Plots and Thoughts

English Libel Law – Shaming the Bullies

Posted in Observations, Strategy by Captain Optimistic on February 24, 2010

The British Chiropractic Association sued Simon Singh for writing a science column in which he called their claims “bogus”.  A judge ruled against him and he is currently appealing.  As the Libel Reform Campaign observes, their libel law is a global disgrace:

John Kampfner, the CEO of Index on Censorship:

If we don’t act we’re at risk of becoming a global pariah. There are US States who view English libel law as so damaging to free speech they have passed laws to effectively block the decisions of English judges. Our report is an important milestone in modernising our antiquated and chilling approach to free expression.

In the meantime, is there anything we can do to help?  I would like to propose a generalized strategy for dealing with those who use the law to oppress those with less power.  A Public Relations Denial of Service attack.  A DOS attack is – in essence – an attack on a network’s availability by request saturation.  Think of it as so many people calling into a hotline to complain the phone lines melt.  Imagine applying the same approach to a company’s reputation.  There could be no more ironic target than an organization misusing English libel law to penalize a critic.

This is political speech at its most raw and powerful.  The message we would send is clear.  If you attack free speech, we attack your reputation.  The British Chiropractic Association is using a law that is known to be a perversion to shut down criticism in the press.  This is morally repugnant and it deserves a response.

How would this work?

Large groups of people would criticize that association on their blogs, twitter, facebook, buzz, etc etc.  There are more than a few ways to do this (ironically engaging in actual libel as protest, calling them names, etc).  I would recommend one of two approaches:

  1. Put the Streisand Effect into play.  Repeat the claims they launched their lawsuit to silence.  This would entail some risk.
  2. Attack their honor.  Stomping out free speech is dishonorable, anti-democratic, and fundamentally against the code of ethics at the root of the free world.  Careful phrasing could make this approach rather risk free.

I could really use an example!

The BCA’s claims about curing asthma through chiropractic adjustment are bogus!  Talk to a real doctor today.

The BCA is silencing its critics.  Where do YOU stand on free speech?  Boycott BCA affiliated Chiropractors.

Doesn’t this put me at risk?

Perhaps.  But the more we band together, the more of us who take part, the harder it is for the offender to attack any more of us.  And with each lawsuit aimed at silencing further critics, the criticism would grow ever stronger.

What is so important about free speech anyway?

If a medical journalist cannot critique healthcare providers and methods it takes away a necessary level of protection for the public.

In situations where the law protects the powerful and punishes the weak, we need to come up with strategies to strike back.  Court costs and laws which favor corporations have made the legal world an unequal playing ground where individuals become victims.  There has to be a way for citizens to stand up for each other.  Perhaps that way can be found in grassroots public relations.

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ACORN Pimp Video a Deliberate Fake

Posted in Analysis, Observations, Strategy by Captain Optimistic on February 18, 2010

Just in case you all missed this, have a read:

While O’Keefe is a whackjob and should be in jail, the greater absurdity here is how the media pushed and then defended this story, which anyone who has shame now has to accept was a carefully-edited YouTube propaganda piece reported by every single network as “investigative journalism.”

Anyone who tells you “but ACORN was going to give money to a PIMP” is a fucking idiot, and ought to be corrected right then and there.  The video was a fake:

Harshbarger also shed light on the controversial videos, noting that portions had been “substantially” edited, including some voice overdubbing.

A seriously fucked up fake:

The lying, the media complicity, the vicious racism of O’Keefe and his buddies have been covered elsewhere.  I just want to point out what vicious misogynists they are, too.  They went out of their way to turn people’s kindness towards marginalized women into a bad thing. When they encountered decent human beings who take responsibility when asked for help to stop violence against women, they brimmed over with hate for those people, and they set out to destroy them.  And while they think kindness towards prostitutes is a weakness, and violence against women is a joke, they exploited the public’s horror at sex trafficking and violence against women to slur people who were the only people in the room who actually had a problem with violence against women.

That is some fucked-up, woman-hating shit.

It is indeed.  Don’t doubt that conservatives will continue to use it as a weapon.  That is their mistake.  It is a weakness, and the second you see it exposed pounce and use it to give them a merciless ethical thrashing.

