WineCamp wrap

A quick break from directly campaign related news…
Jen and I went to a campout event, WineCamp Calaveras, this past weekend. This was a lightly structured “unconference” that you can read more about here, but the basic gist is that you get a group of people together for a weekend, feed them, and let them make up their own agenda for what they want to talk about. In this case, an enormous quantity of really spectacular wine was involved, too. There are tons of pictures tagged on flickr. Click for more…

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Foundations II: substantial freedom

“I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every from of tyranny over the mind of man.”
   -Thomas Jefferson

One of the most destructive legacies of the conservative movement is the diminishing they have inflicted on the concept of freedom. This seems counterintuitive, perhaps, but all the relentless yammering that emanates from conservatives about freedom is perhaps a signal of their weakness on this issue, one of fundamental and historical importance to the American project.
Since the beginning of the conservative movement, the conservative conception of freedom has been intimately and intrinsically tied up with property rights, almost to the point of excluding anything else. This goes back all the way to Russell Kirk: “…conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked” is one of his ten principles, and the only mention of freedom throughout his ten conservatives principles.
One of the obvious attributes of the idea of freedom that this misses is its incredible breadth. True freedom goes far, far beyond just the connection to property, or stuff. The connection between stuff and true freedom is even tenuous since we don’t just own our stuff, our stuff owns us as well. Who is more free: the apostle who owns nothing and lives in an intentional community, or the typical American, surrounded by the amazing output of our consumer economy, but saddled with levels of debt not seen since feudal Europe?
There may be no answer to this question, but conservative thought would have us believe the answer is definitely the latter…

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What would you do?

Some of the more substantive of the points brought up in the discussion in the comments recently is this issue of legality. It’s an important issue so I’m going to address it up here and try to keep the conversation going.
The first thing to keep in mind is the difference between morality and legality. I have a hunch that those who posted probably have a love for law and order that only extends so far, and maybe wouldn’t include issues with a President who has decided to ignore 750 someodd laws over the past six years. There is an imperfect overlap between what is moral and what is legal. Take the civil disobedience during the first civil rights movement: illegal acts, but not immoral ones, although there were certainly those who disagreed with their morality at the time.
But beyond that, there’s a simple but important question that has to be considered in thinking about this issue…

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Foundations: interdependence

[Crossposted on dailykos]
About a year ago, I came across a couple of references to conservative thinker Russell Kirk. His ten conservative principles, first published in 1957 and last updated in 1993, was reportedly a great influence on the thinking of Barry Goldwater and others at the dawn of movement conservativism.
Apparently, no one on our side ever wrote a response. I’d like to be proven wrong, but if someone did, it isn’t showing up on google.
I’ve drafted the first part of such a response, a ten progressive principles approach that answers Kirk point by point. But I want to start with just one principle…

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Infighting? Not now!

