Saturday, February 28, 2009

That's one cool way to tile your bathroom

Get it?

Powershift '09 As Experienced Via Crowded Metro Train

So there's this youth climate change conference in DC this weekend, Power Shift '09, and it's a big deal. Scratch those images of church basements: there are more than 10,000 people (mostly college and high school students) at the DC Convention Center, making it easily "the largest gathering of citizens fighting for a clean energy future in United States history."

You can follow it all on the conference's blog, of course. They've got some big insider names appearing -- Lisa Jackson, Ken Salazar and Nancy Pelosi -- which makes me a bit worried on the co-optation front; I hope they know what they're doing.

But looking through the full list of participants and activities makes me optimistic that they do have a more radical understanding. A large demonstrations and civil disobedience action on Monday, for example, will target a local coal power plant in the middle of DC. And the Energy Action Coalition, the umbrella group that has been built in the last few years and is sponsoring the conference, has the support and participation of some more radical groups.


I got a taste of the conference last night, riding the Metro home from Farragut; the train was packed with folks who were clearly conference people. Well, many of them were, at least.

Me: Hey, did you go to the conference?! How is it?
Guy with big backpack: Yeah, it's great!

Me: You went to the conference too?!
Guy with nice pants and buttoned-down shirt: Yeah!
Me: So it went all day until 10:30pm?
Guy with nice pants and buttoned-down shirt: Well, it depends which banquets you went to.
Me, starting to be a bit confused about 'banquets' at the conference: Ahh.
Guy with nice pants and buttoned-down shirt: Yeah, and Limbaugh is speaking tomorrow!

Doh! He was going to the other conference, CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference).

Luckily, conservative dude got off at the next stop, revealing that none other than my cousin was standing just a few feet beyond him. And then, waving through the window from the next car was the friend and conference attendee who was going to be crashing at my place. Ahh, it was the Metro train with everyone and their mothers. Minus the mothers.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Good news

Last week I touched on the strategic importance of supporting progressive Democratic insurgents against centrist or conservative incumbents. So I was quite happy on Thursday when I saw that a group of liberal bloggers and organizations announced the creation of "Accountability Now", an organization devoted specifically to promoting progressive Democrats and criticizing centrist ones. The group behind the organization includes Jane Hamsher (Firedoglake), dailyKos, MoveOn, SEIU and others.

Not surprisingly, the establishment Dems just don't get it. From AP:
"Anything that increases the chance of a seat falling into Republican hands is a mistake," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the head of Democrats' House campaign committee.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the Democrats' Senate campaign chief, said he wasn't familiar with the group, but called it "a bad idea."

"The bottom line is that we need candidates who reflect their state, and the values of that state, and their ability to win that state, and having primaries for ideological purposes is not the way in which Democrats continue to have a majority," Menendez said.

If Menendez actually knew anything about this, he would understand that the Accountability Now folks and the others in the lefty blogosphere have, and will, be targeting conservative incumbents in more progressive districts. Donna Edwards' victory over Al Wynn is a perfect example.

And Bob: a Democratic majority in Congress may be your ultimate goal, but it's not mine. Progressive policy is. You're in the way.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


At 9pm Monday night, the State Department announced that Dennis Ross would be Secretary Clinton's adviser for the "Gulf and Southwest Asia". What does that mean? Is he the Iran-policy guy, as had been rumored? It seems the basic answer is "yes", but that they don't want to officially say so.

Reporters pushed the State Department for an explanation on Tuesday; they remained vague. (here's the back-and-forth).

The NYT went with "Negotiator Picked for Post at State Dept." (lede: "Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday appointed Dennis B. Ross, a seasoned Middle East negotiator under Republican and Democratic presidents, as her special adviser for the gulf and Southwest Asia, a portfolio that will include Iran.").

The Post take is quite different; they were confident enough to scrap any ambiguity on the meaning, going with "Veteran Mideast Envoy Ross Named to Advise Clinton on Iran Strategy" (lede: "Dennis Ross, a longtime diplomatic troubleshooter, has been appointed as a special adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, with responsibility for developing a strategy for engaging Iran.") The Post goes on to cite anonymous officials: "State Department officials said the title is a euphemism for Iran and issues affected by Iran's actions; it was kept obscure because Washington has not had diplomatic relations with Tehran since shortly after the Iranian revolution three decades ago."

