You are browsing the archive for activism.

by danps

Hurricanes, droughts and the basic weakness of Marxist critique

4:33 am in Uncategorized by danps

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

Ismael Hossein-zadeh has an essay this week about how Marxism is better than Keynesianism at explaining the current terrible economic picture, and has better prescriptions for fixing it as well. To me the article is a great example of both the strengths and (greater) weaknesses of Marxist critique.

Drought

Drought

Marxist critique is strongest in describing the nature of capitalism and the environment it seeks to create. Capitalism seems to gravitate toward a permanent “reserve army of labor” – lots of out of work people who would love to have a job. Having a pool of idle but willing unemployed puts pressure on those who do have jobs. It puts downward pressure on wages, discourages organizing, and gives maximum leverage to the employer.

So far, so good. That dynamic should be front and center in any discussion on how to improve things. Asserting the right of collective bargaining and finding ways to support it is crucial. Getting all those people on the sidelines back into the game is vital. The article also has some interesting material on how the globalization of capital and labor are challenges that Keynes did not seem to anticipate, and that his theory does not adequately address.

Hossein-zadeh’s critique starts to go astray with what he calls structural or systemic causes of unemployment, with Keynesianism producing a perpetual cat-and-mouse game. Stimulus spending gets an economy out of an economic downturn. When the economy is humming again the stimulus is pared back, which leaves the field open for capitalist exploitation, which then brings about an economic downturn. Repeat forever. In this telling Keynesianism is the cause of downturns, because that cycle could be done away with forever by not ending the stimulus. That seems at best uncharitable, since Keynesianism doesn’t claim to abolish the business cycle. It merely describes the tools to use during down times.

But Hossein-zadeh really goes far afield when he conflates Keynesians’ prescriptions with their expectations:

The Keynesian view that the government can fine-tune the economy through fiscal and monetary policies to maintain continuous growth is based on the idea that capitalism can be controlled or manipulated by the state and managed by professional economists from government departments in the interest of all. The effectiveness of the Keynesian model is, therefore, based largely on a hope, or illusion; since in reality the power relation between the state and the market/capitalism is usually the other way around. Contrary to the Keynesian perception, economic policy making is more than simply an administrative or technical matter of choice; more importantly, it is a deeply socio-political matter that is organically intertwined with the class nature of the state and the policy making apparatus.

It’s fair to describe the Keynesian approach as administrative or technical – magneto trouble and all that – but I haven’t gotten the impression that Keynesians, Paul Krugman foremost among them, are under any illusion that policymakers are compelled to embrace Keynesianism. There certainly seems to be a great deal of frustration about the nature of the public debate. The austerity narrative continues to be ascendant in spite of the overwhelming evidence of the harm it has caused. Keynesian policy, particularly the 2009 stimulus package, has been vindicated (and Krugman wrote at the time that it was actually not large enough) – yet it still seems to be regarded as disreputable in the capitol.

So of course Keynesians are frustrated, but not because they thought Washington was required to implement Keynesian policies and had not. They are frustrated because they see the current problem as a technocratic one with a known solution – but austerity budgeting continues to rule the day, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that it has failed. The carburetor is broken; fix it. Krugman sees a moral or ethical dimension as well: the refusal to fix it has inflicted a great deal of unnecessary misery. But Keynesianism ultimately just says, if this is your problem, here’s the solution. Read the rest of this entry →

by danps

Commissioners pipeline meeting: strategy and why it’s worth the bother

5:33 am in Uncategorized by danps

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

Previously: Report on the meeting, background, and the statement I prepared for it. In this last installment I’ll look at why we approached the meeting the way we did, and what we hoped to get out of it.

A group staging or participating in a public event should give some thought to how it plans to conduct itself. For instance, will it be compliant or disruptive? If the group believes the fix is in, the event sponsor is hostile and the whole thing is just a dog and pony show, disruptive may be the way to go.

Oil Pipeline

Oil Pipeline


The 2009 Congressional town hall meetings during the Obamacare debate were a good example of that. Show up, make lots of noise and drive home your points as vehemently as possible. These actions were arguably quite successful: While Obamacare ultimately passed, the confrontations may have served as a rallying point for conservatives in the following year’s wave election. Confrontation can come across as extreme and unreasonable, though, turning off neutral observers and keeping allies away. It’s a high risk/high reward strategy.

