POLITICS

Underdog of the Month: Democratic Candidate Michael Bennet

Why are we overlooking the brightest hope for America's future?

With 17 Democratic candidates vying for the chance to oust Trump in the 2020 presidential election, we're witnessing divides within the party that hammer home the fact that politics are infinitely nuanced, complicated, petty, and—forgettable? For some reason, Michael Bennet, the 54-year-old Colorado Senator whose face is as symmetrical and innocent as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, is often overlooked in the race for the White House. But you are doing yourself a disservice—nay, an offense—if you haven't familiarized yourself with his campaign platform, his experiences as a Senator and as superintendent of Denver's school system, and his initiatives as a member on the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; as well as the Committee on Finance and the Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure.

Basically, Michael Bennet might covertly be the sh*t. Consider the evidence:

Look at that face! He looks like the Brave Little Toaster!

He's Good with His Hands

Listen: Bennet's home state of Colorado has a lot of land to farm. In fact, agriculture contributes up to $40 billion to the state's economy each year and accounts for over 173,000 jobs. As state Senator, Michael isn't afraid of dirty work. In 2019, he penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling out the ways that "Trump Has Been Bad for Farmers." What's the farmer's equivalent to throwing down a gauntlet? Throwing down a...hoe? Anyway, Michael's pushed for legislation to create jobs and protect dairy farmers, as market instability has endangered their livelihood, and he openly "believes a resilient agricultural sector is vital to a strong economy. This is certainly true in Colorado, where farming and ranching are a proud tradition and generate more than $40 billion in economic output each year. As a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Michael is working to bring the diverse voices of Colorado to the debate in Washington."

Additionally, Michael's family owns a 1,500 acre farm in Arkansas; and sure, he rents it out to contribute to his notable wealth, but he probably owns at least one pair of overalls. Picture it: Michael Bennet in denim overalls. Wouldn't he look like such a happy little farmer? Hot.

He's Down-to-Earth and Down to Save the Earth

When it comes to land conservation, Michael doesn't mess around. Partly to advocate for America's 2 million farmers and partly because he's adorable and probably has a favorite species of flower, "Michael believes protecting public lands and wild places is an integral part of Colorado's heritage. It's why he brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to protect the Hermosa Creek watershed, and why he has stood up for sacred places and critical wildlife habitat across the country. From hiking to hunting, Michael also recognizes that outdoor recreation is vital to Colorado's economy."

Similarly, he's serious about converting American industry over to clean energy. In the last two years alone, he's cosigned or cosponsored multiple letters and legislation calling for improvements to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Land and Water Conservation Act, and proactive government action to combat climate change (like providing incentives to produce more solar panels in the U.S.). Always the good farmer, he wants to cut down hazardous emissions from farming and ranching with clean energy initiatives, and he supports plans that could conserve nearly one-third of U.S. lands.

We're DEFINITELY not looking at his butt...We're DEFINITELY not looking at his butt...DEFINITELY not.The Gazette

Per his campaign team, "He recognizes this moment in our country as an opportunity to modernize our energy system, transition to low-cost renewable sources of energy, increase energy independence, and provide reliable and affordable energy for every American. Michael knows climate change is not a problem we can push off to the next generation. He believes in a comprehensive approach to combat climate change that includes commonsense actions to reduce carbon pollution and increase the resiliency of our communities, all while growing the economy."

Do you see? He's a happy and environmentally conscious farmer! (So screw you, Jay Inslee, you look like Bruce from Finding Nemo. We don't need you when we have Mike).

He's Almost Definitely into Weed

Speaking of loving plants, as the Colorado Senator, of course Mike is down with 4/20. Specifically, he's an advocate for legalizing marijuana for the sake of job creation, more health care options, and a fairer justice system. In fact, he's one of many supporters of the Affordable Care Act and supporting rural communities with less access to health care; but he's also a member of the U.S. Senate Committees on Finance and Agriculture. Through the committee, "Bennet championed the legalization of hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill and is a cosponsor of the SAFE Banking Act and Marijuana Justice Act, which would end the federal prohibition on cannabis and reverse decades of drug policies that have disproportionately affected low-income communities and communities of color."

In short, we're confident that Mike loves more than one type of grass.

underdog michael bennet CNN

He Hates Washington

Who doesn't love the passion of a man who's running for the nation's highest office while publicly calling that office "broken." When it comes to government reform, "Michael knows that Washington is broken, and he has worked since 2009 to make Congress more functional. Michael has fought to hold lawmakers accountable to their promises and the rule of law. He supports overturning the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and placing commonsense limits on campaign spending. Michael also believes that democracy depends on transparency and public access to information, and has lobbied federal agencies to swiftly comply with the Freedom of Information Act."

