Thursday, November 02, 2006

[A Bomb a nation] What would a real democracy look like?

The thought of a crowd being able to control itself without some central disciplinary structure has apparently never lodged in a conservative brain. The libertarians yes, but not the people who took over the Republican party. Their talk of individual responsibility is almost endless but they have message police. There also appears to be some confusion of the idea of a strong leader with the idea of a strong government: they call for a weak government but give unprecedented powers to the leader. In my view, a truly strong government would be all processes and rules with adaptive feedbacks rather than revolutions. It would have wide civil buy-in of all important stake-holders. It would hardly need leaders but it would need hardy, and well informed constituents. We aren't there. We aren't even going that way.

The very names, when you look into their Greek roots, speak of an important difference between the two parties that dominate the US at this time. One name posits representatives to speak on behalf of the people...leave government to the pros. The other name puts the power, and therefore the responsibility to govern, directly on the people governed. They are just names of course but which kind of government do we have these days? We can't get the power of the vote liberated from "winner take all" electoral mechanics and we are not even talking about direct democracy though we have more than enough technology to pull it off. We are still a nation of people who expect to be governed, and none of us more so than those who speak of shrinking or drowning government. It is only the part of government that costs money [their money!] which they magically think can be abolished. Which part doesn't cost money? Under Bush, Departments have appeared, services to individuals have been reduced yet the federal payout to cronies in business and to a lesser extent, payroll, has grown...and that is not counting the growth of military expenditures. Debt has exploded. Is that a "smaller" government?

A crowd with principles. That is not the vision some of us have. A market is a more favored view or model of society on the part of the neocons who do most of the theorizing for the Republicans these days. I wonder what they mean in characterizing market forces as benign and fair. A market is a crowd that has forgiven itself in advance for its avarice, saying greed is the norm.

Its not the best fitting example but I wanted to make my little point here by an anecdote concerning the operation of a group who pioneers what may be the near future of democracy. MoveOn.org is going to get a few more evenings of my time for making phone calls, and unfortunately leave me less time for blogging. For all I know, it may look like the bottom tiers of Rove's GOP GOTV machine, but Rove's machine has a top tier of indu$try and religiou$ reactionaries and set-piece messaging you would find missing if you strayed into a MoveOn office. Obviously, I cannot claim complete impartiality. The operation of MoveOn, how it decides what issues to tackle, is based as far as I can tell, on constantly canvassing its members via email and online polls. But that is more of a view from the outside. I have spent one evening a week at a call center, working with organizers and making calls and so I think I can say a little, a very little, about the inside.

It looks chaotic. Visually, the office is not Martha-Stuart-neat and looks a lot more like nerd-messy. The phones work. The computers work. The sign-up sheets and call tally sheets do get filled in, collected and processed. But what do the people say and think as they handle the gazillion little issues that come up?

My illustration of this concerns a troll who commented the last time I mentioned MoveOn. The commenting went thus:

Bill Levinson said...
Before you make any more phone calls on behalf of MoveOn.org, I suggest that you Google on "MoveOn.org" and "anti-Semitism," "racism," and/or "hate speech." I don't think you will like what you see.

Bush may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier but, as soon as an organization welcomes hate speech directed at Jews and Catholics (as well as put-downs of African Americans), it pretty much closes the door to intelligent and rational discourse.
...
GreenSmile said...
Bill:
I googled as you suggested. That was a surprise.

The Anti-Defamation League was satisfied with MoveOn's official response but of course we want to know if leaders of MoveOn, loose cannons within MoveOn, or really who posts odious crap like that.

If you read the correspondence between ADL and MoveOn officials you would be led to believe that persons intent on harming the reputation of MoveOn took advantage of the openness of the forum on which the offensive remarks were posted.

Numerically, the lion's share of the google hits that derive from what appear to be no more than two spates of foul material from as yet unidentified submitters, were hits on all the posts and pages of persons and organizations that are only too happy to repeat that MoveOn is a hatemongering organization. MoveON has a lot of us refugees from politics-as-usual who retreat from the vile and corrosive process that was introduced largely by Republicans [swiftboating takes $$] to replace what used to be campaigning and debating. I see that the spiteful rabidity will hound us wherever we go. So I am standing my ground here and facing you.

Your facts please? Here's all we've got: There is the fact that hateful words and "ads" were put up on the MoveOn web site or forum. Is there more than that? Were the offensive things removed and repudiated? Would you like an apology? The ADL could certainly be identified as an aggrieved party in this and they were satisfied with the apology they got. Do you know who put the posts up? I agree you really did point to a question that needs answering.

