Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Amgen is Exhibit A for Corporate Welfare Queens

An excellent interview from this week's Moyers & Company with Vermont Rep. Peter Welch on biotech firm, Amgen's latest corporate bailout.

As I have noted many times on this blog, corporations are the real "welfare queens" of this country--not the poor who utilize government assistance. You can read my recent piece on corporate welfare, here.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Threat in Our Own Backyard

New England Greens brave the bitter cold to protest tar sands oil in the Northeast.
Environmental activists may have successfully halted the construction of the dreaded Keystone XL Pipeline (at least for now), but another potential ecological threat looms around the corner—this one considerably closer to home.

For the past six months now, the Canadian oil company, Enbridge has been in talks with the Portland-Montreal Pipeline Company to reverse the flow of oil in a 236-mile Northeast pipeline (“Number 9 Line,”) so it can transport crude, highly corrosive tar-sands oil from Alberta, Canada into South Portland. The tar-sands would travel directly through Sebago Lake, which supplies the drinking water for much of Southern Maine. Portland-Montreal Pipeline Company is a subsidiary of Exxon-Mobil, which made $9.45 billion last year in its first quarter alone—or $1,300 per second.

Close to 2,000 activists from Maine and across New England converged in Portland on Saturday to voice their opposition to the plan.

Representatives of the Green Party, Occupy Maine/Wall Street, 350.org, the Sierra Club, Environment Maine and the National Resources Defense Council braved frigid 20-degree cold to march from Portland’s Monument Square to the Maine State Pier. There was even a snowman sweeping the streets in front of the Portland Public Library.

A young woman from Bowdoin College—one of dozens of college students from Bates, Colby, UMass Amherst and CUNY—was motivated to attend by the environmental threat tar sands poses. “It’s just the right thing to do,” she said. “There’s no other greater event to be at today.”

Rene Lopez, from Brunswick, echoed her sentiments. “This is the only planet we’ve got,” he said. “If we lose it, we lose everything. This transcends political party, religion—everything else.”

Lopez, a native of New York, noted the link between the climate crisis and the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy. “I grew up in New York and I’ve never seen 86th Street completely flooded,” he remarked. “There are people still struggling to recover from the storm. Just as there are still people trying to recover from Katrina.”

Judy Hopkins, of Pownal, did not hesitate when I asked what brought her to Saturday’s protest. “My grandchildren,” she said.

Hopkins introduced me to a young man who goes by the name “Coyote” who was arrested months earlier in Texas for protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. “It’s people like you and Coyote who give me hope that we can create a better, healthier planet,” she said.

Tar sands—sludgy, toxic deposits that contain crude bitumen—come from Alberta’s boreal forests and wetlands. Extracting it alone is extremely energy intensive and poses great risk to the native habitats. But tar sands are also significantly dirtier than conventional oil, and contain about three times as much CO2. Such a mass production of the substance would be a “carbon bomb,” in the words of esteemed NASA climate scientist James Hansen. Indeed, back in 2011 Hansen described the Keystone XL Pipeline to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer succinctly: “Game over for the climate.”

In addition to the contributions to global warming, there is the transportation concern. Line Number 9 is 62-years-old and not specifically designed to carry heavy, crude tar sands. Should the pipeline rupture, Sebago Lake could be contaminated. According to a recent article in the Bangor Daily News, “If tar sands are pumped through that pipeline, a leak could endanger the area’s water supply at Sebago Lake and be almost impossible to clean up, because the heavy oil sinks to the bottom of the waterways.”

Enbridge has racked up 804 oil spills in the last decade, including a major one in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 which the EPA is still cleaning up.

For its part, Portland-Montreal Pipeline denies it is currently pursuing tar sands extraction. Still, Boston’s New England Petroleum Council executive director, John Quinn, felt the need to pen a defensive, propagandistic Op-Ed for the Portland Press Herald earlier this week (“Tar sands oil does not pose threat to local environment,” 01/21/2013).
Quinn writes, “…bitumen-derived crude oil, such as oil [tar] sands, is no more corrosive in transmission than other crudes.” Even if true, such a statement is hardly reassuring.

