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Monday, October 30, 2006

DAMN IT DEMS… RUN THIS AD!

Open letter to the DNC…

I have to be honest. I don’t have any respect for the Democratic Party. After all, you continually stand in the way of the electoral reforms like proportional representation thus depriving Progressive such as myself of any representation in Washington. And it's so easy to blame Katharine Harris and the USSC for giving us Bush in 2000 when the REAL problem was the Electoral College. Yet, Democrats refuse to even talk about abolishing this anti-democratic abomination.

Nonetheless, Bush and the GOP have been an unmitigated disaster for the US and the world. Right about now, as in ‘04, I’ll settle for the lesser of the evils.

So DNC, I know you’d like to THINK you’re headed for some victories next Tuesday. If you’re lucky you’ll take back the House and Senate. I'm not so sure.

THE PROBLEM: I’m sure you don’t underestimate Carl Rove’s ability to pull this election out of the fire. We can see his fingerprints with the constant on-message harping about national security and possible tax hikes. Then there’s his massive database of personal information he’ll use to micro-target voters. But, perhaps your biggest problem is that True Believers of the GOP can easily rationalize away all of Bush’s disasters and fiscal irresponsibility. I’ve debated such right-wingers for years and I understand the extent to which they have sabotaged their own intelligence to believe the Party line. These voters need to be shocked out of their complacency. You need an effective wedge issue… and soon.

Though the Right’s strategy to sabotage government with massive deficits and growing debt is now 25 years old the Democrats STILL seem incapable of launching an effective counterstrategy. Worst, Bush is even today telling cheering crowds that it’s the Democrats that would piss away their money. These lies are beyond Orwellian. Yet it’s not rocket science to deflate these lies. The Right’s propaganda machine has been predictable in its approach. They tell the faithful “it’s your money” and tax cuts are a free lunch essential for economic growth. They then downplay the deficit numbers THEY created.

Those who believe the Right’s big lies do so because they have never been educated in the following:

1: If We The People are in debt… then ALL tax cuts are paid for with borrowing.
2: The Right is stealing money from our children to buy votes today, allowing us to party today at our children’s expense. How god damn noble!
3: That tax cuts are essential for economic growth argument is laughable and without empirical data. The Right has misrepresented the so-called JFK tax cut, the economic boom of the 80’s was classic demand-side not supply side, and Clinton proved that there can be a boom after a tax hike.

That things have come to this point is because Democrats never did their job to educate the public. But it’s not too late to strike a blow in the next week.

What makes the Right’s Big Lies appealing is the average person really has no idea what budget numbers we’re taking about. Sadly, most can’t tell the difference between a million, a billion, and a trillion. It’s just too abstract.

THE SOLUTION? You need a quick wedge issue that will peel away or discourage some GOP voters, and serve some future education process. A new approach is needed, preferably one that kills two or three birds with one stone:
1: It’s essential to counteract the Right’s long-term strategy of “starving the beast” since the entire Democratic agenda depends on it.
2: It’s essential to educate GOP and wavering Democratic voters and shock them to the senses.
3: It’s essential to brand all GOP members of Congress/Senate as dangerously irresponsible to counteract the tendency to believe one’s own incumbent is not part of the problem in Washington.

Here’s what I propose…

The public MUST be educated on the amount of the debt Bush has run up. Make the abstract painfully concrete. What’s needed is some sense of scale. And that’s what this site does: www.crunchweb.net/87billion. Unfortunately, they stopped at the $315 Billion spent on Bush’s wars.

According to the Bureau of Public Debt Bush's debt from January 22, 2001 to October 27, 2006 is now $2837.816643835 BILLION. What does that represent?

If stacked atop over a football field (100’x300’) it would make a tower of cash 4,136’ Feet tall.

If stacked over a baseball diamond (90’x90’) it would make a tower of cash 15,321 Feet Tall

You get the "picture". Right?

For cost reasons I’d suggest one generic ad. To hit a key demographic I’d take these ads out during football games this weekend so not to give the Right much time to respond t that same group. The use of a football field for scale is one sports fans can easily relate to. You can begin showing a single dollar bill on the field, then show the income of the average worker or family. Pull back to show Bush’s FY01 through FY06 deficits piling up giving a running total of the height of the stack of cash. It’s essential to use ON-BUDGET deficit numbers since unified budget numbers are dishonest and will never equal the final Bush debt. In the end, the total Bush debt numbers will result in that tower growing to some 4136’ tall atop that football field… less if you use the sidelines and end zones. Depending on what you're willing to spend you can toss in some extras; the Goodyear blimp banking hard to get out of the way of the rising tower; glimpses of the crowd standing up to stare in disbelief. Keep pulling back to show the tower of cash’s full size in relation to whatever stadium you use.

For possible tag lines…

“Bush says only the Republicans can wisely watch over taxpayer money. The Debt the Republicans have run up tell a different story.”

Or…

“Tax cuts for the rich were never a free lunch. This is the bill the Bush Republicans are handing to our children.”

Or...

“The Bush Republicans are building a monument. But it’s a monument to fiscal irresponsibility we and our children just can’t afford.”

Or...

“The Bush Republicans have been so fiscally irresponsible we can no longer even fund our Defense Department without loans from Red (sic) China.”

See the possibilities? Of course it would help Democratic credibility immensely if you stopped playing your own on- / off-budget games concealing hundreds of billions in loans from the federal trust funds as Kerry did in '04 in his so-called “balanced budget plan”. If you are ever to become the Party of TRUE fiscal responsibility you have to tell it straight... not just to educate the public but to forever inoculate them against the Right’s propaganda.

THE MATH: As for the math I used which I urge you to double check:

I’ve recalculated Crunchweb’s numbers and according to my measurements a US dollar bill is 6.125" x 2.625" x .0047"

That means...

$1.00 bill = .0755671875 cubic inches.

Since a cubic foot is 1,728 cubic inches

$22,867 in $1.00 bills can theoretically fit into a cubic foot.

$1 Billion... 1,000,000,000 / 22,867 = 43,731 cubic feet of $1.00 tightly packed bills

According to the Bureau of Public Debt Bush's debt from January 22, 2001 to October 27, 2006 is now $2837.816643835 BILLION.

That amounts to 124,100,559 CUBIC FEET of tightly packed $1.00 bills. This can be divided in any way… for a football field… divide 124,100,559 by 100 then 300. The result will be the height of the cash.

(revised 11-01-06)

ulTRAX

Bush's Debt Now Bigger Than The Two World Trade Center Towers

The following coincidence is almost scary. What a sad milestone.

According to my measurements a US dollar bill is 6.125" x 2.625" x .0047"

That means...

$1.00 bill = .0755671 cubic inches.

$22867.09 can fit in a cubic foot... at least mathematically.

$1 Billion....... 1000000000 / 22867.09 = 43,730.968 cubic feet of $1.00 tightly packed bills

According to the Bureau of Public Debt
Bush's debt to date is $2,822.154844491 BILLION

That amounts to 123,415,563 cubic feet of tightly packed $1.00 bills.

According to this source each World Trade Tower was 208' x 208' x 1361' or 58,882,304 cubic feet.

That is if my math is correct that pile of cash would equal in size the two World Trade Center towers. (2.095970344502824 WTC towers to exact.)

MATH: 123,415,563 cubic feet of cash divided by 58,882,304 cubic feet for each WTC tower.

While I’d love to see the Democrats run a generic ad showing the amount of cash Bush has pissed away using a visible approach as used here http://www.crunchweb.net/87billion I don’t think using the WTC Towers as a comparison would be in good taste.

However, the Bush debt would equal a skyscraper of $1 bills 4114 feet high if stacked above a football field (100x300'). Better yet if it had a tagline that the US can not even fund its own Defense Department without loans from Red (sic) China.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Democrats: Party of the Walking Brain Dead.

Democrats just don't get it. They have been facing their Goldwater moment for the past 25 years and have consistently refused to reinvent themselves. The advance of the radical Right has less to do with any compelling message on their part but more to do with the intellectual bankruptcy and lack of strategic vision on the part of Democrats. Going into the 2006 mid-term election it seems their best hope is not to win on ideas but to hope the GOP self-destructs.

There are undoubtedly some very intelligent and perceptive people in the Democratic Party. Yet that talent never seems to rub off on the entire Party. How the Democrats deal with budget numbers... an issue that could work in their favor, provides a perfect example.

For the past 25 years the most radical elements of the Right have had a clear strategy to sabotage the finances of the federal government. They call it “starving the beast”. Rather than debate social safety net programs on their merit, they have preferred to push through irresponsible tax cuts to create massive deficits. Such policies serve a political purpose: they bring home the bacon to their wealthy and business constituents while depriving the Dems of ways to serve their own constituencies. The radical Right has never cared if We The People piss away trillions on interest... some $352 BILLION in FY05 alone... as long as that money was not available to do some good for the American People. To get a sense of immense scale of waste here... taxpayer money spent on interest in FY05 is about 20X the entire NASA budget of about $17 billion. The utter contempt the radical Right has for the average citizen is beyond measure. But you'll never hear Democrats making this argument nor will you hear them educate the public that interest is the biggest waste of taxpayer money in the budget.

