Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Transforming a "Debate" Into "Not a Debate"

"Escaping the surly bonds of .... actually debating."
Just do whatever you like. The cameras are running.
[This will get things started. Colbert and the Ghost of Lincoln LATE SHOW]

Obscured behind decades of "retrofitted definitions," we Americans have completely abandoned the actual meaning of "a debate" in favor of something else which bears painfully little resemblance to the real thing. This has now gone on long enough that most of us sincerely question even the proposition that there is, actually, such a ting as a debate.

We like the insinuation accompanying the word far more than anything actually associated with the process. In the fantasy version two adversaries blather about for a few minutes, making points, making mistakes and revealing the deepest, most fundamental qualities of themselves. 

So, if we're all frozen in front of our televisions while shopping for a new President, what could possibly be better than that?

Lincoln Douglas Debates
 - 1858
We seem to be enthralled with the frantically wishful, although embarrassingly cloudy, expectation that one of these modern "speech fests" is really going to show us what we  really need to know about these candidates. By "debate" time we have heard just about everything that either candidate hopes might persuade us to change our minds or reinforce our previous decision. The voices on the stage will almost certainly not be saying anything appreciably different from what each one has already said before. Too risky.

The perennial problem arises from the fact that each of these candidates secretly presumes that the voters don't trust them much. Of course this uncomfortable presumption on the candidates' part turns out to be quite well founded.

Just A Wee Bit About "Debates"

The idea of a debate has a very specific definition. What was touted as a "debate" between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was far -- very far -- removed from anything particularly similar to a debate.

In order to "flesh this out" just a little, we'll need to use the MeanMesa Time Machine. Relax. A journey in this ultra modern device will seem just like a few minutes sitting in your easy chair. We'll have to set the target date in the 1950's, decades ago, when MeanMesa was a mere sprout sitting in what was, at the time, called a "speech class" in a mid-western, public, junior high school.

In the 1950's everyone in junior high was required to be enrolled in one of these "speech classes."

Well, one of the items taught in these "speech classes" was debate. The definition of what was meant by a debate and the instructions concerning how one was to be conducted were carefully presented to the attending students.

The basic idea was fairly simple. The teacher would provide a list of possible topics to be debated. Each of these would be presented as an argument -- a proposition. Examples of such debate topics, if taught in more modern times, might be something like these:

  • The United States should use its military to remove Syrian dictator Assad from power.
  • A federal law should make every buyer submit to a back ground check before purchasing a fire arm.
  • The electoral college should be abandoned in favor of simple majority elections.

The class members would be divided into pairs, and each pair would select a topic from this list. At this time the teacher of this "speech class" would assign "supporting" and "opposing" sides of the up coming debate to each member of the debate pair. It didn't matter if this assignment went directly against the personal sentiments of the young debater receiving the assignment. The task was to take the assigned position, argue its advantages and benefits and defend it from the counter argument presenting by the other debater.

Naturally, the "structure" of the debate was established as soon as the participants had been selected. There would be a strict time schedule for opening statements, counter arguments and the subsequent responses. When these allocated time periods had been consumed, each of these parts ended. An unfinished thought or an incomplete rebuttal were cause for a serious impact on one's grade.

Part of this "debate assignment" would be to research every possible side of the chosen question. Each debater was to be graded on how well prepared he or she was when the debate was held. Additionally, an important part of this research was to retrieve some information which could be presented during the debate in a way which might catch one's opponent "off guard," signifying, of course, that this preparation was inadequate.

To "win" the debate in this "speech class" a young debater needed to accomplish two important things. Of course, a good grade was still quite possible when a debater did not prevail [win the debate] as long as even the losing debater did a good job.

First, the presentation of this particular side of the debate argument had to be persuasive. The other members of the class served as the audience. Following the debate the teacher would poll these class members to see if the presentations during the debate had persuaded them to adopt a changed position on the debate topic or, one the other hand, had reinforced their previous stance on the question.

Second, the teacher would grade each participant's conduct of the debate. Were positions presented clearly? Did the debaters fumble when suddenly confronted by an unexpected fact from the opposing side? Was the research done sufficiently?