Congress: Term vs Age Limits

Posted in Analysis, Observations, Strategy by Captain Optimistic on January 10, 2010

I find myself disagreeing – strongly – with Amanda Marcotte.  This of course has me a bit startled.  At issue is the question of term and age limits.  Amanda is upset about old out of touch white men in public office.  Which is understandable.  It isn’t like our generation will be any better when we find ourselves in power.  These men – across both parties – represent positions and hold perceptions that are way out of whack with the rest of the country.  Her solution is to avoid term limits and their associated problems and instead institute a mandatory retirement age.  There are a number of problems with this solution.

  • Medicine and Technology are turning 65 into 75, and 75 into 85.  At what point is a citizen no longer allowed to hold office because their world view is no longer relevant?  Should we instead of a citizenship test of sorts – a litmus test – to ensure aged political hopefuls are with the times?
  • Is there any premium at all on differing perceptions?  Do we want to make our governing body more homogeneous?

What we ought to be doing is removing age limits.  There is no reason a 20 year old cannot run for the highest office in the land.  Part of the problem is that congress is dominated by entrenched power, and entrenched power and age go hand in hand.

I’m hesitant to suggest term limits.  I think they’re a bad idea for a lot of reasons, starting with the fact that the existence of senior politicians is often a good thing—experience and stature helps them get things done. While we were talking about this last night, Marc also pointed out to me that term limits encourage corruption by encouraging the Dick Cheney-style revolving door between holding office and working for corporations.

We therefore need to couple term limits with strong and effective anti-corruption laws.  Encouraging the ageism in our political system does not strike me as an effective way to gain allies or improve our representation.

What if, instead of encouraging politicians to hang onto their seats as long as humanly possible, we created an incentive for politicians to groom and root for their successors?  One reason we’re all so scared to see someone like Ted Kennedy or Robert Byrd leave office is we’re afraid of who will take their place, but I think if these politicians were looking forward to retirement instead of waiting for death, that might not be so.  They would have much more of a reason to groom someone suitable for their seat, and help get them elected while they still had the energy to do so.

These incentives would increase the stranglehold of entrenched politicians even further, so they could continue to exert their influence after they leave through their successors.  Take a good hard look at Putin and Medvedev.  Do we really to encourage that here?

To strengthen our representation in Congress we need to increase diversity of representation and freedom of choice while simultaneously restricting entrenched power and corruption.  Here is what we need to agitate for:

  • Removing age limits
  • Instituting term limits
  • Selecting a new system of voting (along the lines of instant runoff) that allows people to rank their choices
  • Make elections entirely publicly financed, outlawing the spending of any private funds

It would be a start, a small step forward.  Age limits would be a step backwards, an act that legitimizes existing age limits when we need to do what we can to remove them entirely.

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Negotiation Skills: Why Democrats Lose

Posted in Strategy by Captain Optimistic on January 9, 2010

I was discussing my last post with a friend, and she mentioned that she agreed that politicians ought to stand up for what they believe.  But that isn’t it.  Yes, politicians with backbone will crush those with none.  But to truly be effective we need to understand a basic point of negotiation and perception.  Let’s take an example.

You want to make $20 an hour.  You’ve done the research, and in your town that is a real living wage.  You currently make $8 an hour.  Rather than going against your boss directly, you are taking your case to the people for a vote on a new minimum wage.  How do you make that case?

If you are a liberal blogger, you present the research and opine that $20 an hour is the only solution which makes sense economically and ethically.

If you are an Elected Democrat, you begin by saying we need to fight for $15 an hour.  However, you acknowledge, you need to negotiate with Republicans (who believe in no minimum wage at all and are very reasonable people).  Given the disparity of their position and your own, you decide to offer an olive branch by discussing $14 an hour.  The Republicans go wild, discussing how any wage mandate at all is a slap in the face of the free market.  Protests by people proud to be making $8 an hour spring up as if by magic (connections to well financed Republican PR firms are only weakly acknowledged in the mainstream press).  You find your conservative Democrat allies are saying they will not even allow a vote unless you commit to no more than $12 an hour.  You hurriedly do so in the most patchwork manner possible.  Your aides leak to the press you’ve been intending to go as low as $10 an hour, to try and manage expectations (No, not the expectations of the opposition as to how far they can get, but your constituents as to what they can expect you to accomplish).  This creates additional downward pressure, as the Republicans do not budge an inch (pledging to vote against any bill you come up with).  Conservative Democrats, sensing blood in the water, argue for $10 an hour and again threaten to block the bill.  By the time all is said and done the final bill has dropped to a magnificent $10 an hour, and your constituents love you.  Don’t worry, you’ll still get elected in the next cycle.  After all, no one wants to elect a Republican and lose $2 an hour or more when they roll back your latest legislative victory.

