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55 posts from January 2009

January 29, 2009

WINDY: Women's groups lost the BC battle, won the stimulus war

My latest feature story is about the increasing political power of national feminist lobby/advocacy groups and their role in shaping the economic stimulus package, which passed the House yesterday.

Obama yanked the rug out from under Planned Parenthood and other groups that advocated strongly for the Medicaid expansion for birth control. That was a major dis to a key ally, and a pointless political gesture on Obama part, seeing as zero House Republicans voted for the stimulus package anyway.

But, as I report in my story, the stimulus package has billions of dollars in social spending, pink collar job creation, health care, and childcare provisions that feminist groups lobbied hard for.

January 28, 2009

Help Wanted: Evangelical Lobbyist, Message Discipline a Must

The National Association of Evangelicals is in the market for a new top lobbyist. They had to fire the old one last December. It seems that, after 28 years of service, the poor guy just couldn't bring himself to repeat the party line on gay marriage one more time.

SecDef: Ethics is a Barrier to Advancement at the Pentagon

Sec Def Gates admits that it's hard to find non-lobbyists to fill top spots at the Pentagon these days. [Washington Independent]

I'm going to be closing the Majikthise comments on these update posts in order to encourage people to interact more on the other site. Better to have one big conversation than two smaller ones. Comments on all other posts will stay open as usual.

So, everyone's invited back to the Windy for comments and refreshments.

January 27, 2009

Obama begs Waxman to yank birth control from the stimulus

My latest from the Washington Independent: Yesterday officials confirmed that Barack Obama had personally appealed to House Energy and Commerce Chair Henry Waxman to remove a controversial portion of the stimulus bill that would have supplied birth control to more low-income women as part of a much larger expansion of Medicaid.

Links to the Windy piece would be much appreciated. The post provides underreported factual background about what the birth control provision would and wouldn't cover and how the program fits into the larger economic stimulus plan.

Joe Trippi and Congressional Candidate Tom Geoghegan


Democratic strategist Joe Trippi and congressional candidate Tom Geoghegan at a fundraiser for Geoghegan campaign in Washington.

Labor lawyer Tom Geoghegan is running for Congress in Illinois' 5th district. He's shown here at a fundraiser in Washington, DC. He's one of several candidates in a special election to replace Rahm Emanuel, who left to become Obama's chief of staff.

Tonight's event at The Local on U Street in Washington was co-hosted by a number of local netroots activists.

Raffle Winner #1 and Congressional candidate Tom Geoghegan at DC Fundraiser


Labor lawyer Tom Geoghegan is running for Congress in Illinois' Fifth District.

He's shown here at a fundraiser in Washington, D.C. He's one of several candidates in a special election to replace Rahm Emanuel, who left to become Obama's chief of staff.

January 26, 2009

The Washington Independent Turns One


My paper, the Washington Independent, celebrates its first birthday today.

Annals of Dubious Self-Promotion: Mr. Sparky


Would you hire an electrician nicknamed Mr. Sparky?

A Marine's view of embedded reporters

Anthony Swofford, a Marine veteran of the first Gulf War and the author of the war memoir Jarhead takes a dim view of the US military's embedded journalist program in this week's NYT Magazine:

When I was serving in the 1991 gulf war, reporters visited my platoon and were treated to exactly what we'd been ordered to offer: smiling faces, bare, muscular chests and high levels of support for the coming war. We were ordered not to divulge our fears, our concerns about being uninformed about the long-term intentions of our mission and our lack of confidence in our gear. Also, we weren't supposed to tell them how hungry we were for combat, how exciting we thought killing might be. Most important, we weren't supposed to cuss. This, of course, was absurd. After two years in the Marine Corps, I'd earned 120 college credits taking the Lord's name in vain.

I agree with Swofford's basic point. Some reporters have managed to do worthwhile reporting as embeds, but that's mainly because they recognized the limits of their perspective and wrote accordingly. It's not a coincidence that the best embedded reporting has been about the experience of being embedded, as opposed to what the reporter learned about the war from inside a unit. (Cf. Generation Kill.)

The embed's position is fundamentally compromised, but the rejoinder to these criticisms is that the alternative is no news coverage at all. For most journalists, especially those whose outlet can't afford a private security detail, non-embedded reporting in Iraq is just too dangerous, not to mention logistically onerous in an age of cutbacks.

Embedded reporting feeds a vicious cycle. In Vietnam and the Second World War, independent reporters were viewed as non-combatants. Obviously, it was still dangerous to report from the battlefield, but reporters weren't generally considered to be legitimate targets because they were clearly unarmed civilians. The U.S. set a terrible precedent in Iraq by bombing Al Jazeera's headquarters.

These days, reporters are fair game. Having reporters embedded in units, sometimes even wearing military garb, reinforces the perception that the media are an arm of the military propaganda machine. Which in turn makes independent reporters less safe, which increases the attractiveness of embedded reporting.

Correction: This is from a back issue of the NYT Magazine, but I still think it's worth reading.

Department of unconventional economic indicators: Subway car busking

Further proof of the deteriorating economy: Intensifying competition among the buskers on moving subway trains in New York City. When I first came to New York five years ago, there was one regular mariachi band that prowled the F Train. I'd see them once or twice a week on my commute. They annoyed the living hell out of me.

I don't know if on-car subway acts are unique to New York. These performers don't just sit in a subway, where they would be asked to leave. They wander from car to car while the train is rolling. They often bring saxophones, or mics and boom box backtracks. The only reliably competent performers are the breakdancing kids who do backflips and hand spins on the moving train. One group on my line likes to "skip rope" with their little cousin, i.e., two guys grab his hands and feet and oscillate him like a jumprope while the fourth guy jumps over him.

These days, almost every subway ride involves some kind of unsolicited musical "entertainment." There were two acts competing for the same car on my ride to Penn Station: a blind guy with a white cane singing "If You Think I'm Sexy Baby" and a group of teenage breakdancers.