Local Greens marched with members of Massachusetts’ Green-Rainbow Party, including 2012 presidential candidate, Jill Stein.

In a recent editorial (“The Real Obama Emerges Again,” 01/17/2013), Stein denounces President Obama’s lack of leadership in tackling global warming.
“As Obama’s second term begins he’s again undermining his progressive base,” she writes, “paving the way for more austerity, disparities, war and corporate power. Washington’s failure to deal justly and effectively with the fake fiscal cliff calamity leaves little hope it will resolve the real looming crisis—the unraveling economy and accelerating climate catastrophe.”

Unfortunately, Stein was unable to deliver this message to the crowd. While local elected officials Rep. Chellie Pingree and Portland Mayor Michael Brennan addressed protesters about the dangers of tar sands, Stein was explicitly prohibited from speaking by the event’s “progressive” organizers. (Even after the election, Greens are still marginalized and silenced.)

Instead, Brennan, Pingree and the other speakers urged the crowd to “call on President Obama” to “do the right thing” on tar sands energy. Problem with that is the “right thing” for the corporate-friendly, “clean coal” president may not necessarily be the right thing for the planet.

The fact that energy corporations like Exxon-Mobil are exploring tar sands extraction is testament to environmentalists’ claim that, when it comes to finite natural resources, we have essentially used up the “easy stuff.” Hence the fossil fuel industries’ rabid focus on deep-water drilling, mountaintop removal, and dirty crude like tar sands. Rather than investing in clean, renewable energy, we are literally scraping the bottom of the planetary barrel.
This is the disease of unregulated capitalism. It is an economic system that turns everything, including human lives and the environment, into a commodity. It is, furthermore, a deeply irrational system predicated on the concept of unceasing, exponential growth—all at the expense of the ecosystems that support life on the planet.

But until capitalism is toppled in favor of a more just, humane form of social democracy, those of us in Portland and beyond will have to make due with raising our voices in protest against the assault on the planet.





Friday, January 25, 2013

Misguided Defense of Corporate "Rights"

Re: Another View: “Corporate ‘personhood’ rights can also defend freedom,” by William P. Shumaker, Portland Press Herald, 01.24.2013.

Good lord—the level of ignorance expressed in Mr. Shumaker’s editorial is astounding. He evidently has no clear understanding of the abject threat unfettered corporate influence poses to our representative democracy.

For starters, the groups he lists—Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club and the Maine Education Association—are not “corporations” by any stretch of the imagination. The first two are nonprofit social/environmental advocacy groups; the MEA is a teachers union. Corporations are privately-owned commercial industries with vast, global presence like Exxon Mobil, Wal-Mart, Proctor & Gamble and 20th Century Fox. The Sierra Club a corporation…? Hardly. That’s like equating Portland’s independent Coffee by Design stores with a national corporate chain like Starbucks.

Secondly, the Portland Press Herald (which is itself owned by a corporation, Maine Today Media, Inc.) need not fear any of the losses of constitutional rights Shumaker outlines. Due to the inherent pro-business influence parent corporations exert over their media outlets, Bill Nemitz and other PPH columnists need not worry the paper will be “closed indefinitely” by the governor as Shumaker warns, because they have been in their positions long enough to have thoroughly ingrained the degree of gubernatorial criticism or other dissenting opinions the paper’s editorial staff--and, more importantly, its advertisers--will tolerate. (Maine Today Media also receives corporate backing from the financial firms, Citizens Bank and HM Capital Partners. Nonprofits like the Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, receive the bulk of their contributions from individual supporters.)

In other words, the PPH and nearly every other corporate-owned newspaper already operate under the near-total chilling effect of a totalitarian government. And this is exactly why we need a constitutional amendment overturning the concept of corporate “personhood.”

The “difference” between corporations’ legal right to use unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, campaigns and political speech in general, and the right of unions and nonprofits to do the same—to answer Naran Row-Spaulding’s question in the Comments section--is one of proportionality.

