Poli-Techniques: Understanding Current Geopolitical Conditions & Tools for Action

An exploration of the political techniques used by the powerful in the recent past –  and suggestions on how citizens can use one technique in the future – to cultivate desirable geopolitical conditions.

On a weekend in which Americans are listening to the sitting President accuse his predecessor of wiretapping his phones without evidence or corroboration while reading reports about a sustained cyberwar with North Korea and the current administration caught in an apparent web of lies concerning contact with Russian agents during the election, folks at all points of the political spectrum would agree: the United States is experiencing turbulent times, both domestically and abroad.

The forceful pace of the news cycle, combined with the sheer volume of media in the internet age, can overwhelm citizens trying to understand and reflect upon how we got to this point and where to go from here to achieve a more peaceful and productive government. Public feelings of political disorientation and distrust pervade without a clear sense of how the current geopolitical conditions arose, a shared understanding of facts related to the current political landscape, or access to the tools available to guide representatives and hold them accountable for policy and action in the near future.

The African word & concept of Sankofa, from the Akan tribe of Ghana, comes to mind. Literally translated to mean “it is not taboo to fetch what at risk of being left behind”, it reminds us that the past can and should serve as a guide for planning the future.


Below are several resources that I have found helpful in understanding the current geopolitical conditions of the Brave New World in which we find ourselves. Two lengthy documentaries from the BBC and two lengthy articles from the most recent The New Yorker. 

“Active Measures” by Evan Osnos, David Reminick, & Joshua Yaffa.

The New Yorker. March 6th, 2017.


What lay behind Russia’s interference in the 2016 election – and what lies ahead.

This article reveals 21st century international relations and political control as reliant upon technological and psychological tactics more so than armed warfare. It’s especially interesting and haunting given the New York Times reports about our cyberwar with North Korea. Eerily, Aldous Huxley predicted much of this in his mid-20th century novels including Brave New World. Stranger than fiction, or equally as strange as Huxley’s then-fiction?


The U.S.’ successful use of the Stuxnet virus in 2008 to slow Iran’s nuclear production was our first notable cyberwar success & provided an example for other governments for how to wage technological warfare against enemies of the state.

“A new doctrine was taking shape, under which Russia sought to study the nefarious tools of the West, as it understood them, so as to counteract them at home and put them into practice abroad…the article identified and urged the adoption of a Western strategy that involved military, technological, media, political, and intelligence tactics that would destabilize an enemy at minimal cost. The strategy, which came to be known as ‘hybrid war’, was an amalgam that states have used for generations, but the text took on the status of a legend, and is now known in international military circles as the Gerasimov doctrine.”

“Gerasimov suggested that, in the future, wars will be fought with a four-to-one ratio of nonmilitary to military measures. The former, he wrote, should include efforts to shape the political and social landscape of the adversary through subversion, espionage, propaganda, and cyber attacks.”

“Manipulation of TV coverage is a crucial factor in Putin’s extraordinarily high popularity ratings, typically in excess of eighty percent – ratings that Donald Trump both admires and envies.”

“Manipulation in the information sphere is a very effective tool.”

“In the final three months of the campaign, fabricated pro-Trump stories were shared four times as often as fabricated pro-Clinton stories. The researchers also found that roughly half the readers of a fake-news story believed it…Automated Twitter accounts, known as ‘bots’, generated four tweets in favor of Trump for every one in favor of Clinton, driving Trump’s messages to the top of trending topics, which mold media priorities.”

“Putin probably didn’t believe he could alter the results of the election, but, because of his antipathy toward Obama and Clinton, he did what he could to boost Trump’s cause and undermine America’s confidence in its political system.”

Alexey Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of Echo of Moscow, and a figure with deep contacts inside the Russian political elite:

“We have to create turbulence inside America itself. A country that is beset by turbulence closes up on itself – and Russia’s hands are freed.”

