Sifting through the settled dust of the Virginia elections and the mind-numbing postmortem shouting from every wannabe pundit with a Twitter account, I can’t help but feel as if those of us on the left can be counted on to consistently and sometimes acrobatically miss the point. Rather than working within the confines of what the data tells us about any given public argument, left leaning voices tend to speak to a created world that operates “as it should” rather than a real world that operates as it does. This is why, even with months to counter the GOP created panic over Critical Race Theory, Democrats simply stood on the tracks and let the train roll right over them, then blamed the usual suspects afterward. And this twirling mass of ineptitude is at its most obvious and most self-serving when we encounter this dead horse of a sentence: Democrats are bad at “messaging.”

This old trope is as certain a thing as there is in American political discussion, as certain as the right foaming about socialism or the NRA showing up on the third day after a mass shooting to tell us about “good guys with guns.” But much like many other simple and knowable facts, like we are not on a slippery slope toward communism, and AR-15s do not make anyone safer, we also know that the “Dems messaging problem” stuff is simply nonsense. The real problem is what it has been for about the last 40 years, a lack of access. We can’t reach people who are not in the room to be reached, and right-wing media has successfully placed half of the electorate in their own personal media silos.

Put simply, Dems make cogent, reasonable arguments that would work if only anyone persuadable were present to hear them. To be clear, it is not that no one listens to these arguments. Many do. The problem is that this communication happens almost entirely outside the silo. The people hearing the message already believe it, and those who don’t can’t be found. Even tired old cliches like “preaching to the choir” do not accurately describe just how much the left-leaning media environment has become a self-serving feedback loop. It sounds good, but it does very little work beyond giving Democrats a platform to impress each other and turn pretty words into better and more profitable gigs.

On the right, however, this is not the case. Sure, the GOP and its corporate money have created a mighty media juggernaut; this is not new information. But what many don’t understand is that the right not only controls its own media empire, but it also controls those who try (honestly or not) to compete with their noise. Evidence of this is everywhere. For example, on a Monday morning a short time ago, an op-ed appeared in the Washington Post. It called on Joe Biden to “respect” Trump’s executive privilege and not force Mark Meadows – Trump’s former chief of staff – to testify before the January 6 commission. The piece was written by one of the lawyers representing Meadows, yet no one seemed to think this was a conflict-of-interest worthy of a little scrutiny, so the liberal bastion of journalistic fairness ran the piece, and the right-wing media machine pitched its tent right in its opposition’s backyard.

Even on Twitter, which is probably about a D+40 environment, a new attack trends every day. A few days ago, it was #RacistJoeBiden, and shortly after they trended one of their favorite bits of projection as the term “pedo” became a national thing for a day. Tomorrow it will be something equally nonsensical, but it will trend anyway, because the right-wing machine controls it all.

The left defends itself, sometimes well and sometimes not, but it always and only defends. There is no offensive game in progressive media. None whatsoever. If there were, then right wing space would occasionally have left leaning voices present, losing often but sometimes winning and always at least arguing. But this does not happen, and the mere thought of it is almost laughable. The right chooses the ground for every fight, and exists in every competitive space, while at the same time walling off its own territory entirely and without even a hint of a challenge from anyone on the left, or the center for that matter. This has been the case for well over 40 years, beginning with the complete domination of the radio waves, and growing from there. The left now competes with entire generations who grew up on propaganda, and while the propagandists are to blame, so are those who surrendered their lunch money to right-wing bullies half a century ago, and who have made no real attempt to get it back.

So, when Democrats tried to tell well-meaning Virginians that they were being lied to about critical race theory, and that Youngkin is so much more like Trump than he pretends (which he certainly is), it had no effect. When the train of high-profile Democrats, Obama included, came to town to help, it had no effect. Democrats lost the 2021 Virginia Governor’s race over 40 years ago, when they chose to stop competing for anyone who didn’t already agree with them. This is why, when 2022 arrives, the result will be the same. And when that dust settles, and the bloodbath is fully realized, pundits and wannabe influencers will moan and quake about “messaging problems” without ever realizing that literally no one who needs to hear the message is listening.

