Monday, June 26, 2006


Kosa Nostra

It seems that my friends over at Daily Kos -- the leading light of the liberal blogosphere -- are learning the hard way that what is good for the goose is good for the slander.

After spending the last few years throwing rhetorical bombs at the political establishment and the mainstream media with gleeful abandon, and without much scrutiny, Kos and some of his compatriots are beginning to be put under the public microscope themselves for a variety of alleged sins.

Among the charges: intellectual inconsistency, political opportunism, and perhaps most damaging, secret payoffs.

The details of the payola allegations -- which you can read more about in David Brooks column in this past Sunday's Times (see below) and this week's Newsweek -- are kind of muddy and hard to judge. As far as I can tell, there might be no there there.

But what is clear, and far more revealing, is the ugly way Kos (aka Markos Moulitsas Zuniga) has reacted to the legitimate questions about his conduct.

As Brooks and others have noted, instead of calmly refuting the charges and practicing the same kind of transparency he demands from political leaders, Kos sent out a confidential email that essentially invoked the liberal blogging family's version of omerta -- he called on his allies to not blog about the subject and thus starve the story of oxygen.

Then after the email was leaked to The New Republic, which in turn published a critical piece on the episode on its website, Kos raged at the betrayal, lashed out at his frequent sparring partners at TNR, and called for the magazine's excommunication from the progressive community. (TNR's Jonathan Chait has an excellent write-up and take-down of it all here.)

Now before I go any further, I should practice the transparency that I preach and disclose that I am not an innocent bystander here. As my some of you know, I have challenged the Kossacks' wisdom on a few occasions before and taken a few lumps for it. So it might be expected that I would take satisfaction in Kos' comeuppance and the growing exposure of his many hypocrisies.

But mostly I feel a sense of loss for the cause, which I consider myself a part of, no matter the intellectual or tactical differences I may have with some elements of the progressive blogosphere from time to time.

This democracy-expanding, foundation-threatening medium/movement is not just fighting an entrenched and corrupt hegemony in Washington -- it is fighting a widely-held stereotype by the outside world that bloggers are just a bunch of pajama-wearing, laptog-lugging crazies. The last thing it needs is for the movement's public face to conform to the worst aspects of this marginalizing caricature, and, even worse, the worst qualities of the power structure the blogworld is challenging.

Hopefully the rest of the progressive blogging community will resist the temptation to become La Kosa Nostra and circle their wonky wagons around the godfather, and instead hold Kos and any other movement leader accountable to the high standards of openness and accountability they demand of the folks behind the gates they are crashing.

If nothing else, maybe they will see that having a glass chin while living in a glass house is not a good combination for a public stone thrower.

Anyway, here's the Brooks column......

Op-Ed Columnist
Respect Must Be Paid

They say that the great leaders are gone and politics has become the realm of the small-minded. But in the land of the Lilliputians, the Keyboard Kingpin must be accorded full respect.

The Keyboard Kingpin, a k a Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, sits at his computer, fires up his Web site, Daily Kos, and commands his followers, who come across like squadrons of rabid lambs, to unleash their venom on those who stand in the way. And in this way the Kingpin has made himself a mighty force in his own mind, and every knee shall bow.

The Kingpin's first enemy was the Democratic Party establishment, and it pleased him to see Howard Dean take it on. When the Dean campaign hired the Kingpin and his co-author and onetime business partner Jerome Armstrong as paid campaign consultants, this was an appropriate sign of respect, and the Kingpin did lay his hand of blog approval upon the Dean campaign (while disclosing the connection).

When Sherrod Brown, the Democratic Senate candidate in Ohio, hired Armstrong last year to help with his campaign, this was also a sign of respect. The Kingpin had instructed his Kossack cultists to support Brown's Democratic primary rival, Paul Hackett. But the Kingpin switched sides and backed Brown over his former anointee.

The Kingpin often directs his wrath at the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. But the centrist Democrat Mark Warner has also hired Armstrong as a consultant, and the Kingpin has graciously exempted Warner from the seventh circle of Kos hell. Warner is frequently celebrated on Daily Kos as something akin to the second coming of F.D.R.

And so it is in the realm of the Kingpin. Those who offer respect get respected.

But lo, there are doubters. Chris Suellentrop, who writes the Opinionator column on TimesSelect, posted an item on June 16 noting the strange correlation between Armstrong contracts and Kos endorsements. He further reported that the S.E.C. has filed court documents alleging that in 2000 Armstrong touted a dubious software stock on a Web site in exchange for secret payments. Armstrong was accused of building Internet buzz to make money for himself.

The Keyboard Kingpin was displeased by this publicity.

But the Sachem of the Blogosphere restrained his mighty wrath and responded with the cleverness for which he is so justly self-adored. In a private letter to hundreds of his fellow progressive bloggers, the Kingpin declared he would "go on the offensive" in a "couple of months," but in the meantime, a code of omertà was in order. "It would make my life easier if we can confine the story," he wrote. "If any of us blog on this right now, we fuel the story. Let's starve it of oxygen."