Local San Francisco politics is just a fat, juicy target; to paraphrase Steve Lopez, this state is a target rich environment for those engaging in political commentary, and SF is no different. I’ve been trying to avoid writing too much on it to stay focused on statewide issues.
But this week’s Tim Redmond column in the Guardian is stupid for so many reasons I just can’t help it. Hopefully there is an instructive lesson on how we either are or are not going to connect the progressive movement with the political system in this country or not in here somewhere.
Mr Redmond suggests that local Green Matt Gonazalez run for Congress, against Rep Nancy Pelosi. Somehow Mr Redmond seems to not get that Representative Pelosi is the Minority Party Leader of the United States Congress, i.e. she is the head of all the Democrats in the entire Congress. Suppose that in some display of collective insanity by the voters of this district, Matt Gonzalez did happen to get past her. How much power would he have? And would we really want to take our chances with whoever would succeed as minority leader in such a case? It certainly wouldn’t be Gonzales, even if he switched to Democratic after getting elected – not ever, not in a million years.
Mr Redmond’s little one sided list of things she’s done wrong, like the (limited) privatization of the Presidio (which has actually turned out pretty well, from a land use perspective), seems pretty trivial compared to the overall picture. I share Mr Redmond’s disagreement with the Congresswoman on Iraq (the one nontrivial issue), but at the same time, she was lied to by the Bush administration with more even more intensity and frequency than we were. I’d like to think I’d have been able to fight back more vigorously against the onslaught of propaganda they were hurling at people, but without walking a mile in her shoes, who really knows.
As to the charges of her venality, it’s a bit of a cheap shot, but I think we’re all all too familiar with what happens when the cheap shots don’t get volleyed. Perhaps Mr Redmond could give the Lord of the Rings trilogy another read or viewing. Power is difficult, and the closer you are to Mt. Doom, the heavier the ring gets. Rep Pelosi has done an admirable job keeping the caucus together in the face of overwhelming odds. It’s not the kind of work that gets her in the paper that often, but she should be respected for it anway, and Mr Redmond should know better.
My advice to Mr Redmond and Mr Gonzalez: take every second of time and every penny you were thinking of investing in fighting a woman who is one of your most powerful allies, and focus it somewhere it is really needed. It isn’t like we’re hurting for actual enemies. This election cycle is going to be another epic battle. For either Mr Redmond or Mr Gonzalez to be even considering infighting now is criminally asinine. Some day the conversation in this country might be between Greens and Democrats, but we’re never going to get there if we don’t stay focused. Now is the time to do everything we can to make Representative Pelosi the Majority leader, not waste our time and scarce resources with ridiculous infighting.

Immigration and “something d-o-o” economics

A bedrock fact to keep in mind during the immigration debate is where the public is at on this issue, and that it isn’t where the far right would have you think it is. A truly astonishing percentage of American voters support progressive immigration policies when they’re compared with conservative ones. 79% favor earned paths to citizenship for people who come to this country to work. The National Immigration Forum has aggregated a bunch of data on this.
This data seems almost shocking because, as usual, the tone of the debate is being set by a few hard-right sources with incredible amount of media reach and impact. But in this case, the distance between the bloviating ideologues and both the mainstream of American opinion and the leadership of their party is a lot farther to travel than usual. The RNC and President Bush both did amazing outreach to Latinos in the 2004 and they appear absolutely serious about delivering the goods to this group of voters.
One topic that has been almost completely missing from this debate – Jimmy Smits character on the West Wing was the closest thing to a politician to mention this in public – is what the root economic causes of immigration are, and how we can address those. Remember back in the 90s, when one of the original selling points of NAFTA was that it would decrease immigration pressure? Obviously that hasn’t worked out. The questions now are why, and what we can do to fix it.

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The emerging progressive landscape

There have been some notable recent organizational additions to the parts of the blogosphere’s California neighborhood. This is exciting stuff for a lot of reasons, but two are that it’s finally starting to feel like a movement, and that these sites are of outrageously high quality. Here’s a quick wrap up of three of them:

  • Caliitics is a community weblog site built using the same website software (called scoop) as dailykos. Getting this software up and keeping it running is a nontrivial technical task, and they just got a seriously hot redesign.
  • PLAN For decades, the right has used a shadowy corporate funded organization called ALEC to move a conservative, market fundamentalist agenda at a statewide level. ALEC is one of those quietly poweful organizations with enormous influence that has run ciricles around progressives by getting corporations to write “model” legislation and then moving it through conservative state assemblymembers and senators. PLAN, the Progressive Legislative Action Network, is our answer to that. They have a terrific site and a great blog for keeping up with what’s going on at the statewide level across the country.
  • California Progess Report A news site for progressives, this is our side’s an answer to the conservative, CA focused flashreport. Outstanding design (much nicer than flashreport’s overly busy site, that seems to rudely open a new window with every click) and site editor Frank Russo has a terrific editorial voice. He’s a clear writer and is coming at his practice from a “what are we going to do about this?” approach, as he ended a recent story.

