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Reading Liberally Page Turner

City Leaders Begin Registering for the National Conference

The Charlotte, NC chapter of Living Liberally city leaders to the National Conference September 5-7.

(Dick Cheney will not be wearing his hunting vest to Charlotte in September, so the proverbial ducks should be safe.)

We booked a hotel that the telecoms haven't 'bugged' yet. We've reserved a meeting space that will double as the holding cell for Rove and his buddies from the White House come January. We found an airport shuttle that runs on a clean-burning 75/25 mix of organic beer and wine. And finally, we promise to count every single Living Liberally libation drunk, er, vote cast here in Charlotte!

It's about that time, City Leaders. Register for our National Conference today!

Man, I Wish I Had One of These

Admit it. You’ve always wanted to say, "Yeah, I’m a card-carrying liberal. You got a problem with that?" Lucky for you, Living Liberally has a way for you to do just that.

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The Liberal Card also gets you discounts to places that allow you to shop, dine and drink with a clear conscience. From a free beer at Rudy’s the original home of Drinking Liberally to phone service from CREDO, we’re hooking you up big time.

Plus, by supporting our partner businesses, you’re helping support the larger liberal community, too.

So check out to order your card, and find places where you can use The Liberal Card liberally.

Sounds Like a Plan!

Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Seth Pearce

To say that Matthew Yglesias's new book, Heads in the Sand will single-bookedly save the Democratic party is a slight overstatement. It does, however, provide what may be one the most important tools democrats can use to win in 2008 and govern in the years to come: a coherent, intelligent and aggressive liberal policy on National Security.

HITS is a book that, for starters, takes the issue of National Security seriously. Unlike many liberal thinkers and politicians of the past decade, Yglesias argues that National Security is an issue of prime importance to the Democratic Party and to America. It cannot be sidestepped in favor of domestic issues, that democrats are traditionally more comfortable with. The few democrats who do address National Security, Yglesias's "Liberal Hawks," only do so in a way that reinforces the failed Bush doctrine of militaristic nationalism, even if they disagree with his specific policies.

Yglesias asserts that since Bush took office, a National Security/ Foreign Policy ideal of using American military force to unilaterally rid the world of its evils had . Since 9/11, the face of this evil has been terrorism. Bush's War on Terror operates on the wrong assumption that you can combat a transnational villain, such as Al-Qaeda, by attacking national entities, like Iraq, and can do so through the pure might of American power. Bush's view was also faulty because it saw terrorism as an expression of "Freedom-Haters," who abhorred the American way of life, instead of as a specific reaction to specific actions taken by the United States and other countries, an idea espoused by many well-established intelligence and military organizations.

Democrats, Yglesias adds, have recently been holding more consistently anti-war positions, but have yet to attack the flawed ideological underpinnings of the Bush foreign policy nor have the provided an affirmative alternative policy. Matthew Yglesias to the rescue!

The key thesis of HITS is that instead of treating organizations like the UN as a shackle that confines and restricts American interests, the United States should focus on aggressively strengthening these kinds of organizations to create a "liberal world order", governed by laws, that could in part act as an international police force, more able to effectively confront transnational criminals than a single national army could. Thus, instead of America being the world's police department, America would become the Commissioner of a larger international police force, that would protect human lives and human rights.

McCain 4 Realz

Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Travis Craw

It was a beautiful summers day when I sat down in my backyard with my dear old grandfather, a die-hard Texan who is ready to drive George Bush out of town in tar and feathers for being the slimiest most no good varmint ever to disgrace the name of America. So you might have been as surprised as I was when he sat me down to instruct me in the virtues of John McCain.

It was explained to me that, despite his intension to make permanent the Bush Tax Cuts, indefinitely maintain the military presence of Bush’s war, and kiss the boots of the evangelical leaders who got Bush elected, John McCain is "His Own Man". I was confused, but I recalled faintly a time when John McCain called out the injustices of tax cuts for the rich, and denounced intolerant bigoted comments by Pat Robertson and John Hagee. I even felt a slight pang of nostalgia for a man who championed campaign finance reform, normalized diplomatic relations with Viet Nam, and held the promise of leading the Republican Party in a different direction than Reagan. There once was a time when people truly believed he was a reformer, but then again at that time people also though Milli Vanilli sang their own songs.