The other basic approach is compliance, and that too has risks and rewards. Compliance is probably best when one expects at least a sympathetic hearing, if not substantive results. No sense in alienating potential allies. The upside with compliance is coming across as sober, serious, and willing to work within the system. The downside is coming across as meek and ineffectual, and never actually being able to change the system. Depending on the situation, sometimes it’s best to be nice and polite; other times to make noise and rattle cages.

For the pipeline meeting, our group decided on the former. The commissioners have been very willing to listen to our members and to make time for us. I would say the pipeline meeting was an example of our efforts bearing fruit: citizens were able to express their concerns,1 and it was the first time the company answered questions before public officials. While it may have been late for this pipeline (see below), it’s something that could be repeated, hopefully earlier, with future ones.

Some might wonder why to bother showing up for a meeting like this. The pipeline is already about 80% built and is expected to be operational by summer. The meeting clearly happened very late in the process. Did it do any good? I think so, for a few reasons. The first is simple civic engagement. Citizenship is about more than showing up on election day to cast a ballot – it’s an ongoing process. We became aware of this project after it began, but still wanted to raise our concerns. To me, that’s part of being a citizen.

We also wanted to raise awareness for those who were still being approached about easements (particularly the shaky eminent domain assertion), and to the wider community. Pipelines are becoming a hot topic, and other residents of northeast Ohio might want to know about these kinds of grassroots efforts. We succeeded in that regard: our county paper ran two pieces on the pipeline in the following days, and Cleveland’s NBC affiliate WKYC ran a segment about it on their evening news.2 Other towns might want to have their own public meetings, and maybe learn from our example. Learn from our mistakes as well: we clearly would like to have had the meeting before the pipeline was nearly complete.

Then there is the simple act of going on the record. We know the state is enthusiastically in favor of fossil fuel extraction, and that the law has been fixed so that companies have little risk of local communities stopping them. But meetings like this can prompt a responsiveness from pipeline companies that “call our customer service help line” will not. If we can get just a modest improvement in how the thing is constructed, monitored and repaired, well, that’s better than what we’d have had otherwise.

If even that doesn’t happen, at least we will have a public record of our concerns. As I said in my statement, pipelines leak. Pipeline companies often do not detect leaks. There are real hazards associated with them. Should there be some substantial impact on our community because of it, at least we will be able to say: Yes, we knew that was one of the risks you posed. Don’t tell us no one could have known; don’t say it was completely unforeseen; don’t say some process had an unexpected blind spot or breakdown. We knew all of that from day one, we raised our voices about it, and that is precisely why we opposed it.


NOTES

1. If you are going to speak in public, consider preparing both a full statement and an abbreviated one. Sometimes things change at the last minute. In our case we expected to have three minutes each but it was shortened to one. At the meeting I made a number of hasty edits – crossing out lines and paragraphs of my prepared statement, adding rough transitions and grammatical changes, etc – and still didn’t make it through the shorter version. If you take an analytical approach it’s good to at least have note cards, if not a printed statement. If you plan to speak extemporaneously and from the heart, at least think about the major topic(s) you want to cover.
(Back)

2. WKYC has done a phenomenal job covering local oil and gas issues. I approached reporter Kristin Anderson after the meeting and thanked her station for that. I also told her the station has changed my opinion of local news. I’ve long had a jaded view of it, and written it off as devoted to stereotypical “if it bleeds it leads” sensationalism. WKYC, though, has shown that local TV news can provide invaluable coverage on the issues facing a community. Full credit to them for it.
(Back)
Read the rest of this entry →

by danps

18th century political thinking in the 21st

6:26 am in Uncategorized by danps

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

In 2006 Matthew Yglesias posted “The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics” at the now-defunct site TPM Café. He wrote how he enjoyed reading Green Lantern comic books and briefly explained how the power rings from the series worked, then added:

The political mirror or an exhibition of ministers for April 1782

The political mirror or an exhibition of ministers for April 1782

But a lot of people seem to think that American military might is like one of these power rings. They seem to think that, roughly speaking, we can accomplish absolutely anything in the world through the application of sufficient military force. The only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower.

