Saturday, December 8, 2012

It's Even Worse Than It Looks

I started writing this post almost two months ago, but for some reason, I never got around to posting it until today.  The title of this post is part of the title of a book I was then reading. The rest of the title is, How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. The authors, Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein provide a detailed account of where this uber-polarization got started and why we are where we are today. They squarely put the blame on the Republicans. What makes the book so powerful is that Ornstein and Mann are two of the top congressional scholars and have made their name by being scrupulously nonpartisan.

Much of what I read, I already knew in general terms, but it's the specifics and the behind the scenes maneuvers that are on one hand interesting and ingenious, but on the other hand depressing, disgusting, and down right alarming. According the book, it basically started with Newt Gingrich and the Gang of Seven. Newt came up with the idea that the only way Republicans were going to get back into control was to get the general public so disgusted with Congress that they threw out the party in power.

The idea of throwing the American under the bus by ignoring what is best for the country and blocking every move the Democrats made was his brain child. I hadn't realized it started back in the early 90's, but that maneuver was hardly enough. The book goes on to detail Newts exploits, some of which backfired, the actions of those who followed, and what the Democrats did to make things worse. I urge you to read the book for yourself, but I'll offer you one example of interesting and and alarming action.

Not too many people watch CSPAN. If you do watch as the camera pans around the room, you'll notice that just about all of the evening speeches are delivered to an empty room. That's because they are usually mundane and unimportant, given solely for the purpose of getting entered in to the congressional record. However, the camera work wasn't always thus, and it was this fact that allowed Newt to come up with an ingenious strategy.

When CSPAN first started, in order to prevent political advantages, the rules stated that the camera had to be fixed on the speaker and not pan through the audience. It occurred to Newt that this safeguard could be turned on its ear. He realized that the American public had no idea the speakers were addressing an empty room and he, along with his colleagues, began giving speeches that attacked the Democrats on all fronts.

Of course CSPAN was not watched by millions of viewers, but those who turned in saw Republicans accusing Democrats of all kinds of improper behavior and callous actions. They waited for some sort of reaction from the Democrats in the room, but had no idea that the room was empty. Not hearing any reaction or rebuttal, people came to their own conclusions about the charges being made. This went on for months until a good deal of damage was done. By the time the rule was changed to pan the camera around the room, so that viewers could see they were speaking to empty chairs, a great deal of damage was done by the unfounded and unanswered attacks.

This is indicative of many of the actions taken by the Republicans to thwart and forward progress by the administration.  Remember, these authors built their reputation as being non-partisan.  Read the book and make up your own mind.

Online Communications and Asbestos Suits

I began my online life in 1980, long before the Internet. Chat rooms and discussion forums were available on computer bulletin boards that were accessed via dial-up modems. Over the years, I've administered dozens of Internet mailing list, web forums, online classes and just about any type on interaction that takes place online.

While there is a great range in the way the technology delivers the communications, there is one constant, namely the human one. When people first get online, they don't understand that online communication is different from face to face. The impact of the written word doesn't always convey the sentiment or intent of the words. Thus, the internet has its own set of standards know as  Netiquette .  Each mailing list, discussion forum, or online community has its own special set of rules that fall under the Netiquette umbrella. 

The lack of understanding of newbies can lead to all kinds of problems. My view of netiquette is a little like my view of etiquette. I really don't care if you use your salad fork for the main course of if you sit with your elbows on the table. I overlook the little things. On the other hand, I don't want to see you lick soup out of the bowl or pick your nose at the dinner table.

 I wager that everyone reading this has, at one time or another seen or been involved in a Flame War. Flame wars can destroy a group or make them stronger, depending on how they are resolved. As I said, I was online in 1980. Getting online then meant you had to be a geek. When you came online you were known as a newbie. It was, and still is wise for a newbie to lurk before posting.

