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inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #0 of 91: Hal Royaltey (hal) Sun 10 Dec 06 22:43
    
Please welcome Heather Wokusch, our next guest in the Inkwell.

A native Californian, Heather has traveled to over 30 countries and 
lived in eight. Her political awakening came in 1986 when she spent 
a year doing development work in the Philippines and witnessed the 
People Power Revolution firsthand.  Heather’s a former jazz singer, 
with an MA in clinical psychology and more than 20 years of experience 
in education.  Her opinion pieces have been featured in newspapers 
ranging from The Baltimore Sun to Germany’s influential Süddeutsche 
Zeitung and her weekly blog is regularly carried by Common Dreams 
and other major progressive sites. 

You're invited to visit her site - www.heatherwokusch.com - and its 
archive of articles, podcasts and interviews.



Leading our interview is Howard Berkey.  Howard is a software developer
living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He is an avid follower 
of American political news and events.  His sociopolitical background 
ranges from US military service to fundraising for progressive nonprofits.


Welcome to both of you!!
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #1 of 91: Mecha-shiva! Mecha-shiva! (howard) Mon 11 Dec 06 21:47
    
Thank you, Hal.  

In many ways, it's a great time to be a progressive voter.  One could argue 
that as a nation, we have hit a low point and things are starting to turn 
around.  The general voting public has begun to move towards a more progressive
stance than it has since 9/11.  The congressional mid-term elections of this
year are a good indication that the time is right for a shift to the left,
or at least a shift towards the smart.

Perhaps the most important tool one can have in times like these is access
to information.  There is a lot out there... in many ways, too much.  The 
excellent conversation going on in Suzanne Stefanac's topic in this 
conference contains some illustration of this point; the potential sources 
of information out there can indeed be overwhelming in number, and the 
really poignant bits of information one is looking for can often be elusive.

Which brings me to the book we will be discussing in this topic, "The 
Progressive's Handbook: Get the Facts and Make a Difference Now (Volume 2)",
by Heather Wokusch.  In this series of books, Heather has collected a large
set of facts with comprehensive references, organized by topic and presented
in an accessible style.  We have chosen Volume 2 of the series for discussion
here since it seems to be the most appropriate for the present time.

Heather's introduction to the book describes the purpose and the function 
of the series better than I could hope to, so I will quote it here more
or less verbatim:

            "The reality-based community [believes] that solutions
             emerge from your judicious study of discernable reality...
             That's not the way the world really works anymore.  We're
             an empire now. and when we act, we create our own reality."
                 -- an aide to George W. Bush, October, 2004

   It's not easy these days for "reality-based" Americans.  Unemployment
   is up, living wages are down, 37 million of us struggle with poverty
   and over 45 million languish without health insurance.  Thousands of
   service members and countless civilians have died in pointless quagmires
   in Afghanistan and Iraq, while the administration's $368 billion
   so-called war on terror ravages America's reputation and threatens
   national security.
  
   Yet Bush tells us to "stay the course."

   Only fools stay the course when it is heading over a cliff, and that's
   why I wrote "The Progressive's Handbook: Get the Facts and Make a 
   Difference Now."

   Volume 1 of the series details the Bush administration's record and
   provides focused action tips on US Weapons of Mass Destuction, Women's
   Issues, Education and Mainstream Media.  Volume 2 covers Elections 
   and Voting, the Environment and Foreign Policy; Volume 3 (to be released
   in 2007) takes on the Economy, National Security and the Military.

   Now more than ever, informed and inspired grassroots activism is 
   essential.  And in that spirit, welcome to The Progressive's Handbook -

                           Heather Wokusch
                           August 2006 



And with that, Welcome Heather!
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #2 of 91: Heather Wokusch (hlswokusch) Tue 12 Dec 06 12:47
    
Thanks Hal and Howard! It’s great to be at the Inkwell.

How perfect to come right after your discussion on the power of
blogging with Suzanne Stefanac – I’m a political blogger myself and
through the years have been inspired by the democratizing influence of
online communication.

And quite honestly, I think that these days we need all the
democratizing tools we can get. 

I wish I could say that I had high hopes for the 110th Congress. My
senile 20-year-old cat could outperform the 109th, but ultimately it
looks as if these next two years (and beyond...) will come down to
politically informing and inspiring ourselves so that we can reach out
to a larger “base.” I’m really looking forward to hearing your ideas
about how to do that.

