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Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 04:01 PM PDT

Moving on...

by Ray Pensador

I have to admit that it bothered me to see the leadership of this blog trying to talk out of both sides of their mouth by claiming that they were both a site dedicated to electing more and better Democrats, and also a progressives-friendly environment.

Long ago it became clear to me that the "electing more and better Democrats" mission was a euphemism for really being a Party mouthpiece, which allows for "some" dissenting voices as long as they're within a certain "spectrum" of acceptability--to the Party establishment.

To me, personally, I thought it important that there was no ambiguity about the real and true nature of this blog, especially if we are going to stick to the notion that this is a reality-based community.

I now feel that there is no ambiguity, that the leadership of this blog has clearly shown that what they are indeed is a mouthpiece of the corrupt corporatist Democratic party establishment.

Therefore, I'll be moving on and will continue writing for progressive readers.

My take is that folks will soon find out that choosing to stand with the corrupt corporatist Democrats was a mistake, a self-defeating (and self-serving) attitude which will turn out to be choosing to stand on the wrong side of history.

There are lots of people here whom I've come to respect and value, including OPOL, LaFeminista, bobswern, 3rdOption, DeadHead, TheMomCat, lunachikie, and literally hundreds of others.  Your presence here made the rest of the nonsense tolerable.

Those who want to stay in touch, you know where to find me.  I'll be sending a weekly newsletter starting this weekend.  My first essay: "Polishing The Gates."

Ray Pensador

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Wed Mar 12, 2014 at 10:45 AM PDT

Free to Speak One's Mind

by Ray Pensador

Let me acknowledge right off the bat that the attitude and world view I'm about to share with the readers are not things every person is able to embrace, for many (obvious) reasons, the main one being people's innate instinct for survival, and acceptance.  However, for me (personally), I can't imagine any other way to live life.

Also, I'd like to think that I've never been too dogmatic or rigid about my views to the point where they become untenable.  For example, (as I've written before) I served in the military and received an honorable discharge, I've never been fired from a job, and (thank the goddess) I've never been in a physical altercation as an adult (although growing up that's a different story).

Let me start with this... I know that life is (or can be) tough and that in a society such as ours where the ethos of competitiveness (for average folks) and oligarchical predation (for the ruling class) can lead to some sort of dog-eat-dog world, one must find ways to at least survive, understanding that we don't live in a just and perfect world.

Having said that, I've come to the conclusion that at least to me (personally), as long as I have shelter (and that could be a space with some nice square footage to a tiny room, or a trailer), food, water, clothing and health, and of course, love (some say that's all you need), I'm happy.

And throughout life, I've experience both extremes... From poverty, brief periods of homelessness (mainly as an adventurous youth), very violent neighborhoods, to six figure salaries, nice sport cars, extensive traveling and nice hotels (and great meals).  Sometimes back and forth...

But through it all I've been very consistent with a couple of things, which point to what I value most, and my world view: For as far back as I can remember I've always felt I had a very solid understanding of who I am as a person, what my beliefs are when it comes to justice, fairness, honesty, compassion, work, leisure, and ethics, and therefore have never, ever given a shit about what people thought about me, or about trying to impress anybody, or trying to fit in.  That means that I've never sought the validation of others in order to feel whole as a person.

Again, insofar as I've had friends, good (or no so good) jobs, relationships, social interactions, I've always felt I've done it on my terms, which means I haven't had to compromise my values in a quest to fit in.

And as I reflect, as sometimes one does when one reaches middle age, I can't think of no better example of freedom than being able to speak one's mind in the face of unfairness, injustices, obfuscation, manipulation, or wrongdoing without fear.

I've done it in every environment I've been, always.  I've spoken plainly and fearlessly to CEO's, supervisors and bosses who had the power to retaliate; I've spoken plainly and without fear (as board member) of organizations I thought were not serving the membership well; I've spoken plainly and fearlessly when I was in the military...  And I've spoken plainly and fearlessly any time I perceived that people were trying to deceive, to manipulate, to use other people by pretending to be one thing, by talking a good game, but doing something completely different, as I consider those folks kind of sociopathic.

I can't lie and claim that taking that posture is easy, and that I haven't gotten a few (figurative) black eyes in the process.  But what I can say is that if there have been negative consequences for daring the speak the truth without fear, they have been well worth it.  And I can also say that any negative consequences pale in comparison with both, the satisfaction of calling a spade a spade, and inspiring others to do the same.

Throughout the years I've spoken to many people about these issues, and one thing I can tell you is that when people feel forced to accept and condone injustices, false narratives, inconsistencies, just because they feel that's what they have to do to survive and fit in, they end up paying for it with life-long emotional scars.  They may be able to keep the nice job and car, but deep down they know they had to sell their soul in exchange.

Again, I do try to be practical and survive (and if possible thrive) just like anybody else, but when it comes to compromising my values and principles and ethics in exchange for acceptance and benefits, that's something I'm not willing to do, and that's why wherever I am, I will always call out the bullshit when I see it.

The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.

-- Albert Einstein

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"I'd vote for Condi!"  That was Facebook's COO, Sheryl Sandberg's response in a Parade magazine interview (March 9, 2014, page 10) by Lynn Sherr, when they were discussing the possibility of a female president being able to help change the status quo.