While Clinton understood the fiscal trap the Right had set, he never went out of his way to educate the public about what the Right was up to. Clinton just made it a top priority to get to a budget surplus and in doing so intended to protect the future viability of the Democratic Party. Sadly Clinton never sufficiently inoculated the Public against the Right's Big Lies. He failed to build up a large constituency dedicated to preserving that surplus and to paying down the national debt. It was a strategic blunder that may have backfired in the 2000 election. In 2000 Bush was obviously determined to follow in Reagan’s path to again sabotage revenues before any debt was actually paid down. Did the Democrats try to expose the Right's ploy? Hardly. They just proposed their own irresponsible tax cuts! As George Lakoff might say... this proposal just reinforced the Right's conceptual frame that the pubic needed "tax relief". The Democrats never put forth a competing conceptual frame that it was in the national interest to pay down the debt, nor that it was criminally irresponsible for the Right to bribe voters today with money stolen from future taxpayers. How can Democrats EVER expect to expose the Right's Big Lie that tax cuts are a free lunch if they refuse to expose the true extent of the damage created by the Right's scorched earth fiscal policies?

By 2000 nearly 2 decades had gone by where Democrats COULD have been educating the public about the Right’s plans to sabotage government... and refused. This failure is reminiscent of the Democrats ineptitude in devising an effective strategy to protect the federal judiciary against radical Right-wing justices. More on that here: here.

Sadly, the federal budget is like a shell game. On the on-budget side of the ledger we have most of what we consider as government functions... the military, NIH, FBI, NASA etc. Trust funds like Social Security are considered off-budget. But if there is a surplus in these off-budget trust funds as there is today... about $180 billion for FY06, by law this surplus is loaned to the government. If there's an on-budget surplus... a very rare event, the money is used to pay down the overall public debt even as it's adding to the intragovernmental debt.

This point bears repeating: only a true ON-budget surplus can be used to lower overall debt. If there's an on-budget deficit... as is usually the case, the trust fund money is borrowed, then spent. To date according to Bureau of Public Debt the intragovernmental debt is over $3.7 TRILLION.

So why do both parties use the unified budget numbers? The answer is simple: these numbers offer BOTH parties political cover since they make deficits look smaller by concealing hundreds of billions in borrowing from the trust funds and also can make any surplus look larger. Using unified budget numbers Clinton could claim a surplus in FY98 even as money was still being borrowed from the trust funds adding to the intragovernmental debt while being used to pay down the public debt. The unified budget surplus for FY98-00 was $431 Billion yet in reality the true Clinton on-budget surplus totaled only a paltry $90 billion in FY99 and FY00. When compared to the national debt then at 5.8 Trillion, it was a drop in the bucket… and by FY01 the on-budget surplus was gone.

What the Democrats never seem to understand is they can't claim to be the TRUE party of fiscal responsibility if they play such games with the budget numbers. Even when the numbers work in their favor they refuse to tell the American People just how fiscally irresponsible Bush has been. The Democrats can't educate the public about the budget if they continue to propose sugar-coated deficit reduction plans of their own that conceal hundreds of billions in trust fund borrowing. Yet this is exactly what Kerry did in 2004. By using the unified budget figures in his 2004 deficit reduction plan, Kerry concealed about a trillion in borrowing over 5 years. Not only was it a strategic blunder not to expose the Right's game plan... it was a scandalous display of how the Democrats also have contempt for the public.

So here comes election 2006. Again the deficit numbers are outrageous... hitting record highs. These numbers again work to the benefit of the Democrats. But have the Democrats changed their ways? Hardy. They again refuse to even use the true Bush deficit numbers. Here's an example.

From http://www.democrats.org

2001: Bush Deliberately Underestimated Future Deficits. In 2001, Bush predicted massive budget surpluses over the following four years, in order to make the case that we could afford his tax cut plan. Instead, each of those years will suffer an actual or likely deficit. In 2001, Bush predicted a $231 billion surplus in 2002 (reality: $158 billion deficit), $246 billion surplus in 2003 (reality: $375 billion deficit), $268 billion surplus in 2004 (reality: $422 billion projected deficit), and $273 billion surplus in 2005 (reality: $348 billion projected deficit.

Who's underestimating deficits?

The TRUE Bush deficit is the ON BUDGET deficit. Here are those numbers from page 22 of this OMB report.

1999: +1.920 BILLION
2000: +86.422 BILLION
2001: -32.445 BILLION
2002: -317.417 BILLION not 158 billion
2003: -538.418 BILLION not 375 billion
2004: -567.961 BILLION not 422 billion
2005: -493.611 BILLION not 348 billion
2006: -602.141 BILLION estimated

It's just another in a long series of strategic failures on the part of the Democrats to blunt the Right's offensive. Since they don't seem to have the sense to go head to head and expose the Right's lies... their best hope of winning elections is for the Right to implode. If the Democrats win in this manner... that Goldwater moment to reinvent themselves will surely be put off again.

(Originally published in April 06 and updated 10-19-06)

ulTRAX

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Rush Limbaugh and the Orwellian Right's Propaganda Machine

Listening to an old Noam Chomsky lecture in which he talked of Tom Friedman, he said it was difficult for people to lie. That when people got to Friedman's level, they were totally steeped in, and believed, the propaganda that they espoused.

While I have immense respect for Chomsky, my take is a bit different. I believe there is a cynical Orwellian Right and that they know the truth even as they seek to mislead. Here's an example that was once up at Rush Limbaugh's site a few years back. He was talking in support of one of Bush's 2001 tax cuts:

"If it brings in, say, two dollars for every dollar of tax relief, we'll have more money in the treasury – and thus safeguard programs like Social Security! The idea behind tax cuts is to get the economy to grow. The economy is not static. The pie is not one size forever, with no new slices. The object is to grow so we have more people working and paying taxes. Presidents Kennedy and Reagan proved this with their tax cuts. The Democratic Congress spent every new dollar and more that Reagan brought in, but the fact is that the revenue coming into the treasury nearly doubled over his two terms."


Note how Rush omits some key facts which discredit his claims:

1: Every recession ends. Tax cuts are not needed.

2: Reagan signed into law some massive tax HIKES yet Rush dishonesty credits all the revenue growth in the 1980's to tax cuts. He ignores inflation and the growth in the economy due to population increases which also increase revenue.

Predictably real revenues under Reagan FELL so much that by FY84 they were still around FY79 levels in constant dollars. One can only wonder how low they would have been without those massive Reagan tax hikes. Here are the revenue numbers from FY77 to FY89 in constant 2000 dollars. They include revenues from Reagan's tax hikes:

FY77 903.8 Billion
FY78 952.5
FY79 1,017.8
FY80 1,028.3
FY81 1,077.4 Carters Last Budget
FY82 1,036.9 Reagan's First Budget
FY83 961.7
FY84 1,016.8
FY85 1,082.6
FY86 1,107.3
FY87 1,196.1
FY88 1,235.6
FY89 1,298.9 Reagan's last budget


Rush implies that tax cuts bring in double the amount in revenues for every tax dollar lost in the tax cut. Essentially tax cuts are a Voodoo Economics free lunch! If true no sane person could be against them. Yet is there ANY proof of this? Of course not! The most optimistic claim I've seen is from Cato. They calculate tax cuts bring in about 35 cents on every dollar of taxes cut. Since Cato has a right-wing agenda, one can only guess what questionable assumptions they used to arrive at this “optimistic” figure. None the less, if true then Cato’s numbers also translates into LOSING 65 cents on every dollar of tax cuts. No free lunch here either.

The so-called JFK tax cuts were actually passed after his death and the economy was already picking up. Much of the expansion of the 60's was from wartime spending. But the Orwellian Right always pretends the credit goes to tax cuts. JFK also proposed that revenues would INCREASE from tightening up loopholes despite the reduction in the top marginal tax rate.

Rush implies that revenues under Reagan doubled. What's critical here is what baseline is chosen. Using Reagan's first and last budgets... in constant 2000 dollars which includes natural population growth and revenue from Reagan tax hikes, FY82 thru FY89 revenue under Reagan grew only about 25% not by 100% as Rush dishonestly claims. Even in current dollars, Reagan's revenues rose only about 62% not 100%. Here are the figures in billions of current dollars:

FY82 617.8
FY83 600.6
FY84 666.5
FY85 734.1
FY86 769.2
FY87 854.4
FY88 909.3
FY89 991.2


Rush does as all on the Orwellian Right do when trying to justify tax cuts: he avoids the bigger context by not comparing Reagan's revenues to Carter's. Just what would revenues have been if there had been NO irresponsible tax cuts?

Clinton proved that an economy can easily expand after a tax HIKE. This is a sore spot for the Orwellian Right. It drives a stake squarely into the heart of their tax cut fairytale. So they often dishonestly credit Reagan for the boom of the Clinton era. Yet curiously they never credit Nixon for the boom of the 80's.

After rewriting history to imply that less revenue under Reagan is actually MORE revenue... Rush is left to explain Reagan's massive deficits. Since his intent is deceive, Rush dishonestly blames the Democrats for spending the fabricated windfall. Reagan’s own spending on an insane military buildup gets no mention.

The unavoidable truth is this: Rush HAS to know the truth to so skillfully avoid it. And knowing that it's clear his ONLY intent is to deceive his listeners. Yet that also implies utter contempt for his own listeners. One is left to conclude Rush is merely an Orwellian Right propagandist who's looking out for his own interests.

Rush's quotes were originally at this URL and that page is no longer up.

