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Member since: 2001
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Toronto Star Gives Up, But Not Our Admins!

Toronto Star closes commenting on thestar.com

They give lots of good reasons in the article announcing this decision, although they don't mention what is probably the most powerful incentive to give up on online community management: Court dismisses appeal of Warman libel judgment against website (the Ontario Court of Appeal made a ruling that the owner of a website can be held liable for libel if it does not act to remove libellous statements made in comments on its website in a timely manner.)

The issue of website and blog "comment" functions' potential to nurture raging Internet cesspools of unbridled reptile-cortex feculosity isn't a new one. It's long been known as a vulnerability in the whole "online community" concept. Discussion fora, such as this one, are a next-step-up in intensity on the same problem, enhanced by the assumption that in fora there will usually be some form of moderation. And the corresponding disappointment when that moderation fails to meet user wishes and expectations.

And so has the solution to the problem been long known:

Bad Comments Are a System Failure: So Why Can't You Fix Them Like Any Other Bug?

If Your Website's Full of Assholes, It's Your Fault

I was interested, in reading both of the above-linked blogs, to see that most of the identified remedies for the issue have been implemented, (and well-implemented indeed,) right here on Democratic Underground, for some time.

Although we're almost all here on DU based on a common interest in politics and public policy, the "Context Collapse" referred to by West in "System Failure" applies here, too. We have a really, really diverse community, and we naturally fracture into passionate and often vehemently opposed sub-communities, a phenomenon exacerbated during primary seasons.

Do I wish people wouldn't be quite so vicious to one another, here? Do I avoid reading some threads simply because I know they're going to be full of the least-admirable side of human nature? Of course.

Do I think I could "do better" making DU a place of intelligent, interesting, mostly-civil, usually-adult discourse that reflects liberal values and the will to honor diversity?

Frankly, no, I don't.

If I were appointed dictator, I could for sure turn this place into an echo chamber of MY values and opinions, and a tight little self-congratulatory cabal of like-minded individuals.

Key word there being "little." Because by the time you start turfing out everyone who agrees with you on 90% of what you like but not the other 10%, or 80% of what you like but not the other 20%, or wherever I'd draw the line today (and I didn't get much sleep last night and the coffee was too strong this morning and the weather sucks and my favorite team lost last night, etcetera) it would, indeed, be a small group.

And probably not that interesting, either.


KUDOS and gratitude, and BEST HOLIDAY WISHES to our esteemed Site Admins, to the fine and dedicated volunteers on the MIRT, and to every DUer who's ever thoughtfully wrinkled a brow over a thread as a jury member, trying their best to interpret the Terms of Service with an eye to fairness and maturity.


Following Which Money? Politicians, Donors, and Staying Bought

When elected, most pols try to show appreciation to those whose money and/or effort helped them get elected.

That's simple enough, and generally true.

But that's only a beginning. When people tell me who to vote for, or not to vote for, based on campaign funding, I think about a lot of other factors, too.

For one thing, I try to think like a donor attempting to ensure I'll be able to protect my interests after the election. And the simplicity vanishes in some tough complexities, including (in no particular order):

If I'm trying to see who *else* is buying a piece of this pol, it's not so easy. A straight-out "donation" may be the smallest tip of an iceberg that includes PACs and dedicated "nonpartisan research and education" organizations, issue-based groups, and other clever fellow-travelers, not to mention unreported (and unreportable) ratfucking projects designed to scuttle primary opponents, etc.

Then I have to face the reality that a lot of punters hedge their bets both ways, throwing money at those on the left and the right, trying to reserve a place at the eventual winner's table, no matter who it may be. Some of that money will be less effective simply because the recipients are perfectly well aware it's a "hedge."

And then there's the reality that just about every major viable candidate gets some funding from donors on BOTH sides of any controversial issue. To "stay bought" by a donor on one side of the issue, they'll have to disappoint donors on the other side. And since it's impossible to know the sum total of whose money on which side tipped what balance for what reason, saying that any one donor "owns" any one candidate/elected official is chancy, at best.

