Trump Trash Bags: Because we need to clean up America

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Buy some Trashbags for Houston

Talking Trash

The compassion of everyday Americans is limitless, but we are being attacked. From the dismissal of the suffering of the people in Houston, to the elimination of protections for children who know no other country, this administration is attacking the foundations of our society.  We cannot allow ourselves to be deluded by appearances or rhetoric. We are in danger.

We need to help those in need and support the people who are doing good work. Many private companies are pitching in to help Houston. Others are standing up to discrimination. We need to seek them out and support them. Some people hesitate to give to nonprofits they do not know or have trouble trusting those that they do. Use charitynavigator.org to learn about them.

Our little bit here is to provide some symbolic supplies, to make people think about these humanitarian disasters. 

Buy Some Trashbags for Houston and send them to a church for distribution

Our Daughters Deserve Better: We Owe them More

Issues, Strategy & Tactics, OrganizingTalking Trash

The tragedy in Charlottesville was the predictable result of our president encouraging the radical right, a band of white males whose sense of entitlement and racist attitudes and hatred of other people has been nurtured by a poisonous political party intent on wielding total control. There is no excuse for what happened in Charlottesville, a crime committed by Nazis and white supremacists. There is also no excuse for creating circumstances in which white supremacists and Nazis feel comfortable enough to march into an American city and threaten people. These same racists were instrumental in assisting the rise of a leaders who is trying to strip our daughters of healthcare, of access to educational opportunities, and other benefit that have resulted from decades of struggle. Allowing them to be subverted by these perverts needs to stop. Making that happen may mean that we need to step up, to make an effort to resist at times and places where people have turned a blind eye to these events. We may need to make influential people uncomfortable.

Polite People Gassed Millions of other People

We need to understand who we are dealing with. According to Vanity Fair, Stephen Millerdescribed himself this way: “I will say and I will do things that no one else in their right mind would do,” he admitted in a 2002 speech to his Santa Monica High School classmates. In the same speech, to a chorus of boos, he said, “Am I the only one who is sick and tired of being told to pick up my trash when we have plenty of janitors who are paid to do it for us?”

This is a man who was mentored by Richard Spencer at Duke University, and has worked for Michele Bachmann, Jeff Sessions, and now Steve Bannon and Donald J. Trump. It no accident that the most virulent, most malignant policies have emanated from his vicinity. These are the men who believe that they should determine the policies for our daughters, who think that they own the world and should decide how our daughters will live. 

These men are led by a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women, yet his favor is sought by every Republican candidate. These are people who frequent country clubs, attend galas for charities, and sponsor internships for young people. These are the same people who need to be uncomfortable with the way things are going. The challenge for all of us is to figure out how to apply the appropriate social and political sanctions on people who feel compelled to do the same to our daughters, when they are not supporting those who would run them down with a car.

Recommended Readings & Current Events (And #sheetcake t-shirt):

Vanity Fair
By Condé Nast
The Atlantic
Atlantic Monthly

Rock the Boat & Get in the Way

Talking Trash

Self-Censorship: Timidity is the Danger

While extremists are taking over, our institutional structures appear unable to prevent the destruction of decades of work to provide social, economic, and environmental protection for Americans. The can only happen if we are silent, if we don't complain, we go along, and hope for the best.

That's not likely to happen. The pressure to conform, the pressure to appear one of the crowd, and to be socially appealing makes the problem worse. Like high schools students wanting to fit in, adults who should know better are sitting silent, pretending that what they see is normal. That has to stop.

While it's true that we need people who can see beyond their own tribal commitments, who can weigh options, and think through the consequences of political choices, we also need people who are willing and able to challenge a system of selection that limits choices in such a way that potential solutions are taken off the table. That means challenging other people to think, to consider alternatives, to take a look at more than one source of information, and to question information, but not merely to dismiss it, but to determine what the truth really is. That takes effort, it takes courage.

We need to set an example for our children, our grandchildren, and the people who depend on us for their well-being. We need to rock the boat. Get in the way.