(revised 3-19-08)


ulTRAX

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Governments Derive Their JUST Power From The CONSENT Of The Governed

On this July 4th, the 230th anniversary of that original Independence Day, perhaps there is no better time to revisit the Declaration of Independence.... particularity on what the signers believed what form of government should replace rule by the crown.

Thomas Jefferson wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.


The belief that governments derive their moral legitimacy not from God but from the consent of the governed was a radical proposition during the Enlightenment, when Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence in 1776. This belief originated with John Locke's concept of natural rights which were rights not contingent on, or handed down from government but existed regardless of government. As such governments were morally legitimate only if they had the consent of the governed.

I'd argue that in the US the very concept of "consent of the governed" has suffered death by 1000 cuts and in the process has been bastardized almost into oblivion. We have elections and a representative form of government... but both are so flawed they can never accurately measure the consent of the governed except by accident. Worst, at times we have a government that has been REJECTED by the governed.

Sadly We The People seem so beaten down by this system that we meekly accept such outrages as Election 2000 where an unaccountable Star Chamber called the Electoral College imposed upon this nation a president and his policies the People clearly voted against. US and world history changed for the worst against the wishes of the governed. The world's only superpower was out of the control of its own people. Bush was then free to abuse the powers of his office to consolidate power in the Senate and the federal judiciary... and he did do... gladly.

At times when I'm most cynical, I think We The People need a new Declaration of Independence.

But perhaps we should just revisit the original.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Road To HELL Is Paved With True Believers

Before entering into this rather abstract discussion on dysfunctional and dangerous ideologies, here are what I consider a few essential axioms.

1: Like with evolution, belief systems compete against each other… yet those that survive are not necessarily the most rational but those that are best suited to their environment. In this case, the environment may be the human need to make life meaningful and to hope there's cosmic justice for "moral" behavior... but also a social environment, where self-serving power seeks justifications for its own immoral, often inhumane, behavior. The combination these and other environmental factors leads to belief systems that may be widely accepted completely divorced from reality and contain internal contradictions adherents remain blind to.

2: The most compelling yet insidious of belief systems are those that seemingly have explanations for everything. An example was the medieval belief that everything could be explained as a cosmic battleground between Good and Evil. If one dared question that belief, it was assumed they were under the influence of Evil. While certainly not alone, Ayn Rand’s Objectivism would certainly fall into this category. Free Market fundamentalists believe that even market failures are proof of the infallibility of market forces turning economics into a religion.

3: The capacity for human self-deception is infinite made possible by an infinite number of conceptual combinations that can be twisted, abused, and bastardized… with the result that any number of compelling but absurd belief systems can emerge and be accepted.

4: Most humans suffer from a self-inflicted infallibility complex and believe their actions, no matter how destructive, are based in positive motivations. Hitler actually believed history would vindicate his mass murder of the Jews.

5: Humans are not just susceptible to irrational belief systems, which I’d argue, are at the root of most of humanity's problems... but have a desire to perpetuate those belief systems they believe in.

6: As a result we often create/support dysfunctional if not insane institutions to perpetuate these ideologies. We also create a system of incentives to support the underlying ideology and disincentives/punishments for questioning that ideology. Punishments can range from mere social disapproval to death.

7. No matter how the above should be seen as the root cause of most human misery and conflict, True Believers will fanatically claim the superiority of their own belief system over others thus perpetuating misery and conflict which they remain blind to.

8: The above is possible because cultures such as ours lack a key countervailing value: the respect for reality which would create self-correcting mechanisms.

We often don't give much thought to the sanity of institutions or entire nations. We just assume our institutions and our nation are inherently desirable if not superior to those of others. We may be less generous towards the institutions of our friends and allies but at least we would not question their sanity. The thought of insane institutions or an entire nation actually going insane is so disturbing we delude ourselves into thinking it only happens rarely and reserve such condemnations for the like of North Korea and Nazi Germany. Yet what may be of more interest is not whether a nation actually embarks on military conquest and genocide... the worst case scenario, but whether any nation can, under the right circumstances, also go “toxic”. I’d argue that this is what has happened in the US, especially after 911, the invasion of Iraq, and GOP's clinging to ideas that caused the Great Recession.

We're all aware of physiologically-based insanity. But there is a more prevalent form of insanity... the self-inflicted variety by which I mean irrational belief systems. Technically such insanity resides in individuals who self-sabotage their own intellects. But, collectively those who subscribe to these insane belief systems are not satisfied with individual acceptance of a belief system. They want their insanity to become institutionalized. It can be on the level of murderous organizations like those who follow Bin Laden, institutions like the Nazi SS, like in the case of Nazi Germany the whole national purpose becomes devoted to a murderously insane ideology.

Yet, it's a mistake to assume that the most radical and murderous among us are insane. Assuming no organic cause... the more interesting question is what are the necessary preconditions to their insane beliefs?

Perhaps all belief systems, diverse as they may be, fall into two main categories. There are self-correcting modes of thought... such as the scientific method. Granted as we've seen in the news often other considerations undermine the intellectual integrity required for honest research. Then there are the self-justifying belief systems. The most compelling are those which seemingly have an explanation for everything.

Almost by definition the permutations of such irrational self-justifying ideologies are infinite. We see it in racism, patriotism, nationalism, Millenniumism, creationism, Maoism, imperialism, Stalinism, radical capitalism to a hundred other "-isms". Not all are dangerous or toxic but all are share a common defect: and inability to self-correct.

The most obvious self-justifying belief systems are religious in nature. Religion serves as the perfect example of the two key attributes of self-justifying belief systems. The first is selective perception... where reality is rearranged so only data supporting the belief system are acknowledged. The second is the filtering of any data which threatens the belief system. By their very nature such belief systems tend to lead towards more disagreement and conflict. In contrast self-correcting belief systems tend to grow towards more agreement.

If there's any core observation it's this: what makes these self-justifying belief systems so insidious is this: once someone accepts the basic tenets of the ideology they deprive themselves of the intellectual tools to disprove the system. For that individual, the belief system becomes closed, and odds are if the system meets certain requirements, it will self-perpetuate. If institutions or nations are built around these self-justifying ideologies then they then have a vested interest in perpetuating the irrationality of their clients/consumers and citizens. These institutions create incentives for irrational if not insane attitudes and behavior that are compatible with the mission of the institution. It leads to insane ideas such as Monsanto’s “death gene” and those who can’t see past the current imperatives who actually believed the “death gene” made perfect sense. Likewise these institutions create disincentives and punishments for attitudes and behavior that threaten the institution and its underlying ideology. We can expect such imperatives from religious institutions which by their nature are faith based... and largely immune from self-correction. What is more a threat is when we have such behavior in our government and corporate institutions.

A central goal of any sane society should be the pursuit of truth... and an essential aspect of that pursuit is the relentless challenge of its own beliefs. Alas, I see the US being awash in irrational, self-perpetuating belief systems. By this I mean our institutions governmental and economic, and even our citizenry, are not acting in ways that can self-correct. For example, if combating global warming runs counter to the imperatives/incentives the built into our economy then it’s those imperatives/incentives that must be questioned. Sadly, these imperatives/incentives go unquestioned and as these major institutions try to perpetuate themselves, they have developed a vested interest in encouraging irrationality in the public. As for the public, some among us value these dysfunctional if not toxic belief systems even more than life itself. Since these are people who don't suffer any physiological form of insanity, perhaps being a True Believer is the ultimate human pathology.

(revised: 5-2-14)


ulTRAX

Monday, March 13, 2006

MoveOn's Self-Inflicted Lobotomy: Alienated Members

I didn't intend to do a third article on MoveOn's ActionForum but when poking though the forum I saw the stream of negative comments buried 10,000 posts back, I decided to bring them to light. If you're new to this series it may be helpful to start with article 1 or article 2.

It is my contention that MoveOn's ActionForum amounts to a self-inflicted lobotomy.... not just because they are trying to cram all 3.3 MILLION MoveOn members into ONE forum. The forum is dysfunctional because it endlessly churns out goals yet refuses to harness the talent of the membership to devise action plans. There's a rating system but it has so many defects it's worthless. It is my further contention that whenever there are problems at the forum those who run it seem pathologically incapable of rethinking their own dysfunctional forum model. They just further sabotage more features. The last straw was to start screening posts in what was touted to be a user-moderated forum.

The lobotomy analogy is fitting in another way. The forum is also dysfunctional that it pits those who have low expectations of what a good forum can offer and who love to game the rating system against those who believe in e-democracy and have experience in traditional forums that offer features like issue-specific forums, a reply function, an in-house message service, and a search function to find keywords or one's own posts.


How many just leave ActionForum in disgust or been banned for insisting MoveOn provide a decent forum? We may never know for sure. But this may provide a clue. I scanned the first 1000 of the top-rated posts. The top voted-on post in the current Great Goals forum has about 20,200 votes showing that there have been at least that many unique active membership accounts. Predictably it's a very old post, from the first day that forum was created back in November 2004. The highest rated post I've found from the last year was posted last December has some 5350 votes. Have 15,000 members left? Some may come back if MoveOn sends another email urging members to post at the forum. But it would not surprise me so many left since because there's little to hold anyone's interest. Between January and August 2005 there were numerous OTHER FORUMS dealing with these issues:

* What is your top question for DNC Chair Candidates?
* Help Choose A Name for MoveOn's New Organizing Campaign.
* Suggest a slogan for Operation Democracy, our new campaign.
* Tell us what you want Operation Democracy to do.
* Suggest a slogan for an anti-Rove campaign.