His frame of reference at the time was the neoconservatives’ push to start bombing Iran. Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were already going poorly, it would seem the case for yet another war was not compelling. But Yglesias pointed out that the neoconservatives’ rationale literally could not be refuted: “Things that you or I might take as demonstrating the limited utility of military power to accomplish certain kinds of things are, instead, taken as evidence of lack of will.”

This was (and is) an appealing way to look at the mindset of the more bellicose foreign policy thinkers. Military power is treated in practice as omnipotent. There is nothing it can’t accomplish, as long as you apply enough of it for a long enough time and, to coin a phrase, stay the course.

Apparently that was too delightful a metaphor to leave to just one use, because it began to get adapted to new situations by liberal bloggers. Last week Richard Mayhew used it in the context of health care reform:

Again, in an ideal world, a Medicare buy-in at 55 or even better, full Medicare expansion to 55 would be a significant improvement over putting the 55 to 64.999 age cohort on exchanges. But just believing that there is an easy way to get there is Green Lanternism or belief in the power of the Bully Pulpit ™.

The new context, then, is that advocating for a better system amounts to insisting on an ideal world – and to also believing there is an easy way to get there. Invoking new Green Lanternism is especially popular among progressive defenders of the president. Criticizing Barack Obama from the left is unsavvy; lobbying for better policy is the height of impractical, self-defeating naïveté.

The other place I encountered this attitude recently was on the right. Earlier this summer I visited my state representative and voiced my concerns over this incident in Ohio. Within the first ten minutes he’d said words to this effect three times: The oil and gas industry is very influential, so nothing is going to get done.

Attitudes like this have nothing to do with having a level headed, non-magic powers based outlook. They have instead to do with inculcating a sense of fatalism and resignation among activists. It can’t be done, is the message, not because it’s impossible but because it’s hard. It’s something like a politics of Newtonian physics. Look at this big thing, it will be difficult to move, it’s too heavy, don’t bother, and especially don’t ask me to help. It’s a waste of time. It can’t be done.

That’s a very convenient way for leaders to let themselves off the hook for doing nothing, but really it’s a coward’s excuse. No one is asking you to do everything, and no one expects that a single application of sweet reason will entirely reform an entrenched system. The process of change – the point of engaging others unsympathetic to a position – is persuasion, which works on a smaller scale. Maybe even the political equivalent of a subatomic level.

I told my representative: I don’t expect you to turn Columbus on its head over this incident, just use it as an opportunity to discuss it with your colleagues. It’s a good example of why reform is needed. The spill was small not because there because was technology in place to limit it, or because there was effective remediation in place once it happened. It was small because there wasn’t that much to spill. We got lucky, in other words. Bring that up to other representatives.

Persuasion almost never happens like a thunderbolt. It happens with accumulated moments over time that lead to a tipping point. It’s not an event but a process. A refusal to persuade on an issue is a sign of indifference or hostility to that cause – not a reflection of sober judgment.

Political reality is not a fixed and unchanging quantity. Inertia is overcome when the mass of support for an issue slowly gets chipped away. That big heavy thing might not move today, but if nobody bothers then it never will. And you know what? Sometimes there is sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Sometimes the thing will move when the impact of a tiny action gets unexpectedly amplified. Either way, there is no reason for those who genuinely support an issue to sit on their hands – or discourage others from acting.
Read the rest of this entry →

by danps

Don’t Frack Ohio starting this weekend: three days of education and activism

4:24 am in Uncategorized by danps

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

Activists across Ohio are preparing for a weekend of activities in the northeast part of the state. On Saturday and Sunday, July 27th and 28th, at the First Congregational Church in Ravenna, there will be two days of trainings designed to give us the tools we can use to build a powerful movement that will achieve our right to clean air and water and democracy. At the “Don’t Frack Ohio 2″ Rally in Warren on July 29th we will tell our policymakers that we do not want to be a fracking wasteland. Music and info at 11:30 and the rally starts at 1:30 at the Trumbull County Courthouse in Warren.


The post below was originally submitted as a letter to the editor of the Record Courier.