They’re not even in the room.


Brett Pransky is a writer, an English professor, and the Executive Producer of The Rick Smith Show. When not in the classroom, Brett uses his graduate degrees in Rhetoric and Business to help people understand the dangers associated with increasing corporate control over the levers of government and how to confront the deception used by those who profit from that control. Brett calls Columbus, Ohio home, and he hates writing about himself in the third person.

While I hate to be the bringer of bad news at a time when people are finally beginning to secure a few wins in the workplace, we need to talk about what’s coming, about how working people are about to be on the receiving end of yet another attack from corporate power and the elite politicians they own.

While October has been renamed #Striketober due to the increasing number of labor actions going on across the country, and the coverage of those actions has been fairly positive, this trend simply can’t continue, and there are a number of very simple reasons why.

The legislative response to the strikes is a key indicator here. In the video below, Rick talks about two proposals meant to “address” the shortage of labor not by addressing the real shortage (which is in substandard wages & conditions) but by attacking worker safety and finding new ways to exploit the working class. One bill calls for a lowering of the minimum age for CDL drivers from 21 to 18, and the other intends to make it legal for children as young 14 to work until 11pm at night. Both will harm worker safety, and very likely drop wages as well.

To batter an overused cliche’, these proposals are the canary in the coal mine, and they signal the coming turn in how the fight for better wages, hours, and conditions is presented to the American people. This is not a prediction. It is a certainty.


Rick: “If we do hit an era, a period of of high, inflation, I can see it coming – and mark it on your calendar that I said it today – this is going to turn around and be blamed on all of the striking workers who are demanding better wages hours and conditions.

This is going to be put on all the people who marched out of jobs and said ‘No, we’re not working in this service industry for crummy wages. We’re not working without health security or retirement security. We demand better for ourselves and for our fellow workers.”

I guarantee you that the message will be ‘Well see – they got what they wanted. They wanted higher wages and they got higher wages and it ends up costing you – you the consumer … end up costing you more.’

I can see this coming as clear as day.”


As I said before, this is a certainty, one of several, actually. When it happens, the language used will be exactly what it always is. The words used to describe working people will be “them” and the words used to describe the corporate marks will be “you” and even though “you” and “them” are economically identical members of the same team, the corporate wedge will try to divide us. And this division will come from everywhere, including the more trusted media sources. After all, every single one of them is owned by the same people who have been dragging down wages for 50 years, and fairness and objectivity left journalism a long time ago.

And if history tells us anything on this subject, it tells us that corporate power wins this fight every single time. But unlike the certainties mentioned above, this outcome has not yet happened this time around, so we can still choose to stick together and support working people through the attacks that we all know are coming.

I’m not saying we will, because I don’t believe we will. But we could, we should, and I choose to believe that people can still surprise me.


Brett Pransky is a writer, an English professor, and the Executive Producer of The Rick Smith Show. When not in the classroom, Brett uses his graduate degrees in Rhetoric and Business to help people understand the dangers associated with increasing corporate control over the levers of government and how to confront the deception used by those who profit from that control. Brett calls Columbus, Ohio home, and he hates writing about himself in the third person.

In a recent episode of The Rick Smith Show, we had the pleasure of speaking with author Jason Stanford about a book he recently co-authored called “Forget the Alamo.” It’s an examination of the actual events that occurred there, and also of the mythology that replaced those events in our history books, and how this appetite for replacing history with creative story-telling has a great deal to do with teaching us how to be lied to, and hiding from us why the powerful need us to accept those lies.

Rick: “I just want truth. I just want my kids to get be presented with what actually happened and and give them the tools to critically examine, think about and come to some conclusions on all sides good bad and different. Isn’t that what education should be about?”

Jason: “Well that’s what societies are supposed to be about. We’re supposed to evolve in our understanding of ourselves and we get smarter as we go on. A couple hundred years ago long division was taught at Yale. We get smarter as we go on – as a people not just individually – but because we learn from each other. And if we have politicians enforcing a a primitive and false understanding of our own history, we don’t evolve. That’s what happened in the soviet union where now they’re just willing to believe anything. When I lived there in ’92-’93 Russians had paintings of UFOs on the wall. They believed anything in Russia because they’d been lied to for so long. […] This kind of thing trains a people, an entire society to be lied to and that’s well that explains Texas about as well as anything.”

