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Saturday, March 12, 2005

Your Tax Dollars at War 

Apparently, there wasn’t already enough government money being diverted to Bush's privatization wars from just the Social Security Administration. Now the Treasury Dept has illegally set up it’s own privatization shill web site.

Are your clicking fingers on your e-mail to Congress?

Politics Online Wrapup 

So, having spent the last couple of days at a conference about online politics, it seems like a good time to post a couple of general impressions about the conference and about the state of political work and political journalism online.

The first thing I noticed in DC was that there were precious few serious bloggers at the conference. Probably, the high price of admission, combined with the low wages of blogging were the main reasons (from a purely financial viewpoint, I had to wonder what I was doing there myself). That said, there were bloggers present and they were something of a show, especially the big names (again, I have to wonder…). Clearly, it was the “Year of the Blogger.” You couldn’t throw a laptop without hitting someone who wanted to attest to it, however uninterested in actual online journalism they might be.

But really, the people driving the bus, unfortunately, were the same folks who’ve been doing so all along. Political interests, industry groups, consultants, software makers, and the like made up most of the attendees, it seemed (Conservatives in suits were everywhere as well!). I wondered if bloggers, because we come from the rabble as well as from the cognicenti, were really just a passing curiosity to the political ‘industry.’ In addition, as most of us already know, our communities, however large in the aggregate, still make us microscopic actors in the political class as individuals.

That said, I came away thinking that blogs do represent a nascent political force of democratization, however small, that represents a building force of thousands, perhaps millions, of those microscopic communities that are starting online. The test as we go forward is to find out if these communities are simply surfboards for political infotainment or the beginning of real communities that can exist both online and in the real world, acting on information and passions exchanged online and creating change for the better.

I have to hope we are headed in that direction and that the coming years will yield more citizen journalists, activists, and organizers who have become a part of the zeitgeist. It’s not by any means a certainty. The larger, better financed forces in the political arena won’t give way readily, Some of them shouldn’t. We’ll always need professionally trained, corporately organized journalists, political workers, interest lobbyists, and the like. But it is a continuing hope that the online revolution can help facilitate more grassroots power and communication, whether blogs continue or simply evolve. I gotta hope we are the tip of an iceberg of participation, not just a blip on the way to continuing concentration of power.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Information Please... 

While the panel here at the Politics Online Conference argues about the merits of mainstream media vs. the blogosphere (yawn), it seemed like time to post about something real.

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We’re seeing more and more disturbing misuse of taxpayer dollars to shill for the Administration’s Social Security privatization campaign. Between the editorial in taxpayer Social Security Statements sent out in the mail, the on-hold messages to the same tune at SS, and the public appearances of Social Security trustees to pump up the volume for the President’s plan, there’s already a lot for citizens to cry foul about.

Coming up, Paul Krugman reports today in the Times that the trustees' annual report will likely be recruited next in the sell. Krugman quotes the American Association of Actuaries, indicating that there are a few statistical tricks to look for in the upcoming report:


“Look for an attempt to conflate Social Security with Medicare. Look for an emphasis on "infinite horizon" estimates, which the American Academy of Actuaries, in a letter to trustees, said "provide little if any useful information about the program's long-range finances and indeed are likely to mislead anyone lacking technical expertise ... into believing that the program is in far worse financial condition than is actually indicated."”


Time will tell whether most people continue to trust statistics coming from supposedly nonpartisan arms of the Executive under this Administration. In any case, it’s past time that taxpayers raise our voices to demand that our money isn’t misspent to sell us the White House’s political agenda.

More Politics Online Conference Live Notes 

FEC Chairman Scott Thomas spoke at lunch today to a less than totally hospitable audience to attempt to calm the waters on internet regulation. Instead, the effect was to indicate that outside of Congressional intervention, there may well be reason to be concerned that bloggers will not be accorded media status, exempting them from McCain-Feingold. One bright moment was hearing that McCain himself has recently made noises to the effect that he’d support legislation that would exempt blogs.

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Filmmaker/conservative politico Evan Thomas talked about the value of internet video in local campaigns. “Video on the net can introduce people directly to a local candidate when the paid media (i.e. TV news) may not want to cover the race.” Thomas cited an NYC New York State Senate candidate he worked for who was helped by video in a huge media market that was covering bigger races.

