Thursday, December 28, 2006

More is Less

Lately I've been allowing my hankering for political discourse to die down a bit. I have a tendency to wander from interest to interest on a cycle lasting a two to three months on average - hence the gap between my last post and this. However, this won't go away, and it's bringing me back. After going about town "listening" to his own advisers in order to decide how to respond to the election's proof of the unpopularity of his war, Bush has decidered to increase troop levels in Iraq. That's right, increase. Not decrease.

But we've been down that road before:


That's what a troop increase looks like when you don't know how else to resolve the quagmire.

So how does Bush come by such a ridiculously stupid decision directly in the face of vast national demand to the contrary? Simple. For Dubya, every day is backwards day. Consider:

Immmediately after the Democrat victory, he said that he was willing to cooperate with the left - mere hours before attempting yet again to nominate John Bolton and a slew of rejected judges.

We're winning in Iraq. OK, maybe we're not winning, but we're not losing. And we don't do quagmires.

The White House definitely had conclusive evidence that Saddam had WMD's. (They'd have shown you the conclusive evidence, but it was so important it was classified. Still is.)

Torture? Yes! (But let's redefine that word to mean something else.)

Habeus corpus? No! (Nobody knows what that word means, so we can leave it alone.)

The NSA's wiretap program has oversight. That means it's legal. (Except that it doesn't have judicial oversight, since no warrants are involved. But what's one word - "judicial" - between friends?)

The people of Iraq will greet us as liberators. No? OK, the people of Iran will greet us as liberators.

We're turning the corner. We're turning the corner. We're turning the corner. We're turning the corner.

Rumsfeld isn't going anywhere! Rumsfeld is gone! (This is the "loyalty" president?)

Karl Rove works on policy. (thus proving that politics is policy in this administration). Paul Wolfowitz runs the World Bank. (Since when is he a finance guy? What qualifies him for this?) Nearly all regulatory agencies are run by former special-interest lobbyists of the industries to be regulated. (of which I have already blathered.)

Up is down. Black is white. Right is left. Bad is good. Time after time after time after time, when faced with a clear choice between a sensible option and a horrifically stupid option, Bush does precisely the worst thing imaginable.

This is what the decider does.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

We Are Not At War

Now that England has openly admitted it, I feel a little less alone in speaking the unspeakable out loud:

We are not at war.

It's a hard thing to say. This is the dirty little secret that every American, from the most flag-waving right-winger to the most hand-wringing left-winger, carries around in the deepest chambers of their hearts, afraid to even think it, much less say it out loud. We spend all day in public spaces discussing the ramifications of our current war, how to resolve the war, why we went to war, and so forth. But when we're alone, in the quiet spaces of our mind, that fleeting thought lurks at the corners of our perception: this is not a war after all. And we know it to be true.

But, we think, what about the terrorists? If we don't wage war with them, then won't they get us? Won't they blow us up? The answer to that is, perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps they'll blow us up anyways. But starting wars in other countries won't stop them from doing whatever they plan to do. Starting real wars with real armies and real guns in order to stop those who use espionage methods against us is sort of like trying to kill bacteria with a baseball bat: not only won't it work at all, but you'll probably smash up a lot of your apartment trying.

Terrorists are stopped by police. Terrorists are stopped by intelligence agencies. Terrorists are stopped by the international cooperation that comes from an unwavering commitment to real diplomacy. Read any Tom Clancy or John LeCarre novel if you don't believe me. Nobody ever caught a terrorist by throwing an army at them.

The terrorists want us to think this is a war. In their minds, they are soldiers in a legitimate confrontation. 9/11 was a provocative act. It was specifically intended to provoke us into thinking we were at war. But that doesn't make it so. By buying into their claim that this is a war, by following their lead, we have lent legitimacy to their narrative. We support the story that they sell to their recruits. We prop them up even as we assail them. It doesn't matter how many terrorists we kill when in so doing we breed them at a greater rate. But there's no scoreboard, no number of dead terrorists after which we get to say we won. In order to stop terrorism, we have to stop the flow of terrorists. We have to defeat their narrative that this confrontation is valid. We have to stop fighting them on their own terms, in an arena of their choosing. Because if this is not a war, then they are not soldiers. If this is not a war, then they are nothing more than criminals, mere murderers.

