© Josh Sager – December 2014 – TheProgressiveCynic.com

All views are the writer’s and may not represent the views of all Activate staff

The modern right wing establishment has developed an extremely effective formula for partisan political success. They have deployed this formula—backed up by billions of dollars in corporate and interests group money—to great effect and the left has had no cohesive response.

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There are the three ingredients in this formula: Simplicity, absolutism, and repetition.

Simplicity: When talking about policy, the right wing keeps the message short, extremely simple, and easy for the lay-person to grasp (ex. cutting taxes stimulates growth, regulation retards growth, etc.). It doesn’t matter if the right wing message is complete nonsense, because the people will remember the short sound bite and will likely lack an understanding of the nuanced and wonky refutation.

Absolutism: They make every issue black or white and tolerate no nuance (ex. no regulation on guns). This creates a stark contrast between the acceptable point of view and everything else, creating a strong political herd mentality that suppresses dissent. Additionally this absolutism ensures that the right wing position on any one issue is far more uniform than the corresponding position by the Democrats (who split their policy platform within their larger tent).

Repetition: When the right wing decides upon a course of action, they begin repeating the same talking points ad infinitum (ex. Benghazi)—every politician and pundit gets on the same page and they use their positions to create an echo chamber that magnifies the spread of their message. This repetition allows even patently ridiculous ideas to gain major traction because the media will cover the “debate” between the entire right wing, which has agreed on a lie, and everybody else.

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Here is a basic example of this entire process playing out: After the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, the right wing decided that the situation was a scandal that would permanently scar the Obama administration. Every politician and pundit in the right wing started talking about the attack and going through a consistent series of accusations (ex. Obama didn’t call the attack terrorism, the State Department was lying about the motivation for the attack, the Obama administration stopped the deployment of reinforcements, etc.). For months, every right winger to be on the public airwaves would mention the same talking points and accusations, leading media organizations to turn what should have been an unfortunate few days of news into a months-long saga through a quagmire of accusations that were quickly proven false.

In short, the right wing decides what it wants to achieve, creates easily quoted talking points to mobilize their base in that direction, and ensures that every person within their umbrella stays with that unified message; even if those talking points are completely unrealistic or easily debunked by basic reading of the facts they are repeated until the ill-informed American public have them imprinted on their brain. Because they stick together and have power in numbers, the media is hesitant to call them out and the public never realizes that they are being lied to (one politician spouting nonsense is easily mocked, but when half of the political establishment decides to spout that same nonsense, the media calls is a debate).

While this formula is very effective for mobilizing partisan support, it is also completely toxic to the creation of realistic policy. Reality is complex, filled with nuance, and rarely easy to reduce to bumper-sticker slogans. This means that a policy platform which is based around overly simplified slogans that everybody decides to get on board with rarely accounts for the complexity that is demanded by real life policy challenges.

From what I can see, progressives have declined to enact such a propaganda formula for several reasons.

First, progressives have tried to deal in good faith while pursuing their goals, and have tried to sway people with factual arguments rather than convincing lies. In effect, the progressives have focused on leading people to think like they do, while conservatives have adopted an “ends justify the means” mindset and have little compunction about using lies to lead people to their point of view.

Second, while progressives have to align unions, the poor, racial minorities, youths, women, and a whole host of diverse groups, the conservatives largely just have to align a largely-homogenous pool of older, white men behind their message. Because progressives rely on a much more diverse constituency it is far harder for them to achieve absolutism in their messaging.

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Third, the mainstream media is a corporate entity that is far more accepting of conservative corporatism than leftist populism—even MSNBC, which is the “left” news station is more corporatist and Democratic apologist than progressive. This means that, even if they were to create a unified message tailored to trick low-information voters, it would be far harder for progressives to repeat those talking points than it is for conservatives. They would face more pushback from the punditry and would likely be called out by media outlets hoping to prove that they aren’t part of the “left-wing media.”

It is important for the left to understand this right wing formula, if only so we can make efforts to disrupt it when it inevitably happens in the future. If we can rapidly debunk the right wing talking points in the mainstream media before they become a meme, we may be able to limit the spread of such propaganda to the right wing echo chamber (Fox, Drudge, etc.), where they are preaching to the choir. This would require very rapid responses to nascent right wing talking points and for the left to coordinate unified responses across its diverse constituency—such a plan is likely only possible on some issues, where there are few conflicts within the left’s tent (ex. minimum wages, voting rights, etc.).

