An Open Letter to the Good Folks at Firedoglake

To the good folks at Firedoglake,

Like you, I oppose this bill. I think that the Senate healthcare reform bill is a bad bill that enhances corporate power and I believe that when all is said and done any bill that does such should be opposed on principle.

Over the course of this debate, Firedoglake, with Dave, Marcy and Jane leading the way, has been a formidable force in the fight for a comprehensive healthcare package that actually tackles the root of the problem. It should be plain to all that spending 17 percent of GDP on healthcare is unsustainable especially when most other advanced industrial economies spend on average 10 percent of their GDP fully covering their populations while obtaining far better results. The gross inefficiencies in the US healthcare system, I think, are largely due to the near monopoly power that insurance industry and pharmaceutical industry enjoy. It should not be lost that these industries have spent nearly one billion dollars over the past two years to protect, maintain and expand that power. And unfortunately, they have largely succeeded in not just maintaining and extending their hold but in derailing any serious regulatory constraints over their practices. This bill does little to correct the gross inefficiencies inherent in our healthcare system. It may even further entrench them.

The fight against the encroachment of corporate power will, no doubt, go on. That our party has become a gross enabler of such perfidy and gross corruption is not just deeply troubling but disheartening. But I also know that the alternative that is the GOP is far worse. Their free market ideology coupled with their alliance with evangelical Christianity presents grave dangers to the general welfare and liberties of the country. While I, among others, question the wisdom of engaging in campaigns allied with Grover Norquist, that is your prerogative.

I am, however, increasingly troubled by the attacks emanating from Firedoglake particularly this latest round of attacks on those who have been at the forefront of the progressive movement. I am concerned that such tactics are ultimately more harmful than helpful. The recent attack by FDL Action on Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is an overzealous crusade. It is misguided and frankly incomprehensible. There is no question that his decision has been excruciatingly difficult. To suggest that he has "turned his back on us" and to question his "progressive" credentials is uncalled for. Let us allow that he is following the dictates of his conscience as we follow ours. It is one thing to prod, to engage and to reason with Senator Sanders but quite another to threaten him with the "loss of his seat."

Sign our letter to Bernie Sanders: If you want progressive votes in the future, you better cast one against the current bill now.

There is no reason to threaten a man who has spent a lifetime doing the hard work that is electoral politics and fighting the good fight against incredible odds. Let's recognize that his fight for the nation-wide expansion of Community Health Clinics is perhaps the most important advancement in this otherwise abysmal piece of legislation. I urge you to not to abandon your valiant efforts but rather to moderate the tone as well as to recognize that many important battles on issues vast and sundry remain ahead of us. Senator Sanders, no matter his vote on this measure, remains one of our greatest allies. He has not only fought for his constituents in Vermont but for the rights of all Americans. He should be accorded greater respect and afforded his rights of conscience inalienable.

Respectfully yours,

Charles Lemos
San Francisco, CA

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What We're About

(Cross posted from 21st Century Democrats)

21st Century Democrats is focused on building a progressive movement from the grassroots up.  Our goal is to promote populist values, activists, and candidates.

Our organization--known then as "Democrats 2000"--was founded in 1986 by Senator Tom Harkin, Congressman Lane Evans, and populist commentator Jim Hightower.  The founders envisioned Democrats 2000 as an organization to help candidates with a record of fighting for the American people--from students to the retired community and everyone in between.

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Learning how to lobby Congress

Tonight I attended an Organizing for America phonebank.  Together with other Massachusetts volunteers, I called voters in Maine to encourage them to call Senators Snowe and Collins and ask them to vote for a public option.

The event had all the trappings of a election-focused phonebank, except that our end goal was a bit different, and our failure rate (measured in refusals, and judging only from my own limited experience) was a bit higher.  As I dialed, it occurred to me that effectively, we were learning to do something that the progressive movement knows very little about - lobbying Congress via mass mobilization.  I thought I'd put down some notes about the lessons that I hope we'll learn from this effort, and my long-term view for this new style of governance.

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Building the progressive economy

As the recession deepened over the last few months, one thing I've worried about (among plenty of other things) is the toll that it would take on the progressive movement.  It's no secret that the movement runs on a shoe-string; a single hacker attack is enough to take out a pretty significant chunk of the infrastructure running the progressive blogosphere.  It seems inevitable that a wallet-emptying recession will slowly drain the spending ability of progressives, and thereby drag down our nascent institutions.

The key weakness within the progressive movement's business plan (forgetting, for a moment, that the progressive movement isn't a single, cohesive organization, and that many organizations within the movement don't have anything like a business plan in any case), is that a large part of our revenue relies on donations.  In a recession, voluntary donations are the easiest things to cut from a household budget.  A further weakness is the massive amount of money that leaves the progressive ecosystem.  In five years, ActBlue has raised $88 million; some of that has gone to necessary expenses in progressive campaigns and is money well-spent, although no doubt a significant part of that money ends up in the pockets of anti-progressive political consultants.  And some of that money does return to the progressive ecosystem, in the form of advertisements in progressive blogs, for example.  But on the whole, the progressive blogosphere leaks donations like a sieve, meaning that even the flush years don't leave us with a lot left over for recessions.

Fortunately, I believe it is possible to address these weaknesses, and to help keep the lights on during the recession.  Conceptually, it's fairly simple: diversify our business plan beyond donations, and design mechanisms to keep recycle more money back through the progressive ecosystem.  The particulars are a bit more tricky, but below I'll outline a few possibilities for implementing these high-level solutions.  Other ideas are certainly welcome; feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Roadmap for a Drupal-based progressive community blog platform

Last week I wrote a brief series on developing a Drupal-based progressive community blog platform.  As a bit of background, Drupal is a leading open source content management system; at work, most of the websites I build use Drupal.  In light of the vulnerabilities of the Soapblox platform, which hosts many local and some nationwide progressive blogs, it's become apparent that an open-source software packages, specifically tuned to the needs of progressive bloggers, would be a valuable asset.

The initial series last weekend got a fair amount of interest, but there was one theme that was fairly strong among the comments: Drupal is a great platform, but it's not user-friendly enough for most bloggers.  There is, to be sure, some kernel of truth in that critique - Drupal is not that easy to use out-of-the-box.  On the other hand, a savvy developer can turn Drupal into one of the most easy-to-use, powerful platforms for blogging around.  If you have any doubts, I'd suggest you visit OnSugar and create a free account - the system is a hosted, Drupal-based blogging platform, and in my opinion it is at least as user-friendly as Wordpress, if not more so.

While I don't know if I'll ever be able to put together something as nice as OnSugar, I'd like to give it a shot.  In the next few weeks, I hope to release a simple Drupal-based community blogging platform, which will include some (but not quite all) of the features many of us are already familiar with in most progressive community blogs.  The platform will be released on under the GNU General Public License, like all other Drupal contributions, so that others can download it and try it out.  The hope is that this platform will improve over time, with the help of other progressive Drupal developers, progressive bloggers, readers, and anyone else who is interested.  Below, I've outlined a prospective, best-case-scenario roadmap for this platform.  I'd love to get feedback on this, so if you have critiques for the roadmap, if you'd like to help out - or if you're already working on a similar Drupal-based platform - please let me know!

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