While I've certainly given the dysfunctionality of the forum plenty of thought, I think it's important to see what other members have said. I took a sample month, in this case November 2005, and looked for all the posts that criticized the forum. Including myself posts were made by 18 MoveOn members. I’ve edited the comments to get to the point and removed their town names from their sigs.

So since it's the nature of the ActionForum to forever shove posts down into MoveOn Oblivion, here are their words. Note: some complain of 3000 posts to rate, others 13000. They are simply referring to either the top-rate list or the main forum:


This survey
When I came here I had no idea there were so many questions. Hey this is the computer age, why not find a program to consolidate like questions. I responded to over 200, and am sure there many more worthy of votes, but this is unreal, and one
of the ways the NeoCons will retain power, is they know how to use the press and marketing. Get up to speed Move-On!

- Pat Hacker, Designer (November 04, 2005)



too many questions
The excessive length and repetitive nature of this forum reflect a problem with MoveOn.org... too much information. People are tired of being asked to respond to so many issues. Get organized, prioritize! The republicans do it. If we don't get our
act together we will never achieve our goals.

- Anne Berkeley, retired (November 04, 2005)



DAMN IT MOVEON: WE NEED A SCOTUS FORUM NOW!!!
We need a Supreme Court forum ASAP.... a suggestion that I've repeatedly made here starting last July. Just how does MoveOn intend to fight the Right's takeover of the federal judiciary when it has at its disposal a mechanism to efficiently brainstorm and provide input from its membership, yet MoveOn deliberately sabotages, it?
According to http://www.actionforum.com/general/uniquefeatures.html MoveOn claims the rating system is to allow the best ideas to float to the top. Where's the evidence?
With only one active forum here it has become a dumping ground for all issues. Since MoveOn doesn't allow for traditional threads to discuss a topic, the forum is full of disjointed responses to posts. With so much congestion no one has the time to go though all the posts to even rate them... so the rating system is becomes meaningless... and those that make it to the top have more visibility so they get read and voted on more. In the mean time the vote from a single right-wing troll doom a good post to obscurity.
In the past MoveOn has seen fit to create forums on topics as trivial as finding slogans http://www.actionforum.com/forum/index.html?offset=0&forum_id=269 http://www.actionforum.com/forum/index.html?offset=0&forum_id=271
While http://www.actionforum.com/general/uniquefeatures.html says these forums support replies... it's clear that's not true.
Yet MoveOn has had forums that allowed for ratings AND discussion... http://www.actionforum.com/forum/index.html?offset=0&forum_id=265
We have every right to ask why MoveOn is not now providing us with more forums and the option to have simple discussions we expect from every other web forum.
Otherwise this forum is a waste of time and provides only the illusion of member input.

ulTRAX, researcher (November 04, 2005)



Forum Change
This forum is good, but it needs a bit more organization. It needs folders for topics that keep being reiterated. For example, election reform, health care, Iraq, all need groupings. I also agree with another user who said that a discussion type board might be a better format. I agree with portions of some statements, but not all. It would be great to be able to refine some of the ideas presented here through dialogue instead of statements.

- Melissa Angel, teacher (November 06, 2005)



MoveON Objectives
Convert MoveOn's Forum to facilitate communication between MoveOn members. That should be the number one objective to aid in the strengthening of this organization.

- Holly, consultant (November 07, 2005)



good bye
I feel compelled to post a note explaining why I'm leaving you and "your" 3.3 million members. Previously I have supported you quite a bit because I have generally agreed with your stated purposes, but I have always been bothered by your closed system. "Democracy in Action"? 3.3 million "members" and no internal elections? You won't even post your financials, and I never even got a form-letter response to my queries -- both electronic and by paper mail to your offices, I might add. Signing your emails with just your first names only irritates me. You constantly write about "we" and "us" but near as I can tell your own organization is modelled on 14th century monarchies. No thanks. Where is your own accountability? This forum? I don't think so. You can pick and choose and do whatever you want with the millions of dollars that earnest people contribute. Well, I'm sorry Joan and Wes, but you've kept this thing too tightly held, and I can only really vote with my feet, which I will now do. I wish you well in general, because I still agree with most of your positions. But frankly I have to wonder if on balance you are hurting the progressive cause. You have become almost a self-parody, a favorite foil for the Right. Your reactions and positions have become 99% predictable. Everything is a crisis and an emergency now, and always to be solved by sending you yet more unaccounted-for money. When you asked me to contribute $500 to a "matching fund" (matching whom? myself?) that was the final insult.

It's been fun. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

- Richard Minner, Director of Engineering (November 08, 2005)



MoveOn: Is anybody listening?
Below is a copy of an inquiry I submitted to the link provided at the bottom of the Forum home page: To: info@actionforum.com Sent: Wed, 09 Nov 2005 16:12:52 -0500 Subject: Status of action forum Please tell me how the Forum is being used, as it states, to set MoveOn's agenda, when members' postings merely get pushed further and further back as new postings appear daily, making it impossible to track any given topic or its response? Many, many others obviously share my belief that the number one priority for the country right now is to address the issue of impeachment and/or war crimes prosecutions of Bush and his top echelon. Why has this been ignored by you, when the mood of the country has never been more receptive to addressing the war and related criminal policies of this government, and when your own members express growing frustration with your lack of responsiveness?

- Kathy Parsons, School employee (November 09, 2005)



Make MoveOn more accessible!
You're very good at sending out "Do This" messages, and that's fine--but this forum seems to be the only way to contact anybody at MoveOn, and it's damned near impossible to get any sort of response. CONVERSATIONS GO BOTH WAYS. The Forums are fine in a general way, but a person could spend all day searching through them. Is there any way to organize the Forum into categories, such as election reform, environment, Iraq, corporate special-interests, corruption... I realize all of these are affected by election reform, so I think that's the most critical issue if we're going to restore democracy to America ... but posting and commenting here feels like shouting down a well. This is the most awkward, user-unfriendly forum system I've seen anywhere. It doesn't feel like a 'conversation,' because there's never any response from MoveOn management, and the emails urging people to participate here seems more like a PR maneuver.

- Jan Lindner, human being (November 10, 2005)



Action Forum Rating Bias?

I don't see how the neutral, objective Action Forum Rating System keeps an issue that only got 17 votes as the Number One "Top Comments" on Action Forum. I also don't understand how a comment in "Recent Comments" that only got one vote is kept in
the top five "Recent Comments" inspite of other more "Recent Comments" getting higher ratings and more votes. I find it interesting that those two comments that are kept "in view" of Move On readers are probably issues that Move On leaders personally endorse. I am a Move On supporter, however, I have to wonder what is going on here!

- Bari L. Sanger, Self (November 14, 2005)



re: Action Rating Forum Bias? - Reply to Timothy Hansen
Thanks for the reply and information. Today, I posted my first ever comment on Action Forum, "Draconian Mandatory-Minimum Sentencing Requirements". I guess I was totally dismayed to find that my comment rapidly went down the "Recent Comments" list
because, (1) a comment that was made before mine was somehow "reposted" in its entirity above my comment (even though it was an older "Recent Comment" - See "The Graham Amendment..."), and (2) comments that were not in the original listed order somehow appeared in the middle of an already established line order. I guess I was also frustrated because I thought I had an important issue/information to pass along to Move On members. To see it "buried" so quickly made me wonder why I even bothered. Is there a better way to bring up these kind of issues?

- Bari L. Sanger, Self (November 14, 2005)



The forum needs a SEARCH function to truly see what people consider the MOST important!
the basic idea of this forum is great. HOWEVER - if you REALLY want to know what's important to members - don't force people to read EVERY letter on EVERY subject just to FIND the letters that address the topics they agree are the MOST CRUCIAL! - let us search for topics we believe to be the most crucial and let us vote on them - or add our own. There are rare moments when I have the time to read a lot of other people's comments on a million issues. Sometimes it's enlightening. But most of the time it's just frustrating - and counter-productive. So people write their own letters that often end up reinventing the wheel over and over! If you've got the time to write a letter - great. If you've got the time to wade through what everyone else has written about a million different topics - great. But give the majority of people who don't have the time to wade through a million various topics a place to use their time more EFFICIENTLY - let us SEARCH for the topics we DO believe to be the most crucial. We can then vote on letters - or write our own. You don't even have to change the way you're doing it now - just ADD A SEARCH OPTION for the rest of US. THAT would tell you what people REALLY think is important!

- suzanne allison, Graphic Designer (November 15, 2005)



re: Bari - Action Forum Rating Bias? - Reaching Move On
Many thanks to Timothy L. Hansen for his comments, advice, explanations, input, etc. They are extremely welcome and helpful. However, I will still have to admit that I am still somewhat doubtful that the Action Forum is a good place for "concerned citizens" to "take action". Perhaps there is a better way to organize Action Forum into a more interactive media, with search engines, groupings, what not. I am not a "techie", but, I am sure some of you out there know how to really make this work. How about it folks, why don't you let Move On leaders know that we need a better, revamped, and more interactive Action Forum. Make your posting on this today!