Recommended readings:

Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement
By John Lewis, Michael D'Orso

Investigations Are Good, Actions are Better

Mission, IssuesTalking Trash

Robert Mueller is a real investigator with a solid reputation and a track record to match. We should all be encouraged by his appearance at this stage. But investigations will not solve the problems unless we have other officials who are willing to act.

At this point, there is little doubt that the administration is incompetent, misinformed, uneducated, and misdirected by self-interests, business opportunities, and other self-serving distractions. Responsible men and women have to be vigilant and careful to do what they can to curtail the mendacity bearing down on America, vigilant to spot the damage being done, and careful to avoid being targeted by operatives out to destroy the protections that Americans have enjoyed for decades. We need to protect ourselves from the kleptocracy and the plutocrats who are intent on eliminating our ability to keep our environment clean, our workforce productive, and our children well-educated and healthy. These are not trifling matters. They are essential to a way of life that we need to defend and improve.

To defend ourselves, we need good public servants, like Robert Mueller, and we need to exercise the powers that we have inherent in our own citizenship. We must become good stewards of our country's ideals and promises. For that, we need to remind ourselves of what those ideals are, what promises we have made to one another, and what kind of country we want our children to inherit. The models of Russia and Turkey are not what we should aspire to become. We are better than that, and we deserve better than that.

We need to articulate that vision for the election in 2018, so that the people we choose to lead us forward understand it and will pursue it.

When we look at the struggles people have had to make America what it is, we have to remind ourselves of the sacrifices and dedication it took for us to enjoy the benefits of their labors. Our generation must draw inspiration from that to keep us on the right path, so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Recommended Reading

JFK: A Vision for America
By Stephen Kennedy Smith, Douglas Brinkley

Consistently Bad: Kleptocracy Will Steal Everything

Mission, Issues, Strategy & TacticsTalking Trash

With the second attempt to attack American healthcare well under way, we need to focus on the immediate threat, while looking at the next chance we have to prevent disaster and reverse this appalling administration.

Over the past month, we have seen clearly the profiteering among Congressional members and of the paid and unpaid White House staff. Admissions of loans from Russians have been documented, while the Kushners touted the purchase of visas, supposedly approved by the president himself.  We can do better.

Congressional leaders are resorting to the most ridiculous lies to promote their interests. Under this administration, there seems to be no shame in the most openly corrupt policies, regardless of the damage that they can do to the population. Again, this pattern of bad behavior is not a theoretical mystery.  It is a consistent feature of small coalition politics, where those holding power do with very few insiders and hold power by the thinnest of margins. In the long run, these narrow interests sap economic prosperity by keeping profits high and wages low. It is a recipe for economic decline. Still, the game is not over.  We can win against the oligarchs. Read about how to fight it below:

Marching Against an Avalanche of Bad Policies

Issues, MissionTalking Trash

This past weekend scientists and their supporters marched in Washington and in cities around America and around the world. Many carried signs that read about how incredulous they were that they felt that they needed to demonstrate in support of science, facts, and evidence-based policies. The current administration is rolling back protections for individuals at an alarming rate, exposing many of the most vulnerable portions of the population to increased environmental, economic, and health risks. These efforts are often led by people who are actively spreading false information and discredited theories.

While there are conspiracy theorists who still believe that we did not land on the moon, they and people like them have rarely been taken seriously. That has changed.

People with no experience in research of any kind have attacked professions who have honed their skills in designing experiments, gathering data, verifying information, and subjecting evidence to rigorous testing and analysis. People holding political power have joined them to serve people and organizations who have an economic interest in distorting research, misrepresenting facts and hiding information that might injure those same interests. This is not a new phenomenon. It was already a well-developed machine.

Large corporations and wealthy individuals have been involved in promoting their ideological and economic interests for decades. Tobacco and chemical industries have fought research that challenged their interest. Several of the books below recount those efforts, some in great detail.