Ross is a wacko hawk on Iran.

Great. So the Obama team realized that there was great opposition (both domestically and internationally) to appointing Ross to this gig. So they go ahead and appoint him, but dress it up all nice. That's not change we can believe in.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Let's not get ahead of ourselves

Really, Giant?

Do we need this 47 days before Passover eve?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

How significant is Kerry's Gaza visit?

John Kerry (now the Senate Foreign Relations chair) went to Gaza on Thursday, and even toured the ruins of a school that Israel had attacked. (Reps Keith Ellison and Brian Baird went to Gaza as well, on a separate trip).

I think Kerry's visit is fairly significant. AP's Ibrahim Barzak reports:
Visits by U.S. officials to Gaza have been rare since Palestinian militants blew up an American diplomatic convoy in 2003, killing three people.

Before Thursday, no American officials had come to Gaza since Hamas won Palestinian elections in June 2006. The group violently seized control of Gaza the following year after a brief civil war.

Anyhow, it gave me a bit of hope.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

High-speed rail in the stimulus package

One of the most exciting pieces of the stimulus package is the approximately $8 billion dollars for high-speed rail. None of the proposals in the Senate or House bills had had more than $2 billion. But, by all accounts, it was Obama and the White House who, during the conference-committee stage, managed to push it up to $8 billion.

David Rogers in Politico has a useful rundown on how it all went down. And he adds:
Administration officials told Politico that when Obama outlines his 2010 budget next week, it will ask for $1 billion more for high-speed rail in each of the next five years.

Oddly enough, as Rogers and Yglesias and others have reported, several Republicans and some media outlets became obsessed with the notion that the rail money was mostly or entirely for a Los Angeles-Las Vegas route. In reality, that route could be pursued, but it may not be, and it'd be only one small part of a high-speed network.

So what will be funded? No one knows yet. But here's the map of rail corridors the Federal Railroad Administration has previously said it is interested in improving:

"High speed rail" in the sense we're talking about here is not the same as the rest of the rich world talks about. This mostly isn't building completely new lines; it's significantly improving the old ones. (The proposed California line, which passed a ballot measure last year, would be completely new, though, and very fast). A typical example would be Chicago-Detroit, where improvement could bring the current travel time of five and a half hours to under four. That would be a good investment.

: The NYT finally catches up with these points today (Feb 20).

Calling a spade a spade

Charlie Savage has a pretty good piece inside today's NYT, despite the soft headline: "Obama’s War on Terror May Resemble Bush’s in Some Areas".

We're for what the president is for

Glenn Greenwald has a good piece on what is wrong with the Obama Industry -- the organizations that found it in their own interest to become for whatever Obama was for, and now find themselves helpless.

I'm not sure what can be done about this, but one place to start is by giving money to progressive Democrats challenging conservative Democratic incumbents -- rather than donating it to general election candidates -- for 2010.

EFCA Update

Greg Sargent reports on where the Employee Free Choice Act looks to be headed in Congress.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Keeping track of Blackwater

In case you missed it, Blackwater announced that they are changing their name to Xe (pronounced ZEE). There should be a name for this -- when things change their name to shed an old image. Altria-d, perhaps? Or WHISC-ed?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

62% Favor Investigating Bush Administration

USAToday: "Poll: Most want inquiry into anti-terror tactics"

For sprawl before he was against it

Streetsblog catches an Obama contradiction:

On Tuesday, in Ft. Myers, Obama said:
The days where we're just building sprawl forever, those days are over. I think that Republicans, Democrats, everybody… recognizes that’s not a smart way to design communities. So we should be using this money to help spur this sort of innovative thinking when it comes to transportation.

That's pretty good. But it turns out that just a day earlier, in Elkhart, IN (oh Elkhart, I feel I know ye so well now!), Obama had endorsed the Route 31 expansion project, which Streetsblog says is "what you might call a sprawl project." Indeed. The terminus of the improved highway will be about 23 miles, it appears, from the center of Indianapolis.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

That is exciting news, actually

Emails from MoveOn with subjects like "Exciting News" are not always, well, exciting, but today's was. Justin Ruben has been named the new Executive Director. He had been the Organizing Director for the last while.