The stated goals of these debate assignments were obvious. Students were to be taught to be "quick on their feet," well organized, focused on the question, able to competently respond to counter arguments and fluent in their presentation.

It may be no more than one of MeanMesa's "senior moments," but it truly seems that the students who had received this "debate" education became noticeably better with their communication skills.

Why What Went On at Hofstra University
 Was Not a Debate

A quick review of the debate process as it was taught all those decades back immediately reveals the fundamental differences between a "traditional debate" and the Presidential Debate which just occurred between Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump. 

The "debate moderator" was not posing debate topic style arguments. Instead, each of the "topics" amounted to little more than an invitation to deliver an unchallenged political speech. In fact, these "topics" were painfully over generalized. Each one of them seemed to be intentionally inciting the debate participants to revert to talking points already presented in the respective primary campaigns. 

The repeated failure of candidates to quit speaking when the debate's scheduled time allotment had been consumed -- and the repeated failure of the debate moderator to insist that this discipline was to be followed -- further disrupted the intense focus the junior high teacher would have demanded. The result was a confused, "folksy, tit for tat, chit chat" atmosphere which failed to illuminate the candidates' most important differences.

This "non-debate" behavior was painfully obvious in Mr. Trump's continued interruptions during periods allotted for Ms. Clinton's responses to his last "fact free" ranting.

This troubling "informality" eliminated the possibility of the debaters' successfully refuting untruths. Surely, at least Ms. Clinton must have prepared herself for this obligation. In the end factual refutations meant nothing. It became a "cat fight" -- precisely what Mr. Trump desperately needed, but also precisely not what the American electorate needed.

MeanMesa could not even watch more than a few minutes of the disaster. It seems that the thing's disclaimer should read:

"No ideas or false assertions were harmed in any way during the preparation of this prime time presentation."

MeanMesa shudders to think that 80 million human beings wasted ninety minutes watching this. That unsettling fact approaches the definition of a "war crime."

The "Missing Topics"
Darn. Do there have to be "found" topics first?

The "topic selection" announced a week prior to the "debate" would never have "met the test" in that old junior high school class. As mentioned before, these did not qualify as debate topics. These were craven invitations to effortlessly disgorge talking points and generalities and evoke more of the "cat fight" comments voters were already quite tired of hearing.

Here is the press release which was intended to offer the debaters "an opportunity to prepare" for Lester Holt's "piercing and insightful debate topics." [Visit the site  here.] Heh, heh. MeanMesa supposes that this "preparation" was, indeed, grueling. This is at best infuriating if not out rightly treasonous.

Commission on Presidential Debates
Moderator Announces Topics for First Presidential Debate
Sep 19, 2016

Lester Holt, moderator of the first 2016 presidential debate, has selected the topics for that debate.

Subject to possible changes because of news developments, the topics for the September 26 debate are as follows, not necessarily to be brought up in this order:

America's Direction
Achieving Prosperity
Securing America

Now, the official story line here is that "hard driving, tough reporting" Lester Holt conducted a very long, arduous, ruthless search of all the possible "debate topics" existing in the entire universe in order to come up with these three. This must have been an exhausting effort, indeed -- after all, it was a dire case of "slim pickin's" right from the get go, right?

About the closest Mr. Holt came to posing an actual debate question concerned the "first use" policy for starting a nuclear attack. Even this "best effort" was reduced to the political and ideological issues of making such a decision -- an irritating collapse into essentially a "yes or no" question..

To drive this beleaguered lament home to the blog's visitors, MeanMesa has prepared a few, sample debate topics which might have had some relevance to the idea and which might have actually revealed some material differences between the candidates who were debating.

The United States should deploy THADD anti-ballistic missiles to protect Seoul from the nuclear lunatic they sponsor in the North. 
Russia and China are both warning that this deployment will be considered a reduction in the deferment credibility of their existing strategic thermonuclear arsenals.

The US and its Asian allies should force China to abandon the military bases the PRC has been building on fake islands in the Indian Ocean. 
The US Navy has currently deployed roughly 60% of its fleet of war ships to the seas around China. The Chinese are deploying the China Navy in the same place to protect the new islands they have built there.