Of course, by the time I got to that part of the article/interview, I've already gotten over my initial shock of seeing former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, featured prominently on the cover of the March 9th issue of Parade, under the title "3 Influential Women, ONE POWERFUL MESSAGE."

The subtitle just added to the sense of irony: "What Condoleezza Rice, Sheryl Sandberg, and Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chávez want girls everywhere to know."

As I was reading the article and digesting the visuals, and content, what kept coming to mind is "So, this is how history is whitewashed, how the victors rewrite it, how powerful propaganda works, by using something wholesome and uplifting, like the International Women's Day, to buttress the image of controversial figures."  I was seeing it right there, in real time.

As an alert citizen, I've come to the conclusion that the Bush administration committed war crimes (including war profiteering), and that Condoleezza Rice played a central role in the malfeasance.  As such, key members of his administration should have been subjected to investigations and possible prosecution for a host of high crimes and misdemeanors if we had a functional legal system.  But regardless, at a minimum they should have been universally discredited and shamed for their involvement in one of the most shameful chapters of this country's history.

Instead we have Ms. Rice being exalted as an example of "one powerful message" girls everywhere should know...

Here are a couple of findings from the "U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence" report released on June 5th, 2008:

“Before taking the country to war, this Administration owed it to the American people to give them a 100 percent accurate picture of the threat we faced.  Unfortunately, our Committee has concluded that the Administration made significant claims that were not supported by the intelligence,” Rockefeller said.  “In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.  As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.”

“It is my belief that the Bush Administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al Qa’ida as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top Administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al Qa’ida as a single threat and insinuated that Iraq played a role in 9/11.   Sadly, the Bush Administration led the nation into war under false pretenses.  

“There is no question we all relied on flawed intelligence.  But, there is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate.

Fast forward to today, when The New York Times reports that "Feinstein Publicly Accuses C.I.A. of Spying on Congress."
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and the chairwoman of the committee, suggested on the Senate floor that the agency had violated federal law and said the C.I.A. had undermined Congress’s constitutional right to oversee the actions of the executive branch.


Ms. Feinstein leveled the new charge as part of a lengthy public recounting of the years of jousting between her committee and the C.I.A. over the legacy of the detention program, which President Obama officially ended in January 2009.

The disclosure comes a week after the first reports that the C.I.A. late last year had carried out a separate search of computers used by her staff. The C.I.A. said it carried out the search to uncover how the committee gained access to an internal review of the detention program cited by Democratic lawmakers critical of the program.

Calling the present conflict a “defining moment” for the oversight of American spy agencies,” Ms. Feinstein forcefully denied that committee staff members had obtained the internal review improperly, saying that the internal document had been made available as part of the millions of pages of documents that the agency had given the committee to conduct its investigation.

Now, given our sordid recent history, when government functionaries with apparent conflicts of interests have refused to hold accoutable the most consequential criminals of the times, including members of the Wall Street Criminal Racketeering Cartel TM, I see this hole kerfuffle between the Senate intelligence committee and the C.I.A. as just another installment of political theater.  Nevertheless, I do find the investigation useful for me, as a citizen wanting to have an informed opinion about our current state of affairs.

My take, my opinion, my conclusion on all this is that the C.I.A. is basically going out of its way to prevent the public from knowing the extent of malfeasance and criminality (including war crimes) prevalent during the Bush administration, post 9/11.

Here's another take on the issue, from AlterNet: "Key Senator Blasts CIA for Coverups, Intimidation to Halt Probe into Agency's 'Un-American and Brutal' Torture Programs"

In a bombshell statement on the floor of the US Senate, Feinstein, normally an administration loyalist, accused the CIA of potentially violating the US constitution and of criminal activity in its attempts to obstruct her committee’s investigations into the agency’s use of torture. She described the crisis as a “defining moment” for political oversight of the US intelligence service.

Her unprecedented public assault on the CIA represented an intensification of the row between the committee and the agency over a still-secret report on the torture of terrorist suspects after 9/11. Resolution of the crisis, Feinstein suggested, may come this week at the White House.

Feinstein, who said she was making her statement “reluctantly”, confirmed recent reports that CIA officials had monitored computer networks used by Senate staff investigators. Going further than previously, she referred openly to recent attempts by the CIA to remove documents from the network detailing evidence of torture that would incriminate intelligence officers.

She also alleged that anonymous CIA officials were effectively conducting a smear campaign in the media to discredit and “intimidate” Senate staff by suggesting they had hacked into the agency’s computers to obtain a separate, critical internal report on the detention and interrogation programme.

[The emphasis is mine]

Basically they are doing everything possible to suppress the truth about Bush's torture program; because, of course, if the truth is known it may lead to serious consequences for those involved in the crimes.

As I said, at this point I don't think our captured government is going to do anything meaningful about the findings of this report, regardless the level of criminality and malfeasance.

However, the voting public can.  And the United Nations or other countries could also take some steps to hold war criminals accountable, unless the whole world is willing to admit that only leaders of weak third-rate powers can be held accountable for crimes.

And this brings me back to Ms. Rice.  I do hope that all the truth about these war crimes come to light, and I do hope that those involved are fully identified so they can never be in a position to whitewash history.

I think the most powerful message our society would want girls (and boys, and citizens everywhere) to know is that nobody is above the law, that those who commit crimes will be held accountable, regardless of their station in life.


