page out of their book before we, too, are all replaced by machines.

Join Wal-Mart workers this Friday, Nov. 23 ("Black Friday") when they initiate a nationwide strike on the busiest shopping day of the year. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Glenn Greenwald on Barack Obama's Re-election

Greenwald's analysis of the insipid "lesser evil" argument (from today's Democracy Now!, 11/14/2012) is spot-on. He and Chris Hedges are two contemporary reporters/thinkers who really see the broad, big picture the rest of the mainstream media seem perpetually blind to.

I make similar predictions of liberals' approach to Obama's second term, here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bill McKibben Speaks Tonight in Portland

Leading environmental activist and author, Bill McKibben will give a talk on climate change at Portland's State Theater this evening.

McKibben's talk is part of his "Do the Math Tour," based on his urgent story in Rolling Stone this summer, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math."

McKibben is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont. He is the founder of the climate change action group,, and the author of dozens of environmental books, including The End of Nature, The Age of Missing Information, and Deep Economy. His latest book is the intentionally misspelled Eaarth ('cause it's a tough new planet).

McKibben's message--essentially that we are losing the fight against global warming--is, no doubt, a dire one. But his chronicles of successes with the international 350 campaign show how all of us can take action. He is, perhaps, the Rachel Carson of our time.

It is bound to be a stirring and educational discussion for anybody who cares about the future of the planet. Plus, members of the Portland Green Party will be there, so if that isn't reason to attend, I don't know what is.

You can read my recent piece on global warming here.

And if you like what you read here on Guerrilla Press, become a "Follower" by clicking the button on the right side of the screen. You will also notice I added nifty "Share" buttons so readers can easily pass along or re-post columns they like. (Though I am not on Twitter and, frankly, not entirely convinced I want to be...)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Al Jazeera's "Fault Lines: How the Whitehouse Was Won"

In case you missed the entire presidential election, here's the whole thing--along with all the parts the corporate media didn't show you--in about twenty minutes.

Remembering Peace on Veterans Day

 It is difficult to "Thank a veteran" as we are annually encouraged to do on Veterans Day when you fundamentally believe that war is unjust, barbaric, immoral, and, in the case of some of our recent acts of military aggression, illegal.

The late Howard Zinn, a veteran of World War II, wrote the following for Information Clearing House on Veterans Day, 2006 ("A Veteran Remembers," 11/12/2006):

Our decent impulse, to recognize the ordeal of our veterans, has been used to obscure the fact that they died, they were crippled, for no good cause other than the power and profit of a few. Veterans Day, instead of an occasion for denouncing war, has become an occasion for bringing out the flags, the uniforms, the martial music, the patriotic speeches reeking of hypocrisy. Those who name holidays, playing on our genuine feelings for veterans, have turned a day that celebrated the end of a horror into a day to honor militarism.
As a combat veteran myself, of a "good war," against fascism, I do not want the recognition of my service to be used as a glorification of war. At the end of that war, in which 50 million died, the people of the world should have shouted "Enough!" We should have decided that from that moment on, we would renounce war--that there would be no Korean War, Vietnam War, Panama War, Grenada War, Gulf War, Balkan War.
...Veterans Day should be an occasion for a national vow: No more war victims on the other side; no more war veterans on our side.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Now What? Democracy Beyond the Voting Booth

“So you’ve voted. What next?”

Portlanders have likely seen chalk-written questions such as this on signs, sidewalks and walls around town. At heart, the question asks how Americans will spend the next four years—regardless of how they feel about the election's outcome. What, in other words, is the next stage of civic engagement?
Unfortunately, I fear for most Americans, the answer to the question, “What next?” is…nothing. At least as far as civic engagement is concerned. Americans have pulled the lever for their preferred Wall Street sponsored Corporate Spokesman. Their civic work, at least for the next four years, is done.
Political theorist Sheldon Wolin sums up our limited political system in his book, Democracy Incorporated as such:
“In a truly participatory democracy elections would constitute but one element in a process of popular discussion, consultation, and involvement. Today elections have replaced participation” (pg. 148).
Those who attempt to influence their elected leaders via activism, citizen lobbying and correspondence or other forms of electoral pressure—say, Occupy Wall Street activists, for instance--are derided as “extremists,” or members of the “far left.” The corporate press, when it bothers to cover these activists’ efforts at all, dismisses their message as “incoherent.” Case in point, “liberal” Press Herald columnist, Bill Nemitz called the Lincoln Park contingent of Occupy Maine a “sometimes compelling, sometimes worrisome and occasionally entertaining political drama” (“Council burns midnight oil, but no bridges,” 12/09/2011).
In other words, the democratic process literally starts and ends in the voting booth. Anyone who attempts to continue the process beyond Election Day is simply an unreasonable extremist. Sensible Americans (more commonly known as liberals) prefer to sit back and wait for President Obama to deliver on his progressive promises. And if he fails to do so, well it is because the Republicans thwarted his efforts. Deep down, Obama is a true progressive and a noble, well-meaning president, they claim, and that is all that really matters.
This conception of democracy is far too myopic. We, as citizens, have yet to fully understand Frederick Douglass’ famous words that, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
The general consensus among the liberal intelligentsia (progressives like Michael Moore, Daniel Ellsberg, and the editors of The Nation all of whom endorsed Obama for re-election) is we must now push the president and the Democrats to enact real progressive policies a la FDR’s insistence supporters “make me do it.”
The problem with this otherwise sound strategy is they are offering it to the wrong people. If the last four years have proved anything it is that liberals will not challenge Obama—even when he engages in the same war crimes as George W. Bush. And, contrary to popular perception, Occupy Wall Street is primarily made up of Greens, Independents, Anarchists, or devoted activists who abstain from electoral politics entirely. I know several of the members of Occupy Maine, and very few of them are Democrats, let alone Obama supporters.

