NDN Blog

Simon in Ellen Goodman's Piece "The Perils of Cyberbaggage"

From nationally syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman:

The Perils of Cyberbaggage
Posted on Feb 21, 2007
By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON—I suppose you could describe these two women as cybertrailblazers. But their cybertrails, alas, followed them from a checkered past, not to the glorious future. And the blaze they created was a bit more like a flameout.

Bloggers Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan came in from the heady environment of the blogosphere to the more staid climate of presidential politics, to work for John Edwards.

The political cyberspace where they were known as Pandagon and Shakespeare’s Sister is usually described with euphemisms such as raucous and freewheeling. On that terrain, no weasel wordsmiths need apply. You win attention with controversy and get hits with an over-the-top persona and a vivid vocabulary. A campaign, on the other hand, no matter how much it wants netroots, is, well, controversy-averse.

Marcotte’s blog style was described by Time magazine as “issues-based but not above snark and a healthy dose of profanity.” McEwan describes herself as a “firebrand” opponent of theocracy: “I am, however, vulgar. And I am trash-talking.”

I doubt these descriptions were in their job interviews with the Edwards campaign, but it didn’t take long for a conservative watchdog to glean through the 24/7 postings of the two bloggers and come up with the sort of sound bites that leave teeth marks on a campaign. There was McEwan’s description of Bush’s “wingnut Christofascist base.” There was Marcotte’s slam on the Catholic prohibition on birth control as a way to force women to “bear more tithing Catholics.” Within days, the two women resigned from the campaign and returned to the briar patch of their blogs.

This may be the first certifiable staff flameout of the 2008 campaign. But it’s also about a clash between two cultures and two languages.

We are living now in both the blogosphere and the mainstream. One is ironic and edgy, challenging and partisan. The other is cautious and modulated. Marcotte’s and McEwan’s fate raises the question about whether it’s possible to move from the world of AnkleBitingPundits to presidential politics without every word sticking to your shoe.

We already know that in the digital world, the past is never past. As Simon Rosenberg of NDN, a progressive advocacy group bridging these two worlds, says, “All of us are going to be living every moment of our past lives. People are living with things they did and said in their youths in a way they never did before.”

President Bush once famously said, “When I was young, I did a lot of foolish things.” Bill Clinton said he smoked marijuana but didn’t inhale. Barack Obama admitted doing “a little blow.” But we didn’t have postings of the partying George, the smoking Bill or the snorting Barack.

These days politicians are one “macaca” away from videotaped disaster. If you don’t believe it, see Rudy Giuliani as a drag queen flirting with Donald Trump on YouTube.

Meanwhile, the cybertrail doesn’t just track bloggers. Five million college students use Facebook. When Bob Corker was running for the Senate, voters in Tennessee were treated to his daughter kissing a girl on Facebook. California Rep. Brian Bilbray’s underage daughter Briana posted a picture of herself on MySpace with a cooler of Miller High Life.

Postings come down but never really disappear. They sit, like land mines, in the digital archives.

Last year, a college administrator in Boston sent out a campuswide warning: “Digital Dirt May Hurt.” But how many students working on their grade point average think that an employer may also be checking their booty calls and keg parties? Will recruiters get the joke when they see Bill Frist’s son Jonathan in Facebook claiming membership in a group where there were “No Jews Allowed. Just Kidding. No seriously’’?

“The culture is going to be confronting this,” says Rosenberg. “Can you have youthful indiscretions? Can you evolve, grow up? In recent years the culture has been more forgiving of youthful indiscretions. Will it continue?’’ Which culture will decide?

I have no fear for Shakespeare’s Sister or Pandagon, who are both up and writing with great energy. But as Marcotte has written, “even the more even-keeled bloggers are likely to have something in their archives that could be taken out of context and bandied about on the cable news networks.” It will be a loss if only the most buttoned-up bloggers can make the transition from uncompromising critic to campaign staff or even candidate.

As for young people who are increasingly on the Internet side of this cultural divide? Parents, it’s 11 p.m. Do you know where on the Internet your children are—and what they are doing to mess up their résumé? Follow the cybertrail.

NDN announces dates for Annual Meeting: May 21-22

NDN is pleased to announce that our Annual Meeting will be held May 21-22, 2007 at the Capitol Hilton here in Washington, DC. We'll be sharing more details with you soon. For now, please mark the dates on your calendar and we hope to see you in May.

    NDN Annual Meeting
    Capitol Hilton
    1001 16th Street, NW
    May 21-22, 2007
    Washington, DC

You can stay up to date on the annual meeting by visiting our website. If you have any ideas/suggestions on who we should invite to speak, please feel free to leave a comment here on the blog.


The changing advertising landscape, continued

The Times has a good story today looking at how the internet is changing traditional advertising practices:

IF the 20th century was known in marketing circles as the advertising century, the 21st may be the advertising measurement century.