***
Just an observation here at the Conference— I’ve seen maybe one person of color here who wasn’t waiting on tables. Guess we’re not making too much progress on bridging the e-divide… EDITOR"S UPDATE: OK, as soon as I wrote this, I began noticing more diversity. Still, I'd say white males are WAY over-represented here...

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Michael Silberman, formerly with the Dean campaign's internet effort, talked about the campaign's great internet work being somewhat disconnected with the on-the-ground strategy, or vice-versa. Successes and failures happening simultaneously...

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Meanwhile, Joe Trippi's hawking a book, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." Hey, I bought one...what the hell, We'll get back to you on it. EDITORS UPDATE: First chapter is great. Too tired to keep reading tho...

Online Coalition 

Online Coalition is a brand-new site, launched today to send a petition to the FEC about keeping blogs free and open from government intrusion.

If you are concerned about keeping participatory democracy alive, go to the link and spend a minute to send your online feedback to the FEC.

The petition, which, as its name implies is sponsored by a broad spectrum, reads in part, “As bipartisan members of the online journalism, blogging, and advertising community, we ask that you grant blogs and online publications the same consideration and protection as broadcast media, newspapers, or periodicals by clearly including them under the Federal Election Commission’s “media exemption” rule.

In order to ensure that there are sufficient measures taken, we also request that the FEC promulgate a rule exempting unpaid political activity on the Internet from regulation, thereby guaranteeing every American’s right to speak freely and participate in our democratic process.”

I urge every reader to check it out and participate in keeping the government out of our laptops.

Politics Online Live... 

Today, they have wi-fi. You’ll be treated (if that’s the word for it) to some of the pearls of wisdom…Overheard at the Politics Online conference:

Jimmy Orr of the White House website, discussing his mission of increasing traffic to the WH site, notes that the launch of Bush’s dog Barney’s “Barneycam 2” was the biggest internet hit they’ve had in four-plus years. Orr said, “I was watching CNN, which was covering the Barneycam. After about four minutes of watching the dog run around, the anchor said, I can’t believe we’re covering this. I couldn’t believe it either.”

Phil Noble of PoliticsOnline:

“People are saying, I get my information online, my stocks online, my pornography online, why can’t I get my politics online?”

Orr responds:

“I just want to go on record saying, I get my pornography the traditional way.”

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Isn’t this what you wanted from the brightest lights of the political internet?

FEC Regulation and Blogs, Not So Perfect Together 

Regulation of bloggers? ….OK, OK, now that you’ve stopped laughing, I hope you check the link, because it’s coming. And soon.

The Federal Election Commission has been ordered by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to come up with regulations extending McCain-Feingold to the internet. It’s not a question of whether there will be regulations, but what they will be.

A preview of at least some of the Commission’s thinking by Commissioner David Mason at the Politics Online Conference here in Washington yesterday indicated that their proposals could have the effect of a crackdown on bloggers. Commissioner Bradley Smith has previously been quoted along the same lines, but Mason made it clear that the FEC is almost ready to act.

Here’s the thing— if you engage in political activity in support of a candidate or candidates and you are not regarded as a journalist or a private person, you could well be subject to McCain Feingold. Well, you say, I’m a journalist. Maybe not in the way the FEC wants to define journalism. OK, you say, I’m a private person. Not if you blog from the office, they say, you’re using corporate or business equipment to do it, they say.

But it’s a free speech issue, you say. Well, the FEC proposal, which will be issued in less than a month, allows you to comment on the issue. That’s free. There will be a 30-day comment period once they issue the “Notice of Proposed Rule-Making.” Then there will be hearings.

The Commission is evenly divided among Republicans and Democrats and has voted not to appeal the Judge’s ruling, but to press ahead with the rule-making. Thoughts about what that rule may be are varied, but one thing should be clear: this ruling will have a dramatic effect on the blogosphere.

If the experience of the FCC rulings on media conglomeration last year are to be used as historical background, both the Left and the Right have a stake in keeping participatory democracy as open as possible and both have reason to unite over keeping the FEC off the backs of bloggers and citizens who read them.

William Greene, founder of RightMarch.com, a conservative blog, told the Big Diamond yesterday that he sees this as a bipartisan issue. “Bloggers on the Left don’t see this as bipartisan, but we do. This is the natural consequence of McCain-Feingold.”

Whether or not one supports McCain-Feingold, the regulation of blogs and their political activity is a point on which there can be much agreement in cyberspace. Keeping democratic participation through the internet alive and well is vital. The discussion and organizing around this must begin to reach critical mass quickly, because the gears of the FEC are turning fast.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

FEC Alert! 

