Author Topic: The Interregnum, Part 2  (Read 8123 times)

Cain

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The Interregnum, Part 2
« on: October 17, 2009, 04:18:40 pm »
Our Lords and Masters



Populist resentment does exist, and much of it is righteous. Better to understand it and embrace the best parts of it than to allow wingnuts to turn it into something very nasty.
- HTML Mencken

At the outset of the crisis, the oligarchs are usually among the first to get extra help from the government . . . Meanwhile, needing to squeeze someone, most emerging-market governments look first to ordinary working folk -- at least until the riots grow too large.
- Professor Simon Johnson, in this Atlantic article, which should be required reading

I watched carefully the reporting of the Dow breaking 10,000 the other day and not anywhere did I see a major news organization include a paragraph of the “On the other hand, so fucking what?” sort, one that might point out that unemployment is still at a staggering high, foreclosures are racing along at a terrifying clip, and real people are struggling more than ever. In fact the dichotomy between the economic health of ordinary people and the traditional “market indicators” is not merely a non-story, it is a sort of taboo — unmentionable in major news coverage.
- Matt Taibbi


I realise that, in the first installment of this series, I referred to the financial elite connected elements of various national governments in the westernised world as a corporotocracy.  I now see that was a mistake, and would like to rescind that name, in favour of something far more accurate.  No, these people are a kleptocracy.

Consider this, for example.  Last week, Goldman Sachs, the biggest political campaign funder in America, reported earnings of $3.19 billion inbetween July and September.  This is their second most profitable financial quarter ever, after the April to June quarter - the one where it recieved massive government funding while several of its competitors were allowed to die off.  Hank Paulson, the Treasury Secretary under Bush, was a Goldman Sachs CEO.  He appointed Neel Kashkari, a Goldman Sachs Vice-President, to oversee the $700 billion TARP payout, the largest, but by no means only funds paid out to failing financial institutions.  In January, Tim Geithner hired Mark Patterson, a former Goldman Sachs lobbyist, to be his Chief of Staff and top aide.  Gary Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs executive, was appointed by President Obama in March as the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, despite overseeing the lax regulations in the 90s which lead to this crisis.  In April, Goldman Sachs hired Michael Paese, the former chief aide to Barney Frank, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee.  The top economic official at the State Department is Robert Hormats, who was a Vice President of Goldman Sach's international arm, and was paid $1 million for consulting work with them last year.  This week, Adam Storch, Vice President of the Goldman Sachs Business Intelligence Group, has been appointed as the Chief Operating Officer of the SEC's enforcement division.  He is 29 years old, by the way, and has worked for Goldman Sachs since he was 24.  No doubt he was the only person with relevant experience that they could find, or something.

And I could go on.  The bailing out of AIG, you  know, the one that happened after Hank Paulson advised not to bailout Lehman Brothers and oversaw vast sums of cash going into the pockets of Goldman Sachs, was engineered in a meeting between Paulson, Tim Geithner and the Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein.  Larry Summers, a top advisor to President Obama on economic issues, was paid a six figure sum for consulting with Goldman last year - for a day.  

The point here, I believe, is pretty simple.  The top positions in government for attempting to oversee and regulate the massive flows of capital which sustain the modern world, are held by the same people who need to be regulated and overseen because of their overbearing arrogance, greed and lack of foresight.

In the UK, things are no better.  Lloyds TSB are due to get another £5 billion with no strings attached.  A sum, which incidentally, is equal to that of all unemployment spending, including bureaucracy, that is spent by the government at the moment.  In fact, Britain has undertaken the biggest peacetime fiscal expansion in history, according to The Economist.  And what did that achieve?  Well, Alistair Darling's actions last October, the application of trickle-down economics to lending (why banks would lend money to failing industries the government refused prop up was never clearly explained) actually accelerated and intensified the recession.  Banks hoarded money to cover bad losses, while spending dried up.  The net flow of of lending to businesses collapsed, falling faster than at any recorded time.  Meanwhile, the government gave away half a trillion without a single string or condition attached.

