Open Source Political Reporting

Special Edition: The New Hampshire Primary 2008. From February 2007 to the voting in January 2008, most of my political blogging is going to be reports on the various candidates as I see them on the campaign trail. All the reports are collected here.

28 May 2007: Supporting My Troop. This is a Memorial Day special out of my previously unpublished files. I wrote it after a Christmas, 2005 meeting with my best friend from high school, now a career Marine. I left the piece alone rather than updating it. Steve is still in the Marines, and still alive.

14 April 2007: Change in My Lifetime: Why Imus Thinks He’s Not Racist. I got as sick of the Don Imus affair as anybody else. But what I really couldn’t stand was watching people talk past each other. So I just had to explain what racist used to mean. BTW, this touched off a marvelous discussion on Daily Kos

22 March 2007: To John and Elizabeth Edwards, With Experience. Elizabeth Edwards’ breast cancer is back and has spread. The campaign goes on. How can I not flash back to my wife’s breast cancer treatment?

19 March 2007: Answering Moral Questions: A Primer for Democrats. When the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff puts his foot in his mouth, somehow it turns into a bigger problem for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama than for anybody else. How does stuff like this happen, and what can be done about it?

10 March 2007: My Dinner With Hillary — and 1000 Other People. I finally decide to see a candidate the way the high-rollers do: At a Democratic Party fund-raising dinner. Well, maybe the medium-rollers. And maybe their view isn’t any better than anybody else’s. But Hillary Clinton does give a good speech.

17 February 2007: Bill Richardson in Portsmouth.

15 February 2007: Announcing My 2008 Presidential Campaign. It begins.

18 January 2007: Using the I-Word. The War in Iraq is not an impeachable offense. But it makes the other impeachable offenses much more convincing.

11 January 2007: Iraq: No Way Forward. My response to the January 10 speech in which President Bush announced his “New Way Forward” in Iraq.

23 October 2006: Confessions of a Blogger. The political blogger has such a negative image in the larger culture that I decided to give the demonized wretch a human face – mine. This is the text of a talk I gave at the Bedford Lyceum at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Bedford, Massachusetts.

29 September 2006: God of Our [Founding] Fathers. Liberals and conservatives alike quote the Founders to justify their positions on church-and-state issues. A couple years ago I fantasized about writing a book to resolve the apparent paradoxes and contradictions in these quotes, and to explain the Founders’ views in an appropriate historical context. Now I don’t have to write that book, because Jon Meacham just did: American Gospel.

31 July 2006: Flies vs. Hammers: How Asymmetric Warfare Works. A lot of the rhetoric around the current Israel/Hezbollah and US/Iraq wars make no sense. But governments get away with it because the public does not understand the kind of war being fought. This piece is written as a primer and assumes very little.

13 July 2006: Reframing Iraq: It’s Time to Stop Losing. In a couple of letters to my local newspaper, I demonstrate how to frame the anti-war position as strong and realistic, and the pro-war position as weak and fantasy-based.

16 May 2006: Be Our Guest [Workers]. President Bush’s proposed “temporary worker program” institutionalizes one of the worst aspects of the current illegal alien situation: a disenfranchised labor force. In this respect it resembles the permanent worker program the South had until 1865.

14 May 2006: What McCain Said, and What it Means. John McCain gave the commencement address at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. Clearly he was trying to mend fences with the religious right, but how? And what does his speech tell us about his message for 2008?

27 April 2006: Cato vs. Caesar. The conservative Cato Institute finally got around to taking a good, hard look at the way President Bush has been fulfilling his oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.” It’s not a pretty sight.

25 March 2006: One More Step Towards Fascism. The administration stretches its warrantless wiretap program a little further.

1 March 2006: Bush May Be in Trouble Now. While eating a late breakfast, I overhear two tables of WW-II veterans talk about impeachment. I didn’t used to hear stuff like that.

