Mojo - June 2006

Yearly Kos: "This isn't about the Democratic Party; it's about the United States of America."

| Sun Jun. 11, 2006 1:13 AM EDT

Another action-packed day at YKC 06. Here, for starters, are some highlights from Howard Dean's fine 8 a.m. address to bleary-eyed netroots-types. (Bleary-eyed, having spent Friday night at a party thrown by former Virginia governor Mark Warner, 108 storeys above the Strip at the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino; a party featuring Elvis and Blues Brothers impersonators, an open bar, thrill rides, "Kos martinis," and, yes, the dentally formidable presidential hopeful.)

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee:

This is the handoff between the baby boomers and the millennial generation. ... This is a movement that's not so different than the one in the sixties, to take back America. ... In the sixties what we fought for was individual rights, equal rights under the law for every single American. We're still fighting for those things today, but we have lost our way, starting in 1980, when the "Me Party" took over from the "We Party."

Interestingly, none of the things the Republican Party predicted came true. They are the party of big government interfering in people's personal decisions; they are the party of secrecy and dishonesty. And they are the party of the largest national debt in the history of the country and in fact the history of the free world.

So now this is the generation that takes the country back to the ideals laid before us by Franklin Roosevelt and Jack Kennedy. But it's a different generation, and you know more about the world than we did. ... You understand that we are all citizens of the world...because of the [Inter]net. What we are now engaged in is a new American generation, a community, that wants to restore American values, the best American values...the American values of ordinary people.

What I think Americans really want is not just to beat up on the right wing. The president is at 30 percent in the polls; I think people get it. Now, a sentence every once in a while reminding people what they're doing is a very good thing. But I think people want a unified country. They really do want to reach out to everybody, understanding that we're all in this together. It's why the scapegoating politics of the right isn't working. And you're a big piece of that.

When the right wing took over the country, they did it by fighting every day for four years. And then their next cycle would start the day after the election. That's what we have to do in the Democratic Party. I do care about the Democratic Party; I think the Democratic Party is heads above the Republican Party. But the truth is, this isn't about the Democratic Party; it's about the United States of America. And the Democratic Party is the vehicle to reform America.

But this is a tough fight, and you don't win just because you're right. You win because you outwork the other guys, you're tougher than the other guys and...because you appeal to the higher instincts of people instead of to people's worst instincts. Those guys win elections by scapegoating people. From Ronald Reagan's "welfare queen" to George Bush's gay and lesbian Americans. ... We will not do that, because it's bad for America, and the one big difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party is that they will put the interests of the Republican Party ahead of the interests of the United States of America, and we will not do that.

Click here for video clips from the Yearly Kos convention.

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Why are the comics tougher on Bush than the Democrats?

| Sat Jun. 10, 2006 2:20 PM EDT

Tonight, on HBO, comic Lewis Black eviscerates George Bush, Dick Cheney and right-wing fundamentalists in a funny, biting way that the leaders of the Democratic party -- or even many progressives -- don't have the nerve or wit to do. (I saw the show live in May, and his take-down on Bush's cluelessnss while visiting amputated Iraq vets is a masterpiece of dark comedy and expert timing, joined by a hilarious defense of evolution and the fossil record against the ignorance of "intelligent design" advocates.)

Earlier in the week, Jon Stewart took on Bill Bennett over gay marriage with a devastating rebuttal of the right's notion that gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriage. He staked a clear moral ground on civil rights and gays as part of the human family, as opposed to the legalisms over state's rights that most Democrats used in opposing the gay rights constitutional amendment.

Perhaps the comics are showing us the way towards the "authenticity" that so many political experts say the public wants to see in their candidates, and that the consultant-driven presidential candidates of the Democratic Party in recent years have lacked.

Yearly Kos: Do blogs matter, anyway?

| Fri Jun. 9, 2006 8:14 PM EDT

Over at Townhall.com, Jeff Emanuel, a young conservative and himself a blogger, wonders if bloggers and blogs, particularly liberal ones, are all they're cracked up to be (as we in the Riviera Hotel and Casino strongly believe). He asks, specifically:

1) Is the Daily Kos model (and are blogs in general) the way of the future or just a flash in the pan?
2) Just how much influence, if any, do Moulitsas and his "Kos Kids" have within the Democrat Party?

Here's his gleeful take:

The Daily Kos model, and blogs in general, are not just a flash in the pan. The Kos has been among the most-viewed websites for several years now, and his exposure appears to be growing rather than receding. He's penned an article in the American Prospect and been the subject of a piece in Campaigns & Elections as well as other publications. As long as Air America is up and running (perhaps not long), Moulitsas will have a voice over the airwaves as well.