This is the truth of our economic situation.  Consumerism is dead (Situationists of the world, rejoice!).  Manufacturing is dead.  Money in circulation has stuttered to a standstill and unemployment has soared.  Meanwhile, these thieves in business suits are awarding themselves six, seven or even eight figure bonuses for ruining the world financial system. They've divided the economic system into two: at the bottom is us, the former working and middle classes.  Our lot is detailed above.  Meanwhile, the banks and financial elites, once again flush and on top of the world, are gambling massive sums on the stock market, insurance and house prices.  Because the lines of credit, which created the illusion of growth and wealth for the middle classes over the last thirty years have been severed, the reality of their position has become clear: they are serfs with unsustainable lifestyles, and nothing more.  Maybe a better education, slightly larger house and fancier TV than the working classes, but little different really.  They are no longer a bridge between the upper and lower class, only a subset of the latter.  That bridge is long demolished, the gap is too wide to allow for it.

In fact, as I look over my financial RSS feeds for the day, these headlines pop out at me: "Wealthy ramp up their spending, so all must be well", "Banking Profits Might Be Due to Government Handouts", "Krug Champagne flows in The City" and "Merrill Lynch to pay no corporate tax in UK for next 60 years."  And that is just skimming the surface.  The FDIC has now shut down 99 federally insured banks, with the closure of San Joaquin Bank yesterday.  Big banks are threatening to kill what little lending they are doing if if FASB 166 and 167 - new accounting standards for how banks account for securitized assets - is passed.

Ladies, gentlemen and others, we are well and truly fucked.  This is it.  It's not going to get better.  It will probably get worse, but don't expect an apocalyptic disaster to wipe out the scum at the top.  You should be so lucky.  As the Simon Johnson quote shows, the "government" will protect the "banks".  The reality is actually reversed, due to regulatory capture (where regulatory systems adopt the ideology of the people they are meant to be regulating), but that is how it will seem to those without the economic or political savvy to understand the situation.  Meaning most people, despite the upsurge in brilliant and iconoclastic business and financial reporting in the past year or so.

And when the government is just another tool in the kleptocrats arsenal, where else can you turn?  The kleptocracy isn't uniform, and so can be played off against itself, as Goldman Sachs did to Lehman Brothers, but all that changes is the faces at the top of the operation, not the craptastic situation we find ourselves in.

No, the only solution is Populism.  As a brief definition, I will say Populism is the belief that "the people" are in constant battle with "the elites" and that the people are in the right and should be sided with.  Sometimes, this can be nasty, especially when the populism works against certain ethnic or minority groups (here it becomes conspiratorial and proto-fascist).  We see this in the lazy right-wing populism in America, where working class people will rail endlessly against the government, but will argue for economic elites, because they are not percieved to be the "other", normally "liberal".  However, when directed against deserving elites, or all of them, populism can be a far more beneficial thing.  Populism directed against the actual economic elites who are taking us for everything we have would be far more useful than this petty, identity-centered, social values based populism we often see nowadays.

The problem is building it, and educating people to overlook their social differences and unite on economic grounds.  Class warfare is an ugly word, but its not like any of us here started it.  If the Fed, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch and the rest didn't want it, then they shouldn't have engaged in their own, top-down form of Class Warfare for the past thirty years.

So far, the closest thing there has been to a populist movement against the bailouts was the Tea Party Movement, and I don't have to tell you what washouts they were.  The Democrats, who are mostly bound to the economic elites with a few exceptions (Grayson, for example) fear and loathe populism on cultural grounds - because they are usually upper middle class and the social values of lower classes disturb and disgust them.  So instead they ceded the movement to the Republicans, who have always been willing to use populism against select targets to further their own niche markets in economic elitism, and the movement quickly became a laughing stock.  Quel surprise.