Mon Mar 10, 2014 at 11:30 AM PDT

What is Our Platform?

by Ray Pensador

There is much talk about the Democratic party being a big tent capable of accepting people with diverse views, and that's a good thing.  Nevertheless, I've always been under the impression that what that means is that those diverse views fall within the spectrum of liberalism and/or progressivism.

In other words, I can't see a rabid racist or homophobe as being able to fit within that spectrum.

I'm writing this to encourage discussion on the issue of what it means to be a  Democrat, and a progressive...

I'll start the discussion by sharing my understanding about what it is to be a Democrat and a progressive.  Of course, I welcome any dissenting voices who disagree with that understanding and if their views are backed up convincing arguments, I'll be glad to reassess mine accordingly.

Money and politics:  We view this as the root cause of political corruption and co-option.  It basically means that wealthy interests (individuals and corporate cartels) buy off politicians through a system of legalized bribery (campaign donations and lucrative revolving door jobs) in order to influence them into adopting policies/legislation that ends up exploiting and oppressing the population, and destroying our natural environment.

Therefore, we seek to understand exactly how this process is taking place, and to expose it, and oppose it.  We seek to expose the corruption, the questionable relationships, and the hypocrisy--of politicians saying one thing in order to be elected,  and doing something else (to the benefit of their paymasters) when they are in office (hoping to cash in with lucrative revolving door jobs when they leave).

We understand that during the last several years Wall Street engaged in massive criminal activity, looting the country's (and citizen's) coffers, and that it appears that government functionaries may have shielded them from accountability.

Civil And Constitutional Rights: We value our freedoms and our constitutional rights.  We value privacy rights, workers' rights, women's rights.  We believe in the rights of workers to unionize.  We object to corporate-influenced national security apparatus being used as a tool of oppression against the citizenry, and thus we do not accept the premise that government and corporate spy networks have the right to collect data on us indiscriminately, to build massive dossiers on millions of citizens, and to target individuals and organizations in order to disrupt their constitutionally-protected rights as activists.

We reject, oppose, and unite in solidarity against government abuses of power, including the detention of people without charge, war crimes like extra-judicial assassinations of American citizens, the killing of thousands of innocent people as the result of unmanned drone attacks.

We oppose the privatization of prisons (and horrendous abuses of undocumented immigrants, including beatings, rape, inadequate health care), and public schools.

We advocate for LGBT rights, voting rights, women's rights, worker's rights, environmental protection.

Military Industrial Complex: We oppose and reject the military industrial complex insofar as it is used for the benefit of war profiteers who have an incentive to manufacture conflicts around the world.  We've seen this happened in recent history, in Iraq, for example.

We reject the massive amount of jingoistic propaganda every time the MIC tries to hoodwink the population into another misadventure for which the public ends up paying the highest price.

Politics: We understand that by adhering to the basic principles of what it means to be a progressive and a Democrat, and by speaking truth to power without fear, we are actually helping the party... Because we understand that those who stand for nothing, will fall for anything.

Again, this is my understanding of what it means to be a Democrat and a Progressive.  Am I missing something?  Do you have a different understanding?  If so, please share it for the sake of (respectful and fruitful) discussion.


Do you agree with the diarist on what it means to be a Democrat and a Progressive?

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Yesterday I wrote a diary expressing my opinion about the conflict in Ukraine.  My main point in that diary was to call attention to the fact that there were (and are) multiple factors that contributed to the crisis; that it is a very complicated situation; that there are several competing interests, inside Ukraine, in neighboring Russia, and the West, including the United States.

One key area I called attention to was the fact that I've notice what I consider to be some sort of talking points propagated by the U.S. media basically painting Putin as a deranged (crazy) authoritarian dictator out of touch with reality.  And my point was that anybody who came to view the situation in those (simplistic) terms would be missing other very important aspects related to the circumstances that led to the current crisis.

I also pointed out that some fascist and neo-nazi elements were now part of the governing coalition (at ministerial levels) that has been supported by the West (including the United States).  And I referenced an op-ed in The Guardian supporting that assertion.

After reading several articles and papers about the subject, both from mainstream media sources and from independent/alternative news sources I've come to the conclusion that the West's hands in this whole mess are not clean.  I've concluded that there has been a shock doctrine-type destabilization campaign, and that in the mix of it all, there are some (neo-liberal) financial interests in play, and that's where the IMF is playing a role.

I'm also fully aware that Putin's Russia is violating all kinds of international laws by invading Crimea...

In the comment thread of the diary I wrote yesterday some folks were claiming that I was saying that everything bad that happens in the world is the U.S. fault.  As I and many other commenters pointed out, nowhere in the diary do I even insinuate such an absurdity.

I think one of the key paragraphs I wrote in that diary is this one:

So you see, there is more to the story; it's more complicated, more nuanced than just saying that Putin is "crazy," which is a meme/talking point spreading throughout the mainstream media like wildfire.  And the irony... It seems like Western intervention helped precipitate a coup d'etat in Ukraine, helping fascist and neo-nazi elements become part of the new government coalition (along with a new set of oligarchs).
That is still my position, and given the multiple sources of information I've consulted, I stand by it.

However, for argument's sake, I'd like to examine one issue which I consider to be the elephant in the room when it comes to this conflict...

Is it the position of some that in this geopolitical drama/conflict Putin is the obvious bad (and crazy, out of touch with reality) guy, and the U.S. and the West are the (mostly) good guys who's only sin may have been supporting the efforts of anti-corruption, pro-democracy factions in Ukraine rising up against a corrupt Russian puppet?

