The vast right wing conspiracy

Imagine, if you will, a vast right-wing conspiracy.

They infiltrate the summer camps and youth organizations of promising leftist children. Then they go to work defanging them. They teach these children that gaining power is bad. Don’t become a CEO, don’t get money, don’t get elected, don’t enter the powerful parts of society. They introduce terms that will make those kids sound ridiculous or even slightly sinister to the vast majority of the population. They make sure that only a few orthodox tactics are taught — a brittle monoculture of “how to make change” develops.

These dastardly right wingers do a purposefully terrible job teaching the leftist children social skills. These innocent children are taught that hate and distrust — of each other! — is the only way to be safe. To be constantly on edge. In some sick Milgram experiment, they “learn” that other people might say they’re friends, but never can be trusted. Everyone, including your best friends, should automatically be under suspicion. Denunciation and severing relationships is the only way to survive.

But it gets worse. Imagine that, before they are returned to broader society these children are carefully coached into powerlessness for the rest of their lives. The only virtuous career choices are librarian, teacher, nurse, or professional do-gooder, and maybe not that last one either. The only way to rebel in this society is to do so through a complicated process where means are ends, ends are irrelevant, and winning means selling out. If you don’t have very little money and organization; if you’re not rooted in the most powerless people — well, you might as well give up now.

Imagine that the indoctrination works. The kids grow up and believe not only all that, but also that this is the only way to be a true leftist. And anyone who says otherwise is confused at best and an enemy at worst.

Imagine that.

Now, imagine that there’s no conspiracy at all. It all just happened … naturally. Which is worse?


How ICE is being kicked out of Massachusetts

A month ago, in response to a lawsuit with my name on it, the Sheriff of Plymouth County announced that he’d stop working with ICE. I’m thrilled to be a very small part of it. Here’s the story:

Oren Nimni and I had gone to college together. Back then, I knew him as a thoughtful, quirky guy and committed campus anarchist. Years later, we both were cofounders (with Nathan, and others) of Current Affairs magazine. Some time after that, I saw his distinctive face grabbing getting back in touch after running into each other in a Somerville supermarket. We got back in touch.

When he wasn’t adjunct professoring, legal editing, or podcasting, Oren’s day job was with Lawyers for Civil Rights. He had a novel legal idea, and laid it out to me. I’m going by memory, but it went something like this:

  1. Some sheriffs were cooperating with ICE in specific ways, via these 287(g) contracts
  2. This was unconstitutional, because they didn’t have the authority to do so.
  3. But who could challenge it? Normally, you’d have to hope an attorney general, district attorney, etc would take it on.
  4. Luckily, Massachusetts specifically has a law that taxpayers could challenge any *spending* by executives, if certain conditions were met.
  5. The 287(g) agreements were spending.
  6. The conditions were pretty straightforward. You needed 24 taxpayers, no more than 6 per county, to file the suit.

Here’s the relevant statute in full:

If a department, commission, board, officer, employee or agent of the commonwealth is about to expend money or incur obligations purporting to bind the commonwealth for any purpose or object or in any manner other than that for and in which such department, commission, board, officer, employee or agent has the legal and constitutional right and power to expend money or incur obligations, the supreme judicial or superior court may, upon the petition of not less than 24 taxable inhabitants of the commonwealth, not more than 6 of whom shall be from any 1 county, determine the same in equity, and may, before the final determination of the cause, restrain the unlawful exercise or abuse of such right and power.

Massachusetts General Law, Part I, TitleIII, Chapter29, Section63

Oren was ready to file the case. But he needed some of those taxpayers to actually file the petition. That’s where I came in.

I was one of those 24 taxpayers filing suit, and got some more friends to sign on. With our names as plaintiffs, they filed the suit: Cofield et al v. McDonald et al. Every once in a while, a lawyer from Lawyers for Civil Rights would email us an update on how the case was going.

In July, the court ruled that our challenge could proceed.

In September, we won! The agreement was unconstitutional, and soon after the sheriff announced that they’d stop the agreement with ICE.

Last time I checked, only Barnstable County is left — and they’ve been hit with a copycat lawsuit.

We’re going to win this. Thank you Oren, and thank you Lawyers for Civil Rights.

As for Oren — recently, he moved to DC to become Litigation Director for Rights Behind Bars. He’s filing cases fighting for better prison conditions, and attacking qualified immunity. What a guy.