Because economics have been put on the back burner for the past thirty years - we have been told time and time again that there is no choice, that neoliberalism is the only future - populism has only ever really centred on social topics, and people who might've otherwise leaned left on economic grounds, have been caught up in a whirlwind of Christian nuttery, covert racism, conspiracy theorism and the machinations of the Straussian inclined members of the Republicans - who have even less qualms than an ordinary politician about lying for the purposes of social order.  When both parties are essentially the same economically, but one plays to your social biases, while the other holds you in thinly veiled contempt (rightly so, in many cases, but equally contempt never helped change someone's mind), then people will go for the one which seems to at least satisfy some of their views, even if its a washout on others.  Most Christians have no love for the social Darwinism of the economic world, for example, but because the GOP play to them on themes like abortion and marriage, and the Dems are incapable of playing to them on economic grounds, the Republicans always win, and economics is always relegated to the background.

I wish to finish by saying that while things are pretty bleak, they could be worse.  I've been reading on American working-class movements lately, and things have been pretty bad.  We could go back to the days of Teddy Roosevelt, under whose leadership America still had child labour, sweatshops, daily mine collapses, federal troops ordered to shoot strikers, deadly factory fires and almost complete rule by robber baron, except where those robber barons threatened the President (Roosevelt was probably the only man to ever shake a fist at J. P. Morgan and not have that fist cut off) or the stability of the country, as when the economic elites when too far in their depredations, and threatened a backlash which could have eventually coalesced into a revolutionary working class movement.

But at least back then, people fought back.  The movements back then had enough clout to make Roosevelt - a Republican corporate suckup masquerading as a progressive man of the people (hey, that sounds familiar...) - introduce some measures, like the Square Deal, to avoid further problems down the road.  Now, what do they do?  Whine on the internet (this is no different), or dunk tea in cups and go "aha liberals!  We too can protest!"

This cannot continue.

The Johnny

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 2
« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2009, 06:34:48 pm »

Kleptocracy.

That sounds like a very appropiate name for what i have called before (the highest economic 20% of the world)  a "corrupt band of pillagers" that have "insatiable greed to fill their own personal bottomless emotional void".
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The Johnny

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 2
« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2009, 06:50:36 pm »

So now i ask you who holds the bigger blame...

is the world's economic downfall the fault of the kleptocracy?

... or is it the psychically defeated masses?

I know its both of them, im asking in a matter of degree.


(I have my own theory, but GA has appropiately swamped it, and unless i get the time to ravage a neurology faculty library, it will stay that way)
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Kai

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 2
« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2009, 08:04:05 pm »
I guess we're fucked then, because I'm not banding with people who have conservative social leanings. I've had enough of the fundies, thank you.
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Cramulus

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 2
« Reply #4 on: October 19, 2009, 01:26:00 am »
after listening to that whole NPR bit on REVOLUTION, and thoroughly reading this piece, I am all hot and bothered.

writing letters seems so effete
but I feel like I have to do something

what's best, Cain? Educating the public about these problems, giving them proper language to understand where their hate should be directed?


maybe it's all about starting 1000 revolutions
against the gov't, against big business, against the media, against new york city and the midwest
each signal being amplified by one another until it's cacophany?

should I shed my clothes and begin running through the streets shrieking and rambling incoherently?

I feel like it's almost time!

Captain Utopia

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 2
« Reply #5 on: October 19, 2009, 02:18:13 am »
I think the answer has to lie somewhere along the lines of open source governance ( e.g. http://www.metagovernment.org ). We've reached the stage of the information age where it no longer makes sense for the people to cede power in multi-year blocks of time.

The software to do this is being written, the practicalities are being debated and tested, and I firmly believe we'll see the end of the political party system with its two-party local maxima within a decade.

Will that magically solve every problem? No. But it will catapult us out of this scapegoat culture and provide an actual motivation for consensus building.

Bonus - it sounds too optimistically improbable for anyone of consequence to see it coming. But if it does then people who can craft a message and successfully troll counter-arguments will be in high demand.

