Saturday, June 16, 2012

Inscrutable Icons of Liberaldom by Cindy Sheehan

"In all affairs, it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted."
– Bertrand Russell

“Are you a good witch or a bad witch?”
Glinda the Good to Dorothy Gale, Wizard of Oz

I am always happy to get feedback about my radio show, Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox, even if it’s bad—because I am happy that someone is listening—we work really hard to produce a relevant show.

Recently, I featured a young author/activist named, Edmund Berger, who has written two thought-provoking pieces that featured something that I am very interested in: the co-option, or “astro-turfing” of movements and I received some very hostile comments from readers/listeners who were offended that Berger could criticize some icons of “Liberaldom” (my word, not theirs).

First of all, the thought that anyone is above analysis and criticism is wrong, especially people who make a living from notoriety. For example, it’s one thing to attack a person for perceived character or physical flaws, but when one points out iffy connections to foundations with known and deep ties to the establishment, that is, in my opinion, fair game.

Everyone makes mistakes…everyone, with no exception. However, a line is crossed when that person, or organization, leads others astray by not being totally honest about from where the money comes or where partisan political loyalties lie. I will quote examples for some of the seemingly inscrutable ones that I got in trouble for allowing to be criticized. (Apparently, and thankfully, I am highly "scrutable.")

Again, why is the messenger being crucified instead of the information being read and analyzed with some balance instead of some people “pedestalizing” others with knee-jerk adoration?

If we want to have any success as movements and people, we need to realize that there are forces loyal to the Democratic Party that glom on to people and movements to steer what could be actually affective towards electoral politics, usually in favor of the Democrats on the Liberal side of the political spectrum.

There were especially two Inscrutable Icons of Liberaldom that my listeners were offended about being analyzed by my guest, Edmund Berger: Naomi Klein and We'll start with because Ms. Klein is now on the national board of that NGO.

The below is from my friend and radical environmentalist (integrity of vision and not co-opted by foundation money), Gregory Vickrey, of Wrong Kind of Green, about the establishment environmental groups:

President Obama has a bevy of support from environmental groups, many of whom (like the Sierra Club) have already endorsed him for a second round of degradation and destruction. This fawning for a Democratic President is certainly not without precedent, but it is particularly egregious when one looks at Obama's environmental record.

Unlike his over-arching abilities to pre-emptively criminalize the common protester, this President has neither the wherewithal nor the spine to hold BP to account in the ongoing Gulf of Mexico tragedy. Rather, he continues to exacerbate the destruction, fast-tracking oil and gas leases in Alaska and additional deep water drilling in the Gulf.

Notwithstanding the rhetoric over a temporary suspension of the final phase of the Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama gave an enthusiastic pass to a significant portion of the tar sands pipeline (already operational) in 2009, shortly after being inaugurated.

And he (Obama) is more effective than a denier when it comes to climate change, avoiding or stalling mandatory mitigation and adaptation practices that should have been deployed years ago.

His inaction-with-a-purpose preserves the status quo for his corporate, corrupt base of financial support, thus making him the greatest enabler of environmental destruction on the planet, and no resonant speech from on high changes that reality.

And here I must correct myself - stating above that the President has an "environmental record" is almost as recidivist as the man himself.
Not to be outdone by the Sierra Club and other corporate-environmental organizations who have endorsed President Obama and his despicable policies, faux "grass-roots" organizations such as the Rockefeller (think oil) funded likewise lift President Obama up whenever he tosses a rhetorical bone their way. 350 and its corporate marketing arm were quick to praise the President with the Keystone XL delay ("We won! What a brave man you are, Mr. President!" author's note: there's a far more complex story behind this), but never utter a word about the realities on the ground of, say, fracking in New York; Or mountaintop removal in West Virginia; Or $2 Billion in coal subsidies to the President's home state of Illinois; Or those fast-tracked wells in the Gulf; Or those leases in Alaska. Like their partners at Sierra Club and elsewhere, at the end of the day, 350 are nothing more than a faux-roots front for the President and his party, insane environmental policies be damned.

And as Edmund Berger points out in his article published in Swan’s Commentary called: Harnessing People Power Continued: the 99% Spring and the Professional Left:
The first organization to be looked at is, a climate change awareness advocacy organization launched in 2007 by the author and environmentalist Bill McKibben. McKibben's approach to environmentalism is positioned firmly in the ideology of "green capitalism," advocating a return to localized market economies while eschewing the notions of collectivization or wealth redistribution. Halting catastrophic climate change, he argues, "will not mean abandoning Adam Smith" and "doesn't require that you join a commune or become a socialist." Espousing this moderate viewpoint has led's subsidization by large liberal philanthropies, primarily, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF). This is an important connection, as RBF's current president, Stephen Heintz, is the founding executive director of Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action, a "non-partisan public policy research and advocacy organization committed to building an America that achieves its highest democratic ideals." Deepening the ties, Demos, funded by the RBF and Ford Foundation, hosts 99% Spring material on their website and also counts Rebuild the Dream founder Van Jones on its advisory board. Furthermore, in 2011 merged with another environmental coalition, 1Sky, where Jones can be found yet again on its director board. is what it is, but, please, let’s stop pretending that it is on the side of revolutionary change.

Naomi Klein

I know Naomi personally and I think she is a sweet person and she has contributed a lot to the world’s understanding of neo-liberalism. There’s no doubt about it, she’s brilliant, but when it comes to being on the board of and Obama, in my opinion, she is off the track.