As Howard mentioned, we’ll focus on Volume 2 of The Progressives’
Handbook, which covers Elections & Voting, the Environment and Foreign
Policy – topics critical in their own right yet interconnected in
profound ways.

So let’s roll up our sleeves and finish 2006 by figuring out how to
continue, as Howard put it, shifting “towards the smart”…
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #3 of 91: Howard Berkey (howard) Tue 12 Dec 06 14:51
    
We're interested in your ideas about reaching out to a larger base as well!
In fact, that's how I would like to start the discussion.

One thing that immediately jumped out at me about your books is the down
to earth, accessible tone you use throughout.  The left is often criticized
for coming across as too intellectual, to the point of damaging the ability
to convey important facts or information.

On the other hand, the right wing has done very well with "truthiness",
as Colbert puts it.  

The problem is, the real information people need to fix the problems at hand 
are often not amenable to sound bites or easy "from the gut" slogans.  And
sometimes the news is going to be hard to swallow.

As an author, how do you strike the balance between getting the necessary
information across, and not losing a mainstream audience?  
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #4 of 91: Heather Wokusch (hlswokusch) Wed 13 Dec 06 05:22
    
Thanks for your kind words, Howard.

Basically, I write what I would want to read. I’m no fan of op-eds
that feel compelled to crack jokes every paragraph or just rehash the
same rant. Life’s too short. I’m fascinated by the unspoken
interconnections between current events – which domestic social
programs get cut to fund the latest war, the impact of US WMD
production on national security and the environment, for example.
Mainstream news often just spews facts without enough context. No
wonder people rush to Brangelina etc. – at least it’s a story that
seems easy to follow. 

So how to get the same personal identification with something as
amorphous as global warming, for example? I try to put stories across
on a human level. Whether it’s discussing the potential impact of the
Military Commissions Act on regular citizens or scandals such as the
resumption of mandatory anthrax vaccinations for military personnel, I
aim to get the point across in a way that hits home. 

A few years back though, I realized that breaking the bad news wasn’t
enough. In the summer of 2004 I was bombarded with emails from readers
saying that they felt the situation under Bush was hopeless, that the
US they knew and loved was disintegrating, and that they had decided to
withdraw and become apolitical. It was at that point that I started
writing The Progressives’ Handbooks, with the thought of first
delineating what had happened under Bush (in ten major areas ranging
from Education to Foreign Policy) but then backing up each chapter with
pages of action tips targeted to the reader. I believe it’s not enough
to say “Congress should do something.” It’s more important to consider
what each of us can do each day to help put the country on a better
track.

The mainstream audience is angry and wants the truth – Olbermann’s
rise and O’Reilly’s relative fall is one indication. Unfortunately,
many of us authors/writers on the left are battling an entrenched media
distribution system that makes it harder to get out the message. 
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #5 of 91: Howard Berkey (howard) Wed 13 Dec 06 06:38
    
That is an interesting point about battling an entrenched media distribution 
system.  Could you elaborate on that?
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #6 of 91: Heather Wokusch (hlswokusch) Wed 13 Dec 06 07:51
    
For example, it was a nightmare trying to find a publisher for the
books. I sent them out to a number of places, including the standard
list of "progressive" publishers, and was repeatedly told that either
they were not doing any more "anti-Bush books" or that certain content
in the books was too controversial. If I had been a big name things
might have been different, but for this progressive blogger, making the
transition from digital to print was not easy. Even getting an op-ed
in a newspaper can be a challenge if you're reporting on topics which
are critical yet outside of the norm, such as depleted uranium
contamination. The power of blogging to move the mainstream media can’t
be overestimated...
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #7 of 91: Howard Berkey (howard) Wed 13 Dec 06 08:28
    
It's interesting that the mainstream media on one hand would reject political
topics as "too controversial", and on the other hand actively seek controversy
in other topics.

As readers of the book will note, you are an American expatriate living in
Europe.  This gives you a somewhat different perspective than most of the 
electorate, in that you have immersive access to a more global view of 
American politics than the majority of Americans do.  How do you feel this
has affected your writing?
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #8 of 91: Heather Wokusch (hlswokusch) Wed 13 Dec 06 13:29
    
As for controversy, "safe" is OK. (Is Britney Spears partying too
much?) But questioning why our service members are forced to take
dangerous vaccines, for example, is out of bounds. The fact that
weapons manufacturers own much of our media probably has something to
do with it.

