wanted: a site with basic moderation

So I wake up today and there's another half dozen trolls swarming diaries that don't even bother trying to hide they're trolling against Obama on a purportedly Democratic website. And that's fine. They bring flame wars, and flame wars bring page hits.

There was an article recently on the NYT about web trolling.

Does free speech tend to move toward the truth or away from it? When does it evolve into a better collective understanding? When does it collapse into the Babel of trolling, the pointless and eristic game of talking the other guy into crying "uncle"? Is the effort to control what's said always a form of censorship, or might certain rules be compatible with our notions of free speech?

One promising answer comes from the computer scientist Jon Postel, now known as "god of the Internet" for the influence he exercised over the emerging network. In 1981, he formulated what's known as Postel's Law: "Be conservative in what you do; be liberal in what you accept from others." Originally intended to foster "interoperability," the ability of multiple computer systems to understand one another, Postel's Law is now recognized as having wider applications. To build a robust global network with no central authority, engineers were encouraged to write code that could "speak" as clearly as possible yet "listen" to the widest possible range of other speakers, including those who do not conform perfectly to the rules of the road. The human equivalent of this robustness is a combination of eloquence and tolerance -- the spirit of good conversation. Trolls embody the opposite principle. They are liberal in what they do and conservative in what they construe as acceptable behavior from others. You, the troll says, are not worthy of my understanding; I, therefore, will do everything I can to confound you.

The article goes on to describe a worst-case scenario wherein the government actively monitors the net for cases of cyberbullying that are set up to spiral out of control. But there's another option - where moderators and admins of a board take responsibility for the activity on their site, and enforce basic ground rules.

There's far, far worse places online than MyDD - the article describes a few alpha posters at b as an example of the "worst of the worst" (or best of the worst, I suppose) - and I'm certainly not making the comparison between the two. But the article describes a problem that's been hitting boards since they were first Usenet groups, and its hitting MyDD in full force.

Either through apathy or design, complete hands-off moderation (or as is often the case at MyDD, completely random enforcement of the rules and punishments that accompany them) doesn't lead to a thriving, active, intelligent community. It leads to a continual swarm of posters looking to get a rise out of others.

For a site that's supposedly so dedicated to grassroots politics, one would think they'd discover that wasting time and energy on dealing with trolls we can't even TR for fear of "abusing the system" or put on ignore leaves precious little time to discuss politics, much less organize to actually effect something besides their page counts.

Good luck Jerome, Todd, and the rest of the admins. You're probably going to need it. I'll spend my time and my precious page hits at a site that promotes discussion by doing basic pruning.

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2 Senate-level GOPs backing Obama

McCain can't even keep his own base from bleeding out...how's he going to get a majority of the electoral votes?

Meet Joel Haugen...

(Joel) Haugen, a businessman and Army veteran, is running an uphill campaign in a district Wu has held onto against good Republican challengers. So instead of embracing fellow Republicans in a state that's moving increasingly left, Haugen is falling in line with Obama, and he's is listed on State House Speaker Jeff Merkley's website as a backer; Merkley is the Democratic nominee against Senator Gordon Smith.

The endorsements aren't something Haugen is hiding. "We certainly understand why people are so surprised to see" Haugen backing Obama, the campaign writes on its website, citing the Democrat's positions on foreign policy and the economy over John McCain's.

But Haugen's is a position that causes the Oregon Republican Party some heartburn. The state party is continuing to offer tacit support for Haugen's candidacy (though they're not returning his phone calls) while local party officials have shut him out of some events, PolitickerOR reported over the weekend.

Looks like at least one GOP candidate sees the writing on the wall. From Politico.

Now, let's meet Jan Ting, a Republican Committee member for 25 years.

The Delaware Republican Party's standard-bearer in the 2006 race for U.S. Senate has been expelled from his position in the state GOP.

His crime? Quietly supporting Democrat Barack Obama for president.

"Evidently someone went online and saw that I had been making contributions to Obama," Jan Ting said Friday.

Ting also was captured in a photograph at an Obama rally in Wilmington in February that drew record crowds to Rodney Square. At the time, Ting declined to comment about why he was there.

But apparently that appearance, and about $250 in donations to the Illinois senator, who is now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was enough for the state party to brand Ting a traitor, according to the former Republican candidate.

State GOP Chairman Tom Ross said Friday he was unaware of details of the situation with Ting, noting it happened before he took over.

"I certainly didn't throw Jan out of the party," he said, adding he was aware of Ting's support for Obama.