Other Recommendations:

unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation
By Brooks Jackson, Kathleen Hall Jamieson

Incoherence is not a Strategy, It's a Tool

Mission, Issues, Strategy & TacticsTalking Trash

Bold Actions Are Not Proposals

More than a dozen journalists praised the Trump administration for its attack on Syria, one that did almost nothing to the capability of the Syrian military to continue to attack civilians. The same Congressmen who opposed President Obama's request to use force, praised Trump's attack, while Trump's own very well documented history of opposing involvement in Syria is mysteriously ignored. If logic fails, it is because the whole story is incoherent. Critics make strong arguments to the attack being an impulsive reaction to a challenge to his masculinity, a smokescreen to divert attention from allegations of Russian interference in the election, or an attempt to garner favor among male voters.  Whatever the motivation, it cannot be explained in terms of a coherent policy toward the Syrian government. Legal arguments aside, the order appears to be a matter of pure fiat.

Understand coherence

A coherent policy would have several defining characteristics. First, it would have a policy goal.  At the moment, no such goal has been articulated. The use of chemical weapons may be a trigger, but no such declaration preceded the attack and the Secretary of State had just declared that the Syrian people would have to deal with the situation there, giving a green light to their oppressor to make that outcome more to Assad's liking. Second, there would be clear expectations for our allies and opponents in the Middle East and elsewhere. Publicly abusing our NATO allies with claims of unjust burdens and celebrating Brexit and denigrating the European Union does not inspire confidence in our allies and trading partners, while it encourages our opponents. Finally, the resources for implementing such policies would include staffing, planning, and international coordination for implementation. The lack of understanding about the basics of running a government is being revealed.  

Clarity, especially in dangerous situations, is the best way to avoid unintended reactions. Having a policy that people understand, both Americans and foreign leaders, will do much to ensure our security. That is the responsibility of a leader. It is also an antidote to 'mission creep,' mistakes, misunderstanding and miscalculation.

Demand coherence

Whatever the opposition does, one thing will be critical: there must be an articulate explanation of the alternative.  Proposals need to be specific and attainable. Support has to be built at the base and the opposition needs to hold itself accountable for maintaining the discipline and focus necessary to implement clear policies, whether in Syria, North Korea, or in trade. We cannot afford an inarticulate, haphazard approach to foreign or domestic policy.

Beware of Incoherence

We have to teach ourselves to see through blather and incoherence and demand clarity and evidence in new ways. Our future and that of our children depends on securing better leadership, with a clear, inclusive vision for all of us. To have coherent policies, we have to find coherent leaders who can articulate policies that are more detailed than slogans or sound bites. Clarity is a matter of accountability and responsibility. Incoherence is a serious problem for a leader and more serious for the people he leads. Character matters. Reputation matters.

When leaders mumble, when they don't articulate a clear vision, when they obfuscate, are evasive and incoherent, they are not being good leaders. The tools of obfuscation include incoherence. Avoiding responsibility is a habit that makes problems worse and the future more uncertain. This is what we are facing now.

Our military is trained to assess their opponents and to consider the risks of engagement. We hope that their advice is heeded and weighed against the cost to Americans and our allies. In dictatorships, the interest of the public and the costs of military failures is borne by people who are treated as expendable and casualty rates reflect that indifference. A coherent policy will recognize these costs and benefits.

For additional information on how bad foreign policies are common to small coalitions like the one we have in place, read these books:

Help Americans Identify and Stop Russian Social Media Attacks

Strategy & Tactics, IssuesTalking Trash

Freedom of Speech - Our Inherent & Inherited Vulnerability

We've had a social media Pearl Harbor and we're still floating in the harbor, waiting for another wave of troll kamikaze drone-bots to spread disinformation. America's greatest weakness is our collective inability to identify the truth and smell bullshit and our freedom to spread it among ourselves. We should know better, but we don't. Why is that?

We don't know better because many of us were never taught to think critically about what we read or to go beyond our social and political borders to see different perspectives. That skill, and it is a skill, requires a number of emotional, intellectual, and social virtues that we do not normally associate with national defense or protecting our country, but may be the most important skills we can develop, those of the citizen. It would help if we could see examples. 

