Monday, August 27, 2007

Really Take Back America

It is a great pleasure to announce the launch of my colleague Jeff Golden's new blog, Really Take Back America. Jeff recently contributed three fine reports to this blog on the happenings at 2007's Yearly Kos convention in Chicago. You can read them here, here and here.

And now, after a state-wide journey exploring a race for the U.S. Senate (which he declined to make), Jeff's joined the progressive blogosphere with a very stimulating new site. A former host of Jefferson Public Radio's Jefferson Exchange and published author, Jeff's writing is conversational, engaging and populist. He's an easy and pleasurable read. So head on by his blog and leave him a comment. You won't be sorry (unless you happen to be a wingnut).

If you like what you read, check out Jeff's latest non-fiction work: "As if We Were Grownups," at Amazon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Robots Morph into Warriors

"More than 50 years after author Isaac Asimov argued in his classic novel "I, Robot" that a robot should never be allowed to do harm to people, the development of automated killers has become unstoppable," according to an article in Der Spiegel today.

Already deployed by the U.S. in Iraq and Israel in the Gaza, robotic enforcers, warriors, drones and airborne vehicles are everywhere. All the big guys; Honeywell, Northrup, Boeing and their ilk, are getting into the act. And then, there are the military nano-bots waiting in the wings. I've read stories about swarms of robotic bees and cockroaches capable of disabling jet engines, swarming into tunnels and operating as an integrated part of a multi-vehicle, robotic battle force. Now that's an image.

I'm conflicted about these developments. It certainly makes sense to sacrifice intelligent machinery rather than to spill human blood, but there's a nagging worry that the manufacturers and purchasers of these new killing machines will need an excuse to use them. Or that they could be turned on domestic opponents of a particular political regime. One newly deployed robotic enforcer is specially designed for "crowd control," which raises some hackles as well.

Once we're over the novelty and ultra-coolness of sleek and capable programmable machines, we need to consider the implications of these devices on things like the ease of establishing a police state. And that's just not my paranoia talking. Former Reagan advisor Paul C. Roberts is actually sounding the alarm about Bush's intentions in that regard.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

India's Awakening - 60 Years On

Today is the 60 year anniversary of The Republic of India's independence from Great Britain. First, congratulations are in order. So raise a Kingfisher Beer or a Mango Lassi and toast: To India. Though the transition involved partition, the process has led to India's current status as a major regional player, world power, and IT powerhouse. It is suitable that this auspicious event is occuring during the tenure of the country's first female president, Pratibha Patil, who stressed inclusiveness and diversity in her formal address to mark the occasion. It is also notable that the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, is a member of a religious minority on the sub-continent - giving credence to India's rising tide of tolerance and diversity.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Yearly Kos - Golden's Final Report

The last installment of three reports submitted by author, activist and former talk-show host Jeff Golden on his experience at the Yearly Kos convention. Thanks Jeff, for your eyes, ears and the posts below.

Saturday, the bloggers say, was a watershed moment in their mission to democratize politics. Mike Gravel, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Dennis Kucinich filed into the large meeting room and sat down for just shy of two hours of questions. All seven of them declined an invitation to speak to the Democratic Leadership Council , Bill Clinton’s invention and launching pad, last weekend. Do the math.

All seven paid tribute to the blogosphere. For the first time, they said in various ways, there’s a real possibility to bring in enough grassroots people to force the political elite to loosen their death-grip on the system. In a breakout session afterwards with about 50 people, Bill Richardson, whose candor can be hard to resist said “Yeah, we were all sucking up to you out there--- we kind of have to now.”

The forum was mostly fun to watch. John Edwards asked for everyone’s pledge to swear off of “Washington lobbyist” money and got a few takers. When asked Hillary flatly said she would make no such promise---she wants to represent everyone, she said, and lobbyists are people, too. That, and a general claim that lobbyists really don’t influence all that much, laid her wide open, and Obama and Edwards moved in for a vicious one-two pounding.

Afterwards the candidates split up into smaller room. I went to the Edwards session. He seems on fire, with an ultra-populist riff about taking privilege away from PHRMA, the insurance, oil, banking industries, the whole pack of plutocrats. “What America needs is someone who’s stood up against these guys and has beaten them, and I’ve done that over and over and over and over again. He got the wildest and most excited response. Watching him bounce in the room, with people lunging to touch him, listening to his cadence rise and his tone intensify, seeing that shock of hair waving back and forth, you couldn’t help but think (if you’re old enough) of RFK. I’d have to say he’s in the A-tier now.