This is not a war.

Congress did not declare war. In fact, it's been so long ago that Congress actually passed a declaration of war, and we've thrown armies into open-ended conflicts so often, that to speak of war hardly makes sense any more. The President declared it to be so, and shouts it to us often. He wants to be a "wartime president." In fact, he desperately needs to be a "wartime president" in order to make any kind of sense out of his own actions. But the Constitution quite explicitly states otherwise. A real war requires a hard, deliberative choice made by us, not by the President, nor by those who would pick a fight with us in order to magnify their own sense of importance. We decide. They don't decide for us. Besides, the President said it himself, long ago: "Major combat operations have ceased."

We are not at war. In fact, we never were.

This truth is the principal source of unease in our gut. It's the shaky feeling of vertigo we get as some part of us becomes aware that this overriding issue, this single framework that rules over every single aspect of our politics today - has no legs. It makes us uneasy when our leaders speak of "victory," when we don't know what "victory" means. What would it look like? Will one of our generals sit down at a table with the grand poobah of all terrorist groups and make him sign a declaration of surrender? Will the CIA prove that the last terrorist has now been caught or killed? If so, how could they prove such a thing? Will there be a tickertape parade and we'll get all our freedoms back?

How do we win a war that doesn't exist?

It's OK, America. We are not at war. Really, it's OK. Everything can be OK. We don't have to fight any more. We can do our best to stop terrorist plots and catch terrorists without having to send our children to fight and die halfway across the world in the wrong country. We can begin to secure our ports and our transportation systems and our water supplies, like we always should have. We can work with other countries instead of against them, to help convince their people that we really don't want to kill them, and to help actually catch anyone who tries to kill us. We don't have to fight anyone. They can't make us. And it's not too late to stop fighing. It's never too late.

We are not at war. This is not a war.

It's just a mistake.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

DeLay Invents The Internet

TomDelay has announced that he's starting a new group, to be called "GAIN" (for "Grassroots, Activist and Information Network). Problems? Oh yeah, he's going to have problems.

Step one on their agenda should definitely be to raise some cash to buy the domain name "" from the folks who've had it parked for some years now. They'll surely be asking for a pretty penny once they see who's coming after it.

As it is, headquartering your "grassroots" organization's website at is practically an admission that it's got nothing to do with principles and everything to do with trying to forge a new cult of personality. Step one in convincing recruits that your "movement" is independent of the individual behind it is to NOT NAME ITS WEBSITE AFTER YOU. As it is, any conservatives who might be interested in such an organization, but who may be hesitant about hitching their wagon to Tom DeLay's horse are automatically excluded from this group. It's not like he's just the president of their board of directors or something - the group's website IS HIS PERSONAl HOMEPAGE. How is this "grassroots?"

He's also going to have difficulties with the fact that any online political advocacy group, whether conservative or liberal, could accurately (and thus, legally) describe themselves in a grammatically correct sentence using his group's full name. For example: " is a grassroots activist and information network." Thus anyone can water down his group's name, and he can't stop them. You can't legally trademark the correct use of the English language.

What's worse is that the site seems to express a confused attempt to capitalize on something that progressives have been doing well for quite a while now, and as such, doesn't seem completely clear how to define its boundaries. Is it the home page for a vote-drive network? A fundraising network? Is it Tom DeLay's personal website? His blog? A conservative blogger site in general? Is it about getting Republicans elected or is it about defining conservative principles? DeLay doesn't seem clear on what the differences are between these kind of sites. He just knows that "online activism" and "the blogosphere" are useful and effective modern political tools, so he wants one for himself: "Welcome to and thank you for visiting my new blog." Ooh look, it's just dripping with cachet!

