The Coming Realignment

2006-May-24

In one of my (many) favorite local Progressive Yahoo Groups, I just noticed a posting which linked to an article by Tom Englehart at the Lew Rockwell site.

I’d like folks to think about the profound implications of seeing this article here. This was on a Liberal/Progressive email list, but is a link to a Paleo-Conservative website. The Paleo-Conservatives are profoundly peeved at the Neo-Conservatives for hijacking the Conservative movement (and control of the Republican Party) away from them. The Paleos believe in limited government, low taxes, free market economy, and avoidance of ambitions to military empire. Besides http://www.lewrockwell.com they can be found places like
http://mises.com/ and http://antiwar.org/ .

But the article is not by one of their Paleo-Con stalwarts, but by Tom Englehart, a Liberal/Progressive from the Nation Institute and who has a blog at Tom Dispatch.

And the article from TomDispatch is not about typical fellow leftists like Noam Chomsky, but is an interview with Andrew Bacevich, a West Pointer career military man who is a “cultural conservative, a former contributor to such magazines as the Weekly Standard and the National Review, a former Bush Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin”.

Anybody here notice that the Left and the Right are becoming totally intertwined? In areas like the Partiot Act, the FCC and media monopolies, spying on citizens, and many other areas, the Left and Right are not only working on the same side on the same issues, but are actually cooperating and nourishing each other.

I see a profound realignment of the political compass, with the differences between Progressive/Liberals and Conservatives being put on the back burner as both sides fight together against the unholy alliance between the Neo-Conservative Military Empire-builders, the Corporatist Feudalists, and the Christian Reich.

More here later on how we used to be aligned and how things may work out in the future.

All the more reason why it may be a politically fatal mistake to ignore the political base of the other side and concentrate only on the Terminally Befuddled Undecideds.


Read my lips

2006-May-20

Daily Kos has a good article about the NarusInsight, a little box from AT&T that can monitor the contents (the semantic content, the meaning) of internet traffic at ten billion bits per second. Deep stuff.

Just to help you understand how it works, try Googling something, anything, just like many of us do every day. Look over on the right, at the “Sponsored Links” section. Google reads the content of your search, and uses its text recognition software to understand what you are asking for, and responds with advertisers who are offering what you are looking for. Many of you now have Gmail, Google email accounts. Read your mail. There it is again, those “Sponsored Links”. Yes, Google is reading the contents of your mail, analyzing it, and responding. That’s how they make their money offering you free services like free searches and free email. They read and understand everything you read and write, and respond. Advertisers pay good money to Google because they believe Google does an excellent job understanding the meaning of everything you write.

And that’s what the NarusInsight does. It reads everything you read or write on the internet, understands the meaning, and responds by sending “interesting” stuff to the NSA spy agency.

AT&T is not developing expensive equipment that can process ten billion bits per second out of charity. If it makes it, it will be purchased and used. Whether anyone tells you or not.

So what about when you talk on your telephone or your cell phone? Well, AT&T is right there, and has been for decades. Let’s see what they are doing right now:

Accurate recognition of spontaneous large vocabulary telephone speech is of vital importance to AT&T in numerous applications such as customer care and information retrieval. We developed a system for Large Vocabulary Conversational Speech Recognition (LVCSR) which for a third year in a row had the best performance of any industrial lab and finished second overall out of seven participating systems in the recent NSA sponsored and NIST administered Speech-To-Text (STT) part of the RT-02 Evaluation. Also, AT&T was the only participant that managed to field a system running at faster than real-time speed.

The annual evaluations aim to evaluate speech recognition technologies on difficult problems involving spontaneous conversational speech over the telephone, including cellular in different environments (office, street, moving vehicle).

So now we have the technical ability to analyze every bit of text that flows across the internet. And we have the ability to turn everything spoken into a telephone, landline or cellular, into text. That’s pretty much everything folks.

Analyzing text has been around for a long time. And turning speech into text has been around for a long time too. But it has been used in small scale commercial operations. Now we finally have the ability to do it on such a grand scale that it becomes possible not only to spy on those few people in the world who are terrorists, but to spy on every human on earth who might conceivably be a part of your political opposition.


Precincts – possibilities

2006-May-14

Here is one possibility:

As an alternative, consider Arnie Graf, who’s been an organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation for thirty years. Graf and about ten fellow community organizers from Maryland and DC took the last two weeks of the 2004 election off and headed to East Cleveland, a city of
about 30,000 mostly poor and working-class African-Americans. They had been invited by a community-based organization that set them up in a local church to work on boosting voter turnout in the city. “We learned as much as we could about East Cleveland and got to know the issues,” says Graf. “We wound up covering every door, about 30,000 people, and we decided instead of canvassing and talking about Iraq or how many jobs had been lost in Ohio we would talk to people about what was happening in East Cleveland.” Through the network of the East Cleveland Concerned Pastors for Progress, they recruited 140 volunteers who went door to door among their neighbors, and when election day was over Kerry’s vote total in East Cleveland exceeded Gore’s by 97 percent.