In a speech Naomi gave at Loyola University in February of 2009, she was advocating for “collectivism” and “nationalization,” but, as pointed out above her alliance with is at odds with those goals.

Here is Berger's analysis of Klein’s connection to

However, a close reading of The Shock Doctrine reveals her glaring refusal to attack capitalism's production modes; instead, she prefers to refer to her "emergent Keynesianism" and waxes poetically about the days when "young men from Ivy League schools sat around commanding table... having heated debates about the interest rate and the price of wheat." This vision of a benevolent technocracy is at odds, certainly, with the desires for true democracy that she expresses elsewhere in the text, and her longing for Ivy League-directed economics should be contrasted with the sociological analyses of the liberal contingencies of the elite establishment as presented by C. Wright Mills and G. William Domhoff. While Klein's critique is undoubtedly vital to helping undermine the grand narrative of neoliberalism, it is ultimately deflective in nature -- did imperial ambitions (the Vietnam War, for example) not exist during the "heyday of Keynesianism," and was this economic system not wrought with its own internal tensions and structural flaws? Regardless, her discourse is completely compatible with viewpoint of the moderate American left.

In an article called, Criticism of Shock Doctrine from the Left, the author points out:

Most critics of the war believe the notion of exporting democracy to a hostile Arab country was doomed in its conception. Some war supporters counter that the occupation could have succeeded, but bungling and incompetence caused it to fail. Klein is staking out a third, esoteric, highly original position. She says that the occupation could have succeeded, but the Bush administration did not want it to succeed. She is explicit about this:

"Had the Bush administration kept its promise to hand over power quickly to an elected Iraqi government, there is every chance that the resistance would have remained small and containable, rather than becoming a countrywide rebellion. But keeping that promise would have meant sacrificing the economic agenda behind the war, something that was never going to happen."

My question is “small and containable” to whom? In the beginning of the US plague on Iraq called, Shock(ing) and Awe(ful), tens of thousands of Iraqi were killed—war is never “containable.”

On November 11, 2011, despite Obama’s delaying tactic (until 2013, after the 2012 elections, conveniently) Naomi Klein touted a “victory” on the show of another Inscrutable Icon of Liberaldom, Amy Goodman:

Environmental activists are claiming victory after the Obama administration announced Thursday it will postpone any decision on the proposed 1,700-mile Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline until 2013. The announcement was made just days after more than 10,000 people encircled the White House calling on President Obama to reject the project, the second major action against the project organized by Bill McKibben’s and Tar Sands Action. In late August and early September, some 1,200 people were arrested in Washington, D.C., in a two-week campaign of civil disobedience. "We believe that this delay will kill the pipeline,” says the Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein. “If it doesn’t, if this pipeline re-emerges after the election, people have signed pledges saying they will put their bodies on the line to stop it." Klein notes that, “I don’t think we would have won without Occupy Wall Street... This is what it means to change the conversation.”

But guess what? This from a news article on March 12, 2012: 

Barack Obama will speed up approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline during his "all of the above" energy road trip, White House officials said.

The president will use a stop in Cushing, Oklahoma on Thursday morning to announce an executive order directing government agencies to speed up permits for the southern US-only segment of the pipeline, running from the town to Port Arthur, Texas...

The article also claims the environmental groups were “angry,” but in searching the internet, I see that there was no angry response from Klein, McKibben, or to the speech Obama gave in Cushing, Oklahoma. Parts of the pipeline were in construction long before the “protests” in front of the White House last year, anyway. Apparently Obama is more afraid of his puppet-pay masters and the Republican Party than a group of activists who make light demands on him with no consequences attached to Obama's non-compliance. 

There are many other "Inscrutable Icons" of Liberaldom who range from being nearly perfect, in my view (ie, Noam Chomsky), to almost always being an astro-turfer for the establishment (ie, Van Jones)--and I would like my readers to put on their Critical Thinking Caps and research anything that anyone says. That’s not being “divisive,” it’s being responsible.





  1. Thank you for mentioning Noam Chomsky. He and Howard Zinn (another icon and hero to me) both were known to have endorsed John Kerry for president and urged all - to do so. At that time, Senator Kerry was making very warlike statements and talked about killing the enemy. I have since come to believe that something is going on with our leaders (it's in the water?, threatened? or their families threatened?) but at that time it shocked me for them to endorse another American cheerleader for the MIC.

    This many years later-I still don't know what to think about that. Only Ralph Nader hung tight. They can't possibly have believed that we actually have fair elections and not to suspect like I have that something funny is going on with our representatives [sic]- like it would have really made a difference if "dem" was elected!?#?

    I am glad I found your site and you are sending newsletters. Hadn't heard much since run for office in CA and wondered what happened.

    Thinking of you on Thursday- courage and a calm mind. Shine on Cindy.

    Mary McGinnis

  2. Right on Cindy. We love you for telling it like it is!

    I'm glad to have this information on the limitations of people and organizations that I have supported.

  3. Admittedly, seeing several of my favorites (Van Jones, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben) being severely criticized is quite upsetting. So I have to keep reminding myself that the principal path to greater understanding is to continually question one's own cherished assumptions. We truly need to examine co-opting and astro-turfing if we wish to grow stronger and at the same time not be divided from our own best allies.

    In school I was forced to memorize useless crap like state capitols and several paragraphs of Macbeth. We learned nothing in regard to critical thinking.

  4. I fully understand the question is, what does this mean for the bigger picture of concensus and coalition building?


Any comment that does not include death threats, threats of harm, or name-calling will be approved.