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 2
« Reply #6 on: October 19, 2009, 03:44:51 am »
People are even easier for corporate interests to manipulate than politicians are, with no chance of somehow electing somebody rational and with the people's interest in mind on accident.
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Re: The Interregnum, Part 2
« Reply #7 on: October 19, 2009, 03:04:38 pm »
after listening to that whole NPR bit on REVOLUTION, and thoroughly reading this piece, I am all hot and bothered.

writing letters seems so effete
but I feel like I have to do something

what's best, Cain? Educating the public about these problems, giving them proper language to understand where their hate should be directed?


maybe it's all about starting 1000 revolutions
against the gov't, against big business, against the media, against new york city and the midwest
each signal being amplified by one another until it's cacophany?

should I shed my clothes and begin running through the streets shrieking and rambling incoherently?

I feel like it's almost time!

The kicker is they need us, not vice versa. Standards of living must continue to rise on aggregate. We can only take so much of this smoke and mirrors economic bullshit. Primates are greedy they want more, not less. Unless care is taken to feed and water us slaves the rich will very quickly find themselves kings of nothing with a hungry mob beating down the gates looking for someone to eat. If it gets too much for me then I'll quite happily take to the streets and start killing rich looking people for food and trinkets. And there's a lot more like me, just patiently waiting until the powers that be can no longer afford to use the police or the military against us. The day I wake up and find out I am the police and the military - that's the day those wealthy elite cocksuckers better watch their backs.  :evil:
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Cramulus

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 2
« Reply #8 on: October 19, 2009, 03:17:49 pm »
The Majority Rule is coming, it's always coming. But I can't even visualize a successful coup of wallstreet. what would have to happen?

Do people even know what they have to do? Attending these bullshit protests is doing jack squat other than giving the vultures and doomsayers something to write their niggling little columns about.

Two years ago, we were trolling this board revleft, where they're all about REVOLUTION MOTHERFUCKER! And they sound like teenagers and whiners, fine tuning the language of revolution as if talking about it enough is going to make it happen. Nobody on that board agrees with anybody else about what the revolution should be about or how it should happen. Clamouring for some kind of revolution makes me feel like one of those spags. But I feel like we have to find the break-point angle which the public can get behind.

Michael Moore thinks that this is capitalism gone awry, and if we can get some decent lobby and campaign finance reform passed, things will be on the right track again. Is that the answer? I think it's a good answer. But how can we, as a public, push for that kind of stuff in a meaningful way? Even by joining our voices into a hysterical chorus, it still feels like sitting patiently by the table, begging for scraps of power.

Do we just wait until things get worse? Until the law of eristic escalation stands up and knocks all the checker pieces off the board? Fuck that too!

Captain Utopia

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 2
« Reply #9 on: October 19, 2009, 03:51:42 pm »
Youtube came online in 2005. Contrast the 2004 and 2008 US presidential elections. Blogs existed, as did camera/video phones, but in just a few years these forms of information have been transformed from novelties to sources which the mainstream media outlets will frequently report on. The point isn't things like the embarrassing bandwagon jumping of the cable news outlets onto twitter, or the other stumbles they make.. it's that we now have a viable many-to-many communication model where items of interest have an extremely high chance of being picked up by groups of any scale which hold that interest.

This free flow of information changes the game.

So what has to happen? I'd say enough people need to get comfortable with these new tools such that having a direct and immediate say in how your town, city or country is governed becomes as obvious an improvement as online banking.

Cramulus

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 2
« Reply #10 on: October 19, 2009, 03:55:44 pm »
The link you posted earlier, to the open-source gov't project, was very interesting. Definitely something to keep tabs on. are any communities actually doing stuff like that?

