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No Labels and the Emerging Oligarchy

letsgetitdone's picture

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) raises the issue of emerging oligarchy based on wealth inequality taking control of democracies worldwide through a small global elite composed of the very rich, powerful corporate executives in financial multinationals and other global conglomerates, and their allies in international financial organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Bank of International Settlements.

To get out from under the domination of these elites, the 99% have to counter the influence of extreme wealth in manipulating perceptions and constructions of social, economic, cultural, and political reality, and electoral processes. Enter new web-based platforms as a possible democratizing force that could provide the ability to defeat manipulation and self-organize without recourse to massive financial resources. But do the new platforms offer a way out of oligarchy and back to democracy or do they just reinforce the emerging oligarchy?

This is the third in a series of posts on some of these new web-based platforms and how they relate to this central question of oligarchy vs. democracy. The first, “A System-Changing Solution for the OWS Movement?”, which I co-authored with Nancy Bordier, compared and contrasted two alternatives available to OWS, the Interactive Voter Choice System and Americans Elect (AE). The second focused on AE.This one will deal with No Labels (NL).

Description

of specified goals for 2011 – 2012. These are:

“To build, organize and activate the No Labels movement so that it becomes a powerful voice and counterweight to the ideological extremes.

To do that we will:
Organize all 435 congressional districts with Republican, Democrat and Independent leaders.
Organize No Labels "Generation" chapters on at least 150 college campuses where Republicans, Independents and Democrats can meet together.
Organize a National Day of Action in 2012 where volunteers from around America will travel to states where Independents can vote in the primary, going door-to-door in support of candidates who reflect the No Labels attitude.
Host a National Conversation—bringing together our leaders for a live webcast where citizens from across the country can ask questions of our nation's leaders and actively participate.
Host No Labels Community Gatherings in at least Citizen Leaders’ homes to recruit more leadership in key states.
Monitor and track the activities of all members of congress to ensure they are not playing hyper-partisan games.
Recruit new Citizen Leaders to be part of No Labels effort.”

No Labels also has a list of actions people can take to build the movement.

The public faces of No Labels are Kiki McLean, and Mark McKinnon, both long-time political operatives and strategists well-known in Washington, DC and in the media. McLean has been associated with the Democratic Party, and McKinnon with the Republican Party. Both have been promoting No Labels as a movement taking a non- or bi-partisan approach focused on problem solving.

No Labels, in addition to its stated goals of wanting to reduce partisanship and encourage a problem solving orientation marked by civility among our elected political leaders, and in contradiction to its claim that it is committed to no ideology, is also committed to particular partisan stances on political issues, and problems that its leaders want our representatives to solve. On its web site, No Labels provides “fact” briefings on: “Debt Deal Options”; “The Super Committee”; and the recent credit downgrade of the US by Standard and Poor. Its selection of “fact briefings” and its selection of “facts” used in these briefings reflects a particular orientation on substance, rather than just political process issues.

Looking at No Labels's web site as a whole, suggests that at least part of the motivation for its co-founders' desire to increase “bipartisanship” is a desire to advance particular partisan stances on specific policy issues or problems, beyond just “excessive political polarization,” solved. They include: the Federal Deficit; Election Reform; Energy Policy; and Trade and Globalization.

Evaluation

While Americans Elect is primarily focused on the process of supplying ballot lines and selecting a presidential candidate to give people a choice beyond the nominees of the two major parties, while claiming its utter non-partisanship, and non-ideological character, No Labels, focuses on building a nationwide movement of people who will work against “hyper-partisanship” and for bipartisan deals in politics. But as I've pointed out above, contrary to its claim that No Labels:

“ . . . is not a political party and does not have an issues platform. We represent a new voice for our citizens. As the movement expands there may be issues that the movement embraces and advocates but we will not prescribe what they will be in our formation and launch“ . . . “

No Labels is frankly committed to specific positions, apart from reducing partisanship. These positions are surely ideological, and No Labels is quite partisan about them, in the sense that the “movement” will support only candidates for office who share the positions expressed on their web site.

