Tag Archives: George orwell

SYNDICATED COLUMN: How to Deal with a Media Pile-On

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Tips for Targets of Online Hatefests

Over the holiday weekend I found myself in a uncomfortable yet not entirely unfamiliar place. I was the target of the online equivalent of the Two Minute Hate in Orwell’s “1984.”

The subject: the way I draw President Obama. Which I’ve been doing since 2009. But this column is not about that. It’s about a few things I’ve learned about how online witch hunts and mob mentality have evolved in recent years.

Like other cartoonists I’ve taken heat before, notably over my “terror widows” and Pat Tillman cartoons from 2002 and 2004, respectively. During the grim years following 9/11, bloggers on the far right of America’s political fringe repeatedly issued furious rants calling for me to censored, imprisoned, tortured, raped and/or assassinated. Well, hey, it’s nice to be noticed.

Ten years later, the anatomy of the Internet pile-on has changed, and it reveals some interesting changes in American political culture. The knee-jerk nationalism of the Bush years has given way to a form of political correctness on steroids under Obama, with identity politics running amok. Influenced by social networks, the comments sections of political discussion websites have adopted like/dislike ratings systems that amplify groupthink. In contrast to the 2000s, when right-wing haters threatened lefties’ lives more than their livelihoods, conservative Obama Democrats are more likely to censor you than to threaten to kill your family.

To be sure, the basic characteristics of TwoMinuteHate.com remain the same. Internet mob rule still relies on the power of suggestion; when people follow a link that urges Click Here to See a Terrible Horrible Witch, they’re more likely than not to see, well, a horrible witch.

I call this the Comedy Club Effect. 99.99% of stand-up comics aren’t funny. Yet most people laugh at most of their (bad) jokes. People who spend $30 plus a two-drink minimum are preconditioned to have a good time. Having a good time at a comedy club requires laughing. So the audience laughs.

The mandatory drinks help.

After I was introduced as “America’s funniest cartoonist” at a talk in Chicago I apologized — in a straight-ahead, not even trying to joke way, for being late, explaining that I’d gotten stuck in traffic from O’Hare. Everyone laughed.

The corollary of the Comedy Club Effect is that when people are preconditioned to hate, they tend to hate well and often. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen experienced this when his “what if I were a bigot” musings (“people with conventional views must repress a gag reflex“) about New York Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio’s biracial family drew calls for his firing and unsubstantiated assertions that these were really Cohen’s thoughts. It was the exact 180-degree opposite of fair: If anything, white conservatives “with conventional views,” rather than progressives, should have been angry at Cohen for attributing bigotry that the conventional types hadn’t expressed.

Like other targets of media pile-ons, I find it hard to accept that angry people who are yelling at you are open to nothing you have to say. Explanations don’t help. Apologies don’t stop them. They just want to yell at you. Anything you say can and will be used, distorted and twisted against you in the court of Twitter.

If you’re smart, you’ll duck and cover, leaving your allies and fellow travelers to run interference for you and defend your cyberhonor. But your defenders won’t get far. Dissenting voices get shouted down too. Anything they say will be similarly twisted and they’ll be accused of being your toadies and shills. In the end, they’ll get ground down by endless demands to repeat themselves until they finally fade away, leaving the field to your attackers’ hundreds of comments, all of which will remain forever Google-able to your future might-have-been employers.

There’s no way you can win. All you can do is conserve your energy until the mob moves on to burn down someone else’s house.

As always, commenters have strong opinions about, for example, cartoons they haven’t actually seen.

My latest imbroglio brought me into contact with such relatively recent additions to the PC canon as “whitesplaining” and “mansplaining.” According to the Urban Dictionary, whitespaining is “the paternalistic lecture given by whites toward a person of color defining what should and shouldn’t be considered racist, while obliviously exhibiting their own racism” and mansplaining is “the tendency of some men to mistakenly believe that they automatically know more about any given topic than does a woman and who, consequently, proceed to explain to her — correctly or not — things that she already knows.”