If only I had already read Cliff Schecter’s "The Real McCain" as I was sitting there with Gramps, I would have been fully armed to set him straight on McCain’s "Straight Shooting". Schecter simply and thoroughly takes on the real McCain issue by issue, illuminating a man, once known for progressive nonpartisan reform, who has turned his back on all of his beliefs in his ceaseless political pandering and scraping for power. To say McCain has any beliefs at all is a stretch, as when asked if contraception helps to stop the spread of HIV, McCain said, "I have to find out what my position was. Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception."

Why Do You Need a "Progressive" Book Club?

Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Justin Krebs, Living Liberally

Hooray! The Progressive Book Club is here! And in the next few days, I will receive three books -- including Cliff Schecter's "The Real McCain" -- for $1 each!

What might sound like a scheme on par with the treasure of deposed African dictators or a "Buy Now!" infomercial is actually a welcome and much-anticipated new cog in the growing progressive infrastructure: an organization that supports liberal authors and publishers, serves left-leaning literates, and rivals one of the right-wing's important tools.

And no, Cliff Schecter's not upset his book is being sent to me for a buck. Because if PBC takes off, there will be thousands of members exerting buying power together, giving authors dedicated audiences, and turning back the corrupting influence of right-wing groups that have helped push wingnuts into national notoriety.

But, when the reporter for this New York Times piece on PBC spoke to me (Living Liberally is a partner helping launch face-to-face Reading Liberally book clubs), she was skeptical.

"Why do you need a 'progressive' book club?" she asked. "Isn't it fair to say that like Hollywood, publishing already has a liberal bias?"

And that all-too-prevalent assumption is exactly why we need PBC. I suggested that the success of folks like Ann Coulter shows the power of collective book-buying to create successes, and thus give someone of thin resume and thinner morals a stepping stone to punditry prominence.

"So Coulter sells books -- when Al Gore writes a book that sells too. Are liberals really having a hard time being heard?"

Yes...she equated Ann Coulter and Al Gore.

For every Gore -- you know, your run-of-the-mill author with VP experience and a Nobel price -- there are dozens of talented progressive voices that never get heard. Some notable bloggers like Jeffrey Feldman and Michael Connery can thank independent publishers like Ig for having faith in them; but then those companies need help expanding their audience.

And that's where PBC fits in.

My father doesn't read blogs. He probably won't read this post. But he reads books -- and he reads the Times. The Times told him about PBC, and he just ordered books written by netroots notables for the first time.

I always remember as we started Drinking Liberally how people asked, "You live in New York...why do you need a liberal drinking club? Isn't everyone liberal?" The fact was those liberals needed an organizing structure which gathered and empowered them. And that's the same answer I'd give to PBC skeptics: yes, there are liberal voices, books, authors, publishers,, let's actually introduce them to one another.

And get 3 books for a dollar each in the process.

When Insurance Doesn't Offer Assurance

Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally

(A quick word before you read on - the review below is the last in-house work by Amanda Milstein, our incredible winter intern and indispensable partner for the last several months. While we doubt this is the last you'll see of her work on Open Left, we want to wish her the best as she heads off to get a master's degree in public policy, including a stint at a think-tank this summer. Thanks, Amanda!)

Ray Bourhis, author of Insult to Injury, is an angry man. He has good reason to be—he is a lawyer that has spent much of his career attempting to get insurance companies to pay disabled people the money that they are owed, and has seen his efforts been thwarted again and again—and seen lives of many of his clients disintegrate as a result.

Bourhis describes the travails of people like Dr. Stuart Gluck, who had three disability insurance policies. He was diagnosed with HIV and also had a nervous system disorder ad triple coronary bypass surgery, sustained brain damage as a result of surgery—this was clearly a man who couldn't work anymore. UnumProvident, his insurance company, decided that despite all of this he should still be employed and they even threatened to demand some of the money they had already paid him back.

The book talks about the insurance industry focused through the case of Joan Hangarter, a chiropractor that needed to stop practicing when she developed extreme pain in her arm and neck. Her disability insurance was then cut off, forcing her and her children into destitution and onto foodstamps. Joan wins her trial, but UnumProvident is slow in paying her the money she was awarded—and does not change its behavior towards other policy-holders.

The book provides a passionate description of how the insurance industry is allowed to swindle clients out of money that they are entitled to. Through describing the personal stories of those whose lives have been destroyed by denied insurance claims and a painstaking description of Joan's trial, Bourhis paints a picture of a society that values the corporate bottom line more than the lives of disabled policy-holders.