Okay, so let's push that argument further and assume that those who hold that view may also believe that there were no nefarious intentions regarding the steps the U.S. and the West were taking to help the opposition and that the promise to help the new government with IMF loans was not a neo-liberal plot, but much-needed funding that would have helped them get back on their feet.

Let's assume, for argument's sake, that the U.S. and the West are mainly benevolent in their intentions and that the clear bad guy is Putin.

Now, here's the question: Even under the assumption that the U.S. and Western allies were on the up and up, just trying to be helpful, is it really that hard to believe that Russia would see these steps (including the talk about eventually bringing Ukraine into the NATO alliance) as a provocation, and that they may react in the way they did?

Maybe my thinking is way off the scales, but if you were to describe the situation to me (months ago) I would say, "Well, of course if the pro-Russian president of Ukraine is deposed and the new government moves to make the Russian language illegal, there is talk about IMF loans, and about possibly joining NATO, Putin is going to make a move."

I mean, I see that as common sense; something that at least should be seen as a high possibility.  I'm not seeing it as right or wrong (in this context), but as realpolitik.

But let's put all that stuff aside for a second; let's put aside the debate about who is right or wrong about the U.S. and western allies intentions.  The issue now is this: Now that Putin seems to be in the process of annexing Crimea (something I see at this point as fait accompli), what is the West prepared to do to confront that situation other than threatening economic sanctions?

And regarding economic sanctions, what happens if Putin ups the ante and counter-attacks by declaring all foreign dept null and void?  What happens if Putin makes a further move on Ukraine proper?

And here's the key question: If Putin gets away with annexing Crimea and the West ends up backing down (after weeks of tough-talk but little action in the face of a potential world-wide economic crisis), would not those who may have been encouraged by the West to depose the pro-Russian government/president feel betrayed?

I'm fully aware that things are changing very fast and that this is indeed a very dangerous situation that could quickly get out of control.  Nevertheless, if what ends up happening is that Russia annexes Crimea (which again, I think it's pretty much a done deal) and continues to exert influence in Ukraine (for the foreseeable future), and the U.S. and the West end up backing down (which I think is what's going to happen), would not that be a huge black eye for the West?

You see, I'm not interested on demonizing or lionizing anybody.  I'm just trying to look at the world as it really is when it comes to these international conflicts and geopolitical dynamics.

And that's why I can't bring myself to embrace what I believe is an infantile position by saying that Putin is crazy, and a bad person, and that the West is playing the good guy in this situation.  I don't fall for the bogeymen worldview.

Bottom line: If the State Department was advising president Obama about how smooth things would go after Yanukovych fled to Russia, they utterly failed him.

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Recently I've engaged in debates with some folks about the ongoing situation in Ukraine.  During those debates some people have implied that in order to have a clear understanding about the geopolitical conflict in Ukraine, one most not rely on one-sided sources of information.

I agree.  I'm actually a New York Times subscriber, and I also frequent other news site like The Financial Times, The Economist, Bloomberg, The Los Angeles Times, and The San Francisco Chronicle, among many others.

But here's the interesting thing I often notice when I visit mainstream news sources: I'm getting incomplete, one-sided information, for the most part.  

Case in point... Tonight I read a few articles in The New York Times: U.S. Hopes Boom in Natural Gas Can Curb Putin, U.S. Effort to Broker Russia-Ukraine Diplomacy Fails, Debate Over Who, in U.S., Is to Blame for Ukraine, For Russian TV Channels, Influence and Criticism, Point by Point, State Department Rebuts Putin on Ukraine, One Goal in Hand, Kiev’s Demonstrators Vow to Stay ‘Until the End’, Mystery Men at De Facto Crimean Border Help Fuel Suspicion and Dread.

Of those articles, only one made mention (with timidity and in passing) of extreme right-wing element within the protest movement:

The sotni formed in the tradition of western Ukraine’s World War II-era guerrillas, men who fought for Ukrainian independence even after the war, fighting the Soviets well into the 1950s. Some of the groups are nationalistic to the point of being ultra-right-wing. Among them, at least on the margins, are factions that many fellow Ukrainians regard as anti-Semitic and reactionary, including Right Sector, which commands Sotnya No. 23.
And I get it... Putin is kind of a dictator and Russia can be a bully and homophobic and  friendly to pro-Putin oligarchs, and all that.

But there is more to the story when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine, and my perception is that the mainstream media narrative is the one that's one-sided, incomplete, and therefore, it misinforms.

Of course, I also read alternative news media such as Democracy Now!, AlterNet, truth-out, truth-dig, and others, and for some weird reason I find their coverage more nuanced and well-rounded.  But here I'm not going to reference them because (for some reason) some people tend to discount them out of hand.

So instead I'll reference an article at The Guardian, by Seumas Milne: "The clash in Crimea is the fruit of western expansion - The external struggle to dominate Ukraine has put fascists in power and brought the country to the brink of conflict":

Diplomatic pronouncements are renowned for hypocrisy and double standards. But western denunciations of Russian intervention in Crimea have reached new depths of self parody. The so far bloodless incursion is an "incredible act of aggression", US secretary of state John Kerry declared. In the 21st century you just don't invade countries on a "completely trumped-up pretext", he insisted, as US allies agreed that it had been an unacceptable breach of international law, for which there will be "costs".