Another problem is that unless DeLay has had a total personal change of heart, his site is already lying to us. Consider the following blurb: "Conservatives must act on First Principles. We must organize and act to protect the very principles of: order, justice and freedom that are the touchstones of our founding documents. We must act to speed the return of our government to its constitutional roots and we must organize to protect our freedoms from those who wish to deny them to us." Well, I'm all for that. I couldn't agree more. In fact, if I ever believed a word of it, I might even sign up myself.

Nearly all of the ethical and logical problems with the current state of conservative thought can be traced to a disconnect between first principles and present implementation. However, DeLay is himself one of the leading architects of that break. As Speaker of the House during some of the ugliest years that body has ever seen, he personally orchestrated the prevailing Republican policy that power is its own end. Under that policy, the principles of conservativism themselves are nothing more than tools to be cynically used and exploited as means to shore up his own personal power. Traditionally conservative principles have all suffered as a direct result of his tenure in office; not only the aforementioned order, justice and freedom, but also opportunity, liberty, and support for families as the essential atomic unit of American society.

The website is quite correct to say that "The election of 2006 was an example of what happens to a party and a movement when we fail to fight for the principles that brought us together in the first place." I would only add that this is what happens when you allow yourselves to be led by those who would gladly sacrifice those principles for their own sheer personal power. In doing so, DeLay, Gingrich, Hastert and many others (whether in the White House, Congress or the mainstream media) have twisted what at their core were once quite reasonable principles reflecting a cautious approach to American policy into a set of laughably distorted dogmatic "values" which reflect only the ability of the Republican leadership to manipulate a large portion of the electorate by obfuscating the issues. Here's a quick hint: every time a so-called "conservative leader" says we should re-think any of the provisions of the Constitution, that it's somehow patriotic to give up liberty for an illusion of safety, all true conservatives should be the first to shout "treason!" back. Or are you waiting for the Department of Homeland Security to come after your guns before you'll speak up?

But the biggest problem DeLay is going to have is trying to convince anyone that he's an outsider, a populist rabble rouser invading Washington from the farmland. Not that he isn't trying: "Over the course of my political life I have learned many things, one of which is that not all good ideas come from Washington, D.C.. In fact I think that most of the best ideas come from concerned citizens from all over the United States. Unfortunately, many D.C. insiders are simply incapable of looking outside the capital beltway for fresh opinions and new approaches that might otherwise help our nation." Now I want you all to repeat the following to yourself for at least the next ten years, because he's counting on us all forgetting one very important point: the only reason that DeLay is not presently a Washington insider is because he got kicked out for being completely corrupt.

This organization isn't a grassroots effort of any kind. It has nothing to do with conservative principles. It exists solely to lay the groundwork for a future attempt to resurrect DeLay's political career from the ashes of its self-immolation. Someday, when we've become accustomed to a new generation of incumbents and problems, and have allowed ourselves to forget what things were like under his tenure in office, DeLay expects to reappear in a new guise, as the outsider populist, the right-wing blogger and grassroots organizer who is going to bring Washington back to long-forgotten conservative principles. Kind of like Newt Gingrich is attempting to do now, only with a great deal more foresight.

Perhaps the first of these conservative first principles should be to stop allowing themselves to be cynically exploited by self-aggrandizing criminal users like DeLay.

Conservatism deserves better than this.


Friday, December 8, 2006

In Terms They Can Understand

Recently, there's some hubbub that the recent election's 35-0 skunking of the Republican party is somehow a mandate for "bipartisan, centrist" approaches to the problems that beset our nation. I'll leave it to others to discuss the ridiculousness of that meme. For my part, I'd like to actually explore what it might look like to reach across the national aisle, to translate liberal points into conservative terms. In that regard, I intend to make the case for a progressive approach to public policy, using the kind of pro-business language that Republicans claim to understand.

Many Republican primaries in the relatively recent past have put forth a host of "business conservatives" - those whose battle cry is "let's run this country like a business!" OK, let's. Let's actually take a close look at what sound business practices would look like when applied to America as a whole. Here are a handful of the arguments that could be made.