- Bari L. Sanger, Self (November 15, 2005)



More Interactive Action Forum? Take a Vote!
Please vote YES or NO, and please mark an "importance rating". Would you like to see a better designed and more interactive Action Forum with the ability to develop threads, replies, groupings, search capabilities, follow-up, etc? VOTE NOW!

- Bari L. Sanger, Self (November 15, 2005)



I Give Up on Action Forum
Action Forum is just too time consuming and frustrating to use. I have made a honest and erstwhile attempt to participate in this forum. I feel like I am just spinning my wheels here. I have no choice but to search for other avenues for better ways to "advocate" and "fight for" for a better America. Good luck folks...

- Bari L. Sanger, Self (November 15, 2005)




WE NEED A SUPREME COURT FORUM ASAP
In the past MoveOn has seen fit to create forums on topics as trivial as finding slogans:
http://www.actionforum.com/forum/index.html?offset=0&forum_id=269 http://www.actionforum.com/forum/index.html?offset=0&forum_id=271
So why isn't there a forum so MoveOn can get member feedback on protecting the Supreme Court?

ulTRAX, researcher (November 16, 2005)



NEXT FIVE!!!!!!!
When I hit next five, that's what I want. Not taken back in your archives to stuff written 6 months ago. And I shouldn't have to go through 120 posts to see the reactions of the post I wrote yesterday. We are interested in what we think is important, not what the monitor wants us to think is important.

- rjhangover, musician (November 21, 2005)



Forum for goals
I do not think this forum format works to set goals. I open up the forum and I see that there are 12,000 submissions for me to puruse. Dempocracy is great but direct democracy for more than 20 people is unworkable. You need a more focused discussion format.

- Steve Cohn, none (November 25, 2005)



13,000 Comments are Too Many
This forum is poorly organized and impossible to use effectively. I calculate it would take 54 8-hour days to read through all the comments. I urge actionforum.com to make the following upgrades to make it useful:
1) break postings down into topic areas
2) make the entire forum searchable
3) make individual topic areas searchable This would allow users to effectively support issues they are passionate about and decrease duplicate posts.
For all I know, there are already 100 posts on this topic, but I'm not going to spend 54 days looking for them.

- Thomas J. Willis, Merchant Seaman (November 27, 2005)



The forum has too many comments and is hard to use!
There are 13000 comments in this forum. How do expect your guests to find topics they are interested in, review them and comment on them? Also, several of the first comments are all on paper ballots and repeat ideas. You need a moderator for this forum to reduce and organize the number of comments.

- Bruce A. Ernst, Information Technology (November 28, 2005)



KEEP THIS ON TOP BY VOTING FOR IT!
My suggestion is to index the actionforum.com. The problem with this system is that when I go to this page, I only see one, maybe two ideas and they float to the bottom
quickly...out of sight, out of mind. How can we all get behind one idea when you have to do a million page clicks to find one that you support?? THIS FORUM NEEDS INDEXING!!!

- Joseph Dowdy, Entertainment & Technology (November 28, 2005)



Better organization of the Action Forum
With over 3000 comments, there needs to be some active knowldge management and categorization. The like comments need to be grouped together under specific headings ie; Election Reform would be the major category with sub-headings of Voting porocess, campaign finance reform, Redistricting. Without someone actively managing this knowledge base, only the items which float to the top get viewed - it is difficult to have time to view all 3000 items, so you tend to start at the beginning and only go part way through the items.

- Linda Stone, Retired Management consultant (November 28, 2005)



Forum Useful??? Not for Us
I guess that moveon will use a word scan program to find out what is coming up over and over... but I don't think it is helpful for a dialogue or communicating for us. I also do not think a word scanning program is the way to set priorities. Just one woman's opinion. :-)

- June Mohns, Property Manager (November 29, 2005)



MoveOn...PAY ATTENTION
This is simply a reiteration of a past comment, but needs to be heard by MoveOn, otherwise what is the point of this forum? An opportuinty to Search Subjects would be useful.

The forum has too many comments and is hard to use! There are 13000 comments in this forum. How do expect your guests to find topics they are interested in, review them and comment on them? Also, several of the first comments are all on paper ballots and repeat ideas. You need a moderator for this forum to reduce and organize the number of comments.

- Bruce A. Ernst, Information Technology (November 28, 2005)
Scores (13) 78% AGREE


- Sherril Smoger-Kessous, Speech Pathologist (November 30, 2005)


(updated 9-19-06)

ulTRAX

Friday, March 10, 2006

ActionForum: MoveOn's Self-inflicted Lobotomy... a virtual debate

This article is written with the sincere hope MoveOn will rethink its dysfunctional ActionForum. Given that so many of the forum's features... even the reply function, have been disabled, this is a virtual debate with MoveOn's ActionForum Webmaster. I will respond to his words taken directly from his posts.... some have been nuked. I've included the date which each was posted. Since I keep finding new posts, this article may be revised a few times a day. This is a follow-up to my original critique of the ActionForum in the article below this one.

Any political organization is only as effective as the quality and implementation of its ideas. To insure a constant flow of quality ideas MoveOn teamed up with ActionForum to run an e-democracy forum that claims to specialize in
· Think Tanks
· Policy Formation
· Planning & Public Participation Processes
· Research and Development
· Corporate Decision Making

It is my contention that each time there's a problem at the forums, MoveOn's idea of a "fix" is to further sabotage its own e-democracy model. So much of its potential benefit has been deliberately destroyed that it amounts to a self-inflicted lobotomy. The forum now denies the leadership access to the ideas, creativity, and cooperative potential of the membership.

As for why there is but ONE forum for all 3.3 MILLION MoveOn members:
TIM H. November 15, 2005:
Imagine you attend a public meeting, you walk into a large room and there, one by one, people are getting up and addressing the group about what is important to them. You listen, sometimes you clap and some times not. Some people you are bored with and some you find fascinating. Since so many people are giving speeches you can't possibly listen to all of them, but you discover that you can hear a repeat of those that the people clapped the loudest for without too much difficulty. It is exhausting, but you learn a lot about what the group as a whole thinks important by what they clap at. You also learn about yourself when your clapping doesn't match with the others. You begin to sense a community with the other participants.

RESPONSE: Nice cozy analogy but it falls apart under the most cursory examination. Town meetings come to an end. They do NOT ramble on for nearly 18 months with a slow trickle of people coming in to speak, listen, or applaud. People have their say but it's not just to hear themselves speak... there's a purpose behind it: to have input into an eventual policy vote. The current forum model is no town meeting. It is a dumping ground for all topics. It has no direction. It never breaks down into subcommittees to focus on a problem. It just churns out posts, few of which are read. There is no attempt to harness the talents of the membership to devise strategy and action plans. The rating system is dysfunctional since it has several built-in defects discussed at length in my last article. It can never work in the absence of guidelines nor can it meaningfully compare apples to aardvarks. Your insistence on just one forum also means the entire e-democracy decision making/policy development model you once championed can never work.

You wrote above It is exhausting, but you learn a lot about what the group as a whole thinks important by what they clap at. That is another gross misrepresentation of what goes on at the ActionForum. In reality the group as a whole is NOT at work rating posts. As I posted in the last article I found one post with 20199 votes proving that there are were once at least that many unique forum members. I did an average of the votes per post for one sample day, December 12, 2005. I did not include posts that benefited from the rating system's display bias 2 of which had several thousand votes. The average was 8.9 votes per post. That meant the average post may be rated by miniscule 0.00045% of members registered at the MoveOn forum. Your constant effort to put lipstick on a pig borders on scandalous.
TIM H. February 25, 2006:
A structure of a forum is a balance of many competing interests. There are trade offs. Depending on your agenda, you may or may not be happy with the trade offs. The structure of the forum primarily supports people who are proposing ideas to MoveOn. Every comment is read at least twice by MoveOn, summaries are made, comments passed on.

RESPONSE: My agenda is simple: an organization like MoveOn is only as effective as the quality of its ideas. A killer idea implemented in a timely manner is worth its weight in gold. Since this forum is the ONLY forum MoveOn provides its members and it's MoveOn's PREFERRED method of receiving input members, I simply want to insure the forum DOES provide quality input on a timely basis. That's why it distresses me so to see that MoveOn continues to sabotage its own e-democracy model. It alienates many committed MoveOn members who have left in disgust. Now I think the REAL question here is since YOU were once a big supporter of the e-democracy model which you STILL BRAG ABOUT even while you refuse to implement it, what's YOUR agenda? Why insist on a format when you know members can never read all the posts? Worst... why continue with a model you admit is on overload. Four months ago you wrote this
TIM. H November 11, 2005:
MoveOn's forum is a large forum. This means that there are more comments than anyone person can, or would want to read. The description of ActionForum was written for a small forum where one would expect one to read all the comments. Since MoveOn has grown very large, its forum is large.

So you fully admit the forum does not permit members to read every post. So why does MoveOn REFUSE to fix the problem? Why run a forum in a manner that is so user-UNfriendly, that can't provide members easy access to the issues they care most about, and that has a worthless rating system? Why not just do what EVERY OTHER FORUM DOES: create numerous issue-specific forums and permit discussion. This would allow for an efficient concentration of people interested in a topic and permit synergy. Yes Tim... some believe there's a greater benefit to CONCENTRATING members interested in a topic as has been done at ActionForum in the past.
TIM H. February 25, 2006:
There are people out there who don't like the fact that their comment doesn't get much traction. They blame the forum structure and write comments like ulTRAX's. They are angry. They scream "fix the forum" as if there is something wrong with it or that they would like it any better if it was changed.