The US should send ground troops back into Iraq. 
The government of Iraq has suggested that additional US ground forces will be required to retake Mosul from ISIL. Most of the captured city is now intensely booby trapped.

The United States should spend roughly $3 trillion tax dollars to bring domestic infrastructure back to a serviceable condition. 
This includes fixing Flint's water and building levees to protect Cedar Rapids which just flooded again, but lots, lots more.

Of course there are literally dozens of additional topics such as these. But none of these were even so much as mentioned in the "debate." Did someone in charge conclude that American voters weren't interested in hearing what these candidates thought about these topics?

How We Discern Truth in What We Hear

Americans have adopted a very unlikely method of discerning truthful discourse in televised talk shows. Not long ago US networks apparently felt "duty bound" to broadcast an easily forgettable "news" show called the McLaughlin Group.

The broadcast content of this particular show was somewhat unique. During the broadcast the "members" of the McLaughlin Group would argue about contemporary events. When MeanMesa uses the term "argue," it may well be an understatement. Now that similar behavior has become the daily fare offered by the FOX Network, the phenomenon is no longer so shocking. 

The "discussion" would become heated to the degree that continuing to watch any particular episode quickly became the equivalent of televised self-flagellation. Well before the show ended, this arguing and yelling had become very loud and much more personal that one might expect from traditional discourse.

MeanMesa always wondered what there was about such a show which might make it so popular.

However, after considering this question for a time MeanMesa reached an interesting conclusion.

Viewers of the yelling members appearing on the McLaughlin Group were interpreting the emotional chaos of the show as evidence that the members were so emotionally engaged that they were unable to lie while expressing their opinions so vehemently.

This idea clearly "caught on" with the broadcast "designers" at FOX. Now, many media consumers specifically reserve "granting belief" to what they encounter on television to speakers with this same vehement tone.

There it is. A complete explanation of Donald Trump's voters.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

2016 - Making Oligarchy Painless

[A note from MeanMesa: This post title needs a little fixing -- a quick do over to get things started on the right foot. Of course MeanMesa doesn't expect the approaching oligarchy to be painless. To move toward a tiny bit more realism, the following title is, most likely, more appropriate:

"2016 - Making the Start of Our New Oligarchy Relatively Painless - 
At Least For the Time Being."

Now, having restored some semblance of literary relevance, we can proceed with another great post which meets Short Current Essays standards . Enjoy.]

 Remember, the Billionaires Are In Charge
Are they simply well 
paid pleasure puppets or 
network "news anchors,"
calling the tune?[image]
The "passionately embraced and insightful political discourse" currently choking the American media atmosphere amounts to what's left of the cheap cosmetics on a not particularly classy lady standing drunk on a pretty dark corner in a rainstorm.

Things are looking pretty dismal in the US political contest underway. Everything portrayed as "important" seems mysteriously banal. Surely, something must definitely be going on here, but the unavoidable conclusion is a suspicion that what we are seeing is quite removed from what is actually happening.

The gaseous culpability behind a mystery such as this -- at least in these modern times -- almost always rushes headlong to the feet of the billionaires. Armed with their "public opinion managing think tanks," these emboldened, in bred, trust fund trolls are now creeping from their gated country clubs out into the light as they pursue their ultimate obsession: a permanent, dynastic oligarchy.

A very faint "bright spot" in this careening descent into the "new state of things" is not buried any deeper than a very peculiar feature of these billionaires with their monetary wet dream of calling the shots after these last few details of replacing democracy have been "settled."

They're tremendous cowards.

They already own so much stuff that they instantly become embarrassingly nervous at the very first prospect of actually losing even the tiniest part of their dynastic fortunes. Their typical life experience has never included what the rest of us would consider "ups and downs." This constant fear might drive them to take chance and make mistakes, but their ten digit asset accounts actually give the little darlings plenty of leeway.