Of course, the nature, reputation, and ethics of the donor might become an issue- a candidate might well decide they can get more campaign mileage out of self-righteously and ostentatiously refusing a donation from someone with a really tainted public reputation, but the larger the number of donors, the bigger the campaign, the higher the stakes, the more likely it is that some real sleazemeisters will end up in everyone's donor rolls.

And finally there's the character of the candidate. For me, that comes down to a perhaps-surprising bit of calculus: How- and how well- does this candidate do "compromise?"

Because for all the passion I may bring to the particular issues that I believe in, a successful democratic government runs on the art of compromise: How can those passionately and obdurately divided by experience, understanding, and ideology find ways to make terms with one another, ensuring that everyone in a diverse electorate is both disappointed in some things and pleased in others-- all of them of critical, life-or-death importance to someone.

Reviewing a candidate's ability to get people of differing beliefs and ideologies together, parse through the options, do the horse-trading, give and take credit and responsibility for the inevitably imperfect results-- THAT might be the final decider as far as where to invest money, time, and passion, regardless of donor lists touted by those hoping to convince me that this or that candidate is "bought" by this or that interest.


Thousands killed, millions without power in Capitalist oligarchy storm

Based on this article referred to in this LBN post. Thanks, AP.

Cleanup crews still have yet to start work in Congress and the Supreme Court after a power-grabbing storm of bought elections, corruption, and deregulation killed thousands of people, cut power to more than 300,000,000 Americans and flooded the 99%.

The corporate influence since 2000 has exceeded all previous measures in legislative areas of national and local governments, where brutal, terrorism-spawning wars, environmental degradation leading to catastrophic climate change, and the demolition of social safety nets were blamed for the deaths.

Thousands of patriotic young Americans were killed when Mideast countries were invaded to protect corporate oil interests. Thousands more have died in hurricanes, floods, landslides, forest fires and other inadequately prepared-for and responded-to climate disasters, and many thousands more died from lack of health care, homelessness, hunger, and gun violence, authorities said.

The identities of the thousands killed are known but apparently inconsequential to anyone but other peons and serfs.

Crews in disparate community movements have been working to turn over more than 175 Congressional seats and local elected offices that blocked economic justice and slowed the progress of human evolution.

Meanwhile, gigantic corporations are trying to reduce tax burdens for more than 142,000 oligarchs, most in offshore locations and gated communities. They are expected to work around the clock until all tax burdens are devolved to the middle class.

Public schools have been closed or rendered completely ineffective in nearly all districts. Also rendered inaccessible or unaffordable were any universities attempting to provide viable creative and intellectual education to anyone but Skull and Bones members and other "legacy" students.

National Wealth Surveillance said the unusually ferocious power-grabbing was enabled by the Republican Party interacting with the fundamentalist Christian, ignorant racist xenophobe, and anti-authoritarian Libertarian factions. Power grabs reached unprecedented intensity on Wall Street as well as K Street.

The international community reported a top power/wealth grab intensity equal with the late 19th Century. Developing countries and continents saw nascent democracies and economies collapse.

National Wealth Surveillance said the oligarchic income redistribution would give way to worldwide communicable disease epidemics, mass starvation, and violent revolution.

Alice Brock, with National Wealth Surveillance in upstate New York, said electronic voting machines and voter suppression laws may have saturated democracy, making it easier for the capitalists to purchase elections.

Elsewhere, propaganda mudslides successfully blocked the viability of nominees unaffiliated with or not beholden to the oligarchy, the Department of Obfuscation said.

Viable electoral contests were prevented in many districts and redistricting referendums were delayed or blocked due to pervasive gerrymandering throughout the system.

Discredited and ridiculed progressives said more than 30 major public safety net programs were badly damaged and hundreds of thousands of Americans were still without basic necessities early Wednesday. Disregarded online activists tweeted that more than 300,000,000 citizens lacked power.

The power grabs and extended looting of the economy caused fewer problems for upper class white people, but roughly 99 percent of poor and middle class whites lost economic power in America.

Propaganda gusts of enormous power rattled the electorate in widely scattered areas, blowing racism and xenophobia from Friday's tragedy across airwaves and social media and knocking out decency in several states.

The storm dumped several metric kilotonnes of cash into closely-held SuperPACS and power grabs created astroturf organizations and ideological think-tanks with no accountability or transparency.