A more lucid definition is for the suffix “‘splaining,” which Geek Feminism calls “a form of condescension in which a member of a privileged group explains something to a member of a marginalized group — most particularly, explains about their marginalization — as if the privileged person knows more about it.”

As a white male, in other words, I can imagine how irritating it would be to hear a white guy like me tell someone who isn’t white or male about their experience as a disadvantaged minority. But I can’t know how they feel.

Obviously, this is true. The trouble is that, on sites like Daily Kos, where the majority views are pro-Obama and pro-Democratic Party no matter what they do, the cries of “whitesplaining” and “mansplaining” are used to stifle not condescension, but disagreement.

Speaking about the controversy over the way I draw Obama, the founder of Daily Kos refused to weigh in with his opinion over whether or not I am racist. “Don’t be that white guy telling African-Americans what is and isn’t racist,” sayeth Markos Moulitsas. 1300 comments or so later, someone finally asked: “If white guys have no right to voice an opinion about racism, I’m curious if minorities expect white guys to say anything at all about racism (except for racist statement, of course)? After all, if your opinions simply aren’t welcome, can you really expect people to engage in a debate?”

Daily Kos is one of many sites that have adopted Facebook-style like/dislike rating systems. Viewers may click “recommend (+)” or “hide (-)” on blog entries as well as individual comments. Items with more thumbs up add to a poster’s digital “mojo” on the site. Items with more thumbs down get hidden from view and subtract from mojo. Run out of mojo and you can’t post anymore. You are unpersoned, like in “1984.”

The link aggregator Reddit demonstrates the problem with this system. Post cute kittens and your ratings soar. Post anything controversial — say, something about Edward Snowden — and the hates will more than cancel out the likes. Reddit is a place where anything less than totally insipid goes to die. I assume they like it that way.

At Kos they call this “community moderation.” It sounds democratic. In practice, the Rec/Hide system is toxic, stifling and distracting, prompting long threads of comments by people complaining about one another’s hides and recs, and threatening to get even for them. (What were we talking about again?) There are secret Facebook pages for various gangs of Kossacks, who swoop into certain posts to rec or hide them into glory or oblivion, as the case may be.

It sounds silly. It’s what happens when people have too much time on their hands.

But this manipulation of online political discussion has a real-world effect: it crushes anything that disagrees with the hive mind — a collective mentality that becomes more lockstep because of it — and it kills anything new or interesting. Worst of all, casual browsers could be forgiven that nothing new or interesting or taking issue with this mainstream/generic view (in the case of Kos, unquestioning support for Obama and the DNC) exists.

I posted a blog defending myself and explaining why I draw Obama the way I do to Kos. It received many recommendations and attracted hundreds of comments. Unfortunately, you can’t find it anymore. It was “hide rated” by pro-Obama Kossacks.

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the Internet was supposed to turn out like this.

(Ted Rall’s website is rall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: “1984” Is Here. Yawn.

Orwell’s Nightmares Come True — But Who Cares?

Another horror no one will care about: the government is spying on your snail mail.

The New York Times timed the release of the story so that it would come and go without notice: on the Fourth of July, when no one reads the paper or watches the news. But buried beneath a puffy lede is yet another privacy-killing whopper. After 9/11, the Times reports, the U.S. Postal Service created something called the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT) program, “in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.”

Just a wild guess? How about: forever?

“Together,” the paper continued, “the two programs show that postal mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.” Any government agency — the FBI, local police, etc. — can request mail cover data. As with the rubber-stamp “FISA court,” the USPS almost always says yes to these outrageous mass violations of privacy.

From George Orwell’s “1984”: “As for sending a letter through the mails, it was out of the question. By a routine that was not even secret, all letters were opened in transit.”

“It’s a treasure trove of information,” the Times quotes former FBI agent James Wedick. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.” Your finances. Your politics. Your friends.