Michael's also called out the failures of America's immigration policies and our education system. Remember that he was Denver's superintendent for four years, during which time enrollment grew, dropout rates decreased, graduation rates increased, and college enrollment rose, leading The Denver Post to praise, "Bennet has been a force—pushing reforms and steering the state's second-largest district to a culture of success."

So he's proven his ability to helm a broken system and turn it around. He also managed to run a public school system to the public's satisfaction. If that's not a testament to the charm of his boyish freckles and a face that belongs on the label of some hipster's artisanal butter, we don't know what is.


He's a Sagittarius

Obviously, you're not going to exercise your civic duty based on something as whimsical as a candidate's astrology sign. But to peer into the unassuming genius of Michael Bennet's brain, you must know his origins. Born on November 28, 1964, Michael is a through-and-through Sagittarius. Just ask Buzzfeed; they point out his "particularly Sagittarius trait: Bennet overcame dyslexia as a child and went on to graduate from Wesleyan University and Yale Law School, where he served as the Editor In Chief of the Yale Law Journal. That's some big Sagittarius energy!"

More tellingly, very credible and not at all bogus horoscopes for Sagittarius in 2020 foretell a year of professional strides and great success! Those born under the sign of the Archer are expected "to make more progress at work this year. You will work more this year than usual. But it will also help you to become more successful as the year goes on. If anything drains your energy this year, it will be your job!" Thanks, SunSigns.org, our gut's telling us that Michael's in for a future of glory, too!

No Scandals and No Game

Let's face it: We love that he looks like George H. W. Bush was genetically spliced with our childhood hamster. He's the kind of boomer who just wants to drive you home from soccer practice and remind you to call your mother more often, without trying to smell your hair or mouth-breathing heavily with some rancid breath (JOE!). He's not creepy or even slick. In fact, he has zero moves that could remotely seem suspicious. Think about it: Obama danced like he knew he was hot. Everyone knows Trump has the most delicate, fluttery hands. Bennet? He has no distracting characteristics, no deceptive grace, and no smooth-talking rhetoric that raise any of our suspicions. Bill Clinton may have won over voters by pushing some "cool" image by playing saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show, but that's not what we want in 2020.

We want a wholesome, dad's-golf-buddy type with a face that laughs even when he's trying to cry and who boldly tries new things. We want Bennet. After all, how could we be duped or betrayed as a nation by a man who dances this purely—as if a camera has never captured his quiet-uncle energy before, as if time and space were just illusions and he is that little boy beside him—as if he's never lost a race in his life and never will?

POLITICS

Forget About Bolivia, Impeaching Trump Is the Real Coup

Because the Military Forcing a Resignation is True Democracy

Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez would have you believe that Evo Morales's recent resignation at the behest of the Bolivian military was a coup.

morales resigns

Don't be fooled! A coup is something bad that bad people do to take control of a democratically elected government, but there were actually irregularities in Bolivia's recent election, which means it's not democracy. Can you even imagine if there was ever any suggestion of electoral irregularities or cheating in the US? We would flip out. And yes, Evo Morales agreed to hold a second election, but that sounds boring, and it would take so much longer than just using the military to force him to leave so an opposition senator can declare herself president while wielding a giant bible and banishing indigenous belief systems from the palace.

jeanine anez with bible

Speaking of elections, can you believe this impeachment nonsense? That's the real coup—the kind that is laid out in the constitution as an official process and is run according to rules established by the president's political allies. They've been acting as if just because this is a completely different context and process than a criminal trial, it doesn't need to follow the same rules as a courtroom. Since when? They're making this fundamentally political process into something ugly and political. Why can't these Democrat bozos just wait a year for the next election?

The Wall Street Journal knows what's up. Their opinion page has declared Evo Morales's resignation a "Democratic Breakout" and informed us that the impeachment "Subverts the Constitution." Clearly, if the Democrats were really upset with Trump's using military aid to get a foreign government to interfere with the 2020 election, they should not have investigated. They should have waited for an independent organization to point out the issues after Trump won reelection, then wait for Trump to agree to a new election before having the military kick him out of the country and allowing Dianne Feinstein to declare herself the new president. That's democracy! Investigating the President's crimes and airing his dirty laundry in front of the whole country, then having elected representatives who are accountable to their voters decide whether he should be removed from office—that's a coup.

