Time for a Narrative Hackathon

Last year I felt that something like a nationwide “Public Testimonies about the Others Who Hurt Them” was coming.

It hasn’t happened on a grassroots level, so instead it is coming from Washington DC — straight from the swamp to your drinking water, so to speak.

On the one side is President @RealDonaldTrump’s “Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement office, or VOICE.”


On the other side is the “Saved by American Immigrants National Taskforce” or “SAINT”, proposed by Rep. Jared Polis.


I think there is a better way to do this. The D.C. approach will dramatize the pain already packaged in political agenda — basically just providing ammo to every opportunist and sociopath hunting prey in the political and personal environment.

This isn’t just about pain even though pain definitely matters — the pain people feel and the pain people feel played a *huge* role in the election choice between Sanders, Clinton and Trump.

But what is constructive about sharing pain is what *story* we fit the pain into. That’s how we fight the evils inside us and in our society: what makes you feel pain and what makes others feel pain.

One approach I really like is inspired by the Remembering the Ones We Lost movement in South Sudan. People post (anonymously or not) the names of those killed by the ongoing civil war or its consequences (hunger, disease, etc.) This website and the surrounding movement has accomplished what millions of foreign intervention has not — catalyzed a powerful non-partisan peace movement. That movement has created space for a real national identity to fight the deadly “tribe against tribe” idea that has killed so many over the past 50+ years.


Well if it works in South Sudan, you can be *damn* sure that something like it will work in the USA. Our “tribe against tribe” takes a different form but it kills and maims just the same, and with the same consequences: lives lost and wealth destroyed.

Another thing I want to experiment with is a “Narrative Hackathon”: a collaborative contest to rewrite the current narrative, the current paradigm (as the excellent Donella Meadows points out, this is one of the most powerful leverage points: https://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/article/leverage-points-places-to-intervene-in-a-system/).

In some ways this is what is already happening organically with Social Media, and the rest with Nature (environmental changes moving us and our wealth around the globe, a very physical feedback mechanism). That’s why we have a confluence of some very populist presidencies alongside some very dramatic increases in demographic change and communications technology — more friction, more reactions, and more ways to describe both.

But I think we can do it in a Contest/Hackathon format as well. Get the right participants from a diverse range of backgrounds and political alignments, give them the right incentive (cash? prestige?), give it the right sponsors and structure…and bam.

Or we can just let the “best worst choice” factory up in Washington D.C. keep doing what it’s doing.

The Moscow City Shuffle — Overthinking the Shifting American Right/Left Positions Towards Putin and…

This is an interesting piece from Debka File (Debka is a somewhat Israel-Aligned Intelligence Analysis website). Would love to get ya’ll’s thoughts on this. (Article Link: http://www.debka.com/article/25875/Why-Trump-and-US-intel-clash-over-Russia)

Growing up with books like “Political Pilgrims” (http://a.co/cYa9PA8), there is quite a shift from the Cold War days with the Popular Left’s turn against Russia/Moscow — not just being against Putin, but indiscrimintely using “Russia” and “Moscow”.

Likewise from what little I ever learned about KGB “Dezinformatsiya” and even more contemporary information about the extent of Russian intelligence operations in the USA, it is surprising to see how quick people are to leap to the conclusion that they have out-sleuthed a generations-old spy culture that was dogfighting the British Empire back when the USA was in World Power diapers.

The shift among the American Right is harder to read. The neoconservatives still seem to look at Russia as if the Cold War never ended, and in plenty of ways I think they are right. But maybe it is the break with the Bush/Rice era that the vigilance against Russia is seen as outdated or ignorant or maybe just unpopular.

And how odd to see the Left praising the efficiency and principles of the U.S. Intelligence Agencies! How glad they are to see the CIA, NSA, et al. weighing in on domestic politics now.

I am uncomfortable with the New Right (or “Alt Right” as Huffington Post et al. label them) pundits seem to cheer Putin. I worry about their grounding in history, and perhaps being this Russia’s new wave of fellow travelers in the USA.

I wonder how much of these shifts are intentional and how much are unintended “drifts”. I can imagine that many of the U.S. Elite now see China as the Long Term Enemy with Radical Islam as the Short Term Enemy, with Russia as an ally in both fights.

Pres-elect Trump says he is taking back the Winston Churchill bust that the Obama Administration ineptly rejected. Maybe the Trump Team is resuming Churchhill’s complicated relationship with the Russia of Stalin’s USSR?