You can see my name right here in the list of plaintiffs on page 12 of the official petition to the court. And is that THE Morton Horwitz there with me? Honestly I am not sure but imagine if it was.


Digital Campaigning in Covid-times, an example

This one is fun. I was in the running for a job, over a year ago. The job involved serving as a consultant to organizations around the world that do online progressive politics of a certain style (emails, petitions, ladder of engagement, etc). I love these organizations, and I think this would have been on the easier and more wholesome side of my options.

Ultimately, I ended up removing myself from the running. (I had a more interesting gig lined up). But the application process was really interesting! To advance in one round of the process, you were given a toy example of a hypothetical digital-first organization, and how it saw things change because of Covid. (This was around May 2020). Given this information, what advice would I give them?

A lot of people don’t really understand what digital campaigning and organizing is. I figure that sharing what I wrote might help. So here it is:

The challenge:

The prompt, edited down: A European organization experienced rapid membership growth since coronavirus hit, but their engagement levels have been dropping lately. What ideas do you have for retention? How can we help their long-term strategy of building member-focused power? Write your response as a 2-page memo.

My response:

My response, edited for clarity and mild obfuscation:

Hello! My name is Sahar, and I’m here to help you think through your membership retention today.

Below, I’m going to walk you through some hypotheses of what might be going on, and how you might validate them. If this is all obvious to you, I apologize. Feel free to skip it! 

I’ll also include 3 tactical ideas of what you might try. 

Through all this, I’m assuming some similarity with some other organizations: (e.g. “member” means “person on the email list”, a lot of work happens through member-driven petitions and email blasts, etc). Since I don’t have a full view of your operation, I must also assume that you *haven’t* tried out what I’m proposing. I imagine at least part of these simplifying assumptions are wrong, and I apologize in advance.

First, identify the problem:

I have two hypotheses for what’s going on. 

Hypothesis A: “Non-political” people are joining because Corona. Then, they’re getting follow-up for actions that are aimed towards existing membership. These new members didn’t think they were signing up for “politics”. So they’re tuning out.

Hypothesis B: People joined because Corona was a big huge problem. Now, it’s both less novel and more exhausting. People are generally tired of Corona-related actions and less energetic and generous. 

To prepare to check these hypotheses, I’d segment your members to find a cohort of “joined pre coronavirus” and a cohort of “joined during coronavirus” members. The former are those who joined in the short amount of time before the surge of membership, and the latter are those who joined in the last 2 months. 

Once you’ve done that, ask the data some questions. Do pre-Corona members have the same MeRa engagement metrics as post-Corona members? Have engagement levels of new members been steady until the last fortnight? Is this an artifact of how you measure? Does the response to member-initiated petitions look different than the response to the staff-initiated campaigns?

Now that we’ve done that, let’s try to validate each hypothesis. If Hypothesis A (apolitical people joining) were true, we’d see that the “pre coronavirus” and “post coronavirus” cohorts look very different, after normalizing for “time since signed up”, and other demographics (if you have them). Post-coronavirus people would tend sign on for relatively less ideological/political appeals, and “pre coronavirus” members would have relatively flat or increasing engagement rates. To sum it up: it would be the “during coronavirus” members that are driving the decline.

If Hypothesis A were correct, we might try treating new members differently for a while. We might exempt them from new email blasts, perhaps making sure to put them through a new ramp-up flow over time, acclimating them to the mission and values of your organization. We might even handpick the right petitions for them. In general, treat them as a separate population (with A/B testing targeted solely to them), as you gradually reintegrate them back into the main population of members.

If, on the other hand, Hypothesis B (Corona fatigue) were true, we’d see pre-and post-surge members acting at roughly the same rates, on both corona and non-corona related content. We’d see Corona related petitions doing worse or equal to others.

Next, execute new tactics:

I’ll address 3 tactics below that might help (and might help in hypothesis A as well.)

3 Tactics for engagement:

I’ve done a short sweep of a subsample of [your] partners around the world. What are they trying specifically in a physical distancing / Corona environment? Some examples: distributing masks and stickers, holding signs in-person while waiting in lines at stores, phones out the window at appointed times blasting a message, twitter storms, petitions and email blasts, etc. While helpful, nothing seemed to stand out as particularly gripping. 

Here are 3 things I suggest you pay attention to, if you haven’t already:

One: Organizing “Get-to-know you calls” in neighborhoods. 

