Sunday, August 05, 2007

What Impressed Me This Week

Yearly Kos
I spent comparatively little time cruising the Internet this week, because I was watching a big chunk of my usual Internet experience come to life: I went to Yearly Kos, the annual convention of the DailyKos bloggers. For three days in Chicago 1500 bloggers re-enacted the old-fashioned experience of talking face-to-face. It was a little like going to Plymouth Plantation.

From a pure fanboy point of view, I got to meet a bunch of the people I read and quote and link to: George Lakoff, Juan Cole, Max Blumenthal, and Kos himself. (I now have a signed copy of a Juan Cole book that won’t be released until September.) I saw Glenn Greenwald in two different workshops and John Dean in one. I had several chances to introduce myself if I could have thought of anything to say. I heard that other A-list bloggers like Digby and Atrios were there, but since I don’t know them by sight I couldn’t say.

Bloggers are considered opinion makers now, so politicians came to talk to us. We hosted a debate with all the Democratic presidential candidates other than Biden, and afterwards each of them (other than Kucinich) held a break-out session to answer questions from the audience. (Edwards was clearly the crowd favorite. I went to the Hillary Clinton breakout session, because I expected more sparks to fly there. She handled herself very well.) I met two of the New Hampshire Democrats competing for my vote for the senate: Mayor Steve Marchand of Portsmouth and Dartmouth medical researcher (and one-time crew member on the space shuttle Columbia) Jay Buckey. It’s a little weird that I had to go to Chicago to do that, but I was glad to have the opportunity. Both impressed me, and I'll have to do more research before deciding who to support. Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid were scheduled, but had to cancel when Congress ran late.

Other parts of the progressive establishment made welcome-to-the-neighborhood gestures. The Teamsters held a cook-out for us, with a rabble-rousing speech by Jim Hoffa. SEIU President Andy Stern answered questions about the future of the union movement in a long and interesting session over another union-sponsored meal. And if I had known that all those people were going to give me t-shirts, I wouldn't have packed so much.

The two politicians who weren’t running for anything got the warmest receptions. The blogosphere was Howard Dean’s base of support in 2004, and he’s still looked on as the home-town boy. He gave a keynote address that had the room on its feet again and again. And Wes Clark continues to be our favorite ex-general. I listened to his talk with several friends from California who hadn’t seen Clark before; they came out dazzled. (His talk is Chapter 5 of TPM's video series.) He combines idealism, insight, and reasonability in an almost unique package. It's too late for him to run for president in 08, but he's definite VP material.

The best collection of Yearly Kos video is at Talking Points Memo.

From my point of view, it was interesting to watch the blogosphere growing up. I believe we're a collective intelligence that is learning rapidly. A few years ago people were just learning how campaigns work. (The Howard Dean campaign in 2004 had a lot of energy, but much of it was wasted.) We got better at canvassing, at fund-raising, and at working within the system, and Kos was not totally off-base to claim that we made the difference in 2006. (Democrats only won the Senate by one vote, so a lot of people can claim to have made the difference.) This time I saw people trying to learn how to work with Congress. A lot of conversations revolved around the theme of: You helped elect this guy, now how do you make sure he does what you elected him to do? What's the most constructive response if he doesn't?

Buffalo Girl is on the same wavelength: "We don't know how to lobby. We should LEARN how to lobby."

I don't think that as a community we've acquired this skill set yet, but I'm developing great confidence in the collective intelligence: We'll figure it out.

FISA Gets Worse
A great test case happened during the convention itself: Congress revised the FISA law to give Bush more power to spy on people. I'm pretty sure that's not what people had in mind when they voted Democratic in 2006. What are we going to do about it?

Marty Lederman at the Balkinization blog analyzes it like this:
The key provision of S.1927 is new section 105A of FISA (see page 2), which categorically excludes from FISA's requirements any and all "surveillance directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States."
So if you drive into Canada, the government can tap your calls without any legal process whatever. Or if you're right at home, but they "reasonably believe" you're in Canada. Or if they can claim to have directed their surveillance at someone they thought was outside the US, but they recorded your phone call by mistake, that's OK too.

I don't know how you square that with this:
FOURTH AMENDMENT. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Glenn Greenwald makes no excuses for the Democrats who caved in to Bush's demands:
With each day that passes, the radicalism and extremism originally spawned in secret by the Bush presidency becomes less and less his fault and more and more the fault of those who -- having discovered what they have been doing and having been given the power to stop it -- instead acquiesce to it and, worse, enable and endorse it.
If you want a humorous take on the whole thing, blueness gives us In The Vaults Where The Dry Powder Is Stored.
Like you, I have heard these Democrats say, every time, as they raced past in headlong retreat, that they were just "keeping our powder dry" for more propitious moments in which to strike blows against the Empire. Some months ago it hit me: damn, that must be a helluva lot of powder they've got stored up by now. Stored . . . somewhere. But where, I wondered, was it?
The Fox Debate
I'll have more about the content of Yearly Kos next week. (It just ended this morning, and I'm still digesting it. I'm sending WIMTW out early this week because I don't know if I'll find an Internet connection tomorrow.) But one workshop fits into the lobbying theme: Outfoxing Fox on Thursday morning.

The subject of the workshop was how activists got the Democratic candidates to pull out of a proposed debate hosted by Fox News. The speakers described a cycle of viral video (the Fox Attacks series by Brave New Films), online petitions, and traditional news coverage that put pressure on the Democratic candidates until they dropped out of the Fox debate. It worked, and the debate was cancelled.

The point of canceling the debate was that by letting Fox pose as an impartial debate host, the Democrats were giving Fox a credibility it doesn't deserve and will ultimately use against them. This was just one chapter in an anti-Fox-News war, the goal of which is to "rebrand" Fox as a mouthpiece of the Republican Party. MoveOn's Adam Green put it this way:
When a story breaks on Fox, it should be treated no differently than a Republican National Committee press release.
Somebody wrote me last week to ask if I had a good reference on impeachment and what the case against President Bush would be. I didn't give a good answer, but I'm looking for one. I don't want to have to write it myself.

The problem is that there are a bunch of possible cases, and they each have their own virtues and vices. Warrantless wiretapping was a clear breach of the FISA law, so it makes the best legal case. Lying to Congress (and the country) to get support for the Iraq invasion was much worse morally, but harder to present as a crime. The U.S. attorneys scandal has a lot of smoke, but so far the stonewalling has worked: We know that everybody's story contradicts everybody else's, but exactly what they're hiding is not so clear. It's just common sense that you wouldn't lie to Congress (which is a crime) unless you were covering up an even bigger crime. But exactly what that crime is, we don't know.

I'll report back next week on what I find.


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