OK, so what would be the FIRST amenity you’d provide to the Politics Online Conference? No, not pork…Internet access!

Not.

So I’m just back to a hotel WITH Internet access and boy are my keyboards tired!

More in the morning, but the scariest part of the day was hearing from Federal Elections Commissioner David Mason that the FEC will be issuing a “Notice of Proposed Rule-Making” in LESS THAN 30 DAYS about new regulations on blogs and political activity. LESS THAN 30 DAYS!

There was a lot of talk about making political activity by bloggers ILLEGAL if they so much as use the office computer and link to a candidate's site. It’s time to start ramping up the blogosphere on this, big time. This could be Armageddon for democracy and the internet.

It’s actually a moment to reach across the political spectrum to the Right as well. Everyone has a stake in keeping participatory democracy alive in the blogosphere.

Meanwhile, Google FEC Advisory Opinion Number 1998-22 . This will give a sense of where the FEC wants to go with regulation. It’s not a good feeling.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Signs of Spring— Bloggers Gathering 

Signs that spring is coming…

1) I’ll be looking for cherry blossoms (I know, way too early) in DC as I blog tomorrow from the Politics Online Conference.

2) Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon have made the pilgrimage to Fort Myers, FL to have their picture taken with Johnny Damon in the Red Sox southern home (They’re making a Farrelly Bros film about an obsessed Red Sox fan…no, it’s not me!)

3) It was 15F this morning in New York City—before the wind chill.

...In the Just Deserts Department 

Remember our post, thanks to Alex Chee, about the USA Next advertisement that created such a furor by attempting to graft the gay marriage issue onto AARP? USA Next, a right wing organization being financed by the Rovites to attack opponents of Social Security privatization, thought it might be nice to reprise last year’s successful Swift Boat Veteran attacks on John Kerry. This time, the wrinkle was to tar the AARP before the powerful retired people’s lobby could get their anti-privatization campaign off the ground. What better technique than to use the homophobia around gay marriage AND the superjingo militarism that combined so well last year for President Bush’s re-election campaign?

As you know, the five-second solution was to craft an internet ad and run it on the conservative American Spectator website that featured BOTH issues. The pictures showed a soldier with an ‘X’ splashed over him and a gay couple in tuxedos kissing with a check mark over them next to it, and ascribe to AARP this shorthand for gayloving soldierhater.

What a great idea! Not only would the ad buy cost somewhere in the vicinity of $10, but it would probably be whipped up into a furor by the liberal blogosphere and repeated millions of times for free! People would start asking about the AARP and gay marriage and whether they were antimilitary. Beautiful.

Not.

Somebody finally proved PT Barnum wrong. Apparently, you CAN lose money underestimating the American public! Not only did the ad backfire, but as it turns out, stealing the couple’s picture and splashing it all over the world’s computer screens could prove to be VERY EXPENSIVE.

See Daily Kos for a link to the press release about the $25 Million lawsuit the couple has filed against USA Next.

UPDATE: from the press release-"When we get our judgment, we intend to donate to those who fight the kind of hate and homophobia that USA Next and Montini have demonstrated."

Changing of the Guard 

Dan Rather signs off tonight and in the process, marks another transition from an era of television anchors who worked their way up in news organizations that were fiercely independent of their corporate masters. Like him or not, Rather has always been independent and unimpressed at political pressure directed his way. Rather actually owes much of his notoriety to Richard Nixon for putting him on his ‘enemies list’ of people who might be singled out for special attention should circumstances permit.

Rather is less excited about the future of broadcast journalism in an interview given to Mark Jurkowitz in the Boston Globe.

''The bosses increasingly are more distant from the newsroom as we move more deeply into concentration of ownership," he says. ''They have tremendous financial interest in protecting all aspects of the conglomerate. ''Citizens need to pay attention to this," he says, ''because it can eat away at the vitals of our democratic system."

