November 2006


If you go to Technorati and do a search for Zephyr Teachout, I think you’ll come away from the experience wondering what exactly it is you’ve been doing with your life so far.

Or perhaps you might just wonder if Zephyr suffers from Fatal Familial Insomnia disease. Though I’ve been given inside information that indicates that this all stems from top secret time management powers that far exceed your average mortal.

Anyway, you’ll see that she was recently in Hungary for an Internet conference and writing op-ed pieces among many other things.

Zephyriffic!
My suggestion for a bumper sticker should Zephyr decide to run for office

One op-ed that escaped my attention until yesterday was in the Washington Post on November 11th, called “YouTube? It’s So Yesterday.”

Zephyr and Columbia Law School professor, Tim Wu (author of “Who Controls the Internet?), amusingly discuss the brave new world of political organizing.

They write…

What took political candidates so long to figure out that electronic data is power? Harrah’s Casino had the e-mail addresses of 28 million Americans in 2005, far outstripping the databanks of both political parties. But, led by the Republicans, the parties have finally caught on to the wonders of corporate data and microtargeting, and they’ll only get better at it.

As the saying goes, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but great data-mining sure helps. If a guy like former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani knows that you’re a libertarian (thanks to your subscription to Reason magazine and your support for legalizing marijuana), his campaign can stress tolerance for gays and abortion rights. But if the data detect that you own a Hummer, out comes the 9/11 package. The politicians of the future — Giuliani, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and others — will be basing their voter pitches first and foremost on likability. Better data-mining will help make sure you like them, whatever your politics.

With better corporate data, instead of “Swing-vote Soccer Moms,” data managers will be examining the persuasion habits of “Abercrombie & Fitch Republicans,” and the particular unreliability of “Shrek Democrats.” Most useful of all: detailed reports about the moods, smells and sounds most likely to make disaffected independents get out and vote.

And…

When former Virginia governor Mark Warner showed up this year in the online virtual world “Second Life” to talk to voters before he abandoned a presidential bid, the event was overlooked by everybody but geek blog BoingBoing.net. Too bad. Places like “Second Life,” with its 1 million “residents,” and World of Warcraft, a massive online role-playing game, are regularly outdrawing networks such as CNN and Fox. In time, virtual campaigning will be an essential part of any successful campaign, and “gaming outreach coordinators” may be a hot commodity for the 2008 candidates.

It’s easy to imagine a 2008 primary season in which politicians begin raising armies of followers on World of Warcraft and Ultima Online. The first candidate who does so may be mocked — until her opponent’s supporters notice thousands of political warlocks, chanting slogans, infiltrating banquets and chat rooms. Just imagine the battle of Helm’s Deep from “The Lord of the Rings” with Democrats and Republicans instead of Orcs and Elves.

A virtual campaign would be more fun and more inclusive. It could include a violent rally — complete with tire-burning, stone-throwing and maybe blowing up of opponents — with no one getting hurt. If you think we’re polarized and partisan today, just wait. In the fantasy worlds of the Internet, real political participation can mean more than just holding a sign. It can mean boiling your opponents in oil and firing catapults: Medieval mudslinging meets Lee Atwater.

And it closes…

If you’re a stickler for dignity in politics, the future we’ve described may not be for you. But boring old blogs, knocking on doors and, yes, campaign speeches aren’t going away, either. So the choice will be up to the voters: Do you prefer to watch Hillary’s televised debate with Barack, or their online duel with giant battleaxes?

Pretty funny, to be sure, but probably not so far-fetched.

And if you happened to wonder, while reading those two mentions of Barack Obama above, whether Zephyr has Mr. Obama on the brain, VDB can help flesh out the story a bit…

The Obama effect is already palpable and powerful here, without — as far as we can see — the Senator himself lifting a finger.

Already VDB has word of two separate Obama support networks knitting together, slowly but surely, with the prospect of a collaborative sit-down sometime in the next few weeks.

Zephyr Teachout and the mighty Neil Jensen — both well-versed in digital democracy from Dean 2004 — have registered a Yahoo Group designed to draw in interested parties early.

Oh yeah, that’s right, I’m mentioned, too.

Zephyr kindly reached out to me a month or so ago about possibly working for Obama here in Vermont. And I enthusiastically accepted.

The kick-off meeting is on December 14th at 6:00pm at the Euro Gourmet on Main Street in Burlington.

Speaking of me, I’ve been granted yet another 45 seconds of fame in the latest issue of UVM’s online publication, the View.

The topic? Knitting blogs, of course.