This isn’t a tactic attached to a demand or list growth, but instead builds longer-term relationships. You could make this as structured as you like: maybe give potential hosts facilitation training and a list of questions, or maybe just allow neighbors to find each other and then talk organically. This will neatly tie-in to the existing mutual aid efforts around them, and buy goodwill and deeper engagement in the future.

Two: Go anti-corporate. 

Firms, generally, are both less experienced with, and more vulnerable to, tactics that we generally use on politicians. Are there obvious corporate villains around? Can we pressure them (through petitions, emails, etc) to, for example, pay sick leave, not bust unions, etc? Members might find it a refreshing change of pace.

Three: Find existing online organized online communities.

As you know, digital campaigning was sometimes called “online organizing” in the past. The term fell out of favor, in part, because there are existing things — forums, facebook groups, subreddits — that are indeed organized online communities. Establishing more of a presence in Swiss-specific online groups of this kind not only can fuel raw growth and reach. It can also give members a constructive, fun thing to do. Imagine a tactic like: “Are you a member of one of these 10 subreddits? If so, apply to be a <your org> ambassador there”. 

These are just some ideas. No need to take them on if you dislike them! But I do urge you to pay attention to the analytics part of this one-pager. Understanding the situation allows you to identify potential ways to fix it. Without some analysis, you’re flying blind. 

Hope this was helpful, and thanks again. 

Sahar Massachi


Post-Election donation postmortem

In early October, my friend Lyla, my Sarah, and I set up a fundraiser for the election. Our goal? To decide where Lyla should donate $34,000 towards the election, and then get our friends to match with another $34,000.

Here’s the fundraiser:

We succeeded in our goal. In fact, we raised $84,123 to the following recipients:

(Note that the advice from where to donate was heavily followed, plus a heavy dose of swing senate races).

So, how did we do?

Well, none of these senate candidates won. So, that doesn’t feel great. Here is the postmortem I sent to our donors:

– We accurately predicted that Joe Biden had enough money and didn’t need more.

– We accurately predicted that the senate races were much more competitive / R-leaning than people thought.

– Our candidates lost. Pretty much all competitive candidates lost up and down the ballot. (Except Biden)

– This doesn’t feel great.

– If I were to do it all over again, I think I’d more dramatically push long-term base building organization, rather than campaigns. If nothing else, after election day, we would feel better.

– And we should feel good! We raised $36.901.75 for organizations that are sticking around for the long term. That’s a big chunk of money.

– That said, these two Georgia races are incredibly important. If we win them, that could have huge long-term consequences, due to the laws they could pass in the Senate.

– All in all, I’m proud of us.

A few days late, that still seems right. And it makes me redouble my faith in long-term base building over short-term electioneering.

Here’s the full initial pitch. It’s an interesting artifact of how I think about politics. Maybe you’ll find it interesting too.

Can you donate thousands of dollars, right now, to the election? If so, please do. 

I just donated thousands of dollars more. Sarah did 3k. Lyla donated 17,000 dollars, and another 17,000 as soon as her credit card allows her to. I want you to do so as well. 

Why? The chips are down and we need to do what we can so that we don't say that we didn't do all we could. And I don't want a dissonance between my intellectual understanding of the stakes and my actions. 

Maybe you're like me. Maybe you have money lying around, or have a great job (SF people, I'm looking at you!). Maybe you've been waiting for this nudge. 

We are trying to raise 68,000 dollars in the next few days. We're already at $23,980. If you have the means, this is a great strategic place for it all to go. 

Happy to answer questions or talk about it. 

Though any money towards the election is good, I think you share with me a desire to be strategic. So here's my thinking: 
1. Joe Biden cannot be a failed president. That means taking the senate. 
2. If Trump wins, we absolutely need a D senate or very bad things happen
3. Every ten years, gerrymandering happens. Guess when the next time is? (Hint -- very soon)
4. Joe Biden has enough money. 
5. This late in the race, ads are sadly one of the few things that can scale up quickly. We might prefer organizers etc, but they needed to be hired a year ago -- now is too late. 
6. Campaigns get cheap TV ad rates -- market price (for any other organization, like a PAC or Super PAC) is about twice as high
7. All senate seats have the same power. Therefore, focus on the places with the highest utility for your dollar. Those are small, cheap states with less-prominent races that could still swing. 