Standing this close to total victory, we can anticipate some pretty crazy behavior on their part. They are, typically, quite clumsy in the assertion of their power. They may have learned about patience and risk taking in their childhood "guillotine classes," but the "carousel's ring" is desperately shiny and almost within their reach at this moment.

With this little detail now handled so nicely, we can lurch right into the "meat of the issue." The final steps to accomplish this transformation is certain to be practically "hiccup-free" thanks to the fact that around 88% of "interested, informed, democracy loving" Americans have any no idea what an oligarchy is.

No idea at all.

No idea how life will change after we "complete the shift."

No idea how depressingly permanent this gut wrenching change 
will prove to be in a half a dozen decades. 
Think of it as a never ending tooth ache.

However, this is not a problem. The billionaires currently own around 88% of everything, so perhaps the numbers, in a sense, go together.

The Extremely Unusual 2016 Election

What's missing, and what's been added.

MeanMesa is constantly amazed as the "puppet show" rambles forward. In every corner the "political discourse" has become a predictable lament focused on the failing and foibles of one side or the other. The narrative has become tiresome and pointless. Regardless of the channel setting, the passionate accounts shared with the citizens continue to paint the comfortably reassuring meme of simply another, more or less normal, clash of mysteriously legitimate political campaigns.

MeanMesa is unable to discern anything recognizable as an actual "political campaign" mired in the media soup at this point. All the faces and words "networky" enough to reach New Mexico's high desert amount to endless flow of painfully tiresome, over scripted, castrated groans of dancing puppets -- dancing puppets with painfully obvious puppet strings which are far too visible to be ignored.

There's no reason to be overly "discrete" when revealing the personal specifics of this experience. MeanMesa will vote for Hillary Clinton. Bill's plan to scare the daylights out of this old voter has been highly effective. As is the case with most Americans who will also vote for Hillary Clinton, the most compelling reason, of course, is Donald Trump. That was Bill's plan to accomplish the election of his un-electable wife.

It seems to be working. The sold out networks -- also quite predictably -- are now reporting that the election margins are "closing." MeanMesa doubts this, but there isn't much reason to lose sleep over the prospect. Most likely it is simply another cheap tactic to "juice up" the contest so the campaigns, frightened by these inauthentic numbers, will spend even more on advertising.

Among the ranks of these contemporary, bumbling politicians, no one seems to know anything. Both campaigns are fiercely amateurish.

The industrial US media has infrequently insinuated that Hillary has actually proposed actual policy proposals about a few things here and there -- perhaps 5% of the minimum policy a normal, healthy campaign might have proposed. Of course there is little opportunity to particularly explore any of these "campaign ideas." Decades ago the Democrats completely lost their presence in the network media flow. The entire party -- and, certainly, including Hillary Clinton -- has become disturbingly invisible.

[Continuing with the theme of not being "overly discrete," MeanMesa is more than willing to share the media consumed here in the Galactic Head Quarters.

Stephanie Miller
Thom Hartmann
Rachel Maddow
Randi Rhodes

None of these sources are difficult or expensive to access. MeanMesa's enduring infatuation with Randi Rhodes has prompted the expenditure of $10 per month for her pod cast -- even though parts of it are available by subscribing on YouTube. Blog visitors are encouraged to seek out these sources. You will continually feel more and more "inner peace" the further you get from the toxic corporate media, but don't confuse "inner peace" with anything similar to hopeful reassurance.]

This is a crushingly gloomy vision.

Unsurprisingly, this election will be completed with essentially no expression of citizen opinion with respect to the future course of the country. It is a chilling case of "The Platitudes Win!" Thanks to the useless domestic US media, anything that isn't "a platitude" isn't reported. It is buried beneath thirty impenetrable layers of wet wool. The American political "audience" has become so codependent and so hopelessly stricken with ADHD that everything of interest must be reduced to a 140 word Tweet before it becomes considered to be digestible.

The New Paradigm Explains Everything!
The explanation is just as painfully distasteful as the question it explains.

The old paradigm rests on the equally old idea that elections in a modern democracy have something to do with the concerns and aspirations of the electorate. This time around such a presumption leads only to an incomprehensible, obsolete model of events with only the most tedious, flimsy "connections" to the reality of what is unfolding.