That the states which launched the greatest act of unprovoked aggression in modern history on a trumped-up pretext – against Iraq, in an illegal war now estimated to have killed 500,000, along with the invasion of Afghanistan, bloody regime change in Libya, and the killing of thousands in drone attacks on Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, all without UN authorisation – should make such claims is beyond absurdity.


Fascist gangs now patrol the streets. But they are also in Kiev's corridors of power. The far right Svoboda party, whose leader has denounced the "criminal activities" of "organised Jewry" and which was condemned by the European parliament for its "racist and antisemitic views", has five ministerial posts in the new government, including deputy prime minister and prosecutor general. The leader of the even more extreme Right Sector, at the heart of the street violence, is now Ukraine's deputy national security chief.

Neo-Nazis in office is a first in post-war Europe. But this is the unelected government now backed by the US and EU. And in a contemptuous rebuff to the ordinary Ukrainians who protested against corruption and hoped for real change, the new administration has appointed two billionaire oligarchs – one who runs his business from Switzerland – to be the new governors of the eastern cities of Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk. Meanwhile, the IMF is preparing an eye-watering austerity plan for the tanking Ukrainian economy which can only swell poverty and unemployment.

[The emphasis is mine]

So you see, there is more to the story; it's more complicated, more nuanced than just saying that Putin is "crazy," which is a meme/talking point spreading throughout the mainstream media like wildfire.  And the irony... It seems like Western intervention helped precipitate a coup d'etat in Ukraine, helping fascist and neo-nazi elements become part of the new government coalition (along with a new set of oligarchs).

An yet our shoe-in possible presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton makes a pronouncement comparing Putin to Hitler: "Hillary Clinton’s Putin-Hitler comments draw rebukes as she wades into Ukraine conflict."

Hillary Rodham Clinton has sparked a political uproar this week by wading into the middle of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, likening the moves of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the actions of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler leading up to World War II.

The former secretary of state’s provocative comparison drew swift rebukes Wednesday from U.S.-Russia policy experts — including some who served under her husband, former president Bill Clinton — while attracting rare notes of support from hawkish Republicans in Congress.

The comments put Clinton, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, at odds with President Obama and her former administration colleagues, who have been measured in their statements on Ukraine in hopes of avoiding an escalation of Putin’s incursion into Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula

I don't know about you, but I find this stuff is kind of embarrassing, actually.  Do these folks (our leaders) know what they're doing?

That's a serious question because when they don't, when they make mistakes, it is usually us, regular folks who end up paying for them.

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Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 08:26 PM PST

Debating Online

by Ray Pensador

I've been participating in online forums since the mid-90s when I subscribed to the Delphi online service.  Since then I've experienced different environments, from highly moderated forums where you're expected to interact with others as if they were sitting in front of you (and if you don't, off you go), to totally unregulated forums where everything goes.

In fact, in my early days of online blogging I used to frequent some right wing blogs (the unregulated ones) to debate issues related to the economy, war-and-peace, and society at large.

Anyways, I long ago realized that because of the (virtual) nature of online communities, it doesn't make sense to allow oneself to react emotionally to perceived curt treatment.  In other words, you are operating in a world that's both, real (in the fact that you are actually interacting with people through letters on a screen), and surreal, since there is no way for you to know who exactly you're communicating with, intentions, motives, physical cues, etc.

That realization has been very helpful (at least for me) because in environments where the debates are respectful, it is usually not that hard to reach the end of a debate with some sort of clear end: I convince my interlocutor; my interlocutor convinces me; or we agree to disagree.  Those three outcomes could quickly be reached between debaters who are engaging in good faith.

Now, as you can imagine, debating in good faith doesn't always happen online, and after all these years of blogging, I've seen everything under the sun when it comes to the worst possible behavior online.

I long ago realized that when it comes to bad faith commenters, they exhibit sadistic and sociopathic tendencies, meaning that they enjoy causing people grief.  And so, if you take away that possibility from them (not let yourself fall for their bait), you take away their power.

Now, I know none of this applies to Daily Kos since we have a pretty good self-regulating system (hide rates), community guidelines that are followed by most users, and a dedicated support admin that handles conflicts with professionalism and in an unbiased and objective manner...

Nevertheless, I came across a recent study that may be helpful to community members when it comes to understanding some of the worst behavior online, and to reiterate the importance of trying not to let emotions flare when interacting with obvious bad faith commenters.

SLATE:Internet Trolls Really Are Horrible People

Narcissistic, Machiavellian, psychopathic, and sadistic.

In the past few years, the science of Internet trollology has made some strides. Last year, for instance, we learned that by hurling insults and inciting discord in online comment sections, so-called Internet trolls (who are frequently anonymous) have a polarizing effect on audiences, leading to politicization, rather than deeper understanding of scientific topics.

That’s bad, but it’s nothing compared with what a new psychology paper has to say about the personalities of trolls themselves. The research, conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba and two colleagues, sought to directly investigate whether people who engage in trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).


The study comes as websites, particularly at major media outlets, are increasingly weighing steps to rein in trollish behavior. Last year Popular Science did away with its comments sections completely, citing research on the deleterious effects of trolling, and YouTube also took measures to rein in trolling.

This being the case (that bad faith commenters are sadistic and psychopathic), is not worth letting yourself be dragged into their turf, emotionally.