A. Donate directly to senate races. 
B. Donate to Maine, Iowa, South Carolina, Montana, Alaska. 

1. Not enough people are paying attention to the state legislative races that will determine control of gerrymandering, and therefore political power for a decade. 
2. (You may remember that Republicans swept in 2010. This led to incredibly strong gerrymandering that has lead to minority rule for years)
3. The lower the level of race, the higher the marginal utility of your dollar, and the lower attention and money they're getting. 

A. Donate to flip state legislatures
B. I propose Sister District, but I'm open to a better organization

1. Spending money on ads makes me sad. Why? Because while ads work, they only work for one race. They don't help the next guy get elected, they don't help other races in the same place. They're short-term effective but long-term wasteful. 
2. Spending money on people power makes me happy. Why? Because people-power is more wholesome. But also people-power can exist after the election. Less short-term impact, much higher long term impact. (In terms of changing voting behavior)
3. Some places matter more than others. Imagine voting in a swing state vs voting in a swing state that has a senate race, a house race, and a state assembly race all on your ballot. 
4. Already-existing community groups, that have been around for a while, have the proven ability to get people involved for the long term. And can scale people-power capacity much more easily than campaigns. 

A. Donate to the Movement Voter Project, a kind of "fund" that disburses 100% of the money to community organizations. 

This is a blend of hard-headed strategic moves, and putting my money towards organizations that share my values. You might disagree. That's fine -- doing something matters much more than procrastinating by trying to find the "best" thing to do. If you choose some other organization or candidate — wonderful!

I hope you join me, if you can. Thank you.

Where is your line?

“How bad does it have to get?”

Here’s a conversation I’d like to have with my friends and family, and that I wish I had a few years ago:

I think that rule by Republicans will lead to a police state. I’m saying that Trump is a disaster for democracy. And I know it sounds like partisan hyperbole, but also I think it’s real.

Maybe you think I’m wholly wrong, and are voting R. Maybe you think it won’t be that bad, and you’re voting D, but not donating, volunteering, and generally throwing yourself into the struggle.

That’s okay. Just please do this exercise with me: where is your line? What’s the thing that, if it happens, is proof that things are really really bad?

Not just evidence. Proof. How bad does it have to be, so that’s we’re undoubtedly in the Bad Place? What sort of things, exactly, would happen that would spur you to action?

Make it as preposterous as you like.

Maybe Trump announces he’s shutting down elections. Death squads wandering around and killing leftists, then being pardoned.

Or maybe: secret police grabbing people off the street and throwing them into unmarked vans.

Or maybe: “undesirables” being arrested and thrown into concentration camps, where they start dying.

Let it be whatever outlandish thing you like, that you think might never come to pass. Just be honest with yourself. And then, write down what you would do if that day arrived.

Would you change your vote? Would you start volunteering with a political group? Would you give up your savings and plow it into donations? Would you spend 20-30 hours a week doing whatever it took to fight back?

Whatever it is, just please, write it down. Keep it safe. Check it once in a while: are we there yet?

I hope that time never comes to pass. Maybe it won’t this presidency, but during the next R presidency. But if it ever does — remember that you made this commitment. Remember, because the human mind has a marvelous ability to make the abnormal, normal.

(And, for some people, that breaking point might have been hit already, without you realizing).

I haven’t hit my breaking point yet. I still watch television at night, when I could be making phone calls. The other day, I spent way too much money for a hot water heater, when I could have put it to better use. But I can see it on the horizon. That time isn’t so preposterously far away, any more.

If that breaking point comes, I hope I push the button and go all-in. I hope that when your breaking point comes, you change your vote. Or, (to a different audience) you execute on your plan to fight back.

Wherever you are in the spectrum, whatever that action might be: I hope you take it. Because when we shrug at the previously indefensible, we lose a part of our soul.


I’m still mad about Aaron

A bunch of us are reading David Graeber’s Debt. In the course of preparing for our upcoming discussion, I started re-reading that amazing resource: Crooked Timber.

That reminded me that Aaron Swartz wrote a couple guest posts on Crooked Timber. I reread one of his essays. Then another. Then more. You can guess what happened next. DANG. What an amazing writer. What a thinker.

There’s no one I’ve met in my life that I was so sure would change the course of history. No one I’ve met that was so obviously, even qualitatively, smarter than me. For a while, it felt like every big project I joined, or every cool thing I tried, he was there first, and happened to (sometimes co-)found it.

I think about Aaron all the time. Even now, years later.