1. The R.O.I. of human capital

Let's say that your company (America, Inc.) has a significant number of employees (the poor), who, while granted that you're not paying them very much, aren't really getting very much work done - they aren't generating very much wealth for your company. Stockholders aren't happy with slim margins, but you can't fire anybody - "firing" someone from citizenship is nonsensical, and doesn't translate to this analogy. As such, common sense dictates that you should target precisely those employees for development, so that the investment in their earning power will produce enough ROI to widen those margins and improve your corporate profile.

Business language has a tendency to refer to weak points as "opportunities." Underemployment in America is just such an opportunity. There's more room for improvement in the amount of wealth that could be produced by the unemployed and working poor than in any other sector. Your small businesses and entrepeneurs are already doing the best they can (although some targeted assistance in these sectors probably wouldn't hurt). The growth of your large corporations is stagnant merely due to their vast bulk. In fact, our current method of focusing our resources on corporations has indeed left us with an overall economic growth rate widely characterized as "tepid." In order to do better, we need to focus on the "low hanging fruit" (to use another popular business term) which have the most potential for dramatic return on investment.

This isn't merely spending. It's an investment in underutilized human capital. By aggresively targeting those personnel resources which are underperforming, and developing their productivity to sustainable levels. After that, they will on average pay back that investment many times over. The goal should be to develop affluent citizens over time who will be able to simultaneously support the consumer economy and pay a greater return to tax revenues.

The current state of social welfare programs lie somewhere between inadequate support and attempts to merely move the beneficiary "off of welfare" as soon as possible, without regard to where they're moving to.

Confusing the issue, such programs actually count the number of people that they fail to serve as a success rate! It's not uncommon to hear "we've moved X people off of the welfare rolls this year, proving the program a success." To accurately measure the return on that program as an investment, its success should be determined by the actual economic condition of those who have gone through the program, rather than the sheer number of people merely kicked out of it into any job whatsoever. No program should count as success the number of people it refuses to serve.

However, continuing programs have historically failed to improve the real condition of their recipients as well. This is because they give an inadequate amount of blanket "support," keeping those recipients below the poverty line, with no attempt made to foster a permanent increase in their economic status. As a result, they have led to an unbreakable cycle of dependence on meager benefits. Such programs are correctly identified as throwing good money after bad, as they serve neither the best interest of the recipient nor that of the nation; half-measures often produce zero results. In addition, such programs deduct 100% of pre-tax earnings from benefits, and thus actually financially disincentive recipients from working!

An actually effective approach to the underdeveloped human capital problem would not be characterized as a "safety net" but rather as more of a "safety trampoline." A spending level heretofore unprecedented in social welfare programs (i.e. enough to actually do the job) could over time end up costing less than traditional programs, since recipients would only need to stay in the program for a limited time.

Such a program would employ focused, complete expenditures and services targeting specifically those barriers that stand between a given beneficiary and a significantly improved way of life. For example, a benefit package for a given recipient might include not only education expenses, but also targeted assistance with child care, transportation, housing and food assistance during the entire period. Counseling assistance should be integrated into this approach from beginning to end, in order to determine what reasonable package of benefits would best fit for a given recipient's life goals, and to help them stay on track. In addition, only 50% (or some negotiable portion) of pre-tax earnings should be deducted from benefits, in order to create a natural incentive to increase their earning power as they transition out of the program.

2. Effective economic management

One of the philosophical objections to proposals such as that sketched above is that a country which relies upon a thriving free market segment should seek to rely on the free market completely, and avoid any attempts to "meddle" or otherwise manipulate macroeconomic conditions. This philosophy is often based on a dogmatically held view that completely unfettered free markets will somehow naturally resolve all social ills whatsoever, rather than simply create supply to match demand.

However, basing practices on dogma is not necessarily realistic, and therefore constitutes poor business management practice. A historical comparison of economies would serve as data to realistically demonstrate which macroeconomic techniques actually serve our goals.

History demonstrates repeatedly that the inevitable end-product of absolute laissez-faire capitalism closely resembles the common image of the third-world "Banana Republic:" there is a small handful of extremely wealthy individuals, an eroded middle class, and the vast majority of people live in abject poverty, whereas the government consists of little more than its military arm. This scenario has occurred in a great many nations where unfettered capitalism has held sway over a long period, particularly in South America.