In January of this year a drilling operation in St. Marys Township (Auglaize County) suffered a significant spill. The county’s Emergency Management Agency (EMA) director, Troy Anderson, was unable to obtain any information about it. No one from the agency knew what was in the spill, its volume, or any other basic information required to safely clean it up.

Anderson had this to say about his agency’s inability to assess the damage: “EMA has no paperwork on this, and we should have had. This is no different than a factory…we should have a list of any hazardous conditions at the site, a drawing, how it operates and who to call in an emergency.” But unlike the spill, his not knowing what was happening was no accident.

The federal Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986 established basic hazardous chemical inventory reporting, and in 1988 Ohio passed a more stringent law (now in chapter 3750 of the Ohio Revised Code). Unfortunately, in 2001 Ohio House Bill 94 (HB 94) opened up a loophole stating that companies which have filed well log and annual production statements to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) have satisfied the inventory reporting requirement.

The spill at St. Marys shows how problematic that loophole is in the real world. Instead of having hard copies available in case of emergency, counties are expected to cobble together their own hazardous chemical inventories for each operation based on much more general production reports and logs. If for some reason they don’t have even that skimpier information at the time of an emergency, their only recourse is to navigate the ODNR website trying to track it down. In practice emergency planners and first responders are essentially blind when confronted with an actual spill.

Last year Ohio’s Senate Bill 315 (SB 315) put communities even further in the dark by making it more difficult for doctors and nurses to obtain chemical information in an emergency, and also by placing a gag order on them prohibiting them from disclosing those chemicals. So even if medical personnel responding to a chemical contamination know exactly what has spilled, and what danger it poses to the wider community, they are prohibited from letting anyone know.

The oil and gas industry claims a trade secret exemption for the gag rule, saying that their proprietary formulas need to be protected. Spokespeople often compare their trade secrets to that of popular colas, but no one ever had to be evacuated from a Pepsi spill. These toxic cocktails pose a real risk to the communities where they are used. Neighborhoods that might bear the brunt of those hazards have a more urgent claim on knowing the composition of those fluids than the companies have in keeping the formula from competitors and maximizing profits.

In response to the spill at St. Marys the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruled that HB 94 violated the EPCRA. If HB 94 violates federal law then SB 315 would seem to be untenable as well. If, as the Record Courier editorialized Tuesday, Portage County is indeed going to become Ohio’s fracking dump, then we need to take a hard look at what the consequences of sweetheart legislation and industry-friendly regulation might be for us.

The spill at St. Marys shows just how weakened emergency preparedness has become in Ohio, and that weakness is by design. It’s time to change the design. Substantial reform or outright repeal of HB 94 and SB 315 needs to be one of the most pressing tasks of our elected representatives.

by danps

“You quickly realize that no one is there for you but you know who? You. That’s all you have.”

7:12 pm in Uncategorized by danps

Paul Feezel

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

One of the under appreciated hazards of fracking is its effect on democracy. Fracking is a big, intrusive process – one that sucks up lots of water, creates enormous amounts of traffic and an ungodly amount of noise, etc. Setting aside the environmental dangers and health effects (!), the heavy industrialization involved in fracking guarantees that communities will be abundantly aware of it.

In other words, it will be extremely controversial. Those who have leased their land or are otherwise profiting from it will be inclined to support it. Those who aren’t, not so much. It divides the community, which was one of the messages driven home this past Saturday at a public meeting on what happens when fracking comes to town.

The meeting was organized by Shalersville Against Fracking; its members recorded the presentations and posted the clips to its You Tube channel. One of the presenters, Tracy McGary, spoke about how her rural part of Columbiana County (Ohio) had been transformed by fracking – including how it has set neighbor against neighbor.

One of the reasons these disputes are so bitter is because industry and government have collaborated to strip citizens of the usual means of working out contentious issues. In Ohio, the 2004 House Bill 278 stripped localities of the ability to regulate wells. In Colorado, the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has actually sued a town that passed legislation regulating drilling.

This has created the ludicrous and perverse scenario where townships are, ahem, empowered to make pissant decisions on business issues of interest to almost no one but are prohibited from doing anything on issues of great interest to many citizens. Does the local drug store want to widen its driveway five feet? It must approach the city council, hat in hand.