Black Friday vs. the 2014 Election, One Statistic Shows the Sickness of our “Democracy”

© Josh Sager – December 2014 – TheProgressiveCynic.com

All views are of the writer and may not represent the views of all Activate staff

Americans love to believe that we live in “the home of the free and land of the brave” that sets the standard for democracy across the globe. Unfortunately, those who believe this are seriously delude and there is one simple statistic that proves it:

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On Black Friday, approximately 140 million Americans braved the crowds at major shopping outlets, nearly 22 million of whom shopped at Walmart alone—when compared against the total US population of 316.1 million, this represents a shopper turnout of nearly 44% (which is an under-estimate, as the total US population includes children, inmates and people who are logistically unable to access stores). Conversely, during the 2014 election, only 77 million Americans voted—this represents a voter turnout of just over 36.4% of the eligible population.

To put the pathetic turnout in American elections into perspective, we just need to look at Europe as a comparison. Our 36.4% voter turnout puts us marginally below that of Estonia (36.5%), far below Italy’s 57% turnout, and comically below Belgium’s nearly 90% turnout. Although, to be fair, we did edge out Bulgaria, the UK, Romania, Latvia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

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Put simply, nearly twice as many Americans were motivated to rush to the stores in search of deals on holiday gifts, than who wanted a say in who governs of the most powerful nation on earth for the next few years. This is a disgrace, both for the people whose priorities are so messed up and for the people who have made every effort to suppress the vote.

Millions have fought and died across the world fighting for the right to vote, yet Americans, who have the franchise, neglect to use it. We have devalued our vote to the point where people value it less than the ability to go out and buy useless consumer goods that are “on sale” only because the store up-marked the price during the week before the event.

Americans are disenchanted with politics, largely because it is common knowledge that money has swamped out political system, corrupting Washington and breeding widespread dysfunction/gridlock. This has led them to disengage from voting, particularly in the midterm elections. Unfortunately, while widespread, this belief isn’t rational, as the only way to change a broken system is to work towards reform—opting out only gives the corrupt politicians a veneer of credibility because they won an election.

While it may initially appear rational to abstain from voting in a system that you see as corrupt, the fact is that a refusal to vote simply reduces your influence and gives those who support the status quo a chance to declare that they have a “mandate” from the people to enact their twisted agenda. We have seen this in numerous recent elections (ex. 2010 and 1014) and will continue to see it until the American people learn.

The first step towards a future where the USA is actually a democracy—rather than a nation of the disinterested, governed by the representatives of the extreme—is to vote into power people who will enact a long-term framework for a sustainable democracy. They must create non-partisan voting districts (eliminating gerrymandering), make voting day a holiday, ensure that all citizens have equal access to the voting booths, and impose severe consequences on anybody who tries to disenfranchise voters (from either side of the political spectrum).

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If possible, these reforms should be locked behind a political firewall by passing them through a Constitutional Amendment (currently the general right to vote is not actually protected) that prevents future politicians from reducing the oversight that they face. This type of reform isn’t common or easy to achieve, but similar reforms have been passed in the past (namely the 17th Amendment that made senators directly elected rather than appointed by the state legislatures).

From Fallujah to Ferguson: the Dangerous Militarization of American Policing

© Josh Sager – TheProgressiveCynic.com

All opinions belong to the writer and may not necessarily represent the views of Activate Media as a whole

As virtually everybody who reads the news knows, the shooting of 18-year old Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer has ballooned into an extremely volatile situation—protesters have flooded the streets of Ferguson, while police have armed themselves with weapons fresh off of the Middle Eastern battlefields in Iraq. The militarization of a police force is a multi-faceted process that transforms a civil police force into what amounts to a paramilitary occupying force. In Ferguson, we are currently witnessing the end-state of a militarized police force, treating American citizens as though they were an occupied population being held under martial law in a foreign nation (ex. Iraq).

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Weapons of War on American Streets

The most obvious sign of police militarization is a repurposing of military guns, armored vehicles, and tactical uniforms for police use. Domestic police start dressing like soldiers, using the weapons of soldiers, and driving the vehicles that soldiers would use in an active military setting. These weapons allow police officers to enforce their will on the population and present an intimidating show of force to deter any dissent (ex. refusing to disperse a protest).

In addition to increasing the capacity of the police to exert force, the distribution of military weapons to domestic police creates the desire to use the new “toys” on the part of police. They have the equipment, are dying to use it (I mean, who has a tank and doesn’t want to drive it), and will pull it out at the earliest provocation, despite the fact that it isn’t the best tool for the job.