No doubt about it, the dystopian vision laid out by George Orwell in “1984” is here.

Thanks to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, we’ve learned about the previously top-secret PRISM program, in which the U.S. government “collects the e-mail, voice, text and video chats” of every American to be stored in a $2 billion data farm in Utah, as well as sweeping telephone surveillance by Verizon and other telecommunications companies on behalf of the NSA. According to NBC News and other sources, “every single phone call made in the U.S. has been monitored by the U.S. government.” And not, merely, as President Obama and his media shills keep saying, “just” (!) the metadata. Under ECHELON, they listen in to “all telephone, fax and data traffic,” record it, and store it.

From “1984”: “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to.”

Yes they can.

The dominant eavesdropping technology in “1984” was a device called the “telescreen.” Installed in every home and workplace as an outlet for government propaganda, Orwell’s telescreen “received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard.”

Which sounds a lot like the creepy new two-way TV — you watch it and it watches you — for which Verizon filed a patent application in 2011.  This TV would target “ads to viewers based on information collected from infrared cameras and microphones that would be able to detect conversations, people, objects and even animals that are near a TV. If the detection system determines that a couple is arguing, a service provider would be able to send an ad for marriage counseling to a TV or mobile device in the room,” reported the blog Fierce Cable. “If the couple utters words that indicate they are cuddling, they would receive ads for ‘a romantic getaway vacation, a commercial for a contraceptive, a commercial for flowers,’ or commercials for romantic movies, Verizon states in the patent application.”

Verizon’s patent was denied. But now Google TV is going for it. The technology exists; it’s only a matter of time before it finds its way into our homes. Anti-privacy tech types point out it’s only to make ads more effective — the same way web ads react to your searching and browsing. But that’s just for now. It isn’t a stretch to imagine the NSA, FBI or other crazy spook outfit tapping into America’s telescreens in order to watch us in our living rooms and bedrooms.

Gotta stop the terrorists! Whatever it takes.

Ah, the terrorists. The enemies of the state. Bush had his Osama; Obama has Snowden. Bugaboos keep us distracted, fearful, compliant. “The heretic, the enemy of society, will always be there, so that he can be defeated and humiliated over again,” the government official goon O’Brien lectures Winston Smith in “1984.” “The espionage, the betrayals, the arrests, the tortures, the executions, the disappearances will never cease.”

They can’t.

Governments rule over the governed either by obtaining their tacit consent, or by crushing potential opponents by making them afraid to speak up. Option two is where we are now.

One horror follows another. At Guantánamo concentration camp, where les misérables of America’s War of Terror languish for year after year, uncharged with any crime, U.S. government goons announced that they will continue to force-feed more than 100 hunger strikers during Ramadan, a month-long holiday when devout Muslims are required to fast. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy in London because he fears extradition to and execution by the U.S.; Ecuador has discovered that some Western intelligence agency planted a bug to watch him. Meanwhile, Edward Snowden has been de facto stripped of his U.S. citizenship, his passport canceled, rendering him effectively stateless. Meanwhile, the megacriminals he exposed — Obama and his cronies — are living large.

Assange and Snowden are no longer important. They’ve done all the damage they can do. But the U.S. will never leave them, or any other enemy of the state, alone. It’s about terrifying potential political opponents into submission.

“Do not imagine that you will save yourself, Winston, however completely you surrender to us. No one who has once gone astray is ever spared,” O’Brien tells Winston. “We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”

Enjoy your barbecue.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: We Are All Soviets Now

Not-So-Secret “Secret Bombings” Have Big Implications

Did Israel bomb Damascus yesterday? Of course it did. According to Syrian rebel sources, 42 Syrian army soldiers were killed. But Israel – following its customary policy – won’t admit it. This has happened before. Usually, Syria doesn’t say anything about Israeli airstrikes. (The Syrian government’s complaint about Sunday’s airstrike is unusual, and thus cause for concern that the civil war might escalate into a regional conflict.)