Such a situation can hardly be described as thriving capitalism; it would be more aptly described as nothing more than "economic anarchy." And while the handful of rich people in such environments may do well relative to the local median income (which is negligible), it could easily be argued that even those same people would do better operating within an environment with a dynamic and productive majority middle class.

In contrast, the United States itself did not achieve its economic dominance as a world power until the need to recover from the Depression forced it to apply reasonable rules and regulations to encourage sustainable business practices. At the same time, it invested in human and other infrastructure in order to foster an economic climate within which business could thrive. Worldwide, the existence of such rules and programs at a reasonably moderate level consistently coincides with those countries/periods which we count as "prosperous."

The alternative to pure economic chaos is not only absolute totalitarian communism, and to believe so is indicative of extremely childish thinking.

Intelligent and cautious regulation, investment and intervention is necessary to the development of a thriving, sustainable, economic climate. Such an economic climate fosters, rather than inhibits free enterprise.

So let's go back to our analogy. Although it is widely recognized as foolishness for business leaders to attempt to micromanage every aspect of their companies, it would be no less foolish to fail to perform any management at all, to allow the company to run adrift with zero guidance or control over its destiny. But such a situation is precisely analogous to the dogmatic stance of laissez-faire economics.

It is not the business of any one business to manage the economic climate within which they exist. But it is necessary. As such, it is the proper role of government to do so.

3. Globalization as sustainable practice

Many liberals currently decry free trade entirely. However, economic globalization, like technological advancement, is an inevitable worldwide process. As such, merely complaining about its negative consequences fails to produce the kind of discussion which can lead to its intelligent management. However, these issues related to free trade which liberals complain about are in fact not merely questions of justice but are, in the long term, actually self-destructive economic practices.

As mentioned previously, American history has demonstrated that the careful establishment of regulations and economic programs to manage its economy has coincided directly with the rise of America as an economic as well as political superpower. A comparison to disparate societies shows further that precisely such an environment is in fact necessary to allow unlimited economic growth in the long term. Therefore, it should be taken as an alarming development that as free trade expands globally, corporations are using this opportunity to shift production into other regions specifically to avoid those very same regulations and economic programs.

The current model of corporate globalization is little changed from the great mercantile empires of the 18th and 19th centuries. Appearances to the contrary, it is at heart quite a simple process:

  1. Divide a portion of the world into (underdeveloped) producer nations and (developed) consumer nations

  2. Create a flow of resources or goods from the producer nation to the consumer nation

  3. Tap the reverse flow of money from the consumer nation to the producer nation

  4. Use a portion of the proceeds to induce the political bodies in both nations to support the arrangement, including the use of force if necessary

It would not be out of line to characterize such an arrangement as "exploitative." While demonstrably lucrative, such arrangements have been proven time and again to be unsustainable over the long term. For one thing, relying on political bodies or military advantage to sustain a business practice puts control over its support up to chance. For another this typically leads to the long-term destabilization of the producer society once the arrangement finally fails, thus sacrificing the opportunity to maintain alternative economic arrangements. Nearly all of the regions of the world where it is extremely difficult to do business due to political antipathy or instability have become so due to prior use of exactly this sort of "slash and burn" arrangement.

To go back to our analogy of running the country like a business, any business leader who sacrificed significant long-term opportunities in order to "cash in" in the short term would be considered to be doing poorly, and that judgement would be reflected harshly in that company's stock rating. Any company could easily outperform all competitors in a single quarter by selling off all of their assets and laying off all of their employees. But it would be utterly nonsensical to do such a thing. It would in fact, consitute a refusal to do business. Sustainability is a necessary comoponent to any economic enterprise.

The current globalization arrangements sacrifice the opportunity to develop a truly larger pool of consumer markets in addition to mere productive capacity. They seek to maximize their accessible cash flow by maximizing the economic differentiation between producer and consumer nations, not only in terms of monetary power and wages, but also in terms of environmental and worker protections. In addition, good corporate citizenship to promote democracy, human and civil rights is at odds with the policy of supporting the kinds of governments which make the those economic arrangement their first priority. Although engaging in such practices would reduce the short-term cash flow available through free trade arrangements, they would in the long term develop a host of newly developed economic environments which could produce not only resource extraction and goods production, but also thriving services and consumer markets.