Feinstein with Trump

Of course, if you disagree with these sentiments, you may want to voice your opinion by calling your congressional representatives or signing a petition to have Congress acknowledge the Bolivian coup, so the US cannot support the new, unelected government. But that would be crazy.

Visionaries Project: Interview with Elsie B., LGBTQ+ and Sex Workers’ Rights Activist

In our second Visionaries Project installment, we talk to sex workers' rights activist and writer Elsie B.

The Visionaries Project is a new subsection of The Liberty Project dedicated to highlighting the lives, passions, and work of radical activists currently working towards social justice and liberation from oppression. We aim to uplift the perspectives of diverse voices working in media and activism today—and not just the faces who make headlines, but the real people on the ground every day, working towards their visions of a better world.

For our second installment of the Visionaries Project, we're featuring Elsie B., a writer and activist who can be found on Twitter at @NotSuperIntoIt. Elsie is an out and proud member of the bisexual community and an active participant in the fight for sex workers' rights.

Sex workers, as Elsie informs us, often face unique legal constraints and social stigma that can prevent them from accessing adequate healthcare and opportunities. As sex workers' rights have been threatened in the United States and across the world by new laws that constrain their ability to work and share online under legal protections, the need for information and action has grown.

As Amnesty International implies, criminalization of sex workers' rights almost always puts them at a disadvantage. "We have chosen to advocate for the decriminalization of all aspects of consensual adult sex - sex work that does not involve coercion, exploitation or abuse," reads the organization's statement on the matter. "This is based on evidence and the real-life experience of sex workers themselves that criminalization makes them less safe."

Or as Elsie writes, "It's long past time to demand fair and equal treatment for sex workers, and the consequences of delayed action by civilians and lawmakers will be lethal."

We spoke to Elsie about how she became involved in the fight for sex workers' and LGBTQ+ rights, what kind of activism work she does, and how she unwinds after a long day of fighting oppression and injustice.

Human Rights Watch

LIBERTY PROJECT: Can you tell me a bit about your background? How did you get interested in activism?

ELSIE B: I'm fortunate to have grown up in a family that values social justice. I was raised as an ethical vegetarian and attended circus protests as a child. In middle school, I printed animal rights literature and ordered a pack of stickers from Peta2 that said "cut class, not frogs," which I slapped on every table in the science room when the dissection unit began approaching. As I got older, my dad and I would attend political rallies for Democratic candidates. During college, my politics became more radical than those I was raised with, thanks to some incredible professors. I was involved in social justice clubs, including the campus LGBTQ+ outreach program and an animal rights group of which I became VP.

In graduate school, I met a group of activists who shared my radical political beliefs and were doing meaningful, grassroots work for social justice and to end animal suffering. As I befriended these folks, I began to widen my interests in regard to my activism. I met my friend Emily during this time who is a stripper. Her influence changed my understanding of feminism and women's rights.

After graduate school, I started a small organization that helped connect feminist women and worked for the Sanders 2016 campaign.

How did you first start getting interested in sex workers' and LGBTQ+ rights?

A: From the time I realized LGBTQ+ folks were treated differently, I've been interested in the rights of non-hetero folks. I grew up with gay and lesbian culture as a constant in my life. And, at about the age of eight, I realized I myself am interested in more than only the opposite sex.

My official foray into LGBTQ+ activism started in college, but I saw myself as an ally at that time. However, after the Pulse shooting, I began to see my role in the LGBTQ+ community not as an ally but as a member of the community. I had quietly come out as bisexual many years before but had never felt comfortable identifying as someone in the LGBTQ+ community. However, after the gut-wrenching experience of watching what I realized was my community face such horrific violence, I decided it was my responsibility as an out bisexual to fight for destigmatization, especially of bisexuals who are at the highest risk for suicidal ideation and attempts.

Around the same time, sex workers started to experience attacks on their primary methods of advertisements, especially on Backpage. As so many of my friends are sex workers, I saw the panic these workers experienced. This is when I began to incorporate sex workers' rights into my activism platform. Then, in 2018, FOSTA/SESTA was introduced and passed. During this time, I dedicated all of my activism to fighting FOSTA/SESTA. During that year, I marched, helped plan harm reduction meetings, petitioned, and contacted government officials. The energy during 2018 was one of terror and excitement as sex workers rallied to fight against these new laws. It was electrifying to be a part of the first International Wh*re's March, but that euphoric buzz of being with other activists was quelled as the reality of a changing internet landscape for sex workers sunk in.

From 2018 to present, most of my activism has been based online, since sex workers work mostly in isolation. Through online communities, I have been able to continue my work in harm reduction, petitioning, and community organizing. I've also written under various pseudonyms (since even working as an activist carries stigma). I've had viral writing, which has given me some hope that sex workers' rights are beginning to creep into the consciousness of civilians, the term for non-sex workers.