According to experts, the official silence following not-so-secret secret bombings reflect the fact that even enemies have to cooperate sometimes. If Syria acknowledges that it has been the victim of what international law and anyone with a dictionary defines as an act of war, Syrian citizens and non-Syrians throughout the Muslim world would pressure the government of President Bashar al-Assad into a war it can’t win. Knowing this, the Israelis – who don’t want a war that could unite the fractious Arabs against them and set the Middle East ablaze – let Assad save face. By refusing to confirm or to deny, they quietly gloat over what everyone knows, that they can come and go as they please over Syrian airspace (or fire long-range missiles from Israeli territory, since even the Syrians don’t seem sure what hit them yesterday).

We live in a time that bears out the most dystopian of George Orwell’s predictions, yet even in a world of bluster and BS few news events are as surreal and mind-blowing as a so-called secret bombing. There is, after all, nothing secret about bombs. Especially when they fall into a densely populated metropolis. Certainly the families of those 42 dead soldiers are in the loop.

“Imagine an airstrike on a US weapons depot and no one claims responsibility,” the political cartoonist Kevin Moore tweet-asked. “Would we be so blasé about it?” We would be if we were a weak nation and the attacker was a strong one.

Not that this is a first-time occurrence.

Older readers remember the so-called secret bombing of Cambodia in 1969 and 1970, when President Richard Nixon ordered the carpet bombing of North Vietnamese supply bases in eastern Cambodia and Laos, a violation of international law. It was a sensational scoop for to readers of the New York Times and members of Congress (who hadn’t been informed), but if you were there, there was nothing secretive about the 100,000-plus tons of ordnance dropped in 3800-plus sorties by American B-52s.

Tens of thousands of Cambodians, including many civilians, were killed.

As far as the rest of the world was concerned, however, the bombings were cloaked by a conspiracy of silence. The international media found out about it right away but coverage was scant and tentative. Cambodia’s leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, supposedly sent his tacit approval through back channels; for its part, North Vietnam couldn’t say boo because they weren’t supposed to be in Cambodia either.

The US drone war in Pakistan bears similarities to Cambodia, though it features a delicious extra dollop of deception.

As I reported in 2010, the United States isn’t so much occupying Afghanistan as it is using eastern Afghanistan as a staging area to launch drone strikes against tribal areas in western Pakistan. Again we have the ridiculous spectacle of something that couldn’t possibly be less secret – Hellfire missiles streaming out of the sky from buzzing drones circling Pakistani cities in broad daylight and blasting homes and cars – while both the Americans firing the weapons and the Pakistani government whose territory they are landing on officially deny knowing anything about them. Although Pakistani officials either claim helplessness in the face of American military might or condemn the drone strikes outright, thousands of people have died in hundreds of attacks under the Bush and Obama administrations as the result of a brutal quid pro quo: the CIA kills political dissidents and other “enemies of the state” on the Pakistani regime’s hit list in exchange for the privilege of killing “terrorists” it deems a threat. (It recently came out that CIA drone operators fire blindly, without knowing who they’re killing.)

The United States has similar arrangements with Yemen and Somalia.

Oh, and the U.S. doesn’t even officially acknowledge that it has a drone program. It’s classified. If it exists. Even though Obama jokes about it.

I wonder whether the lawyered-up officials who gin up these pssst arrangements worry about the geopolitical implications. For at least 200 years – arguably since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 – the Western world has been governed on the basis of strictly defined borders. In the postwar era the United Nations has served primarily as an attempt to enshrine the sovereignty of nation-states. At the core of contemporary international law is the doctrine that invading the territory or airspace is an act of war, particularly when the victim is internationally recognized as sovereign. So how does that square with secret bombings?