Massive, financial juggernauts like Exxon Mobil, Wal-Mart, GE and the like can easily outspend rag-tag, supporter-funded outfit like Planned Parenthood. And they can certainly outspend financially-strapped unions—most of which are financially, politically and culturally weaker than at any other point in history. The way Row-Spaulding and the author describe it, one is to believe a company like Wal-Mart—the nation’s largest retailer and employer—would be afraid of losing business to the local mom-and-pop hardware store down the street. (Again, none of the groups Row-Spaulding lists below—NEA, AARP, Maine People’s Alliance, etc.—are for-profit corporations. Though, in fairness, AARP has behaved more like a corporation than a nonprofit in recent years, so I could conceivably give her that one.)

This issue has nothing to do with corporation members giving up their “rights as Americans” as Shumaker claims. Those of us who support abolishing corporate personhood are in no way attempting to curb anyone’s First Amendment rights. Rather, we are attempting to restore those of the average citizen. His attempts, furthermore, to cast this as a "two-sided" issue by indicting liberal groups and unions are misguided. It is a definitively one-sided issue as corporations currently hold all the power in our country. In his attempt to defend corporations' "rights," Shumaker comes off as an apologist for the very totalitarianism he warns of.

Mr. Shumaker is certainly entitled to his own opinion. But his understanding of the pervasive influence of corporate power in our country today is shaky at best.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bullet to the Head

Re: "Hundreds of Gun Enthusiasts Flock to Augusta Show," Portland Press Herald, 01.20.2013 

I have never fired, handled or even touched a gun in my life—and I have no desire to anytime soon. I do not hunt. In the event I ever start a family of my own, I will forbid guns of any sort in my house. If that makes me an “irresponsible” citizen in the eyes of gun-rights advocates, so be it.

Even though I have lived in Maine all my life, I did not grow up around guns the way so many Mainers do. My parents did not own guns. My grandfather, who was an avid hunter, kept a small collection of rifles in his house, but they were always locked up in a display case. Even so, I remember being frightened by the guns when I would visit his house as a young boy. I understood, even at that young age, they were instruments of death. Perhaps it is because I live in the relative safety of Maine, but I have never felt the need to own a gun for “protection.”

What frustrates me most about the firearms debate is gun-rights defenders’ insistence that no amount of gun ownership laws will prevent gun deaths or school shootings. As Augusta gun show attendee, Bill Letellier tells the PPH regarding President Obama’s proposed gun ownership laws, “It’s not going to stop an insane person from doing something crazy.”

This attitude is a cop-out. Look, even the strictest gun ownership laws with the most diligent oversight will not prevent every single shooting from occurring. Such laws are not a panacea. But that does not mean we as a society should not do everything in our power to at least try to minimize the amount of gun deaths by making guns more difficult to obtain. To throw up your hands and claim “It’s a waste of time,” is not a solution to the problem. Incidentally, conservatives are guilty of the same defeatist attitude I accuse liberals of in my previous post. It goes to show a lack of moral conviction knows no ideological boundaries.

Furthermore, while I begrudgingly accept the Second Amendment as the constitutional law-of-the-land*, I wish Americans fought to preserve the beleaguered First and Fifth Amendments with nearly as much tenacity and intransigence.
*According to David Swanson’s book, Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union (2009, Seven Stories Press), “The Second Amendment was written to protect Southern states’ right to use armed militias to enforce slavery… If we read the Second Amendment as providing an individual right to bear arms, it is important to notice that it makes no distinction between the right to bear arms to violently protect oneself and the right to bear arms to easily slaughter masses of people, or the fact that some types of arms are much better suited to the latter than the former” (207).     

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Plight of the Underdog

Why it's not Easy Being Green

One thing I am already grateful for about 2013 is that it will be a non-presidential election year. Greens typically fare better in these “off-year” elections—including midterms and odd-year municipal elections—as voters are generally not subjected to the same level of misplaced and irrational fear mongering of the two major parties. Here in Portland, Greens have been highly successful at the local and state level, particularly on the City Council and School Board. So much for the oft-asserted claim that Greens “can’t win.”