Imagine the financial benefit to any company of multiplying its available consumer base by a factor of 100 or more. That's the opportunity that we discard by failing to intelligently manage the process of globalization.

Ideally, each nation should recieve a rating from an independent international body which takes into account that nation's human and civil rights practices, its commitment to democratic institutions, and its legislated protections for such factors as worker conditions, safety, environmental protections and both human and physical infrastrucure development. Trade barriers or tariffs would then be indexed to this rating. This would allow for underdeveloped nations to have a direct economic incentive to improve their profile towards one which fosters a thriving local economic climate, rather than being both economically and politically disincentived to do so.

Again: the Depression and the history of many other nations over many other periods have proven the ultimate failure of economics as exploitation. No business can expect to thrive independently of the health of the economic environment within which it operates. As more and more businesses step into a global environment, it is to their benefit to consider the long-term health of the global economy. In order for globalization to succeed in the long term, we have to manage it in such a way as to develop, rather than exploit, the world. The necessary management techniques to do this have already been demonstrated as effective in developed nations. We refer to these as "rights." All we need do is incrementally export them.

4. Corporations are not the most effective economic entities

At the center of laissez-faire economic dogma is the argument that thriving free markets are produced by incentive, and that therefore all forms of incentive should be maximized. Regulations and infrastructure investment programs admittedly limit incentive to at least some degree. Heretofore, I have only argued for targeted, intelligent restrictions which have been proven to lead to a significant improvement in economic climate.

Although there is certainly a place for large corporations in any viable free market model, the current practice of focusing economic management towards the benefit of corporations is one which inevitably fails to produce the best return for the nation as a whole.

As discussed previously, the bulk of any large company itself prevents it from responding dramatically to policies intended to benefit it, in terms of economic growth or wealth production. The stock of large corporations are called "blue chip" for a reason - they are effectively a large pool of stagnant money, a good place to "park" an investment safely while waiting for a good growth opportunity.

This is because a corporation is not an individual. As such, a corporation's growth does not necessarily equate to incentive for any group of persons.

To illustrate this point more clearly, consider what happens when a corporation is "broken up" into two new entities. Although the capitalization for each is half of that of the whole, the workers within each company face quite the same structure of advancement and pay grade than they had previously - in many cases, better. The stockholders of the corporation also benefit by the split, now holding one share in each of the new entities, which now benefit over the long term from working in a more competitive environment. At no point is the benefit reduced for any individual class of persons when that of the corporation is.

On the one hand, providing tax cuts or other benefits to large corporations or wealthy individuals may produce a noticeable short-term increase in a given economic indicator, such as investment or employment, due to the sheer size of the few entities involved. However, such benefits would produce a much greater return in overall economic growth if they targeted small or enterprise-class businesses or middle class individuals, as those sectors are proven to be much more dynamic in terms of cash flow, productivity, wealth generation and the creation of new markets. They're more nimble, and therefore respond more dramatically to changes.

Incentive, opportunity, and overall macroeconomic R.O.I. are to be found in individual and small-group enterprise. In large corporations, opportunity and potential has largely been exhausted, and the margin of return on investment in that sector is correspondingly minimal.

This point is not intended to demonize corporations, or to characterize them as merely "bad." Merely assigning blame is one of the greatest management blunders known, yet it has been inexplicably integral to public policy discussions for a long time now. Rather, the above point merely intentds to say that government resource allocation intended to benefit the economy is better focused on other sectors than corporate.


The above is a partial list, a starting point. There are surely many other issues that liberals and conservatives seem to disagree on, but when explained in the correct terms are merely a question of effective and intelligent practice. I do believe that for every apparently intransigent issue, there is an approach whereby the ethical thing to do and the effective thing to do agree perfectly. It's usually just a question of analyzing the problem in politically neutral terms.