You're right, I'm living in Europe right now. Spent around 13 years in
Asia too, decades back, so over the years have learned to appreciate
how similar we all actually are, behind the surface trappings of
culture, religion, etc.. (As a side note, last week's typhoon in the
Philippines wiped out the village where I did development work in the
mid '80s. I scrambled to find info on the hundreds presumed dead, but
had a very hard time – George Clooney's pet pig had died on the same
day and that was the story getting most of the press.)

Being an American abroad has its challenges with Bush in office. He's
deeply loathed and it's not easy to keep explaining that in fact the
American people did not vote him into office. Corruptible electronic
voting machines, spoiled ballots and other idiosyncrasies of our system
leave people abroad scratching their heads in confusion. 

As for the media reporting overseas, just comparing CNN national with
CNN international is quite telling. Much of the celebrity-driven
nonsense is ditched in the international version, in favor of more
news-oriented topics. And during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, gruesome
photos of Iraqi kids maimed in the bombings made front page in Europe,
so the public was, naturally, largely against the invasion.

How has this affected my writing? Not sure. I’ve always been focused
on one thing and one thing only - getting to the story behind the
story.
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #9 of 91: Gail Williams (gail) Wed 13 Dec 06 14:43
    
Looking forward to this discussion, Heather!  Elections & Voting, the
Environment and Foreign Policy are three areas of concern underlying a lot
of other issues, and you have laid out a summary that could bring anybody up
to date with major progressive concerns in those arenas.

The dueling news realities as presented in the US and in other places is
sure chilling.  Not that each society doesn't slant things in some way, but
that ours has gotten so crass, naive and insolent.
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #10 of 91: Howard Berkey (howard) Wed 13 Dec 06 14:43
    
Interesting.  I can understand if the rest of the world is confused about what 
might have gone wrong and/or been questionable about the 2004 Presidential
election.

The first section of "The Progressive's Handbook (volume 2)" is devoted to 
elections and voting.  The 50 or so pages you devote to just what happened
in the 2004 election and how it was possible paint a pretty bleak picture of
democracy in America.  Did the outcome of the elections last month surprise
you at all?  
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #11 of 91: Howard Berkey (howard) Wed 13 Dec 06 14:45
    
Gail slipped in there with sentiments I agree with wholeheartedly :)
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #12 of 91: Heather Wokusch (hlswokusch) Thu 14 Dec 06 00:08
    
Hi Gail!

I can honestly say that I wasn't surprised by the midterm-election
outcomes. Ultimately, what would benefit the Republicans most in 2008
would be to have the Democrats take back both the House and Senate in
2006, but not by margins large enough to be able to push through
controversial reforms. In fact, I wrote an article to that effect about
a month ago (How the Republicans Could Win It All Back in 2008). My
fear is that some of the Democrats who will head important committees
in the next Congress (i.e. Tom Lantos of the House International
Relations Committee) will keep us in Iraq (and perhaps get us into
Iran) and that the Democrats will be blamed for the inevitable foreign
policy fiasco, not to mention other of the Bush administration's
failures, in 2008. 

Apparently Common Cause got five times more complaints about voting
machines in the last election than in 2004, underlining the necessity
for Democrats to be vigilant about voting integrity issues. I'm
optimistic that Rep. Holt's (D-NJ) legislation requiring paper trails
might finally pass. Much more has to be done though.

What do you think about the broader implications of the midterms?
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #13 of 91: Howard Berkey (howard) Thu 14 Dec 06 03:09
    
The "blame" issue scares me, frankly.  The congress has a lot to get done in 
the next two years with regards to reversing the foreign policy nightmare 
handed to it by the Bush administration.  Any failure (any at all) will
be blamed on the new congress by the GOP, despite the fact that we are where
we are because of their blunders.  The Democrats are going to have to grow 
some spine and start fighting back and refuting attacks in a much more
effective manner than the attempts Kerry made in 2004.  We are starting
to see this with Bill Clinton and others leading the way recently; hopefully
it will snowball into the norm.

One of the really useful things about your books, in my opinion, is they serve 
as a distillation of facts that can be immediately used to refute attempts
to rewrite history by the right.  

What are some of the other methods and practices you would recommend to use 
to combat the inevitable attempt the right will make to avoid blame and
responsibility for this mess?  
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #14 of 91: Heather Wokusch (hlswokusch) Thu 14 Dec 06 03:55
    
I worry about the blame issue too, but unfortunately don't see the
Democrats as being very pro-active on avoiding the next foreign policy
catastrophe, Iran, for example. To that end, the so-called "Six for
'06" goals that the Democrats laid out recently included this: "Double
the size of Special Forces to destroy Osama bin Laden and terrorist
networks like al Qaeda." 