If Israel can carry out acts of war against Syria with impunity, without suffering any sanction, and if United States can do the same in Pakistan, who is to say which cross-border incursions of the future are acceptable and which are not? If Syria and Pakistan tacitly consent to their territory being bombed, but don’t sign formal agreements to allow it, can they legitimately claim to be sovereign independent states? It seems to me that both the bombers and the victim countries are messing around with issues with huge potential ramifications without thinking them through.

When political leaders wallow in “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes” absurdism, citizens roll their eyes and learn to reflexively distrust everything they see and hear from officials and in mainstream media. How, for example, can you take an Israeli government seriously that has had nuclear weapons since the 1970s but refuses to admit it (and sabre-rattles with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, which probably doesn’t exist)? Or a United Nations that refuses to call them to account under nuclear nonproliferation treaties?

The greatest enemy of political stability is alienation. Citizens don’t have to like their leaders to hand them the tacit consent of the governed. But if a regime wants to stay in power, the people have to believe their government more often than not. It can’t be perceived as totally full of crap.

Just ask Mikhail Gorbachev.

Sure, all rules are arbitrary. But once you start breaking your own rules, you undermine the basis of legitimacy for the system you’ve created and hope to perpetuate. If we go back to the basis of nationhood – you have a right to exist if you can carve out borders, defend them, and repel invaders – we unwind the world order that has been in place for nearly half a millennium. Which may be for the better. But it’s probably something that we should all discuss.

In the open.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Does Your Brain Have a Right to Privacy?

Cannibals, Thoughtcrime and a Rising Police State

“I was going to be tied up by my feet and my throat slit and they would have fun watching the blood gush out of me because I was young,” the wife of 28-year-old NYPD “cannibal cop” Gilberto Valle testified at his trial.

After she installed keyboard-tracking software on his laptop, Kathleen Mangan-Valle went on, she found that her husband planned to stuff one of her friends in a suitcase and murder her. Two other women were “going to be raped in front of each other to heighten their fears,” while another would be roasted alive over an open fire.

Planned? Or fantasized?

There’s no evidence that Officer Valle, on trial for conspiracy to kidnap, torture, kill and eat women, ever acted on his voreaphilia, a cannibalism fetish. If convicted, however, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

George Orwell called it “thoughtcrime”: punishing people for their thoughts rather than their actions. The case of the cannibal cop – or, more accurately, the wannabe cannibal cop – is a perfect illustration of why a society can be tempted to try to monitor what goes on in people’s brains, and to sanction citizens whose opinions and fantasies fail to conform to “normalcy.” Suppose the federal jury lets Officer Valle off the hook. The idea of this guy roaming the streets of Manhattan picturing the women he sees roasting on a spit – one of the staged (ßlink not safe for work) and Photoshopped images he perused online – is, well, the word creepy hardly does it justice.

Voreaphiliacs are rare, but one of the great things about the Internet is that it allows pervs and other weirdoes to find one another. “If you were someone mildly interested in cannibalism 30 years ago, it was really hard to find someone in real space to find common cause with,” Joseph V. DeMarco, ex-chief of the cybercrime unit of the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, told The New York Times. “Whereas online, it’s much easier to find those people, and I think when you have these communities forming, validating each other, encouraging each other, it’s not far-fetched to think that some people in that community who otherwise might not be pushed beyond certain lines might be.”

That’s what happened in Germany in 2001, when a man who responded to an online post seeking a victim willing to be killed, slaughtered and eaten got his wish. No one disputes that the 43-year-old Berlin engineer died voluntarily; the cannibal videotaped his chatty – and perfectly happy – prey before finishing him off.

As bizarre and – yes, I’ll say it – disgusting and terrifying as the so-called cannibal cop’s online chats were, I am disturbed by convicting people for actions that they not only never committed, but might never have committed. And yeah, things – bad things, as in Germany, do really happen sometimes. But as Sartre said, we are all responsible for our actions. Should we go to prison for our fantasy lives? Should we give up our right to cranial privacy to protect ourselves from the exceedingly rare chance that some nut will eat someone?