The Century of the Self & Hypernormalisation

BBC Documentaries Directed by Adam Curtis. Released 2002 and 2016, respectively.

Both of these films are phenomenal portrayals of power and how it works in modern society.

The Century of the Self concerns how Freud’s theories on the unconscious led to the development of public relations by his nephew Edward Bernays; the use of desire over need; and self-actualization as a means of achieving economic growth and the political control of populations.

Hypernormalisation starts in 1975 and concerns the rise of Islamic Extremism, the American corporate-political class, the fall of the Soviet Union, and, most importantly, how we got to this strange time of great uncertainty and confusion where those who are supposed to be in power are paralyzed and have no idea what to do.

“Call and Response” by Kathryn Schulz

The New Yorker. March 6th, 2017.


What happens when you phone Congress?

Now, let’s shift our focus to what we as citizens can do to be active participants in our democracy beyond the ballot box. In the past, I’ve championed Ralph Nader’s approach (now adopted by Indivisible groups across the U.S.) to making your voice heard: get the attention of your Representative and Senators and don’t let them off the hook!

Schulz’s article outlines the basics of what happens when you contact Congress and suggests the most effective ways in affecting their behavior as lawmakers. One huge hint: focus on your own reps rather than those out-of-state/district!

This article also pinpoints one of the most interesting and enduring aspects of political theory: to what extent is it the job of an elected official or representative to represent their constituents? Conversely, to what extent is it the job of our political representatives to lead their constituents? Should it be difficult for average citizens to influence a lawmaker’s vote considering they have access to information and expertise that is unavailable to the rest of us?


“Most communications to Congress fall into one of two categories. In the first, known as constituent services, callers have a specific problem with a federal agency and want their senator or representative to help solve it: by securing an honor guard for a veteran’s funeral, resolving a filing issue with the Social Security Administration, nominating an aspiring cadet to West Point, obtaining political asylum for an imperilled relative, or helping out with an overseas adoption. The second category, conversely, might be called constituent demands: someone calls and expresses a political preference to anyone who answers the phone and hopes that his or her legislator will act on it. It is a curious thing about Americans that we simultaneously believe nothing gets done in Congress and have faith that this strategy works.”

“Actually, this strategy does work in a surprising number of cases, though probably not the ones that you’re thinking of. If you ask your senator to co-sponsor a bill on mud-flap dimensions or to propose a change to the bottling requirements for apple cider or to vote in favor of increased funding for a rare childhood disease, you stand a decent chance of succeeding. This is not a trivial point, since such requests make up the majority of those raised by constituents. If, however, you want a member of Congress to vote your way on a matter of intense partisan fervor—immigration, education, entitlement programs, health insurance, climate change, gun control, abortion—your odds of success are, to understate matters, considerably slimmer. To borrow an example from the C.M.F.’s Brad Fitch, four well-informed doctors might persuade a senator to support the use of a certain surgical procedure in V.A. hospitals, but four hundred thousand phone calls to Senator John McCain are unlikely to change his position on the appropriate use of American military power overseas.

“How seriously those messages are taken by Congress varies widely, chiefly because, when it comes to interacting with the public, there’s really no such thing as Congress per se. There are five hundred and thirty-five small businesses that together form the legislative arm of government, and their way of dealing with constituents can differ as much as their politics. As a logistical matter, however, most congressional offices function in roughly the same way. No matter how a message comes in—by phone, e-mail, post, fax, carrier pigeon—it is entered into a software program known as a constituent-management system.”