After the Obama photo appeared, Ting said he was invited to an April meeting at a coffee shop in Pennsylvania. State GOP regional chairman Bill Sahm and a district chairman informed Ting his Obama activities had been discussed at the highest levels of the state party.Ting said they told him, "unless you are willing to recant that and swear allegiance to the party nominee John McCain, we are compelled to request your resignation from the Republican Committee."

From Delaware Online.

Nothing says "winning campaign" and "enthusiastic base" like defecting state party representatives!

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Its the electoral college, not the polls, people

I know its so much fun to panic over the latest poll in an individual state and pontificate on just how horrible Obama's doing.

Isn't it awesome that candidates aren't elected off polls? Its the electoral college that wins elections. And Obama's sweeping it.




Oh but my precious outlier polls! How will I ever live without them?

You can keep 'em, but why not add a little thing I like to call "context". Check the trends:

Its hard to get panicked when you have reality and context on your side. The reality? The electoral college results determines the President, not the percentage polls (not even the national ones). The context? The trends have yet to point in McCain's direction - even by a piddling amount - since the primaries were over.

Why should I be so concerned again?

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McCain campaign: insider says "lacking only a Luger and a cyanide pill"

Oh my godddd Obama's in sooo much trouble! We better ditch this horse midstream, right? Right?!?!

Wrong. At least according to the McCain campaign insiders themselves.

Before you let trolls concern you over just how terrible - terrible! - Obama's doing, check out the real mood over in Camp McCain.

The real question is what all of this might mean for a McCain presidency. The list of troubling portents is growing long: repeated campaign staff upheavals reflecting poor management skills; abrupt reversals on big issues like tax cuts and relations with Russia (where he was superhawk one day and superdove the next); shameless pandering on a gas-tax holiday that even his own economic advisers think is a joke; confused handling of Social Security that annoys all sides of the debate; bogus charges (e.g., Obama is causing high gas prices, Obama didn't visit wounded soldiers because he couldn't take the press) that undermine his integrity; and an angry, bunker mentality among aides that one GOP operative, fearing excommunication from Team McCain if identified, describes as "lacking only a Luger and a cyanide pill."

Oh, well, when you put it that way, Obama not dancing on the head of a pin doesn't seem that apocalyptic, does it?

But this is not 1988, when Vice President George Bush turned Michael Dukakis into an unpatriotic coddler of criminals. (Bush that year had a popular president and a strong economy behind him.) And it's not 2004, when his son Swift-Boated John Kerry. (The president would have likely won anyway by playing on post-9/11 fear.) This year, McCain is running under a tattered Republican banner, with more than 80 percent of the public thinking the country is on the wrong track. Without some compelling vision beyond support for offshore drilling, the negativity may well boomerang. "It's hard to imagine America responding to 'small ball' when we have all these problems," says John Weaver, McCain's chief strategist in 2000 who was pushed out of the campaign last year.

With the exception of Mark Salter, who is still friendly with Weaver, the rest of McCain's high command says Weaver is just bitter and disloyal. "Actually, it's being loyal," Weaver says. "I want him to win." He's despondent over the destruction of a priceless maverick brand. McCain's zesty Theodore Roosevelt-style attacks on corporate greed and inspiring plans for expanding national service are gone, replaced by Karl Rove's playbook."When was the last time you heard the word 'reform' or 'service' come out of his mouth?" Weaver asks. "We need to return to the John McCain who speaks his mind. Instead, it's Dick Butkus running a West Coast Offense or Wilt Chamberlain playing point guard. It's not going to work."

The hand wringers can backseat drive all they want. They didn't get Obama to the general election and they're sure as hell not going to win it for him. McCain's camp apparently sees the writing on the wall a lot more clearly.

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9/18 Anthrax, ABC's sources, and McCain

Glenn Greenwald at Salon has a lengthy article presenting a subtle but terrifying point of consideration - that ABC, and very possibly the government, was at the very least complicit in presenting the anthrax scare immediately after 9/11 as the work of Iraq, paving the way to public support for the war.

I implore you to take the time to read the entire thing. Greenwald is extremely well sourced and includes numerous examples showing how anthrax was used as a catalyst for support for the war, both for the media and the government. Except that this link between the anthrax and Iraq - the presence of bentonite - that was touted was entirely false. And that this false information was actively promoted by the media as the case to invade Iraq.

An attempt at summation follows:

In 2001 anthrax was sent to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt), NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, and other leading media outlets.

During the last week of October, 2001, ABC News, led by Brian Ross, continuously trumpeted the claim as their top news story that government tests conducted on the anthrax -- tests conducted at Ft. Detrick -- revealed that the anthrax sent to Daschele contained the chemical additive known as bentonite. ABC News, including Peter Jennings, repeatedly claimed that the presence of bentonite in the anthrax was compelling evidence that Iraq was responsible for the attacks, since -- as ABC variously claimed -- bentonite "is a trademark of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program" and "only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce biological weapons."

