March 2006 Archives

More on Battle Cry

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David Batstone, in this issue of Sojourner's Sojourner email newsletter (which incidentally I think is probably the best email newsletter out there) covers some of the same territory I did in talking about Battle Cry. But he falls right into the trap of moralizing about content that I was trying to avoid...


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Christian capitalist tools

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This weekend, the city I've chosen as home played host to 25,000 innocent evangelical youth and their horribly misguided leadership. The culture war has a way of bringing out the worst in people, even when there is potentially some common ground: Assemblymember Mark Leno suggested they should "get out of San Francisco."

That might not be the most delicate way of putting it, but it is understandable. I'm sure that somewhere the conservatives are trotting out the predictable line here: oh look, the left isn't so "tolerant" after all, look at the counterprotests.

Yes, progressives are intolerant of hatred. No apologies there. And we're mighty damn intolerant of leaders who employ fascist sounding language to rope kids into being pawns for their political games. They are literally calling advertisers "virtue terrorists," a better sound bite could hardly have been pulled from The Onion.

Maybe the most unfortunate aspect of all this is that, if these leaders were honest with themselves about the processes really happening in society, there might easily be some common ground here. This is from Henry Luce, the organizer of the event, with emphasis added:

The villains, Luce said, range from the promiscuity and "sexualization" of young people on MTV and the popular online meeting hub MySpace.com to a corporate culture that spends millions trying to woo the under-21 crowd.

Incidentally, it's fascinating that they're blaming a social networking website for anything; apparently that's the scapegoat du jour, and pairs nicely nicely with long-time target MTV. Mr Luce at least mentions what's obviously been the largest force in rearranging teenager's mental furniture over the past few decades: turbo charged, unregulated, free market fundamentalist capitalism.

But is that the process he's really quesitoning? Nope - much easier to blame and then pick on gay people, I suppose, and go stand on the symbolic steps of our city hall where they made their last halting step towards true equal rights under the law. Why didn't they go and protest at the Bank of America building, or some other icon of the almighty market? Mad props to SF Chron write Joe Garofoli for wrapping up the story with this little bit of accidental commentary on these people's uncritical relationship with big money:

"We're going to be back here in a year, to see what kind of progress we've made," he said. "And we're going to be at AT&T Park. Or whatever it is called then."

By following the same tired old culture war script, Mr Luce is leading thousands of kids towards a compliant and unquestioning relationship with market fundamentalism, encouraging them to blame a minority group that has nothing to do with the issues that most affect the problems they ostensibly want to solve, clouding their minds with proto-fascist language, and turning them into tools of the very forces that need questioning. They're welcome to come to my city but they sure better be ready to answer for that.

Addenda: Upon further reflection this post seems like it could be interpreted as being a little anti-pop culture. Don't get me wrong, I'm very much in favor of an inclusive, diverse and participatory popular culture, in fact I think it's pretty close to being a central part of what's good about progressivism. When capitalism supports that, which for the most part it does very much, that's a good thing. When it doesn't, or when it gets out of hand (whether it's marketing things to kids or the recent battles over DRM), that's when progressives draw the line. Democracy defines the rules of the marketplace.

Also, some good news: the conservative Christians weren't the only folks getting together this weekend. Check out these wonderful pictures of the movingly large pro-immigrant rallies from this weekend.


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There have been some notable recent organizational additions to the parts of the blogosphere's California neighborhood. This is exciting stuff for a lot of reasons, but two are that it's finally starting to feel like a movement, and that these sites are of outrageously high quality. Here's a quick wrap up of three of them:

  • Caliitics is a community weblog site built using the same website software (called scoop) as dailykos. Getting this software up and keeping it running is a nontrivial technical task, and they just got a seriously hot redesign.

