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March 30, 2006

Shoot Out At the Last Chance Corral

By Steve Bhaerman

A response to the Empty Envelopes for Empty Promises campaign from a responsible Democrat grassroots organizer.


Well, judging by the response, the Empty Envelopes Campaign is a huge success. The emails I received were overwhelmingly positive, and the idea obviously tapped a source of unexpressed frustration, rage and grief -- and above all, the desire to communicate to our erstwhile public servants that we are not being fooled. Many, many people wrote to say they'd send a letter and an empty envelope, and others passed the message along to their downlist. Here is a typical letter sent out by Gail Wilson of Port Townsend, Washington:

Dear Doctor Dean,

I have long wished for a way that I could express my
deep disappointment and disapproval of the way the Democratic Party has
been drifting. Then last week I read in a letter from Steve Bhaerman
something that made me take heart: the Empty Envelope Campaign is such
a venue for giving expression to my thoughts and feelings.

Suffice it to say that I heartily concur with everything Steve has said
to you concerning the failure of the Democratic party to represent and
protect freedom in this country. To express that, I am sending no
"financial" political contribution in this envelope. My money will go
to the people and groups who are representing my beliefs and attempting
to care for my needs. This is a desperate attempt to get your attention
and turn you around and jar you into reality. It is sad that our party
has sunk to that level.

Gail Wilson
Port Townsend, WA

I also got a few letters saying I was taking aim at the wrong target in Dr. Dean, that he is trying to support rebuilding the grassroots of the Democratic Party as opposed to the "corporate" Democrats in the DLC and DCCC. One of the letters is from Miles Kurland, president of Sonoma County Democracy for America. Miles -- along with respected "un-commontator" Thom Hartmann -- believes there is indeed a battle going on for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, and the battle is between corporate and grassroots. Miles explains why he thinks Howard Dean, despite all external evidence, is with the latter. I am reprinting Miles' heartfelt, articulate (and long) letter below so that you can take his perspective into consideration and act accordingly.

Letter From Miles Kurland:

Dear Steve,

I’m sorry for the length of this reply, but I didn’t have enough time to write a shorter one...

I understand the sentiment you express: I am frustrated beyond the limits of my patience with the reticence of elected Democrats to stand up in opposition to the Bush administration and congressional Republicans. Do not make the mistake of thinking that I am a Democratic activist because I am pleased with the Democratic party: just the opposite is the case. I want my party back.

In terms of the DCCC & DSCC, I’m easily as outraged as you. I’m president of Sonoma County Democracy for America, and I know DFA people in Illinois who were working their butts off on the Christine Cegelis campaign. I’m outraged that when there is an excellent candidate like Christine Cegelis on the ground that the DCCC steps in against the interests of the local party activists. We see the same thing in California’s 11th CD with Jerry McNerney who is being challenged by DCCC-backed Steve Filson. Both Cegelis and McNearny were among a few “Dean Dozen” candidates in 2004 by DFA when Howard Dean still headed the organization.

No, you don’t have to tell me to be angry about that. Or concerned. These are examples of a centralized party that’s burning its activist base. These are cases where insurgent, grassroots candidates were shunted aside by someone that the DC insiders assured us would be a more ‘electable’ veteran. Where have we seen this before? It’s not news to the grassroots activists working within DFA who remember when it meant “Dean for America”.

And then there’s the story of one veteran who showed real promise as a rising star in the Democratic party, Paul Hackett: squashed by the DSCC. The people of Ohio deserved a primary to choose between Hackett and Sherrod Brown but were denied that by inside party dealing.

But the inspiring part of the Cegelis story, which you left out in your message, is that despite the fact that Tammy Duckworth’s campaign outspent Cegelis something like 6 or 7 to 1... and despite the fact that she had Kerry and Hillary and Obama fundraising and stumping for her... and despite the fact that the DC insiders predicted a landslide over Cegelis, who they regarded as a “weak candidate”, Duckworth only barely beat Cegelis by about 2 percent of the vote: 43% to 41%. That’s a pretty strong validation of the power of grassroots organization. If only the DC Democrats had put their faith and resources behind Cegelis and her local organizers in the general election... but instead they pissed off the activist base in Illinois which is inept and wrong.