“Calling your members of Congress is not an intrinsically superior way to get them to listen. But what makes a particular type of message effective depends largely on what you are trying to achieve. For mass protests, such as those that have been happening recently, phone calls are a better way of contacting lawmakers, not because they get taken more seriously but because they take up more time—thereby occupying staff, obstructing business as usual, and attracting media attention. E-mails get the message through but are comparatively swift and easy for staffers to process, while conventional mail is at a disadvantage when speed matters, since, in addition to the time spent in transit, anything sent to Congress is temporarily held for testing and decontamination, to protect employees from mail bombs and toxins. Afterward, most constituent mail is scanned and forwarded to congressional offices as an electronic image. In other words, your letter will not arrive overnight, and it will not arrive with those grains of Iowa wheat or eau de constituent you put in it. But, once it shows up, it will be taken at least as seriously as a call.”

“Some forms of correspondence, however, do not carry quite as much weight, starting with anything that comes from outside a legislator’s district or state. “

“Activism works in part simply by making previously hidden segments of the population more visible to legislators…in a series of surveys and experiments, [University of Maryland political scientist Kristina] Miller found that hearing from citizens changed lawmakers’ mental maps and, in doing so, altered how they legislate.”

“A huge quantity of people acting in concert, an unusually high pitch of passion, a specific countervailing vision, and consistent press coverage unfavorable to sitting politicians..can create the most potent condition of all: the possibility (or, at any rate, the fear) that the collective restiveness could jeopardize reelection.”

Until the next time, Everlastin Spoof signing off….

(3/5/2017 – Coffee with a Beat, Adams Point, Oakland, California)


The Soviets are spying on us.
The highest form of flattery: surveillance.
Look at their leader – he’s totally nuts.
The Soviets are a lot like us.
The Soviets are a lot like us.

Hypocripolicy ain’t foreign to you & me.
Look out world – let America lead.
Just don’t do what we do: do what we believe.

The Mexicans are a meddlesome bunch.
Doing the hard work we don’t want.
Living with cousins, aunts & uncles, Grandpa.
That’s what I call un-American.
That’s what I call un-American.

Hypocripolicy ain’t foreign to you & me.
The truth’s not important as what you perceive.
Follow our cue, put your mind on your sleeve.

The Chinese are a short-sighted crew.
Pay their workers squat so we don’t have to.
Always inventing new ways to pollute.
That’s transpacific deja vu.
Yes transpacific deja vu.

Hypocripolicy ain’t foreign to you & me.
In fact, it’s central to our plan domestically.
Watch how it takes us back in history.

Violence all over the Middle East.
Why can’t they talk it out, let each other be?
If only they had conceal & carry
they could have a country as peaceful as we:
Land of the Gun, the Brave & the Free.

Hypocripolicy ain’t foreign to you & me.

(2/28/2017 – Adams Point, Oakland, California)

Progressives Should Start Listening to Ralph Nader…Again!

Over the last 50 years, there are few American citizens & activists that have done more to enhance American democractic society than Ralph Nader. It’s time self-identified progressives, “D”emocrats, & other citizens looking for concrete, constructive ways to resist Trump and the rise of the corporate political class start listening to Mr. Nader once again.

Sadly, many people of my generation have taken the bait of the centrist Democratic party of the 2000s and binary mainstream media in choosing to remember and regurgitate deceptive messages about Nader as the “spoiler” of the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential election instead of recognizing his instrumental role in the architecture and passage of many of the most pivotal citizen and consumer protection laws in modern federal history. Chief among them:

  • Clean Air Act
  • Clean Water Act
  • Freedom of Information Act
  • Law establishing Environmental Protection Agency
  • National Automobile and Highway Traffic Safety Act
  • National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)
  • Pension protection law
  • Safe Water Drinking Act
  • Whistleblower Protection Act

For those interested in learning more about the life and career of Ralph Nader from birth until 2006, I highly recommend the film An Unreasonable Man. Stream it below via the link above and be sure to donate $ to him or another progressive cause for good karma.

Thankfully, Nader is still leading legal and political efforts to break through corporate power and empower American workers and taxpayers as effective activists for peace, prosperity, and justice in the 21st century. In recent months. I’ve noticed a crisis of confidence in Democratic leadership and heard many conversations on the left and in the center about which leaders to turn to, honor, encourage, and challenge in order to strengthen a truly progressive movement and tradition across the United States. In addition to celebrating young, non-coastal, and nonwhite voices in and outside of the party, we could do much worse than turning to Nader in this unprecedented political era.