I am not a lawyer but I always ask: "who benefits?"...

Leadership of the Democratic party,another organization that fears MoveOn, also tries to make a conflagration out of a spark that has yet to be associated with anyone on staff at MoveOn. Kinda unsurprising to find MoveOn is on Lieberman's enemies list.

Some of the links I find from google are to articles in Israpundit playing up the idea that Moveon is a hatemongering organization, articles written by someone named Bill Levinson. I congratulate you on rising to the top page rank for "hate speech" searches. Its a kind of honesty, I suppose. Since you basically told me where to look, I am wondering if you thought the mere sight of your page would make me toss out experience in favor of assertion. Where is it considered true that MoveOn is, as you put it, "best known for vicious anti-Semitic hate speech? What kind of honesty is that? If I remove the term "hate speech" from the search terms the page match count goes from 50 thousand to 2 and half million. Where ever this place is that knows your special truth about MoveOn, they don't have no internets.

I judge by results, not reputations, especially when the adversaries are desperate and the disrepute is so easily manufactured and so eagerly picked up. Not one communication to me from MoveOn, not one word to me from the organizers I have worked with...not one word that reflects any such bigotry can I recall. I'd be out of there like a shot on as little as one such word. I write about an organization I have experience with, not just some outfit whose write-up on the internets agrees with me. MoveOn has no guards at the portals, no message control police...it has to be the most loosely put together project I have worked with. They actually look like a democracy to me. They are still trying to find out who their real friends are. They are trivial to penetrate but that does not change their values. You will find them much harder to embarrass. And yes, some of the MoveOn members are angry people, angry about stupid priorities of an administration that runs wars and relief efforts corruptly, angry about the removal of the wall between church and state...plenty of things to resent and that was before you signed on to help with their public relations. They will from time to time be the victims of their own openness and lack of control, something that will never happen in the disciplined media of the right.

The google chase you sent me on turned up a lot of things I didn't know about,for instance, funding. The GoP like rumors of foreign financing as well as disclosing MoveOn takes money from the nefarious Mr. Soros. I caught an interview he did with Charlie Rose the other day. I was very surprised to see that he does not have horns. I kinda like the guy actually. I also give money to MoveOn but the GoP did not report this.

Has Rush played this hit on his show yet?

So, you warned me I might not like what I see. I am not terribly different from anyone else out here on this foggy little playground: I tend to see what I expected to see. The class and quality and count of my enemy reassure me. I am dismayed at human nature today Bill, but not by any facts I found.

Since I just winged that, I thought I ought to mention it to one of the MoveOn staffers next time I was at their office. The response was more or less that what I said was fine and they don't have a hand-out of talking points to give me. They all wing it. The scared sockpuppetry and the attempts to break the reputation of an organization by smearing it with ridiculous claims will probably melt away when its clear that the vigor and effectiveness of the organization have much less to do with leaders and agendas and more to do with the volunteers and their wish to speak up for change.

Was this Levinson person spreading the lie because he didn't know better? Even that would be a poor reflection on his enterprise. If his research stops at counting pages and does not proceed to reading them then maybe he didn't know. If he did know, well then I don't think he would be too interested in democracy: he has an issue that trumps honesty. Either way, he was dealing in rumors. Since the writing of the Talmud, the traditional moral teachings forbid gossip [loshon harah] and consider character assasination, even casually or through negligence, on a par with physical and financial damages [ona'ah] but worse in that the damage from verbal ona'ah is harder to repair. Of the many who claim to support Israel, those ignorant of Jewish teachings are often the least helpful.

A real democracy can't look like anything but its citizens. The only way you can hurt a real democracy is by not getting involved.

--
Posted by GreenSmile to A Bomb a nation at 11/01/2006 11:35:00 PM

8 comments:

Bill Levinson said...

Greensmile,

I am indeed the Bill Levinson who posted the IsraPundit articles and I stand by what I said despite the ADL's whitewash of MoveOn.org. Not only am I not a troll, I am putting my real name behind this because I want it on record who finally brings down MoveOn.org.

ADL's willingness to accept MoveOn.org's press release despite being provided with proof, including the Action Forum's own FAQ page, that MoveOn.org was lying has demolished any respect I ever had for the ADL. Regrettably, I have had to conclude that ADL's opposition to hate speech ends where the MoveOn.org branch of the Democratic Party begins.