The billionaires' think tanks have been working diligently to deliver an electorate which is savagely alienated and disgusted. Citizens are alienated by the infuriating ineffectiveness of the current government. Few of what had previously been the "middle class" continue to expect that anything Washington might do will alter conditions of life in the country in any positive way. The carefully orchestrated effort to disgust voters has succeeded. There are dangerously few voters still retaining some tattered hope that the government might yet be saved.

This "dangerously few" number diminishes even more when the current candidates are added to the question. MeanMesa estimates that no more than 30% of the electorate expects any noticeable improvement in "American life" as an outcome from electing either one of them.

So. Is all this the result of a "groundswell" of irritation so intense that it has just finally "boiled to the surface?"

No, this is a "Swiss watch" of masterful, carefully planned, political manipulation -- a quite expensive one. Groundswells seldom have sponsors, designers or benefactors. This groundswell has all three.

The billionaires are making their move. The very last element of the old democracy which continued to block their efforts was the ballot box. However, after injecting a few hundred million dollars into state elections anywhere they could, the previously potent ballot box is, now, dangerously handicapped.

It is a two pronged effort. The voters had to be alienated and disgusted to a point where voter turn out was even lower than it has been traditionally. Voters who had "skin in the game" compelling enough to drive them to the polls were met with six hour wait times, the corpse of the old voting rights act after it had been thoroughly eviscerated by an obedient Supreme Court, crudely fashioned "identity" requirements, mass voter registration purges and every other possible, criminal disincentive.

There is no way to predict what voting statistics for the 2016 election will be. If the billionaires' think tanks have done their job, it will be dismal. Once the election has been completed, it will, most likely, be terrifying.

The Interesting Conclusion of Ibil ka Dum
Everything old is new again, except
there's nothing new under the sun.

Ibil ka Dum, 14th Century
Islamic Historian [image - YouTube]
Ibin ka Dum was a 14th Century Islamic historian. He documented an exquisitely interesting pattern of the origin, development and demise of an entire series of ancient cultures in the Middle East. [Note: It wasn't the "Middle East" until much, much later.] MeanMesa thinks this pattern that he observed paints a very modern picture. Although the stakes have evolved through the centuries [grown even larger], we are still in the cycle.

[Watch the YouTube video - 11 minutes. It explains everything. Then, come back to MeanMesa for the remainder of the post. Pre-Islamic history of the Middle East]

Now, we must seek the similarities between our current dilemma and the historic, repeating sequence of events our historian noticed.

The stages in Ibil ka Dum's "sequence" were both laconic and chillingly prescient.


The list of civilizations observed by Ibil ka Dum to have progressed in this manner is impressive.

Akkadians [Sargon the Great]
Ammorites [founded Babylon]
Babylonians [Hammurabi]
resurgent Sumerians and resurgent Babylonians
Chaldeans [hanging gardens of Babylon and Nebuchad'Nezzar] 
Persians and Medes [Zoroaster]
Macedonia [Alexander]
Seleucids [Alexander's generals]

The period of all these changes is so long that only the highlights are mentioned here. While this ancient historian recounted this repetitive sequence of the events of ancient, pre-Islamic cultures in the Middle East, it offers a compelling resonance with the events of our most immediate, modern times. However, few souls beyond the inebriated bumblers in the odorous mob of mindless hill billies and bigots in the Trump minority consider the prospect of the United States being "conquered" by a rambunctious assault by nomadic tribesmen to be particularly likely.

Assyrian Soldier Beheading
 an Edamite ca: 650 BC

In each of the cases in Ibil ka Dum's list of repeating examples the power controlling an established civilization was over thrown by "wild" nomadic tribesmen from a near by region. Once the fighting ended, the cycle began. The initial "conquest" phase was pretty violent and destructive. With the nomads in charge a "consolidation" of all the remaining pieces was the next step.

The "new blood" of the conquerors, for a time, energized the "consolidated" citizenry of the "new" culture to undertake a territorial expansion. But over time the new, energetic blood of those who had now recently conquered, consolidated and expanded began to degenerate -- to become "soft from city living." By this point in the cycle the next near by nomads already had their eyes set on the next cycle of, you guessed it, conquest.