These are all in addition to the two statewide multi-issue progressive groups, us here at Speak Out California and the team at Courage Campaign, and the hundreds of smaller individual and small group sites on the various blogrolls. All of the sudden it seems like there is a whole lot of democracy going on.
The way we’re going to win is by first matching the infrastructure the conservatives have already built or obtained, and then using our natural strengths to out-innovate them. Weblogs with comments are a perfect example of this; there was a recent story about how one of the conservative websites had to take down their comments section because someone called social security private accounts, well, exactly that, rather than the Karl Rove approved “personal accounts” or whatever flimflam language they’re supposed to use.
Progressives don’t have that problem. Our ideas are better and have been tested in reality, so we don’t have the need for the relentless spinning and tightly bolting down the language control. Even on the internet, or maybe especially on the internet, the truth just sounds different.
Even so, we all have a lot of work to do in building out this concept of progressive identity. Think about how well formed the idea of being a conservative is in the minds of voters – what that means to people, what the expect a politician to say and do if they’re conservative. We’re still only having that debate in a few pockets and we have a long way to go in broadly establishing progressive identity. These recent additions to the neighborhood will surely help. Mountains of thanks to all of you who are participating in these excellent projects. You are about to rock, and we salute you!

The eye of the beholder

Kevin Drum says that Sen. Feingold’s vote to censure is just a bit of political theater, and not very good stuff at that…

Conversely, it’s not clear what Feingold hopes to accomplish with his censure motion. Bush’s shortcomings are already getting plenty of attention, so he’s not galvanizing any new media attention.

I vigorously disagree. This is most certainly not about theater: it’s about doing something, anything we can, about a President who is getting away with wholesale shredding of the Constitution with the full faith and backing of the majority party in the Senate and the Congress. It’s not theater, it’s honest resistance to the extent allowed by law, and apparently a quarter of a million someodd MoveOn members (as of this afternoon) and who knows how many folks through agree with the Senator and I. I don’t care if he didn’t line up his ducks in a row before doing it. Sign up to get the Senator’s back, if you haven’t already. I probably wouldn’t have except for Senator Allard’s quote (click the link, I won’t reproduce it here). When did failing civics 101 become some kind of prerequisite for running for higher office as a Republican?

Pragmatic progressivism, illustrated

This week’s Bay Guardian provides a textbook definition of the difference between pragmatic progressives and old-line liberals. Here’s SFBG editor Bruce Brugman’s approach to solving the local housing crunch

“Only rent control – strong rent control – can keep apartments affordable in this market.”

As useless as conservative market-fundamentalist based arugments against rent control are, there are other arguments that do make some degree of sense. Rent control does tend to deflect the market in some unpleasant ways, such as biasing the market strongly against new and young residents (Mr Brugman would see this as a benefit, unfortunately), discouraging improvements to properties and focusing landlord’s energies on exactly the people who need the most protection.
San Francisco Planning and Urban Research association ED Gabriel Metcalf gives the perfect, thoughtful response. Mr Brugman sidestepped responding to Mr Metcalf’s primary solution, which is increasing strengthening the currently feeble inclusionary housing ordinance. I’m tempted to excerpt a huge chunk of it here, but the whole thing is good, so go read it. A moratorium would make things worse and inclusionary housing works because it aligns the power with the market with answering a very real need. SFBG: old school liberal. SPUR: pragmatic progressive.
Mr Brugman mentions but skips right over the interesting part, which is that demand for San Francisco property is basically infinite. That’s an awfully interesting observation if you think about it! The reason why it’s true is that our society hasn’t generated built environments that support the kind of neighborhoods and sense of community available in San Francisco since World War II. Pragmatic progressivism is about curing these difficult, root problems, not applying band-aids and quick fixes.
Mr Brugman’s thinking is a good example of how trying to dice an environmental problem into little pieces to solve it is a failed strategy. The idea of “preserving” San Francisco under a bell jar without looking at the broader, statewide issues and the real effect these efforts have on people just doesn’t make sense. Apparently I’m going to have to quote John Muir on here until I’m blue in the face: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” The only real, long-term solution is that we have to build more cities.