Take another look at the quote above by Joseph DeMarco. It’s so full of conjecture and speculation: “not far-fetched”…”might”…”might.” Well, anyone might do anything, right?

What if Saddam had WMDs? What if they had them and what if they gave them to terrorists? And then, what if those terrorists used them against us? If if if.

We know what happens when we act based on ifs.

Thoughtcrime prosecutions often revolve around sex. A 50-year-old man in South Florida currently faces more than 3000 years in prison for possession of child pornography. (Prosecutors filed separate 15-year counts for each of 200 videos found on his hard drive.) Even if you buy the demand-side argument that no one would make kiddie porn if no one bought it – a dubious claim, given the zillions of people who happily “sext” nude photographs of themselves for free – aren’t we forgetting something? Looking at child pornography isn’t the same as producing and disseminating it. In America, convicted rapists serve an average of about eight years. Wouldn’t it make more sense to send the actual rapists away for three millennia?

As America continues to degenerate into unapologetic authoritarianism, prosecutions for thoughtcrime are increasingly common. In 2008 a Pennsylvania woman, Karen Fletcher, was sentenced under a plea bargain for writing fictional erotic stories about sex with children. The victimized children didn’t exist; her criminal record does. In 2001 an Ohio man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “textual child porn” – writing stories in his private journal that depicted kids being raped and tortured. Again, no actual kids were hurt. The diary was for personal consumption and never shown to anyone else.

In 2010 an Iowa man was forced to plead guilty and went to prison for six months for possession of porn manga – Japanese-style comics – that depicted children having sex. The same thing happened in October 2012 to another consumer of kiddie porn manga, this one in Missouri.

In the Missouri case a press release by Project Safe Childhood asserted that “the depictions clearly lack any literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” Of that, I have little doubt. The same could be said of the contents of most TV shows.

Hysteria leads to irrationality. Dwight Whorley of Richmond, Virginia is serving 20 years in federal prison for looking at Japanese anime images of cartoon children being raped. Upholding the decision, Judge Paul Niemeyer of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted that “it is not a required element of any offense under this section [of the law] that the minor depicted actually exists.”

WTF?

Has it ever occurred to anyone that cartoon porn might be beneficial to society, a way for people whose fetishes are illegal to get themselves off without hurting anyone?

The main reason that so many of these cases, including that of the so-called cannibal cop, are prosecuted in federal court is that most state and local jurisdictions set a higher bar for conspiracy convictions, requiring that at least one member of the conspiracy be proven to have taken at least one decisive action toward carrying it out. The young Somali-American charged with plotting to blow up a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in downtown Portland in 2010, for example, was handed a fake detonator by an undercover agent and told it would set off a bomb. He pushed it. I agree with the jurors. He meant to do it.

The cannibal cop, kiddie porn and other thoughtcrime cases, on the other hand, involving sending people to prison for things that they thought, not that they did. I don’t see how any society that does that can call itself free.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: American Select

Wall Street-Backed Third Party Flogs Fake Democracy

For “1984” Orwell conjured up a one-party state so powerful and pervasive that it was forced to create a phony “resistance” movement led by a fiction-within-a-fiction, Emmanuel Goldstein.

This past Sunday’s New York Times op/ed column by Thomas Friedman, the hackiest hack in American mediadom, presents a Goldstein for America 2012: a third party whose candidate would purportedly be chosen by we, the people. “Thanks to a quiet political start-up that is now ready to show its hand,” writes Friedman, “a viable, centrist, third presidential ticket, elected by an Internet convention, is going to emerge in 2012.”

Amend that: rather than being chosen by we the people, whose ideologies span the gamut, this candidate would be picked by a tiny segment of centrists, i.e. the fraction of the electorate whose ideology falls between the Democratic and Republican parties.

Alas, Friedman continues. He always does.