Identify and Neutralize the Enemy

We may not be able to destroy the enemy, the Russian attackers who have infiltrated our social media, but we can identify them.  Some clues are obvious, an new account with 250,000 followers is one, but there are many more subtle indicators that the account may be a bot and not a real person, or a highly intelligent enemy combatant.  We cannot go into the fray unarmed or we will hurt. But first, we need to know who they are.  We can't get bogged down in verifying the truth of this or that quote or this or that story. Snopes, Politifact, and the Washington Post, among others, have tried to be fact-checkers, but the sheer volume of disinformation is overwhelming. We can't stop it, but we can identify it, and try not to step in it. While that may not be a complete answer, it might allow other decision makers in the social media industry to change policies about access to the huge megaphones they have provided to people who spread disinformation.

In the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, Clint Watts recommended that the private sector create a "Consumer Reports" for the public to use.  At Trumptrashbags, we have not pretense at status or "authority." Those are the tools of people we need to resist. Our partner is this will be Political Research.US, The mission and values of that entity represent the kind of approach we want to support.

To that end, we are proposing a GoFundMe campaign to develop a public access database of suspicious accounts on Facebook and Twitter. A great start on this has already been made with regard to news sources, but the "repeaters" and tweeters in Facebook and Twitter need to be identified as well.

The Budget Plan

We think these costs seem reasonable to begin such an effort:

Phase 1 - Develop Identification System

$50,000 - Develop good business rules, verification standards, best practices for investigation and tagging (Staff Search Cost $5,000). Estimated Staff - 2 people, Time - 2 months

$150,000 - Develop secure database, tip line access, project management system for development and deployment. Estimated Staff - 3 people,  Time - 4 months.

Phase II - Advertise and Mobilize Identification System

$150,000 - Advertising on Google Ads, Twitter, Facebook for database and email lists. Estimated Staff - 2 People, Paid placements $125,000.

Assuming that we can get sufficient funding for Phase I by May, we anticipate a 6-month roll-out for Phase I, with Phase II comingsomewhere near January 2018 to go live with Phase II, prior to the mid-term election.

In the meantime, we recommend the following books for people to read about propaganda and the Russian threat to democracy:

We have many more recommendations at our online store.

What is Important? Lies Matter but Truth is Critical

Issues, Mission, Strategy & TacticsTalking Trash

The Root Cause: A Deeper Truth

Now that Trumpcare has collapsed, at least temporarily, under the weight of its own bullshit, we need to think ever more deeply about the reality that we face. Rising inequality is not an accident, neither is the increase in the despair and mortality of whites with less than a high school education, or bias in our justice and law enforcement systems, our extraordinary incarceration rates, the student loan debt crisis, or the stagnation in wages for the middle class. The key to each and every one of these great socioeconomic dysfunctions is a singular issue: the size of the ruling coalition.

Ruling Coalitions: Large and Small

Americans like to believe that they live in a land of equality, justice, and freedom. Those are nice ideals, but they are very far from reality. There is a very large discrepancy between perception and reality when it comes to economics. Much of this discrepancy is the result of invisible differences in wealth, the holding of assets that are not tangible in the common sense. Holdings of stocks, bonds, financial assets of various kinds are not readily apparent in daily life. The accumulation of those assets may be completely invisible to most people, many of whom are unaware that such things even exist. Asset bubbles and sophisticated credit default swaps are part of a world few citizens venture into or have expertise. Yet those who inhabit the organizations and institutions where those financial transactions occur make decisions that have profound consequences for the rest of society, as we saw vividly in 2008. Many were hurt, but a few were not. That is not an accidental difference.

Small groups of people have personal access to the central decision-makers in our society. In general, when there are very small coalitions of people ruling, they tend to be part of highly extractive institutions, where a few people benefit at the expense or through the use of many other people. Examples include mining, oil and gas, and in the past through slavery and plantation operations. These patters are well documented in The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics and Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. There is little doubt that, in the broad course of human history, larger ruling coalitions, representing larger groups of people, produce better opportunities and more prosperous societies.