Perhaps they see Putin’s victories in George and Ukraine as signs that it is better to work with him than to beat him, especially when working against “The Real Enemies”. Then maybe they see the precedent of recent decades — Putin/Medvedev playing the role of “Beneficent Dictator” for USA logistics and military operations in Afghanistan/Iraq/Syria etc. — as a sign that Russia is easier to work with when you give in.

How successful will these be?

For one thing, the Chinese threat isn’t really “China” but the Recidivist/New Chinese Right (the new generation of Political Military Elite who grew up believing their own rhetoric of Superiority over the USA, as well as real Chinese successes in technology and economic growth).

In that context, how will the -Stans see a U.S. lean/deference towards Russia, and will this incline them more towards a China that is already building out more and more infrastructure and investment?

What effect will this have on NATO? And when European governments like Germany’s come to another moment of Restructuring their Relationship with Russia (they still get a lot of natural gas from Russia, increasingly trade more with Russia, and have at least one ex-PM who works for the European-side of a Russian oil/gas company), will they lean more towards Russia/Putin? And in what way will this stir the forces straining the capacity of the European Union?

We could play the Counterfactual/Alternate Future game all day (and I’d love to, if anyone wants to posit anything in the Comment section).

Also, I wonder what roles the Israeli Government factions and Israeli Lobbies in America are playing in this shift.

Is there some hubris on the American side? Probably. And maybe the Trump Admin and New Right think that they can play Putin.

But I imagine it could more easily work the other way around.

What do you all think?


Crying out in the pain of suffering or dying. If you’ve ever heard this, then you know what I’m talking about. The sound haunts you forever. And it sounds the same from every mouth. Every. Mouth.

Right now, someone close to you is vulnerable and hurt. It doesn’t matter who you voted for (and it might not even have a damn thing to do with the election. Maybe that someone is you. You want to do anything you can to relieve that pain and fear.

So target the pain and fear — not the wounded and afraid. If you can’t handle that — if we can’t handle that as a community — then we need people who can. Because otherwise we are poison.

If we beat on someone for being “hateful,” “aggressive,” “ignorant,” “racist,” “misogynist,” “bigoted,” etc. then we are beating those toxic concepts *into* them: not out of them. You want a lesson from 1930’s Germany, make a meme out of that one.

Pain and fear are real. There is no such thing as a “racist” or “bigot” — those are monster masks for a real person who we know will hurt us.

But those masks are signs of real pain and real concern. Negative experience. Trauma. Extreme stress. Death. Disease. Helplessness. Loneliness. A feeling of losing control over everything that matters in life.

These are real pains and pain always grows. It’s more cancerous than cancer. It’s the fastest and most reliable stock in the world. It’s more socially communicable than Ebola and the flu combined.

You don’t have to compare someone else’s pain against yours. There is no math to calculate how hurt you are. There is no “Best In Show” for greatest suffering. This isn’t a contest.

The world is changing fast and hard, and everyone feels like they are losing something valuable. Losing safety. Losing freedom. Losing identity. Losing the past. Losing money. Losing health. Losing hope. Losing jobs. Losing power to improve their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

We need to accept that this is real. We are hurting each other and we cannot “fix” this. We cannot pretend that our pain and our loved one’s pain doesn’t matter more to us then that of a stranger. We have to see that what we do to ease our own pain often moves that pain to someone else.

We have to acknowledge this is all true. This is the reality we build off of. This is the reality our words and deeds and buildings and behavior and laws and culture need to accommodate.

I don’t expect we’ll stop hurting each other anytime soon. I know I won’t. Every dollar and every possession I keep for myself is something that could someone somewhere in a time of need, and by keeping them for my own use I am leaving them in their pain.


A Cunning Kony Plan

Golly, one of Africa’s most famous warlords (Joseph Kony of “recruit child soldiers and have them kill their families” fame) is snuggling between the horribly unstable Central African Republic and the somewhat unstable South Sudan.


So the U.S. military/intel community is getting more involved in the region, deploying choppers and other “assets” ostensibly to “hunt Kony”. I agree Kony is a bad guy, and the LRA probably is well connected in the area with arms, intelligence and years of familiarity with guerrilla fighting. They do bad things and likely help other militias/criminals do more bad things.

But one thing he is not is an immediate threat to U.S. interests, at least not the way we’ve traditionally defined it. Otherwise we should be air striking every major militia leader/warlord on the continent.

Then again I guess it’s easier to justify setting up mini-bases, training facilities and predator drone airports as “hunting Kony” than “getting involved in a messy civil war where Muslim/Christian identity comes into play”.

The U.S. is not drawing down its presence on the African continent. Djibouti just agreed to host the USA military base there for another 30 years.