The day ended with a huge outdoor barbeque hosted by the Teamsters. Teamster Prez Jim Hoffa (Jr) and blog Czar Marcos embraced on stage and talked about the unstoppable new Alliance of the old (Teamster) and new (blogger) Democratic party. Lots of hugs, backslapping, whooping and hollering. I got about 10 minutes with Hoffa over an overcooked hamburger afterwards and asked how we were going to deal with the old disagreement on environmental issues, since the Teamsters seem to support every dam or pipeline or drilling project that the enviros hate. “Yeah,” he said through a wad of burger, “that’s a tough one.” He went on to say some not very clear things that seemed to amount to the view that environmentalists need to get a life.

Is the next year going to be boring? Not if you’re political.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Yearly Kos - Golden's Second Installment

YKos, Day 2, another day of roaming from one workshop to another in this huge Chicago Convention Center listening to scary-smart folks in their 20s and 30s. This is a particularly direct example of how age can bring humility.

A few highlights:
--Wesley Clark starting the day with a breakfast talk on the betrayal of this Admin to the military, and the damage it’s had to weather. He wants out of Iraq soon, but asserts what he calls a “practical reality” of an ongoing need for Middle East oil that stirred mutterings in the crowd.
--A panel of dramatic converts from the Right to the Left, including David Brock and John Dean (Arianna Huffington was scheduled but fell to a broken ankle this past week when, on a leisurely walk with Charlie Rose, she caught a spiked heel in a Manhattan subway grate. Don’t you hate it when that happens?). These guys HATE the neo con Admin with a ferocity that those of us who never agreed with them can barely imagine.
--a completely fascinating lunchtime talk from Andy Stern, International President of the SEIU, on the role organized labor has to take in restoring democracy. He’s just back from successfully organizing Walmart workers in China ---China—which makes it, he says, the only place in the world where he feels comfortable going into a Walmart.
-A panel on political framing with the guru himself, George Lakoff. Smart guy, and so were the 3 consultants, all easily young enough to be his son, who sat at the front of the room with him. They talked about the OVERTON WINDOW (might want to Google that one) which is the range of politically acceptable policy options on an issue, which is smaller than the entire imaginable spectrum of options. If you take positions outside of that window, it’s argued, while your opponents stay somewhere comfortably within the window, you can move the entire range of what’s considered acceptable in your direction. Example: Ann Coulter’s apparent lunacy makes saner-sounding right wing extremists suddenly seem more reasonable and even moderate. The Rs apparently play this game, like all the framing games, better than the Ds. One criticism from an idealistic listener: “A strategic calculation based on this model implicitly says ‘we’re going to lie to you to advance our policy position.’” This session had something for everybody who tinks even a little bit about languaging, including those who think enough’s enough: “Democrats tie themselves in knots thinking about ways to most successfully communicate and neglect the straight power and effectiveness of saying what they really mean.”
Or…and this come up a lot…just how far do Progressives want to copy the Right in an effort to replicate the Right’s victories?
--An all-star panel of Internet strategists including Joe Trippi, who made history with the Dean campaign, took a shot at describing the big picture of the Web’s transformational effect on politics. One ranked it with the invention of movable type in importance; another said it’s impossible to overstate the impact. Simon Rosenberg, one of the Revered Ones, says the MSM has it all wrong about the political blogosphere. “They dismiss what’s happening as the collective wacky hobby of a bunch of liberals on the fringe. It’s not. It’s the doorway we’ve been looking for through which the American people can enter politics in a very big way. It mean politics and governance can be a 2-way process, And campaigns are only the opening edge. It won’t be long before a President sends out his health plan or new tax proposl for all of us to take swing at before proposing it to Congress. Nothing in the way we do our public business will ever be the same.”

Friday, August 3, 2007

Golden Reports on Yearly Kos

Note: This is the first in a couple of reports that are being contributed to Pop Impulse by my colleague and friend, Jeff Golden. Jeff, a published author and formerly the host of the Jefferson Exchange on Jefferson Public Radio, agreed to serve as this blog's eyes and ears at the convention. He's filed the following first report. Check it out. (Yo-Duh)

The second annual YKos convention (for "yearly Kos") convened by the lake in Chicago today. Fourteen hundred people more pumped up than you’d find anywhere outside of a Holy Roller gathering have come together from all over the country, thrilled that Bill O’Reilly and William Kristol have elevated their blogosphere to the latest Dire Threat to Life as We Know It. After registration and a scattering of breakout sessions we came together tonight for the first Keynotes session.