Are there any challenges you've faced in activism work? Any particular successes, favorite moments, or pieces you've written?

A: Activism is draining, but there is no better feeling to me than having someone reach out to let me know how I've helped them. This has been especially true of my work as an activist for bisexual individuals. The number of messages I've received from people telling me I gave them the courage to come out or that reaching out to me is the first time they've admitted their attraction to more than one gender has been simultaneously heartbreaking and the most rewarding feeling.

Working as an activist for sex workers has unique challenges in that even associating with sex work as a topic comes with stigma. I usually work under pseudonyms, as I don't want my work in sex work to affect my other activism (I've worked in activism for education orgs which serve younger students).

Activism as a bisexual cis-woman has also been challenging, as biphobia and stigma are often just as hostile, if not more, in the community. Bisexuals have a unique fight, in that they are shunned from straight and gay communities for not being straight or gay enough. It can be painful to watch people choose to repress their complex sexual orientation in order to feel accepted by one group.

Coming out very publicly was one of the best feelings as an activist. It was such a personal act, and the number of friends and acquaintances who reached out to me during that time to tell me their stories was so touching.

What would you suggest people do if they want to start to get involved in the fight for LGBTQ+ and sex workers' rights?

A: For most people, the most effective activism they can do is within their own communities. Talking about sex workers and LGBTQ+ rights with family and friends may seem menial, but it is some of the most important work we can all do.

To talk to folks in your circles though, you need to be armed with correct information about those you are hoping to help. It is important to avoid savior complexes. Listen to people in the communities you want to fight for. Trusted sources are SWOP chapters, the ACLU, the LGBT Center in Los Angeles (or local chapters to you), and actual LGBTQ+ folks and sex workers.

Of course, you can volunteer and leaflet with local chapters and organizations, but it is also important to support community members directly. You can do this by supporting a business owned by LGTBQ+ folks and sex workers or by tipping them directly!

You do a lot of challenging work. What do you do to take care of yourself and have fun?

A: What's been so great about my current work is the wonderful people I have met. I have never had more fun with a group of people than my sex worker comrades. We take trips, drink wine in the backyard, and gas each other up constantly.

Personally, I go to the gym almost every day and try to spend some time there with my phone off. Turning your phone off is very important for activists (and all workers at this point). In 2019 we can be constantly reached, and it's hard not to engage when you are so passionate about your work helping others.

I also got a fully functional TV for the first time in my adult life this year and now understand the benefits of winding down watching TV (even if I mostly watch The Office).

POLITICS

Criminal Charges Against WikiLeaks Founder Revealed

A call for Julian Assange's arrest and extradition was found in an unrelated court filing.

U.S. Department of Justice charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange have been discovered through an administrative error in an unrelated court filing late Thursday night.

The filing from prosecutors for the Eastern District of Virginia on August 22 contains language indicating the government is seeking a future warrant for Assange's arrest "in connection with the charges" in a sex-crimes case for Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, who was charged with coercing and enticing an underage person to engage in unlawful sexual activity. Unsealed last week by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at George Washington University, the file says Assange "can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition."

Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the Eastern District of Virginia, referred to the mentions of Assange as an "administrative error" on Friday, and said the August case had nothing to do with WikiLeaks. He declined to comment further. However, multiple news outlets have reported that the Justice Department is preparing to prosecute Assange, citing people familiar with the matter in addition to the inadvertent court disclosure. The precise criminal charges he faces remain unclear.

U.S. authorities were allegedly prepared to seek charges against Assange in April 2017, but none were ever sought. Assange is currently located in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he's been living for years. If the charges against Assange are filed, it would require a multistep diplomatic and legal process to arrest and extradite him.

Chelsea Manning


Justice Department officials have been investigating Assange since 2010, when thousands of confidential government files were posted on WikiLeaks from U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. The recent disclosure comes as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III continues to investigate the website while discerning potential links between Trump Administration officials and Russia's 2016 election interference. The site published thousands of emails during the election that were stolen by Russian intelligence officers as part of a disruption campaign against presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

WikiLeaks tweeted about the filing soon after the news broke, saying "US Department of Justice 'accidentally' reveals existence of sealed charges (or a draft for them) against WikiLeak's publisher Julian Assange in apparent cut-and-paste error in an unrelated case."


While the exact details are a mystery, the potential charges against Assange for publishing information of public interest—even if it was obtained by Moscow hackers—would be a critical development in the relationship between modern governments and freedom of the press, and may set a threatening precedent.