But if you want to know how much Hydrochloric Acid or Ammonium Persulfate is being injected into your community’s ground, well, too bad. The inability of citizens to meaningfully weigh in on these most consequential issues – and hold elected officials accountable – creates free floating anxiety, anger and frustration that manifests itself in long running, bitter and unresolvable disputes.

The ill will is directed elsewhere, too. One of the other speakers was Maria Payans of The Community Action Forum on Marcellus Shale Gas, and she spoke of her experience dealing with state officials (transcript here). After talking about the unwillingness of representatives and regulators to act she says:

We believe that we have agencies put in place that are supposed to protect us; people that are out there that are taking care of us. And then, when you become the person that needs the help, you quickly realize that no one is there for you but you know who? You. That’s all you have.

Some might think that is a depressing commentary, and I suppose looked at from one angle it is. Sure, it would be nice for our officials to be responsive to public sentiment, but there is also a certain liberating quality in giving up on them. Our government at all levels has made it abundantly clear we are on our own with this issue. Why keep beating your head against the wall trying to get an agency charged with protecting the environment to protect the environment? If it’s starved of resources, a revolving door for the industry and a victim of cognitive regulatory capture, is it really a good use of activists’ time trying to get it to move?

We have each other, and that’s all we have – which can imply many things. It can mean finding ways to publicly shame those who are so resolutely unhelpful or engaging in direct action. These are examples of working outside of the establishment and around institutions. But as Payans noted, it can also include a component of change from within:

You need to write letters to the paper, get on committees, get on local commissions, run for office. No one’s going to protect our democracy but us in the end. It’s really the truth. What I will say is that we know that problems are there. We know that jobs, you know, are being provided – to a degree. We’re not counting what we’re losing, though. And I tend to think a lot of what we’re losing is more than what we’re gaining.

However it’s done, though, the status quo is untenable. Fracking has distorted democracy to the point that democracy no longer really functions in the places fracking has taken hold. People are starting to realize that, though, and as the scales fall from their eyes Payans’ exhortation rings true: all we have is each other.

by danps

Communities rally against toxic fracking waste

2:32 am in Uncategorized by danps

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

On Wednesday communities held Freedom From Toxic Fracking Waste rallies to raise awareness on one of the largest environmental risks from fracking: dealing with the waste it produces. In the best case scenario the toxic stew – of unknown composition due to the Halliburton Loophole – is removed from the hydrological cycle entirely. In other words, less water for everyone.

The worst case scenario is considerably more disturbing. The great, unknown hazard that hangs over fracking is this: Everything we think we know about its effects are based on modeling. We don’t precisely know what is going to happen. All we can do is make educated guesses based on the modeling, then try it out on the earth. This isn’t like computer programming, where we have some kind of development copy of the planet to experiment on, make mistakes with, completely trash if we make a mistake, wipe clean and start all over again if need be. We have one environment, the production environment, and if we screw it up we don’t have backup copies to restore from.

This makes it exceedingly important to get it right. But getting it right means taking the long view – the long view in geological terms. What we are putting in the ground will play out over literally decades, and if our assumptions now are wrong we will be left to mostly watch from the sidelines as the destruction unfolds.

There are already indications that some of those assumptions are faulty. For instance, a study from a couple months ago showed that fluids from the Marcellus Shale are likely making their way into drinking water. The fluids in question did not have drilling chemicals, and industry supporters trumpeted that point. What was disturbing about the study, though, was what it revealed about how fluids behave in the shale. The assumption had been that they were static – or extremely slow moving. Now it seems out they can migrate far more quickly than previously thought.

If that is indeed the case then the toxic fracking waste might not be removed from the hydrological cycle after all (which, remember, is the best case scenario). If fracked shale is substantially more permeable than unfracked shale, there could be catastrophic consequences. Since we are testing in production (also Cf.), this represents an enormous risk.