The bad news is that Kos has just about the most-viewed blog on the planet. The good news—-and it is very good [sic!]—-is that conservatives have not been afraid to follow suit and have jumped on the opportunities offered by this medium. With the exception of Daily Kos, nearly all of the top blogs in the nation—Michelle Malkin, Instapundit, Townhall, Little Green Footballs, Club for Growth, and others—are conservative. More and more Republicans in Congress are even being convinced of the merits of the blogosphere, the result of a Capitol Hill blogging revolution currently being engineered by new-media enthusiasts like David All, communications director for Representative Jack Kingston, R-GA. Blogs offer an extremely quick and efficient way to get information out to large numbers of people and will become more and more utilized in the future—-not less.

Fair points. It's certainly true that, as John Palfrey, Harvard's top Internet-watcher, puts it, Republicans "have been much more effective than Democrats, generally, at integrating blogging and other Internet tools within campaigns. Even the Democrats will say Republicans were much better at using these things functionally."

Emanuel goes on:

As to the second question, Kos and his Kids (perhaps unfortunately) have little or no influence over the day-to-day activities of the Democratic Party. They stand firmly against any principles which lie to the right of pure socialism; thus, they cannot support any candidate who could ever have a chance of winning an important election. ...

Well, this is nonsense. If "Kos and his Kids" lack influence, it's not because they're wild-eyed lefties. I'm not quite sure what Emanuel means by "pure socialism," but reading Kos's book on the plane ride over here I was mostly struck by his--and co-author Jerome Armstrong's--flexible, pragmatic approach to electoral politics. They argue that if Democrats want to win more votes they're going to have to tame their special interest groups, and those groups--be they pro-choicers, environmentalists, or what have you--are going to have to learn, on occasion, to subordinate their narrow concerns to the common good. That vision of the common good is broadly "liberal," no doubt, but not "left" in any predictable, dogmatic sense. (It can occasionally demand, for example, that Democrats throw their support behind anti-choice candidates.)

But the question remains: how important are bloggers to the Democratic Party? Or, as this piece puts it, "Can bloggers significantly affect turnout or shape issues, or are they mostly echo chambers with little measurable sway? Will those trends change as more Americans turn to the Internet to get news, nurture their personal relationships and make commercial transactions?"

The answer is...nobody seems to know. Liberal bloggers have notched up some notable successes, powering the meteoric (if short-lived) rises of Howard Dean and Paul Hackett. And though Hillary Clinton is conspicuously giving YKC 06 a miss, Mark Warner, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Howard Dean are scheduled to drop by, and Wesley Clark looked in earlier today. Even so, though Kos himself sees the convention as evidence that "We have arrived," it's Warner's equivocal, hedging approach that seems to capture the uncertainty around the blogosphere's influence.

"When I go anyplace now, I'll usually call some of the key bloggers," said Warner, who also is hosting a party for bloggers at this week's convention. "I'm trying to shift the debate from 'left vs. right' to 'future vs. past.'...

Blogging, Warner said, "may just be the tip of the iceberg" in terms of the impact the Internet has on campaigns in 2008 and beyond.

"How significant is podcasting going to be? Text messaging and video messaging to cell phones?" he said. "As people look at new ways to slice and dice demographics, the personalized way somebody can talk to you as an individual voter about the issues you care about?"

Translation: I have no idea where this thing is going, but I've nothing to lose by rolling the dice on these guys--for now.

Yearly Kos: "If you really want to do something for marriage, raise the minimum wage..."

| Fri Jun. 9, 2006 5:18 PM EDT

Barbara Boxer was today's lunchtime speaker at YKC 06. The junior senator from California was introduced as "the model of what the netroots wants," owing to her liberal voting record and her position on the Iraq war. (She was one of 23 senators who voted against giving the president the go-ahead.)

The speech was rousing enough. The White House is "dangerously incompetent," and congress is "too eager to write the president a blank check and turn a blind eye," leaving an accountability void that bloggers and their readers have stepped in to fill. "You are the most powerful answer to [executive overreach]."

Boxer was good on the GOP's sudden rediscovery of that preeminent threat to American values, the liberal-homosexual war on marriage--"if you really want to do something for marriage, raise the minimum wage, provide people with health-care"--and on the question of whether it's worth Democrats' time to push for George W. Bush's impeachment: not. Republicans control congress, so the idea wouldn't go anywhere; and anyway, the American people would view it as an unhelpful distraction from important issues. "There's only one thing to do," she said. "Change the Congress." Fair enough.