It’s clear that the concentration of media ownership and the breakdown of the lines between news divisions and corporate divisions at the networks has ushered in an infotainment era in news broadcasting— and that Rather has been a participant as well as a resister in the change. We can only hope that going forward, Americans and other world citizens depending on independent news sources look to find them where they can. Dan, the blogosphere awaits you, impatiently, like “a too tight bathing suit on a too-long ride home,” to use your words.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The RNC's Aftermath: Dissent and Democracy Endangered in New York 

Those of us who stayed town in New York City during the Republican National Convention last summer were treated to what life is like in a police state. Outside the glossy national coverage in Madison Square Garden of the screaming Zell Miller, the smiling Arnold Schwartznegger, President Bush at his most charming and Vice President Cheney on the attack, there was another reality on the streets of New York City. Thousands of police and undercover operatives were clearing away the signs of antiwar and anti-Bush dissent. Phalanxes of riot-equipped cops were dispatched from a buffer zone around the Garden to break up every protest as it began. Police awaiting orders were massed, by the hundreds, on motorbikes, cycles, horses, and in vehicles in the West 30’s.

Bicyclists, part of a group called Critical Mass, were among the first swept off the streets, arrested for “parading without a license.” Hundreds of protesters and bystanders were wrapped up in orange plastic netting on sidewalks all over New York City, some before demonstrations had even begun. Many were taken to Pier 57, along the Hudson River on the West Side and kept huddled in an area the city used as an auto pool, amidst puddles of oil and asbestos hazard signs, awaiting arraignment for up to 36 hours on “desk ticket” charges. Desk tickets are used for charges so minor that the typical waiting period is 2 hours between arrest and discharge without arraignment.

Thousands of protesters who had come to New York to demonstrate against the RNC were told by Mayor Bloomberg that they couldn’t use Central Park, far from the site of the convention at Madison Square Garden, because the grass on the Great Lawn couldn’t handle the trampling. Never mind that concerts and charity events had managed to avoid destroying the park in the past, these protesters weren’t to be allowed. The city offered only an area far out on the West Side, on city streets that would be segmented by barriers and left without the audio amplification that would allow the demonstration to have a focus, a stage that participants could see and hear.

Last night on the Lower East Side, Norman Seigel, the former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Jess Brown, a member of the New York Lawyer’s Guild, spoke to about fifty people about the suit they are pursuing against the City of New York in the aftermath of the crackdown on dissent last summer.

“Were looking at the criminalization of protest,” Brown told the group.

Seigel asked listeners to imagine what American history would be like if the preemptive arrests and political detentions used in New York had been used during the Civil Rights movement during the 1960’s.

“Think of my colleagues,” Seigel recalled, “blacks and whites, who went to sit-in at segregated lunch counters in the south. Under the preemptive arrest concept used last summer here in New York, they would have been arrested before they even got to the counter.”

Brown, who spent the week of the convention trying in vain to speak with clients who had been detained on minor charges without arraignment, noted that on the final night of the RNC, after President Bush had spoken and left the city, hundreds of detainees were finally bussed to court on Centre Street downtown. While she and other lawyers waited in vain to speak with their clients outside the court’s front door, would-be protesters were quickly issued desk tickets and then ushered out the back door by police, onto the side streets of the city they’d been swept off of 36 hours earlier.

Seigel echoed the clear intent of police and the city’s DA’s to hold protesters until the eyes of the world were off New York City. “A mother of one of my clients called the precinct to ask when her son might be released,” Seigel recalled. “She got a desk sergeant on the phone, who responded, ‘Ma-am, don’t you know what’s happening? Your son isn’t getting out till President Bush leaves on Thursday night.’”

The Lawyer’s Guild and the New York Civil Liberties Union have a hearing coming up later this month on criminal contempt charges the State courts have issued against the City of New York, resulting from the NYPD flouting the court’s order to release arrestees in a reasonable manner after arrests during the convention. We’ll be covering the progress of the case as it develops.

Meanwhile, the lack of major media coverage on this story has been deafening. “There’s a desensitization going on,” Brown noted last night. “This is the way people lose their rights.”

Sunday, March 06, 2005

DeLay on the Decline 

Anyone who caught 60 Minutes’ story tonight on Tom DeLay’s ethics problems and Ronnie Earl’s tenacious investigation into his office should follow up with a trip to Boffoblog. John at Boffo has been a reliable source of information about DeLay’s shady fundraising techniques and the Republican leadership’s efforts to protect him from the consequences of his most brazen excesses.

The latest damage-control move DeLay has made, engaging the services of Lee Atwater protégé Sam Dawson, is the subject of Boffo’s latest post. Do you think we'll be hearing next about Leslie Stahl's personal pecadillos...or Don Hewitt's? See Boffo and then decide.

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