“The goal of Americans Elect is to take a presidential nominating process now monopolized by the Republican and Democratic parties, which are beholden to their special interests, and blow it wide open—guaranteeing that a credible third choice, nominated independently, will not only be on the ballot in every state but be able to take part in every presidential debate and challenge both parties from the middle with the best ideas on how deal with the debt, education and jobs.”

The world may not be flat. Friedman’s prose, on the other hand…

Check it: there were 80 words in that sentence. A typical op/ed column is 650 words. Thomas Friedman could write an entire column in eight sentences.

Maybe the bizarro world of American journalism, in which Friedman deserves Pulitzers and #1 bestsellers while fellow Timesman Paul Krugman can’t get arrested on national TV, is correct. Only a genius could get paid for this.

Like the proles of “1984,” Americans of all political stripes are disgusted with the Democrats and Republicans. Americans Elect offers a tantalizing prospect to a populace starving for representation worthy of them and the problems that face our nation: genuine democracy free of big corporate money.

So who is Americans Elect?

Their website, americanselect.org, reads more like American Select.

There’s good reason for that.

Americans Elect, Friedman writes as though his readers would approve, is based in “swank offices, financed with some serious hedge-fund money, a stone’s throw from the White House.”

Just what we need—another phony Astroturf movement (hello, Tea Party) financed by thieving Wall Street hedge-fund scum.

Americans Elect is run by “Elliot Ackerman, an Iraq war veteran with a Silver Star, who serves as the chief operating officer of Americans Elect, and whose father, Peter, a successful investor, has been a prime engine behind the group.”

Talk about opaque! Elliot Ackerman, all of 30 years old, isn’t even listed on Wikipedia.

Let’s not get into how and where Mr. Zillionaire War Hero scored his Silver Star. Oh, let’s: it was for massacring local Iraqi resistance fighters defending Fallujah from U.S. occupation troops.

Anyway.

Ackerman & Son want to acquire nothing less than the United States of America. First they should probably learn how to name a website. Not to mention build one. Unless you register you get bumped one screen into their “my colors” page, which is supposed to measure where your politics are on the right-to-left-o-meter.

They might have fixed the website before calling Thomas Friedman, but whatever.

The proposed political mechanics of Americans Elect are beyond naïve. They’re so silly that a 7th grade civics student would laugh out loud.

“Any presidential nominee” resulting from the Internet nominations for president, Friedman says, would have to be “considered someone of similar stature to our previous presidents. That means no Lady Gaga allowed.”

In other words, you can vote for anyone you like, as long as it’s an Old White Protestant Male. Nice democracy you got there, Mssrs. Hedge Fund. Why not open things up? Whatever you think of her wardrobe, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta hadn’t destroyed the economy or started pointless wars.

Now for the best bad part. “Each presidential candidate has to pick a running mate outside of their party and reaching across the divide of politics,” sayeth Ackerman the Lesser, He Who Slaughtered the Ragheads of Fallujah.

So old-fashioned party politics do come into it.

Ds can run with Rs, Rs can run with Ds, socialists and libertarians need not apply. Oh, and why would anyone run for president knowing that their Old White Protestant Male running mate would be one heartbeat away from reversing everything you cared about?

Concludes chief cheerleader Friedman: “What Amazon.com did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music, what drugstore.com did to pharmacies, Americans Elect plans to do to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life.”

Drugstore.com? Really, Tom?

Big cheese at the Times. Makes high six, more like low seven, figures. Proof that anyone can make it in America, as long as they’re not smart.

“Serious hedge-fund money” aside, Americans Elect doesn’t stand a chance against the billions of corporate dollars lined up behind the Dems and GOP. But that isn’t stopping mainstream media like NPR and the cable news networks from giving them publicity—and thus false hope to a public in dire need of real solutions, not more charlatans.

Just like Emmanuel Goldstein, Americans Elect accomplishes something remarkable. It offers a third-party alternative so phony and disappointing that it can only make Americans more cynical than they are already.

Which makes me wonder. Are these guys the pompous clods they look like, or agents provacateur hastening the Revolution?

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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