For a long time, he was my role model: clear moral compass, brilliant, a tech genius but at the same time rooted in movement work and so much more than “the computer guy”.

It’s weird when your role model used to be your boss, is the brother of a friend, the ex of your boss. It’s weird to have this role model be a real person.

I was so angry when he died. I went on, well, a rampage, for the next few years. I never forgave Obama, Eric Holder, Carmen Ortiz, Steve Heymann, MIT, and the Democratic Party in general. I talked about it as part of my personal life story on dates, organizing 1-1’s, etc. I grew close to the angry wing of the radical left. I traveled the country. I took jobs based on what I felt he would have wanted me to do. When I played role-playing games, I would make a character named “Aharon Schahor” to try to process things.

I still get angry about his death. I still tell people about it. I still tell people about how important he was to me. Friends, acquaintances, even strangers who happen catch me in a particular mood.

Once, to my horror and embarrassment, I realized that one of those strangers was his brother. Oops! Sorry Noah. I seriously didn’t know.

Sidebar — Babbling about Aaron helped a friend introduce me to Mek, though, so overall the “talk about your feelings” seems to be working for me.

I’m still mad.

PS — And of course, Chris Dodd, that scumbag, the villain in the SOPA/PIPA fight that Aaron won for us; Chris Dodd, who flat out lied about his revolving door plans; Christopher J “Waitress Sandwich” Dodd — that’s the guy that Biden is tapping to lead his VP search.


My Debt story

Our book club is reading Debt, The First 5000 Years. A prompt before starting has been: “What is your professional and personal experience with the concept of debt?”. This is lightly adapted from my response:

My last decade or so of life has been conducted just a little bit under the shadow of Debt, (the book). I remember reading the Crooked Timber symposium on it when it came out, reading the back and forth in Jacobin, etc. I think I’ve read more criticism and reviews of the book than there are pages in the book itself.

In that decade, I’ve felt a need to have read the book, in the same way I feel the need to read Keynes, Piketty, and Marx’s Capital. If I haven’t read those, how else could I show my face in public and dare to have opinions?

But I haven’t read the book. That is, until now. (And I’m not finished yet!)

I also have had a relationship with debt, the improper noun.

  • My father’s business has depended on debt. Loans, rotating credit cards, etc, in order to fund the expansion of a small real estate business. And he’s been remarkably successful!
  • I grew up feeling afraid of repeating his feat, and then failing. 
  • I went to my second (or fifth!) choice university to escape debt and high tuition. 
  • I arguably ruined my first startup / my relationship with my best friend, in part, because we both paid ourselves high enough salaries to pay our university debt. 
    • (This might a bit of a stretch. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I was so worried about paying off my university debt that it overhung my actions the entire time)

Debt has been a political topic I haven’t quite cracked. Post-Occupy, the group Strike Debt came out with the Debt Resistor’s Operations Manual. I remember poring over it. Feeling so excited. Part manual, part guide to “this is how the world works, you’re being screwed”. In my travels, I’d recommend it to strangers who were having debt problems. They often followed up to thank me. 

I dimly know that debt has been used to reinforce the post-WWII US-centered order. That it has to do with oil, Confessions of An Economic Hitman, and private equity. That leveraged buyouts are bad. And that there’s a weird thing where people feel obligated to pay their debts but corporations are assumed to be allowed to default on them all the time.

But I haven’t, yet, stitched that into a holistic idea of how the world works.

I’ve been excited to read this book for a long time. 


Workers of the world, unite.

It’s May 1st. An international holiday commemorating an event that happened in the US, celebrated everywhere but in the US.

Except, slowly, over my lifetime, that’s changed. The big “day without an immigrant” strike of 2006 kicked it off. The slow buildup of left organizations starting to march and celebrate it over the years. Occupy gave it a kick in the pants, too.

Happy International Worker’s Day. Happy labor day. Happy socialist day. Happy strike day. (Like all good holidays, it contains several different meanings).

There’s a lot to say. About the importance of labor unions. Of worker militancy. How “solidarity” is a term with a ton of meaning and power, too-often cheapened by easy use. About the situation of capitalism, of the bosses and 1%, and so on.

Too much, to say. So let’s talk about the celebration itself.

Every May Day, I take the day off work and go marching. And, in the last few years, it’s been fantastic. So much energy. All the signs! All the different groups, showing themselves off, meeting each other, building energy.

A good May 1st march can give you enthusiasm and energy to last for months.

