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. Heathers 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 Germanys 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!!
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!
Heather Wokusch (hlswokusch) Tue 12 Dec 06 12:47
Thanks Hal and Howard! Its great to be at the Inkwell. How perfect to come right after your discussion on the power of blogging with Suzanne Stefanac Im 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. Im really looking forward to hearing your ideas about how to do that. As Howard mentioned, well 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 lets roll up our sleeves and finish 2006 by figuring out how to continue, as Howard put it, shifting towards the smart
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?
Heather Wokusch (hlswokusch) Wed 13 Dec 06 05:22
Thanks for your kind words, Howard. Basically, I write what I would want to read. Im no fan of op-eds that feel compelled to crack jokes every paragraph or just rehash the same rant. Lifes too short. Im 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 its 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 its 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 wasnt 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 its not enough to say Congress should do something. Its 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 Olbermanns rise and OReillys 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.
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?
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 cant be overestimated...
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?
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. Ive always been focused on one thing and one thing only - getting to the story behind the story.
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.
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?
Howard Berkey (howard) Wed 13 Dec 06 14:45
Gail slipped in there with sentiments I agree with wholeheartedly :)
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?
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?
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." Havent 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
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?
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 Carvilles 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."
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?
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?
Howard Berkey (howard) Thu 14 Dec 06 12:25
slip by Jamais, and thank you for the excellent questions!
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?
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?
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.
Heather Wokusch (hlswokusch) Thu 14 Dec 06 23:53
But in 2008, it wont 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.
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).
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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