ABC News' claim -- which they said came at first from "three well-placed but separate sources," followed by "four well-placed and separate sources" -- was completely false from the beginning. There never was any bentonite detected in the anthrax (a fact ABC News acknowledged for the first time in 2007 only as a result of my badgering them about this issue). It's critical to note that it isn't the case that preliminary tests really did detect bentonite and then subsequent tests found there was none. No tests ever found or even suggested the presence of bentonite. The claim was just concocted from the start. It just never happened.

That means that ABC News' "four well-placed and separate sources" fed them information that was completely false -- false information that created a very significant link in the public mind between the anthrax attacks and Saddam Hussein. And look where -- according to Brian Ross' report on October 28, 2001 -- these tests were conducted:

   And despite continued White House denials, four well-placed and separate sources have told ABC News that initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.

Two days earlier, Ross went on ABC News' World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and, as the lead story, breathlessly reported:

   The discovery of bentonite came in an urgent series of tests conducted at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and elsewhere.

Clearly, Ross' allegedly four separate sources had to have some specific knowledge of the tests conducted and, if they were really "well-placed," one would presume that meant they had some connection to the laboratory where the tests were conducted -- Ft. Detrick. That means that the same Government lab where the anthrax attacks themselves came from was the same place where the false reports originated that blamed those attacks on Iraq.

So not only has ABC either falsified or didn't check at all their "sources" who claimed that bentonite was found in the anthrax (which was the smoking gun leading the public to swallow the idea that Saddam was responsible for it), but the only place that those sources could have come from was on a level that had direct contact with the actual source of the anthrax - the now deceased Bruce Ivins at Ft. Detrick.

And ABC has never once retracted their report, nor followed up on who their sources were.

Considering this was the major source of the public push for war in Iraq, ABC has an ethical responsibility to report who their sources were that provided deliberately false and misleading information.

Not only the public push, but the government ran with this as well:

And then, when President Bush named Iraq as a member of the "Axis of Evil" in his January, 2002 State of the Union speech -- just two months after ABC's report, when the anthrax attacks were still very vividly on the minds of Americans -- he specifically touted this claim:

   The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade.

Bush's invocation of Iraq was the only reference in the State of the Union address to the unsolved anthrax attacks. And the Iraq-anthrax connection was explicitly made by the President at a time when, as we now know, he was already eagerly planning an attack on Iraq.

John McCain, on the David Letterman Show, October 18, 2001 (days before ABC News first broadcast their bentonite report):

   LETTERMAN: How are things going in Afghanistan now?

   MCCAIN: I think we're doing fine . . . I think we'll do fine. The second phase -- if I could just make one, very quickly -- the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don't have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may -- and I emphasize may -- have come from Iraq.

   LETTERMAN: Oh is that right?

   MCCAIN: If that should be the case, that's when some tough decisions are gonna have to be made.

ThinkProgress has the video. Someone ought to ask McCain what "indication" he was referencing that the anthrax "may have come from Iraq."

Presidential candidate John McCain was on national television, prior to ABC's false story, parroting the exact same false talking point. Where did he get his information from?

Will we demand answers from ABC and John McCain, and the rest of this administration?

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Contraception = Abortion? Clinton says HELL NO

Even as a lame duck, Bush can't help but try to push some truly twisted ideological viewpoints in an attempt to infringe on our rights...

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is poised to put in place new barriers to accessing common forms of contraception like birth control pills, emergency contraception and IUDs by labeling them "abortion." These proposed regulations set to be released next week will allow healthcare providers to refuse to provide contraception to women who need it.

These rules pose a serious threat to providers and uninsured and low-income Americans seeking care. They could prevent providers of federally-funded family planning services, like Medicaid and Title X, from guaranteeing their patients access to the full range of comprehensive family planning services. They'll also build significant barriers to counseling, education, contraception and preventive health services for those who need it most: low-income and uninsured women and men.

The regulations could even invalidate state laws that currently ensure access to contraception for many Americans. In fact, they describe New York and California's laws requiring prescription drug insurance plans to provide coverage for contraceptives as part of "the problem."These rules would even interfere with New York State law that ensures survivors of sexual assault and rape receive emergency contraception in hospital emergency rooms.

Senator Hillary Clinton is sounding the alarm on this one at Huffington Post, channeling supporters to sign the petition at her HillPAC site.