Whenever the size of the ruling coalition shrinks, fewer people are well off. When it shrinks to the size of one family, as it does in most autocracies, even more people suffer, as they do in North Korea and in many of the dictatorships we have witnessed in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. That is a truth that needs to be reckoned with in our own political future.  For more information, here are some great resources, see below:

Bullshit: The Glue that Holds the Administration Together

Mission, IssuesTalking Trash

We're past the point of wonder, past the fairy tales of a pivot, a shift to responsibility. Instead, we are in the grip of an administration that is being advised by an avowed Leninist who seeks the destruction of the federal government with a coterie of bizarre characters with sketchy backgrounds that include Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, corporate shills, and an uncomfortable hodgepodge of party officials and military leaders.  The latter seem to be the most responsible people in the room, and the only ones tethered to reality. The administration's first budget proposal lays bare the reason why it hasn't nominated many vacant positions.

What is more disturbing than the misanthorpic priorities are the justifications for them. Logic defying relationships between means and ends, the dismissal of humanity, the naked greed and the blatant deceptions involved in making the case for this or that policy have rendered the administration immune from critical examination. These are not serious people. They are dangerous people.

By rendering policy into absurdity, by making up bullshit that goes far beyond lies, they have created the kind of reality-show suspension of disbelief in which atrocities can be tolerated, ignored, or denied with relative impunity. It is clear that, up to this point, there are no adults in the competing institutions with sufficient moral fortitude to challenge the emerging status quo. Normalizing the administration is harmful to society. This is not normal. There should be more holding our government together than bullshit.

Beneath the layers of lies, deception, and pure bullshit are thousands of communities that depend in various ways on the lifelines of federal programs, Many of the states dominated by Republicans depend the most one the good graces of government, a fact so widely known by people who follow such things that it seems pointless to repeat the obvious - most of the failed American states are in the South.  This too is no accident.

On Bullshit
By Harry G. Frankfurt
On Truth
By Harry G. Frankfurt

Breitbart - New Cancer in an Old Tumor - Metastasizing Dezinformatsiya

Issues, MissionTalking Trash

For students of Russian history, there is nothing new or surprising about the Kremlin's penchant for using propaganda as a weapon against the West. In the past, there have been planted stories with little credibility in publications of dubious reputation with limited circulation.  With the Internet, that mode of production has radically changed in breadth and efficiency.  The scope of operations and the size of the battle space has increased exponentially. So too, has the ability of an inside 5th column to disrupt and stab us in the back.

This morning, NPR presented the work of researchers who were able to piece together Breitbart's position in spreading false and misleading stories during the last presidential campaign.  That research shows the connections that Breitbart used to spread its poisonous stream of propaganda.  Americans, it seems, were ripe targets for this kind of operation, having weakened the educational system that used to prepare citizens by having them think critically about information, the sources, and the evidence. 

Our culture is under attack, but not by other people's babies, Islam, or communists.  It is under siege by people who refuse to adhere to standards of truth-telling, accountability, or basic logic.  We have seen our elected officials make racist statements, unsupported allegations against former officials, and propose legislation that fact-checking blows to pieces. Yet a sufficient number of people continue to bow to these assaults to allow the people who commit these offenses to remain in office and in control of our institutions while they attempt to dismantle the means by which accountability operates.  We need to understand this process better and teach our children how to combat the cancer of dezinformatsiya that has been unleashed on our society.

On Bullshit
By Harry G. Frankfurt
On Truth
By Harry G. Frankfurt

Truth, Lies, Ethics and Politics

Issues, MissionTalking Trash

America is being tested by an administration whose relationship with words is completely utilitarian. Words work or they don't. They have no intrinsic meaning or relationship to any notion of 'the truth.' This behavior is radically at odds with the standards of understanding that decent people generally use. The administration's relationship with the truth is nonexistent. We are faced with the challenge of a political system that does not respect the truth enough to deal with lying, even when it is done in a fashion that violates the laws concerning perjury.  The scale of the problem beyond any we have experienced in American history.