So, yeah... a war is going on for the heart and soul of the party: I know because I’m on the front lines. And the war is between those who want to control the party from the top... because they “know what’s best for the party” (and lose elections), and the local activist base... may not presume to know what’s best for the party, but do know what’s best for their neighborhood.

The story of this is well told in Armstrong & Moulitsas’ new book “Crashing the Gate”. I highly recommend it. (Disclaimer: I also designed the jacket to that book. Having said that, the reason I designed the book’s jacket is because I agree with the book’s message, not vice versa.)

Why is this “war” a secret? It’s not... not really. You only need to stop by one of the many Democratic blogs to join that program already in progress. Is it reported widely in the press? Sometimes it’s mentioned as part of the narrative about how the Democrats are in disarray, one of the favorite tunes of the mainstream media’s Top 40.

But sometimes you have to understand some of the dynamics involved to read between the lines. For example, when the Washington Post front-pages a story about how ‘traditional’ donors and Democratic consultants are disappointed with Howard Dean as the DNC chair, you see it in full flower. This criticism of Dean is directly related - in a clear “follow the money” way - to the economic bottom line of all three critics in this drama: Dean is working to move the fundraising of the party away from those few big donors who expect access and favors in return, moving instead in the direction of many, many small donors: a party financed by the party membership. In the absence of Clean Money legislation, that’s as close as you can get to it. And Dean’s doing it.

And the Democratic consultant class hates Dean because he’s shifting DNC money away from their central command-and-control apparatus in Washington... and towards local party entities who will use that money to build up their networks of precincts (neighborhood organization) which have been the victims of criminal negligence: and which need to be there to counter the influence of the Republicans’ strong local organizing. The local party workers are the ones who really deliver the goods – in terms of message, organization and influence - whereas the DC consultants make massive (and I mean massive) amounts of money by taking a percent of the media buys they manage. That very system of compensation biases them towards big purchases of expensive TV & newspaper ads... that are increasingly ineffective. In fact, effective ads don’t need to be run as often as ineffective ones: they have a built-in motive to run cheap and ineffective ads that need to be run a lot of times. So the DC Democratic consultants hate Dean as the DNC chief.

And the Washington Post? Big media buys focus on big media outlets... like the Washington Post.

And so you also get these misleading stories that Dean raised less money than the Republicans (which has always been true of Democrats) but you don’t read that he’s raised more money – from small donors, even – than the Democrats have ever done in a comparable non-Presidential election year. You don’t read that when Dean goes to visit a state like Arkansas, rather than doing fundraising for the national party and sucking most of the ready donor money out of the state (which happened during all the years of his predecessor’s term) he’s raising big money for the state’s beleaguered party.

OK... money, money, money. Why am I focusing so much on money when you’re talking about passion and principle? Well, because that’s a big part of Dean’s job: he’s got to rebuild a broken party. We’ve got the organizational equivalent of a leaky roof and termites. The tenants have been trashing the place.

But another part of his job is to help promote the party message: and he’s been doing that too. In fact, he’s been notable in his increasingly effective ability to push back against the media talking heads whenever they start rattling off false or misleading (ie GOP) talking points. He’s been one of the few aggressive and principled spokespeople for Democratic values in the face of the likes of Tim Russert, Chris Matthews, Wolf Blitzer, Sean Hannity and Chris Wallace. You want proof? Look here:

Dean issues smack-down on Wolf Blitzer: http://www.crooksandliars.com/2006/01/08.html#a6627
Dean on the Today Show: http://www.crooksandliars.com/2006/01/26.html#a6871
Dean on PBS News Hour: http://www.crooksandliars.com/2005/06/22.html#a3582
Dean on Hannity and Colmes: http://www.crooksandliars.com/2005/09/14.html#a4943

He can attack the Republicans, and he does. He can even criticize, in general terms, the Democratic party... but there’s one thing as chair of the DNC, that he cannot do: he cannot take sides in policy conflicts among Democratic elected officials. It’s the nature of his office: he’s the referee. It’s not really surprising that when someone is known for being outspoken, as Dean is, his inability to advocate on behalf of the Censure Motion is interpreted harshly. That’s really too bad, especially when viewed without reference to statements that Dean has made:

"Americans need a President who will keep them safe and enforce the law, we don't need a “Big Brother”. Americans know we don’t have to sacrifice our basic liberties in order to fight the terrorists."