So how should an effective progressive make their case?  Start by repeating the average compensation for a CEO in hourly wages.  That comes to $5,240 an hour.  Begin building a case for $50 an hour, not $20.  Don’t paint $20 as the goal.  $20 is what you are settling for.  $40 would be livable, but why shoot for just livable?  Why not really push for working Americans?  Bring the discussion past your goals.  Make $20 seem like a concession, and remain united and focused on that front.  If the Republicans can do it, why can’t we?

This is why Democrats keep losing our battles for us.  Partially because they are in fact centrists and conservatives elected under the Democratic banner, and partially because of a political ineptitude that would see them fired from any private position in the country.  We can elect people who will do better.

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Health Care: Progressive Wonk Rhetoric Fail

Posted in Strategy by Captain Optimistic on January 9, 2010

Lindsay takes progressives and allies to task for tearing apart those of us who argue the Health Care bill is so pathetic and harmful it needs to die.  She effectively points out the concepts of negotiation and leverage so many powerful progressives fail to understand well enough to utilize.  However she leaves out a basic rhetorical concept that the right wing has mastered to the continuing detriment of the left: the overton window.

Lindsay observes:

Health care reform is no longer just an intellectual argument, it’s a negotiation. KTBers understand that. Wonky progressives cringe when KTBers say the bill will be worse than than nothing. When they say that, wonks hear a ridiculous overstatement. Which it probably is.

There is political power in ridiculous statements that goes beyond the act of negotiation.  If the discussion is dominated by those far to the right of our goal, and the only opposing voice is aiming for a position closer to the center than our real goals, we are losing ground.  We need people who are so committed to the ideal of universal care that they argue beyond single payer.  Where are the progressives arguing that the right to life enshrined in the constitution entitles every human being to free health care, food, and shelter?  We need people arguing that restricting our goal to only health care, and allowing co-pays at all, is a concession.  We need people arguing that health insurance companies provide such an essential service they have no right to exist as private for profit corporations!  These arguments need to be made with all the skill and fervor we can muster if they are going to be taken seriously enough to push the national discourse back towards an ethical resolution on health care reform.

If we are going to win, we need negiotiators and savvy rhetoricians applying leverage and changing the national conversation in our favor.  Whether or not the current bill passes, we as citizens need to use the above skills to ensure the next round of legislators are braver, shrewder, more effective and more loyal than our current batch.  This means discussing the health care reform effort as the monumental failure it is for failing to go far enough and in the right direction.

If we are going to win, we need to learn the lessons of negotiation and rhetoric well enough to become a political force to be reckoned with.

Liberal Message Machines

Posted in Observations, Strategy by Captain Optimistic on December 28, 2009

A thought from thereisnospoon @ DailyKos:

Money, time, and credibility are all necessary components of this strategy, and there is no immediately obvious pathway to any of these.

Allow me to offer a hopeful observation.  First, let me say that thereisnospoon’s post is one of the most exciting and important things I’ve read in quite a while about modern liberal politics.  Go. Read. Now. Now onto the observation:

  • Money – We’ve built incredibly effective fundraising machines over the past 3 election cycles.  Starting with Howard Dean’s run in 2004, we’ve shown that we can raise serious cash when needed.  Why not employ this method to create a liberal think tank?  A liberal PR firm?
  • Time – Time will strengthen anything we create, but we need not wait to see results.  Additionally, one might consider the rise of liberal bloggers and the netroots as the beginning.  We are already heading into battle with some benefits of well invested time on our side.
  • Credibility – From whom?  The same people we are struggling against?  They will never give it.  Ourselves?  We already have it.  The general public?  Do you think the general public cares about who the Heritage Foundation is?  Its sounds impressive and they have experts say shiny things.  And for some that is enough, and others are skeptical.  We’ll see much the same mix.  The only way to be a novel kind of credibility, one based on results, is to get a real progressive majority.  Credibility of that sort is only attainable on the national level if we first win!  On the local level, we already have results to point to.  What we need is a way to publicize those positive results (AKA a liberal PR firm).