Here's my rule of thumb: If you are engaging in an honest debate it should not take too long to get to one of the three outcomes I listed: you convince your opponent; your opponent convinces you; you agree to disagree.

If you feel that your opponent is personalizing the debate and starts calling you names, questioning your integrity, mocking you, and things like that, that's usually a sign you may not be dealing with an honest debater, and once you start suspecting that (by the evidence) the best course of action is to disengage.

Once you get so upset that you get into vulgarity and insults, you've been had, and more than that, you will never win a debate at that level because your interlocutor is usually ready to get into a vulgarity- and insults-laden endless circular argument.

And it's not good for your health.  I've talked to many people about this issue throughout the years... Some people's days or entire week can be ruined by one of these encounters.

Remember, if you ever interact with one of the folks described in the study, the debate is no longer about the issue at hand, about examining evidence, sharing views, connecting the dots, presenting a cogent argument or counter-argument.

So again, I know this type of behavior is not prevalent here, but I'm sharing the study just in case you run into it somewhere else.

Happy blogging!


Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 11:32 AM PST

With Friends Like This...

by Ray Pensador

Let me stipulate right off the bat that this commentary has nothing to do with defending Russia's actions in Ukraine, nor condoning Putin's stand.  Also, it has nothing to do with taking sides when it comes to the very complicated nature of Ukraine's internal strife.  And finally, it has nothing to do with defending their deposed president in any way.

The way I look at all those issues is that it is none of my business as a U.S. citizen.  Those are internal problem of a country half way around the world and I see no compelling reason for me to take a stand one way or the other.

I also admit and recognize that insofar as there were (and still are) civil uprisings in the country, with different factions (ethnic and ideological) having their own reasons for it, many of which are perfectly legitimate (whether we're talking about corruption, oppression, mismanagement, etc), it is not up to me to characterize the protest movement(s) especially in a situation this hazy.

This comment focuses only on one aspect of the crisis, and that is U.S. and Western meddling in the internal affairs of Ukraine with what I've (and many other commentators) have determined to be a not-so-covert attempt at isolating (and encircling) Russia on the one hand, and delivering Ukraine into the welcoming arms of the Neo-liberal (predatory) embraces of the World Bank and the IMF.

Now, I don't expect everybody to agree with that characterization, and that's fine--people can agree to disagree when it comes to such complicated geopolitical dynamics.

But be that as it may, I will find it hard to believe that at this point anybody could argue that the U.S. and Western partners did not play a role in the crisis, both covertly and overtly.

I've argued that the role they've been playing has been overtly antagonizing to Russia (regardless of the merits of such a stand), and that now we are seeing what should have been oh-so-clear to anybody with any basic knowledge of history.

Insofar as there were factions and leaders in Ukraine that may have felt emboldened (and perhaps encouraged with a little something something when it comes to "funding") to play along with the West's plans (of delivering Ukraine to the IMF), my only question now is: Are you so sure that your Neo-liberal friends in the West are going to really stand up for you now?

In other words, I know that there are situations where chickenhawks are always happy suggest military action, especially when the other side is a tiny little island in the Caribbean, or a third-rate country with a weak military.  There is nothing easier for a bully to hit someone when they know their opponent can't hit back--hard.

But here's my question to chickenhawks (insofar as there may be any reading this): Are you now ready to stand by your "convictions" about helping spread "freedom and democracy" around the world and call for the U.S. or anybody else to go to war with Russia?

Please step forward and raise your hand and make yourself count as a true defender of freedom and democracy and state clearly that you are now calling for the U.S. (and Western partners) to engage in an all-out war against Russia.

Those who quickly jump in the bandwagon when it comes to wars of choice, interventions and invasions against countries like Grenada, Panama, and Iraq, would you be so kind as to share your opinion about whether you now call for the U.S. go declare war against Russia?  If you do, then please pardon me for my assumption.  For some reason I've always assume that chickenhawks are usually quick to demand military intervention against weak third-rate powers, but cower at the thought when it comes to countries with the capability of hitting back--hard.  Because that's the nature of bullies.

Now, here's a (rhetorical) question for U.S. and Western leaders who have been engaged in funding "NGOs" in Ukraine with the stated purpose of spreading "freedom and democracy and self-determination": Are you now ready to help your friends?

UPDATE: MON MAR 03, 2014 AT 1:45 PM PST

Some commenters are saying that there is "zero evidence" of U.S. involvement in destabilization efforts in Ukraine.  Here's additional reference material:

Boston Globe: US a full partner in Ukraine debacle

FROM THE moment the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the United States has relentlessly pursued a strategy of encircling Russia, just as it has with other perceived enemies like China and Iran. It has brought 12 countries in central Europe, all of them formerly allied with Moscow, into the NATO alliance. US military power is now directly on Russia’s borders.


Some policy makers in Washington have been congratulating each other for a successful American-aided regime change operation in Ukraine. Three factors converged to produce the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych. First was his own autocratic instinct and utter lack of political skill, which led him to think he could ignore protesters. Second was the brave determination of the protesters themselves. Third was intervention by the United States and other Western countries — often spearheaded by diplomats and quasi-covert operatives who have been working for years on “democracy promotion” projects in Ukraine.