"President Bush’s secret program to spy on the American people reminds Americans of the abuse of power during the dark days of President Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew.”


It doesn’t take too much effort to connect the dots: both Agnew & Nixon were rightfully driven out of office because of their crimes. But Dean can’t take a position to endorse Feingold’s censure motion while so many other Senate Democrats oppose or are ambivalent about it. But Harry Reid can – call him up. Call Diane Feinstein. I have.

I personally thought Dean found a pretty clever way for to stand up for Sen. Feingold without abandoning his role of being impartial in policy disagreements among Democrats.... by attacking the harsh Republican attacks on Feingold. But, of course, he became subject to intense criticism for not going far enough... for not doing that which he cannot do if he’s to stay on as DNC Chair.

I, for one, need him there as DNC Chair.

I think Dean is doing work that is every bit as important as being outspoken. He’s trying to fundamentally – even radically – reform the Democratic party apparatus. What we are seeing from congressional democrats is the fruit of years of the party becoming more corporate and less concerned with the interest of its working class constituency. You know: the people.

That fruit is bitter... and we should reward those like Feingold, Boxer, Harkin... and Conyers, Woolsey, Barbara Lee, Louise Slaughter... whoever is showing courage and speaking up. (I personally think it’s as effective to reward good as to punish bad behavior).

But the spine isn’t the only structural element of the Democratic party that’s out of whack. Howard Dean is working on fixing problems at the root: the neglected party infrastructure. It’s thinking about problems beyond this news cycle. It’s focusing on the problems that got us to this horrible juncture where we have too many Democratic leaders who can’t or won’t stand up and fight for the Constitution... and on our behalf.

I agree: there’s a constitutional crisis. Right Now.
I agree: We need to hold our elected officials’ feet to the fire. We should be doing this always, but especially now.

I disagree that lashing out at the DNC is the way to do this. Giving voice to our outrage can be cathartic, but I’d rather that we be smart about how we identify problems and act to address them. Too often those of us on the left embrace the symbolic gesture, like Empty Envelopes, without thinking strategically about how this can bite us. We want to do something. Let’s be Hippocratical, not hypocritical: “First, do no harm”.

So go for it: give a piece of your mind to the Senators for not falling in line behind Feingold. They took an oath of office to defend the Constitution. It’s past due for them to ‘put up’... they’ve ‘shut up’ for too long.

And you have my blessing to punish the DCCC and DSCC for burning the grassroots and spending money on primary races against good progressive Democrats supported by local organizers. Send them all the empty envelopes you’ve got.

But the DNC? I think holding the DNC culpable is misguided at best, and is ultimately sabotage for a progressive agenda.

The reason I’m involved in grassroots political organizing is that I don’t want to see things done the same way they’ve been done in the past. I don’t want to be like Charlie Brown*, setting myself up again and again to have the football snatched away. But the left also has got another tendency, that goes back as far as the days of Will Roger’s “I’m not a member of any organized political party: I’m a Democrat”. Namely, the circular firing squad. It’s the Seinfeldesque behavior of dumping our date because of “man hands” or because she’s a “low talker”, despite abundant positive attributes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. No, wait... I take that back: I think it’s very wrong. It’s self-involved, short-sighted... and leaves us alone in the dark.

What Dean’s DNC is doing is essential. Dean has proven to be the best friend that the grassroots activist has had in a generation (sorry, Ralph). He’s consistently called for citizen participation, ownership and control of the only institution that’s within spitting distance of being capable of opposing the Republican party. That it isn’t doing so makes me fighting mad, so I’m fighting in the trenches to take this party over. The sooner, the better.