Still, MeanMesa offered "similarity" and "resonance" between this ancient tale and our modern events. So, without sinking too far into the details let's make an important distinction right away.

Let's replace the ancient idea of conquering an established culture, ripping apart everything there and taking over as the "new boss" with a modern version of the same process. In this case the degenerate "city dwellers" are replaced by the degenerate citizens in both various modern democracies and in various, more or less free, modern national economies. However, these modern day conquerors have no interest at all in the unilateral destruction of everything of value. Instead, their efforts are entirely focused on essentially maintaining the degenerative process while continuously extracting wealth from their new possession.

Rather than immediately becoming notably raucous, ancient city conquering, "party animals" celebrating their sudden, newly acquired wealth, these modern conquerors are much more inclined to adopt the character of the quiet and patient parasite. They intend to take possession, over time, of everything previously owned by those they conquered while allowing the "conquered democracies" and the "conquered economies" to continue to exist, appearing -- at least for a time until such an arrangement begins to divert too much of the conquered gold to the effort of maintaining such an artificial ruse -- unchanged in their "surface" appearance.

The Modern "Degenerates"
It's going to be much neater without the pillaging, plundering
 and all the messy wreckage of those old city walls.

By this time everyone already knows the nature of the next modern conqueror. The traditional Republicans, although somewhat confused by their nomination of such a shady candidate, are  still confident enough that the looting festival begun in the Reagan era will continue. The Democrats are still somewhat shell shocked that their candidate was so unpopular when she was nominated, but Democratic voters are quite aware of Ms. Clinton's close connections with oligarchic interests such as Goldman-Sachs, WalMart and others.

But, what should we have expected? We are in the final phase of our conversion to the oligarchic style of national government. It was inevitable that, at least by this point, the billionaires and corporatists would, very predictably, begin choosing Presidents comfortably sympathetic with their interests. To accomplish this it is completely understandable that the nominated candidates from both parties would both offer administrations committed to this "comfortable sympathy."

Nonetheless, we need not feel that the US voter is the sole victim in this global take over scheme. Yes, the US is a literal "treasure trove" of national wealth which offers the billionaires many remaining years of successful "hollowing out" before they've finished. But a quick review of oligarchic advances all across the world reveals that these happy go lucky, opportunistic billionaires are devouring every "democracy" and every otherwise relatively functional "national economy" which can boast of as much as two dimes to rub together.

Other countries may not offer the same stupendous wealth to serve as sustenance for these suddenly revealed oligarchic dynasties, but the other economies around the world, while perhaps offering less to loot, are significantly easier and cheaper to "conquer."

The Russian Federation is an autocratic oligarchy. The Peoples Republic of China, while not even pretending to be a democracy, is unquestionably an oligarchy. The prosperous nations in the EU -- meaning those which are not currently bankrupt -- qualify as "ripe picking" for the respective oligarchs. The oil soaked monarchs, theocrats and autocrats lurking about in the Middle East [Because this is significantly later than the world observed by Ibil ka Dum, we can call it that.] are either oligarchs or are having violent, religion flavored dreams of becoming oligarchs. The African and South American states, already enjoying a tradition of frequent government take overs, aren't faring much better.

It's probably important to understand that as the oligarchs succeed in taking control of an ever growing number of countries, the prospects for ever removing them decrease rapidly.

In terms of "degeneracy" -- as noted by Ibil ka Dum -- the citizens of the democracies have very successfully "filled the bill." With the now nearly unilateral failure of the public education experiment American voters have no idea about most of what was taught in high school civics classes half a century ago. Normally, when US voters would hear a Presidential candidate proclaiming that he intended to do what -- in those days -- everyone knew would have to be done by Congress, that entire campaign would have ground to a halt.

However, with more modern, "civics free" voters such a claim seems eerily acceptable. Adding to the "new understanding" is the fact that Congress never actually does anything anyway, making the gravity of such a campaign gaffe curiously gaseous. 

Don't forget to vote in November.