And apparently if you look where U.S. engineering companies contracted to the military are working, you see an even larger network being developed. 

But honestly, Kony is not the major destabilizing force in East Africa. Poverty and hunger are – or rather the lack of sufficient community-oriented food production and jobs.

A predator drone to blow up a car in the jungle costs a lot. A well coordinated sh*tload of $50-$100 microloans for farmers and entrepreneurs costs a lot less and would send a much more positive signal: Americans actually give a d*mn about African countries, Americans actually understand how economics works, and we think people in African countries are people like us.

‘Genocide’ As Crutch Term for “Things going horribly wrong”

Look, I get that State-to-State diplomacy is insanely complex. Truly I do. But how is it possible that policy makers let these “lack of land/food/economic opportunity” situations build up to a political crisis *so godd*mn* often, culminating in costly million+ dollar emergency aid/security interventions?

It seems like “genocide” becomes the buzzword that finally justifies substantive intervention, although by the time allegations genocide are in play, your intervention options are constrained.

The easy answer is the blame the State Department or USAID. They’re nice punching bags. Their job is to fix and prevent these problems, right? What are we paying them for?

The larger issue, I’m afraid, is that the ordinary citizens fail to fill the gap. Rather, most of us don’t know *how* and the means aren’t there.

Folks in developing countries need substantive, mutually respectful interaction with their international peers: artist to artist, entrepreneur to entrepreneur, engineer to engineer. They need partners, investors and capital (incl. equipment).

Micro-Loans are a start, but banks can only provide fuel if there’s a car and a driver. “Social Entrepreneurship” funds like Acumen are giving people the power and confidence to invest in start ups like poultry farms, but the investors aren’t really the average citizen.

The enthusiasm for “Fair Trade” products (however the real cost/gains calculus works out for the intended beneficiaries) shows that “Western” consumers will support producers in developing countries through purchase preferences. But that only works if there are companies that can justify (i.e. profit) the cost of importing and doing business in difficult countries.

Most of all, there needs to be more focus on “South-South” trade, i.e. developing countries producing goods for one another. If you want to help a city in the USA regain it’s footing, you’d be crazy if you told them to live in shacks and focus on one product to export to Brazil. You’d also want the city’s inhabitants to be selling things to one another, as well as their neighboring cities.

When ordinary U.S. citizens are failing/unable to invest their time/health/money in these countries *now*, they suffer worse consequences later. Money spent by the U.S. government on emergency interventions does not get repaid, especially in the recurring crisis-response-crisis-response loop. 

Like what’s happening with the global economy? Destabilized countries screw with existing international trade and prevent other consumers/innovators/producers from participating, i.e. the international economy is literally starving for new inputs, running off of fumes.

Never mind what security threats are bred in destabilized areas. (Like taking off your shoes at airports? That bullsh*t is justified by people ticked off by poverty and political repression in developing countries.)

So for now we enjoy the padding that comes with geography (oceans) and State institutions (e.g. Homeland Security, the Congressional Budget Office). But that padded wall gets thinner and thinner with every crisis.

We’d better find a better way to do this.

Oy VOA vey

New Bill to require Voice of America to “toe U.S. line”

Good Gawd. I’ve had limited experience with VOA but I’ve always respected their work. First, when did “Freedom of the Press” stop being the “U.S. Line”? Second, f*ck me how effective do you think VOA is going to be overseas if it becomes an obvious propaganda mouthpiece. People in other countries actually have to credit what you’re saying for you to disseminate the information. That’s how influence works. Otherwise you might as well call VOA the “Pennsylvania Avenue Pravda” or “Uncle Sam Spam”.

Pity the bastard appointed to now ensure that the VOA provides a “clear and effective presentation of the policies of the United States”, as if anyone in Congress passing this bill could even explain American policy to a snapping turtle.

In my experience, folks in countries where there is restricted freedom of press/speech will tell you how much they admire the trash Americans can talk and publish about their leadership. Clip VOA’s balls for having an “anti-American bias” (as the Heritage Foundation alleges) and you can kiss some of that effectiveness goodbye.

Yes, what the politically-compromised State Dept/USAID needs is *less* diversity of voices. Let’s neuter another American press institution – wouldn’t want pesky journalistic integrity getting in the way of messaging.

Congress, if you want to make VOA more effective, let them be critical of the USA, and give them some *real* constructive accomplishments of U.S. foreign policy overseas. You know, like fixing the bullsh*t way we do economic development so that people have an economic base upon which to draw so that they can push for a more accountable government and more freedoms, like freedom of the press.