While your town’s municipal elections this fall are unlikely to draw nearly the amount of frenzied media coverage as the recent presidential election, they are, in many respects, of far greater consequence. Representatives of town or city council, water district, school committee and other municipal departments are instrumental in crafting and executing town or city policies that directly affect residents.

And even-year midterm elections for federal congressional representatives are, constitutionally-speaking, vastly more significant than any vote for president as the majority of political authority (including the power to start and end wars) rests in the Legislative Branch. (Of course, the numerous unconstitutional transgressions of both the Bush and Obama administrations have shifted many of those powers to the Executive.)

The point is, American voters tend to have their priorities backwards, placing greater emphasis on the increasingly vapid presidential elections, when it is the lesser hyped congressional and municipal races that truly deserve our attention. As a result, midterm and “off-year” elections routinely generate far less turnout. It also means voters may be more willing to take a chance on a Green candidate as issues and policy concerns are not overshadowed by presidential personality contests.

When I was campaigning for my friend Asher Platts last fall, I found the voters most hostile to our platform were not conservatives or "centrist" independents, but liberals.

Strange as it sounds, conservatives would usually at least hear me out before dismissing me. Sometimes we would even get a lively, yet cordial debate going at their door-step. Not so with liberals. One woman, who had numerous Obama/Bidden signs on her yard screamed at me “I don’t vote for Greens!” When I politely informed her there was no Republican in the race, she simply repeated her first statement and slammed the door.

Another middle-aged, Democrat urged Asher to drop his state senate bid right there and then so as not to “steal votes” from his opponent, Justin Alfond. Again, this was a traditional two-way race (with no Republican). The idea that Asher would “steal” votes from Alfond simply by running against him is not only illogical—it is antidemocratic.

But by far the most infuriating liberal voters responded as the individual I wrote about here. They would tell me how much they agreed with Asher’s platform—but could not vote for him because all of his legislative goals are impossible to enact. First off, as I explained in the aforementioned post, this is simply not true. All of Asher’s five main policy positions (single-payer healthcare, universal college education, creation of a state bank in Maine, higher taxes for the wealthy, and removing corporate money from elections) have been successfully implemented in other states or countries.

But this reflexive “It’s impossible!” attitude has become the default position of liberals. They are so preoccupied with working within the narrow parameters of so-called “political reality,” (the hallmark of which are the oft-touted themes of “compromise” and “bipartisanship,”) they no longer fight for actual progressive gains. Rather than making any real demands of Democratic lawmakers, progressive groups like MoveOn.org, the Sierra Club, and the local Maine People’s Alliance dutifully champion the president’s few meager reforms—while ignoring his track record on civil liberties, the environment and drone warfare, entirely.

Modern day liberals do not believe in anything other than the Democratic Party. And just look at how far that’s gotten us. Case in point, a recent issue of The Nation magazine featured a cover-story titled, “How to Save the Democratic Party.”

Democrats threw poor and working class Americans under the bus decades ago, with President Bill Clinton perhaps symbolizing the party’s final assault on its traditional constituents. Indeed, while Republicans generally cow-tow to their base’s every whim, Democrats seem to hold their supporters in contempt. The notoriously foul-mouthed Rahm Emmanuel, as Obama’s Chief of Staff, called progressives “fucking retarded,” while former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs derided them as the “Professional Left.”

Chris Hedges is right: The liberal class is dead.

Yet, despite the Democrats’ complete and utter submission to corporate interests, we still struggle to get newcomers to join the Green Party. The 2000 election debacle, and the Democrats’ ludicrous insistence that Ralph Nader, rather than the conservative Supreme Court, threw the presidency to George W. Bush has forever soured progressives’ view of third-parties. Americans have ingrained this false notion that independent or third-party candidates are “spoilers” or electoral “saboteurs.” They have accepted the equally asinine argument that a vote for a third-party candidate is actually a vote for a Republican. As long as the left perceives the Republicans to be just that much worse than the Democrats, we will remain locked in a perpetual corporate party monopoly.

