I have always had a bit of a soft spot for the ‘bad guy’. As a child watching professional wrestling the one getting booed the loudest, that was my guy. As an adult I often say that I enjoy watching a good scam in action. This is not to say that I savor the infliction of pain. At my core I believe in and promote the constructive goodness of human beings. But there is something subconsciously compelling about a delectably evil ruse in action….
In the fall of 2015, as the presidential campaign of progressive hero Bernie Sanders began to gain surprising popularity, excitement swept over me. The majority of the commotion in my progressive soul came from having a true champion of the cause at the highest level of the political discussion, and from witnessing the enthusiastic response of a purportedly ‘center-right’ population. But I admit there was a darker side to my enthusiasm. As Sanders preached a message of Wall Street greed, a rigged economy, and a corrupt campaign finance system I felt a ravenous anticipation towards the impending response from the establishment. Usually the power structure brushes away challengers as one might a pesky mosquito, but it quickly became evident that this was no regular challenge. While attendance at Sanders’ rallies grew rapidly from the hundreds into the thousands, the sound of the gears of the mighty oligarchy machine beginning to turn became deafening in my ears.
After winning the New Hampshire primary in a landslide Sanders said in his victory speech that he expected the establishment to “throw the kitchen sink” at him. No shit. Up to that point if they had not already thrown the kitchen sink, they had certainly thrown the dish rack and the cutting board.
In anticipation of what is to come, let us examine the majesty of that which has been thrown at Bernie Sanders thus far. As I said, I love a good ruse…
The first and most overtly effective tool of establishment manipulation comes from the corporate media. While presented as a ‘free press’ the reality is that 90% of American media is controlled by only six companies who together put forward a very specific version of reality which fits their narrative It is through this narrative that democratically elected foreign leaders are turned into tyrannical dictators, activists turned into thugs, and questions dismissed as conspiracies. As George Orwell might say — “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength”.
At the onset of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign the corporate media response was to simply ignore him in hopes that he would go away, the strategy of a child who thinks the world disappears when they close their eyes. A telling example–Throughout their 2015 election coverage nightly news spent nearly 4 hours talking about Donald Trump, and nearly 2 hours talking about Hillary Clinton, compared to only 10 minutes talking about Bernie Sanders. But rather than disappear, support for Sanders only grew stronger thanks to enthusiastic proselytizing by his supporters on social media and in their communities.
When ignoring Bernie Sanders failed the media turned to a more proactive approach.There is a reason that Reporters Without Borders ranks America as 46th in the world in ‘press freedom’. When their interests are challenged the media is happy to shamelessly abandon any semblance of journalistic integrity in order to further their agenda. In the case of Bernie Sanders, his message against corrupt campaign financing and corporate greed was a direct challenge to the modus operandi of the massive corporations which own and control the media. And thus journalistic neutrality was aggressively discarded in favor of a message which has been at best massaged, and at worst a plethora of audacious lies. The examples are too numerous to list in detail here, but I’d like to examine a few of the more egregious cases.
I am not even going to bother talking about CNN. Their loaded debate questioning and transparently slanted coverage amounts to little more than cheerleading from the station affectionately known as the ‘Clinton News Network’. Rather let us first focus on MSNBC, ironically advertised as the station “progressives have been waiting for”, and their amusing host Chris Matthews. Apparently months of biased pro-Hillary ‘reporting’ was not enough to satiate this circus clown in a suit and tie. The day after the Iowa caucus turned out to be not quite the coronation Hillary Clinton and her corporate sponsors were expecting Matthews unleashed a tirade of belligerence in which he threw out such gems as;
“The only person standing between a confirmed socialist who is calling for political revolution in this country winning the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party is (Hillary Clinton).”
“A revolution of promises, really.”
“Look, the history of the Democratic party– (Hillary Clinton’s) party, not Bernie Sanders. He’s not a Democrat.”
“Can the Bernie people be taught—not him, he can’t be taught—can the kids behind him be told that this is how it works in our system? You can call for a revolution but it ain’t gonna happen. There isn’t going to be a revolution. You don’t have to have logic any more. We’re going to have a revolution and pay for anything.”