Haven’t we been there before?

Thanks for the "distillation of facts" observation. In fact, that's
one of the reasons I wrote the books – to give progressives armor in
battling the right's factual inaccuracies. 

In my view, the best way for the Democrats to avoid being pinned with
the Bush administration's mistakes in 2008 is to hold investigations
and hearings across the board – Iraq invasion, Katrina, treatment of
veterans, favors to big oil… you name it – and then share the results
with the American people. Cast a wider net than merely impeachment
hearings. Unfortunately, Reid has said he's not in favor of
investigations but we can contact our congressmembers and demand they
take place. The voting integrity issue also clearly has to be dealt
with before 2008…
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #15 of 91: Jamais Cascio, OpenTheFuture.com (cascio) Thu 14 Dec 06 09:03
    
Hi Heather & Howard,

Given that it looks like getting investigations in the Senate may be a moot
point, hopes for investigations will have to lie pretty heavily on the
House.

Conventional wisdom for progressives in national politics has long been that
we have to compromise our goals, soften our messages, and accept "centrist"
outcomes. At the same time, conservatives have been wildly successful within
their own party structure by being uncompromising, adamant hard-liners. My
question, then, is to what degree is that right wing success a function of
the (at least stereotypical) conservative mindset -- accepting of hierarchy
and authority, strong belief in absolute right & wrong -- and to what degree
is that success a function of the right being insistent and relentless in
pursuit of its goals? That is to say, can the left learn from the right in
this?
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #16 of 91: Heather Wokusch (hlswokusch) Thu 14 Dec 06 10:27
    
Hi Jamais

Good question, and therein lies the battle for the DNC. Will it be
Clinton in 2008, running on a "centrist" platform (as in Carville’s
recent attack on Howard Dean) or will it be someone more identified
with progressive causes? I guess the main challenge for the Democrats
in "relentlessly" pursuing their goals, as you mentioned, is that those
goals still seem rather unclear. 

Regarding the actual mindset, Lakoff had an interesting analogy of
Bush & Co. as perpetuating a "strict father family" with values similar
to those you discussed (accepting of hierarchy and authority, strong
belief in absolute right & wrong) whereas he saw progressives as
reflecting more of a "nurturant parent family" with values more along
the lines of freedom, equality and trust. My two cents is that times of
crisis lend themselves to stricter hierarchies overall and so it's no
wonder that we are in a perpetual "war on terror."
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #17 of 91: Jamais Cascio, OpenTheFuture.com (cascio) Thu 14 Dec 06 12:16
    
I notice that you don't give a name to "someone more identified with
progressive causes" -- do you know anyone in the Democratic party that would
fit that description? If so, where have they been hiding?
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #18 of 91: Howard Berkey (howard) Thu 14 Dec 06 12:23
    
I think Carville has some good points.  I've been saying recently that the 
democrats really need someone like Carville back in "the fold" to be able 
to effectively counter Rove.  Like him or not, he really knows the job.  It
is reasonable to lay at least some of the blame on DNC leadership for 2004;
Mary Beth Cahill and John Sasso's strategies, in the end, just were not 
up to the task of beating Rove's.

We cannot forget that the 2004 election was basically the Democrat's election
to lose... and they did. 

Heather, in Volume 2 you focus a lot on the crazy shenanigans that the GOP
used to electioneer the 2004 election; the dubious (at best) antics by Harris 
and others in a thinly veiled attempt to disenfranchise thousands of voters.
However, you also touch on the fact that the democrats, more often than not, 
were ineffective in countering such tactics.  How much of our current 
situation is the Democratic party actually to blame for here?  What more
could or should have been done?
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #19 of 91: Howard Berkey (howard) Thu 14 Dec 06 12:25
    
slip by Jamais, and thank you for the excellent questions!
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #20 of 91: Heather Wokusch (hlswokusch) Thu 14 Dec 06 14:57
    
"Where have they been hiding," indeed! I keep searching…

One of my problems with Carville is that he let the issue of
vote-count integrity slide in 2004, but to be fair, pretty much
everyone else did too. I don't know about you, but I was extremely
disappointed with how Kerry/Edwards immediately capitulated, despite a
huge war chest that could have been used to contest the results in
states where evidence of vote tampering had occurred.