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 2
« Reply #11 on: October 19, 2009, 04:34:31 pm »
Metagovernment, and their mailing list, are more along the lines of a hub where various individual projects intersect, share ideas and support. There are a lot of projects which share these broad goals: http://www.metagovernment.org/wiki/Related_projects

But the general approach is to see if you can create software which can run something small like a chess club, without requiring any individual decision-makers/leaders, and scale upwards from that. I've only been keeping very loose tabs on it lately, and it did have more philosophers than doers, but they're still cranking out the code and I have every confidence they'll get somewhere with it. Once you spend a little time in this headspace, the inevitability of it all really starts to hit you.

Cain

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 2
« Reply #12 on: October 19, 2009, 07:23:00 pm »

So now i ask you who holds the bigger blame...

is the world's economic downfall the fault of the kleptocracy?

... or is it the psychically defeated masses?

I know its both of them, im asking in a matter of degree.


(I have my own theory, but GA has appropiately swamped it, and unless i get the time to ravage a neurology faculty library, it will stay that way)

The kleptocrats, for sure.  I mean, you could blame everyone else but

a) they let them get away with it, which is different from actually deciding to engage in the sort of activities the kleptocrats did.  Neglect and not malice.
b) the hierarchy of blame generally should work from those with the most actual power to effect a situation to the least.  Everyone else has the potential to be more powerful, but they're not.
c) diffusion of blame.  There are, what, a couple of million of them?  There are billions of everyone else.

Most people aren't guiltless, but I think in most cases the guilt comes from living in such a system and so helping to perpetuate it, not actively encouraging it.  On the other hand, those who did it, for personal gain...well, a greater proportion of the blame is due their way.

I guess we're fucked then, because I'm not banding with people who have conservative social leanings. I've had enough of the fundies, thank you.

I'm not saying you have to make out of with them, just work with them on areas of mutual interest.  This is counterinsurgency thinking at its most simple...you can either have these people on the inside pissing out, or on the outside pissing in, at least on some economic issues.  Building bridges is the only way to ever change the situation, the bonding-alteration effect I've mentioned in the Netwar article I did.

The way to frame it is quite easy, too.  I know you'll hate this, but, you know how much Fundies hate "Darwinism"?  Point out to them how our current economic system is a pretty good representation of "social Darwinism", name drop Herbert Spencer and a few others and let them do the rest of the work.  This wont work so well on the elitists and most connected preachers and their flock, but with some good grounding in economic history and theory, as well as the Gospels, you can do some serious paradigm damage.

Sure, they shouldn't be allied with on social issues, but economic issues effect social issues and vice-versa.  A more just economic environment will not only have positive benefits in and of itself, but will help reduce the poverty which leads to people relying on bastardized and authoritarian religion for survival.  Come on Kai, you've said you are a socialist...you should know social superstructure is impacted on by the economic base.


after listening to that whole NPR bit on REVOLUTION, and thoroughly reading this piece, I am all hot and bothered.

writing letters seems so effete
but I feel like I have to do something

what's best, Cain? Educating the public about these problems, giving them proper language to understand where their hate should be directed?


maybe it's all about starting 1000 revolutions
against the gov't, against big business, against the media, against new york city and the midwest
each signal being amplified by one another until it's cacophany?

should I shed my clothes and begin running through the streets shrieking and rambling incoherently?

I feel like it's almost time!

Education is certainly going be a part of it.  People need to re-learn what they seemed to understand about a hundred years ago - none of the people at the top are really on your side.  Showing them how the game is set up, who the main players are and giving them the tools to effectively vent their anger seems like a good start to me.

There is probably more, of course.  I'm more and more convinced the keys lie, at least in part, in Situationist theory, but that theory needs to updated, to take into account certain social and economic changes (as well as the battlefield it wishes to contest modern society on).  Of course, Situationist theory was designed so that once a theory emerged, it should be possible to dismantle that which was being theorized about anyway, so perhaps I would think that.

Plus, the Situationists may have been formenting revolution, but they were also about having a damn good time while doing it.