Megan Thomas ends her nice overview of the UVM blogging scene with this

Jensen concedes that some of that responsibility — especially that which surrounds blogs and their credibility — lies with the reader. “Blogging is part of a larger phenomenon of more easily accessible technology — the barrier to being a personal publisher has been lowered in the past five years,” Jensen says. “And the way that the media world is evolving, there are all these competing voices out there. It’s the reader’s responsibility to not just rely on one specific source — whether it’s The New York Times or a blogger. Neither is infallible.”

Thanks for including me, Meg!

A better self-referential blog post deserves some attention, though. Haik Bedrosian has a great one up today…

Haik writes…

First a little about the family I was born into (anachronistically including my younger brother.)

My Dad (born 1909) is an Armenian who after being conscripted into the Soviet army, captured by Nazi Germans, surviving a concentration camp and spending two years of WWII as a slave laborer- came to Ellis Island on a boat in 1950. My father’s grandfather was the last in a 900 year line of priests that ended when the Bolsheviks came.

My Mom (born 1937) grew up on a farm in Sudbury, near Brandon in Addison county, went to Castleton State College and had a long and successful career as a teacher, culminating in a 30 run- first at Wheeler, then at Barnes. My mom’s ancestry can be traced throughout Vermont and New England history, includes several of those who sailed to Plymouth on the Mayflower, then back to England all the way to William the Conqueror. Her blood is 15/16 English or Welsh and 1/16 Dutch.

My older brother (born 1963) -my father’s from his first American marriage, whom my mother adopted at nine, has spent the last 20+ years climbing the ranks in the US Army. He’s either a major or a lieutenant colonel at this point, I’m not exactly sure.

My younger brother (born 1977) is a local rock star bass guitar player who has played with such acts as Concentric, Gordon Stone Band and Outer Bass Project. He also teaches bass. You might have seen him play.

Now about me- here’s some bullets. They are not in order and this is not a complete list.

Go to Burlington Pol for the full scoop.

Bob Somerby correctly describes what to me is the essential press dynamic that needs to be confronted over the next two years…

Indeed, what happened in 1994 has happened quite often in the past fifteen years. Let’s flesh out Edsall’s history a bit. In 1994, skillful pseudo-conservative think-tanks generated talking-points which made “midnight basketball” sound like a troubling sop to the blacks. Then, scripted serfs on pseudo-con radio pimped these points to the skies. And here’s where the key transaction occurred—members of Edsall’s “establishment media” soon began to pimp these points too! At the time, they didn’t say that Dems had proposed modest funding in pursuit of a “laudable goal.” Instead, they rolled over, put their feet in the air—and recited words from Rush Limbaugh’s mouth. “Soon,” midnight basketball “became a liability.” Twelve years later, Edsall recalls how “laudable” the idea really was.

What’s interesting here is Edsall’s reaction to this familiar process. Does he suggest that we stop the “establishment media” from reciting talk radio’s points? No! His solution is vastly different! He suggests that Democrats should drop their pursuit of such laudable goals! That way, Rush won’t have to come up with his points—and Edsall’s colleagues won’t have to repeat them! Things will be simpler all around if they’ll just give up their proposals!

With great accuracy, Edsall describes the way our politics have worked over the course of the past fifteen years. Sadly, he seems to want that process to continue. He doesn’t ask his weak-minded colleagues to stop reciting talk-radio lines. His solution is cleaner and simpler: Democrats should stop—right now!—pursuing laudable outcomes. Dems should please stop putting his colleagues in the middle. Democrats, please! the pundit cries. Don’t make us prove that we’re Edsels.

Yes, I’ve said it many times before (and likely will many times more), but it’s imperative that leading Democrats fully recognize and seek to change this process.

Greg Sargent at Horse’s Mouth shows yet another example of why the myth of John McCain the straight talker must be confronted early and aggressively.

Sargent writes

In addition to the media’s constant presumption of sincerity on the part of John McCain, there’s another category of McCain-fellatio from commentators that’s worth keeping an eye out for: The willingness of pundits to let McCain off the hook for pandering, usually to the right, because he supposedly doesn’t actually mean what he says when he’s doing it.

There was some of this back when McCain flirted with Jerry Falwell, an unsightly dalliance which was explained away by some pundits who said McCain was merely doing what he had to do in order to be competitive in the 2008 GOP Primary. Of course, it’s not easy to see how the view that (a) McCain’s pandering should be excused because he doesn’t mean what he says can be reconciled with the view that (b) he’s a straight-talker, but such is life on Pundit Planet.