The position of No Labels as reflected in their Federal Deficit issue briefing assumes that the Government's deficits are a problem, and that the accumulation of the national debt creates a problem of solvency for the Government. There is an apparent consensus in both parties, and in Washington, that there really is a Federal Government solvency problem. However, among many economists, there is strong disagreement about whether there is any solvency problem at all.

I'm not going to debate this point here, since I've done so many times before, but instead to point out that No Labels's embracing of the idea that the Federal deficit and the rising national debt is a problem requiring a long-term deficit reduction legislative solution, is an issue position that No Labels doesn't debate, but simply assumes is true. Its discussions related to the problem are about how it can be solved. The question of whether such a problem exists, is just considered outside the range of non- or bi-partisan discussion. In fact, it's even fair to say that the No Labels position follows the deficit hawk line of the Peterson Foundation, Peter G. Peterson, and David Walker, one of the No Labels co-founders, in presenting the issue. Now, that's ideological, whether No Labels is willing to admit it or not.

Similarly, the No Labels discussion of the Trade and Globalization issue isn't neutral; it's clearly favorable to increasing international trade and furthering the process of globalization. Again, our purpose here is not to dispute what No Labels says about this issue; but just to point out that it is not neutral. It takes a position. It argues for that position. And the position it argues for is ideological; specifically that free trade and globalization as they have been practiced so far, are good for America. Tom Friedman and other neo-liberals may believe this, but a majority of Americans (see here, and here) disagree with this ideological position today; and that disagreement is growing, not shrinking!

Similar remarks can be made about its treatment of election reform, and energy policy. No Labels has definite positions on these issues, and its Management states what these positions are, from the top-down, rather than letting the position of the No Labels movement self-organize from the bottom-up. So, is No Labels really a “movement,” or is it a top-down oligarchical organization falsely claiming, but hoping to “astro-turf,“ wide-ranging support for a Center-Right political agenda that is now facing both right and left anti-Wall Street movements?

Conclusion

If my analysis of No Labels is correct, then the answer to the question I just posed seems pretty plain. No Labels agrees with Americans Elect, that a centrist balance wheel supporting austerity economics is the solution to our immobilist politics and its inability to solve problems. It doesn't see politics in terms of a 99% versus 1% divide or as a problem of emerging oligarchy. It sees it instead through the right-center-left prism and so its solution is to strengthen the center, giving it the balance of power, and allowing it to broker bi- or non-partisan solutions on which centrists of both parties can agree.

So, if the problem the United States is facing is to counter the emergence of oligarchy and to restore a government that is “. . . of the people, by the people, and for the people . . .” then it's pretty clear that like AE, No Labels won't help us do that. It won't help us to repeal Michels' “Iron Law of Oligarchy” and give the 99% a continuing influence in creating policies that serve them, rather than enriching the 1%. Instead, it will simply provide a way for the discontented to vent their feelings through another political organization that is guided and managed from the top-down by people representing the oligarchy.

Like AE, NL shares the Washington beltway and global consensus that the cure for our economic problems is austerity in public expenditures and restoring private solvency through savings. So, if it's successful in building its movement we'll have yet another force in American politics working toward a second great depression. Of course, NL doesn't see it this way; but neither did Herbert Hoover, who paved our road to hell with good intentions.

If NL's centrist balance wheel had been in place this past fall, it would have imposed a “centrist solution” to our economic problems in the form of a long-term deficit reduction plan such as the Bowles-Simpson proposal, which would have raised more tax revenue from the wealthy, but also cut entitlement and other Government programs for the middle class and the poor. This is exactly what I concluded about AE. Again, this is a 1% solution, not a 99% solution. It doesn't represent what the 99% want. It is what the well-off people who run NL and AE, and many of the 1% want.

So, the “non-partisan” solution to two-party polarization that both AE and NL are trying to bring about won't fix the political system by restoring popular control. But it will place that system even more firmly in control of the oligarchy by imposing austerity economics and impoverishing the 99% even further, while providing the balance of power in national politics to a third political force that is dominated by centrist establishment figures. In short, like AE, NL, isn't offering a way out for people, it's offering them a way to dig a deeper hole than they find themselves in now.