The kicker is they need us, not vice versa. Standards of living must continue to rise on aggregate. We can only take so much of this smoke and mirrors economic bullshit. Primates are greedy they want more, not less. Unless care is taken to feed and water us slaves the rich will very quickly find themselves kings of nothing with a hungry mob beating down the gates looking for someone to eat. If it gets too much for me then I'll quite happily take to the streets and start killing rich looking people for food and trinkets. And there's a lot more like me, just patiently waiting until the powers that be can no longer afford to use the police or the military against us. The day I wake up and find out I am the police and the military - that's the day those wealthy elite cocksuckers better watch their backs.  :evil:

That's the thing, their avarice has overruled common sense.  In part, that was what I was getting at with my mention of Teddy Roosevelt - he knew that the corporate elite were out of control and had grown so powerful and greedy they threatened to bring the whole house of cards down.  So he reined them in.  Not much, but just enough to offset mass rioting as an option.  Nowadays, neither our political nor corporate leaders have even the sense of TR, which is a bad sign (TR was the classic blowhard toughguy), but then, given our reactions, that isn't too surprising.  But this goes back to what I said above - education and theory.  Or we can wait it out until the only choices we have left are slavery or eating the rich, but I'd rather finish things sooner than later.  I have things I want to do, after all.


The Majority Rule is coming, it's always coming. But I can't even visualize a successful coup of wallstreet. what would have to happen?

Do people even know what they have to do? Attending these bullshit protests is doing jack squat other than giving the vultures and doomsayers something to write their niggling little columns about.

Two years ago, we were trolling this board revleft, where they're all about REVOLUTION MOTHERFUCKER! And they sound like teenagers and whiners, fine tuning the language of revolution as if talking about it enough is going to make it happen. Nobody on that board agrees with anybody else about what the revolution should be about or how it should happen. Clamouring for some kind of revolution makes me feel like one of those spags. But I feel like we have to find the break-point angle which the public can get behind.

Michael Moore thinks that this is capitalism gone awry, and if we can get some decent lobby and campaign finance reform passed, things will be on the right track again. Is that the answer? I think it's a good answer. But how can we, as a public, push for that kind of stuff in a meaningful way? Even by joining our voices into a hysterical chorus, it still feels like sitting patiently by the table, begging for scraps of power.

Do we just wait until things get worse? Until the law of eristic escalation stands up and knocks all the checker pieces off the board? Fuck that too!

I rather like the idea of inhabiting that grey zone that exists between legal activism and outright sabotage.  John Robb has mentioned quite a few ways to do "economic takedowns" of a relatively peaceful sort, such as protests that shutdown airports or other major economic centres.  Showing up outside the Stock Exchange and going "shame on you" ain't exactly gonna cut it.  So you have to hit them where it hurts - in the pocket.

And naturally, the work of showing people there are workable alternatives and trying to game the political system in favour of people who are more open to those alternatives (there is a website in the US which pushes people to vote in local Democratic primaries for progressive candidates, in hope of pushing the party left from the bottom up, for example) would be part and parcel of this, too.

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 2
« Reply #13 on: October 21, 2009, 04:10:44 pm »
The reality presented here makes me queasy.  I'm having to rethink my views on populism.

I wonder, however, what form would this movement take?  "class warfare" has been synonymous with "communism" for the last 60 years or so.  What manner of educating the people would remove or avoid this stigma?  Would their economic status be their sole teacher?

The last overtly populist movement here was during the late 1800s - early 1900s IIRC.  Perhaps notes should be taken on that?
« Last Edit: October 21, 2009, 04:25:51 pm by Idem »

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 2
« Reply #14 on: October 21, 2009, 04:59:41 pm »
Cain, your suggestions to Kai above about reaching over ot the "other side" are brilliant--and something I've sort of ad hoc tried myself in order to be able to just TOLERATE the subject with hardcore right-wingnuts like my parents.  Bring something positive to bridge the gap somewhere to the table, and watch as it works like magic so they aren't so set up in opposition against you.