If OTR Transport in the 40s & 50s Had Been Treated Like Communications Today...

'scuse me a minute... "GET OFF MY LAWN, you kids!"

Alrighty, then. Let granny, who's also a history student, tell you about the rise of mass OTR transport in America, 'way back when.

See, once upon a time, we didn't HAVE OTR transport. We didn't even have much in terms of roads. Serious! I kid you not! Transport of goods and people over distances longer than from one side of town to the other? That was handled by railroad. And railroads had a long, ugly history of oligarchy, monopolistic ownership, collusion, price fixing, and generally extracting every dime into their owners' bank accounts they possibly could.

All this, of course, at the expense of the greater economy and the middle class. When Teddy Roosevelt, the Progressive Movement (the late 19th/early 20th Century iteration thereof) threatened their hold on America's financial throat, they smashed the economy to smithereens, attempting to put us in our places.

Didn't work out the way they hoped, for two reasons: One being, we don't give up easy. But the other one was this new technology: The "motorcar," based on a gadget, the gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine.

At first, our Beloved Oligarchs didn't think it was much of a threat, really. A rich man's toy. Tracks were built for racing, of course. They certainly bought their own, found them useful on the estate, and in town, where the streets were increasingly being paved. Gas-fueled delivery vans started to replace horse-drawn wagons, but for long distance movement of goods and people the rails were still the only real option.

But we kept fighting back and the internal combustion tech kept evolving-- it evolved enough for a few of the Oligarchs to see it as a potential profit center, maybe even a replacement for the rails in terms of controlling the economy, should that be necessary. They invested. The railroads continued to decline. The automobile became cheaper, faster to produce, more powerful.

And in the wake of the second of the 20th Century's major wars, the nation realized that OTR transport was not only a viable replacement for long-distance rail transit, it was a superior option for an economy that was experiencing the biggest growth surge in its history. If the economy was to keep up with the population, it was THE option.

But an infrastructure would be needed.

Here's where the Alternate History version kicks in:

So a few Oligarchs went to the government and got massive welfare subsidies to start building the roads needed for mass OTR transit. At first, they colluded with one another and established territorial lines-- an East Coast corridor controlled by this Oligarch, a mid-Cross Country highway under the control of another, with the lesser players grabbing various regional and inter-city routes, extorting subsidies for building from state and local governments, etc.

And the bigger players achieved vertical integration with their own trucking lines, and worked out deals with one another for inter-system transit tolls and fees and charges. And they started snapping up the smaller and regional companies, and increasing local tolls and road fees to private drivers, to cover the costs of the acquisitions, of course.

At first, local governments attempted to keep up publicly-operated and subsidized omnibus, tram, and other local mass-transit options, but it became more "cost effective" to outsource them to the big OTR transit providers, and they gave up, paying "operation fees" from tax dollars for local transit. But costs kept going up, and up, and required fees and surcharges for people trying to commute to work outside their "zones."

Initially it was more cost-effective, if you COULD afford your own vehicle, to sign up for a monthly or annual road use plan with your local OTR provider, but as more and more of those got gobbled up by the big players, the fees increased, as did superfees for inter-system access, and eventually most people gave up private cars.

The economy began to gasp, and strangle. A massive depression set in...

Of course, that isn't what actually happened. Instead, we engaged in a massive post-WWII public works project to create the infrastructure needed to enable OTR technology to far surpass railroads in volume and efficiency of moving goods and people. This public investment and public control and public maintenance ended up fueling (you should excuse the pun!) one of the longest surges of middle-class prosperity our nation has ever known.

Any similarities to the Internet in this bit of alternate history fantasy are, well... yes, totally intentional.


Who "Created the Monster?"

This post about the Koch brothers' dismay over the unintended consequences of their diligent attempts to hijack the democratic process prompted another DUer to weigh in with the assessment that "the turn to the dark side" actually dated back to the Nixon era.

I won't argue against the premise that Nixon opened some nasty cans of corrupt and conniving worms and poured them into the American political stew. But while virtually all politicians (and particularly, since Nixon's own Southern Strategy, GOPpie politicians) have at some point faced the electoral necessity to pander to reactionary populism, I saw Nixon as more your back-room boyo.