Journalists and Scribes

Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally

I was being interviewed by a radio station about a snarky article I’d written for a paper-and-ink (and also online) magazine, and they referred to me as “journalist Amanda Milstein.” This struck me as clearly false (although far be it from me to argue with them, given it sounds better than “part-time job-holding, part-time interning, soon-to-be grad student Amanda Milstein”) - and it looks like I'm not the only one who thinks so. One of the arguments made by Clay Shirkey in his new book Here Comes Everybody (which Matt mentioned here yesterday ) is that the title “journalist” is increasingly meaningless when anyone can write a blog post about an issue and publish it — and even if they are blogging about an issue as trivial as a lost phone, it is possible for them to get a large audience.

Shirky begins by describing a Gutenberg-era pamphlet written in defense of scribes, whose jobs were being taken over by the printing press. The pro-scribe argument was printed off on a printing press for maximum efficiency — it’s always bad if your chief defender can’t even be bothered to use your services. All much like how my childhood best friend’s instant messenger screenname was something like luddite77; if you’re bothering to have a screenname, you’re clearly not devoting yourself to smashing machines.

Shirky takes this prologue as a launching-pad to deal with multiple aspects of the internet community-building revolution, from the efforts of Wikipedians and lay-run online groups to help people navigate software, to the the power of informal online photo-sharing in areas where important news events are occurring. To hear Shirky extend the metaphor, as the masses are storming communication, those now called "journalists" may well soon be the scribes of our era. The ways we meet people, communicate with friends, form community and many other facets of our lives will dramatically change as well.

While I found the book a bit tedious to read, it was clearly well-researched, and had much to say that will help people understand the new dissemination of information we are witnessing in our society. If you're interested in a nibble of Shirky's ideas before you commit to the many-course meal of his book, check out his blog first.

Sometimes I wish I could cast off modern technology and just go hang out with people in the park, and potluck in my spare time. And then I run off to send those I will soon be picnicking with a frantic g-chat message to make sure that someone knows to bring plates, check my friends' blogs to make sure I am updated on the key events of their lives — and still kind of wish I could communicate via loud drum. But, as Shirky points out, the technological and communication revolution is irreversibly upon us, and we just need to figure out how to adjust to the huge new swaths of information that are now available. I personally plan on configuring my google reader to scream at me to go outside instead of keeping up on my friends' blogs — right after I change my screenname to luddite88.

If Science Is For Liberals, Then So Is Bonk

Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally

Today the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding a hearing about the catastrophe that is Abstinence-Only Education. In honor of that, I am reviewing Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, by Mary Roach, while filled with hope (OK, I am way too cynical to be filled with anything that even remotely resembles hope) that, in the future, science and sex will be more closely linked in classrooms around the United States.

"Since when did Science become a liberal issue?" a comic asked at last week's Laughing Liberally in NYC. I would guess that that occurred sometime between when Galileo got in trouble with the church and the Scopes Trial. But now the truth is oddly liberal, so I hereby claim Bonk for liberals and those with a high threshold for the somewhat alarming.

I was going to a Passover retreat with a left-leaning crowd and was placed in charge of books and games, so I decided Bonk would be able to entertain pretty much everyone for seventy-two hours. This was more than true — I at least entertained myself by interrupting discussions on Jewish law in order to read people quotes about testicular grafting surgery such as "At one point [the surgery-performing doctor] described curing a twenty-two year old youth of, among other afflictions, the 'frequent writing of incoherent, rambling dissertations on architecture.' It seemed no ailment stood strong in the face of another man's testis."

Seriously, is that funnier than what you can and cannot eat on Passover, or what?

I spent most of my time reading Bonk laughing so hard that I was either forced to read passages out loud or having people read over my shoulder because they wanted to know what was so funny. During a bus ride from New York to Silver Spring I read the book at the same time as a friend because we both refused to put it down.