It's sometimes said that the first casualty of war is the truth. Part of that assertion is about maintaining the loyalty of combatants.  Propaganda and harangues are the norm in war. In civil society, we should not be at war. The breakdown of civil society would be of great benefit to our enemies.  Strong ethics and a strong commitment to the truth is the armor we should tend to first, before war becomes the last resort.  The books below explain why the truth should be our first priority in meeting the challenges we face today.

On Truth
By Harry G. Frankfurt
On Bullshit
By Harry G. Frankfurt

Don’t normalize fear, intimidation and self-censorship

Organizing, IssuesTalking Trash

Repeated pleas to accommodate atrocious policies that embody hatred and fear will accompany a milder, reasonable sounding tone. It is critical that we not forget that the policies themselves have not changed. The administration is still intent on focusing on voter suppression and my have a large domestic police force to send into polling places in future elections. The employment of a vast army of immigration police can easily be assigned to "monitor" the voting booths in places where the administration claims that there might be "voter fraud."  These issues need to be mentioned in light of the actions and expressed intentions of the ruling party.  It would be true to the character of the people involved.

Questions should be asked in open town hall meetings, to put lawmakers on notice that we are watching. Control of the political agenda is still up for grabs. That agenda can be defined in part by the questions that are being asked. That is why is is so important not to self-censor, to resist fear and intimidation.

Avoiding self-censorship includes making an issue out of showing papers on internal flights, on harassment by immigration officials that serve no purpose.  Records of travelers can be inspected through the airlines.  There is no reason to interview the son of Muhammad Ali any more than a middle-aged French history professor.  These outrages should not be tolerated and there should be accountability for officials who do these things. Names, titles, and other identification should be made so that they are not as willing to conduct illegal searches and detentions.

Challenging these kinds of abuses requires that we organize to be effective in addressing the practices that are emerging.  The ACLU and other well-established organizations need your support. We have to provide the resources for professionals to engage in resisting actions that are clearly designed to create fear and intimidation.  We need to remember the struggles that provided the freedoms we have enjoyed and the way those freedoms were secured.  The struggle may never stop.  #Resist

"Dizzy with Success" - The Stalinist Phase of Trump's Administration

Issues, Strategy & TacticsTalking Trash

Expect more claims of success from the Trump administration, but don't be fooled. 

Business Insider reports that between 50% and 70% of all farm workers are undocumented immigrants. They pick the tomatoes, the fruits and vegetables that appear in the produce sections of the local supermarkets around the country.  Produce isn't the only area that will be hit by the administration policies.  The Texas Tribune cites Census data showing that:

"..in 2015 Mexico imported more than $92 billion worth of goods from Texaswhile Texas imported more $84 billion worth of goods from Mexico."   

These are not insignificant impacts. And they are all negative.

The impact of devastating policies implemented by authoritarian leaders is nothing new.  Joseph Stalin implemented the 'fake science' developed by Trofin Lysenko to employ in Soviet era agriculture in the U.S.S.R., while instituting collectivization.  The result? Estimates vary, but somewhere between 10 and 30 million people perished in the process, while Stalin also attacked those who clung to the truth and resisted.  He famously said that he was "Dizzy with Success," when his bureaucrats cooked the numbers to lie about the results.

We can expect the same with Trump.   As Bloomberg notes, he is already taking aim at economic statistics to produce 'alternate facts.'  We must resist and support those who do.

It is no accident that women played an important role in the resistance to Stalin's policies. In most cases where practical issues are at play, women are usually the first to experience the problems and the first to take action.