This is what MoveOn.org said:
[blockquote]Statement from Eli Pariser, MoveOn.org Political Action
“MoveOn’s ActionForum is an open forum where members of the public and MoveOn members can post their thoughts regarding important political issues. Once in a while—as in any public forum—inappropriate material is posted. Recently, a few of the thousands of comments that are posted every week contained anti-Semitic language. The comments that were posted were abhorrent. We were dismayed to see them, and removed them as soon as they came to our attention 17 days ago."[/blockquote]

(1)The anti-Semitic hate speech was brought to MoveOn.org's attention through an April 1 2004 E-mail to info "at" moveon.org: almost two and a half years before MoveOn.org says it discovered the hate speech.
o MoveOn.org's exercise of editorial control over the forum, as demonstrated by its diligent censorship of postings supportive of Israel or critical of MoveOn.org, makes it 100 percent responsible for the hate speech it allowed to stand.

(2)The FAQ page at http://www.actionforum.com/general/faq.html says in more than one place that MoveOn.org was monitoring the forum regularly and even read each comment (including by implication the hate speech) twice. Corollary to the Eleventh Commandment: When thou sweepest a scandal under the rug, thou shalt sweep the entire scandal under the rug and not leave loose ends like this lying about.

(3) Only a few pieces of hate speech (e.g. "Jew Lieberman," "media-owning Jewish pigs") were in fact removed. Literally dozens of examples were harvested from the Action Forum more than two weeks after the September 2 press release.

(4) The truth is that the Action Forum participants voted overwhelming approval of the hate speech, while those who objected were shouted down with negative votes or even banned from the forum.

So ADL is acting on MoveOn.org's word that it didn't know about the hate speech and that it removed it, while I have presented independently-verifiable proof, including the FAQ page from the Action Forum itself, that MoveOn.org knew about the hate speech and also didn't remove the hate speech.

The fact that ADL did not retract its whitewash of MoveOn.org when presented this evidence leads to some very unsavory conclusions about the ADL itself.

Levinson 1, ADL and MoveOn.org 0.

GreenSmile said...

Bill:
Thanks for coming back with more details. I will see what I can verify of this before I comment any further. If our timing were a bit better on this exchange I might have held my last post a bit longer. or worked to be more courteous.

Bill Levinson said...

Re: "If our timing were a bit better on this exchange I might have held my last post a bit longer. or worked to be more courteous." If anyone owes anyone an apology, perhaps MoveOn.org and the ADL owe it to you.

Perhaps I can save you some time. The Action Forum FAQ is still online (I'm surprised MoveOn.org hasn't taken it down yet although I saved a copy in case they do).

http://www.actionforum.com/general/faq.html
"How does MoveOn use ActionForum? MoveOn monitors the forum for input several times a day and uses the information to help set their agenda."
"How can I make sure someone at MoveOn reads my post ? All comments are read at least twice. "

http://www.israpundit.com/2006/?p=2926 to see Jan Poller's letter of April 1 2004 in which he told MoveOn.org about the hate speech more than two years before MoveOn says it "learned about it."

http://www.stentorian.com/MoveOn/sideshow1.html for a collection of hate speech that I harvested from the Action Forum on or after September 17, more than two weeks after MoveOn said it got rid of this stuff. In fairness to MoveOn.org, a few items like "Jew Lieberman" and "Media-owning Jewish pigs" were in fact deleted. This page also shows the votes of approval from the other participants.

Anonymous said...

Greensmile,

I'm getting a new Blogger Beta blog ready to roll out. It's not publicized yet. Let me know what you think, okay? Thanks!

- Jude

Anonymous said...

Forgot addy -

http://iddybudjournal.blogspot.com

- Jude

gavin said...

Are you sure that our technology is ready for big increases in direct-democracy? If you refer to Internet voting, I think many, if not most, would disagree with you.

Maybe a system to help make net voting secure would help the advance of direct-democracy more than essays about how good direct-democracy is...

GreenSmile said...

Direct vote is obvious if not tidy. the real issue is who sets the agenda of articles, laws etc to vote on.

There are ways. But like I said...we aren't ready even to talk about such things.

GreenSmile said...

Your question is appropriate Gavin. I did not mean to urge prompt adoption of some kind of direct democracy...our culture and the citizenship skills of our voters are woefully unready.

And you are right to be looking for more practical "next little step" improvements in the infrastructure of elections. What I'd like to see first is absolute transparency of vote counting...no more LieBold machinations.