Unfortunately, some people just don't get it. Flame wars broke out shortly after the first modem went online. Sometimes is was because some people don't care, sometimes it was the result of a newbie mistake mistake such as breaching a serious point of netiquette or posting a private message to a public forum. Then again, some people are natural born trolls and love the flames. They are like Internet pyromaniacs.

As an online administrator, I've witnessed 100's flame wars and mediated more than my share. In the early 90's CompuServe and AOL, both closed communities, opened the Internet flood gates by giving thousands of netiquette ignorant newbies access to the Internet. It was the electronic version of Smokey the Bear's worst nightmare. Everywhere you turned another conversation thread would burst into flames.

That same year, I began doing volunteer work for and began actively trying to educate others about netiquette and online safety. I was also the leader of a group of folks who created the first Internet online tutorial specifically aimed at teachers and students.  While it is considerably, because technology has changed so dramatically, except for one broken link that can be replaced by this one, the section on netiquette remains viable, because it deals with the way people should conduct themselves online.

1) Once you post something, you lose control of it. Whether it is a comment or a picture, anyone receiving it can grab it and do with it as they please
2) Think before you click. If you send a rant about the boss to a co-worker, make sure it is going to your co-worker, not the company mailing list.
3) Never post ANYTHING online that you don't want to read in the New York Times on Monday morning.

That doesn't mean you can't express your opinions about your boss strongly. You can still do so effectively.  You might tell you friend your boss is inconsiderate and ill informed rather than calling him a %$%&# idiot. That way, if your private email does make it's way to the boss, instead of getting fired on the spot it might lead to a rational conversation between you and your boss.  Or not...

What Percentage of Our Citizens are Subject to British Law

Before, during and since the election, I made a concerted effort to watch videos and read articles from the extreme left all the way to the extreme right.  To be clear, my general views are a little left of center. I've heard some very well thought out arguments from the right, but I've also heard some of the most vitriol hate and just plain lunacy coming from that same general direction.

I will listen and discuss issues with ANYONE who takes a rational, reasoned approach to an issue, but there are times when I just have to shake my head in disbelief.  I found myself doing that repeatedly in the last few days.

Thirty-eight Republican Congressmen voted to NOT ratify a UN treaty that suggests, without any enforcement provisions, that other countries treat their handicapped the way they are already treated here.  Among the cockamamie reason they give is because they are worried they think it will give the UN the power to dictate what is best for our handicapped children.

At first I couldn't believe that they could walk past Bob Dole and ignore the members of their own party who support it, but then I began to understand.  What led me to this understanding?  Well, first Mitch McConnell filibusters his own rule. In making senate history, by being the first person to ever filibuster his own bill, he used the lamest excuse I have ever seen and I won't even dignify it with details or discussion.

My second reason is a video made by Gabe Zolna of the Western Center for Journalism, one of the right wing publications to which I subscribe to get a better understanding of how people with differing opinions think. As distasteful as it is for me to drive traffic to his video and make money for him, I'll do it for the greater good.

Call me crazy, but I thought we fought the revolutionary war, at least in part, because England considered us their subjects. I think we corrected that misconception.  Now you are saying that children born of a father who was born in a country whose population are English subjects, is also an English subject simply because England said so?. So you are saying Obama is an English subject and subject to English law.  Wow, I guess we can get rid of an entire generation of people who were born in America, but by your definition, are subject to the laws of another country.

Now I understand how 38 Congressmen felt that a UN Handicap Rights Treaty, that has no enforcement provision, and only suggests the world's handicapped be treated as the are in the US, are worried.  Heck with that kind of reasoning, a significant part of the population is subject to the laws of the country of their father's birth. 

Now I understand why Mitch McConnell filibusters his own bill.  It has nothing to do with the oath of office and EVERYTHING to do with re-election.  Are NOT serving their country.  They are serving themselves and their party, the public be damned! 

True, Congress is not doing their job.  They need to start serving their country and doing what is best for the country, not what is best for their re-election or their party. It's "Of the people, by the people, and for the people", not "Of the party, by the party, and for the party"!