From Wikipedia:

"Women's role in resistance

Women were the primary vehicle for rumors that touched upon issues of family and everyday life.[23] Fears that collectivization would result in the socialization of children, the export of women’s hair, communal wife-sharing, and the notorious common blanket affected many women, causing them to revolt. For example, when it was announced that a collective farm in Crimea would become a commune and that the children would be socialized, women killed their soon-to-be socialized livestock, which spared the children. Stories that the Communists believed short hair gave women a more urban and industrial look insulted peasant women.[24] After local activists in a village in North Caucasus actually confiscated all blankets, more fear dispersed among villagers. The common blanket meant that all men and women would sleep on a seven-hundred meter long bed under a seven-hundred-meter long blanket.[25] Historians argue that women took advantage of these rumors without actually believing them so they could attack the collective farm “under the guise of irrational, nonpolitical protest.”[26] Women were less vulnerable to retaliation than peasant men, and therefore able to get away with a lot more.[27]

Peasant women were rarely held accountable for their actions because of the officials’ perceptions of their protests. They “physically blocked the entrances to huts of peasants scheduled to be exiled as kulaks, forcibly took back socialized seed and livestock, and led assaults on officials.” Officials ran away and hid to let the riots run their course. When women came to trial, they were given less harsh punishments as the men because women, to officials, were seen as illiterate and the most backward part of the peasantry. One particular case of this was a riot in a Russian village of Belovka where protestors were beating members of the local soviet and setting fire to their homes. The men were held exclusively responsible as the main culprits. Women were given sentences to serve as a warning, not as a punishment. Because of how they were perceived, women were able to play an essential role in the resistance to collectivization."

Read more about the techniques Stalin used to gain and maintain control, and how people resisted in Stalin: Order through Terror (see below).

Invisible or Indivisible?

Organizing, Strategy & TacticsTalking Trash

Over 50 years ago two political scientists noticed something profound about the policy agendas in America, the things that are missing (along with those issues are the people who have them).  Since then, that observation had become pedestrian. We talk about people who are forgotten, who don't make the news, and who don't get any attention from politicians. Often, they are marginalized populations with little power.

Some pundits argued that the people who have been forgotten are the white, lower-to-middle income people who were left behind in the economic expansion. Globalization is not the first instance of economic changes leaving people behind. They are often invisible to the wider society, languishing in their misery in private, without opportunities or choices. It's worth know about those struggles, which have re-emerged in our last election. Resistance is sometimes subtle, sometimes not.

 

Focus on What is Important: Look Systemically

Talking Trash

There is a lot of outrage, tweets, and media coverage that can create a din of shrill rancor about the administration and its continuing drama. It's easy to become distracted, to ponder the character of individuals and their intentions, motivations, and plans. No matter how obscure or demented those factors may be (and there is substantial evidence that they are), not every outrage needs a response. On the other hand, persistent pressure must be applied to the people who are enabling the administration. Those people are in Congress.

It is so very critical that the public recognize where the legal authority to make policy resides. The administration may rubber-stamp policies that are far more onerous than any executive order. The elimination of resources and information related to protections and services that people rely on for their education, health, or economic survival will be a major part of what the party in control have espoused for years. They now have the capacity to enact their program with few, if any, limitations. Protections that took decades of effort to enact are now up for grabs. But in this moment, there are people standing up at town halls, expressing their displeasure and anger at those same officials. 

For now, most office holders are dismissing complaints, even disparaging them as the product of some nefarious campaign of 'paid protesters.' It's a shallow response to a very deep problem. News media are slowly beginning to recognize that this is a movement that goes well beyond partisan allegiances. At the risk of alienating many readers who are committed partisans, it is quite clear that party politics has not served the country very well in several very specific ways. While they are adversarial, they are not competitive and do not offer voters a wide variety of choices. They have been participants in structuring a political system where party leaders select voters through gerrymandering and first-past-the-post electoral methods that effectively eliminate the voices of large groups of voters. 

Understanding the structure of government, and the way the electoral process works is essential to planning how to regain control of a system that does not generally operate to benefit society, but operate for the benefit of a small group of people.  We need to figure out how to combat the tendency for these patterns of politics from maintaining their grip. If we do not, the consequences could be dire. The books below provide a good start on how we can think through that process.