But alas! There was a Judas on the listserve, who leaked the Kingpin's missive to Jason Zengerle, who promptly posted a report on The New Republic Web site.

The Kingpin waxed Cheneyesque on the evils of leaking, and this time the squeaking fury of the Kossacks could be heard (to those capable of discerning high frequencies) far and wide. The Kingpin excommunicated The New Republic from the community of the saved. "If you still hold a subscription to that magazine, it really is time to call it quits. If you see it in a magazine rack, you might as well move it behind the National Review," he wrote on Daily Kos.

"The New Republic betrayed, once again, that it seeks to destroy the new people-powered movement for the sake of its Lieberman-worshiping neocon owners," the Kingpin charged. And so the magazine of Walter Lippmann was expunged from the community of the righteous, and its writers cast into the shadow of oblivion.

The Kingpin is not surprised by such betrayals. Sounding like Tom DeLay — who is his moral doppelgänger — Kos says that those who crash the gates and take on the establishment are bound to be attacked.

But the truth is that the new boss is little different from the old boss — only smaller. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and many other Democrats bow and scrape. He has managed to spread the gospel of Kossism far and wide, which is not really about ideas and philosophy. "I'm just all about winning," he has said.

And so the Kingpin has his relationships and his understandings and his networks and his compromises. In just a few short years he has achieved a level of self-importance it took those in the pre-blog political class decades to acquire.

He has challenged his enemy and become it.


DT in The New York Post

I made my debut as a book reviewer in Sunday's New York Post, with a look at former New Republic Editor Peter Beinart's new book on the War on Terror and liberalism, The Good Fight. You can check it out below. And check out Beinart's book -- it's quite an informative and insightful book, and despite my minor quibbles with it, a must read for Democrats, progressives and moderates alike.



OF all the meditations and dissertations that followed the Democrats' disastrous performance in the 2004 campaign, none was more compelling or important than The New Republic cover story by editor Peter Beinart that appeared a month after the election.

With clarity and candor, Beinart broke through all the noise about gay marriage and the Kerry campaign's message morass to pinpoint the party's ultimate electoral problem: Democrats had ceded to the Republicans the preeminent issue of our time, the threat of jihadist terrorism.

This was not the fault of a single candidate or campaign, Beinart argued, but the result of an endemic problem the party had with recognizing the gravity of this threat and projecting American power to defeat it.

What made Beinart's essay stand out, though, was his historical perspective. He retold the story of a meeting of liberal hawks at Washington's Willard Hotel in 1947 to confront the party's growing indifference to the spread of communism. That seminal gathering galvanized the anti-totalitarian side of the liberal family, emboldened them to wage a bloodfight to reclaim the party and paved the way for the muscular internationalism of Truman, Kennedy and Clinton.

In the wake of 9/11, Beinart convincingly argued, the Democrats and the left had reached a similar crossroads: "Two elections, and two defeats, into the 9/11 era," he wrote, "American liberalism still has not had its meeting at the Willard Hotel. And the hour is getting late."

Beinart seemed to be arguing for a new liberal political counterforce to the anti-war, MoveOn/Michael Moore element. Liberal hawks hoped that the book version of his essay would help catalyze and mobilize just such a movement and even precipitate the cleansing bloodfight Democrats need to have again.

The good news is that "The Good Fight" does offer a coherent intellectual framework for sensible liberals to rally around. Beinart has crafted an exceedingly well-written, well-researched and well-reasoned brief to show liberals why taking a strong, enlightened stand against today's strain of totalitarianism is not just consistent with the liberal tradition, but is crucial to protecting and advancing liberal values (not to mention the security of our nation).

The bad news is that after leading the horse - or, in this case, the donkey - to the edge of the water, Beinart avoids making him drink.

There is no political road map to go with the intellectual one, no hard-headed discussion of what it will take to break the angry stranglehold the anti-war, mostly pacifist left has on the party's security policy, no sense of who will be the next generation of Humphreys and Niebuhrs to form the new iteration of Americans for Democratic Action. As a result, the sense of urgency that punctuated the original TNR piece has been lost.

Nevertheless, Beinart has done his cause an immensely valuable service with this powerful call to arms. Maybe for his next book he can follow it with a swift kick in the ass.

Dan Gerstein, formerly communications director for Sen. Joe Lieberman, is an independent political consultant and commentator.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


DNC Goes Bump-N-Grind

The political chuckle of the week comes from Wonkette, which has a priceless picture of clueless DNC worker hustling for volunteers outside the famed Camelot strip club in downtown D.C. I guess Howard Dean's efforts to court values voters are officially dead.

Monday, June 05, 2006


The Party of Purity

The Democratic Leadership Council put out an important statement yesterday about the rising tide of ideological fundamentalism within the Democratic Party and the threat it poses to our hopes of becoming a majority party again.

The whole piece is worth reading. But I was particularly struck by the following quote from progressive rock star Barack Obama, which was taken from a much-noted post he made on the Daily Kos blog and which aptly sums up the problem.