  • PLAN For decades, the right has used a shadowy corporate funded organization called ALEC to move a conservative, market fundamentalist agenda at a statewide level. ALEC is one of those quietly poweful organizations with enormous influence that has run ciricles around progressives by getting corporations to write "model" legislation and then moving it through conservative state assemblymembers and senators. PLAN, the Progressive Legislative Action Network, is our answer to that. They have a terrific site and a great blog for keeping up with what's going on at the statewide level across the country.

  • California Progess Report A news site for progressives, this is our side's an answer to the conservative, CA focused flashreport. Outstanding design (much nicer than flashreport's overly busy site, that seems to rudely open a new window with every click) and site editor Frank Russo has a terrific editorial voice. He's a clear writer and is coming at his practice from a "what are we going to do about this?" approach, as he ended a recent story.

These are all in addition to the two statewide multi-issue progressive groups, us here at Speak Out California and the team at Courage Campaign, and the hundreds of smaller individual and small group sites on the various blogrolls. All of the sudden it seems like there is a whole lot of democracy going on.

The way we're going to win is by first matching the infrastructure the conservatives have already built or obtained, and then using our natural strengths to out-innovate them. Weblogs with comments are a perfect example of this; there was a recent story about how one of the conservative websites had to take down their comments section because someone called social security private accounts, well, exactly that, rather than the Karl Rove approved "personal accounts" or whatever flimflam language they're supposed to use.

Progressives don't have that problem. Our ideas are better and have been tested in reality, so we don't have the need for the relentless spinning and tightly bolting down the language control. Even on the internet, or maybe especially on the internet, the truth just sounds different.

Even so, we all have a lot of work to do in building out this concept of progressive identity. Think about how well formed the idea of being a conservative is in the minds of voters - what that means to people, what the expect a politician to say and do if they're conservative. We're still only having that debate in a few pockets and we have a long way to go in broadly establishing progressive identity. These recent additions to the neighborhood will surely help. Mountains of thanks to all of you who are participating in these excellent projects. You are about to rock, and we salute you!


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Good for them. From the Sac Bee:

The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, requests that a judge quickly rescind certifications of the Diebold touchscreen and optical scan voting systems that were conditionally granted a month ago by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson.

If a court agrees, the systems would be decertified for use in November's elections. They could still be used in June balloting, however.

I like this quote from Voter Action:

"Quite simply, we can't have trustworthy elections with Diebold's touchscreen voting machines," said Lowell Finley, a co-director of Voter Action, a nonprofit advocacy organization that is assisting with the lawsuit. "Without trustworthy elections, we don't have a democracy."

It's kind of amazing how simple it is! I can't wait until we get a new Secretary of State.


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"Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You didn't place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."

-Jamie Raskin, testifying Wednesday, March 1, 2006 before the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in response to a question from Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs about whether marriage discrimination against gay people is required by "God's Law."


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OK, so we Californians love our plastic movie stars, complete with manicures, pedicures and bikini waxes, but what we really love is a beautiful sunset unencumbered by smog and foul-smelling air; levees that won't break in severe weather; schools that don't leak above on our children's heads while they sit at their desks; transportation networks that aren't so clogged that you can walk and get to your destination faster by foot than by car and water systems that allow humankind to coexist with nature's creatures.

After the debacle of his $50 million special election, the Gov. decided to float an enormous bond measure but had used up all his political capital and goodwill so nothing was left to close the deal and no miracle occurred to restore his failed leadership. Even as the number one Reep, he couldn't get his own boys to support him. Sad how he had a moment when the people believed this guy could and would make a difference. But buying into the right-wing mentality cost him his credibility so now even the right wing is thumbing its nose at him. Arnold, it's time to go.


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The eye of the beholder

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Kevin Drum says that Sen. Feingold's vote to censure is just a bit of political theater, and not very good stuff at that...

Conversely, it's not clear what Feingold hopes to accomplish with his censure motion. Bush's shortcomings are already getting plenty of attention, so he's not galvanizing any new media attention.