Considering the close agreement between the elites who run AE and those who run NL, we have to wonder whether the two organizations might merge in the future. AE is focusing on getting on the ballot in 50 States and on holding an online nominating convention. NL is trying to create a 50 state movement that will support centrist “non-partisan” ideology, and also provide “troops” on the ground to promote activism in support of the positions of centrism including fiscal austerity, neo-liberal “free market” economic policy, a national strong defense, and “shared sacrifice.” The two together would provide the infrastructure needed for a new political party. In a future post in this series, I'll take up this issue of merger in more detail.

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Submitted by lambert on

That merger thing. A deeply fake, pre-crafted narrative.

Do the two share funders?

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

AE is largely keeping its funding sources and amounts secret, though we know that its 22 million comes from approximately 50 very wealthy sources. We also know that its initial funding came from Peter Ackerman who's its Chairman and most probably a billionaire, and whose son Elliot is its President. Peter Ackerman has put millions into it, Peter and he probably knows Pete Peterson well through his time at the Cato Institute. So, I'd be surprised if there's no Peterson money behind AE.

On other thing, In the first piece with Nancy and this latest one alone, We (I) bring up the conflict between AE's asserting political party status to get on State ballot lines, while at the same time claiming 501 (c)(4) (social welfare organization) tax exempt status for IRS purposes. Fred Wertheimer/Democracy 21 and the Campaign legal Center have written to the IRS challenging AE's claim to 501(c)(4) status. If the IRS judges that AE is a political party, then it will have to disclose its funding sources and amounts under election laws.

For No Labels we know that one of its leaders is David Walker, who has been Pete Peterson's very close associate for many years. It's highly probable that No labels is funded by Pete Peterson, his foundations and his allies. Peterson is a multi-billionaire and in one way or another funds a whole network of organizations in DC who lobby for austerity and "entitlement reform."

Mark McKinnon is one of the founders of No Labels also one of the "leaders" of AE. In addition, he is an adviser to Ruck.us, Nathan Daschle and Ray Glendening's social media-based political organizing platform. Another adviser to that group is Joe Trippi. Ruck.us isn't well-funded, so if NL and AE were to merge, they'd have the ballot status and nominating machinery, and the local organizing power in one organization. If AE/NL then bought the social media platform from Ruck.us say for $5 million or so, they would then have a very well-rounded effort to contend with the two major parties and create their balance wheel.

I'll be writing more about this possibility later, but you can see that McKinnon is an obvious key co-ordinator for any coming integration effort. One doesn't even have to assume that a merger of all three was planned from the beginning. It's much more likely that integrating AE and NL has been planned for some time. But that any thought of integrating Ruck.us is a later thought emerging form observing a target of opportunity.

Submitted by lambert on

... and it was clear that it was, basically, a shell. The well-worked out parts were (a) the offices (K Street, IIRC, but certainly DC) and (b) the donation part (IIRC, that was the CTO;s expertise). So it would make sense to buy the social media platform.

I'll also throw this into the mix: Purely in "It would be irresponsible not to speculate" mode here, but I've always thought there was a real possibility that a lot of Obama's small contributions were laundered. There's a threshold of something like $100 below which the FEC doesn't check, and some clever programmer would certainly be able to automate the contribution process. 2008, we learned so much.....

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi

Submitted by hipparchia on

I've always thought there was a real possibility that a lot of Obama's small contributions were laundered.

it's possible, but counting the sale of t-shirts and stuff as 'donations' was probably the real reason. nobody else does that. also, his percentage of small donors wasn't really all that different from mccain's.

so basically his 'small donors' are a lie. so much easier than setting up a money laundering operation.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

is all about lying and being disingenuous; just like American politics as usual. Thoroughly corrupted by the marketers.

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

for this link (and many other reasons as well):

The institute found that while nearly 50 percent of Mr. Obama’s donations came in individual contributions of $200 or less, in reality, only 26 percent of the money he collected through Aug. 31 during the primary and 24 percent of his money through Oct. 15 came from contributors whose total donations added up to $200 or less. The data is the most recent available.