This just goes to underscore the basic point that all politics is communication. Whether they consider themselves liberal or conservative, all decent people have the same values, all reasonable people work towards the same ends, and all intelligent people can find effective means to achieve them. Therefore, all partisanship and controversy is nothing more than obfuscation coming from those politicians and pundits whose own self interest lies in keeping the rest of us divided from one another, in leading our common interest to fail.


Monday, December 4, 2006

Signal and Noise in the Netocracy

There's a passing phrase in the recent Al Eisele complaint about the unruliness of internet discourse that bothers me: "I guess being brayed at by jackasses who rant and rave anonymously comes with the territory..." While the statement overall is perfectly apt, I want to discuss that one word, "anonymously."

It's unfair to excoriate netizens for being anonymous. This is a favored point of mainstream media (MSM hereafter) insiders to bring up - that you can look up their phone number if you try hard enough, and that the fact that many bloggers or commenters don't have that personal transparency somehow itself makes their opinions worth discounting for that reason alone. Mr. Eisele's offhand comment insinuates that it is the anonymity afforded by the internet which necessarily leads to the presence of such braying jackasses.

This argument might have merit provided that those same MSM "news media" sources hadn't already completely poisoned the practice of reasoned debate long ago. I see no reason why I should give more credence to a Rush Limbaugh or a Sean Hannity than to a KSLibMom or protonx82. It's not like using your real name is any guarantee whatsoever that your opinions will have a shred of merit. In fact, it is people using their real names who long ago started the practice of using fallacy and invective to shroud productive debate in public affairs. Entirely within the MSM world, this has been the case for a long time. Rupert Murdoch's current crusade against common sense in the public interest merely follows in a tradition previously championed by William Randolph Hearst. Limiting public expression to an insular cabal of credentialed contributors beholden to those who control the means of media production is no guarantee that such expression will produce ideas worthy of consideration. Bill O'Reilly would be no less insulting to the intellect of the nation if he wore a mask and called himself "AlwaysRight56." The corrollary of this point is that merely using an internet pseudonym should not be counted as a mark against the substantive content of one's argumentation.

In fact, the opposite may often prove to be the case. When one's name (and therefore credentials) are concealed, then analysis of one's arguments can't be compromised. See Alan B. Sokal and the Social Text Affair for an example of the degree to which a contributor's credentials can spoil the accuracy of editorial analysis and decision making. Also, from the point of view of any online contributor, if the only basis of your reputation is your writing itself, devoid of any "bio" or good name, then you will have an incentive to make your writing better. Those who feel they are known might slack off to rest on prior laurels, whereas those who are ever unknown must re-establish whatever reputation they desire with every word that they type.

Consider also that Mr. Eisele's extremely impressive bio completely fails to prevent him from holding forth exactly the kind of pissy bitch fight with trolls that most experienced netizens had learned long ago to stay well away from. By ignoring the more substantive responses to his previous offering and rather focusing on the replies from trolls, he is inevitably escalating his own discussion towards an event horizon of pure invective. Those of us more familiar with anonymous online discussion long ago learned the argumentative and decision-making techniques necessary to avoid such an eventuality. In contrast, neither Mr. Eisele's work for Walter Mondale, nor his extensive editorial experience on such worthy publications as "The Hill" have left him in the least wise prepared to deal with such a situation. This is a lesson that he's clearly learning the hard way, irrespective of his age and experience in the MSM and public policy worlds.

Mr. Eisele's current predicament exposes some of the difficulties that many MSM insiders are beholden to confront, given that the Internet is currently producing most of the good ideas for the Democratic Party at least. As most MSM "journalists" at present merely write off the new online debate going on all around them with the pithy term "the blogosphere," he should get a certain amount of credit for making any effort to hold an open discussion with the netizenry at all. But to the degree that the media Brahmin choose to engage such unwashed electronic masses directly, they commonly find themselves struggling with how to glean the signal from the noise in this arena, a problem which no amount of classical editorial experience can enlighten - even if you've worked on a "letters to the editor" page for years.