It may be surprising to see this type of condescending, biased, and provocatively non-factual commentary presented as journalism, especially from a source which advertises itself as ‘progressive’. That is until you remember that Chris Matthews makes upwards of $5 million per year and is representing a multinational corporation with assets north of $160 billion. Add in that Matthews’ wife Kathleen has worked closely with the Clinton Foundation and is being backed in her run for Congress by the same donors which are backing Hillary Clinton’s run for President and it becomes clear that the opinions of Chris Matthews carry about the same level of integrity and legitimacy as the opinions of your drunk uncle on Thanksgiving.
But enough about MSNBC. What about the Washington Post? Surely the newspaper that broke the Watergate scandal and constantly receives criticism for supposed left-wing bias would take a more even handed approach to the Democratic primary.
Days before the Iowa caucus the paper published an editorial board op-ed (that is to say – a piece articulating the opinion of the newspaper) entitled “Bernie Sanders’s Fiction-Filled Campaign”. This piece of slanderous propaganda contained lines such as;
“Mr. Sanders is not a brave truth teller. He is selling his own brand of political fiction”
“Mr. Sanders’ success does not show the country is ready for a political revolution”
“Here is a reality check. Wall Street has already undergone a round of reform significantly reducing risks big banks pose to the financial system”
Interesting. In the opinion of the board of the Washington Post Bernie Sanders was a liar, his success did not indicate a hunger for a political change in the United States, and, contrary to the opinions of most economists, the risks posed by Wall Street had already been sufficiently reduced. You may be inclined to weigh these opinions as those of an authority on the subject, until you realize that they represent the board of a newspaper worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and and owner, Jeff Bezos (pictured above), worth $50 billion. While Mr. Bezos may rank just outside the top 15 richest people in the world he did manage to finish first in another metric. In 2014 he was named “world’s worst boss” by the International Trade Union Confederation. Personally I don’t usually get opinions on progressive politics from someone who according to the ITUC “represents the inhumanity of employers who are promoting the American corporate model”.
I could continue but I will stop there. When even the so-called “left wing” media ignores then attacks a progressive champion like Bernie Sanders they do so because he represents a threat to the existing power structure of which they are a part. In this context there is no right-wing and left-wing, there is only up-wing and down-wing. But the attempted media sabotage of Bernie Sanders reeks of fear. And it should.
The ideal of American democracy is much like the ideal of human rights. Both are presented as fundamental and inalienable but in reality are bestowed by the establishment power structure in a tightly controlled manner. In running for President Bernie Sanders has faced not only media manipulation but the diabolical subversion of the democratic process, most specifically through the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and their very own Sheriff of Nottingham — Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.
The first way that this manifested itself was through the debate schedule. While in the 2007/08 Democratic primary there were 26 debates, this time around there was to be only 6. Compounding the issue was that these debates were scheduled on weekends, a well understood wasteland for viewership. This of course was criticized loudly by not only the Sanders campaign, but by Martin O’Malley as well as other political organizations as an attempt to prevent the public exchange of ideas and stack the deck in favor of Hillary Clinton. It certainly did not help that Wasserman-Schultz, who as DNC Chair was setting the debate schedule, had herself run the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2008. As if to confirm this bias the DNC did eventually add 4 additional debates, but comically did so mere days after Bernie Sanders had caught or surpassed Hillary Clinton in the polls of multiple early primary states.
Much as the corporate media took a more proactive approach of attack when ignoring Bernie Sanders did not stem the tide of his popularity, so too did the DNC when their contrived debate schedule failed to discourage the dissemination of his ideas. The first major offensive came in the form of the bizarre firewall breach hoax. Mere days after Bernie Sanders surpassed 2 million individual campaign donations and received one of his most consequential endorsements, and the day before the final debate of 2015, his campaign was accused of improperly accessing voter information from the DNC database during a software glitch which removed the firewall between each campaign’s data. Rather than deal with the apparent problem internally and impartially Debbie Wasserman-Schultz appeared on multiple corporate news outlets to loudly condemn the Sanders campaign. It was announced that the punishment would be a suspension of the Sanders campaign from access to the DNC database, including to their own information, while the issue was examined. For an essentially totally grassroots campaign without the benefit of hundreds of millions of corporate dollars behind it an indefinite suspension of days or weeks from crucial information was a not so subtle attempt to stamp out Sanders. However in less than 24 hours almost 1 million petition signatures and emails had been sent to the DNC on Sanders’ behalf, a lawsuit had been filed by his campaign, and the DNC quickly scurried away from the light of public scrutiny and restored access to the information.