Inequality: What Can Be Done?
By Anthony B. Atkinson

Gaslighting Grifters, Crackpots, and Rubes: Why Sympathy Is Dangerous

Strategy & TacticsTalking Trash

We are experiencing what demagogic, authoritarian leadership is like. The constant stream of nonsense, lies, and outright attacks on the very notion of truth are spectacular in scope, bravado, and sheer audacity. We have also witnessed how unprepared Americans are for such an attack, intellectually, emotionally, socially, and politically.

There is substantial evidence that a widespread propaganda campaign was directed at the American public by the Russian government. As additional details emerge, we already know of connections between the administration and members of the Russian intelligence community. These facts will themselves be side-stepped, refuted, and dismissed by those who benefit from the outcomes they produced. Many people will reject the same facts out of misplaced loyalty and a distorted sense of duty and patriotism. They will not be swayed.

The methods and techniques of mass propaganda are not new. Wartime propaganda has an ancient history and was one of the features of the old Soviet-era regime in Russia, where a program of ‘dezinformatsiya’ was one of the main techniques of Soviet control. Pravda and other official Soviet news outlets maintained a tight control over the message and access to verifiable facts.  Only in the waning days of the regime did that edifice of lies start to crumble, with glimpses of food shortages, empty store shelves, etc.  But the old techniques are being revived by the new Russian state, this time for American consumption, especially those with little education and limited access to unbiased news sources.  Sadly, these are the same people who were pivotal in the election and the people most vulnerable to the policies that it will enact. Still, too much sympathy for ignorance is dangerous for the rest of us.

Today, we are faced with blatant, in-your-face lies about events we witness first-hand on nationwide television. While the public record should be sufficient to dispel or rebut false claims, a cynical culture of ignorance and corruption has taken root. Crackpots like Alex Jones, from InfoWars, are leading the charge to dumb down coverage of the administration and create more noise for the crowding out of credible information. These are deliberate attempts to undermine society, to undercut the foundations of civilization itself. Without a strong understanding of the fundamental elements of rational discourse and the veracity of what is said, chaos and fear take control. That is when force is welcomed by the masses for security. And that is when they win.

A keen awareness of propaganda is necessary.  Above and below are a couple books that are outstanding primers on propaganda and its uses.

Don't React, Read, Debate, Act

Strategy & Tactics, Issues, OrganizingTalking Trash

There are several serious thinkers writing about what to do, what not to do.  There are lists of do's and don'ts about the way to resist the administration. There are several common themes. 

First, don't react. Being mindful and well-measured earns respect. Control the impulse to respond immediately. Let the dust settle so you can see more clearly. There will be a constant stream of nonsense, idiocy, and outrages to endure. Don't spend your time and energy on chasing the rabbits down the holes.  Don't engage the trolls. Block and delete them. They're not worth the time and they're being deployed to waste yours. Stop it. But stay informed.

Second, don't contribute to the noise, be the signal. Check the facts and sources before you share information. Use reliable sources, check the URL's, know who you're citing and what their evidence is for what you're sharing. Take stuff down when you're wrong.  We all are sometimes. There's enough bullshit in the world without contributing to it.

Third, remember to focus on the policies that you care about, where you are willing to invest your time. Make sure that you know the pros and cons of the debates. No idea is completely perfect. Reality is messy and nothing is 100 percent accurate, not ever. Accept that truth. Acknowledge the things that are uncertain and be honest about what you know and what you don't know. Make the best case you can with the information you have. Keep learning. Know things.

Finally, stay civil, peaceful, but be persistent Lean in. Don't give them a reason to escalate. They have a real army now. Don't ignore the opposition's argument. Carefully unwrap it and tear it into little tiny pieces. Then feed it back to them with a spoon. Learn the art of rhetoric, read Aristotle, but don't stop with him. Keep going and you'll discover something important.  It's hard to debate without referring to specifics. You'll need to understand how things work in government, in specific areas of public policy, and how those policies impact real people in their lives.  We have a lot of books on a variety of issues.

One last thing, remember that it's not about one thing, it's about a lot of things. Don't lose sight of the needs of others in sharing support and trust in one another.  Give your support, your time, your attention, and whatever resources you can afford. We're in this together.