RESPONSE: You wrongly assume that anyone who has a problem with the way you run the forum has petty motives. That's an insult to committed members who simply want to see MoveOn live up to its e-democracy promise... or see that MoveOn is getting QUALITY INPUT from its members. I could care less if my ideas get "traction" in the current forum since as a Progressive I already know my ideas don't appeal to most liberal Democrats. Without clear guidelines, with too many topics, and with the built-in biases the rating system comes up with winners and losers, but it's all meaningless. In fact I suspect the rating system has a perverse effect, training those who can tolerate your forum to write post that appeal to the lowest common dominator. One of the other reasons I find your forum an exercise in utter frustration is one can post what seem like common sense ideas and never know why there are some "disapproval" votes since you refuse to enable responses. BTW, you refused to ever answer the question whether those running the forum are voting.
TIM H. February 25, 2006:
MoveOn could add replies, they have the software. But very few people will read the replies--and often there is very good information there. Also, the number of stupid on liners would go up, as would rants and flame wars. It is much better instead of writting a reply that one simply write a new comment addressing the issue.

RESPONSE: There you go again... because YOU think some might not read responses you feel justified eliminating them. It's really up to the two parties, the original poster and the responder, to decide the value of a conversation.... NOT YOU. Some responses might contribute to improving a killer idea that could be invaluable at a political tipping point. But you obviously don't believe in synergy or collective brainstorming. The reply function is a feature taken for granted at every other forum I've even been to... and I belong to about 40. Your idea of posting replies unconnected to the original post is also absurd... especially since by design anything posted in your forum is forever pushed down and there's no reason for anyone to even look for responses. And that's EXACTLY what happened today. While combing the forum for your posts, I stumbled across a post you wrote to me back on July 17, 2005. I never saw it until today.

And to add contradictions to absurdity last November 11th last year YOU recommend to someone complaining that they could not read all the posts:

No one expects you to read them all. That is why they are rated. Read the top 20 or so of the top comments, look at some of the recent comments, and if you have something compelling tell us what you think.

In essence you were aggravating a bias of the rating system by encouraging the rating of top listed posts which already have an advantage.
TIM H. February 25, 2006:
We could divid the forum into topics, but then we wouldn't all be on the same page, and the forum would truly just be talking to the choir. The benefit would go down.

TIM H. March 1, 2006:
But there is a bigger problem with topics. People only look at what they think they are interested in. It is true for me. I never would have taken voting paper trail seriously, or peace building for that matter, if this forum us divided into topics. This is because I never would have looked at the topic, I never would have known there was something there. So dividing into topics won't make it so more people view a comment before it is buried, but it will make it so only the choir looks at the comment. Don't get me wrong, topics are good for somethings--like forums on antiques, sports, etc. MoveOn wants you to be able to address the whole group, not just those interested in a particular topic.

RESPONSE: You keep harping that having one forum means everyone's on "the same page"... yet there HAVE BEEN OTHER FORUMS HERE. There's McCain-Feingold forum you still give as an example on the Unique Features page. Below is a partial list of some discontinued forums I've found:

FORUM 263 started November 2003:
http://www.actionforum.com/forum/index.html?offset=0&forum_id=263

Help decide the slogan for the first MoveOn.org Voter Fund T-Shirt
FORUM 265 started January 2004
http://www.actionforum.com/forum/index.html?offset=0&forum_id=265

What "great goals" would you choose for our nation?
FORUM 267 started Jan 2005:
http://www.actionforum.com/forum/index.html?offset=0&forum_id=267

What is your top question for DNC Chair Candidates?
FORUM 268 started Feb 2005:
http://www.actionforum.com/forum/index.html?offset=0&forum_id=268

Help Choose A Name for MoveOn's New Organizing Campaign
FORUM 269 started March 2005:
http://www.actionforum.com/forum/index.html?offset=0&forum_id=269

Suggest a slogan for Operation Democracy, our new campaign
FORUM 270 started May 2005:
http://www.actionforum.com/forum/index.html?offset=0&forum_id=270

Tell us what you want Operation Democracy to do.
FORUM 271 July to August 2, 2005:
http://www.actionforum.com/forum/index.html?offset=0&forum_id=270

This was the forum to find an anti-Rove slogan.

Curiously while you were directing members to post in the correct Rove Slogan forum you must have created, you were, just days before, defending the idea of NOT having other forums:
Tim H. July 19, 2005:
Get a search feature, divide up into multiple forums and loose the ability to pitch your ideas to a lot of new people. You then will only be able to talk to the choir--what good is that.

What good is it? It's the only SMART way to run the contest. You keep arguing against policies that MoveOn followed just a year ago. You were Webmaster then. YOU MUST HAVE CREATED THE ABOVE FORUMS. If not then I await your public condemnation of those who dared violate this precious "same page" philosophy.
TIM H. February 25, 2006:
And yes, the information about the forum is dated. It is time to do version 3, but I don't see fundamental changes. I believe that MoveOn does need something more, in additon to the forum. I believe we should have an online thinktank so investigate some core issues. It is not top priority, 2006 election is. But it is important.

If you think there should be a think tank, why isn't there one? If election 2006 is so important... WHY ISN'T THERE AN ELECTION 2006 FORUM? Defeating Roberts and Alito was also important... yet MoveOn REFUSED to create special forums to discuss strategy. I think that refusal went a long way in insuring MoveOn's campaign to protect the federal judiciary was poorly thought out and ineffective. As for the software, it's so user-UNfriendly it doesn't even rise to the quality of kludge. GET RID OF IT!
TIM H. February 25, 2006:
There are metrics for judging a forum. By many of them ActionForum is tops. Our comments word count is very good, we have relatively few flame wars. Our content is diverse and we have a very large number of people posting. This is done with automatic posting with moderating after the fact. ActionForum works well.

RESPONSE: The only REAL metric that counts is if ActionForum is doing EVERYTHING IT CAN to insure an efficient method of providing the leadership with meaningful input from the membership on a timely basis. If the leadership wants guidance on specific issues, short-lived ad hoc forums should be created with clear questions for the membership to address. The site should be user-friendly, allowing a member to easily find a topic they are interested in. This REQUIRES that issue-specific forums. Such forums would encourage synergy in developing ideas. The site SHOULD provide members with a sense of community. There's no cooperative teamwork in the current forum nor is there ever any end-product as was the case in the forums listed above. By THESE standards ActionForum is an utter failure.
TIM H. March 1, 2006:
We had replies for a few years on the great goals forum. We also took a very hands off approach to moderating. By Feb 2004 things had deteriorated to the point we had to take action. People, who weren't MoveOn members were coming on and posting stuff that wasn't appropriate. We disabled some types of links and we eliminated the replies function. We created tools to remove and block people and to just move comments. In my view it was a noble effort that failed because of a very small percentage of people. There was a good side, we learned more about community.

RESPONSE. How do other forums deal with such problems? Certainly they don't self-sabotage their own intent. Perhaps the real message here is the current FORUM is based on a defective design. Why doesn't MoveOn just do what all other forums do: GET REAL MODS! Why this seeming need to run the MoveOn forum on the cheap? Is MoveOn unwilling to put up funds to provide its members a REAL forum?
TIM H. March 1, 2006:
With time our understanding of how change comes about, what moves people evolved. I believe that repetition is very important, that hearing it over and over, from different sides, from different views, is the most effect way to move people. There is nothing wrong with redundant comments, they serve an important purpose.

RESPONSE: Since when can YOU claim some monopoly on how a forum will be valuable to the 3.3 MILLION members MoveOn claims to have? As for redundant comments, one would expect to see them in a forum filled with liberals/progressives. But what's the point of an endless stream of posts calling for impeachment, perhaps 10% of all posts, yet providing no place to discuss/develop impeachment strategy?
TIM H. March 1, 2006:
ActionForum cupports dialogue, not discussion. There is a difference. Discussion comes form percussion, hitting on something over and over--arguing. People who think discussion is important have the view that there are magic words that will somehow change the beliefs of people. If the right words could just be said, people will change. There is no indication that this is true for value based beliefs.

In reality your statement is a distinction without a difference. You sound like a hair-splitter trying to reconcile the ORIGINAL INTENT of these forums with what they have degenerated into. What we're talking about is simply the REPLY function.... something EVERY OTHER FORUM HAS.
TIM H. March 1, 2006:
What works is hearing peoples stories, their beliefs. What also works is having people tell their stories. Change is slow, but happens. Many people on this forum have move me in a different direction, they moved me not through arguments, but through careful examination from many different sides.

RESPONSE: That's just YOUR opinion. Since when is this forum about YOUR needs? Wasn't the original intent to provide MoveOn with useful feedback from the membership? It's not that difficult to have a General Discussion forum AND issue-specific forums.
TIM H. March 1, 2006:
There are many forums out there. There is probably not one structure that will fit everyone. Forums are self-selecting--unless moderators kick people off. If one doesn't like the forum they should simply self select somewhere else.

RESPONSE: Pray tell Tim... what is so difficult about providing forums to suit the needs of ALL MEMBERS?
TIM H. June 14, 2005
MoveOn wants to know what its members think, not what a self selected subgroup of its members think. MoveOn wants its members to be able to address the group as a whole, not just a subgroup.