A 25 year old hip-hop standup comedian warmed us up by leading us in a silent moment mourning the death of mainstream media (MSM) and then riffed on what makes it run: "The MSM tells you they’re just doing their job by giving people what they’re interested in seeing.. Well, people are interested in seeing 20 year old chicks mud-wrestling naked, but it’s not news. It IS NOT NEWS"

Then Senator Dick Durbin came on two huge video screens ("I meant to be there to welcome you to my own city myself, but Im trapped here in DC and on my way to Iraq and Afghanistan in the morning") to salute the blogmeisters for dramatically changing the Democratic Party and America for the better. He said there’s a long list this unruly crowd can take credit for:: ending John Bolton’s tenure at the UN, turbo-charging the Plame affair and the firing of U.S. Attorneys into powerful issues, even winning control of the Senate. He made a big pitch for the Fair Elections Act to get the scurvy money out of politic, urging folks to

Then came the main act. DNC Chair Howard Dean strolled onto the stage to a standing O. He’s right on top of his game. He:

--slammed Republican opposition to reforms to make voting more accessible to all Americans. "Voting is the fundamental practice of Democracy, and the more people vote the better it is for American… and, incidentally, the Democratic Party. The Republican Party likes to talk about its values, but apparently democracy isn’t one of them, given their suppression of voters and their unwillingness to guarantee voting rights." He urged the bloggers to rally their follower to lean on their reps to pass H811 to get valid elections by 2008 elections, because "2010 might be too late."
--admitted that "even I didn’t appreciate how important the Internet was after the last election…I LOVED the YouTube Presidential debate. For the first time it got the campaign conversation fully out there in the messy middle of the public, right there with real Americans, where it belongs. What a surprise that the Republicans don’t want to do it."
--Called the Ds the party of the future, while the Republicans are the party of the past. "It’s pretty easy to see:: just look who they’re running for president and who we’re running for president."
--asserted that the Internett will spread so much information and associated autonomy that it will force countries like China and Iran towards democracy.. "It means that we CAN win the battle for a Democratic world, which will not happen with invasions of country like Iraq and Iran." And at home? "With the Internet we’re beginning the 2-way campaign. Now we dialogue with the people whose vote we want, asking for their input and really listening to them, not using this as a cheap gimmick. This will remind us that we don’t own the power…it is loaned to us every two
-- praised what the DEMOCRATIC Congress has done in six months, offering la list that, when we thought about it, wasn’t too bad. And on Iraq? "We will continue to push a vote on Iraq withdrawal again and again and again and again, giving the Republicans endless chances to carry out the clear mandate of the American people, until they do so.
--welcomed the new attention the Evangelical movement is giving to world hunger and oppression and climate change. "Let’s pay attention and let’s gather with those we can agree with on those things we can agree on."
--focused on younger folks: "We are paying the price today for not reaching out to young people in the 1980s during the Reagan presidency, because the way people vote the first 3 times will predict how they vote for the rest of their lives. Our neglect explains why John Roberts is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court today."
--praised impatience. " It’s an important quality: nevertheless, lets remind the young AND OURSELVES how many grinding years of struggle it took the Civil Rights movement to succeed. It took them many years, and our youth to know that this is not a one day or one election cycle struggle, but a process we’ll be involved in for the rest of our lives!"
He was roaring now, fist pounding, eyes blazing as he closed. And the crowd …went… crazy.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

CIA & Amnesty Int'l Agree on Plone

What, might you ask, do the CIA and Amnesty International have in common? Both have built their Web sites using the Plone platform. As have SIGGRAPH; Akami; Nokia and Oxfam International. Now that's good company. So what's up with Plone?

Plone is a ready-to-run, open source content management system that allows multiple users to contribute to their organization's Web site. Built on the Zope application server (Zope 2), developers cite easy set-up, flexibility and the ability to handle multiple languages as system strengths. From a technical perspective, the product is based on the Python programming language and is object-oriented - embedding web elements in objects in lieu of using files. This enables the platform to leverage the characteristics of the object-oriented paradigm - like encapsulation. But the environment is not without its challenges, and we hope to see a version based on the updated Zope 3 product sometime soon. That will take some doing, as version 3 is a complete re-write of Zope 2 with the ensuing compatability issues still outstanding.

As it is written, this platform is perfect for non-profits; as well as ideally suited to agencies, associations and large organizations. And it works with almost everything. As it is open source, code can be added and modified by IT hacks to customize the platform around specific needs. And of course, there are no licensing fees. What's not to love?

I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention Project A Sofware's "Site-in-a-Box" product in this post. Here in southern Oregon, almost every governmental authority and public agency uses this product - and likes it. If you want the "concierge" version of a CMS system and are willing to pay for it, check out Project A's fine offering here.