I vigorously disagree. This is most certainly not about theater: it's about doing something, anything we can, about a President who is getting away with wholesale shredding of the Constitution with the full faith and backing of the majority party in the Senate and the Congress. It's not theater, it's honest resistance to the extent allowed by law, and apparently a quarter of a million someodd MoveOn members (as of this afternoon) and who knows how many folks through democrats.org agree with the Senator and I. I don't care if he didn't line up his ducks in a row before doing it. Sign up to get the Senator's back, if you haven't already. I probably wouldn't have except for Senator Allard's quote (click the link, I won't reproduce it here). When did failing civics 101 become some kind of prerequisite for running for higher office as a Republican?


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As Assemblymembers and Senators try to rush to put the largest bond measure in state history on the June ballot days after the legal deadline, the question on everyone's minds should be: where was the Governor on this earlier?

There is no reason why this rush should be happening. The Governor was fine with this proposal being on the November ballot -- why wouldn't he, after all? The infrastructure bond is very popular with voters and it would give him the opportunity to talk about it at every campaign stop if it was on the ballot at the same time as he was up for re-election. So why this last-ditch effort to rush for June?

My guess is it's more smoke and mirrors -- what we've come to expect from the Schwarzenegger administration. And with the mainstream press as clueless as it is, it's not difficult to sell the storyline of the "incompetent Legislature" that can't get it together to pass this bond. But this, of course, is not the true story.

There are two main things to remember here -- things you will not read about in the mainstream media. One, no matter how hard the Democrats work to come up with a plan that would benefit most Californians, the Republicans in the Legislature will always stonewall them. The Republicans in the California Legislature are some of the most right-wing, Neanderthal, outside-of-the-mainstream people in politics. They have seats only because seats have been rigged for them -- not because these kinds of Republicans could ever win in a competitive district in California, the most progressive state in the nation.

Two, stop for a second to think about the level of negotiation and compromise that must go into a $50 BILLION bond for massive infrastructure projects all across the state (in every Legislator's district). That's a lot of money. Those are a lot of projects. Furthermore, it has to pass by a two-thirds vote in both the Assembly and Senate, something that rarely happens anytime ever (see above comment about Republicans), as well as the Governor's office, when the Governor is banking his re-election on this plan.

The chances of something like this being hashed out in a week are slim, and they should be. In fact, if they do manage to squeeze something out in the middle of the night when everyone is at wits-end, it will be the people of California who lose. It's not possible for a bond package being executed in this rushed and thrown together way to be the best bond package for the people of this state. You can thank Gov. Schwarzenegger for another example of failed leadership amid opportunity.


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Friday cat blogging

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Oscar demonstrates how progressive Californians will react if Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Republicans manage to push through a bond proposal that will increase urban sprawl and do little to help working families struggling to find affordable housing.

If you haven't done so yet, send a letter to the Governor and your legislative leaders now, urging them to pass the right kind of bond package!


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Ms. President

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A new Field Poll shows that 69% of Californians support a woman in the Oval Office, although they are still divided as to whether Hillary Rodham Clinton is the right woman to blaze the trail. The margin of people who think the U.S. is ready for a woman to lead the free world is higher here than nationally -- a February CBS poll found only 55% of Americans think so.

Interestingly, though, that same poll found that 92% of American adults said they would vote for a woman candidate for president from their party if she were qualified. That number has increased steadily since 1955, when 52% of Americans said they would support a woman president.

I had the opportunity last night to attend an event put on by Emily's List, where I saw four women candidates who are running for offices ranging from Governor to U.S. Senate from all across the country. All of these women were smart, articulate, engaging, funny, and emphatically progressive. They spoke clearly and eloquently about the most pressing issues facing Americans. They were all very committed, having worked hard to raise the money they need to be competetive in their very hotly contested races. Watching and listening to them, I felt like I saw the future, speaking to me today.

I saw glimpses of a time when a woman candidate for president will be the norm, not a poll question.


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This week's Bay Guardian provides a textbook definition of the difference between pragmatic progressives and old-line liberals. Here's SFBG editor Bruce Brugman's approach to solving the local housing crunch...