School of Americas Debated Again

| Fri Jun. 9, 2006 3:08 PM EDT

Via Cursor, I see the House is debating yet again whether to close the School of Americas (now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). Here's a good, totally objective place for background. Here too. Already, four South American countries (Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay) have in recent years stopped sending their officers for training at the school, which has graduated 62,000 officers and 11 dictators throughout its history, including Efraín Ríos Montt, Augusto Pinochet, and Roberto D'Aubuisson, the founder of death squads in El Salvador. Odds are, the House won't vote to shut the school down (Rep. Jim McGovern has been trying to get this done for years now), but might as well note the effort...

New Orleans area residents suffering from increased mental health problems

| Fri Jun. 9, 2006 3:07 PM EDT

Mental health experts report that depression, including suicidal depression, and posttraumatic stress have become increasingly common among people who were affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. An educated guess is that more than 260,000 people are newly affected by anxiety, depression and substance abuse disorders, and there are not enough professionals or facilities to accommodate them. To make matters worse, many behavioral health professionals are also suffering from some of the disorders brought on by the devastation of Katrina and its aftermath.

A well-known television producer killed himself when he lost everything in Katrina. Several doctors have committed suicide, and only last week, an animal rescuer killed herself. In the days following the hurricane, the suicide rate in Jefferson Parish was double what it had been in the same period of 2004. As the population of New Orleans goes down, the volume of mental health problems increases.

Posttraumatic stress disorder is certainly on the rise, and now that the 2006 hurricane season has begun, posttraumatic triggers will increase. Discussions of tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico, television footage of Katrina, Rita, and other big hurricanes, and repeated warnings about hurricane preparation cannot be avoided. One estimate is that a third of the people who lived through Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath are suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder.

To make matters worse, New Orleans area citizens continue to fight with their insurance agencies about the terms of their coverage, many have not yet decided whether to return to the city or have their houses razed, many are living in FEMA trailers or worse, and there is significant stress in homes housing more than one family or several extended family members. Add to that the unemployment or a lower level of employment since the hurricanes, and you have a formula for ever-increasing mental health issues.

People who were seriously mentally ill before the hurricane, or whose illnesses were made worse by the storm, cannot access hospital beds because of the low staffing in psychiatric hospitals.

In my own practice north of Lake Pontchartrain, I am seeing people who had problems prior to Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, but who were coping reasonably well. After losing their houses, jobs, money, or family members, however, they feel they can no longer cope with their daily routines, much less than the larger problems they face. Even people who lost nothing cannot erase the vidual images of people clinging to roofs, suffering in the Superdome, or having their pets taken from them and tossed into the street. A psychiatrist with whom I frequently talk said he is hearing the worst stories he has heard in his career.

Because of low staffing and caregiver stress, there is no solution in sight for what is now a mental health crisis.

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Yearly Kos: "When you are a clean-money candidate you can basically give the finger to lobbyists. Which is a beautiful thing."

| Fri Jun. 9, 2006 1:50 PM EDT

Greetings from the Yearly Kos convention in Las Vegas, where the netroots mingle with...overweight white people incapable of learning from repeated failures and helplessly chucking their money away on doomed long-shot bets. (That's right—the Democratic Party establishment.) YKC 06, as we insiders have learned to call it, shares space in the garishly carpeted convention center in the basement of the Riviera Hotel with…the NSA (The National Seniors Association, many of whose members appear to be wearing suspicious listening devices in arrogantly plain view) and the national "cue-sports" association.

More, when I figure it all out, on such details as the number of pale and underfed bloggers gathered here, not to mention the activists, mainstream media types, professional politicians, and starry-eyed blog groupies. (I will say for now that, as with most conferences, the panel discussions tend to be sparsely attended, with media folks overrepresented, while the big "keynote"-type events, like the speech last night by Markos Moulitsas-Zuniga (Kos), are packed, possibly owing to the availability of free food.) More, too, on YCK 06 as the progressive blogosphere's coming out party; more on the fact that such Democratic luminaries as Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi feel it necessary to make the pilgrimage here to touch the feet of Kos, this event's presiding deity. And more gratuitous and strained analogies between Democratic politics and the sublime human comedy that is Las Vegas.