He certainly exploited racist fault lines in the electorate, and did a modest amount of pandering to the reactionary anti-hippie sentiment. But Nixon and his owners, like most political machines of the Cold War era, understood that the nature of the Cold War itself required them to refrain from upsetting the propaganda applecart. Proxy wars aside, the Cold War required a facade depicting the universal social and economic beneficence of Capitalism to contrast with their carefully-depicted authoritarian collectivist "nightmare of Communism."

The "Western World" led by the USA regularly capped Soviet "5-year plan" reports of boot production per capita with our own version of boot production reports-- except that ours were white vinyl go-go boots on working class dolly birds advertising Pepsi.

Their ham-handed management of opposition to Civil Rights revealed their priorities: A form of "what would the neighbors think?" that focused on painting it as a "States Rights" issue of Democracy in Action, and downplaying, wherever possible, the ugly underbelly of racist and reactionary populism in the South. The nature of mass media helped to subvert that, just as it aided the anti-war movement: Structural constraints embedded by the last vestiges of Rooseveltian progressivism were still in place to inhibit Oligarchic control. Occasionally some unpleasant and motivational realities were plastered into the consciousness of the electorate.

One of the Cold War's only real benefits was its (temporary) inhibition on exploiting toxic, reactionary forms of populism to oppose both the remaining vestiges of socialist/labor populism and the burgeoning progressive anti-war and pro-equity versions of the 1960s and 70s.

It may seem bizarre to those who didn't live through the Taft machine's dominance of the GOP, but back then, their strategy was strongly invested in anti-populism. They worked hard to portray the GOP as the Party of Moderation, the "cool heads" with the broad view and the long-term perspective who could be trusted to counter the passion of emotional fervor with the cold water of facts, science, technology, and Realpolitik.

"The Monster" of toxic reactionary populism-- the varieties based in nativist, racist, fundamentalist, and other fear-based, exclusionary resistance to change-- has been embedded in our species all along. It's been part of our body politic from the very beginning. It never really sleeps, and the best we can do is starve it of oxygen, repudiate it as publicly as possible, and keep it grumbling and holding tinfoil hat fashion shows in its own version of the "No <pejorative epithet of your choice> aloud" tree house. But its power never dies and is abundantly fed by the fertile soil of economic hardship and fast-moving social and technological change.

Democrats are no stranger to tapping that power-- ask anyone who grew up in "the Solid South." But always fairly sub-rosa, with a veneer of respectable moderation figleafing the ugliness that fed the Party machine's power.

No, Nixon didn't create the Monster. Politicians are like Satan in some versions of Christian theology-- they cannot create, they can only destroy, distort, and exploit the damage. Even Reagan didn't "create" the current version of the reactionary populism now dismaying our elite Oligarchs.

I would, however, argue that Reagan and his owners can be fairly and squarely fingered for letting it out of the tree house this go-round, and making the devil's bargain that put the reactionary power behind their re-engineered political machine. By the time Reagan was elected, they could see the end of the Cold War coming, and decades of foundational work by the Birchers combined with their growing sophistication in absorbing and controlling the power of the mass media. Why else select an actor of Reagan's experience with presenting "amiable, reasonable and engaging"? He provided the perfect cover.

The first long, low howls began with the anti-abortion movement whipping the fundamentalist populists into a misogynist fervor in reaction to Roe v. Wade and the ERA. One by one, they've emptied the nativist treehouse, the anti-science, anti-change treehouse, the "you're not the boss of me" libertarian treehouse, the homophobic treehouse, and, with the election of a melanin-advantaged president, the racist super-treehouse. They've invited them all to the Party: Frothing, pounding, spittle-flecked cylinders of passion to be welded to the GOP electoral engine.

Now they're discovering that cylinders that refuse to be synchronized and tuned and adjusted to work effectively together under the "higher control" of the cool-headed, greed driven Oligarchs in the driver's seat might not just leave the GOPpie bus smoking with its hood up by the side of the electoral road-- they might take it over the cliff altogether.

History doesn't so much repeat itself as rhyme, but politicians have tin ears for poetry.


I am a Hillary supporter. I am a Bernie supporter.

There are things I very definitely prefer, about Bernie.