What was important here? They didn’t just “hit and run”, they didn’t just knock on the door, run through the canned script and run away, trying to hit their thirty doors per hour quota. They actually stopped to listen to the people they were trying to influence. Someone finally realized that before you can persuade someone to come to your point of view, you must start by listening to theirs. Before they can solve your problem (winning an election) you have to show that you will help them solve their problems, and you can only find out what people need from you by listening to them. But you can’t listen to people you are targeting to ignore.

The 527 PAC ACT (America Coming Together) wanted to follow the 2004 election by creating just such a grassroots precinct system (as the above quote continues):

In a business plan circulated after the election, ACT painted a picture of a kind of ACT 2.0, with deeper local roots, a focus on local issues and races and a mission of training a permanent, stable cohort of professional organizers. “The greatest experience for me,” says Rosenthal, “was going out to places and seeing young organizers who knew how to cut walk lists and put material together and run a GOTV. That was one of the stated missions from the beginning: We were going to train a whole new generation of organizers, and we were going to figure out a way to keep them working year-round.”

Well, if you followed the ACT link, you discover they didn’t get their wish, and if we want it to happen we cannot depend on wealthy Democratic funders to bankroll it. In fact we will have to rediscover that money is just a means to measure human labor, and if we are wise we will emphasize people’s efforts more than money. After the failed election, I went to a meeting where hundreds of those Progressive volunteers who had been working for ACT or MoveOn or NARAL or the League of Pissed Off Voters, (in fact just about all the local Progressive groups I know of) all were looking for ways to continue the struggle. We all put wrote our names and contact information, but I notice we never got any calls back from the Democratic Party. So if it is going to get done we may just have to do it ourselves.

Any group can put together a precinct system. It does not require top down leadership. It merely requires someone with energy and a real liking for people get some neighbors together to contact everybody in their local neighborhood. Ask what issues are important to them, what problems are besetting them, and what would they like to see happen. Ask if they would like to help out. Have some handouts showing people where they can find help for common problems…and have the precinct contact information prominently displayed. (Have block parties and other functions where people can stop seeing each other as strangers and start seeing each other as neighbors for the first time in decades…) And if you find any local techies willing to help out, put all the information down in a local database, ready to share with other databases.

It can be done, and it can be done from the ground up. If people are willing to get out there and do it. If the Party is wise they will encourage it and reap the benefits. If not, they could watch the rest of the country do an end run around the Old Guard…and maybe take our country back.


Precincts – the problem

2006-May-14

My mother is a lifelong Republican. Why? Because shortly after I was born when she badly needed a job, a local Republican precinct worker (who later became Governor) helped her out and found her a job at the local five and dime store. And she was so grateful that the party had helped her that she rewarded them with lifelong loyalty. Knowing what needed to happen in the neighborhood and making sure it happened is the task precinct captains traditionally did.

But no longer. In the 12 years since I moved to St. Louis I have never been visited by anyone from the Democratic Party to ask if I want to be a part of the party, or whether I wanted to volunteer, or whether I needed any help with anything. Over the last few years I’ve asked around and no one else seems to have ever been contacted either. It was only a couple days ago that I discovered our township even has a Democratic organization. I thought the local Progressive groups that meet every month were all there was.

No wonder we lose elections when we seem to have virtually no party organization.

A couple months ago one of our local Progressive groups had Corey Dillon, the new full-time Executive Director for the party come by to tell us how things were. I was astounded to discover that before Howard Dean had instituted a “50 State Strategy” Missouri had no permanent party organization. The party came to life for each Governor’s race and went back to sleep in between times. Hmm… Some of us Progressives thought the Party was just ignoring us. We didn’t realize they weren’t there to listen…

But Howard Dean wanted Democrats to compete in every election, and as a result of his spending Party cash to do it, we now have some permanent staffers for the Missouri Democratic Party year round.

And the corporatist wing is pissed, because they don’t want the money to be spent on anything except their tired old, failed strategy of Targeting the Muddle of the Roaders and ignoring all those who are politically active.

In fact, that’s the problem with the current Democratic Party. Their entire “targeting” strategy is based on ignoring people. They ignore the Republican 40% instead of trying to win them over. They ignore the Democratic 40% instead of trying to keep them loyal. They then try to narrow down the 20% “swing voters” to try to find out which of them they can ignore. They even have a “Swing State” strategy that tells them they can ignore whole entire states and ignore every one living in them. And after deliberately ignoring almost all of us then they expect us to be there for them. And they wonder why they keep losing.