As a result, I routinely encounter registered Democrats who assure me they are “Greens in spirit,” whatever that is supposed to mean. These individuals strike me as Nietzsche’s “falsely dubbed ‘free spirits’,” who, in Beyond Good and Evil, he calls, “unfree and laughably superficial” (40-41). Nietzsche, whose proto-postmodernist thinking defies easy political categorization, believed only those who are fiercely critical and eternally skeptical of societal institutions can become truly free-spirits (for him the “Ubermensch,” or spiritual “overman”). Such free-spirits, he conceded, will naturally be misunderstood—perhaps even mistrusted or met with hostility—by the mediocrity-revelers of “the herd.”

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe,” Nietzsche writes. “If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”

Truth be told, as a party we have largely given up trying to convert Democrats to the Green Party. Too many of them are just locked into their partisan thinking. Last fall, Asher received far more support from college students, the working-poor, and first-time voters. These groups were far more receptive to his campaign than the establishment liberals that make up the majority of Portland voters.

Personally, I no longer waste time with liberals. They are a lost cause.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Welcome to the Corporate Welfare State

While the overblown hysteria of the “fiscal cliff” is behind us (for now, anyway), the assault on the poor, the needy and the disenfranchised continues.

Now that House Republicans have given President Obama his modest tax increases for the wealthy, Washington insiders speculate he will soon be expected to return the favor with deep cuts to essential programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And, contrary to liberals’ blind insistence the president will do the “right thing,” he has stated on numerous occasions he is prepared to enact a “Grand Bargain” with the GOP with regard to these cherished social programs.

Here in Maine, Gov. Paul LePage has been given the go-ahead by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to enact at least some of his proposed cuts to the state’s Medicare program, MaineCare. More than 20,000 low-income Mainers—including senior citizens and those with disabilities—are now in danger of losing their MaineCare benefits by March 1. LePage, who routinely references his own struggle with childhood poverty, insists that Maine is “too generous” with its “entitlement” (read: earned income) programs. This is the same compassionate governor, readers may recall, who blasted welfare recipients during last year’s Republican convention, urging them to “Get off the couch and get yourself a job!”

Yet, right-wingers are correct about one thing: We do live in a welfare state.

But they are confused about the actual recipients of the government handouts. It is not the poor and middle-class that enjoy these benefits—they primarily go to corporations and the rich. They are the real welfare queens. Through a seemingly endless array of complex loopholes, tax-breaks, government subsidies, bailouts and other benefits and fraudulent practices, corporations are the real moochers of society.

How does corporate welfare compare to social welfare, you ask? Consider the following statistics:

According to the libertarian Cato Institute, the government spent $93 billion on corporate subsidies in 2002 alone (that number was $205 billion in 2012). This is compared with the roughly $59 billion spent on traditional welfare programs annually. Additionally, 30 multi-billion dollar Fortune 500 corporations—including General Electric and Boeing—did not pay any income taxes at all in the last three years, according to a 2011 report by Citizens for Tax Justice. All the while, these corporations were raking in $160 billion in profits, collectively--and they kept every dime.

Yet Mitt Romney and the “liberal” media would rather we focus our outrage on the alleged 47 percent of citizen tax-evaders he derided when he thought no one was listening. In fact, the only presidential candidate I recall ever mentioning the issue of corporate welfare was Jill Stein—and most Americans do not know who she is.

As Ralph Nader noted in a 1996 article for Earth Island Journal (“It’s Time to End Corporate Welfare as We Know It”):

“…[B]y any yardstick, there is far more crime, and far more violence, and far more welfare disbursement…in the corporate world than in the impoverished street arena. The federal government’s corporate welfare programs number over 120. They are so varied and embedded that we actually grow up thinking that the government interferes with the free enterprise system, rather than subsidizing it.” (From Nader’s The Ralph Nader Reader, Seven Stories Press, 2000, p. 154.)

Indeed, I think it is high time U.S. corporations started taking responsibility for their own lives. You know—pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Unfortunately, Americans are more likely to read blame-the-poor editorials like West Islander, Davies Allan’s from Tuesday’s Portland Press Herald (“After vain pay hike request, strikers now public burden,” 01/08/2013).

