The Jill Stein/Green Party Town Hall Was An Historic Event

Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka were on CNN for 75 minutes last night. The enormity of this should not be lost: Green Party candidates appeared on a major cable news network and were allowed, in long-format, to discuss their views to a national and international audience. It’s safe to assume many had never seen a major US network where a presidential ticket was allowed to speak frankly on issues of class and racial injustice, women’s rights, foreign policy, the climate crisis and the jobs crisis. Nor is it likely many had seen two candidates talk openly about the need for revolution, or for someone on a presidential ticket refer to themselves as a revolutionary.

Even Ajamu Baraka clarifying his statement calling Barack Obama an “Uncle Tom” and then mentioning the need for internal discussion on the left – most people in the United States don’t have a concept of ideology or that like-minded activists can have a broader conversation about tactics and platform. Now, they might.

Predictably, the rest of the mainstream media has gone dark on Stein’s town hall. Since smearing a longer format event is more difficult when the participants perform well as did Stein and Baraka, their other option is to refuse coverage in the hopes fewer people will seek out the video. We can expect lack of coverage to continue for a few days until the Mighty Wurlitzer cranks up again and the media begins to defend the interests of their capitalist ownership groups (only 6) and the professional caste of journalists respond the way we expect from a privileged, indoctrinated group.

If you haven’t managed to catch the entire discussion, you can watch it here:

 

My KPFA Flashpoints Interview

My August 9, 2016 interview on KPFA Pacifica Radio’s program Flashpoints, where I discuss the recent smear campaign against Jill Stein, the media’s role as propaganda arm of the ruling class, and the Green Party’s chances in the upcoming election. Click here to listen; the interview begins at 44:30: https://kpfa.org/episode/flashpoints-august-9-2016/

Green Party Offers A Different Option for President

My latest interview from Thursday, Aug. 4 with Liz Benjamin on Capital Tonight, TWC News’ statewide political program. We discuss the Green Party National Convention, Jill Stein’s campaign and her latest tv ad, as well as the goals of the Green campaign. You can access it here: http://www.twcnews.com/nys/capital-region/capital-tonight-interviews/2016/08/4/peter-lavenia-080416.html

Smearing Stein: Media As Propaganda

My latest piece on Counterpunch, for those who haven’t seen it:

Smearing Stein: Media As Propaganda

AUGUST 5, 2016

Peter A. LaVenia

Jill Stein, the Green Party’s nominee for president, has been the sudden target of attacks from all corners of online media since the official end of Bernie Sanders’ campaign at the Democratic National Convention. Outlets like the Washington Post, New York Magazineand Gizmodo have assaulted Stein by using out-of-context quotes to assail her, wrongly, for being anti-vaccination and anti-WiFi, which is a code for being “anti-science.” This allows us a unique opportunity to confirm the structural role of the media as hypothesized by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in Manufacturing Consent: that the media is a propaganda arm for the elite and powerful, and is used to condition us to accept the bounds of socio-political discourse as set by the ruling class. It also shows us the desperate need we have for an alternative media culture to counteract mainstream discourse.

The attack on Stein (and not, conveniently, on Gary Johnson), is linked to the need by the elite to de-legitimize A.) critics of neoliberal policies and B.) potential alternatives to the political status-quo. Trump and Clinton have had and will have no discussion about thirty years of neoliberalism and austerity. Sanders gave a voice to those within the Democrats who were willing to question, but since his defeat momentum on the left has shifted to Stein and the Green Party. It is, granted, still early, but the outpouring of support means there is a possibility the left could begin to regroup outside the Democratic Party. Real success for Stein could mean a permanent presence on the national stage for the left, to which a president Clinton or Trump would have to answer and which would be able to build an entirely different ideological discourse in the United States.

What is the role of the media in this scenario, one that explains the current froth about Stein? Although the public is rarely allowed a glimpse behind the curtain, almost all media in the United States is controlled by just a few large corporations. In the era of mass communication, the media has usurped the role formerly played by the Church as a primary source of information and the bounds of discourse. Private corporations are interested in making a profit, and ensuring the economy continues to produce those profits. Marx once opined that “the ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class,” and in an era of (potential) mass political upheaval, the media plays an active role in silencing dissent to those ideas. Indeed, they are linked to the continued profits generated by the political order. Political candidates and parties that challenge and threaten to upend this are typically subject to vigorous criticism if they threaten to shift the political discourse or take power: witness the barrage of negative stories and editorials on leaders like Hugo Chávez or new political parties like Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain.

These attacks on Stein are produced and then echoed by a online media constructed to reach an educated, young segment of the population that has nevertheless begun to consider rejecting Clinton (and Trump) on election day.

Chomsky notes that 20-30% of the populace is highly indoctrinated so as to function as system-managers, and that these tend to correspond to the college-educated. The remaining 70-80% are fed a steady diet of entertainment programming to induce sheer apathy in politics, even though today the propaganda fed to the managerial class often takes the form of info-tainment, and news departments are filled with pundits and not reporters.

This is exactly the function of the skewed negative articles on Stein: the huge bloc of people who rejected Clinton (and Trump) are young and only loosely tethered to party affiliation. Much of the rest of the world has seen a sudden explosion in new left-wing parties winning legislative seats because the young generation has seen job prospects vanish and incomes flatline while the 1% continue to enjoy robust growth in wealth. To take quotes out of context and paint Stein as anti-science to a population segment that is highly educated really means A.) her ideas are beyond the pale and B.) she is no better on these issues than the Republican Party.

