You've been critical of President Obama since the 2008 election on his stances on issues like war, health care, torture, and corporate welfare. Why are so many liberals and progressive reluctant or just silent when it comes to expressing any sort of criticism of the Democratic Party or its candidates?
The Punk Patriot:
I think I should first explain why I've been so critical. I was a Democrat for the first 10 years I could vote. I worked for local, state, and national Democratic Party candidates. I really thought that that was where my energy needed to go in order for change to happen. But over and over, I've seen how the worst thing for the policies of the Democratic Party's base, is for Democrats to get elected into positions of power.
On the issue of war, Obama has expanded George W Bush's wars, and the left has remained silent about it. We're using drones to bomb weddings and funerals in places like Yemen and Pakistan. These “targeted killings” are anything but, and we're killing innocent people, and acting as a recruiting agent for Al Quida and it's allies. With all these innocent people being killed, it makes Obama look bad. So any women or children are called “collateral damage.” If that's not Orwellian enough, any male over the age of 18, if they are killed, is reclassified as an “enemy combatant” without any regard to whether they were armed, or involved in combat of any sort. Living, they are civilian bystanders, dead they are “enemy combatants.” It's political cynicism on par with, or above the level of the Bush Administration.
On the issue of Healthcare, the Affordable Care Act is a giveaway to the Private Insurance companies. The bill was practically written by lobbyists from big pharma and big insurance, as well as that vanguard of neoconservative intelligentsia, the Heritage Foundation.
There's just example after example of how it has been Democrats elected to power who ultimately get Republican ideas passed. My videos are an attempt to show that disconnect between rhetoric and reality.
TL: You've been a very vocal supporter of the Green Party's Jill Stein for president in 2012, what do you have to say to those who would accuse you of wasting your vote on a third party?
TPP: There are two ways to waste your vote. The first way you can waste your vote is by not using it. The second way you can waste your vote is by voting for candidates who support policies you oppose. I can understand the rationale behind the fear-based philosophy of “lesser-evilism” but let's look at what it has actually delivered. The left in the Democratic party have become captured votes, meaning that no matter how bad, and how much like the GOP the Democrats act, these voters will hold their noses and vote Democrat. Why? Because they are afraid of the policies of the GOP. What let's go into the details of what those policies we were afraid of were:
We were afraid of indefinite detention of protesters. Obama gave us the 2011 NDAA, which allows for indefinite detention of US citizens, without trial. Obama and the Democrats gave us the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011, which essentially made not just protesting illegal, but even being in an area on federal property where protests are happening, illegal.
George W Bush was illegally spying on US citizens. Obama went above and beyond what Bush did with the Patriot act, and replaced existing FISA standards with the ones George W Bush's administration was operating under illegally.
We wanted to see an end to torture. We don't know if torture has actually ended, because it largely took place in secret, and whistleblowers like Bradley Manning face far greater retribution from their government than ever before. Not only that, but Obama has refused to prosecute Bush officials involved in torture and abuse.
We were afraid of expanding the wars. Since Obama came into office, we went from fighting two overt wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to an expanded war in Afghanistan, a continued occupation by private mercenaries in Iraq, plus an overt war in Libya, and covert wars in places like Yemen, Pakistan, Iran, etc.
We were afraid of Bush shutting down the internet. The Democratic party and Republican Party alike gave us SOPA, PIPA, etc.
We were afraid of the GOP expanding so-called “free trade” agreements, which limit our ability to regulate trade, increase the power of transnational corporations over our lives, and export our jobs to places where there are low workplace safety standards, low-wages, and poor environmental regulation, so that transnational corporations can pollute the planet and abuse workers with impunity. Obama has gone far beyond what Bush ever dreamed of when it came to creating these “Free trade” deals, one after the next, and is currently working on a mega-NAFTA called the Trans Pacific Partnership, which will link the NAFTA zone with the Asian free trade zone, so that we will have even less control over our local economies.