There are things I very definitely prefer, about Hillary.

There are things I dislike about Hillary.

There are things I dislike about Bernie.

However, both Bernie and Hillary are so infinitely superior to anyone the GOPpies might nominate, that I sleep soundly.

The only thing that bothers me, really, is the incredibly emotional, sometimes cynical, occasionally vicious, often strident attacks on one another by those who seem to support one so strongly that they believe it's worthwhile to vituperate, trash, character-assassinate the other and their supporters.

Who will I vote for, during the primary? I'll know for sure on that day. Whichever it is, the other will have my heartfelt gratitude and support as well. It is possible to appreciate the worthy public service and common ground held with someone even while deploring other things about them. In the case of our Democratic Presidential candidates, that's a lot of common ground, actually. Especially when it comes to the mess we'll be having to clean up in Congress, a Supreme Court that will have key openings in the next 4 years, and ongoing tension between many types of change forces worldwide.

Those who believe the only good Hillary supporter is one driven over by the Bernie bus which then backs up, drives over again, repeats that 3-4 times, then everyone piles out and jumps on the flattened remains may begin that process, now.

Those who believe the only good Bernie supporter is one stabbed repeatedly, bludgeoned with sacks of quarters, stoned with large rocks, and then held underwater until the bubbles stop coming up may begin that process now, as well.


Dear Vice-President Biden,

And I do mean, "dear."

I appreciate your wisdom, your humanity, your leadership and your dedication to public service, more than I can say.

While I do regret that America has not had, and now will not have, the chance to experience your leadership as President (I think you'd have been pretty damn' stellar, actually,) I do not regret your decision. I am grateful for it.

Here's what I think: What Jimmy Carter has been to the "ex-Presidency," Joe Biden will be as a "former Vice President." Your grace and humor, the courage of your convictions, and the experience of living publicly among the slings and arrows will be a foundation for moral leadership of great strength. I do not underestimate that power, and I know you do not, either.

I don't think public service is done with you, Joe.

I think there's more out there.

For now, though, your decision to put your not-inconsiderable weight behind the Democratic Party in the general election is appreciated. I don't know how that will play out, I *do* know that if you choose to make an explicit endorsement of one candidate at the primary level, it'll carry a lot of weight.

I suspect you may delay that decision, for the very good reason that in the long road ahead, there's a need to engage as many people who share the Democratic Party's expressed ideals as we possibly can. We need the energy, we need the conviction and the passion, and most of all, we need to hold the Party's leadership accountable for those very ideals, rather than for the corrupting calculations of triangulation and electability. That can come later.

Either way, you're a factor, and an important one. And I know that you'll use that wisely and well, based on your experience of the levers and buttons as well as your deep understanding of the human realities of government.

When this election has played out, I hope you are given some time to take a break from the public eye. You and your family have experienced much pain in the past few years. May you finally get some time to share the same love and support that has sustained you through the hard times, in more pleasant places and ways.

You did not undertake public service for personal reward, not for you, not for your family. May the future bring you the true rewards you have built for yourself: the knowledge of work well done, a life well lived, and communities and people the better for your work.


"Party Loyalty" and the Purpose of Parties (warning: Long read)

Political factions are as old as humanity. But the political "Party," as an organized entity with a structure, role, legal obligations and powers, is actually a pretty recent development, traceable to the conflict between those who wanted a government modeled on strong executive authority versus strong representative legislative powers, in late 17th Century England.

As the two groups coalesced around various leaders and attempted to steer the course of Britain's nascent Parliamentary democracy, inter-party conflict quickly became an issue. This was (inevitably!) complicated by intra-party conflict that rendered both of the major parties objects of scorn and ridicule.

So despised were English political parties by the time of the American Revolution that several key American leaders were utterly opposed to permitting the sanction or participation of parties in the US version of representative democracy. Alexander Hamilton regarded parties as "a vice" to be guarded against. Jefferson went further, stating "If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all."

Yet even with that distaste, Hamilton and Jefferson themselves became the nuclei of factions that inevitably became Parties.

Perhaps the words of Ben Franklin best illustrate why parties are such a durable feature in representative democratic governments: "We must hang together, or we will assuredly all hang separately."