I certainly agree we need to exert far greater influence on both Obama and the Congress. But let’s get real here. Liberals refused to push back against this president throughout his first term. It is na├»ve to believe they will behave differently during his second.
Indeed, the gushing adulation liberals have for Obama borders on the absurdly nauseating at times. As one such Obama acolyte posted Monday night on Facebook, “The president just told what may have been the sweetest anecdote I’ve ever heard. Love this man, can’t wait to re-elect him tomorrow!” (Comma splice noted.) Excuse me for a moment while I throw up all over myself.
Look, one can certainly like and admire President Obama. But as citizens we should not be afraid to challenge our elected officials—regardless if we voted for them. Doing so, incidentally, will not “empower the Republicans,” because Republicans are not holding Obama to any sort of standard. They will hate him no matter what he does or does not do.
The problem with partisan politics is it prevents Americans from taking an objective, at times adversarial look at a politician’s actions when he is “your guy.” This sort of knee-jerk partisanship turns voters into pre-teen Twilight fans. Are you on “Team Edward,” or “Team Jacob”? Team Obama or Team Romney? Team Democrat or Team Republican? Never mind that the two teams are both playing for the same corporate masters.
As it is, we do not even have one hundred percent voter turnout in this country. So, for all those who view voting as the single act of democratic participation—a little less than half the eligible population, roughly—there is  a remaining segment that cannot even be bothered to do that much.
The point is there needs to be more than just voting. We need to become, in the words of Ralph Nader, “full-time citizens.” Only then will we be able to create a truly representative democracy—one that is responsive to all citizens and not just the privileged few. I do not always agree with Portland’s League of Young Democrats—err, “Voters,” but I do agree with their “Obama Manifesto” on the back of this year’s voter guide.
“Disclaimer,” it reads, “Ballot is not effective when voter remains disengaged after election.”
Katy Perry, one of many celebrity Obama supporters, dressed as a ballot.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Inverted Pyramid Journalism at Work

Re: "Burlesque dancer wiggles into seat on Portland school board," Portland Press Herald, 11/10/2012.

Here we go again--another attempt by the "liberal" media to smear the Greens. Three points in response to Randy Billing's story:

1. Holly's burlesque dancing is not news. It has been covered by a number of local publications, as well as the Daily Show's "Indecision 2012" blog. If the PPH was hoping to influence Holly's electoral prospects with this story, they are about five days too late. Furthermore, the fact that she won suggests Portland voters do not care what she does in her free time--nor should they.

2. It is disappointing (though not at all surprising) that Holly's school committee platform is not mentioned until the story's end. This is in keeping with this sort of disparaging, sensational style of coverage. By making Seeliger's burlesque dancing the primary focus of the story, her actual insight, qualifications, and plans for educational improvement all become after thoughts. As someone who has worked as a professional reporter, I can assure you this type of Inverted Pyramid structured journalism is completely intentional.

3. To Joe Markley, who writes in the comment section, "They [Portland Greens who have previously served on the School Board] had no interest in improving education, [sic] their total agenda was to advance social causes such as kicking the ROTC and Military recruiters out of the school, removing the Columbus Day holiday and just basically insuring [sic] our children be taught a progressive curriculum. There's enough politics in the world already, let's keep it out of education and give our kids the knowledge they will need and deserve."

Nice idea, Joe, but it's not possible to separate politics from education. Education is inherently political. What you are looking for is not education at all, but job training. If this is the case, I would suggest home-schooling your child/children or sending them to a private charter school where you as a parent can dictate the curriculum administered. And while I am offering you unsolicited suggestions, I would also suggest you go back to school yourself and learn to write properly.

Indeed, the only thing Holly has to be ashamed of is not her burlesque dancing, but the fact she once interned for Tom Allen.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Members of Portland's League of Young Voters at the First Friday Art Walk, Nov. 2.