These scare tactics do not engage with the Green Party or Stein’s platform. Indeed, it is hard to call the people who wrote them journalists, as proper procedure for writing a story on a presidential candidate whose statements require clarification is to engage them or their media team in extended conversation. This is usually how it works for Clinton or Trump, but apparently not for Jill Stein. It is far easier to conduct a smear campaign when the subject is given no chance to respond.

It is important for concerned activists, citizens and voters to treat with skepticism the propaganda campaign being rolled out against Stein in the next three months. Read full quotations and speeches, doubt sensationalist headlines, and let editorial boards know your displeasure at such tactics. Realize we need to resurrect an independent press, and that a century ago papers like Appeal To Reason were not only openly socialist but able to break with established orthodoxy because they weren’t beholden to investors with a stake in the status quo.

Peter A. LaVenia has a PhD in Political Theory from the University at Albany, SUNY and is a member of the New York State Green Party’s executive committee. He can be reached on Twitter @votelavenia and at his website, unorthodoxmarxist.wordpress.com.

McMullin Is Not Getting on 30 State Ballots

Evan McMullin, former bagman for the CIA, Goldman Sachs and the House Republicans, announced a campaign for president today. His new campaign immediately received favorable press from the media – unlike, say, Jill Stein. As usual, though, the media has done minimal fact-checking when McMullin stated he hoped to get on 20-30 state ballots. Given the time-frame, deadlines, and signature totals needed he would at best get on 14 state ballots.

The filing deadlines for independent presidential candidates in most states have passed or would prove to be very difficult even for a well-funded campaign effort just getting off the ground. The full list of deadlines for states and signatures required is here – but keep in mind you often need 1.5-2 times the number of listed signatures in order to ensure no one challenges your petitions:https://ballotpedia.org/Filing_deadlines_and_signature_requirements_for_independent_presidential_candidates,_2016

By my count McMullin could, theoretically, get on up to 20 state ballots whose deadlines have not yet passed. This is improbable unless he has petition gatherers collecting before his official announcement, and nobody noticed at all. These include

Alabama 5,000 signatures 8/18/2016
Alaska 3,005 8/10/2016
Arizona 36,000 9/9/2016
California 178,039 8/12/2016
Colorado 5,000 8/10/2016
Connecticut 7,500 8/10/2016
Hawaii 4,372 8/10/2016
Idaho 1,000 8/24/2016
Iowa 1,500 8/19/2016
Kentucky 5,000 9/9/2016
Louisiana 5,000 8/19/2016
Minnesota 2,000 8/23/2016

Montana 5,000 8/17/2016
New Hampshire 3,000 8/10/2016
New York 15,000 8/23/2016
North Dakota 4,000 9/5/2016
Ohio 5,000 8/10/2016
Oregon 17,893 8/30/2016
Rhode Island 1,000 9/9/2016
Tennessee 275 8/18/2016
Utah 1,000 1,000 8/15/2016
Virginia 5,000 8/26/2016

Washington, D.C. 4,600 8/10/2016
Wyoming 3,302 8/30/2016

I’ve bolded the 14 states which he really has a feasible chance – assuming tons of money to hire petitioners and a campaign ready to direct them in each state. I’ve managed successful statewide petition drives for independent presidential candidates in NY State and it is not easy to do. Incidentally, although NY’s deadline is 8/23 I don’t believe 2 weeks is a feasible amount of time for 15k signatures unless they’ve been collecting already or are hiring hundreds of petitioners (I suppose possible if it’s Koch money or something similar). California is out. The states where he’d be on the ballot are eclectic at best.

In the back of my mind this is probably going to hurt the Libertarian Party and Gary Johnson more than Trump. Arizona, Ohio, Utah and Virginia are the only swing-ish states where it’s possible he could get on the ballot and matter to Trump.

The Election and The Spectacle

  1. Spectacular political mobilization divorces participation from political action. Consumption of the product, in the form of a candidate, replaces the activity demanded of party members in previous eras.
  2. The spectacular nature of presidential politics in the United States requires fear of the other to operate. The demonization of opponents, especially so-called third parties, is a feature of the system and not a bug. The content of the election cycle is reduced from policy into reified images of the candidate(s) and their opponent(s).
  3. The reified image of the candidate, sculpted by P.R. firms, mirrors the nature of the “good” party member/voter, whose job it is to parrot and consume media and the story projected as the image of the candidate. Little is said of party work or to do more than repeat tropes fed to the voters. The passive consumer becomes active only at the moment of voting. Even within situations of debate with opponents it is the illusion of party differences (reified images) that war, not policy or social forces.
  4. The spectacle no longer needs masses of voters to act together as in previous eras of the mass party. Proper political consumers are individuals. Mass movements threaten passive consumption and the spectacle by creating active participants – which the ruling class views with grave suspicion.
  5. Mass frenzy/hysteria prior to an election is a prelude to the removal of the hysteria. Afterwards their role is to become either apathetic, cheerleaders of or angry consumers of oppositional media. Bereft of use as voters, they are barely political at all.
  6. This complete political alienation is built alongside a capitalist economy in the core that no longer has much use for productive labor. Alienation becomes complete in all aspects of modern life.
  7. It seems clear that a political party in this era cannot combat the spectacle without existing in multiple realms: electoral, social movement, economic, and cultural.