Here’s a sense of what it could be like. May 1, 2014.

Same march, different vantage point:

One one hand — so much energy! On the other hand — we could do better today. We’re growing.
It’s sad that I can’t go to a march and feel a little happier about the world. But we do have one of the largest strikes by non-unionized workers in memory. We have calls for a rent strike. That’s a pretty nice May 1st.

In my last year of college, our big musical extravaganza, Springfest, hit on May 1st. I spent the first half of the day stuck in my room, playing the Internationale at full blast, and doing my best to memorize the lyrics. Only after I could belt out La Marseillaise from memory (and the first few stanzas of the Internationale), did I go out into the sun and enjoy the beautiful day.

I think about it from time to time. I was a weird kid. But maybe, while we’re stuck here in our homes, memorizing a few classic labor songs doesn’t sound like a bad way to celebrate.

Here’s a new favorite:

This world looks like a chain of heavy broken hearts
It chains my brothers and sisters all apart
Link after link it clatters thru my land
This long heavy chain of broken hearts

Selfish pride is one link in this chain
And you better drive it out of your heart
Brother and sister when you do it’s then that you’ll get loose
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

It’s this long heavy chain of broken hearts
It’s this long heavy chain of broken hearts
You gotta find your union before you can get free
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

Fear is a link in this chain
Of sorrow and trouble and pain
Drive out your fear and you will break apart
This long heavy chain of broken hearts

Jealousy is a link of the worst
A worry, a blister and a curse
Join our union band and break with your hands
This long heavy chain of broken hearts

This long heavy chain of broken hearts
This long heavy chain of broken hearts
You gotta find your union before you can get free
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

It’s when you are free from this chain
Love will come and fill you up again
Show your friends and neighbors how to break away
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

Yes this long heavy chain of broken hearts
This long heavy chain of broken hearts
You gotta find your union before you can get free
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts


What to expect when you’re expecting a crisis

Imagine a city, on a beach. Relatively bustling. Prosperous — more or less. At least, the parties are really fun (for those allowed in). And the art and food is really good (for those who can afford the best food and have the money for art). Sure, sometimes people disappear, never to be heard from again. Sometimes strange ritual chanting rings out at night. But the chanting never hurt anyone — at least, not one of our people. And the disappearances, well, they’re not of anyone important. Or at least, anyone disappeared is no longer important. The city endures. The city thrives.

Then, one day, a tsunami hits. Trees are uprooted. Sand and dirt are blasted away. The city comes together to save itself. Heroes reveal themselves.

But, so, too, does something horrible. In the midst of heartwarming cooperation, the citizens realize a truth. The entire city was built on the site of an old temple to the mad god Bel-Shamharoth. The mayor was a vampire the whole time. Those parties were also recruiting sites of the more refined cults.

There’s a crisis to deal with, sure. But, in the apocalypse, the veil has finally lifted. No one will quite look at each other the same way again.

What foundations have been exposed by the tsunami we are now facing? Now that the dirt and cobblestones of “normal times” are being ripped away, what truths stand stark, bold, and naked?

It might be too early to be certain. But I have some hunches. Keep an eye on these storylines in the times ahead:

I’m also watching some other things:

  • China. It’s authoritarian, it’s scary, and it’s exporting its model. We haven’t been taking it seriously enough.
  • Fights between the white-supremacy-curious faction of the conservative movement and the “let’s loot the country” faction of the movement.
  • We’re going to see a lot more strange bedfellows and left-right alliances between people of different parties.

What stories are you tracking and predicting?


We saw it, for weeks, with our eyes. Trump, Republicans, Fox News, the conservative movement — all lying about Corovirus. Calling it a hoax, downplaying the threat, saying that the left was hyping it as “second impeachment.”

We saw the absolute, morally criminal lack of preparedness. The the hospitals not prepared, the population not distanced, the mocking of anyone who took this seriously.

We saw the clownish press conferences, claiming that “it’s only a flu”, that everything was under control, etc. The sort of obsequiousness to Trump that would be laughable if it wasn’t so scary. We saw Fox News hosts downplay the threat. Even in the last we saw Trump shaking hands during a press conference about the virus.

The propaganda onslaught from the right is coming. They’re going to try to pretend it never happened.

I bought the rights to and What should we do with them?

Right now I’m pointing them both to this post by James Fallows: 2020 Time Capsule #4: Trump Is Lying, Blatantly.