The protests Wednesday were held in many places. At least one was held in California, but there were quite a few right here in Ohio. I attended one in Ravenna, and we had a good crowd. Many of the messages were straightforward:

Some were a little more colorful: Read the rest of this entry →

by danps

Fighting fracking: introverts edition

3:36 am in Uncategorized by danps

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

One of the biggest threats fracking poses to the environment is the way it endangers the water supply. It does so in several ways, one of which has large-scale implications. Global impact like that is a little unusual; environmental issues are more likely to be local. Whether it’s fracking, lead paint/asbestos in old buildings, or a Superfund site, once you get a few miles away from it the greatest hazard is usually mitigated.

Fracking permanently removes water from the hydrological cycle, though, at which point it may as well be on the far side of the moon for as much use as it is. This goes beyond competition for scarce resources during a dry season, though the oil and gas industry is well positioned to elbow everyone else aside (via) if it comes to that. It is about the slow draining of the amount of water available for human use.

There are still the usual local concerns, though. Since fracking is exempt from the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act due to the Halliburton loophole, communities are left to do the work that the EPA is theoretically in charge of. I suppose an open abdication of responsibility – thanks, Dick Cheney! – is better than maintaining the charade that a worthless regulator is ostensibly on the case. Either way, though, there is no cop on the beat.

While the industry is supposed to provide an adequate amount of transparency (speaking of charades), there is no substitute for a little local activism. Much of the posting I’ve done on fracking so far has focused on more public and contentious settings. Going to a council meeting to encourage representatives to be responsive to public sentiment, or going to an industry sponsored dog and pony show to to provide a little push back – those can be fairly high profile and emotionally charged settings. Not everyone is up for that.

For those who oppose fracking but are deeply reluctant to put themselves in a potentially confrontational situation, there are other options. Like getting over their reticence. Do you think any of us LIKE doing that, for God’s sake? No normal person wants to pick a fight. Those of us who have spoken out so far have done so because we sincerely believe our quality of life, and perhaps even our ability to live in our communities, may be threatened. We feel like the industry has backed us into a corner and that we have no choice but to fight back. I can’t speak for any of my fellow activists, but I for one would rather be playing Portal 2.

There are other ways to get involved, however, and the Sierra Club has one that is perfect for any able-bodied individual who needs quieter options. Called the Water Sentinels program, the group makes simple water testing kits available to those who want to monitor the quality of their systems. The idea is simple: record some basic metrics about your water supply – or any nearby source – as a base line, then follow up every month or two with additional tests. Increase the frequency of the testing if fracking (or some other potentially significant event) occurs.

Here are stories about the testing being done in Colorado, Illinois and Ohio. I accompanied an activist on a recent test, and there really wasn’t much to it at all. Here is what the measuring instrument looks like:

Take it and a glass jar to a water supply, then fill the jar:

Use the instrument to measure the basic water quality:

Then record the numbers:

The power of this is not in a single test, though. It’s in the accumulation of tests, with the eventual creation of a database in mind. If enough people in enough areas are able to do this kind of monitoring it will be much easier to make the case that, say, toxic fracking waste from a nearby well has poisoned a local waterway.

It isn’t one hundred percent certain, obviously, and the industry will surely look to discredit such testing should it ever feel threatened by it. But if done well and diligently, it could provide a powerful common sense argument against fracking. It also gives even the most painfully shy introverts a way to be involved – and maybe just persuade their neighbors.

The Sierra Club’s Water Sentinels site is here.

by danps

Hiram residents attempt to ask questions about fracking

4:09 pm in Uncategorized by danps

Thursday’s post on Hiram’s public fracking meeting mainly covered residents’ interaction with local officials. The bigger part of the meeting, though, featured two speakers with ties to the oil and gas industry.

A representative from the company Mountaineer Keystone (MK) made a few opening remarks. He then turned things over to Rhonda Reda of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP ), a group that is “funded exclusively by Ohio’s crude oil and natural gas producers and royalty owners.”

As the MK rep goes through his introduction a resident asks (begins1 at 1:10) “Can’t we start out with questions from the floor?” From the reaction it was clear at least some in the audience were in favor. There was a real concern that what was about to commence was a dog and pony show that would eat up precious time and do nothing to quiet any concerns.

Now, the speakers clearly had spent time on their presentations and wanted to go through them in an orderly way. I can understand their concern that a free for all might cause their carefully prepared remarks to get jumbled. But surely there were options beside a rigid adherence to the game plan and chaos, no? Couldn’t the MK rep or Reda have started with five minutes of questions from the most concerned citizens, then gone through their material?