For now, though, a word on an 8 a.m. panel I attended (yes, 8 a.m.! This Markos guy does have a sense of humor, after all). The subject was electoral reform and the speakers included grunge legend-turned activist Krist Noveselic of Nirvana fame and the estimable writer Micah L. Sifry. Sifry pointed out—and we all know this but it's worth belaboring—that money is screwing up American politics. The cost of waging a political campaign is massive and getting bigger all the time; prospective candidates who lack big-money backing might as well stay in bed; elected officials spend much or most of their time dialing for dollars and sucking up to donors rather than connecting with their constituents; and special interests buy special favors.

Sifry went on to argue that regulatory fixes (campaign spending limits, disclosure rules) are all fine and dandy, but what's really needed is…a paradigm shift (I know, I know; but hear him out…), one that breaks the dependency of political candidates on moneyed interests—a "clean-money" solution under which candidates, having proven their small-d democratic bona fides by amassing a sufficient number of small (say $5) contributions, receive enough public money to finance their campaigns and agree to forego any more private money. The great state of Maine has tried something similar with good results.

Seems to have potential in Arizona, too. One of the panelists was state representative Kyrsten Sinema, who, speaking from vivid experience, had this to say:

"When you are a clean-money candidate you can basically give the finger to lobbyists. Which is a beautiful thing."

For more on clean-money elections, see Fairvote.org, Public Campaign, and Cleanmoneyday.com.

Women's Rights in Basra Still Dismal

| Thu Jun. 8, 2006 6:23 PM EDT

I take it today's the day when everyone's supposed to be upbeat about Iraq, seeing as how Zarqawi was killed, and Iraqis across the country are, rightfully, ecstatic about the fact. Nevertheless, Terri Judd's report in the Independent on the state of women's rights deserves a reading:

Across Iraq, a bloody and relentless oppression of women has taken hold. Many women had their heads shaved for refusing to wear a scarf or have been stoned in the street for wearing make-up. Others have been kidnapped and murdered for crimes that are being labelled simply as "inappropriate behaviour". The insurrection against the fragile and barely functioning state has left the country prey to extremists whose notion of freedom does not extend to women.

In the British-occupied south, where Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army retains a stranglehold, women insist the situation is at its worst. Here they are forced to live behind closed doors only to emerge, concealed behind scarves, hidden behind husbands and fathers. Even wearing a pair of trousers is considered an act of defiance, punishable by death.Perhaps it's too obvious to need pointing out, but as a reminder, this is what's going on in Basra, the peaceful part of Iraq, where Shiites have—for the most part—set up a stable Islamic government in the provinces and insurgent violence, while not eradicated, is at a minimum. In other words, this is what "victory" in Iraq would look like. According to Judd's interviews, people in Basra say that laws setting aside 25 percent of the legislative seats for women have been a "smokescreen," and it's been impossible for those in power to do much to improve women's rights in the region.

Congress Approves Eye-Eating Fungus

| Thu Jun. 8, 2006 5:52 PM EDT

Awesome. According to Jeremy Bigwood of In These Times, the House recently an amendment authorizing the use of an "eye-eating fungus" to spray on crops in Colombia as part of the U.S. government's "war on drugs." The Colombian government is against the measure, seeing as how the fungus can attack humans and "cause redness and pain that can lead to blindness—requiring a corneal replacement," and could well mutate into something worse in the future.

In related news, Plan Colombia is still a billion-dollar failure that hasn't reduced drug use but has gotten a lot of people killed.

Turning Against the War

Thu Jun. 8, 2006 4:48 PM EDT

The chorus of voices denouncing the war in Iraq is pretty loud these days, but the addition of critiques by its early proponents continues to be striking. And in his op-ed today, Michael Young, opinion editor for the Lebanese Daily Star, does just that. Young doesn't regret his earlier support for the war, and there is no lost love between him and the Iraqi leaders—or would-be Arab reformers—critical of the occupation. But the noted Lebanese political pundit is also far enough removed to call the war a huge disaster, and to do so with more thoroughness than most Americans care to, even now. Like the My Lai massacre back in 1968, Young writes, Haditha "makes the notion of winning hearts and minds laughable."

Even for those of us who supported the war, it's plain that this is a March 1968 moment, though Johnson had a much easier choice to make than Bush. South Vietnam was never as crucial a place as Iraq is, and for the US there is, quite simply, no way out. Democracy is a long-lost hope; Arab liberals who congratulate themselves for having discredited the war from the outset can lustily applaud the humiliation of the last administration that will plead their case in many years. If there is no way out for Bush, freedom in the Arab world has also hit a brick wall.

Lest this sound too cynical, Young does make a few recommendations, the first of which is that Rumsfeld get the boot, and quickly.