"Only rent control - strong rent control - can keep apartments affordable in this market."

As useless as conservative market-fundamentalist based arugments against rent control are, there are other arguments that do make some degree of sense. Rent control does tend to deflect the market in some unpleasant ways, such as biasing the market strongly against new and young residents (Mr Brugman would see this as a benefit, unfortunately), discouraging improvements to properties and focusing landlord's energies on exactly the people who need the most protection.

San Francisco Planning and Urban Research association ED Gabriel Metcalf gives the perfect, thoughtful response. Mr Brugman sidestepped responding to Mr Metcalf's primary solution, which is increasing strengthening the currently feeble inclusionary housing ordinance. I'm tempted to excerpt a huge chunk of it here, but the whole thing is good, so go read it. A moratorium would make things worse and inclusionary housing works because it aligns the power with the market with answering a very real need. SFBG: old school liberal. SPUR: pragmatic progressive.

Mr Brugman mentions but skips right over the interesting part, which is that demand for San Francisco property is basically infinite. That's an awfully interesting observation if you think about it! The reason why it's true is that our society hasn't generated built environments that support the kind of neighborhoods and sense of community available in San Francisco since World War II. Pragmatic progressivism is about curing these difficult, root problems, not applying band-aids and quick fixes.

Mr Brugman's thinking is a good example of how trying to dice an environmental problem into little pieces to solve it is a failed strategy. The idea of "preserving" San Francisco under a bell jar without looking at the broader, statewide issues and the real effect these efforts have on people just doesn't make sense. Apparently I'm going to have to quote John Muir on here until I'm blue in the face: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." The only real, long-term solution is that we have to build more cities.


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Crunchy cons

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This morning's opposition research turned up something interestingly nonsensical: the Crunch Cons weblog over at the National Review Online. They really do have the big tent dialed; they apparently have no problems making room in the movement for people whose principles are completely and 180 degrees at odds. The weblog is annoying - it's a kind of writing I see a lot on NRO's site, these mostly self-referential discussions between three or four people that never seem to go anywhere, and are mostly disconnected from any recognizeable version of reality. Maybe they don't realize how hostile to new readers that style is. Of course, there are no comments.

I was thinking of responding point by point to the crunchy con manifesto, but I'm not sure it's worth it. There are some things to agree with, of course: if these ideas were to somehow gain traction, maybe there will be some common ground on real conservation and pro-family policies, not "voluntary compliance" and the hatred strewn garbage that the James Dobsons of the world spew and label family values.

But one problematic angle with it is the overall focus on culture. It's easy to try to move the focus away from economics if you're economically privileged, but go back and look at some pictures from Katrina or Sudan and tell me again how we still don't have political or economic issues. And given that these people are ostensibly conservatives, one has to wonder what they propose as cultural remedies. Book burnings? Edicts against degenerate art? Lots of fingerwagging and sermonizing? The mind boggles.


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Friday Cat Blogging!

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For the first time, a picture of Speak Out California's extremely hard working Director of Feline Outreach, Oscar Hefner Fernandez Ragland Ganesh Ancona...

Happy Friday!


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Blue dawn

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"We should throw this in," I said, brandishing our just-arrived copy of Crashing the Gates. "Who knows, maybe Markos will be here!"

Jen looked at me dubiously. "OK, but it's going in your bag."

We'd just arrived at an early-stage meeting of the New Politics Institute out in the Presidio after driving down a crazily steep and long hill that we'd biked up (due to my at the time rusty SF navigational skills) a few months ago, right after we'd moved here. Tonight, the sun was setting over the golden gate and the somewhat out of place and striking pastoral beauty and quiet of the base-turned-park was all around us.

Seconds later we walked up to the venue, early, and - pardon the shameless namedropping that is about to occur - the man himself was sitting on the front stoop of the building. Actually the men, as he was sitting and chatting with Simon Rosenberg. Mr Moulitsas kindly signed our copy, so apparently we're among the first of very many to have an autographed copy of it. Hopefully news of this fact won't get my bag stolen on muni.