We were afriad that the GOP would usher in a disasterous climate change-accerlating policy of “drill baby drill”, and yet we see Democrats like Andrew Cuomo pushing to lift restrictions on Fracking, we see Obama lifted restrictions on deep-sea drilling, even while oil spewed from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, during the Deepwater Horizon disaster. We've seen no regulation on fracking nationally, despite the fact that people across the country are getting poisoned by toxins placed into the groundwater, despite the fact that climate change's effects are far greater and far faster than what we predicted 30 years ago.
We were afraid that the GOP would put Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block. Obama did that for them during the budget crisis debate.
Voting for the politics of fear has given us everything that we were afraid of. I don't care about arguments about how Romney is worse, Obama has already given you all the things that you are afraid of Romney doing. I'm not saying vote for Romney. I'm saying stop voting for people who are going to give you the GOP policies, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, the policies suck, and we should stop voting for those policies.
Why do people fail to move away from the Democratic Party? I think it's largely fear. They are really afraid of the GOP. I think that's a huge motivator. If you look at any DCCC or DNC advertising, you'll see that fear of the GOP is a HUGE selling point for the DNC. What they run on continuously is “We're not the GOP.” But as weak an argument as that is, it's not even honest, especially when they give us most of the GOP's policies.
Here in Maine, the Democratic Party gave us a flat tax back in the 124th congress. I think the bill number was LD 1495, it literally raised taxes on low income people from 4% to 6.5% and lowered taxes on the top tier of income earners from 8% to 6.5%. Not only that, but to make up for the projected loss in revenue, they put in place a consumption tax, on things like groceries, auto-repairs, etc, with exemptions for things like tee-reservations at golf courses, stays at bed and breakfasts, and marina docking fees. Now, consumption taxes fall overwhelmingly on low-income people anyways, because a larger percentage of their income is spent on things like food, housing, and auto-repairs (especially when low-income folks like myself are far more likely to own a much older car, which is in far more frequent need of repairs than a brand new car is), but to create exemptions for the sorts of luxury items that they did, is just taking a bad thing and making it worse.
I think what it ultimately boils down to is those captured voters develop a sort of Electoral Stockholm Syndrome, where they fall in love with their captor/abuser. I really think that independent minded-voters, and especially the Green Party, have the opportunity to act as Political Therapists, to tell them to walk away from that abusive relationship.
TL: What motivated you to run for the Maine Senate Seat and what issues are most important to you?
TPP: Very honestly, I am up against a Democrat who is well-regarded as being progressive. He's the classic Nobelesse Obligee-- holds progressive values, also holds millions of dollars in a bank account-- and makes money through capital investment as opposed to labor, but generally sides with working people over capital (an exception that comes readily to mind though is the flat tax that he and every other Democrat in the Maine Congress voted for in the 124th session.)
So for me, running against a well-liked incumbent, it started out as an academic exercise. I wanted to show how easy it is to run for office, and to lead by example, hopefully inspiring others to run for office themselves. I always tire of hearing people say, “I don't vote, because there's nobody worth voting for.” But really, who is more worth your vote than yourself?
As I went around though and started talking to people, I realized that my platform really resonated with people, and that there were issues that my platform, being a member of the working poor, were simply not being prioritized or talked about by my opponent.
TL: Occupy Wall Street vocalized a growing frustration many Americans have with the corporate control of American politics and income inequality but eventually seemed to get written off by many, including the news media, as being too disruptive and unorganized. Where do we go from here, is political dissent dead?
I disagree that Occupy Wall Street has been too disruptive. I don't think it has been disruptive enough. I would like to see them shut down trade on the floor of the NYSE. Of course, that probably won't happen. Capital is far better guarded than our Capitol. (See what I did there?)
Having spent a fair amount of time occupying both Wall Street, and Washington DC, I can tell you that with a fair degree of authority. The NYSE is nearly impossible to get into. It has thick metal doors that automatically close in case of an emergency. Few places in DC have that same level of security. I think that really shows you where the REAL decision making power lays in our society. I think Occupy Wall Street is absolutely right to be where they are. They have identified a clear center of power in world finance.