Allan erroneously blames the Hostess bakers’strike for the company’s shutdown last winter, when it was in fact, the owners who simply decided it was easier to dismantle the business entirely than pay their workers a living wage. He writes of the striking workers, “What if we all had [their] attitude? There would be no one left to row the boat we want to ride in for free.”

I read Allan’s mercifully short rant the same day AIG announced it would thank the federal government for saving it from collapse with taxpayer money with… a lawsuit. AIG (American International Group) claims the Federal Reserve violated its Fifth Amendment property rights and, more importantly, may have interfered with shareholders’ earnings. As veteran financial reporter William Greider aptly puts it in The Nation, AIG’s brazen, utterly ungrateful behavior “sets a world record for breath-taking arrogance” (“AIG Investors Break the World Record for Arrogance,” 01/08/2013). But, according to corporate apologists like Allan, unskilled, $15-an-hour workers with the nerve to demand better working conditions are the ones looking for a “free ride.”

It is important to keep in mind the banks are chiefly responsible for crashing the economy. Giant banks like Chase, Goldman-Sachs and Merrill Lynch sold “toxic” or junk assets they knew were worthless and then insidiously bet against them on the market. This is no different than setting your own house on fire, and then trying to cash-in on the homeowner’s insurance—a criminal practice commonly known as insurance fraud. The only difference is if convicted of fraud, you or I would go to jail. Wall Street hedge-fund managers do not.

These corporations follow one objective: Maximize profits while socializing losses. Call it “free-market” capitalism if you must, but it seems more like socialism for the rich to me.

So, to all you Davies Allans out there who think the rest of us are not appropriately pulling our economic weight, be sure to include all those wealthy Fortune 500 companies that routinely receive government bailouts, subsidies, tax-breaks and other assorted handouts in your Randian diatribes as well. The working-poor are sick of being the target of your ignorant, misdirected hostility.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

An Origin Story

(Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying, and Rage Against the Machine) 
Welcome 2013!

I, for one, am glad to leave 2012 behind. It was not a “bad” year, necessarily, but a difficult one. My work with the Green Party continues to be a valuable learning experience for me. This is good because, in the words of Drew Barrymore, “I never want to stop learning.” Indeed, Sagittarians like me are supposed to thrive on academic pursuits and intellectual growth. I can definitely relate to that part of my astrological sign.

If anything my work with the Platts and Stein campaigns this year further cemented my conviction in the power of citizens to make a difference. I often struggle to answer when people ask me how I got involved in political activism. Like so many things, it was a gradual process of one thing leading to another. Certainly my civic-minded, social worker parents likely helped foster my sense of social justice and compassion for the poor, the needy and the disabled.

In the interest of providing some sort of comprehensive summary of how I learned you can, in fact, fight City Hall (and sometimes win), I thought I would kick-off 2013 with the story of how I , in the words of Mission of Burma, escaped my certain fate.

I have been involved in activism for the last eight years of my life. Like most young people, my political awakening began in college when I was first exposed to new ideas and ways of viewing the world.

I can’t lie—the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks also did a lot to shock me out of my adolescent complacency and take an interest in world events. In fact, I was sitting in my very first college class as a freshman at Colby-Sawyer (Concepts in Communications with Professor Ernie Freeberg) when we got word of the first plane crash. About 15 minutes before class was scheduled to end, someone pulled Prof. Freeberg out of the classroom and whispered something in his ear. I will never forget his words when he returned to face the class with a concerned look on his face. “I’m going to end class early today,” he informed us. “I just got word the nation is under attack.” After 9/11 I got in the habit of reading a newspaper every day.

Those were scary times to be a progressive. While much of the chilling, “you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us” cultural atmosphere has since subsided, I can still remember how palatable the feeling of constant fear was. As the Bush administration scrambled to invade Iraq, I strongly felt the need to speak out against the impending war, but the pervasive rhetoric of militant patriotism kept me silent. Furthermore, I lacked, at the time, the knowledge and education to articulate my antiwar sentiments. It was really scary to speak out during those early years of the “War on Terror.” But, as I found similarly liberal-minded friends, and started reading authors like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Ralph Nader, I slowly found my activist voice.