I will never understand why so many Americans choose not to vote. Frankly, it is childish. That being said, I do despair at how so many others incorrectly view the single act of voting as the be-all-end-all of the democratic process. Voting is just one piece of the process of being a citizen. In fact, the League of Young Voters put it best in this year's voter guide:

"We voters cannot afford to just vote and go home. We need to vote and then hold our elected leaders accountable to the promises they made for our future. The Occupy Wall Street movement has already shown what everyday people can do to bring attention to a broken political system."

(They write this, of course, after having endorsed Barack Obama for another four years. Go figure...)

If you still need convincing on why you should vote Green this year click here.

Read the blog post and then go out and vote. There will be a quiz later on who won.

P.S. If you vote at Portland's Expo Center, you will likely see me there greeting voters. I'll spell out here what I am prohibited from explicitly telling you at the polls: "Vote for Asher Platts for state Senate."

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Perfect Storm: This is What Climate Change Looks Like

We were fortunate here in Maine to have avoided the worst of “superstorm” Hurricane Sandy on Monday. New York and New Jersey were not so lucky.
So here is my question in the wake of the devastating storm: Is it now permissible to have an open, serious conversation about global warming? Such a conversation would be particularly pertinent here in Maine since, like New York, we are a coastal state. Just sayin’…
Neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama mentioned the words “global warming” or “climate change” during the three extended promotional advertisements known as “presidential debates.” Indeed, the issue has scarcely been discussed throughout the campaign.
This is a first according to Anne Zeiser writing for the Huffington Post (11/02/2012), who notes that global warming has been an “integral part of the dialogue” in previous elections. In 2008 both Obama and John McCain made combating climate change a significant part of their platforms. Even Romney, as governor of Massachusetts conceded that global warming is a threat. “I think the risks of climate change are real,” he told Katie Couric in a 2007 interview, “…and I think that human activity is contributing to it.” Newly redesigned hard-right Romney, however, has backed away from that position.
It seems it has taken the scorn of Sandy to thrust the issue back into the media—at least for the time being.
“Will Climate Change Get Some Respect Now?” New York Times columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof asks in the title to a recent piece (11/01/2012). The Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald followed suit with a similar editorial (“Sandy a call for action on climate change policy,” 11/04/2012). “Next time, it could be us [Maine], and there will be a next time,” the editors write. “We are in an era of severe weather events that we can expect to get worse based on our inability to develop policy that responds adequately to climate change.” And the cover story of the recent issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek says it all: “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”
Whether readers heed the urgent warnings in any of these publications remains to be seen.

As it is, the only presidential candidates who have made combating climate change major centerpieces of their campaigns are Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson—and most of the American public has never heard of either of them. (And those that have would rather stick with Obama, who could not even be bothered to attend this summer’s global environmental convention in Rio, Brazil.) In response to Hurricane Sandy, Stein unveiled a new Internet ad which blames both corporate candidates for “captaining our ship of state into more [weather-related] danger.” But due to lack of funds, voters will not see this ad on television.
If anything, Hurricane Sandy was a wake-up call for humanity. Global warming is accelerating far more rapidly than scientists initially envisioned. This summer was the warmest on record. Much of the southwest endured interminable drought and devastating forest fires. And the Arctic sea ice is melting at an unprecedented rate. (In July, 97 percent of Greenland’s ice sheet experienced some degree of surface melt, according to images from NASA.) In fact, Goddard Institute for Space Studies official and esteemed climate change scientist, James Hansen claims the recent extreme weather and record-breaking heat patterns experienced throughout the world cannot be attributed to anything other than global warming.
Here’s the takeaway: It is clear at this point that, short of a massive, sustained Occupy-style grassroots resistance to push the next president to make serious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, our political leaders will not adequately address the climate crisis.
Given the vast influence the coal, oil and energy industry has over our elected officials from both parties, Congress is simply incapable of taking meaningful action. Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Gulf and the other major oil companies essentially have the Republican and Democratic parties in their pockets. Likewise, the delusional, free-market capitalists will never put the environment before the economy, or anything they perceive as “hindering job growth.” If they have to literally fry the planet in order to maintain their perverse “profits-before-people” order, so be it.
Therefore, it is imperative we abandon the two corporate parties and elect Greens at both the local and national levels of government. And there’s no need to wait until 2016 or 2014 or whenever “practical” liberals consider it politically expedient to give Greens a chance. You can start this year—on Tuesday. There are a number of environmentally-conscious Greens running for Maine’s House and Senate here in Portland, including Tom MacMillan, Seth Berner, Asher Platts and Fred Horch in Brunswick.
Secondly, we need, in the words of environmental activist and writer Bill McKibben to “put our bodies on the line.” We need to engage in collective forms of nonviolent civil disobedience to block the building of pipelines, the removal of mountains, the construction of new coal-operated facilities and the like. McKibben and his activist peers had some success with this effort last year in (at least temporarily) halting the creation of the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. So do not tell me such acts of protest are ineffective.
As I stated earlier, Hurricane Sandy was a devastating wake up call. The question now, for all of us, is whether or not we will heed its warning.