The conversation reminded us very much of another historian who visited the show recently, Dr. Hassan Kwame Jeffries of The Ohio State University. Dr Jeffries’ recent TED talk on “Confronting Hard History” has become an important part of this discussion on how history can be and often is hijacked and then misused as a tool to reinforce the status quo rather than a tool we use to grow as a people. As Dr. Jeffries puts it:

Dr. Jeffries: “Literary performer and educator Reggie Gibson had the truth of it when he said that our problem as Americans is we actually hate history. What we love is nostalgia. We love stories about the past that make us feel comfortable about the present.”

All over America, we see a massive movement away from expertise and intellectualism and toward superstition, fear, and mistrust. This movement can be called many things, like frightening and hateful, but at its core, it is un-American, targeted, and it is certainly intentional. It is a scalpel being used brilliantly to carve up the working class and pit us against each other. How do I know?

Because I am an expert in persuasion, and if I needed to cripple the largest multi-cultural coalition in America (for that is what the working class majority is), and I had an unlimited budget (as the right-wing media machine does) this is precisely how I would get the job done.


Brett Pransky is a writer, an English professor, and the Executive Producer of The Rick Smith Show. When not in the classroom, Brett uses his graduate degrees in Rhetoric and Business to help people understand the dangers associated with increasing corporate control over the levers of government and how to confront the deception used by those who profit from that control.

 

The 9/11 anniversary has always been cause for reflection and remembrance, but the 20th anniversary of that terrible day happening within a few days of the withdrawal of US forces in Afghanistan gives us cause for a necessary, overdue, and in many ways difficult look in the mirror.

History has always been a harsh critic, especially when war is concerned, and given the amount of time, money, and treasured human lives lost in a 20 year war that never had a chance of accomplishing its declared goals, that criticism is certainly deserved. But when we look beyond the daily hot takes coming from those trying to score points and win elections, and get to the heart of the matter, we may just find our beloved freedoms among the casualties of this war.

The post-9/11 fear industry did much more than simply take us to war for profit. It is also responsible for The Patriot Act and the creation of The Department of Homeland Security – two actions deemed “necessary” at the time, but horribly misused since. This is the subject of a recent article by Max Burns of The Daily Beast, which he was kind enough to discuss on the show.



Max Burns: “[T]his intelligence gathering behemoth we’ve created that sucks up almost a trillion dollars over the just the past few years couldn’t even predict the fall of Afghanistan where the majority of our overseas intelligence operations are based. This was as useless going in as it is coming out. I mean, at no point have these intelligence agencies demonstrated that the incredibly powerful tools that they’ve been given to dig into Americans’ private lives – without court orders in many cases – have provided even one piece of useful intelligence. But they certainly have weakened our expectation of privacy and our expectation of personal freedom.”

This diminished expectation of freedom, Rick observes, can be seen in the behavior of those who grew up in a post-9/11 world and have only ever known a government that has never needed to place tracking devices in vaccines, as so many right-wing conspiracy theorists suggest, because that same government has been tracking the phones in their pockets for decades.

Rick: “I grew up in an era where, you know, you expected to have a little bit of privacy, at least in your papers and in your mind, in your own home. You had some bit of privacy. We’re in this moment now where my kids don’t expect to ever have a moment – a moment of thought – that someone isn’t having access to and that – that’s frightening. I mean, the world they’re growing up in, what we’ve done is frightening.”

The coming debates and political posturing about who did what and who voted how and who is to blame for it all – these things are to be expected. And those who made it all happen will avoid accountability, and in most cases be rewarded with board memberships and corporate wealth and political donations from multiple defense contractors and Silicon Valley tech companies that enjoy massive federal funding.

As Vonnegut would say, “So it goes.”

 


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The phrase “politics is theater” is pretty common, especially these days. Our elected leaders spend much more time throwing one-liners back and forth than they do governing, or doing anything that might help working families. And while there is blame to go around for this anti-American behavior, there is no greater perpetrator of criminal hyperbole than the American Right and their corporate puppet masters.