Apparently not, because the rep responds “I think we’re going to go with education first.” And with that Reda takes over. Many in the crowd really wanted to start off with questions, though. One resident says (same clip as above, 2:29):

I have questions and I know other people in the audience have questions that I can assure you will not be in your talk. And I can assure you that the majority of the people in this room who are not from Mountaineer Keystone…

At which point a town trustee interrupts and assures her all her questions will be answered by the educational material. Many were not so sure, though, as represented by this exchange (starts at 3:50):

REDA: A lot of the people here may not have heard or seen some of this, and so I do want to try and address their questions as well…

CITIZEN: Sounds like a filibuster to me.

REDA: Excuse me?

CITIZEN: It sounds like a filibuster to me – spending time…we already told you. You say that you want to start with education. We don’t…

REDA: Ma’am, anybody that wants…

CITIZEN: Who wants to start with questions? [scattered applause]

REDA: In order to ask an educated question you have to be educated on the subject, and based on the number of hands you do not have to stay. If you’ve already listened to this you do not have to stay for this, but there’s a lot of people that requested this presentation and this educational format2. So if you’re not interested in it, you are welcome to leave [gestures to exit], but I am going to go through this and try to address a lot of the questions.

If you haven’t watched any of the video clips at this point, please try to if you can. No one asking questions does so with the slightest bit of menace. There is no violence or threat of violence, no one gets into her personal space, no one does so much as point an aggressive finger in her direction. Yet when another audience member challenges her qualifications, she has him thrown out. She then takes on an air of wounded grievance and indulges in some dramatic, persecuted rhetoric (start of clip):

I’m going to apologize to folks and explain to you why I have asked for police officers to be here. I’m a mom. I’ve got two kids. My son I just dropped off at Kent State, if any of you are Kent State fans, he’ll be playing football at Kent State. I plan on seeing my son’s football games. I also have a daughter who just got engaged. I plan on being at her wedding. Unfortunately at some of these public events we have been aggressively approached, we’ve had death threats and other things just explaining the science. It is my family’s request that these officers are here, and it’s the only way I agreed to continue doing these presentations, which is a shame that here in the country I have to have security officers to explain the process.

To me that’s just a cheap psychological ploy to try and gain sympathy from the crowd and stifle dissent. I don’t know if the former happened but the latter sure did. It is abundantly clear throughout the entire presentation that she is never in the slightest danger, yet she invokes the specter of physical assault – and even death. Whatever the intent, it had the effect of completely shutting down citizens at a public meeting. In my book that’s not someone dealing in good faith.

As you might imagine, the rest of her speech was uneventful. There are more clips from the night at the Shalersville Against Fracking site (click on the You Tube icon to go to our channel), and while I did not record the entire presentation there should be enough video to give you a sense of its tone and viewpoint.

I’ll just leave you with a visual editorial moment. Reda seemed to assume there was a silent majority of the room on her side, that those who were speaking out were just a handful of malcontents in a sea of supporters. Here’s a clip of one of those silent supporters taking out a cell phone and killing time with a game of solitaire while Reda was educating us.

No one was asking questions, though. Mission accomplished.


NOTES

1. As with last week, I once again apologize for the quality of the clips. I was using a small handheld recorder and also trying to wrangle a bored and restless child (citizen journalism!); please excuse the occasional wandering view and quiet audio.
(Back)

2. I’m not sure how many people requested that particular educational format – none of the residents I was aware of did – but those who felt a little dubious about it had reason to feel that way. Some of the material was almost crazily broad and unsupported. One of the slides basically read (and this is only a slight exaggeration):

JOBS
Here are some jobs that pay a lot of money!
(table)

(Back)

by danps

‘Nuns on the Bus’ passes through Cleveland

1:20 am in Uncategorized by danps

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

On June 17th the Catholic social justice lobbying group NETWORK launched a 15 day Nuns on the Bus tour. (As befits their budding rock star status, they are selling a tour shirt as well.) They are speaking out against the House Republican budget because, as they write: “When the federal government cuts funding to programs that serve people in poverty, we see the effects in our daily work. Simply put, real people suffer. That is immoral.”