I wish I could say I have always been a Green. Alas, this was not the case. Like many radical activists who eventually find their way to the Green Party, I too, for longer than I care to admit, drank the Kool-Aid offered by the Democratic Party. I voted for Al Gore in 2000, Kerry in 2004, and every Democrat on the ballot in the 2006 midterm election.

Ironically, it was that last election—not a presidential one—that finally and resolutely soured me on the Democratic Party. After the Democrats reclaimed both chambers of Congress in that noteworthy 2006 midterm election, they then proceeded to flex their new legislative power by doing….absolutely nothing.

Rather than ending the Iraq war, investigating the use of torture and illegal surveillance, and impeaching George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for their numerous unconstitutional abuses of power, the Dems instead continued to fund the war while doing nothing to curtail the practice of torture, spying or other Patriot Act-inspired abuses of executive power.  And party leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Rep. John Conyers made one pathetic excuse after another as to why nobody in the Bush administration could be impeached. It is precisely due to this failure to uphold the Constitution that Barack Obama is now able to carry out unmanned predator drone strikes in Pakistan and Somalia and maintain a targeted kill-list—executive powers far more frightening than any Bush and Cheney ever dreamed of.

Indeed, the Democrats’ complete and utter fealty to electoral aspiration and thorough abandonment of the Constitution made clear to me they are not an opposition party to the Republicans, but rather an enabling one. All those people who, years earlier, had been telling me there is virtually no difference between the two parties? Turns out they were right. After a vote for Nader in 2008 I went Green and never looked back.

Yet, as rewarding as my activist work is, it can come at a personal cost. I have been called all sorts of names simply for taking part in antiwar marches or vigils. One time, during a protest of one of George W. Bush’s many visits to Kennebunkport (my hometown, incidentally), a woman called me a “horrible person.” Let’s stop and think about that, for a minute: Standing up against a president who launched an illegal war based on lies and openly tortures prisoners including American citizens makes one a “horrible person”? If that is my only crime, I think I can live with myself.

Likewise, my colleagues and I in the Green Party are constantly subject to demeaning pejoratives like “spoiler,” or political “saboteurs.” The corporate press either mocks our candidates as illegitimate or unserious, or ignores them entirely. The local and national Democratic Parties routinely spread lies and disinformation campaigns that our candidates are “anti-choice,” or oppose gay marriage. (The Maine Democrats and Equality Maine did this to two of our local candidates this past election.)

The more involved in activism I become, the greater my detachment to liberals and progressives who ostensibly share my political values, yet routinely fail to act on them. (For the record, I no longer describe myself as a “liberal.” I consider myself a democratic-socialist.)
Any liberal who voted for Barack Obama cannot in good conscience claim to care about peace and social justice. That may be too reductionist an argument for some, but that is how I see it. I am not interested in playing political games or strategically voting for the candidate I think will cause the “least amount of damage.” I vote for the candidate who best represents my views on the issues.

Part of being an activist is putting oneself out there, and not being afraid to go against the grain. Consider the plight of the early abolitionists, or civil rights pioneers. They were constantly belittled by mainstream conservatives and liberals alike as “extremists,” or “unrealistic.” The “practical” people always resist progressive change.

As socialist labor activist, Eugene Debs said,

“If it had not been for the discontent of a few fellows who had not been satisfied with their conditions, you would still be living in caves. Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization. Progress is born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation.”

Going forward, Guerrilla Press intends to continue raking the muck, speaking truth to power and offering a unique, Green perspective on the issues of the day. We have a new Democratic Legislature in Maine, a new U.S. Senator in Republican, I mean "Independent" Angus King, and an ongoing showdown between corporate austerity measures and the social safety-net for the poor.

I look forward to comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Let’s make sure 2013 is the year we win all victories that are meant to be ours.

Famed Socialist leader, Eugene Debs, ran for president numerous times, once from prison.