If this is where the story ended it would perhaps be remembered as a rather mundane piece of campaign tomfoolery. But it is the depth of the hoax that is the true meat on this bone.
First, a similar firewall glitch had happened months prior to this event and was pointed out to the DNC and the vendor which handled the software by the Sanders campaign. Tip to criminals — If you are planning on robbing a bank do not go into the bank a month before and explain to them the glitches in their security.
Secondly, in addition to the lawsuit against the DNC the Sanders campaign also demanded a full third-party inquiry into the situation. This demand for an inquiry was deferred and brushed aside by the DNC. It is a peculiar thing to have the accused demanding a full investigation and the accuser refusing, unless of course the accuser is actually the guilty party.
Third, and most mouthwatering, is the history of the vendor which provided the apparently glitchy software — NGP VAN. This is a company founded by Nathaniel Pearlman, who was the chief technology officer of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2007/08. Their current CEO, Stuart Trevelyan, a man who hilariously shares a surname with a James Bond villain, worked for the Bill Clinton campaign in 1992. The company has also worked closely with the Ready For Hillary Super PAC during this election cycle, even going so far as to take a company “fieldtrip” to the Ready For Hillary headquarters. If you proposed this as a James Bond storyline it would be rejected as too obvious of a hoax.
“Something smells in the Democratic Party” -Des Moines Register, Feb. 5, 2016
By the time the first votes were finally ready to be cast Bernie Sanders had caught or passed Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire polls and was closing fast nationally. As the results of the Iowa caucus came in it became clear that, much as the polls had predicted, the race would be very close. Hillary Clinton appeared before the votes had been fully counted and proclaimed victory, while Bernie Sanders called it a “virtual tie”. The corporate media presented a tie or narrow Clinton victory as a signal that the ‘political revolution’ which Sanders had been promoting was over. Forget that Clinton had once been leading by upwards of 60 points in Iowa. Everyone go home, nothing to see here.
But a then a pungent stench began to emanate from the Iowa “results”. In the hours and days after it became clear that the caucus had been, as the Des Moines Register put it, a “debacle”. Ignore Hillary Clinton’s miraculous 6/6 record in coin flips which earned her 6 extra delegates (or the lunacy of coin flips determining results in a democracy). Ignore the fact that the Clinton campaign brought in out of state precinct captains to oversee caucus groups, shamelessly disrespecting the idea of ‘local’ politics. Even ignore the fact that these captains were provided with a phone app to instruct them how to maneuver Clinton supporters around so as to make Martin O’Malley viable in caucuses where he otherwise wouldn’t have been, blocking his supporters from joining Bernie Sanders. While unapologetically unethical these shenanigans are all legal. Rather I would direct your attention to a few of the more nefarious situations on record;
In Woodbury County #43 the only caucus goer was a man named Keane Schwarz. He voted for Bernie Sanders. Final vote count; Bernie Sanders -1, Hillary Clinton -0, Martin O’Malley-0. However a check of the DNC results shows that Hillary Clinton was awarded the delegate.
In Knoxville County #3 the final vote count was Sanders-58, Clinton-52. Delegates were rightfully recorded as 5-4 for Sanders but in the DNC results appear as 5-4 for Clinton.
Additionally there were multiple instances in which the number of votes recorded did not equal the number of voters registered at the start of the caucus. In another situation a video surfaced of a Hillary Clinton precinct captain reporting a vote total which they had not counted, and then lying and saying they had counted when there was a discrepancy in results.
Perhaps worst of all was that the final results were missing counts from 90 precincts. In a vote which was “decided” by less than 0.05% to miss approximately 5% of the total votes is ludicrous.