Something I noticed in '08 was that all the Obama press releases and news articles about his alleged "small donors" was that they were very carefully worded, when stating any statistics, to speak only of gifts under __ amount and never donors giving a total of under X amount. Now the headlines, and the reporting AROUND those number (amply laundry memed by Axelrod and crew) was all about the vast number of "small" donors, not small donation amounts -- and of course our famously free press wouldn't have bothered to spark up the brain cells needed to ask questions about the discrepancy.

I actually spent some time poking around the various campaign donation sites to see if I could find the real percent (or numbers) of donors giving less than $200, instead of the number of gifts under $200. I gave up because the Obama camp's reporting to public sites was way behind, and the data that is available was in too raw a form for a plebe like me to aggregate individual gifts by donor. (unlike the very sophisticated fundraising dbs Obama's and most other campaigns have).

Also, I've always wondered about the counting the $5 for an Obama pin thing -- for federal campaign donation reporting, campaigns do have to track donations a donor gave even if the single donation is under $200, because they start having to report names to the FEC when any one person's total donations top $200. (or that's what they're supposed to do). But I'm hard pressed to believe that at Obama's various rock concerts, they were demanding everyone's full name and address info for later reporting to the SEC if a random donor bought more than $40 of Obama's 5 bucks a pop merchandise.

PS I love how the comments here are all "this is the best campaign strategy EVAH!" Jeeze but the astroturf started early!

Because the problem is not that we have too little condescension from our tribe. -- okanogen

Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

The whole “problem” of hyper-partisanship and the “solution” of a supposedly neutral, non-ideological “centrist” “process” is itself a deeply ideological position—Broderismembraced by the US press.

It’s also completely Orwellian. It frames the issue falsely, as you say, as “right” and “left” with “competing” ideologies (“both sides”—the “magic phrase of pro journalism” as Jay Rosen says), rather than as a system that, as Tom Ferguson argues, caters narrowly and almost exclusively to the interests of the major investors.

Ferguson, referring to the 2010 midterm elections, nails the essential falseness underlying the premise of No Labels:

What the election really shows is not that the parties can’t agree — Democrats and most of the GOP leadership finally agreed on the bank bailouts, for example — but that the American people will not accept the policies that leaders in both parties prefer.

What’s interesting about the Occupy movement—and what terrifies the elites—is that the Occupy movement exposes that falsehood and disrupts the prevailing narrative—the problem is not that “the ‘two sides’ don’t agree” but that there is one “side” of ruling elites and, by and large, the vast majority of people in the US does not agree with it.

Every apathetic citizen is a silent enlistee in the cause of inverted totalitarianism.—Sheldon Wolin

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

Right on! Like that quote from Tom Ferguson.

tom allen's picture
Submitted by tom allen on

Fight "No Labels" with "No Lapels". :-P

Look, I'll wear a suit and tie when I have to, to raise money, to go to church, because there is a place for capitalism in society. But then the rest of the time -- the other 364 days of the year -- I wear what I want and do what I want to help out myself and society, because there's also a place for socialism.

"No Labels" = less transparency; "No Lapels" = total nudity. Nudity's more embarrassing at first, but a heck of a lot more refreshing, let me tell ya. :-)

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

-:) -:) -:)

Submitted by Hugh on

As happened with the Tea Party, we should expect astroturfed orgs to seek to coopt the rising populism in the country and make sure it remains under elite control.

Hugh

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

You can say that again. They've got a permanent astro-turfing effort going.

Submitted by jawbone on

asked about financing, he explained the need for privacy for donors because they could face political or economic retribution for "bucking the system (as I recall the thought, maybe not exact wording)."

When things were more firmed up, they would make the donors and amounts public. Sort of.

When he was pressed to explain, he evaded and danced, but, from what I did hear of the segment, he did that throughout.

I smell rats -- large Corporatized, One Percenter rats and some smaller Broderized rats....

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

Who can retaliate against Peter Peterson, or Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, or perhaps even Bill Clinton?

Besides if it's transparency vs. protection of their contributors and they're about being "bottom-up," and responsive to the American people, then their contributors will just have to have the courage of their convictions and go with transparency. However, it's doubtful that Byrd is being truthful. See: http://irregulartimes.com/index.php/arch...

for what they really think!