Mary Roach discusses a variety of sexual experiments performed by such notables as Masters and Johnson, and weirdos like the great grand-niece of Napoleon Bonaparte. Roach is experimented on numerous times (she and her husband have sex in an MRI machine, she inserts a vaginal photoplethysmograph while being experimented on in a place called the Female Sexual Psychophysiology Laboratory), she visits a sex-toy factory, and discusses historical sexual scientific advances and mishaps in a way that caused me to laugh so hard I thought I would sustain serious injury to my lungs. Bonk is a gleeful and hilarious exploration of the past and future of sexual science, and covers a variety of vital topics, from a discussion of the dangers of severed penises being eaten by ducks, bizarre cures for impotence, to everything else weird and related to sex that you would, quite frankly, never be able to imagine.

Maybe America's children don't need to know how to most efficiently stimulate pigs while artificially inseminating them (There are five steps that apparently include bouncing the pig up and down — I don't really want to describe the other steps), but it would be nice if they knew enough to know more than teens in Florida, a state with abstinence-only education leads sexually active teenagers to believe that "...drinking a can of Mt. Dew would prevent unintended pregnancy, or drinking a capful of bleach would prevent HIV/AIDS." Because the science of sex can be hilarious, but not knowing anything can be downright tragic.

Aborting Alarmingly

Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally

There's very little to say about Abortion Without Apology: A Radical History for the 1990s that isn't actively nauseating. Between a step by step guide to how to fill a vagina with blood and bits from a cow's liver in order to get a hospital to perform a D&C, and realizing that the dreams of the initial pro-choice activists would never be filled, the whole book was somewhat distressing.

The book talks about the three women who gave birth to the organization that eventually became NARAL and their impetus for becoming abortion activists. One of them married at 15 because of her family's extreme poverty, was told she would probably die if she gave birth to a second child, and then wasn't given information about or access to birth control.

The book also discusses groups like JANE, a Chicago-based women's liberation group that provided low cost abortions done by laypeople in a friendly and cookie-filled atmosphere before being shut down by the government, and feminist groups that encouraged their members to learn more about their bodies and think about how they would like to change their role in society.

I don't want to have the government controlling my body and when I reproduce (they'd have to start by giving me a federally-mandated dating class—did you know that when a guy offers to pay for dinner you're not supposed to say "Sorry, that would make blood pour out of my eyeballs?" I had no idea.). On the other hand, there is something to be said for having federal standards for medical care. I don't think I'm a radical right winger for thinking it might be safer to get an abortion from a professional, instead of by having a women repeatedly stick her thumbs through her cervix, or with an apparatus made with "a mason jar, a cork with two holes in it, two lengths of fish tank tuning, and a syringe." Do I think people who practice medicine without a license should be penalized? Absolutely not, but unlike the author of the book, it's not what I would hold up as an ideal--although with fewer medical students learning how to perform abortions it might be the only option in the future.

Abortion Without Apology ultimately conjured in me a kind of nostalgia—not for the days of living-room abortion classes or feminist abortion collectives, but for eighteen years ago when the author, Ninia Baehr, thought it a somewhat obtainable dream to hope for a day when there were no laws regulating or controlling abortions. I just hope that my daughters aren't going to have to give themselves abortions with their thumbs. Baehr's dream of a world where women have complete reproductive freedoms seems to be retreating behind a phalanx of voters who place no value on a women's right to control her body and her future.

Reading Liberally Page Turner

by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally

I went to sit in on a class at a Public Policy program that I might attend next year, and decided to do the assigned reading, as I find few things to be duller than sitting in on a class when I have no idea what is going on (also I wanted to procrastinate doing my calculus homework). The book for the class was Understanding Affirmative Action by J. Edward Kellough, which is not only a clear guide to legal cases that have dealt with affirmative action, but also an excellent size to whap people with should they persist in not agreeing with your affirmative action views, whatever those may be.As an extremely small child my brother must have been exposed to a conservative news program between bouts of playing with Thomas the Tank Engine, as he would wander around the house complaining that white men were being oppressed. "How will I get into college?" he asked us angrily waving Thomas around. "How will I get a job?"

"How would you your sister to get paid seventy five cents for every dollar that you get paid? Does that seem fair?" I demanded.

I wish Understanding Affirmative Action had existed then in order to read it to my brother until he fled, and so that my pro-affirmative action arguments would have been more nuanced then "You're just WRONG!" I'm glad that I've read it as now I'll be able to argue more effectively because I understand the legal history of affirmative action, why some states decided to get rid of affirmative action, and various arguments on both sides of the issue. The next time I get into a discussion about it I'll be able to recite court cases until my face is as blue as Thomas the Tank engine — and I'm looking forward to it.