Instead we could point them to this video timeline of trump downplaying everything by The Recount. Or maybe this video tracking Fox New’s lies and sudden reversals about coronavirus created by the Washington Post.

Or a microsite! Or something else entirely. If you have a great idea for these domains, or even a bad one, let me know!


It’s History Time

We are now in a special kind of time. “Revolution time”. “History time”. “Disruption time”. Whatever you want to call it.

Every day, huge events are happening. Things that seemed impossible now are a matter of course. Right now I’m watching a speech from the president of Serbia attacking the EU and throwing himself onto the arms of China. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Fox news) is proposing a much stronger (and equitable) response to the crisis than Nancy Pelosi. The Fed just took most of the 2009 playbook and deployed it in one big go yesterday.

In History Time, the rules are different. Opportunities arise. And the knives come out. For example: Right now the US airline history is asking for a $50 billion bailout because they “have no cash”. They just spent the last decade spending their cash on stock buybacks. Stock buybacks used to be illegal.

We have to be aware of the disaster profiteers. Not the small time chumps selling Purell at markup from their garages. I mean the titans of industry that will grab as much free money as they can.

In History Time, ideas that used to be laughable are now on the table. After 9/11, the FBI took out their wishlist from a filing cabinet, bound it up on one bundle, called it the Patriot Act, and dared congress not to pass it. After the 08 crash, banks started even more mergers and paid their executives even more money, and dared congress to stop them.

Now it’s History Time again. Will we cede the field to the white collar criminals? Or will we step up with our suddenly reasonable demands? Remember, right now Tom Cotton is to the left of Nancy Pelosi on the crisis response. Anything is possible.

(How do we do it? As a first step: Start organizing your literal neighborhood. As a second step: join a local political group that has dues-paying membership and democratic control by its members. As a third: let me think about it and get back to you)


Don’t wait for the Republican Party to collapse on its own

The Republican Party didn’t collapse after Katrina. It didn’t curl up and die in shame after lying about the Iraq War. The conservative movement wasn’t saddled with the shame of Bush for a generation. Instead, they rebranded as “The Tea Party” in two short years and went on as they always have, only more so.

Lovingly, patiently, try to convince your parents and older friends to take this seriously, to stay safe, to change their habits. You’ll do this already, of course. You love them and care about them.

At the same time as you do this: make sure to point out again and again that the republicans and right wing media (not just Trump) are lying to them and getting them in danger of death. We can’t rely on them to figure it out on their own.

It’s inevitable that at some point the R’s are going to try to turn this crisis into an opportunity to do ugly ugly stuff. Will it be camps? Border shutdowns? Sweeping surveillance powers? Bailouts for crony industries? It’s going to get dark.

If (if! Not when. IF!) the faction of the country that accepted lies, corruption, venality, more lies, racism, incompetence, illegality, and lies from Trump finally leaves the death cult cocoon — it won’t be over.

The conservative media movement will turn on Trump just like they turned on Bush. They’ll pretend that he never was the beloved head of their movement. It might take them an election or two, but they’ll create some new brand name (just like the Tea Party), and start over again.

Don’t let them get away with it. Mark down, out loud, what the Fox News position is right now. What it was last week. The horrific blithe comments from their local generic Republican elected official. The warnings of death and absolute incompetence from experts. The timeline of responses by the White House. The callousness of it all.

And it’ll get worse. They’ll actively interfere with normal ways of helping people as a cover for them to cut taxes / deregulate / hand over cash to their favorite corrupt industries.

Examples: Trump administration blocks states from using Medicaid to respond to coronavirus crisis and The Trump Administration Will Move Ahead With Its Plan To Kick People Off Of Food Stamps Despite The Coronavirus Outbreak

Already, as I write this, the right wing is changing its position. It’s going to pretend that it didn’t spend months claiming this was a hoax. It’s going to hope you forget that Fox News claimed that the hysteria was the real problem.It’s going to hope your parents forget everything that happened, because they weren’t really paying attention in January and February, were they?

Make sure your parents remember. Make sure everyone remembers.


Letter to a young leftist re:failure


The thing you have to understand is simple: I’m used to failure. Failure, and, I suppose, betrayal.

Howard Dean didn’t win. In the end, he didn’t come close. He had a growing, internet-fueled movement of people (young and old but mostly young) doing crazy new innovative things for his campaign. He called out the cowardice, the infuriating (or was it chillingly) dystopian way that the democratic party was rubber stamping surveillance, the police state, the war. He lost.