Individually, these examples may each be seen as something between trivial and frustrating. But when combined together, and this certainly is not a comprehensive list, they appear to be part of a more coordinated plot. It does not help the situation to consider that the chair of the Iowa Democratic Committee has been driving around for years with a licence plate which read “HRC 2016”. At best, Iowa was a miscarriage of democracy. At worst, intentional and flagrant voter fraud.
A campaign which attacks the existing political spoils system is bound to bring out of the woodwork in defense those politicians who have grown the most corpulent on spoils. Hillary Clinton constantly brags about the vast array of political endorsements she has received, seemingly tone-deaf to the growing rejection of establishment politics going on around her. And if early polls led to fear in these pigs at the trough, the results in Iowa led to outright terror. Endorsements for Hillary Clinton quickly turned to public attacks of Bernie Sanders.
Take Gerry Connolly, a Democratic Congressman from Virginia who said he believed the election of Bernie Sanders “could have real serious down ballot consequences”. This is the same Gerry Connolly who has been one of the leading fighters in favor of the TPP, and has supported military intervention in Syria. The same Gerry Connolly whose top five career campaign donors include two financial institutions and two defense contractors.
Or what about Scott Peters, a Democratic Congressman from California who said he was “not comfortable at all” with Bernie Sanders. Yes this is the same Scott Peters whose political career has been mainly funded by two financial institutions. In fact this is the same Scott Peters who is married to Lynn Gorguze, a woman worth over $100 million due to her position as CEO of Cameron Holdings, a financial institution.
Or finally, how about the sad case of Claire McCaskill, the Democratic Senator from Missouri and purveyor of some of the most vicious public attacks against Bernie Sanders. Early in her political career McCaskill was somewhat of a people’s champion, fighting for increases in minimum wage and against Wall Street power. But she soon grew fat within the political spoils system as many do, her transformation likely helped by her marriage to real estate tycoon Joseph Shepard, a man worth north of $30 million. Nowadays when you hear about Senator McCaskill it is likely due to her being accused of hiding assets, taking advantage of government subsidies for personal gain, conducting audits in which she has a conflict of interest, or, more comically, using taxpayer money to pay for her private jet then turning around not paying her taxes on said plane.
As in other sections the examples could essentially continue indefinitely. What should be clear is that when these individuals speak they do so not as representatives of the people trying to educate their constituents, but as the corrupt defending corruption.
Even after the “virtual tie” in Iowa it would have been hard for Hillary Clinton to foresee the carnage that awaited her in New Hampshire, a state which she had dramatically won from Barack Obama in 2008, and in which Bill Clinton had proclaimed himself “the comeback kid” during the 1992 primary. But the 22 point drubbing which prompted the “kitchen sink” speech from Bernie Sanders was only the beginning of the problem for Clinton.
After enjoying an enormous fundraising advantage throughout 2015 thanks to her corporate donors, Clinton was actually out-raised in January 2016 due to the incredible procession of small donations to the Sanders campaign. And in the 24 hours following the New Hampshire primary Sanders raised an incredible $7 million. This prompted yet another backlash from the DNC and their want-to-be tyrant Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as they rolled back restrictions on campaign contributions from lobbyists and PACs. This maneuver to help Hillary Clinton’s floundering fundraising efforts seemed to totally disregard the political climate which got her into trouble in the first place. But the DNC could apparently not envision a world in which regular people had a similar monetary clout in the political system as corporations. It is the beauty of being an organizer in a rigged system; if the game isn’t working for you, simply change the rules.
I am not a religious man. But there is something awe inspiring about watching a real life battle between David and Goliath. American democracy descended so gradually into oligarchy that it was hard to notice. And yet, here we are. The gravity of the message of Bernie Sanders is so monumental that it is almost incomprehensible.
I have often read about revolutionary periods in history and wondered; How did the oppressed people do it? How did the power structure fight back?
Will the movement around Bernie Sanders be able to ‘do it’, to succeed in fundamentally restructuring their existence? I do not know the answer. But I do know that watching the power structure fight back with every tool at their disposal is glorious.