I guess I’m saying that “We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for”. If you don’t like this batch of Democrats, rather than waiting around to see what comes up next season, put on your overalls and your steel-toed boots and help us build us up some new ones. You said “I know, win the election first.” Actually, winning elections is right smack in the middle of the process, not first. Winning elections is the fruition of hard work, and part of that is finding the right candidates, getting them on the ballot, funding them, and voting for them.

I know folks who think that’s not practical... but I say that it’s exactly how the right-wing took over the Republican party over the past few decades. People get impatient that it may take a while for us to get back in power... I don’t think it’ll take that long. After all, we managed to get a guy that the party bosses didn’t like in to head up the DNC. And besides, I think it’s takes longer to convince people to vote against their own economic and social interests: so I think we can turn this thing around.

But I think we’d get further along faster if people worked alongside and contributed to Dean’s DNC... instead of trying to undermine it with empty envelopes.

“And I must just say, that it’s not enough just to put the Democrats back in power. I don’t want the same old Democratic party that sat around on its butt and thought that if it was like the Republicans it might win an election once in a while. We’ve got to have real change in this country.”
Howard Dean on the Ed Shultz show 9/10/05

I think that’s a sentiment that we can all get behind. So let’s stop with the “Ready... Fire... Aim” activism. It’s our own foot we’re shooting.

*BTW, while the Charlie Brown you’re talking about isn’t a great role model for the Democratic party, I can think of one who is. Lt. Col. Charles Brown is running for Congress in California’s 4th District. If he wins his primary, he’ll be in a position to take out John Doolittle, a particularly noxious Republican who’s up to his armpits in Abramoff. Brown is the first candidate to be officially endorsed by Sonoma County DFA, and you can learn more about him (and contribute to his campaign) here: http://www.brown4congress.org

Miles Kurland
Sonoma County Democracy for America

I’m a candidate for the Sonoma County Democratic Central Committee.
Check out why at: http://milesforsonoma.com


So ... you've read Miles' compelling and articulate letter, and now the question is, what to do? Don't look at me. I'm a Libra and an enneagram "nine" so in my book, everybody's right. Clearly, there is a battle going on for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party -- or at least to transplant them in. But the more I read about the "puzzling" behavior of the Democratic Party machinery -- as in this move on the part of the Democratic Party hierarchy to certify Diebold voting machines in Maryland-- the more I see the need for a mass movement outside both party systems. Look at the way the Latino community in L.A. mobilized this past week against limiting immigration. That got peoples' attention. Of course, immigration, like Social Security, is an "inside the matrix" issue. In other words, it's acceptable to discuss publicly, unlike hackable voting machines and questioning the official 9/11 story.

Does it make sense to create a grassroots as opposed to corporate Democratic Party? Of course it does. But while you are working "inside the matrix" for worthy candidates who might indeed land John Conyers in a position to impeach Bush-Cheney, always always keep an eye and ear outside the matrix as well, because that's where the real machinery is. Pay FULL attention to the man behind the curtain. What do I mean by this? Here is a link to a very telling article about an encounter with John Connally, former Governor of Texas who was wounded in the Kennedy assassination. Connally didn't believe the official Warren Report story, but would never speak his mind publicly because, he said, "I love this country, and we needed closure at the time."

Well, what we need right now is "opensure."

The temptation is great to fall back into the warm and fuzzy world of the matrix, where all we have to do is register Democratic voters -- and put aside the more disturbing issues of hackable voting machines and criminal perpetrations at the highest level. Well, can you say "2004?" Just as Einstein insisted that a problem could never be solved at the level of the problem, so we need to go beyond the shell game of electoral politics and wake up to the bigger picture. Whatever we do, the most important and ultimately empowering thing we can do is expand the field of awakening.