And in fact thereisnospoon goes on to note we do have the financial muscle to pull this off.  We also have a sick advantage when it comes to talent.  We combine those two with the sharp focus of corporate America and we win.  Let’s do it.  Let’s follow thereisnospoon’s rallying cry to make the politicians fear our power.  Let’s rise up and outmaneuver the regressives!

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Strategy – Letting Health Reform Fail

Posted in Analysis, Observations, Strategy by Captain Optimistic on December 22, 2009

We have three options going forward.  Agitate for meaningful change in the health care reform bill, allow it to fail in Congress and pin that failure firmly on right wingers in both parties, or allow it to pass as is.  If we allow this bill to pass, it will fail to contain costs, fail to reform industry practices, and serve only as a precedent for corporations using government to force a noncompetitive market on the public.  Such a failure will appear to validate conservatives and be disastrous for midterm elections.

The third option isn’t viable for liberals, Democrats and supporters of meaningful healthcare reform.  The first two options are both the fruit of the same essential strategy:  Pushing as hard as we can against the misogynist and corporatist forces aligned against reform.  It is a true win-win strategy.  If we succeed we will have decimated Stupak-Pitts and Nelson – attempts to use the urgency of the health care debate to force the abortion issue and religious inspired law into an unrelated bill.  If we succeed we’ll have created real competition for the private insurance industry, offered reforms that curtail abuses and protect consumers, and stood up against corporate lobbyist controlled legislation*.

If on the other hand we fail, we walk into the midterm elections strong and fierce.  Our campaign language is written for us.  Vote for reformers, vote against the Congress critters beholden to Bibles and corporate donations.

If we take the advice of our adversaries and shut the fuck up we will lose.  We will lose health care reform, and we will lose power in both bodies of Congress come midterms.  If we want power we must win this battle, and the only way to do so is to dig in and fight.  Anything less than a ferocious commitment to an authentic reform effort will end in our loss.

*All things our President promised fervently to do during the campaign.

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Sexual Identity and Language With a Purpose

Posted in Strategy by Captain Optimistic on December 2, 2009

Bond takes note of confusion around identification with (and the use of) the word queer:

I just read a comment in which a trans guy explained that he identifies as queer, but only because he’s bi or gay, and that being transsexual in itself is not in any way queer. A bunch of other commenters piped up to agree, explaining that straight transsexuals are not queer, and even that butches are not necessarily queer (because apparently tough rural straight women can classified as butch, because they might read that way to urban eyes — a notion I’d guess would offend such women even more than it offends me). On the other hand, I’ve also heard gay, bi and straight trans people identify strongly as queer by virtue of being trans, and I’ve heard queers of all stripes make painstaking efforts to include queer-identified het transsexuals in our language.

The phrase “in our language” is especially apt.  The way we describe our sexuality encompasses everything from who we are attracted to (if at all) to how we express ourselves sexually, to what we consider acceptable conduct.  A large chunk of our social identity is represented.

Thus those interested in equal rights regardless of sexual identity and orientation might want to consider ways to expand our language to be more inclusive.  What we need is a word to describe anyone who believes that sexual identity and consensual expression never need be labeled or restricted.  True sexual liberty doesn’t need language to tie it down (unless you are into that of course).  But we could really use the power of shared identity to push the gay rights movement forward!  People fight harder and more effectively when their own rights are at stake.  From every possible strategic consideration of the rhetoric of the gay rights movement it is a clear win to find a way to be more inclusive and direct in making this about sexual liberty for all.

And we need that to counter some of the stinging defeats we’ve had (NY and ME), and continue the momentum from the equally ringing victories (WA and DC).

I think the word queer has a lot of lingual baggage, and further I don’t feel right appropriating it when there is such comfort for any group in having a word – a name – to call their own.  We need a completely new word.

Suggestions?

Here’s two off the top of my head to start us off:

The first one that came to mind was FreeSexual.  I love the ring of it!  And a quick trip to google turned up others with the same thought.

EqualSexual This one isn’t already used.  I’d define it as someone who refuses to be labeled, and supports sexual equality.

What do you think?

