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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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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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?

Musings on Israel and Palestine

Posted in Musings by Captain Optimistic on November 30, 2009

I was talking with a friend about Israel, and he did something uncharacteristic.  He tried to shut down the debate.  He did so using a few problematic arguments.  Arguments I would like to take a look at before adding in my own thoughts on Israel and Palestine.

Tax Dollars and Speech

J made the point that since my tax dollars go towards supporting Israel’s violence towards the Palestinians, I couldn’t talk about “opposing violence”.  This is a pretty easy argument to defeat.  J opposes the Iraqi war, yet his tax dollars go towards its support.  Would anyone say he ought to shut up about his opposition?  Of course not.  It is vital we speak our minds, especially when our tax dollars go towards a cause we deem unjust.

Privilege and Violence

J then pointed out that the Palestinians were under attack, and I was speaking from the position of “Extreme Privilege” in condemning their violence.  Ironically, this is the exact same argument the Israeli government uses to justify its attacks on Palestinians!  J is hardly living under threat, from missiles or bombs, Palestinians or Israelis.  We share in this privilege, but it does not bind us to silence.  If anything it compels us to educate ourselves and seek to impact the situation positively.  Privilege is a blindfold, not a perpetual state of being.  We must first realize we are blind, but then we must tear off the blindfold as best we can and see!

Knowledge and Speech

J Finally said he didn’t have time to educate me, and I ought to “go do some critical thinking”.  This reminds me of a professor I had in college, who used to attack students whose viewpoints he disagreed with by lambasting them for “not having done the reading” (even when they had).  It also reminds me of a student of my own.  After establishing she had political viewpoints after all, I asked why she didn’t express them.  She responded that she didn’t feel she knew enough to have a voice.

One must always have a voice.  Knowledge is not a prerequisite for taking part in the discourse of society.  It is a desirable thing of course.  But too often knowledge is transformed into agreeable knowledge.  That is, the right kind of knowledge according to a particular point of view.  So I was told to read books that supported J’s viewpoint (no mention of those that opposed it).

Discussion as Democratic Vitality

Regardless of one’s viewpoints, it is essential to the health of Democratic discourse that we work to increase, not shut down, communication.  The Israel Palestine problem is huge, and one we all have an interest in seeing solved peaceably and sustainably.  We need to be finding ways to open channels of communication.  Especially when it comes to this issue.

OK OK, Where do YOU Stand?

I support a single secular state.  I don’t think two theocratic states prone to violence in close proximity is a recipe for success.  I think Israel-Palestine’s promise is in becoming a force for peace and an advocate for the oppressed.  I consider both the Israeli and Palestinian people to be a part of my heritage, and get excited thinking about the wonderful things they could accomplish together.

When it comes to guilt and responsibility, I find that both sides use violence, both sides kill the innocent, and both sides employ lies and propaganda to further their aims.  Being the state carries with it a higher responsibility, and Israel needs to step up.

I cannot say whether or not I would be moved to commit acts of violence if I were in their shoes.  What I can say is that as long as that violence continues it will make the situation ever worse, and consume the very blood of the innocent those acts of violence were meant to protect or avenge.

What do you think?

Palin and the Courtier Media

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

Sarah Palin makes an excellent heir to Ronald Reagan.  Reagan exemplified the Courtly Style, defined by Robert Hariman.  It can be summed up simply in its power to separate royalty from peasantry, the speaker from the spoken to.  (It may be contrasted with the Republican Style (classical Republican), which may be thought of as a rhetorical tool to unite the speaker and her audience, to join citizen with like-citizens).

This separation seeps into the mindset, actions and perception of the speaker in a way that makes the word elitist a living, fire breathing creature.  How ironic when one such as Palin utters it!

This skewed approach to the world is evident in Palin’s interview with Oprah:

“I think that [Couric’s] agenda was to not necessarily show me in the best light and not allow my mistake, my gaffe to go uncaught,” said Palin, who flubbed Couric’s question about which newspapers, books or magazines she read regularly.

Admitting that she had been annoyed with Couric’s “badgering,” even rolling her eyes at times, Palin, 45, said it was unprofessional of Couric to wear that “annoyance on her sleeve.”

For Sarah Palin the media is there to legitimize her rule and extend her reach.  Not to question.  Not to investigate.  Which fits so well with the theocratic, proto-fascist astroturf populism she sells.  It is a brand so unnatural it requires a surgically supportive media environment to snag consumers.  Which is why she ties it so tightly to her image as a family woman.  Because the idea of blind acceptance and obedience is viscerally counter to Democracy and Americana.  It only feels natural when we view childhood through eyes jaundiced by nostalgia.

Something to keep in mind when Palin runs for Big Mother in 2012.