Really? I believe the nature of the ActionForum is so polarizing it, in essence, is now selecting the members. Anyone who is used to traditional forums or believes in e-democracy will quickly get disgusted and leave... or banned for trying to reform the place. This raises a legitimate question whether those who remain or even thrive in this dysfunctional environment provide a representative cross section of the membership MoveOn claims it wants. I don't believe they can. So when you say we should just "trust" them to rate the posts that may help set the agenda for the organization.... my answer is no thanks!
TIM H. March 5, 2006:
Well, say we had ten groups, most of the comments would still end up in just 3 or 4 of the groups, so there would still be to many to read. There would be too many to read even if they were evenly divided. We trust the majority of our fellow members to rate the comments we can't get to. By dividing the task up amoung all of us, no one has to read all the comments. The top comments simply are the one the majority of us think most important."

The majority thinks the top posts are the most important? That's utter nonsense. You KNOW the rating system can rate higher a post approved by a mere 10 members than one approved by 10,000 members but has 1000 disapprovals. As for telling members that they should just "trust" others to represent them, that is an insult. MoveOn members have a RIGHT to have a forum that presents suggestions in a user-friendly manner... not a poorly designed and operated forum that tries to jam everyone into one forum because of some bizarre "we want members to be on the same page" theory.

In the end there's really NO reason for everyone to read everything. But those interested in a specific topic should be able to read/rate ALL the ideas dealing with that topic. Having numerous issue-specific forums would spread the post load making them easier to read/rate. Forums should not exist forever. They should be created to address issues that the leadership has to make a decision about or needs advice on. There was a recent letter about Bush/Katrina. Before it went out there should have been a forum created asking the membership how best to exploit this issue.

One last thought... I think it's clear you and MoveOn need to think about what this farce of a forum does to MoveOn's reputation.

(revised 3-12)

ulTRAX

Thursday, March 02, 2006

STALAG 266: The Dark Side Of MoveOn.Org

This is part one of three articles on MoveOn. It is written with the sincere hope MoveOn will rethink its dysfunctional ActionForum.

I once has immense respect for MoveOn. It seemed to have its act together in the battles it chose to fight. MoveOn house meetings embraced and encouraged a spirit of equality and open expression. Which is why their on-line forum seems so shockingly out of character. Compared to other on-line political forums, its operation is so restrictive it deserves the designation of Stalag 266.

MoveOn is only as effective as the quality and implementation of their ideas. To that end the ORIGINAL idea behind these Action Forums is intriguing. Here is a 2001 proposal for an e-democracy policy development forum by the current Webmaster of ActionForum.

On http://www.moveon.org/about/ MoveOn claims:

How does MY voice count?
At MoveOn, every member has a voice in choosing our shared direction. Using our ActionForum software, you can propose issue priorities and strategies. Others will see and respond to your suggestions, and the most strongly supported ideas will rise to the top. We adopt the issues that rise to the top as our campaign priorities. In 2000, for example, our members chose campaign finance reform and protection of the environment as our two top issues. In 2003, Iraq and media reform rose to the top. We'll also continue take the initiative to organize quick action on other timely issues as they arise.

What a crock! The Webmaster has admitted that a post with as little as 10 votes can rate higher than a post with 10,000 votes.

Yet I can see this model producing meaningful results under given certain conditions. One example was a short-lived forum from January 2005. Members were asked: "What is the most important question for us to ask each of the DNC Chair candidates and report back to the MoveOn membership?"


But now instead of providing an e-democracy forum to develop and vote on ideas, MoveOn continues to sabotage their own model. In the process they've sabotaged the hope of quality input from its membership. It amounts to a self-inflicted lobotomy. The MoveOn forum is now a suffocating straightjacket that violates the very principles they once claimed were their strength. Yet ActionForum STILL BOASTS about those features it REFUSES TO ENABLE! Check these pages:
http://www.actionforum.com

/afstrengths.html

/how_does_it_work.html

/uniquefeatures.html


We see statements such as:
"ActionForums are structured to promote a productive dialogue by the rise of ideas with broad support. They make clear where agreement and disagreement lie. ActionForums support threads of comments and replies to comments ordered by the preference of the participants rather than chronologically. ActionForums are fair and non-partisan because they operate according to a content neutral set of rules, which are applied automatically

We’re told ActionForum: “Encourages Dialogue”, “Builds Communities”, “Enables Collaboration”, “Identifies Areas of Consensus”, Generates Reporting that gives the information you need to take an Action.

Really?

Until August 2005, MoveOn has had other several issue-specific forums on various topics, one to find a t-shirt slogan. Yet MoveOn REFUSES to offer forums on VITAL TOPICS like protecting the federal judiciary, reframing the Progressive message, election 2006, impeachment, developing a long-term vision, taming corporations, constitutional reform, free trade, etc.

MoveOn now only promotes but ONE forum... its National Great Goals forum. This last one started back in mid-November 2004. Predictably it's become a dumping for every topic a MoveOn member can think of... most have NOTHING do with goals. Even the most highly rated posts rarely have anything to do with goals. The forum now has over 40,000 posts.... most of them have just a handful of ratings.

MOVEON SABOTAGED ITS OWN RATING SYSTEM:

The rating system was to let the best ideas rise to the top… and permit the members to “police” the forum since the good would drive down the bad. Yet what rises to the top are often bland, feel-good, statements that with nothing specific to object to and certainly can’t not provide MoveOn with any useful input. Since there are no useful guidelines to provide a common rating standard anything can rise to the top. Here’s one that was the #1 post on March 1st in MoveOn Land:

Re: Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You - You forgot AIPAC
Liberty Pilgrim, you forgot to mention the most dangerous one of all, the one riding the multi-headed beast – AIPAC.
- Dan XXXX, Marketing (March 01, 2006; Canton, MI)


It wasn't even a "goal". It's a note to someone. It just briefly beat the odds in MoveOn's dysfunctional rating system. It was vague, and happened to be posted when 10 members were on-line to read/rate “important” it before it slipped into MoveOn oblivion.

The rating system has two components. The first is a simple agree/disagree choice. The second rates ideas on an importance scale of 1-5. A unanimous 10 “most important” votes is the magic number to get a post to the top-rated list. On November 14, 2005, the WebMaster explained it this way:

“Recent comment are just ordered by time. Last posted is top of the list. When (and if) a comment gets over ten importance ratings it will also show up in the top comments. So the a comment with over 10 importance ratings will then be in two places--the chronological list in recent comments, and in the top comments ordered by the average importance ratings.”


Since 10 is such a low number, votes can easily be skewed by right-wing trolls… or mods trying to kill any criticism of the forum. MoveOn claims
“This insures that when a comment is inserted it is relatively close to where most people think it should be.”
The Webmaster continued:
“Since it is an average that is used (total number of stars divided by number of people rating) the number of ratings isn't that important.”

The number of votes ISN’T IMPORTANT? Talk about an arbitrary rating system. It can give a post with the approval of a mere ten members a HIGHER rating than a post with the approval of 10,000 members but with 1000 giving it lower importance ratings. How can this EVER “make clear where agreement and disagreement lie.” as MoveOn claims? It can’t. The rating system provides only the ILLUSION of agreement.

The forum has another built-in bias. When one enters the forum, one first sees the top-rated list not the main forum. This gives the top-list posts an automatic advantage since they have more exposure and thus given more ratings. Some older posts may be read/rated THOUSANDS of times while the vast majority of posts are ignored, get a handful of ratings, then slip into MoveOn Oblivion. For example one post from December 19, 2005 was rated 4888 times on March 1, while the average number of votes for ALL OTHER POSTS written that day (minus one other that obviously also benefited from this bias) was less than NINE! In this example that's a 543x advantage. Was that post 543X better than those other ideas?

So what do the ratings mean if the vast majority of those posts are never rated by even the majority of the members? Scrolling though the top 500 rated posts one (#199155) had 20199 votes proving that there are were once at least that many unique active forum accounts. It comes as no surprise this post was made on the FIRST DAY the Great Goals forum opened… November 17, 2004. Given this membership, the average post from that sample date of December 19th 2005 was rated by a miniscule 0.00045% of those MoveOn members.

Because the ratings compare apples to aardvarks, there’s no logic to the results. Rather than restructure the forum to insure the integrity of the rating system, here’s MoveOn’s “solution”. The Webmaster wrote me last summer saying:
“Every comment is read at least twice. The forum is checked many times each day and some comments usually forwarded to the team each day. Two summaries are done each week for those comments that reflect more long term goals.”

But if the ActionForum had multiple forums… one of which specialized in long term goals, such time-consuming note-taking would not be required. There would be no questions whether the data were being filtered. ANYONE from MoveOn could just go to see what the top rated ideas were in each forum.

There is another more subtle bias. The very nature of the forum’s operation is so polarizing that many who believe in e-democracy or are used to wealth of features in traditional forums have just left in disgust or have been banned for instigating revolts. It is a legitimate question to ask if those who remain or even thrive in this dysfunctional environment provide a representative a cross section of the MoveOn membership? More on this in articles 2 and 3.

USER-UNFRIENDLY IN THE EXTREME

As a MoveOn member I found posting there to be an exercise in pure frustration. I'd post what I believed were common sense suggestions only to get some disapproval votes. I call in anonymous drive-by voting. I'd never know why anyone voted since direct responses to posts are prohibited in Stalag 266. With no reply function and no personal messaging system, the ONLY official option for members to communicate with each other is to further clog up the forum with off-topic notes addressed to others which may never be found, and are sure to soon be buried.