11 February 2006: Gonzales’ Testimony. I got a letter published in The Boston Globe commenting on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ defense of warrantless wiretapping in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. I explain why the letter frames things the way it does.

30 January 2006: Warrantless Wiretapping: a Nonpartisan Frame. It’s time to try to turn Republicans against the extreme actions of this administration. Here’s how I suggest going about it.

27 January 2006: What Can’t Bush Do? A discussion of warrantless wiretapping leads to a question the Bush supporters can’t seem to answer.

2 December 2005: The War on Accountability. The new National Strategy for Victory in Iraq makes no verifiable predictions and so provides no basis for future accountability – just like everything else the administration has said about the war.

19 October 2005: Literal Truth: Why Miers’ Heart is a Qualification. The pundits don’t seem to understand why some people think Harriet Miers’ lack of experience is a good thing.

6 October 2005: Annotating Bush’s Iraq Speech. President Bush gave his long-awaited justification of his Iraq policy today. It deserves line-by-line attention.

26 September 2005: Mirage in the Desert: The Prospects for Iraqi Democracy. Even if it gets ratified, the proposed constitution will do little to address the real obstacles to an Iraqi democracy.

9 September 2005: Fighting Them Up There. Faced with an act of God that destroys a major American city, the Bush administration responds the only way it knows how.

22 August 2005: Spare the Rod, Spoil the Country. How liberals should answer the patriotism question. Or: How George Lakoff almost gets it right.

17 August 2005: Cut and Run. Even people who realize what a mistake the Iraq invasion was think we can’t just cut and run. Yes, we can.

13 June 2005: PATRIOT Act: The Ho-Hum Strategy and Catch-22. The administration wants you to believe that the Patriot Act does less than you think it does. How civil libertarians should frame the debate on renewing the Act.

10 April 2005: Laborem Exercens: the Liberal Legacy of Pope John Paul II. When he talked economics rather than sex, Pope John Paul II wasn’t just a liberal, he was a radical.

22 March 2005: Affirming Life. Against my will, the Schiavo case stirs up a reaction.

19 March 2005: The Salesman-in-Chief. My new understanding of President Bush has lowered my blood pressure.

17 March 2005: My Taxes Are Obscene. My annual trip through Form 1040 got me thinking about how the tax rules unfairly favor people like me.

1 March 2005: Bush Appointee Rules for Enemy Combatant Padilla. Jose Padilla’s case had to go all the way back down to the district level after the Supreme Court tossed it out on a technicality. (See below, my July 2004 article The Supreme Court Confronts the 9/11 World.) Now he has won at the district level and starts the long climb back up to the Supreme Court.

25 February 2005: Red Family, Blue Family: Making sense of the values issue. If you’ve ever wondered how half the country could have voted for George Bush, there are a couple very good books on the subject. And if you put their ideas together, it’s even more interesting. The link above is to the PDF version, which I put a lot of effort into formatting. Let me know if you like it or not. Or you can read the HTML version.

11 February 2005: It’s not Hypocrisy. When rank and file conservatives worry about moral breakdown, they aren’t being hypocrites. They’re worried because conservative morality is breaking down.

25 January, 2005: Wide Liberty, an Alternative to Judicial Activism. One way conservatives bludgeon liberals is to hang the charge of “judicial activism” on us. You know: Liberal judges push their personal agendas for society by inventing new rights. This is a gross distortion of liberal legal theory, but it has been promoted so successfully that many liberals now defend judicial activism rather than exposing the faulty assumptions behind the charge. To start undoing the damage, we need to educate ourselves about first principles: What is the role of rights in a democracy, and how does our constitution protect them? This article goes back to the Founders and reclaims their legacy for the liberal side.

9 January, 2005: Can You Think Like a Terrorist? One of the people who read Terrorist Strategy 101 (see below) was Rev. John Buehrens of First Parish Unitarian-Universalist in Needham, Massachusetts. So I got invited to give a talk in the Needham Lyceum, a lecture-and-discussion series that they do on Sunday mornings before their church service. The text here is some combination of what I planned to say, what I said, and what I wish I’d said.