Although those words were not spoken in the context of political parties, they encapsulate the fundamental reality that only by acting in solidarity can those without wealth and/or power effectively counterbalance and oppose those with the inherent power of wealth and position.

Political parties, like labor unions, are a tool for the non-wealthy and non-powerful to advance agendas of change and to act collectively on our own behalf.

But political parties are vulnerable to co-optation and dilution by those opposed to their agendas from without, and to dissension and chaos from competing priorities and agendas within the party itself.

It's tremendously difficult to pull a party together and maintain its effectiveness because as soon as collective action begins to have an effect (as with the victories of labor unions in the early part of the 20th Century, or the civil rights victories mid-century,) two things happen:

The first is backlash, which is very predictable. The strength and power of the backlash, the resources devoted to rolling back those victories and opposing further progress, tend to be in direct proportion to the effects and magnitude of change achieved.

Backlash would not be quite so damaging if it weren't for the other effect: Collective action fatigue. Collective action is HARD WORK. It demands commitments of time, it demands sacrifices, greater and lesser ones, of personal priorities to the collective priorities. And with the achievement of victories, the easing of conditions, the opening up of new benefits, those who've been willing to attend meetings, participate in actions, put personal priorities on hold for collective priorities, tend to shift efforts elsewhere.

It's natural. Many of the laborers who were fired up enough in the 1930s to stand bravely before company goons, get arrested, beaten, sit for days in cold factories while their families ate soup at the union hall, etc., could barely be bothered to attend elections at the local twenty-five years later.

Many of the Republicans who worked incredibly hard to elect Republican Congresses that would move the nation toward abolition in the mid-19th century had pretty much abandoned any electoral participation at all by the end of the century, leaving their Party to internecine, plutocrats versus Progressives strife.

Many who were attracted to the Democratic Party by its support of labor and its movement toward civil rights in the middle of the 20th century stopped attending caucuses, stopped going to conventions, stopped putting in the time and effort demanded to wrest the soul of the Party from the entrenched interests of the military-industrial complex. I attribute that pretty much equally to the distraction of Watergate and successful efforts to convince Democrats that an occasional primary vote could be just as effective as actually participating in the party itself, and so MUCH easier, less stressful and less time-consuming.

The harsh reality of representative democracies is this: Parties are the only viable force that can effectively empower structurally disempowered groups. And the larger the party, the more effective that effort CAN be, but only if the parties themselves are willing to act in solidarity.

I would ask this of my fellow DUers:

First, do not condemn the concept of "Party loyalty" as something evil, stupid, weak, collusive, lazy, etcetera, nor make the assumption that those who value party loyalty are somehow "tainted" by their understanding of its potential and power. Just because they see the potential power of putting aside critical personal priorities for less personally-cherished collective agendas that might produce smaller, incremental motion in a good direction doesn't mean they are a malign or stupid enemy.

But also, do not condemn those who correctly and urgently point out the messes and structural ineffectiveness of relying on a party that has long since been co-opted and corrupted by both the interests of the powerful and our own willingness to make the easy choices and leave the hard work to others. They are CORRECT. Loyalty to such a party can be futile or even counter-effective.

We all have individual choices to make. We all have to balance present needs and realities with future threats and possibilities. We all have to determine what we're willing to throw into the pot in the way of effort, action, money, and commitment, and why. We cannot make those decisions for one another, and condemning and belittling one another for those decisions keeps us from uniting around the common grounds we CAN agree on. It dilutes the power of this community to attract and grow support for the agendas we do share, even if we don't all order them in the same priority.

And the name of this website is "Democratic Underground." "Democratic" as in "Democratic Party." Yes, we welcome those who may not be members of the party, or even consistent past Democratic voters. We welcome everyone who shares a good chunk of the large common ground that represents what Democratic Party platforms have aspired to: Economic justice, the preservation of our planet, the redressing of oppression, the promotion of social and Constitutional equity, the building of sustainable communities, peaceful resolution to the world's problems, and the strength of an America empowered by a shared vision for those things.

We don't demand that everyone agree on every square centimeter of that ground. Or even every square inch. We don't require anyone who joins this website to certify Democratic Party membership, or to pass "loyalty tests," but we remain Democratic (as in Party) Underground all the same.