FORBES: 7 Reasons Why You Should Be Pessimistic About Ukraine
by Mark Adomanis

[ ] The IMF wants its pound of flesh

It is possible that a committed and generous response from the IMF would be able to overcome the sort of economic pressure that Russia is going to deploy. But the IMF’s statements so far all suggest that it is going to demand painful austerity measures in exchange for any aid. One can understand why the IMF is making such demands (Ukraine’s economy is inefficient and uncompetitive) but governments that undertake radically unpopular economic reforms don’t usually last very long. If the newly installed Ukrainian government becomes popularly associated with painful austerity then it’s not hard to imagine that government rapidly losing popularity. There’s a reason that no Ukrainian government has ever directly tackled the issue of natural gas subsidies: because natural gas subsidies are extremely popular among the Ukrainian public. While it is fair to say that Ukrainians generally want a more open and honest economy, there’s actually very little popular demand society for radical neoliberal reform. The region’s history strongly suggests that if neoliberal inform ends up being imposed anyway that there will be political hell to pay.
truth-out: Ukraine: "Go West, Young Man" (or Dr. Strangelove's Revenge)

by Michael Hudson and Jeffrey Sommers

Having suffered a generation under Stalin and his successors, Ukrainians will now be able to compare that to the hand of IMF central planners. Who needs a military thrust when a new round of shock therapy and austerity will do the trick more deftly?

Yanukovych is the kind of kleptocrat that neoliberals promised would enrich the post-Soviet states, except he committed the unforgivable sin of refusing to implement an EU/US-counseled austerity program. The aim is to transfer public wealth into the hands of private individuals who will be steered by the "Invisible Hand" (that of the sponsors of today's color revolutions) to seek their gains by selling what they have taken to Western investors. Finance is the new mode of warfare, and we are seeing a grab for what military invasions in times past aimed at: land, natural resources and infrastructure monopolies.


I've written many times that I only watch the U.S. corporate propaganda channels (MSNBC, FoxNews, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS) when I'm doing research on the subject of public opinion manipulation through deception, especially when we're in the middle of manufactured crises.  And so this morning while I was on the thread-mill in the gym (hey, is raining today, so I decided to go to the gym instead of outdoors), I watched an hour of CNN (with Candy Crowley), which I consider to be the official war propaganda channel.

I'll be putting together some additional thoughts on this latest round of misinformation  and false narratives, but here I just wanted to point out that if there is a silver lining about being lied to (about these important issues of war and peace and geopolitical games), is that at least these events present us with an opportunity to learn geography through war propaganda.

Another neat thing is that people start trying to pronounce the names of foreign leaders, and different ethnic and religious groups.  Given the fact that the Neo-liberal establishment here is engaging in the wholesale undermining of the public education system (teaching to the test and such), at least there is one small positive thing resulting from the type of frenzied propaganda we are exposed to during these periodic events.


Fri Feb 28, 2014 at 11:21 PM PST

Ukraine And Venezuela

by Ray Pensador

I think it would be reasonable to admit that no country is perfect, that no government system is beyond reproach.  Every country faces challenges; those challenges could be related to ethnic strife, the economy, ideological divisions, government corruption, and a host of other things.

Also, it would be naive to deny that the United States, as the world's lone super power, would not be involved in activities meant to shape events.  But the fundamental problem we are facing is that of the character of many of the people behind the shaping of those events.

And that leads to hidden agendas that have little to do with our national interests, and instead are designed to advance special interests.  And that puts us (the populace) in extreme danger.

Regarding both, Venezuela and Ukraine, they have some serious internal issues, some of which are very complicated.

What the U.S. is doing in both countries (and others as well) is not only taking advantage of their internal strife, but actually engaging in a clandestine destabilization campaign, not to advance our national interests, but again, to advance narrow special interests.

I'm fully aware that we live in a dangerous world, and that not everybody plays nice, and that because of it, nations engage in all kinds of covert operations.

The problem we are facing, in my opinion, is that the actions these behind-the-scenes special interests are taking to purposely destabilize other regimes, have very little to do with our national security, and the interests of the citizenry.

And furthermore, these actions have little to do with the stated purposes our government professes, like democracy, letting people decide their own future, helping them rise up against oppression.  We are being lied to.  We are being told that we are helping the people of these countries rise up against oppressive regimes, and that we support democracy and the rule of law, but in fact what we are doing is engaging in destabilization campaigns in a very dangerous geopolitical game.

The ruling elite here is getting drunk on power and that leads to hubris and miscalculations.  If things go sideways, we-the-people are going to be left holding the bag--again.


Additional perspective:

The Coups of the Obama Administration by
The Complexity Of The Uprising In Ukraine
UPDATE 2: SAT MARCH 1, 2014 AT 7:00 PM PST

In the comment thread there are a few users who have questioned professor Stephen Cohen's credibility.  I'd like to share his credentials so readers can judge for themselves:

Stephen Frand Cohen (born 1938) is an American scholar of Russian studies. His academic work concentrates on developments in Russia since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the country's relationship with the United States.

Cohen is well known in both Russian and American circles. He is a close personal friend of former Soviet Pres. Mikhail Gorbachev, advised former U.S. Pres. George H.W. Bush in the late 1980s, helped Nikolai Bukharin's widow, Anna Larina, rehabilitate her name during the Soviet era, and met Joseph Stalin's daughter, Svetlana.