Marketers are increasingly focused on the effectiveness of their pitches, trying to figure out the return on investment for ad spending. That is spurring most of the major media — along with many large research companies like Arbitron, Nielsen and Taylor Nelson Sofres — to improve the methods by which they measure audiences.

The ability of newer digital media to provide more precise data has also led traditional media like television, radio, magazines and newspapers to try upgrading the ways they count consumers.

“There’s a little something called the Internet, something that all other media are trying to get as accountable as,” said Jon Mandel, chief executive at the NielsenConnect unit of the Nielsen Company in New York, which brings together data from various Nielsen divisions.

For more on our thinking about the emergence of a 21st century media, follow this blog and visit www.newpolitics.net, the home of our think tank for politics, the New Politics Institute. 

Update: Obama on Facebook

The Facebook group "Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack)", which we first posted on four weeks and three days ago, now has 294,875 members, an increase of 178,627 people. NPI Fellow Joe Trippi recognized the mobilizing potential of mediums like Facebook in the Washington Post, saying:

"It took [the Dean for President] campaign six months to get 139,000 people on an e-mail list," Trippi said. "It took one Facebook group, what, barely a month to get 200,000? That's astronomical."

For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.

Restoring habeas corpus

At the end of the last Congress Senator John McCain successfully led the fight to pass something called the Military Tribunal Bill.  Among other things, it stripped anyone in the US who is not a current citizen of their habeas corpus rights. 

Practically what this means is the President can now detain non-US citizens indefinitely, even those here legally, without judicial review.  If this sounds extraordinary, it is. 

The Times weighs in with a strong editorial, American Liberty at the Precipice, calling for these fundamental rights to be restored.  Jeffrey Smith, a former CIA general counsel, also weighs in on this issue and other issues related to Military Tribunals, torture and rendition.   Both should be read to gain a better understanding of this important legislative opportunity this year. 

I strongly believe that the coalitions working to improve our immigration system need to take up this effort too.  There should be little doubt that unless this remarkable legislative overreach is fixed, it will deter future immigration to the US, and may even cause current, legal immigrants to leave. 

I've been a little suprized that those businesses heavily dependent on foreign workers have not been more vocal in their opposition to what Senator McCain and the President have done.  It not only is a betrayal of America's historic commitment to liberty and the rule of law, but in the modern global economy, it will undermine the business model of many of our fastest growing and most important companies.

Additional note - As a friend just wrote in, there is a deep irony behind this.  While Senator McCain may be working to grant legal status to 11 milliion undocument workers in the US today through is strong leadership on comprehensive immigration reform, his Military Tribunal Bill ensures that when they become legal they will still lack one of the most fundamental rights guarenteed to previous immigrants since the founding of our country.   

Fighting Misinformation in this Out-of-Control World

One of the beauties, and the dangers, of the new wide open world of the people-powered, bottom-up internet is that it’s out of anybody’s control. Politics,  which has long been about control from the center, has to radically adapt to this new reality.

There’s a whole argument that this trend ultimately benefits progressives, since conservatives have long prided themselves on their highly organized, highly controlled, highly packaged political campaigns that won’t work anymore. Progressives, on the other hand, are much more used to the art of herding cats.

Anyway, there is a bottom-up tool that helps combat the persistent false rumors and misinformation that so easily arise on the internet. It’s Snopes.com, which does about as good a job as can be done in chasing down urban legends and other wild viral  email chains.

Someone recently pointed out the page that has to do with misinformation about the political issue of Immigration. It’s worth checking it out as an example of where to look the next time some progressive is  swift-boated.

Peter Leyden   

Shame, (lack of) Blame at Walter Reed

By now we've all heard about the despicable conditions outpatients are living in at Walter Reed Hospital.  Veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are living in squalor and are often not getting the care they need.  Hopefully pressure from Congress will start to change that.  As usual, the White House refuses to accept blame for a lack of Presidential leadership.  Watch Press Secretary Tony Snow dodge responsibility here:

The Justice Department's Political Shenanigans

When Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez fired 7 federal prosecutors for no apparent reason, it raised suspicion.  When it was reported that one of the fired prosecutors was about to indict two figures at the center of the massive Republican Congressional appropriations scandal, fears were confirmed.  And when it was discovered that an obscure passage of the Patriot Act allowed the Bush Administration to replace those prosecutors with whomever they wanted, without normal Senate confirmation hearings, the residents of Denmark began evacuating en masse to escape the stench. 

Now the WAPO confirms that these 7 wrongly fired prosecutors were accomplished, highly qualified attorneys whose only offenses were investigating corrupt Republicans and working on cases that displeased conservatives in Washington:

All but one of the U.S. attorneys recently fired by the Justice Department had positive job reviews before they were dismissed, but many ran into political trouble with Washington over issues ranging from immigration to the death penalty, according to prosecutors, congressional aides and others familiar with the cases.