Justin was an organizer in New Haven / CT back in the day. I hope this could push the organization in a more progressive direction.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obama goes for state secrets; loses a follower

Via Greenwald, here's Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan on the news Monday that the Obama Administration will continue the Bush Administration's position on the "state secrets" privilege:
The Obama administration will continue the cover-up of the alleged torture of the British resident. The argument is that revealing the extent of the man's torture and abuse would reveal state secrets. No shit. This is a depressing sign that the Obama administration will protect the Bush-Cheney torture regime from the light of day. And with each decision to cover for their predecessors, the Obamaites become retroactively complicit in them.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Washington Post and Facebook - An Awkward Love Saga

When I saw two section-front articles about Facebook -- in as many days -- in the Washington Post last week, I grumbled. The Post has been oddly obsessed with Facebook over the past years, chronicling matters such as the demise of Scrabulous and what to do when Mom friends you.

Friday, it was a piece on the front page of Style about the whole "25 random things about me" thing (I actually thought it was kind of cute). Then on Saturday, the Metro section fronted word that Maryland's General Assembly would be blocking Facebook on its computers. Uh, good to know.

So the Washington Post is continuing its obsession with Facebook! Or so I thought.

But after reviewing the history of the Post's Facebook coverage, the story seems a bit different.


The Post first put Facebook on A1 in September of 2006, in the midst of the 'news feed' controversy. It would turn out to be beginning of a 2 year run in which the Post published 10 front page stories largely focusing on Facebook:

(Sept 2006, Oct 2006, Feb 2007, Nov 2007, March 2008, April 2008, May 2008, June 2008, July 2008, Sept 2008)

Some of them were quite serious, such as Ellen Knickmeyer's "Fledgling Rebellion on Facebook Is Struck Down by Force in Egypt." And many of the ones on lighter topics were still real news, dealing with matters such as privacy and political organizing.

Something tens of millions of Americans are doing is certainly newsworthy. But the front page, ten times, including six times within one six-month stretch? Really? (and some of the most interesting reporting -- on the matter of diet ads -- didn't even make A1).


It's now been five whole months, though, without a Facebook front-pager. Maybe we ought to be content that those two stories last week were section-front, because what's remarkable, really, is that neither was on page A1.

So why did the Post go cold-turkey on Facebook on the front? The change may have come from the top. The most recent A1 was on September 3. Just five days later, Marcus Brauchli began work as the new Executive Editor.

Coincidence? Judge for yourself.


Steven Greenhouse chronicles the situation at UNITE-HERE: "Two Unions in Marriage Now Face Divorce Talks"

Stimulus bills not terrible on transit

The Inhofe/Boxer amendment to add more money for new highway building was stopped by a group of Democratic Senators. Here's what the House and Senate bills look like now, transit-wise.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Real estate tool, aka procrastination tool

I knew that tax assessment information on properties was publicly available, but I didn't realize there were places that had all the info compiled, for free. allows you to search for a house and see its assessed value (as well as their estimate for the real value), and to see the values for a whole neighborhood.

Friday, February 06, 2009

WashPost refers to all Gitmo detainees as "terrorists"

In today's paper, the Washington Post breaks with usual policy and refers to all Guantanamo detainees as "terrorists".

I have no reason to believe this was a malicious mistake; I think it was just a sloppy mistake.

The article is "Obama to Discuss Guantanamo With Victims of Terror Attacks, Their Relatives" by Michael Shear, Peter Finn and Dan Eggen.

On first reference to the Gitmo detainees, they use 'suspected'. That's in paragraph 4:
The afternoon meeting at the White House will give the new president a chance to explain his decision to close the controversial prison facility where the United States has placed many suspected terrorists since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But on second reference, the 'suspected' is dropped. Paragraph 6:
Obama has been assailed by conservative critics who say the decision to close the facility within a year will lead to putting many of those terrorists back on the street.

The words "those terrorists" are in the voice of the Post, not the voice of the "conservative critics" mentioned earlier in that sentence.

The key word is "those". If the Post had left it out, it would be a different thing -- we'd have "conservative critics" alleging that all Gitmo detainees are terrorists, and the Washington Post quoting that allegation (without challenging it). That'd be unfortunate, but not technically incorrect.