"The news that criminal charges have apparently been filed against Mr. Assange is even more troubling than the haphazard manner in which that information has been revealed," Barry Pollack, an attorney for Assange, told CNN. "The government bringing criminal charges against someone for publishing truthful information is a dangerous path for a democracy to take."

Joshua Smalley is a New York-based writer, editor, and playwright. Find Josh at his website and on Twitter: @smalleywrites.

POLITICS

Deceased Brothel Owner Wins Nevada Election: This is America

Dennis Hof won his bid for Nevada Assembly District 36 last night, despite having died three weeks ago.

Midterm elections are often considered a referendum on a sitting administration's progress—a collective report card graded by the people. Early numbers from this year's elections suggest a substantial and possibly record increase in voter turnout, which has been historically low in non-presidential voting years. It's not surprising, given the turbulent political climate, that candidates from both parties continued to campaign at full speed up until the final hours. Yet despite an election cycle that saw blatantly racist attack ads, felony accusations, and threats of violence, the one surefire road to victory has been apparent for years: death.

Outlandish as it may seem, at least nine dead people have been elected to public office since 1962—six in the last 20 years alone. The latest, Dennis Hof, whose body was discovered last month after the legal brothel owner had celebrated at a campaign-and-birthday party, claimed victory in Nevada last night. Prior to his death, the 72-year-old had been celebrating with friends Heidi Fleiss, Ron Jeremy, and Joe Arpaio.

Ballots Beyond the Grave: Deceased People Who Have Won Elections

Rep. Clement Miller (CA, 1962; airplane accident)

Reps. Nick Begich (AK) and Hale Boggs (LA, 1972; airplane accident)

Gov. Mel Carnahan (MO, 2000; plane crash)

Rep. Patsy Mink (HI, 2002; viral pneumonia)

Sen. James Rhoades (PENN, 2008; car accident)

Sen. Jenny Oropeza (CA, 2010; cancer)

Sen. Mario Gallegos (TX, 2012; liver disease)

Dennis Hof (NV, 2018; cause of death not yet reported)

The Nevada Independent

Hof ran for office as a self-proclaimed "Trump Republican" and stated that the president's 2016 win ignited his own desire for a career in politics. Similarities between the two run deep. Hof gained fame as a reality star on the long-running HBO documentary series Cathouse, which captured life at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, one of several legal brothels owned and operated by Hof. In 2015, he published a memoir titled "The Art of the Pimp," a clear homage to Trump's "The Art of the Deal." In it, Hof included a psychological profile by psychotherapist Dr. Sheenah Hankin, which categorizes Hof as a narcissist who abused the sex workers he employed.

Among the issues he championed were immigration reform, a repeal of Nevada's 2015 Commerce Tax, and a campus carry law that would allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring their weapons onto Nevada college and university campuses. He was endorsed by Roger Stone and Grover Norquist. In the 2018 primary elections, Hof beat incumbent James Oscarson by a mere 432 votes. Because he died within 60 days of the upcoming election, Hof remained on the ballot, though signs were posted at polling sites notifying voters of his death.

It seems as though these issues matter more than electing a living person to citizens of the 36th Assembly District. In fact, a 2013 study by Vanderbilt University found that, in lower-level elections, voters are most likely to elect the candidate with the highest name recognition.

The 36th Assembly District, which spans Clark, Lincoln, and Nye counties, has long been a GOP stronghold. Hof defeated Democrat Lesia Romanov, a first-time (living, breathing) candidate and lifetime educator who works as assistant principal of an elementary school for at-risk children. Romanov was impelled to run for office by a desire for common-sense gun reform following the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Yet, too many of her constituents, upon discovering she was running against Hof, she became a de facto advocate for women, including "survivors of sex trafficking and exploited and abused brothel workers," according to NBC News. Romanov was among many women running for office in hopes of making Nevada's legislature the first to hold a female majority in the country.

As The Washington Post reported in 2014, there hasn't been an election with a dead person on the ballot in which the dead person lost. It's hard to determine what's more damning for American democracy: that voters are so divided that they're more likely to vote for a dead person than cross party lines or that they've been voting that way for years. At the same time, one might argue that giving Hof's seat to a living Republican (as appointed by county officials, according to state law) is a better outcome than if it'd gone to Hof himself, considering his history of sexual abuse allegations. The most preposterous indictment of the American political system is that although deceased candidates have been elected before, now the electorate could seemingly ask itself—in all seriousness—whether a dead serial abuser makes a better candidate than a living one. And no one seems to know the answer.