Senator Clinton knows full well what it will take to fight for reproductive rights for everyone, male and female, in the coming years, and knows that a McCain presidency is going to be exactly more of this same ideological nonsense coming from the Bush Administration. Thank you to Senator Clinton for raising the alert on this attempt, and for truly championing women's rights in a real and concrete way.

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Suck it up (updated with clarifications)

This election isn't about Obama. It isn't about Hillary Clinton, either, or the lack thereof.

Its not about your hurt feelings, your sudden devotion to all things female-equality (even though apparently symbolic support is more important than legislative), your foot-stomping toy-throwing threats to take your vote and go home lest your demands are met, or your quixotic quest for attention (sorry, "teaching the Democratic party a lesson").

Its not about your liberal ideals, the voice of the netroots, the ideology of the left, or withholding your donation until the nominee jumps as high as you want him to (I'm looking at you, Kos).

America has had a culture of extremes for so long I'm beginning to think that moderation (especially in the political process) is something that we just can't recognize when we see it.

Our country and our economy is crumbling around us. But that's not even the real reason for this diary.

The rest of the world is depending on us to realize that the planet's most vulnerable moment is not the time to start gasping in hysterics because Obama left his magic problem-solving wand back in Fantasyland.

Its your choice to determine if you care more about the ability of a politician to stroke your ego, or about what happens to our country (and by extension, the world, since we're doing a great job of messing it up far beyond our reasonable sphere of influence). And frankly speaking, none of us really have the luxury of deciding our principles are more important than our economy, the war, the environment, and the lives of Iraqis and Iranian civilians.

Maybe you honestly think that Obama's going to be just as bad as McCain (despite any evidence to the contrary, like actual policy). Vote for him anyway. Hedge your bets. The world is full of choices between options you probably aren't completely in love with. Learning that is a skill most people get comfortable with before they're out of high school - election years aren't a free pass.

If you want immediate, complete reform, take it to the streets. Light up that Molotov cocktail, strap on your AK and overthrow whatever you need to overthrow.

Or, work within the system with what we have. What we have is a perfectly good, centrist candidate who can at least approach complex issues with a sharp stick and poke at them, and who's savvy enough to take advantage of the anti-Bush sentiment to gain some extra seats in the legislature at the same time. There's not a damn thing wrong with that and in a lot of ways its better than other election years. Because a sympathetic legislature is how things get done. Not voting third party to make a point, not holding your breath until UberLiberal McCandidate rises from the Potomac River, and not clinging to a candidate that didn't get the nomination.

So the concern trolls, the ones who flock to any diary asking "well, what has Obama done/said about X?" like you're making some kind of point - you should really put up or suck it up. I expect to see your keyboard commando butts out there leading the the revolutionaries in the charge to storm the White House, or voting for Obama in November.

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The "Whitey" tape is up

I had hoped this wasn't true. But in the interest of intellectual and political fairness, I think its important that all Democrats see this in order to understand just what will happen in the next few months leading up to November.

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Leaked memo: McCain is playing you, Clinton supporters

Wikileaks has a leaked memo which appears to be an internal memo from the McCain campaign to team members targeting Internet-based campaigning. The strategy? Take advantage of Clinton supporters of a specific demographic, target and inflame their anger to the point that they vote for McCain out of spite and fearmongering.

The following is the memo in pdf form found here. The entire Wikileak article, including arguments for and against its legitimacy, can be found here. Bolding is mine.

To: (redacted)
From: S. Schmidt
Date: May 15, 2008
Subject: Clinton Strategy
According to both internal polling and exit polls by independent news
organizations, the Democratic Party is becoming increasingly polarized along
certain segments of its base. The recent result in West Virginia, while generally
unsurprising and definitely unlikely to cause any real shift in the race,
highlights the growing bitterness between certain supporters of Clinton and
the Obama camp in general. This unique situation has created an opening that
could help depress the turnout of key Democratic demographics in November.
The specific group we are targeting is a cross-section of white, female voters
over the age of 40. Internal polling reveals that this group is the most likely to
support John McCain after Obama wins the nomination. However, we expect
Obama's numbers to improve following Clinton's drop. Our job is to make sure
that number stays as low as possible.