In a few old closed forums that have not yet been deleted the reply function is still active. Instead of being able to open a post and see an entire thread... one must peel back layer after layer to read all the replies. If that wasn’t bad enough, longer posts are themselves broken up into two pages. It is, by far, the worst forum software I’ve ever seen.

Posts are displayed in the forum but also each has their own URL. But one can only rate or withdraw posts in the forum itself... not on the post page. There’s no way to save a link to a post in the forum since they are forever driven down by new posts. It's impossible for someone to post a link to an old post to get votes. If one believes in an idea, they often repost their ideas over and over hoping to get traction. There's also no search function either for keywords or user posts... features most forums take for granted.

The webmaster reports the reply function has been disabled since February 2004 when there were problems with trolls. He's tried to tap dance around this issue by claiming the forum supports "dialog" not "discussion" when in reality the issue is merely the reply feature. Why MoveOn never recruited real mods as other forums have is beyond comprehension.

The forum database software treats each post separately. In those old forums were the reply function was enabled, threads fall apart once the forum is deleted. If one looks at the screenshot on the Unique Features page we see this post and some responses. That “discussion” is now gone. All that are left are posts scattered in the database.

Another problem many complain about is there are too many posts to be effectively rated. There were about 120 posts just for March 1st and 150 for March 2. The logical “fix” would be to create numerous issue-specific forums to spread the load out. Members could read/rate issues they were most interested in. Instead MoveOn has further reduced posting from 5 to 3 a day.

It seems MoveOn's ONLY approach in addressing any problem at the forum is to further sabotage its usefulness. If this is a resources issue, MoveOn better get its priorities straight and stop trying to run a forum for an organization of 3.3 MILLION on the cheap.

WHERE’S THE ACTION IN ACTIONFORUM?

The ActionForum is also misnamed. The forum is currently geared for creating GOALS. NO FORUMS are provided for proposing ACTION PLANS. My belief is these forums could become an invaluable resource IF the site were more dynamic as once promised on http://www.moveon.org/about/. For MoveOn to get effective and timely guidance from the membership, issue specific forums should be created at a moment's notice to allow the membership to brainstorm to fully exploit political opportunities.

Curiously the webmaster thinks this dysfunctional mess is preferable to permitting discussion in traditional threads in issue specific forums. He recently stated
“There are many forums out there. There is probably not one structure that will fit everyone.”

Yet this is the ONLY forum MoveOn provides its members. Members have no alternative but to fight to improve it.

The forum SHOULD be an absolute embarrassment to MoveOn which claims it represents "Democracy In Action". By refusing to either fix ActionForum or discontinue this farce, MoveOn has obviously given up on this forum producing any meaningful input. It also reveals much about how the leadership views the membership.

When I get cynical I tend to believe the MoveOn leadership likes it this way since if there are no specific action plans ever developed and recommended by the membership, the leadership can never be held accountable if they ignore those recommendations.

After some 9 months of agitating there with no results it's safe to say nothing will change. Yet MoveOn is too valuable not to fight to protect... even when its leadership is out to lunch. Please consider the above arguments and try to educate fellow MoveOn members at the forum. Equally important write MoveOn direct here

Feel free to post a link to these blog articles in whatever liberal-left political forums you visit:
http://reinventing-america.blogspot.com

(revised 3-25)

ulTRAX

Saturday, January 28, 2006

We Spent $352 Billion In FY05 And It Bought Us NOTHING

The Right may be on the wrong side of History but their strategy to turn back the clock is as patient as it is brilliant. But it's also immoral if not downright criminal. The $352 BILLION the federal government pissed away in FY05 on a single line item which bought We The People NOTHING proves it. That amounts to about $1200 per person.

For the past 3 decades the Right has been engaged in a number of strategic offensives. The each key element of their strategy serves two purposes... building up the Right while diminishing the Democrats.

One offensive is to defund the Democratic Party. The Right intends to accomplish this though free trade which will undermine labor unions. Another is though tort "reform" which is designed to undercut trial lawyers. Last by attacking public schools which are heavily unionized. All these groups are big contributors to the Democratic Party. These policies have the added benefit of serving the needs of corporations, capital, and social conservatives.

Another offensive is to hijack the federal judiciary by installing radical right-wing judges. The intent here is to challenge the legal basis for the social safety net and as a political pay-back for the social conservatives who are determined to use government to impose their notions of morality on the nation.

The last is to "starve the beast". During the 2000 campaign Bush promised to strengthen Social Security by protecting the surplus and paying down debt. In reality his real intent was to continue the Right's offensive to sabotage government revenues though grossly irresponsible tax cuts. After all, it costs the Right nothing to steal money from future taxpayers to buy votes today anymore than it does to craft bills that benefit special interests. Again, such policies serve a dual purpose. They bring home bacon to the GOP's wealthy and business constituencies while depriving the Democrats of funds for programs that benefit their constituencies. Tom DeLay wanted to go further with the K Street Project and make government kick-backs to GOP donors a quid pro quo. Just look at the goodies written into the Medicare Drug bill for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. The payback was so juicy the true cost of this bill had to be hidden from Congress.

Why do I consider the Right's intent and their policies criminal? Because the GOP has chosen to use fiscal irresponsibility as a political weapon. Since Reagan, the radical right of GOP has been determined to sabotage government finances by creating massive deficits thus more debt. To this end they would prefer to piss away TRILLIONS on interest, some $352 BILLION in FY05 alone, rather than ever see that money spent to help the American People. Given the Right's true intent, it's no surprise Bush was determined to sabotage revenues just when Clinton reached a surplus... and before any debt was paid down.

Interest on the debt is without a doubt the biggest waste of public money in the federal budget. Yet despite the shocking size of this budget item, no Party raises this as a political issue no doubt fearing its potential volatility. Generally both parties prefer to gloss over the complexities of what's on and off budget... as well as the budget numbers themselves, leaving everything abstract. To do otherwise might expose the Right's Big Lie that all waste is to be found in puny programs like Public Broadcasting or the National Endowment For The Arts. Not that the Democrats are much better. Kerry's 04 deficit reduction plan hid a trillion in trust fund borrowing over 5 years.

For budget issues such as interest on the debt to become a potent political issue these immense numbers have to be made less abstract. I can envision two ways to do this. First is to compare that $352 Billion to the budgets of some well known agencies. For instance in FY05 the entire NASA budget was $16.244 Billion. The entire FY05 budget for National Institute of Health (NIH) was $28.8 billion. Combined this amounted to only 12.8% of the money wasted away on interest.

There's another way to bring the message home... though simple images. I have to thank http://www.crunchweb.net/87billion/ for the inspiration behind this exercise.

There's an old expression that a billion here and a billion there and soon you're talking REAL money. So just how big a pile of cash is $352 billion?

Using a micrometer I found a dollar bill is between .0044" and .0050" thick a differential no doubt cause by the high pressure intaglio printing process. I used the average of .0047".

A dollar bill is 6.125" x 2.625" x .0047" slightly different from the numbers used at Crunchweb. That means...

$1.00 bill = .0755671 cubic inches.

$22867.09 can fit in a cubic foot... at least mathematically.

$1 Billion....... 1000000000 / 22867.09 = 43,730.968 cubic feet of cash.

FY05 interest on the debt was 352.350,252,507 Billion.
(source = http://www.publicdebt.treas.gov/opd/opdint.htm)

352.350,252,507 Billion = 15408617.6 cubic feet of cash.

Taxpayer money wasted on FY05 interest would cover a baseball diamond (90' x 90') to a height of 1920'. The World Trade Center Towers were "only" 1368' tall.

Taxpayer money wasted on FY05 interest would cover a basketball court (94' x 50') to a height of 3278.4'

Taxpayer money wasted on FY05 interest would cover an entire NCAA football field (including end zones and sidelines... 160' x 360') to a height of 267.5'

But the interest on the debt is merely a sideshow in the GOP's criminal sabotaging of government finances. What about the debt Bush has run up?

According to http://www.publicdebt.treas.gov on January 20th 2001 when GW Bush took office the national debt was $5,727,776,738,304.64. As of January 26th 2006 the national debt was $8,190,567,748,779.48

In five years George Bush raised the national debt by $2,462,791,010,474.84. That's $2463 BILLION.... an average of about $492.5 Billion a year.

If Bush's debt to date is = $2462.791010474 billion = 107,700,234.87 cubic feet of cash.

This would cover a baseball diamond (90' x 90') to a height of 13,296'

Bush's debt would cover a basketball court (94' x 50') to a height of 22,915' That's a pile of tightly packed $1.00 bills 4.34 MILES high!

Bush's debt would cover an entire NCAA football field (including end zones and sidelines... 160' x 360') to a height of 1869.8'

Back in fall 04 at the Kerry Forum I repeatedly suggested this would make a great 15 second TV campaign ad if aired during football games.

Once these abstract debt numbers are brought down to human scale, the criminal irresponsibility and contempt the GOP has for the nation are painfully evident. But never underestimate the human capacity for self-deception. The Orwellian Right will find some way to justify these crimes and the True Believers on the Right will slop it up like Jim Jones' Cool-Aid.


ulTRAX