Evolution, Religion and Bullshit

Posted in Analysis, Observations, Strategy by Captain Optimistic on November 19, 2009

Gather round for a lesson in poor reporting.  The NYTimes has an article on the relationship between evolution and religion, and wow do they make a zinger of a mistake (I’ve gone ahead and highlighted the stupid for your convenience):

This and other research is pointing to a new perspective on religion, one that seeks to explain why religious behavior has occurred in societies at every stage of development and in every region of the world. Religion has the hallmarks of an evolved behavior, meaning that it exists because it was favored by natural selection. It is universal because it was wired into our neural circuitry before the ancestral human population dispersed from its African homeland.

For atheists, it is not a particularly welcome thought that religion evolved because it conferred essential benefits on early human societies and their successors. If religion is a lifebelt, it is hard to portray it as useless.

Let’s look at the fallacies:

  • Failure to consider co-evolved vs evolved traits
  • Failure to consider vestigial traits

If the traits necessary to support religion did evolve for a purpose, what proof do we have that purpose still persists to this day?  Or that those traits are the best solution?

It is easier to see from hunter-gatherer societies how religion may have conferred compelling advantages in the struggle for survival. Their rituals emphasize not theology but intense communal dancing that may last through the night. The sustained rhythmic movement induces strong feelings of exaltation and emotional commitment to the group. Rituals also resolve quarrels and patch up the social fabric.

What effects do rituals have today?  How does this kind of tribalism and tendency to follow the leader play out in today’s global society?  Looking at religion through the lens of an evolved trait lends it an additional appearance of usefulness and legitimacy.

All this allows that the traits which support religion evolved directly, and didn’t co-evolve with other directly beneficial evolutionary traits.  Following the logic present in Nicholas Wade’s article, one might consider anything from red hair to armed conflict to be “evolved”.  They too have “occurred in societies at every stage of development”.

This article is one in a long line of “gee golly” articles meant to lend religion the legitimacy of science.  They let faith put on a labcoat and call itself doctor.

Could the evolutionary perspective on religion become the basis for some kind of detente between religion and science? Biologists and many atheists have a lot of respect for evolution and its workings, and if they regarded religious behavior as an evolved instinct they might see religion more favorably, or at least recognize its constructive roles

Religion can be viewed, and judged, within the context of its impact on society today and historically.  The addition of pseudo-scientific hypothesis about religion as an evolved trait will not clarify the debate over the role of religion in society.  It can only muddy the water.  And at some point we must question why so many of religion’s proponents feel the need to dip into trickery and dishonesty to prop up their cosmology. And we must re-evaluate our own responses keeping that tendency in mind.  Especially when responding to apologists who hide under a guise of science.

 

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Stupak’s God in Our Government

Posted in Analysis, Strategy by Captain Optimistic on November 16, 2009

The problem with unifying Church and State is it becomes the unification not of some abstract Church, but specifically the Church of the ruling class.  In this case Bart Stupak’s efforts to hijack health care reform to push an anti-women agenda is part of a larger effort to put God into Government.

The health care bill is a series of very small steps towards meaningful reform.  We should be able to take those steps without them falling on the neck of women’s rights.

Mr Stupak’s threat is a serious one and it deserves a vicious rhetorical response.  His efforts cannot be seen as anything less than anti-reform, and anyone who is against reform at this point isn’t a Democrat.  This goes deeper than party loyalty however.  This battle is a real struggle between those who are truly pro-life and those who are pro-insurance-company-profits.  Theocratic forces have seen an opening and are standing with the paid-for anti-reformers to try and maneuver for power.

Given the weight of this battle we ought let fly without reserve.  From a rhetorical perspective we should hold nothing back and purposefully include the Stupak crowd in with the anti-reformers.  The tendencies towards binding US law to a strict interpretation of conservative Christianity is fundamentally incompatible with the separation of Church and State, the 1st amendment, and inclusion within the Democratic party.  Any elected official taking such a position needs to feel the heat directly under their feet if we are to drive home our position:

Health Care reform is vital.

Theocratic laws are never acceptable.

We will never sacrifice women’s rights to advance the “greater” progressive agenda.  Women’s rights are an irremovable part of the progressive agenda.

We are nowhere near victory but the very act of lifting up our heads to speak as we lay in the mud has conservatives frothing at the mouth and banging their spears against their shields.  If we are to survive much less win, we absolutely must stand united, tall and firm and let loose one hell of a roar.