To me, anyway, that has a meaning and a hope embedded in it: That we, as Democrats and those who see the possibilities of collective action by the MORE THAN HALF of American voters who share some or all of the priorities and values we share, have an opportunity to bring our passion to the Party, and to move the Party itself toward effectiveness in promoting those priorities and values.

And it's a hard, messy, stressful, sometimes discouraging, even disgusting process. Ever been to a Party meeting that's gone on for hours into the night, arguing the differences between two entrenched and bitterly disagreeing Party officials? Personally, I'd rather be waterboarded. But I go to those meetings, all the same.

Because Parties, like everything else, are eventually controlled by those who SHOW UP. And who KEEP showing up, week after month after year, dealing with the messes and the follies of human nature and putting on the pressure towards a better, more equitable future, one hard-fought millimeter at a time. We could do this, you know.

I know Party politics on the local level. In most districts, the number of people willing to show up and participate is pitiful. The number willing to show up and wait out the skepticism, suspicion, and active undermining of entrenched current leadership is even smaller.

The Democratic Party in America is actually RUN by less than twenty thousand individuals who are willing to show up for local Party meetings, participate in local Party elections, do the work, and move up in rank through the years.

Local matters. Local is the crack where the thin end of the wedge can be inserted. It's not fast, it's not easy, it's certainly not much fun. But look at where it's gotten the GOP, focusing on school board elections, city councils, county commissions, local judicial and public office elections, and then moving up to state legislatures, redistricting, gerrymandering themselves into a disproportionate hold on Congress.

They did it with a buttload of Oligarch money and a surprisingly small number of passionately committed individuals.

I believe we can reclaim the soul of our Party with way less in the way of money, as long as we're willing to put in the passion and the effort.


Gaslighting the Electorate

"Gaslighting" is the attempt by one person to redefine another person's reality. The term comes from the 1944 classic film about a man deliberately trying to destroy his wife's sanity to protect his own guilty secret.

It's a common tactic used by abusers: Re-frame and re-define everything the victim says or does to reflect what the abuser wants them to believe about themselves. It can be deliberate, and subtle, and it's devastatingly effective.

Less maliciously, but still doing damage, it can be a form of manipulation, unconscious or even inadvertent. It's often a tactic used by partners in an intimate relationship, parents, or bosses, who are insecure or controlling.

You simply overwrite the reality with your own interpretation, again and again, re-interpreting it, and forcing your interpretation on the target, disallowing their experience, their belief, their reality, and replacing it with yours.

"Did you HAVE to cut me off at the knees, in front of our friends?"

"Cut you off... what do you mean? We just talked about the weekend!"

"The only time you mentioned me was to make me look like an idiot."

"What? I told them about the restaurant mix-up, I thought it was funny, and cute!"

"You saw them smirking at each other. You always have to make me look like the bumbling fool."

Enough of this, and the target starts asking themselves "AM I being unfair? Is it my fault?" and questioning their own motivations. Ultimately, they get sucked into the reality the gaslighter presents, and (ideally, from the gaslighter's POV) it begins to affect their behavior and even their beliefs.

A really determined gaslighter will often escalate their efforts-- taking mutual friends aside and "explaining" the target's actions and responses, broadening the redefinition of reality and surrounding the target with people who've been 'inoculated' with the gaslighter's version.

By effectively destroying the target's confidence in the reality they experience, and replacing it with the reality the gaslighter wants them to experience, the target is disempowered and subverted, co-opted into accepting the imposed reality and responding on the gaslighter's terms. You can see why it's popular with abusers.

It's popular with another category of people, too: Marketers.

In fact, consumer marketing in almost every category of goods and services has been pretty much subsumed into gaslighting. No longer do marketers seek information about a potential need or want, and develop or refine their product to fill it. Now they start with the product they want to sell, and use "focus groups" to identify exactly how to re-frame potential customers' realities to make the product an object of desire, or the solution to an unmet need or unsolved problem.

It's an unpleasant reality of modern life in a global community shrinking via mass communication. But the consumer marketing gaslighter is an old-fashioned, almost benignant predator compared to the feral and ubiquitous political gaslighter. Potentiated by the increasingly effective mass connection of the Internet, fueled by the torrent of big money, and fronted by a legion of punditry who've raised "redefining reality" to new levels, political gaslighters are working to overwrite everyone's experience.