And of course the Corporate News Media would write them off. I don't know why you would expect differently. There are six major conglomerates that own every major news outlet in the USA, and these conglomerates own subsidaries in all sorts of horrible industries, from the military-industrial complex, to the oil-industrial complex, to the prison-industrial complex... that we in the Occupy movement highlight how disparate problems seen as isolated struggles, are actually connected by the fundamental nature of our capitalist system, of course the corporate-owned news media is going to write us off.
That said, I also agree with Slavoj Zizeck, that the unifying power of Occupy Wall Street was the message of “I'd rather not.” I'd rather not take part in a capitalist system that values greed over human need. I'd rather not participate in a political system in which politicians are bought and paid for by wealthy bankers. I'd rather not have a healthcare system that exploits people who are at their weakest both physically and financially, to profit both from their illness, as well as profit from their not getting medical care that they need.
But what is there as a positive alternative to offer to that? So long as we have no stated agenda of alternatives to the status quo, we are simply throwing a hissy fit. I think this is because we have largely been infantalized, by our educational system, which does not value civics, and does not teach the skills of civic engagement, and our media, which puts up presidential figures as though they are saviours, and tries to make voting out to be far more important that it really is. Which is not to say, “don't vote.” It's to say that voting is the bare-minimum thing that you must do, it's like getting out of bed in the morning. You cannot say that you are living your life just by getting out of bed alone, you have to follow up with actually living your life. In the same way, you cannot say that you are an active citizen, an active participant in your government if the only thing you do is vote.
But the challenge that Zizeck puts to the Occupy movement in those remarks, is to translate these abstract struggles into policy issues.
For instance, Medicare for all is a system that works around the globe. This is not some radical leftist pipe-dream. This is a practical policy solution. And not only does it work, but it works really really well. So the challenge now is to translate these problems into solutions. I think that the Green Party, as a party that unlike the DNC and RNC, refuses to take corporate money, that is made up of dissenting voices, finds itsself in a really choice position to articulate the policy goals of the Occupy movement. And I don't mean that in a paternalistic way, like the Green Party is going to figure this out for you. No. I think that the Occupy Movement, can, and already has been, using the Green Party as a political vehicle – via candidates like myself running for office. I'm not alone in this effort either. I know an early occupier in my hometown of Portland, Holly Seeliger, is running for School Board. Ursula Rozum, an occupier from New York, is running for US Congress out of Syracuse. Drew Langdon, an occupier from Rochester, is running for NY state assembly. Long-time anti-foreclosure activist, Cheri Honkala, during the time that the Occupy movement was just taking off, ran as a Green for Sheriff in Philadelphia, on the platform of refusing to comply with bank ordered foreclosures. She's now the Vice Presidential candidate on the Green Party ticket.
I see the Green Party and the Occupy movement working hand-in-glove; the Occupy movement is the hand, the Green Party is the glove. The Green Party would love to be taken over by the young people in the Occupy Movement, and used by them to achieve their goals. The Green Party has been saying for decades the same things as many in the Occupy movement has been, and we've been working also on articulating policy positions that can create structural differences-- that can turn the problems highlighted into policy solutions.
TL: What does the Punk Patriot do when he's not being a political activist or video blogging?
TPP: I see the Punk Patriot as a character that I play on YouTube, but it's been strange, lately, because the two worlds have been colliding for me quite often. Right now, I've been campaigning full time, but I've always been a political activist. When I'm not doing political activism, I enjoy reading, playing music (I have a band called Theodore Treehouse. We've got two studio albums out.) I screen print t-shirts, which you can buy at PunkPatriot.Etsy.com (that's largely how I make ends meet). My time off is usually spent just trying to make ends meet though. Being an activist full time means that there are a lot of sacrifices that I have to make elsewhere in my life. I'm really thankful to those who are sustaining donors to my blog. If it wasn't for them, I'd be unable to do the work that I currently do.