The netroots didn’t win in 2008. Obama did. He grabbed the loyalty of the members of “the bloggers movement” away from the bloggers themselves. And even before he got elected, he reversed himself on FISA, on spying, and on the banks. His ads were about “tax cuts to corporations who ship jobs overseas”. He never really explained what that was about. His presidency, at least at first, was a weird disaster. All the organizations that clearly called out Bush-era corruption just stopped doing it when Obama ran the show. Directors told me in confidence that their funders threatened to quit if they even mildly opposed Obama. The federal government had an explicit policy of allowing millions of people to get their houses foreclosed on, as long as the banks were okay. After a bailout overseen on insanely generous terms, the Federal Reserve pumped money into any bank, hedge fund, holding company, even McDonalds it could find.

And the “normies” around me, the people who admirably opposed Bush and his excess, were silent.

And the NSA grew.

Nancy Pelosi wants to jail Edward Snowden. MIT and Eric Holder threw Aaron Swartz to the wolves. Zephyr Teachout lost to Andrew Cuomo. SEIU backed Andrew Cuomo. Tish James backed Andrew Cuomo.

And still the surveillance state grows.

Google and Facebook were meant to be foils to the corrupt venality of the Verizons and Comcasts of the world. VoteVets ended up endorsing Pete Buttigieg. Pete, who Mark Zuckerberg tried to steer engineering talent to. Pete, who vied with Kamala Harris to be America’s first red diaper baby president.

And Amazon shares Ring data with cops. And license plate readers are everywhere. And Facebook will comply with “all local laws and regulations”. And the surveillance state grows.

I remember Chris Dodd’s campaign in 2008. I remember Tim Tagaris, an early internet politics hotshot, running an honorable campaign about “restoring the constitution” post-Bush. Chris Dodd was the man behind the SOPA push that tried to shut down free speech on the internet to protect the MAFIAA.

Meanwhile, our man Howard Dean quietly became a corporate lobbyist. (And, weirdly, a shill for literal terrorists.)

Bernie didn’t win. Shahid didn’t win. Most Brand New Congress candidates didn’t win. Tom Geohegan didn’t win. Carl Sciortino didn’t win. Paul Wellstone died. Tom Periello didn’t win. Zephyr Teachout didn’t win over and over again. Eric Massa won, then … got weird. Russ Feingold lost twice.

And today Nancy Pelosi is trying to reauthorize the Patriot Act.

So, you see, Bernie (and Warren) losing now feels bad, but not a gut punch. I expected it.

Sam Adler Bell, darling human that he is, knows that feeling is dangerous. The feeling of “I expected this to happen, we always lose”, can easily turn into “let’s not try to win” or “we lost because we are good”. Let’s remember instead that we lost because we are weak.

There is comfort in this sense of fated doom. We lost not because we did something wrong, but because we did something right in a world that’s wrong. When we acknowledge the awesome might and baleful intentions of our enemies, when we point our fingers at the traitors in our midst, what we seek is not a clear-eyed reckoning of the battlefield, but freedom from guilt for failing to win. Lurking behind our dour pessimism is, at times, a desire to evade accountability for our own mistakes.

Let’s talk about mistakes. But let’s not do it from the perspective of a candidate in a race, because we are not candidates and we are not bound to only think about specific contests for power via a presidential primary system. If we do it right, candidates (politicians) are pawns on our chessboard, not the other way around.

I love your passion, and your energy, and your way of seeing how the world is just so disconcertingly bad. I love it, and sometimes I worry that I’m smothering it with my world-weariness, with my “hey, actually this thing you’re mad at is fine and normal”, or my “you’re mad at the wrong institution”. I wanted you to know why.

There’s a particular feeling you get when you start politics. Little respect for everyone in the field already: after all, they’re part of a failed system. A sense of camaraderie with other people who start at the same time as you: after all, you’re all fighting the same enemies! And then as time goes on, you see your heroes fail you. You lose respect for people you started out with (both institutions and elected officials). And you celebrate the victories you have, because if you don’t, you burn out.

So when we talk about how bad it was, and how far we’ve gone, and how certain people you don’t like are Actually Good, and have street cred, that’s why.

We thought we found One Weird Trick to fixing politics, and we were wrong.

I hope the same doesn’t happen to you.

(And one more thing — read Sam’s full piece: Beautiful Losers)