There is a solution, though it will require a huge amount of work: Restore the precinct system. The real thing, not a sham. More later…


Democracy, Communism, Fascism … and the NSA

2006-May-11

Democracy, Communism, Fascism was the title of a booklet I read when I was seven years old. It was the height of the Red Scare and even in second grade teachers were expected to at least mention the differences between democracy and dictatorship. I was already reading the New York Times even at that age, and the teacher knew it, and so when she saw me looking at the book on her desk she told me I could take it and read it. And I did. I don’t remember every detail, but one passage struck me and I’ve remembered it ever since, “Dictatorships such as Communism and Fascism spy on their own people, but Democracies never do. So if your country ever spies on its own people, you will know it has been taken over, either by Communism or by Fascism.”

And so now I read today’s paper:

NSA has massive database of Americans’ phone calls

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren’t suspected of any crime.

So which is it? Communism or Fascism?


Call Time

2006-May-07

More on what I learned at Camp Carnahan

The presenters kept on talking about the overwhelming importance of call time. At first I thought they meant phone banks, but then I discovered they meant having your candidate spend six hours a day for months calling people begging for money. Oh. Their message was that if you don’t spend those first crucial months ignoring your poorer constituents and concentrating on getting the richer ones to “invest in you”, you can expect to lose the election. Oh.

Their rationale was that people who “invest” in you will vote for you and they won’t change their allegiance. So you want people to invest money in you, invest time in you, to do favors for you. Ance once they have given you a little, you can keep on tapping them for more, and each time it becomes harder for them to back out. People who make a commitment do not want to ever admit they make a mistake, so they are likely to keep investing more and more.

Hmm… Hadn’t thought about that. Yes, get them to commit a little and it becomes easier to push for more. Hmm… Well, maybe I had heard about that before. Con artists use that tactic every day. They get the mark to invest just a little, then a little more…and soon they feel so committed that they just can’t back out, and continue to invest more and more even if the police tell them they are being conned. And this is what the experts are teaching fresh, enthusiastic new candidates for public office is the only way to win elections. Hmm…

So who are our candidates being asked to solicit? First is family and friends. Unfortunately, Bill Gates hasn’t asked me to brunch lately. My family and friends are poorer than I am. So who’s next? Those with an “economic interest”. Well sure. All of us Progressives who have been complaining about “money in politics” are being asked to beg at the feet of those monied interests as soon as our families are tapped out. So that’s how we go about changing things??

Next in line come “ideologues” with an axe to grind, and after that come the the enemies of our enemies. And will their support come without strings attached, any less than will the “monied interests”? Anyone notice a conspicuous absence? The absence of those whose commitment is to “community” or the “public good”?

But one of the presenters made a very telling point, “Time is the most important resource, money is second.” Yes, money is actually only important in politics because it buys time and human labor. If we are really Progressives then we are committed to the cause of those with much less money, but perhaps some time (especially with the former middle class being disemployed by outsourcing). When we use our “call time” to call upon the wealthy, they give us money because they have much more money than time. And they want us to bring them even more money to repay what they gave us. But if we used our “call time” to actually call on those disadvantaged whom we claim to support, we could be asking them to invest in us by investing their time. And if we use it wisely, we might be able to do more with their time than with all the money we could get from the “vested interests”.


Camp Carnahan

2006-May-01

I decided to see how real politicians try to win elections, so I went to Camp Carnahan. It was wonderful. I got to see how real people really do it, real candidates who are running in local races right now, their real campaign managers, and real expert consultants who are advising the folks right here on their campaigns. And all for only $40, and that came with three meals.

And now I know why we lost the White House and the Senate and the House, and the Governorship and Senate and House here in Missouri, and so many other races in this country over the last forty years. Because we believe all those experts who helped us lose all those offices that used to be solidly Democratic and are now solidly Republican.

Targeting:
It seemed like every presenter started with the same refrain:

Well, it’s like this: 40% of the people are your Democratic base and they are gonna vote for you no matter what, so you can ignore them. And 40% of the voters are the Republican base and they’re gonna vote against you no matter what, so ignore them. The remaining 20% are your “swing voters” and you want to spend all your attention on them. You need half of them to win the election, so all your effort will be directed to targeting the 10% of the voters that you need to persuade to win the election.

So how does this translate into reality-based politics? It means don’t bother shoring up your base to keep them from defecting to the other side or to a third party or just giving up on voting in disgust at being ignored. And don’t bother with the other side, don’t try to break up their political coalitions and take away their base. Nope. Instead, you must ignore those who are the most politically alert and aware and concentrate all your attention on that tiny fraction who are so terminally clueless that, in the most partisan period in a century, they still have no idea what values they stand for, and will likely be persuaded (only when they are in the voting booth) by such criteria as name recognition and how tall or pretty they are. And they expect to win elections this way.

We lost huge numbers of union voters (the Reagan Democrats) because we ignored our base. We are on the verge of losing the Black vote because we are ignoring them. All so we can spend all that we have pursuing the Muddle-of-the-Road Terminally Undecideds.

We could be peeling off huge numbers of Libertarians and Paleo-Conservatives who hate the war and hate the Patriot Act and hate being spied on, but we won’t do it because it would mean spending time and money communicating with our opposition’s base. And so we lose.