Reputable Journalism was based upon a flimsy unspoken contract that those who presented information in a certain way (e.g. "the news") would conform to certain norms of integrity regarding fact and bias (i.e. "journalism"). That contract has been thoroughly violated by now by those who would replace neutrality with a balance of extremes. One can't trust the word of a talking head with a $200 haircut and a charcoal-gray suit merely because the powers-that-be decided to give him airtime, now that the people in control of that airtime have proven themselves to be partisan hacks. It's far too late to worry about barbarians storming the gate, when the barbarians have been on the inside and running the place for some years now.

But now that the old method of separating Ivory Tower opinion from that of the Screaming Mob is no longer tenable, the question of how best to separate "signal" from "noise" in online debate is becoming increasingly pressing. Some technical approaches may have a certain degree of merit: both DailyKos and TPMCafe use community "rating" systems, in order to identify those contributors who have developed a reputation for worthy argumentation. Such methods at best present a compromise approach between the "Ivory Tower" separation of past eras and the apparent chaos produced by purely anonymous discourse. Nevertheless, "online reputation" schemes themselves risk re-establishing the same problem that classical MSM separation entails: that of creating new "insiders" and limiting the discussion primarily to them. As such, they may ultimately fail due to the risk of being rendered obsolete by newer, more vibrant debates. These are more likely to be produced by those who are focused on the discussion itself rather than on establishing their personal credentials in a new form: the "user rating" as the new resumé.

Whether or not some formal scheme ever pans out for determining one's position in the Netocracy to come, there are a number of techniques that any individual can apply right now which go a long wasy towards helping one participate in more substantive, high-quality discussions and fewer pointless flame wars.

1. Do Not Feed or Tease the Trolls

A "troll" is one who posts commentary designed solely to provoke an impassioned response. As such, it is worth remembering that trolls don't actually care about the issue at hand. In fact, they very well may not believe anything they say. They just want to push your buttons and get you to lower yourself to their level.

Ignore all invective. If something someone typed makes you angry, you should always assume that it was written specifically for that purpose. By allowing them to direct your response through provocation, you also allow them to spoil the quality of your further contributions.

2. Just because someone's mad at you doesn't mean they don't have a point

In supporting point (1) above, bear in mind that someone making a substantive point might also sprinkle inflammatory terms into their response. If you treat them as a mere troll, it makes it look like you fail to understand (or can't beat) their actual point. Blithely ignoring someone's substantive points, no matter how high-minded your reason for it, makes you look like you lack the ability to form a cogent response to them.

This situation is best resolved by engaging only the substantive portion of their reply, responding as if they had never called you a "fuckwit" to begin with. Think of expletives and abuse as a form of punctuation, expressing only the strength of feeling of a given point. Feel free to use it in the same fashion.

3. Remember that Critical Thinking class they made you take?

The Athenian Greeks developed formal logic as the basis of the practice of Philosophy primarily as a response to a similar situation, brought about by their early experiment with Democracy: when all voices are equal, how can one determine whose opinions have the greatest merit?

Dust off that old Phil 101 textbook and use its precepts to construct your posts and to critique those of others.

In Conclusion

The above is by no means a complete list of techniques for getting the most out of digital discourse. It is rather a mere handful of suggestions which represent the bare minimum that should be expected of any online contributor who wishes to be taken seriously in the online arena. Google the term "Netiquette" for any number of more complete and informative treatments than the bare sketch presented above.

However: In any online discussion, these techniques (and others) are no less a necessity for those accustomed to walking the halls of power than for those who never moved out of their parents' basements. No one gets a free pass. Because in the future, it won't matter which Vice-Presidents you worked for, what lofty publications you helmed, or how many years' experience you have put in to the practices of public policy development and responsible journalism. You will be judged today by what you write today, and no amount of experience can protect you from making yourself look like a fool. It is necessary that you make your arguments as air-tight and idiot-proof as possible, and - no less importantly - that you engage your allies and opponents intelligently, without allowing yourself to be sidetracked from the purpose of the debate.

Such requirements weigh no less on the Al Eiseles of the Netocracy than they do on the WolfMan2000's.