On Tuesday they stopped in Cleveland where, as they do at each stop, they engaged in four activities: Spending time at a site where women religious are working (emphasizing a hands-on, feed the hungry/clothe the naked vision), meeting with at least one political leader, meeting with the media and holding a “friendraiser” – a combination open meeting and rallying of the faithful to the priorities being highlighted. The friendraiser had a full and enthusiastic house:
Read the rest of this entry →

by danps

The Wisconsin recall: myths and talking points

1:20 am in Uncategorized by danps

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

Part 1.

Part 2.

Yesterday I looked at Bruce Murphy’s article about the Wisconsin recall, and how Murphy thought Democrats and unions brought defeat on themselves. There is one point he made that fits in with a purely political analysis, which is what I’m focusing on today. He writes: “Had Tom Barrett — or any Democrat — offered an alternative, some approach that would eliminate the abuse of public benefits without crushing unions, while protecting the many public workers who are not overpaid, this could have carried the day against Walker.”

This is actually really off base. Barrett has a famously equivocal relationship with unions, and was definitely not their first choice. Given how central unions were to initiating the recall, it seems crazy to have nominated someone who has clashed with them in the past. Wouldn’t a solidly pro-union candidate have been a better choice – someone who could have amplified the issues of the previous year and forcefully made the case for the right to collective bargaining?

Political analysis elsewhere seems off as well. One talking point is that Walker was able to use his vast war chest to rehabilitate his image in the months before the election. Maybe, however, his low poll numbers were almost bound to improve.

Simply put, once the union-busting law was signed he didn’t have anything close to that controversial going on. At that point regression to the mean took over. We actually have a useful parallel in Ohio. John Kasich’s poll numbers have gone up ten points since the hottest part of the SB5/Issue 2 controversy last year. His approval rating is still very low, but it’s nothing like it was when he was actively antagonizing a large part of the citizenry.

Yet Kasich hasn’t been running ads or otherwise making himself visible to Ohioans; he’s just stopped pissing them off. That’s enough for a pretty substantial rebound in approval. There’s no reason to think the same wouldn’t have happened with Walker even without a single TV ad. I don’t think it’s quite right to say he bought his way out of his hole.

I think people may be overreacting a bit to the role that money played in this race, and in the role it plays nationally. Or at least, the ability of money to shape public opinion in the absence of an effective countervailing force. People might by default be receptive to what they see on TV, but are much more powerfully influenced by the actual people around them and by their lived experience. That is yet another reason for the left to devote its energies to building mass movements instead of buying mass media.

We can’t compete in the money race. We are outgunned. We might be able to mitigate its worst effects with some of our own money, but trying to go toe to toe at that level is a fool’s errand. Our advantage is in the ability to appeal to people’s real lives, and to build up our numbers by grassroots organizing. We’ll never be able to outspend them, so we should focus on outworking them. (Caveat: my understanding is that the Tea Party folks did a good job of GOTV – including finding Walker voters in left-leaning areas like Dane County.)

Of course, doing that would require a less vertical hierarchy. It would require making room for other groups to be empowered and for more local control to flourish. In other words, finding ways to partner with the mass movement instead of trying to co-opt it – and finding a way to get all those thousands of people who stood out in the cold involved in a way that resonates with them.


ERRATA

One of the driving factors of the recall effort was the success in Ohio of the No On Issue 2 movement. The resounding success of that vote was a real jolt of adrenaline for Wisconsin activists, and they charged ahead with their petition gathering. If I recall correctly, the state Democratic party was ambivalent, and the national party actively discouraged it. That might explain the reluctance of the party apparatus to give its unstinting support to the effort.

Ohio and Wisconsin both ended up with a little over 900,000 verified signatures for their efforts. Ohio ended up with over 2 million votes against Issue 2 (also Cf.); Wisconsin just over 1.1 million for the recall. Ohio has more voters, so there was a higher ceiling. Assuming everyone who signed a recall petition voted for the recall, Wisconsin activists did an astonishing job of reaching out during the petition drive. Just imagine if that energy had been properly harnessed.