At any rate, the latest example of this comes courtesy of Eleanor Clift in Newsweek.

Now, Eleanor Clift was rather unusual in her cohort during the 2004 election cycle for suggesting on multiple occasions that Emperor Bush was all but naked. And dared to write some of the few positive articles about Howard “Fiddy State” Dean. And, of course, she deserves praise for much of her work over the years. Sadly, though, she’s not immune to some aspects of the inside-the-beltway pundit class.

Disclosure: My wife went to high school with Eleanor Clift’s son, and during the 2004 election she very nicely responded to an email I sent her as thanks for a good article she had written on “Fiddy State.” By the way, “disclosure” for bloggers — or at least in my case — really should just be shorthand for “Upcoming Blatant Name-Dropping Alert.”

Vermont This Week featured Philip Baruth, Bill Simmon and Cathy Resmer talking with the almost departed Chris Graff about the blogging on the Internets. Philip was nice enough to mention my name.

Here’s an mp3 of the of the broadcast from Candleblog.

The Dream Theater project debuted right before Thanksgiving with the “League of Two Extraordinary Republican Gentlemen.”

The League of Two Extraordinary Gentlemen

It’s a political satire project spearheaded by VDB, with mondo voice and production work from Alex Ball of Rip & Read. And Philip’s been nice enough to invite me along for the ride, too.

Not sure anyone’s exactly clear on where it’s going, but it should be an awful lot of fun getting there.

And “Fiddy State” is sweeping the land.

OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but my campaign to promote “Fiddy State” as Howard Dean’s official nickname has generated a tee-shirt, some Kos comments, and a mention on someone’s MySpace account.

Howard
Courtesy of some cat named Clay Johnson

There are no references on the Google to Howard “Fiddy State” Dean prior to my Dean/Spears post on November 8th.

So, before the big, big money starts flowing in, I’m staking my claim now.

Mom, Dad, Brother - 1966
Mom, Dad, Brother – 1966

[This was originally up last Wednesday for the Thanksgiving break, but because of some bizarre Web voodoo, it disappeared.]

This argument is sooo 2005.

Darren Allen is a paid political reporter for an award-winning paper. John Odum is a private citizen who uses a particular software platform to do personal publishing.

Journalist vs. blogger? Or just human being vs. human being.

I mean, sure, it must be a little frustrating for hard-working professionals to see uncredentialed citizens slowly cutting into their audience and somewhat rarefied status. I get that, but, c’mon, it’s time to move on.

Just last night on Charlie Rose, before discussing how he enjoys the process of blogging, Brian Williams couldn’t help making what seems to be the contractual obligation to slam blogging (and YouTube) as somehow cutting into some cherished part of a disappearing American water cooler culture. His bosses made him do it, he said.

Had a similar feel to Darren Allen’s recent backhanded article on local blogging. One choice quote: "Yes, it’s a small audience, but it’s an influential one. As anyone who’s part of it will tell you."

Essentially, according to Allen, blogs are pretty much irrelevant, but his is the most popular one.

Now, I don’t know Darren Allen or Brian Williams. They may be very nice guys. But, I’m afraid that Messrs. Allen and Williams need to accept that the cat is now yowling way outside of the bag.

The media landscape has changed. And likely for the better.

Jay Rosen, the NYU journalism professor (and, by the way, the father of Zack Rosen, Dean for America staffer and co-creator of CivicSpace, a mostly open-source campaign-in-a-box software suite), wrote persuasively in January of 2005 that the argument, Bloggers vs. Journalists, is over.

Rosen writes…

If my terms make sense, and professional journalism has entered a period of declining sovereignty in news, politics and the provision of facts to public debate, this does not have to mean declining influence or reputation. It does not mean that prospects for the public service press are suddenly dim. It does, however, mean that the old political contract between news providers and news consumers will give way to something different, founded on what Curley correctly called a new “balance of power.”

Others have seen the change coming. In a 2003 report, New Directions for News said, “Journalism finds itself at a rare moment in history where … its hegemony as gatekeeper of the news is threatened by not just new technology and competitors but, potentially, by the audience it serves.” The professional imagination in Big Journalism wasn’t prepared for this.

Armed with easy-to-use Web publishing tools, always-on connections and increasingly powerful mobile devices, the online audience has the means to become an active participant in the creation and dissemination of news and information.