Since 1998, Cohen has been professor of Russian Studies and History at New York University, where he teaches a course titled "Russia Since 1917." He previously taught at Princeton University. He has written several books including those listed below. He is also a CBS News consultant as well as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 12:23 PM PST

A Direct Debate Challenge

by Ray Pensador

Dear Markos,

Yesterday your wrote a diary which given your power and status in this site, it would be reasonable to argue that its content (and the frenzied bullying and pile on that resulted from it) could be seen as potentially highly damaging to my reputation.

As many people noted in the diary comment thread, you could have chosen to contact me directly via private messaging; or you could have chosen to write the diary sharing your concern about the perceived issue (paranoia is crazy) without taking such a direct hit at my person, in such a public manner.

Aside from the disingenuous implication that you seem to be wedded to, whereas you've argued you don't give two shits about the NSA spying, and things like that, I argue that by you having written that diary in the very first word, linking it to mine, and by having titled it "Your paranoia is crazy," you being such a high-profile figure (with national reach), what you've done is cheapened yourself and the site.

I'm not arguing that, this being your website, you don't have the power to do whatever you want, and it seems from the feeding frenzy in the comment thread that the type of people that would approve of this action you took, approve, but I believe that a reasonable person could characterize what you did as a gross and shameful abuse of power.

At this point, after that type of behavior, I'm not sure what to think about your professional standards, but I would hope you would agree that since it is you that decided to make such a high profile personal attack against my person, choosing to use an extremely damaging and derogatory slur, you would not see this challenge to a public debate as overly insubordinate.

And so, respectfully (even after having been subjected to such a direct insult, and the abusive commentary for which you are responsible), I challenge you to a public debate.

I'd like to debate two simple issues with you: Do you have any prove that I suffer from paranoia?  If you don't, what prompted you to write such a highly offensive missive referencing my person?

Second, is this site a fraud?  In other words, is this site a tool of the corporatist Democratic party establishment passing itself off as something else?

Now, I'm not saying that I don't understand that you have a business to run and all that; that's a different issue.

You see Markos, me asking you that question is also based on observations, but I'm willing to re-examine my view depending on any cogent argument you put forward, in case you accept this very public challenge.

I understand that you may think that my "paranoia is crazy," and that's why I challenge you to prove it, given the highly damaging consequences of such a public attack by someone with such a high national profile... But be that as it may, I would hope you can see that what I'm not is a coward.

Finally (and I write this honestly), I don't necessarily think I will be banned for writing this diary since I assume you still have some gumption in you when it comes to very serious and contentious online debates, and that you still have some of that "crashing the gates" attitude that led you to create this website... But in all honestly, if you do decide to do so, I would say paraphrasing, I really don't give two shits about it.  I'd have no problem putting my writing and activism energy in other venues.

It's up to you, as the site owner, of course.

Now, I would respectfully ask users not to write in the comment thread and wait to see if Markos Moulitsas makes an appearance.  I will be waiting.

If he decides to ban me from the site, my readers know where to find me.


I just read an impassioned (angry, filled with righteous outrage) comment posted in a recent diary which prompted me to write this commentary.  The comment was precipitated by the effects of economic dislocation the user is experiencing due to the current economic depression, and the outrage the user feels at observing so-called liberals and Democrats engaging in what can only be characterized as "whistling past the graveyard."

I understand this person's anger and outrage.  Our entire system has become predatory as the result of a wholesale corporate takeover of our institutions.  Both political parties have been captured by these anti-democratic behind-the-scene forces, resulting in the "Deep State," where even the veneer of democracy is fading fast.

And in the face of this reality, what many see as their last last line of defense, the Liberal establishment and self-proclaimed "progressives," instead of speaking truth to power, instead of challenging the status quo (in defense of what the Party is supposed to stand for), they've decided to carry water for an utterly corrupt system for self-serving reasons.  They obfuscate, offer apologia for what should be indefensible, and otherwise engage in distortions and manipulation.  Theirs is the language of PR firms talking points, which seem to originate from a shadow lobbying complex.

In their self-serving apologia, they know what lies to tell, and in doing so they've betrayed those whom they pretend to be helping.

The power elite, especially the liberal elite, has always been willing to sacrifice integrity and truth for power, personal advancement, foundation grants, awards, tenured professorships, columns, book contracts, television appearances, generous lecture fees and social status. They know what they need to say. They know which ideology they have to serve. They know what lies must be told—the biggest being that they take moral stances on issues that aren’t safe and anodyne. They have been at this game a long time. And they will, should their careers require it, happily sell us out again.

[The emphasis is mine]

-- Chris Hedges

Yes, in their "access" and perceived status, the system apologists relish in their power with smugness, but history will judge them harshly for their betrayal.  Some will always be willing to leave their honesty and integrity at the foot of the altar in exchange for a few coins.  But that will be their curse.  Some men (and women) can't be bought off and because of it, one day this inverted moral order will be set straight.
The masses in a totalitarian structure live in what Fraenkel termed “the normative state.” The normative state, he said, is defenseless against the abuses of the prerogative state. Citizens are subjected to draconian laws and regulations, as well as arbitrary searches and arrests. The police and internal security are omnipotent. The internal workings of power are secret. Free expression and opposition political activity are pushed to the fringes of society or shut down. Those who challenge the abuses of power by the prerogative state, those who, like Snowden, expose the crimes carried out by government, are made into criminals. Totalitarian states always invert the moral order. It is the wicked who rule. It is the just who are damned.
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