The event was mostly great. There were a couple of times during Mr Rosenberg's schpiel that I thought were chair standingly, fist pumpingly good (I avoided doing so). I feel like they've really got the right read on the current situation and are working hard to bring new energy into the movement.

The mostly part is that it still seems like we're at the bottom of a hill as long as the one we rode our bikes up. One of the things Mr Rosenberg is asking folks to do is to set aside their ideological differences - for now - to collaborate on strategy and building infrastructure. Judging from a lot of the questions, this and getting folks motivated in the first place are going to be two mighty tall orders.

But it seems like they've got a good shot at hacking it. They're smart folks and they know a lot of smart folks, many of whom are on a very rapid learning curve with politics. But it's going to take more than smarts. What Jen and I have both found from the couple of gates that we've already tried crashing is that it takes pretty much every ounce of your being, it takes whatever soul force (to use MLK & Gandhi's term) you can muster. Humility, flexibility, nonattachment, inspiration, love - all of it.

It is, to borrow a favorite line of the President's, a lot of hard work. It takes a long time. But this is the journey of democracy. Maybe the best question of the night was about all the people who think they are doing end-runs by trying to solve problems by spending their own money and bypassing government. Jen pointed out that the hard question these people have to be asking themselves is how that's really working out for them. What's the point of protecting thousands of acres of land with fantastic quantities of private money, for example, when with the stroke of a pen, a corrupt Congress can increase the pressure on thousands of endangered species overnight by even further deregulating the pesticide industry?

It's the strong and slow boring of hard boards, all over again. But one of our jobs is to make it move faster. We can create a system of governance that utilizes 21st century technologies to respond to 21st century problems and opportunities. This is the project of a lifetime, the mother of all technology gigs. That's the core of the New Politics Institute's vision. Now all it needs is traction.


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California Senate Majority Leader Don Perata is not getting it again. From his letter to Rob Reiner, who is heading the campaign, as reported in today's Chron...

"I question if the billions of dollars mandated for preschool in Prop. 82 is equitable. Critics argue that Prop. 82 wouldn't improve access to those who need it most: poor, disadvantaged and English learners," Perata wrote. "Instead, the initiative would be a financial boon to families that already pay for their children's preschool education."

Means-testing is one of the classic arguments that consevatives use to argue against otherwise sound investments in society. There are two big problems with this: one, it adds considerably to the adminstrative costs, and two (even more problematic) is that it is a sure-fire way to set up a program to be starved for money later. Plenty of squeezed middle-class families in this state don't have a few extra grand laying around to send their kids to preschool. The costs of helping the few families who can truly afford it easily are negligible compared to the security and positive impacts (fiscal and otherwise) universal preschool will provide over time.

The fact is that preschool increases the possibilities for kids to get to the higher level of symbolic thought they're going to need to build and compete in today's economy. Preschool is simply a good investment. There are some troubling things about the intiative as proposed, but the Senator's opposition to it on these grounds may be penny wise but it is surely pound foolish.

To the Senator's credit, he did defend First 5 from the politically motivated fire it's been taking recently. The bill mentioned in the Chron's story that would slash the advertising budget is foolish. What good is a preschool program if no one knows about it? This kind of positive shaping of cultural opinion is very much something the state should be engaged in.


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California's elected leaders are currently considering multi-billion-dollar bond proposals to invest in our state's infrastructure.

A growing coalition of more than 43 environmental, social justice and public-health groups, led by the Planning and Conservation League, is urging Gov. Schwarzenegger and members of the Legislature to adopt a set of principles that will guide decision-making so that the right kind of bond package is passed.

As constituents, you can help by making it clear to the Governor and your legislative leaders that you agree with this approach and urge them to sign on to the 10-Point Program that has been put forth by this environmental coalition. Send a letter to your elected leaders today!

TAKE ACTION NOW »


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This page is an archive of entries from March 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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