If you see that best way for you to expand awakening is to work as a grassroots Democratic party organizer or support financially the candidates of your choice, do it! If you feel you can best expand the field of awakening by sending a heartfelt letter to the DNC or the DLC or the DCCC letting them know that you're a stand for the truth coming out, and you will only support candidates and parties who take a similar stand, do that too. Victory for the Democrats -- providing it is riding the crest of a grassroots "up-wising" -- will be a step away from fascism, and that's a good thing. But don't for a minute buy the belief that the Democrats are our only hope, otherwise things are truly hopeless.

There is a "field" for waking up, wising up and growing up that is becoming stronger every day. The Empty Envelopes Campaign at this time -- particularly when the envelopes contain compelling and heartfelt calls for leadership -- is just a step toward growing that field. In future weeks and months, we hope to provide even better and more effective ideas and actions.

A Chance to Stand Up and Have Your Vote Counted

VelvetRevolution.us supports legislation requiring accountability and transparency in elections. Although there are several bills presently pending in Congress proposing to address this, and none of them does everything we hope for, VR believes that a bill introduced by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act (H.R. 550), (complete text of the bill in PDF format here, more info available here) is currently the most comprehensive on this subject and has the best chance of passage. If it does pass, it will begin to fix multiple fundamental problems with our voting systems in time for the 2006 election cycle. Moreover, it currently has over 150 co-sponsors and several of them are even Republicans! This bill is a good starting point and if we pass it now, we will be on a much stronger footing to continue our fight for truly verifiable and transparent elections in the world's most important democracy. You can sign up below, and put your name to the petition.

9/11 Truth Breaks Through the Soundless Barrier

This past week, actor Charlie Sheen caused a stir on CNN when he raised questions about the official 9/11 story. An informal poll after the appearance indicated that some 82% of those responding had similar questions. In fact, the issue was so "hot" that CNN decided to have radio host and investigator Alex Jones on as well. A subsequent appearance by actor Ed Asner on the show was cancelled at the last minute, ostensibly because the producer couldn't find anyone to represent an opposing viewpoint. It's a positive sign that the story is breaking through the "soundless barrier." However, researcher Mark Robinowitz http://www.oilempire.us/index.html has a caveat here: It is common in perpetrations such as these for "disinformation" to be purposely implanted to "pollute" an otherwise true story to insure the entire story will be discredited. If you check his website, he has an excellent analysis of what the unlikely, likely and most likely scenarios are. Mark is concerned that if the alternative story has too many holes in it initially, the entire "truth" movement will lose credibility before it gains momentum.

While this is true, it is also true that the biggest barrier to the real story coming out -- along with government and media stonewalling -- is the unwillingness for the public to believe that such a horrendous perpetration took place. As Hitler knew, the bigger the lie the bigger the resistance to believing something that big could be a lie. Which is why I value the work of David Ray Griffin. As a retired professor of theology, he is an unlikely candidate for "conspiracy kook," which is what makes his books, The New Pearl Harbor and 9/11 Commission Report Omissions and Distortions so powerful. If you live in the Bay Area, you have two chances to hear him this weekend. Otherwise, you can watch the video here. Here are the Bay Area appearances:

Sunday, April 2, 12:30-3:30 pm • 1187 Franklin, SF • Democratic World
Federalists Luncheon http://www.dwfed.org

Monday, April 3 at noon • Commonwealth Club of CA in SF,

Swami and Steve on Radio This Saturday 10 a.m. to noon EST.

If you live in Asheville, North Carolina -- or if you don't -- you have a chance to catch both Steve and Swami on the radio tomorrow morning, Saturday, April 1st 10 a.m. to 12 noon EST. You can listen at AM 880 if you're local, or listen at http://www.viratolive.com/

Apologies for this extra extra long newsletter this week, but hey -- news happens!

May the FARCE be with you,

Submitters Website: http://www.wakeuplaughing.com/

Submitters Bio:

Steve Bhaerman is a writer, humorist and uncommontator who's been posing as cosmic comic Swami Beyondananda for the past 20 years. He is the author of seven books including Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future and a Way to Get There From Here, co-written with Bruce Lipton. He has been an OpEd News contributor since 2006.