Nader’s most recent scheme to organize change and work together to derail the many ways in which wealth manipulates politics, labor, media, the environment and the quality of national life today is incredibly simple and relevant. In his most recent book Breaking Through Corporate Power, Nader draws on dozens of examples from US history to show how small groups of politically engaged citizens have created profound & lasting political change and outlines a methodology for organizing such groups in the immediate future:

WHO: 1% of the American populace

WHAT: Adopt political & civic activism as their #1 hobby, organizing themselves into local watchdog groups & communities which focus advocacy on putting political pressure on the 535 members of the US Congress (US House of Reps & Senators)

HOW: Communicate directly with the offices & staff people of our Congressmen & women about votes and pending legislation; organize town hall meetings and send summons to your representatives with clear agendas outlined & proof that events will be well-attended; meet regularly within local watchdog groups & communities to plan, evaluate effectiveness, & conduct meaningful outreach to non-engaged citizens to continually build a base of support.

In these times of resistance, it’s crucial we listen to voices, consider structures, and pilot practices that have been marginalized, dismissed, or ignored in the past by the mainstream Democratic (and Republican) parties. Nader’s voice, ideas, wisdom, and experience are tools which should be (re)considered those who are discouraged by the current administration and it’s heretofore oppressive political agenda. As he has constantly shown throughout his career and continues to remind us to this day:


Check out his website & nationally syndicated weekly Saturday radio show (in podcast form) below:



A Week After the Women’s March…

“It is essential that we end the double standard that exists between public and private morality. We must ask of our country what we ask of ourselves.”

– Patricia Marx Ellsberg

Last Saturday, I was thrilled to see the streets of Oakland and other cities across the world flooded with women, young families, youth, and men in solidarity – many of them having their first experiences as activists in public.

What a promising sign for the vitality of democracy and social justice! I have spent the last week reflecting on how we can continue to build a movement for peace, equity, and opportunity.

The above quote from Patricia Marx Ellsberg is a great synthesis of some of my thoughts on how to live out our activism on even our busiest days. What it says to me is that politics is personal; our daily actions with other people and ourselves should reflect our expectations for our nations, institutions, and corporations; and our own mindfulness can have a positive effect on the behavior of others and society. Political accountability is a two way street!

We should especially keep Ms. Marx Ellsberg’s words in mind when talking to or about those who don’t share our same views or opinions at present. Compassionate action, caring speech, thoughtful listening, and living our politics every day are the most effective methodologies for turning others on to efforts that grow peace, equity, and opportunity. It won’t work every time, but I’d say it’s worth a try.

The fact that the quote comes from Patricia, the wife of Daniel Ellsberg (famous journalist and whistleblower of Pentagon Papers fame), is also an important reminder that alongside many of the most influential and “newsworthy” men there are their partners who are just as wise and powerful. This gives me hope that the women in the White House, in Congress, and in communities everywhere can continue to guide our nation and world towards more humane, healthy, and heartfelt policies.

Defend the Sacred

Defend the sacred. Honor the past.
Leave the people with a land that will last.

(Verse 1)
Standing Rock, we stand with you.
Fists & prayers, brothers sisters Sioux.
Oil & jobs for who? Not us.
Invest instead in Earth & trust.

Defend the sacred. Honor the past.
Leave the people with a land that will last.

(Verse 2)
We ride the cold December wind with you.
We’re burning in the embers of your fires.
Protect the prairie, the water, the life,
from the greedy hands of the rich & white.

Defend the sacred. Honor the past.
Leave the people with a land that will last.

Hold your ground, high, steady & proud.

(12/3/2016 – Adams Point, Oakland, CA)