[T]o the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, "true" progressive vision for the country, we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward. When we lash out at those who share our fundamental values because they have not met the criteria of every single item on our progressive "checklist," then we are essentially preventing them from thinking in new ways about problems. We are tying them up in a straightjacket and forcing them into a conversation only with the converted. Beyond that, by applying such tests, we are hamstringing our ability to build a majority.

This to me is the greatest danger of the Maoist-like purity tests that more and more Democrats are imposing on elected leaders and aspiring candidates -- the suppression of intellectual diversity and innovation within the party.

If we keep running jihads against leaders who even slightly deviate from rigid orthordoxies, we will take away all incentive to take risks and embrace alternative approaches to solving complex problems. That's the last thing Democrats can afford to do right now, given our existing deficit of new ideas and our ongoing inability to articulate a compelling vision for where we want to take the country.

This is a question that the progressive movement must come to terms with before it loses what broader legitimacy it can currently claim. How can the Democrats be the party of diversity and tolerance if it purges those who substantively dissent or diverge in any meaningful way? How can we crediblly call ourselves progressive if we continually behave like reactionaries?

Sunday, June 04, 2006


What's Hebrew for Hoax?

The Jewish Week here in New York ran a fascinating story last week unraveling the Iranian Jewish badge hoax, which is well worth reading despite my tardiness in posting it.

The National Post in Canada started an international firestorm last month by reporting, via a column by Iranian ex-pat Amir Taheri, that Iran's parliament had passed a national dress code that would require Jews to wear a special yellow-striped insignia (Christians would have to wear red). Here's the full text of the Taheri column as printed in the New York Post.

After the news rocketed around the world and generated an understandable outrage among Jewish groups, Rush Limbaugh and other radio talkers, and most of our political establishment, it was soon revealed that no such mandate had ever been adopted.

How did this happen? According to the Jewish Week, in large part because it was so believable:

"Looking back, one can see that with the confrontation between Iran and the Bush administration escalating over the nuclear issue, frequent outrageous statements against Israel and Jews issued by Iran's president, and the daily drumbeat in the media shaping public opinion as tensions build, the setting was ripe for running with a story that seemed to confirm an Iranian government following a Nazi script."

The article touches on other familiar elements of recent media scandals past -- sloppy reporting, careless editing, and a shady public relatons firm with an ideological agenda (Benador Associates).

But the surprising part of the story was the role of the highly-regarded Simon Wiesenthal Center in advancing the hoax. The Jewish Week reports that Rabbi Abraham Cooper, an associate dean at the Center, supplied a crucial confirmation to the National Post that led the paper to go with the Taheri story.

Cooper would not directly address the Post's contention that he confirmed the story. And Taheri refused to comment about getting the story completely wrong. One has to wonder if/when the mainstream media will pick up this thread and deliver some accountability for this colossal and consequential screw-up.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


Today's LSOTA (Latest Sign Of The Apocalypse)

This one comes courtesy of my friend Greg Krakower:

Cops: Couple ordered hit on grandkids
Wanted to stop testimony at son's rape trial, police say
Friday, June 2, 2006; Posted: 12:35 p.m. EDT

TAVARES, Florida (AP) -- A couple tried to hire a hit man to kill their three grandchildren and daughter-in-law to stop them from testifying against their son in his rape trial, authorities said.

The couple, ages 60 and 59, were charged with four counts each of criminal conspiracy to commit murder. They were being held without bond.

Police said the pair initially offered $100 to an undercover sheriff's deputy to kill their son's wife, their 10-year-old granddaughter, two step-grandchildren, ages 14 and 16, and the family dog. More money was promised after the killings, said Lake County sheriff's Sgt. Christie Mysinger.

The couple's 31-year-old son has been jailed since November on 22 charges of sexual battery on a child, lewd and lascivious molestation and showing obscene material to a minor, court records show.


Friday, June 02, 2006


Today's LSOTA (Latest Sign Of The Apocalypse)

This comes courtesy of The Smoking Gun. A classic case of life imitating art imitating art.

Dosing The Dew

Cops: Teen understudy put Clorox in lead actress's soda

JUNE 2--A Texas teenager angling for the lead role in a school play is facing charges that she spiked a competing actress's drink with Clorox. Katherine Smith, 18, was arrested this week and hit with a felony rap for tampering with a consumer product (in this case a bottle of Mountain Dew she gave to a 15-year-old rival). According to a Tarrant County arrest warrant, Smith was the understudy of the teen victim in a play called "Ha." By dosing the younger actress's Dew, Smith believed that she would take over the play's lead role. The warrant notes that Smith "had a lot of family coming in from out of town to see the play and watch her perform." Additionally, Smith's mother believed that her daughter was the play's main character, not an understudy for the February performances at L.D. Bell High School in Hurst. Smith, who used an eye dropper to place bleach in the 20-ounce soda bottle, told a school administrator that she wanted to harm the lead actress "so she could not perform in the play." Smith's plot was thwarted when the girl smelled an unusual odor emanating from the Dew. Pictured below in a Tarrant County Sheriff's Office mug shot, Smith faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the spiking bid. (4 pages)

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