29 November 2004: 10 Ideas for 2008. In the wake of the 2004 elections, many Democrats are open to adopting some Republican ideas. Here are some Democratic ideas they might try first.

9 November 2004: Terrorist Strategy 101: a quiz. Ten questions and answers that help you think like Bin Laden.

28 October 2004: Changing the Channel to GOTV. My adventures as a last-minute Kerry volunteer.

9 September 2004: Polarization Gets Personal. An anonymous hostile response to my bumperstickers starts me thinking about the personal effects of the polarized national political debate.

4 July 2004: The Supreme Court Confronts the 9/11 World. On June 28, the Supreme Court announced decisions on three important civil liberties cases. Who gets to decide whether an American citizen is an enemy combatant? And is Guantanamo really a lawless zone?

17 June 2004: Unanimous Conflict – the Pledge of Allegiance decision. For a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court’s decision on Elk Grove v. Newdow generated a lot of conflict among its four written opinions. Justice Stevens wrote for the five-member majority, with “concurring” opinions by Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justice O’Connor, and Justice Thomas. Justice Thomas’ opinion contained a particularly radical re-visioning of the First Amendment.

2 June 2004: Why the Partial Birth Abortion Ban was struck down – a summary and commentary on the opinion of District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton

25 May 2004: Americans Anonymous – an analysis of President Bush’s televised speech about Iraq.

20 November 2003: A summary and commentary on the same-sex marriage decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

16 September 2003: Counting the Wounded in Iraq

April 2003: Jose Padilla, enemy combatant

April 2003-January 2004: The New Hampshire Primary

Welcome to my Open Source Journalism experiment. Here’s how it started: During the long lead-up to the 2004 New Hampshire Primary, I got fed up with the kind of political reporting I was getting from the professionals. All they seemed to care about were polls and gaffes and sound bytes that didn’t tell me anything about the question I cared about: Who should be president of the United States?

So I decided to find answers for myself. It was easy. Living here in Nashua, New Hampshire, I could see presidential candidates almost any day I wanted. Up until the last few weeks before the primary, the crowds were small and it was easy to ask questions. I decided I’d try to see all the candidates and ask them all a question about civil liberties and the Patriot Act.

It was also fun. I grew up in a small town in the Midwest; we didn’t see a lot of famous people there. I thought I’d start writing up my experiences and trying to capture some of that fun, as well as the answers I was getting and my overall sense of what these guys were like.

When the campaign got going in earnest, I learned something else about mainstream journalists: They’re lazy. They’re more than happy to let some opposition candidate feed them research, and they usually don’t bother to do more than the most superficial checking. If a quote is false they might notice, but if it’s just being taken out of context, they probably won’t.

But in the age of the Internet, you don’t have to have the resources of a major news organization behind you to do research. Candidates put their position papers on their web sites. The votes of congresspeople are checkable online. Transcripts of speeches, committee hearings – it’s all just a good Google query away. If you want to check something out badly enough, you can. It usually isn’t even that hard.

So why stop with reporting on candidates? When the Massachusetts same-sex marriage decision came down, the mainstream news was giving me a lot of sound and fury, but signifying what? Once again, the Internet empowers the determined amateur. Courts post their decisions on their web sites, and a lot of judges are surprisingly good writers – including Margaret Marshall of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Judges want people to understand their reasoning. So you don’t need access to a law library to read the major decisions, and you don’t have to be a legal genius to understand them. You just have to have the patience to follow an argument with a lot of steps.

So here’s my plan: When an issue raises my interest and I can’t find the kind of reporting I want to see in the mainstream media, I’m going to go it myself, and post the results here. I hope other people do the same. If enough determined amateurs do their homework and post the results on the Internet, collectively we’ll cover the world.