Meanwhile, the credibility of the old descriptions is falling away. People don’t buy them anymore. In 1988, 58 percent of the public agreed with the self-description of the press and saw no bias in political reporting, according to the Pew Research Center. (And that was regarded as a dangerously low figure.) By 2004, agreement on “no bias” had slipped to 38 percent. “The notion of a neutral, non-partisan mainstream press was, to me at least, worth holding onto,” wrote Howard Fineman of Newsweek, Jan. 13. “Now it’s pretty much dead, at least as the public sees things.”

This past spring at the Charlie Ross panel discussion at UVM, Howard Fineman reminded us that during the "golden age" of the Walter Cronkite water cooler years, things weren’t necessarily so golden — when the editorial slant at virtually every news organization was determined by the New York Times.

Fineman said, ~You have to ask yourself, when Cronkite said "And that’s the way it is," was it really the way it was?~ Though I wouldn’t have predicted it, Fineman seems to truly understand and appreciate the positive aspects of the emerging user-driven dynamic.

But, today’s press professionals should be able to take solace in the knowledge that they are not alone in slowly losing their status.

As VDB pointed out following the anti-Dean Carville freak-out…

It’s hard to imagine the post-election Carville/Dean story coming together without some strong shared need on the part of James Carville and Anne Kornblut, the journalist behind the New York Times piece.

That point can be broadened without losing its force: Carville’s general prominence in the days following the election has much to say about the momentary intersection between his needs and those of the mainstream media.

The best way to summarize that shared need is as follows: Carville needed to remind the world that he is a professional political strategist, and the mainstream media needed to remind the world that they are professional journalists — and for both, credentials are the key to professional status.

Carville and Anne Kornblut share the spotlight as bona fide members of interlocking, complementary professions.

Why the pressing need to stress credentials, for political strategists and media regulars? Because the real wave this election wasn’t the Democrats inundating the Republicans.

It was the uncredentialled swamping the credentialled.

So, as Rosen says — as does Chris Anderson in the Long Tail — when given the choice of a single source for news, entertainment or political strategy vs. an almost infinite array of choices, consumers choose the latter.

And that’s the way it is.

[I'm sure most everyone has seen variations of this kind of spam, but this particular one, forwarded to me by Commodore Goat, is truly inspired.]

A highly paid razor blade. A revered polar bear. A stovepipe somewhat pees on the paternal short order cook. A ball bearing defined by the skyscraper operates a small fruit stand with a hockey player over the sheriff. A tabloid beyond the wheelbarrow caricatures a squid about a vacuum cleaner. A lover caricatures the fairy related to the bottle of beer, and a worldly chain saw figures out an apartment building. The pig pen from a sandwich seeks a movie theater from a blood clot, but some cough syrup from some football team barely organizes a fighter pilot.

Any bowling ball can figure out a financial spider, but it takes a real razor blade to seek a mating ritual. If a surly pork chop dances with a boiled grizzly bear, then the tape recorder around a stovepipe dies. Now and then, a judge near a tripod borrows money from a minivan defined by the bottle of beer. Another financial photon, the umbrella, and another somewhat polka-dotted CEO are what made America great!

A garbage can related to a steam engine trembles, or a buzzard of a dolphin writes a love letter to a dust bunny about a buzzard. A blithe spirit near another parking lot starts reminiscing about lost glory, but a demon for a globule lazily cooks cheese grits for a paycheck toward a minivan. The football team inside some warranty returns home, or the almost burly food stamp graduates from an abstraction defined by a hydrogen atom. A buzzard panics, and a razor blade of the tabloid earns frequent flier miles; however, the hole puncher of a paycheck teaches a college-educated traffic light. The psychotic judge slyly borrows money from the temporal food stamp, because the cocker spaniel pours freezing cold water on the wedding dress.

Dad - Marshall Islands - 1945
Dad – Marshall Islands – 1945

Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?

I mean, really…

If you were the President of the United States and one of your appointees had been forced to resign as a result of the agency-in-question’s inspector general’s report…

And then the same person was cited in a State Department inspector general report for the following offenses at a different agency…

– used resources to support his personal horse racing operation;

– requested the hiring of a personal friend as a contractor without the knowledge of other board members or staff, and signed invoices providing almost $250,000 in compensation even though the contractor provided no written reports or other supporting documentation required by the contract;

– requested and received compensation that exceeded the maximum allowed by law;

Would you…

A) Publicly distance yourself from obvious corruption?
B) Quietly distance yourself from obvious corruption?
or C) Reappoint the two-time loser?

Well, if you were George W. Bush, of course the answer is C.