In fact, due to all the curiously well-funded right wing nutters out there, “politics is theater” no longer applies. It’s just too soft a way to describe the nonsense. To characterize it properly, we have to remove the metaphors from the stage, and take them to the pro wrestling arena.

Rick: “[Y]ou gotta look at the the showmanship and go ‘You know – good job. You’ve spent years honing your craft. Now, this isn’t about governing. This isn’t about making lives better. This isn’t about doing any of the things we talk about that need to get done. This isn’t about getting stuff done. This is about […] scoring points.'”

The WWGOP could run a master class in distraction, and while the left has its share of conflict entrepreneurs as well, none are as skilled at deflecting attention from inaction as the modern GOP. Hulk Hogan and Randy “Macho Man” Savage would be proud.

But the problem is, while all of us are watching the show, Americans are dying in massive numbers from a preventable disease, wages have never been lower, and rich people are openly mocking their employees by thanking them for paying for the space rockets workers never wanted and will never ride in.

It’s enough to make people angry for the right reasons, and this is why the rich work so hard to keep shoveling us the wrong ones.

Rick: “[B]ecause that’s basically what our political system has turned into – a Saturday Night Raw.”


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In previous generations, most working people could retire with dignity due to a trio benefits that became known as “The Three Legged Stool.” These benefits are Social Security, decent wages that allowed people to save, and defined benefit pensions. Today, with wages stagnant for decades and pensions all but a memory, workers are left with very little as they reach retirement age, and are now working longer, often not retiring at all and dying with nothing to leave to the next generation.

Listen to Peter tell us one such story on our weekend call-in show on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York:

Peter: [M]y dad worked for the city of New York human resources administration as a carpenter for over 25 years and he would always walk up to people [at] construction sites in New York City and say, you know “Hey, are you guys in the union? You really need to get union jobs. You need to organize.” And I didn’t fully understand it until he died seven years ago and then my mom was living on his pension and in the last two years she was sick. She was bed bound and that pension – oh my gosh – that pension … saved us.

Rick: [W]hen my grandfather died – he died, I think 12 years before my grandmother passed and she she was able to get his his pension as well and that’s what – that was the difference between her being able to live in her home with dignity and eventually to the end of her life with dignity, because she had that that, that three-legged stool. She had a defined benefit pension from where she worked and from where my grandfather worked. She had social security, and they had saved some money for retirement as well. So they they led their golden years with dignity and respect.

Rick: The sad reality – the sad reality is that three-legged stool has been whacked down to almost a one-legged – just a stick – because they’re going after Social Security whatever chance they get, the ability of workers to save money is has gotten much harder because wages have been stagnant and declining for so many decades, and the defined benefit benefit pension [is] all but gone completely gone.

And the result is a working class that is approaching retirement age on a wobbly stool that will never be able to hold them up, and a working class that is far too often represented by politicians who want to take an axe to that last leg.


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When Timothy McVeigh was arrested in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, a copy of the racist novel The Turner Diaries was found among his things. The book spins a tale about a violent revolution and the overthrow of the US government, and the eventual mass murder and systemic execution of any and all non-white people. The book published in 1978, and has since become required reading for hate groups, and has also become the source of an uncountable number of violent acts.

Today, The Turner Diaries pales in comparison to right wing media, whether it’s the diet white nationalism of Fox News, or the full flavored hate of NewsMax, OAN, and their copycats.

It can be argued rather easily that today’s right wing hate machine is far more popular, and far more accessible than ever before. While copies of The Turner Diaries were carried under jackets and tucked away in backpacks, Tucker Carlson and his ilk are openly available in every living room in America, during prime time, no less. Attacking the military, railing against the existence of government, whitewashing a violent insurrection … all spewing the same lies,  and all on the same page. All hiding behind a free speech argument that none of them actually understand.

If we ignore the open incitement that has become the standard script for right wing outlets, then we risk the inevitable consequences. And when those consequences come, the most likely response will be to say the perpetrators are just patriotic Americans doing what patriotic Americans do. Or at least that’s how Tucker will spin it.