For me, the question is if we learn from the past or not. As outlined
in Volume 2, it's not only electronic voting machines, but also flawed
registration lists, spoiled ballots, rigged recounts, dubious exit
polls and so many other factors that threaten the US election system.
(Of course, on a deeper level we can also look at issues such as
campaign finance and winner-takes all vs. full representation.) I
haven't seen much from the Democrats indicating that those issues will
be addressed the 110th Congress, but at least Holt's proposed
legislation demanding a paper trail is a place to start. 

What's your take on the likelihood of a free and fair election in
2008?
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #21 of 91: Howard Berkey (howard) Thu 14 Dec 06 15:20
    
2008 is going to be very ugly.  Based upon the racism and jingoism already
being pulled out against Ford and Obama, I think that the dirty tactics are 
going to make 2004 look like the good old days.  And that's just the rhetoric;
I expect the actual electioneering to be as bad or worse than 2004.

As you have mentioned, it's dangerous for the left to be lulled into a false 
sense of security or complacency by the congressional mid-term successes.

The "blame" game has another potential as well.  Bush is of course not 
electable again.  By lumping the blame on him, making him a lightning
rod for criticism of the GOP, it is possible for the GOP to shield somewhat
the future potential candidates, regardless of their complicity in the
current foreign policy quagmire.

Bush deserves a lot of blame here.  But he is far from the only one.  How 
can the left make responsibility for our current situation stick to the
GOP congressmen that rubber-stamped the Bush agenda and helped get us
where we are now?
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #22 of 91: Jamais Cascio, OpenTheFuture.com (cascio) Thu 14 Dec 06 16:54
    
It seems like the republicans are afraid of that happening already. 
Josh Marshall made an excellent observation today:

http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/011523.php

"The Iraq War is less popular than gay marriage, legalizing pot, banning 
handguns, and rescinding the death penalty."

-=-=-

At 21%, the Iraq War is less popular than agenda items that Dems would be 
villified if they supported. The "double down" concept of *increasing* 
troop levels has even lower support, from 8-16% depending on the poll. 
That's ludicrously low, surreally low. And right now, it's all Bush's 
doing.
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #23 of 91: Heather Wokusch (hlswokusch) Thu 14 Dec 06 23:53
    
But in 2008, it won’t be all Bush's doing. The Democrats will have
been in power, at least on the surface, and hawks such as Lieberman and
Lantos will have pushed the party more toward the Republicans on war.
Meanwhile, the economy will have "corrected" and the Dems will be
blamed for that too. I still think that investigations/hearings would
be one effective way to cast a wider net in laying blame – the key
would be in effectively communicating the results to the American
people. Of course, congressmembers of both parties who "rubber-stamped
the Bush agenda," as you said Howard, would be fair game so that may be
one reason Reid is avoiding the topic.

In my view, the wild card is Iran. If Israel does strike the alleged
nuclear facilities, I would assume all of the leading Democrats
(Clinton, Obama, etc.) would push for troops/weapons to protect the
country from retaliation. Then we'd be in another quagmire, and to
voters, both parties would be equally culpable. Worst-case scenario
perhaps, but Bush is backed into a corner and doesn't have a whole lot
to lose.
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #24 of 91: Howard Berkey (howard) Fri 15 Dec 06 02:16
    
With a Nixon-level approval rating and no chance at reelection anyway, it 
seems to me that Bush really has nothing to lose at all, politically.  He's 
a done deal.

I'd like to move on to discussing the Foreign Policy section of Volume 2
in a moment, but the issue of just how much more damage the GOP can do
with relative impunity by shifting blame to the outgoing President and
to the new Congress is an important one.  At the end of each of your 
sections, you provide a list of "10 Easy Ways" that a progressive voter
can make a difference to the issues discussed.  What are, say, two or 
three easy ways that progressives can help keep the spotlight on the ones
primarily responsible for the mess we are in?

And if the Democrats become more complicit in that mess, as you mention, 
what then?  I am remebering, for example, the PATRIOT act, which passed 
overwhelmingly in both the Senate (98-1) and the House (357-66).  
  
inkwell.vue.288 : Heather Wokusch, The Progressive's Handbook
permalink #25 of 91: Cupido, Ergo Denego (robertflink) Fri 15 Dec 06 05:05
    
The failures of the current "system" are fairly obvious, although
frequent iteration of them may be therapeutic.  Does the handbook
contain any vision for a practical future world (and, perhaps, a more
modest US role) other than stopping the stupid stuff (no small
achievement, BTW)?
  

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