They use the lessons of marketing, psychology, and mass manipulation like virtuosos, pulling out all the stops and tropes: fear, the need to be part of an 'in-group,' othering, conspiracy. They redefine 'common sense' and 'freedom' and 'democracy' and 'human decency' and 'morality' and even 'science' to meet the needs of the moment and advance to their goal.

They are gaslighting us. It works.

As those who've experienced gaslighting in the interpersonal context know, it's a terrifyingly difficult tactic to fight, once you've cracked and let the gaslighter's version of reality into your consciousness. And even more so, when the gaslighter has escalated to surround you with others who've already accepted their redefinition of you, and who reinforce that overwritten reality. It can be a long, lonely, frightening struggle, to reconnect with your own reality, disengage from the rewards and reinforcements of the imposed version, and survive the sanctions of your rejection.

I have no answers, and no solutions, no magic lists of things to do to turn this around.

Everyone's sum total of reality differs in some respect from everyone else's. How can it be otherwise? We have different experiences, different genes, different patterns of thinking and tastes and desires. To accept and affirm our own reality demands two things: First, that we embrace our own differences and stand up for them.

Second, and much harder, is to accept and affirm the validity of others' realities, even when they differ from our own.

We cannot effectively fight the gaslighting without doing both of these, but it will not be easy.


Strange Bedfellows in the Middle East: What Are They Afraid Of?

When you initially look at it, it's counter-intuitive: Why would both Israel AND Saudi Arabia be pulling out all the SuperPAC and lobbying stops to monkeywrench a US/Iran detente?

Granted, they have a certain preserve-the-balance-of-terror status quo interest to protect, but it's not like they're BFFs or anything.

And then I remembered something, from my personal experience. Two things, in fact.

The first thing was a Close-Up trip to Washington DC, back in 1973. We were putting up at the old Sheraton, and we happened to be there during the Persian New Year, a major holiday for all the Persian expats in DC. There were a LOT of them around, and they were partying down.

And of course, as High School kids whose chaperons were finding their own entertainment, we snuck in (not much sneaking required, back then-- or maybe the Persians didn't really care) to grab some of the refreshments and listen to the disco and generally party with them.

I talked late into the night with one of the younger attendees who was probably only two sheets to the wind, about the significance of the holiday, the size of the Iranian ("Persian!" he insisted) community in the DC area, and the close economic and cultural ties between America and what was then our biggest, staunchest ally in the Middle East (outside of Israel, of course.) I learned quite a lot, and don't remember too many details, but I came away with an impression that the well-to-do, well-educated segment of Iranian/Persian society were pretty well-entrenched in DC.

And it inspired me to learn a good deal more about the difference between Persians and "Arabs" and other Middle-Eastern cultures. Which resulted in considerable respect for the long history, dense cultural layering and sophistication in that part of the world, as well as more understanding of just how quickly and well they adapted to the Darwinist Capitalism economic model of what we then fondly referred to as "the West."

The other experience was a few years later-- after the fall of the Shah and the institution of the Islamic Republic. I worked as a bartender at a fancy restaurant; one of my waiters was a Persian expat; we had many colloquies about what the "holy mans" were doing to his country, and what the long-term result was likely to be.

And I came away from that believing that a people who count their history in millenia didn't really regard a couple of decades, or even half a century, as more than a blip, in terms of political economy and culture. That they'd find a new center of gravity, no matter what, and reinvent themselves as a center of trade and the arts and culture and influence. And that there were plenty of survivors of the coup laying low, waiting to make that happen, well dug in and strategically placed in America, among other places. Patient. Meticulous. Willing to deal... always willing to deal.

I don't think the rest of the Middle East seriously thinks about Iran as a nuclear threat. I believe the threat, to them, is the notion of a resurgent Persia, hand in capitalist hand with an enabling America, gutting all the trade structures leftover from the Cold War power blocs and the post-Revolutionary isolation period. Building an economic hegemony.

And THAT is the fear that underlies the strangely congruent agendas of the various otherwise-hostile parties trying to submarine the detente.

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