And, in case you forget who Kenneth Tomlinson is, well, he’s the political appointee who used to head the CPB and, among quite a few other things, conducted a poll that was supposed to demonstrate liberal bias in public broadcasting. But, when the results showed that the vast majority of Americans disagree that PBS and NPR are overly biased, he refused to make public the taxpayer funded study.

Here’s a bit more from the Boston Globe article…

A report by the State Department’s inspector general, released Aug. 29, said Tomlinson misused government funds for two years as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Tomlinson disputed the allegations in the report.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Washington concluded that a criminal investigation was not warranted, according to the State Department report. At the same time, the report said a civil investigation related to charges that he had hired a friend as a contractor was pending.

Tomlinson signed invoices worth about $245,000 for a friend without the knowledge of other board members or staff, used the board’s office resources to support his private horse racing operation and overbilled the organization for his time, according to the report. On a few occasions, the report said, he billed for the same time worked on both the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, on whose board he was a member until resigning in November 2005.

Three congressional Democrats — Reps. Howard Berman and Tom Lantos of California and Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut — have urged Bush to remove Tomlinson from the Broadcasting Board of Governors, arguing that there was no doubt that he had violated the public trust and the president’s own ethical standards.

Tomlinson’s tenure as chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was marked by charges that he promoted conservative programming…

[Thanks to Think Progress for the links, etc.]

Zephyr Teachout writes an interesting op-ed in today’s Burlington Free Press.

Following an example from Estonia where “the legislature created a Web site called “Today I Decide” that tracks all upcoming legislation and allows citizens to propose legislation. If any citizen proposal gets a sufficient number of e-votes, the parliament commits to reviewing it.”, Teachout discusses the various ways we could “now use the Internet for engaging citizens in setting priorities, identifying problems, and drafting and passing legislation.”

She says we need to expand Web-based political activity beyond just election-focused work…

When people think about “Internet and politics,” they tend to think about elections — campaign blogs, campaign donations, and downloadable posters — but the real opportunities for leveraging the power of the Internet lie in transforming how politicians govern.

And she closes with what amounts to a challenge…

A little state like Vermont — following the lead of a little country like Estonia — can lead the way in using the power of the Internet to open up government and engage citizens in the messy, muddy, chaotic world of political decision-making, by bringing the life of politics, not just politicking, online.

She’s exactly right about this. And Vermont is the perfect place in the U.S. to experiment with getting serious about it.

The next two years should prove to be a very interesting and exciting time for Web-based politics in Vermont. There seems to be a lot of interest in looking for ways for citizen-directed political projects to become more relevant to a wider range of Vermonters.

I’ve been holding back a funny album cover that I didn’t think would fit in with the previous ones.

But, opportunity knocked…

Orleans John Hall

The man in the center is the newly elected John Hall of the 19th Congressional District of New York.

Rep. John Hall

Yes, he’s still having fun. And yes, he’s still the one.

Even Stephen Colbert agrees…

A few other post election tidbits…

Raw Story reports on the article about “Fiddy State” in Salon by Joe Conason…

“Only weeks after the Democratic National Committee chose Howard Dean as its chairman last year, the nasty whispers began to circulate around Washington and among longtime party donors and activists in cities from New York to Los Angeles,” writes Conason. “‘He’s going to be a disaster,’ they muttered. ‘He can’t raise any money. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. And what does he mean by this crazy 50-state strategy?’”

Despite his struggles with power brokers in a party he was selected to lead, Dean persevered and is now “enjoying vindication far earlier than he ever expected,” the article says.

“What Dean and his organizers created … was an environment that allowed insurgents and outliers as well as the party’s chosen challengers to ride the national wave of revulsion against conservative rule,” Conason writes. “Faced with many more viable challenges than anticipated, the Republicans made mistakes in allocating resources — and were forced to defend candidates in districts that are usually safe.”

Conason says that Dean has “reached a peaceful accommodation” with his party adversaries, in part motivated by his popularity among the “unruly netroots.” While deliberation over the continuance of the 50-state strategy will continue, Dean has in the meantime “won the argument” he initiated in the planning for this year’s midterm.

“There would have been much less for the Democrats to celebrate on Election Night,” concludes Conason, “if Howard Dean hadn’t been so ‘crazy’ — and so persistent.”

And here’s the Victorious F.I.D.D.Y. on the Daily Show…

Finally, if you didn’t catch PB’s great take on the election victory, linking it to the Poseidon Adventure, go here to read it — or here to hear it.

Hear, Hear!

Allow me just a little bit of gloating? I’ve really been keeping it in check.

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