Our limited financial resources and the media's attention on the Democratic
race, however, prevent us from reaching this group. Our aim is to point out
specific issues that we believe resonate well:
  1. Sen. Obama's connection to Rev. Wright
  2. His inexperience
  3. His links to the corrupt Chicago political machine
However, we cannot fully achieve this goal without a greater commitment on
the part of McCain's fundraisers and our various media partners. In lieu of
that, we have developed a number of inexpensive ways to reach this audience.
We have already worked to reinforce the Clinton campaign's narrative about
the unfair treatment that some networks, specifically MSNBC, have given her
camp. We are also planning to unroll a new campaign to highlight Obama's
experience deficit.
Simultaneously, our team has been testing new lines of attack through
independent pro-Clinton communities on the Internet. Our hope is that our
message here will spread by word-of-mouth.
Our local community organizing
has also been successful. We have organized dozens of "meet-ups" across the
country for Clinton supporters, and we have used that time to stress the
importance of punishing the DNC for choosing the undemocratically selected far-left Obama. At the moment, this is nothing more than a headache for the
Obama campaign. With a greater commitment on your part, I hope to see it
metastasize into something much more.
Let me know if you need more detail.

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WaPo: Superdelegates aren't paying attention to Clinton

The Washington Post's Paul Kane, a congressional reporter, had a revealing Q&A today that gives some brutally honest insight into the current situation of the undecided superdelegates and the candidate currently pinning her last hopes on their endorsements.

Washington: Looking at the most recent Rasmussen daily polls, I see that Hillary manages a tie today against McCain, but Barack is down by five points to McCain. What piqued my interest was that while Hillary had a "highly unfavorable" rating of 32 percent (i.e., as I see it, people who never will vote for her) Barack was at 35 percent. On Jan. 30, as we entered primary season's main show, Barack's "highly unfavorables" were 20 percent and Clinton's were 35 percent. Is this something superdelegates may be watching?

Paul Kane: I've spent the past several months talking to as many super-delegates as any reporter in America, I'd guess, since I cover on a day-to-day basis about 280 of them here on Capitol Hill.

I hate saying this, because all the Clinton people are going to flip out and say, You're biased, you're biased, you're biased. So go ahead and flip out if you want, but the simple basic truth is that the super-delegates stopped paying attention to the Clinton-Obama race about a couple days after the Indiana and North Carolina primaries.

They've stopped paying attention to the primary, and instead they're focused on an Obama-McCain matchup in November. That's the basic, simple, definitive reality that has happened in this race. The "undecided" super-delegates at this moment are not going to "decide" any time soon, because to them the race is over, they're just waiting for Clinton to drop out.

Later on in the Q&A, the topic was broached again, this time from the "who's more electable in the fall" position that Clinton has been floating to the media:

Centreville, Va.: I was surprised and disappointed that The Post did not seem to address the Gallup poll yesterday which seemed to say Hillary Clinton had somewhat of an advantage over Barack Obama in the so-called swing states. The news of that poll was bandied about all day on the political blogs, and I have to say the Obama supporters seemed to be getting the worst of it. (Or is it "worse" with only two candidates in the poll?)

washingtonpost.com: Hillary Clinton's Swing-State Advantage (Gallup, May 28)

Paul Kane: Again, don't yell at me because I'm only the messenger here. But the super-delegates have moved on, they're no longer looking at how Hillary Clinton fares in battleground states against McCain. This is very hard for Clinton supporters to hear, I'm sorry, but the super-delegates are not paying attention to your candidate anymore. These head-to-head matchup polls (Clinton v. McCain, Obama v. McCain) are not having the impact on people's thinking anymore.

Mr. Kane's remarks jibe remarkably well with the general truth of the matter - that elections aren't decided by theoretical matchups 6 months down the road. Polls from that far out simply aren't reliable on any measure. And the superdelegates know that.

Note that Mr. Kane isn't responding with his own assessment of the primary race - he's simply bearing the truth about how the superdelegates see it. Considering that Clinton's arguments have been directed squarely at this group, its a telling situation that they're not making the effect Clinton was hoping for.

To ward off cries of bias, I'm going to include a Q&A about the general tone of the election and the supporters on both sides. This part is purely personal opinion on the part of Kane, so if you're upset about the above two statements, hopefully this will help put his own viewpoint in perspective:

Lashing out?: Why? I know that there are many out there who vastly prefer Sen. Clinton to Sen. Obama. I know they think that she's more qualified and better-equipped to beat John McCain in the general election. I know they think that Clinton has been unfairly treated by the media and that the primary system is all screwed up. I've heard all their arguments. And I don't doubt that they genuinely believe all of these things. My question, though, is this: What realistic outcome are they still holding out for?

Paul Kane: They want their candidate to win. I'm not sure they know how that outcome would occur, but they want Clinton to win, it's that simple. If Obama was losing this campaign by just as narrow a margin, his supporters would be just as upset. It's important for Obama supporters to realize just how narrow a victory he appears to have pulled off, rather than running around the country acting like they blew out Clinton. If she had been semi-competitive in the post-Super Tuesday states in February -- rather than losing them all 60-40 or worse -- it's highly possible she would be the nominee.

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