Instead, with the words "those terrorists", the Post is referring, in its own voice, to the "suspected terrorists" it spoke of in paragraph 4. It should correct the error.


Oh, I missed this at the time. Governor David Patterson spoke at one of the pro-war rallies in NYC during the middle of the Israel/Gaza war. Disappointing.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Good riddance!

John Nichols: Don't Mourn for Daschle

For real

Someone is trying to patent this:

"Dog waste catcher and holder"

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Boxer the highway advocate

Through the battle over the stimulus bill, we're learning more about the good and the bad in Congress. Jerry Nadler successfully got more money for public transportation into the initial stimulus bill in the House. Barbara Boxer, meanwhile, has joined the ranks of the build-more-highways coalition.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

OFA and the difference between tactics and goals

"We’ll soon be asking you to give whatever time or talent you can to support the President."

That's what the email from Organizing for America said when I signed up. OFA is the organization that the Obama team is creating to keep the grassroots going now that the election is over. They have the email addresses of more than 10 million people, and they want those folks to help drive their agenda, rather than just disappear.

It makes sense for them. But what about for us?

I'm not "for" the president (nor "against" the president). I'm for a specific set of goals, like creating a more progressive tax structure, getting more people health care and ending US torture. I'm very glad that Obama beat McCain, because I think that made it more likely that some of my goals will become reality under Obama. I volunteered for Obama for this reason, and I'm glad I did.

I'm not in to the idea, though, of working "to support the President" as OFA says they will have people do. That's not my goal. At times when the president's agenda coincides with my agenda, I will support the president achieving his agenda. At times when the president's agenda is against my agenda, I will oppose the president in achieving his agenda.

My supporting Obama in the general election was a tactic as part of a larger view to achieve certain goals. That tactic is not relevant any more.

Obama and team have actually articulated that electing him president was not in itself the victory, the end goal, but rather a step in working toward a set of changes. That's exactly right.

With OFA, though, they're asking people to make a new goal: support whatever the President supports. That's the problem. I think it could be a sort of scary perversion of democracy.

Imagine if, say, Vladimir Putin had an official organized group of supporters who vowed, after the election, to "support the president". And imagine, no less, that Putin had already done some things that explicitly contradicted what he had campaigned for. I think if such a group existed (maybe it does? I don't know) and we heard about it, we'd think it was sort of scary.


American democracy has some pretty radical spots in it. There was a time when a lot of people were engaged in the issues of the day (less so now, but it could be far worse). I hope, as OFA hopes, that Americans will come back to the idea of democracy being about civic engagement that is far more than just going to the voting booth. But I really hope folks will be engaged in a way other than "I'm for whatever the president is for."

Obama's not all bad

To be clear, I thought I ought to say that I don't think everything Obama does is bad. I know this blog can read like that. He has made a number of good moves that were not sure things, such as appointing several good people in the Justice Department and making Mitchell the Middle East envoy.

But I don't need to spend my space saying that it's a good thing, for example, that Obama has pledged to close Guantanamo. You already knew that, and it was the least we could have expected. What's more important, I think, is looking at the bad things he is doing, such as leaving all sorts of caveats in his Guantanamo/torture policy.

I think part of the reason there's been so little questioning of Obama in the traditional media since Nov 4th -- in terms of whether he is doing what he pledged to do back in the primary season -- is that most Democrats aren't criticizing him from the left on many issues at all. And the traditional media don't do much of that questioning themselves. It's been Paul Krugman, Jon Stewart, Glenn Greenwald, The Nation and various smaller publications and individuals who have been the most substantive and effective critics.

Of course Obama is not all bad. But it is never too early to start questioning the bad -- in fact, on so many things, it is now far too late. The 'other side' -- pick your industry or right wing cause -- is not "waiting to see" how the Obama Administration turns out. They're lobbying for what they want, right now. We have to do that, too.

When Obama trial-ballooned the pro-torture John Brennan for CIA director or Director of National Intelligence, it was Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan and other bloggers who shot it down. MoveOn was nowhere to be seen. It was a perfect example of what has proven true over and over again: sitting back and waiting for Obama to bring salvation, and then lobbying Congress to pass that salvation, if it comes, is just not going to work on most issues with such a centrist president.