This is not a prediction we enjoy making. But the rage machine is making McVeighs every minute, and our tolerance for it is permission. Again, this is an “I told you so” that we hope to never deliver, as we want nothing more than to be wrong about this.

But we’re not.


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“With great power comes great responsibility.”

That’s what Uncle Ben said to young Peter Parker in the Spider-Man stories that we all love so much.

But in the real world, power doesn’t manifest in wall-crawling, super strength, the ability to fly, or shoot laser beams out of our eyes, etc. In the real world, power manifests as wealth, and in today’s America, we have a massive number of super-villains, but no heroes:

Rick: “We have this tool. We’ve got the power. We’ve got the power to do whatever we want. Collectively, we can solve any problem whatsoever, except we choose not to.”

He then brings Superman into the discussion, and compares our wealth class to him. It doesn’t go well:

Rick: “What if Superman – with all the power Superman has – decided that ‘You know what? I want to rob banks instead. I don’t want to use my powers for good. I don’t want to do the right thing. I just want to rob banks.’ That’s basically what our economy has turned into. You have a bunch of really wealthy people out there who think ‘The heck with you guys – More for me!'”

Superman would never buy a $500 million boat, but Jeff Bezos did, just as Lex Luthor would. And therein lies the problem.

To hear the full broadcast, click the player below:


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When we negotiate with power for better wages, we rarely fight for everyone. In fact, some of the first groups we negotiate out of the discussion are restaurant workers and tipped workers. Saru Jayaraman, President of One Fair Wage has been a fierce advocate for this particular group of workers, and she explains why in a recent interview on The Rick Smith Show:

Saru: “The wages in the restaurant industry were set at emancipation of slavery in 1865 when the restaurant industry wanted the ability to hire black people not pay them anything and and get free labor that lived on nothing but tips; and that is the origin of a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers which became law and has resulted in the wage in the restaurant industry being $2.13 an hour for tipped workers today, slightly higher in 40 states out of 50 [but] their wages are still five dollars or less. And it has been ridiculous for a long time. It took a pandemic for millions of workers to say enough is enough.”

Many GOP governors and state legislatures are beginning to pull unemployment benefits from workers in an attempt to force people back into these jobs. However, the plan isn’t working for one simple reason: The majority of these workers never made enough in wages to collect UI (enhanced or otherwise) in the first place. So for all the political posturing and worker shaming going on, none if it is likely to actually lead to these workers retuning to their poverty wage gigs.

Saru: “We just did a survey of 3,000 workers: 53% that are left say they’re leaving the industry;  76% say the top reason they’re leaving is low wages and tips; 78%, nearly 8 in 10, say the only thing that would make them stay in a restaurant or come back is a full livable wage with tips on top.”

We call them essential, and indeed they are. It’s time to pay them that way.

See Saru’s article “Restaurant Workers Say They Won’t Return to Work Without a Living Wage” in Truthout.org HERE.


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Things are getting scary out there. We have Trump claiming he’ll be reinstated in August, his former National Security Advisor calling for a Myanmar-style military coup over the Memorial Day weekend, and GOP legislatures all over the country doing everything in their power to make sure people of color or anyone else who might vote for a Democrat can’t get access to the polls.

Odd time to quote a Republican on the air, but that’s what Rick chose to do. He quoted something said by GOP congressman Pete Meijer over the Memorial Day weekend. Here’s why:

While it is encouraging to see some speak out, each time someone in the GOP does, that decency is immediately stamped out by the sheer tonnage of seditionist ideology all around it. Rep. Meijer will almost certainly be attacked, will need security for himself and his family, and he will certainly face a primary challenger from his right – one with the full support of an aging orange madman with delusions of dictatorship.

And in the end, the most likely scenario is that Meijer will be replaced, just as he replaced Justin Amash, who also committed the mortal sin of standing up to the lunatic right.

And the crazy train will just keep coming, chugging its way toward political violence, state-sponsored voter suppression, and minority rule by the wealthy few who hold the power to manipulate our government.

And America’s working families are standing on the tracks.


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