In Ferguson, we have seen the deployment of mine-resistant armored vehicles, escorting legions of police officers armed with military assault rifles. These vehicles and munitions were bought, with virtually no effort and at very low cost, through a Department of Defense program that virtually hands out millions of dollars in surplus military ordinance to domestic police forces every year.

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If you were to see the MRAP in the previous picture rolling down your street with that escort, you would be entirely justified in assuming that they were soldiers in Baghdad, hunting some dangerous terrorist with the threat of incoming RPGs keeping everybody alert—unfortunately, if you look at the tags on the officers’ flak jackets, you will see that they are simply the new police in the United States.

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…these are the MRAPs in Baghdad (specifically Camp Stryker). While the color scheme is different, they are all versions of the same vehicle.

Pro-militarization advocates (who oftentimes are “coincidentally” affiliated with arms manufacturers) argue that the US is dangerous and that our police should have the very best tools to keep themselves safe—this argument, while superficially appealing, is completely false.

As was proven by Captain Ron Johnson, pulling off the armor, and starting to walk with and talk to the protesters honestly was far more effective than presenting them with the threat of force. Tanks, guns, and military body armor enflamed the situation and led to police crackdowns, while getting officers to dialogue with the population had the opposite effect.

Criminalizing Dissent

Militarized police forces often have extreme responses to dissent, both from the population and the media. Their militarization creates a mentality that necessitates control in every situation (as though they were on a battlefield) and sees any dissent as a direct threat to be crushed at any cost—citizens are beaten, arrested, tear gasses, or even fired upon at the slightest provocation, while press agents are harassed and disrupted.

In Ferguson during the last week, we have seen police fire tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets indiscriminately at protesters while utilizing LRAD sound cannons to disperse protests. While nobody has been killed by these “non-lethal” weapons in these protests, numerous people have been injured or put into immense pain by clouds of irritating chemicals.

In addition to crushing the protesters, the police in Ferguson have made every effort to prevent the media from covering the protests. They have instituted a no fly zone over Ferguson to shut out news choppers, arrested 4 reporters (2 for not leaving a McDonalds fast enough and 2 last night while covering the protests in the streets), and even fired tear gas at an Al Jazeera camera crew.

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Put simply, the Ferguson police are demonstrating exactly why our founding fathers wrote the 1st Amendment—they are trying to suppress peaceful redress of grievance against the government and cover up their crimes by bullying the media. Unfortunately, a militarized police force doesn’t prioritize adherence to the Constitution over enforcing quiet over the population, thus police forces like that in Ferguson have regularly abused those who should be protected by the 1st Amendment with impunity (ex. Occupy Wall Street).

Occupation, not Public Service

When a police force is militarized, they prioritize enforcing rigid order over looking after the well-being of the community that they are supposed to protect. This mentality is very similar to that of an occupying army towards the population of a land that they are controlling (ex. the US military in Iraq).

A militarized police force will use military tactics and extreme force to achieve their goals, completely disregarding the long term consequences of their actions on those they police. They react with overwhelming force rather than building ties within the community and finding less damaging ways of achieving the same goals (ex. talking to community leaders to diffuse anti-police actions rather than just gassing and shooting at protesters until they disperse).

In many places, this lack of care for the wellbeing of society is coupled with a disconnect between the group doing the policing and the group being policed—the police live far away from the community that they serve, thus their only connection to the community is their duty to enforce the law. They are, in effect, foreigners maintaining order on a population that they cannot relate to, nor that they are forced to deal with in their personal lives.

The Dangers of Militarization

A militarized police force is a danger to the population that it polices and a serious threat to any free society. Police who are armed with military weapons have the power to cause immense damage and, in many cases, are more likely to resort to violence than if they were less able to exert force. They suppress any who threaten the status quo, oftentimes with violence, and are a legitimate threat to our constitutional rights.

If we continue to let our police get increasingly militarized, we will continue to see crises like the one in Ferguson. Mindless force will be used instead of honest discussion, and the most economically vulnerable of our population will be crushed under the authoritarian heel of a police force that doesn’t empathize with them (even militarized police forced don’t often mess with the rich).

Nobody serious argues that our police should be disarmed—we have nearly as many guns as we do people in the USA—but that doesn’t mean that we go to the other extreme and start handing out tanks willy-nilly.

We have reached the point where it is impossible to tell whether we are looking at a picture of soldiers in Fallujah or police officers in Missouri, and this should be a wake-up call for every American.