Two months after the firings first began to make waves on Capitol Hill, it has also become clear that most of the prosecutors were overseeing significant public-corruption investigations at the time they were asked to leave. Four of the probes target Republican politicians or their supporters, prosecutors and other officials said...

And this isn't an example of normal partisan gamesmanship.  The Bush Administration is so devoted to protecting their failed ideology and even the most corrupt members of their party, that that they're firing Republican-appointed prosecutors:

The end result is an unusual spectacle in which Democratic lawmakers are bemoaning the firings of Republican-appointed prosecutors. The political pressure has become so great that Cummins's successor in Arkansas, former White House aide J. Timothy Griffin, announced on Friday that he had decided not to submit his name to the Senate for a permanent appointment.

Fortunately, Congress, and public opinion, may ride to the rescue:

Lawmakers from both parties are pushing to strip Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales of his power to name replacement U.S. attorneys for an indefinite period, although Republicans blocked that proposal in the Senate last week. The House Judiciary Committee is planning hearings on similar legislation in March.

And Senator Chuck Schumer is on the case:

Justice Department Comes Up Short On Anti-Terrorism

Distressing news from the Justice Department today.  Apparantly Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and co. are too busy stripping Habeas Corpus rights, defending torture, and firing highly qualified federal prosecutors to find time to effectively fight terrorism.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine found that only two of the 26 sets of important statistics on domestic counterterrorism efforts compiled by Justice and the FBI from 2001 to 2005 were accurate, according to a 140-page report. The numbers were both inflated and understated, depending on the data cited and which part of the Justice Department was doing the counting, the report said...

The analysis is the latest to find serious faults with the Justice Department's terrorism statistics, some of which have been featured prominently in statements by President Bush or the attorney general as evidence of the terrorist threat and the department's successful efforts to combat it.

The data are used to justify expenditures and explain to Congress and to the public how the Justice Department is using its resources to protect the country against terrorist attacks, officials said.

And what are they doing to fix the problem?  Papering it over it appears:

The Justice Department said in a statement that it has already made most of the improvements suggested by Fine's office and that the U.S. attorneys' office would rename its "anti-terrorism" category to remove the implication that every case involves terrorism.

Good News on Prescription Drugs, but is it Enough?

Today's WAPO gives context to the debate over Medicare Part D.  The Part D benefit is clearly helping seniors afford their prescription drugs and, by extension, slowing down rising health care costs.  What is unclear is if direct negotiations between the federal government and drug companies, as mandated by a bill passed by the Democratic House, would bring those costs down further.

Federal number crunchers said yesterday that the new Medicare drug benefit appears to be slowing the growth in national spending on prescription medicines because the drug plans are negotiating lower prices with drug companies.

But the analysts also forecasted that overall health-care spending would continue to rise and would account for nearly 20 percent of the economy -- or more than $4 trillion a year -- by 2016. In contrast, health-care spending was about $2.1 trillion in 2006, accounting for about 16 percent of the economy. In 1985, it was just over 10 percent...

Analysts said they expect to see that spending on prescription drugs rose more slowly in 2006 because of the Medicare Part D drug benefit that began last year. In the program, private insurers negotiate prices with drug companies as they compete to attract Medicare beneficiaries.

That has helped hold down prices even as more seniors are able to get drugs, John A. Poisal of the CMS said in a briefing. National spending on prescription drugs was expected to rise to $214 billion in 2006, from $201 billion in 2005. But that increase is 0.4 percentage points less than it would have been without the new drug benefit, he said.

Several national polls have shown that a majority of the public believes government negotiations would hold down drug costs even more. A survey of 1,000 adults released yesterday by AARP, for instance, found that 87 percent of respondents -- including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents -- supported allowing the government to use its bargaining power.

The NYT has good news on American corporations embracing preventive care for its employees.  I only hope this is more than anecdotal and is the beginning of a major trend:

Major employers like Marriott International, Pitney Bowes, the carpet maker Mohawk Industries and Maine’s state government have introduced free drug programs to avoid paying for more expensive treatments down the road.

Companies now recognize that “if you get people’s obesity down, cholesterol down, asthma down, you save a lot of money,” said Uwe E. Reinhardt, a health economist at Princeton University.

Despite the Bush administration’s efforts to promote “consumer directed” health care, many companies are recognizing the limits to shifting too much of the cost of medical care to employees. Experience, Professor Reinhardt said, is contradicting the theory that “patients will be more prudent shoppers for health care if they ache financially when they ache physically.”

Another motive for the business world could be to stave off a greater government involvement in health insurance, now that most presidential candidates and other politicians are promoting health care reform.

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