Jennifer Nix

How Can Hillary Win the Nomination With Fewer Votes and Pledged Delegates?

EDITOR's NOTE: This post was written before the March 4 results were in. Hillary's wins were not large enough for her to make any significant gains in the overall delegate count and she still trails by several hundred thousand in the overall popular vote.

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When a top Hillary Clinton advisor predicted on February 16 that his candidate would "lock down" the Democratic nomination, called the number of elections and delegates won by Barack Obama "irrelevant," and later characterized the race as "wide open," it occurred to me that in the homestretch to March 4th, and what could be the decisive primaries, Clinton's campaign is relying heavily on magical thinking.



These bold statements, from longtime Clinton cohort Harold Ickes, demand subscription to the notions that if superdelegates are willing to flout what is currently Obama's lead in the popular vote and pledged delegates, and Clinton manages to get the renegade Michigan and Florida delegates seated at the convention--and wins either Texas or Ohio, then she will land the nomination for the presidency.



This reasoning is pinned at present on diaphanous evidence, threatened lawsuits and some audacious fear-mongering. It is rooted in the Clinton campaign's emotional investment in a host of great expectations--to finish what Clinton started on the health care front in the 90s, to restore the Clinton legacy, and to elect the first woman president in U.S. history-- ideas which have lost their luster in the Democratic, and perhaps American psyche, since those golden days of inevitability.



As Joan Didion wrote in her memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, about her mental and emotional state after her husband's sudden death, this kind of thinking can set in when grief is too great to bear, and one cannot deal with the reality of death. "I had entered at the moment it happened a kind of shock in which the only thought I allowed myself was that there must be certain things I needed to do."



With Clinton's inevitability turned to dust and her losses in eleven straight contests pointing to the likely end of her campaign, the candidate and her staffers are busying themselves with ominous tasks to fend off the shock.



The question is: At what cost to the rest of the Democratic party, and the nation?

Sleeping with the Enemy

Editor's Note: This commentary was written by Jennifer Nix, editor-at-large at Chelsea Green Publishing, and will be the opening salvo at the company's soon-to-be-launched weblog. Chelsea Green is also publishing AlterNet's forthcoming book Start Making Sense: Turning the Lessons of Election 2004 into Winning Progressive Politics," due out in April.

I've got an invitation for all progressive authors out there.

How about putting your money and ideas where your mouths are? Why not work with independent book publishers to share with the public your thoughts about progressive politics, social justice, sustainability and media reform ... instead of lining the pockets of the corporate publishers (and ultimately the five or ten rich white men who control nearly every media message we read and hear in the U.S. today).

Let me share with you a story about an independent publisher waging battle against the corporate-owned and fossilized business of book publishing. We could use a little help from you, friends.

Late in 2004, Chelsea Green Publishing did the impossible. We signed George Lakoff, got his book, Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate out in five weeks (!) and then ushered it onto The New York Times and other national bestseller lists less than a month later.

We did this by partnering with progressive activist and indy media groups, to launch the book via e-mail blasts and on various web sites, like MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, Apollo Alliance, Jim Hightower, GreenFestival, AlterNet and more. We also got a lot of help from the blogs, like DailyKos and BoingBoing. We published a book about new, progressive ideals, and rather than going the traditional and lengthy turn-your-hair-gray publishing route (calling on galleys, sales reps, early reviews, and ads), we went directly to progressives to get Lakoff's book out into the world. It worked. We created a new publishing model. And we're not shy about telling you that Chelsea Green and Mr. Lakoff have made a very nice chunk of change.

So?

There is a great deal of talk from progressive leaders these days about how this country needs media reform as part of a multifaceted approach to saving democracy, and winning back the White House and Congress. A woeful lament is sung by our progressive leaders about how the media companies are now concentrated into homogenous conglomerates which, at best, worry only about bottom-line profits, while at their most sinister, are dedicated to furthering the radical right-wing agenda.

We agree! What we don't understand is why these same progressive writers and activists don't walk the walk, and offer like-minded independent book publishers a seat at the table when strategies for media reform are being bandied about.

For the sake of opening up this discussion, I'd like to ask Amy Goodman why she published her last book, The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media that Love Them, with Disney-owned Hyperion.

Michael Moore: What possessed you to make money for Rupert Murdoch by publishing your book, Stupid White Men, with ReganBooks/HarperCollins, and to then go to AOL/Time Warner's Warner Books with Dude! Where's My Country?, before jumping to a third corporate ship, Viacom's Simon & Schuster, to publish your latest offering, Will They Ever Trust Us Again?

David Corn: When you were underscoring the media's role in spreading W.'s deceptions, in The Lies of George W. Bush, why did you choose not only to go with a corporate-owned publisher, but with Crown -- for years now, a member of the German-owned Bertelsmann AG conglomerate, which helped to spread anti-Semitic literature and Nazi propaganda in the years leading up to and during WWII? See here and ironically, here, in The Nation.

Al Franken: When publishing Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, why did you make money for Dutton, a cog in the wheel of British-owned media giant Pearson, rather than help to reform American media by making a commitment to and money for an independent American publisher? And, finally, I really hate to point out to populist Jim Hightower that he, too, made money for that same Brit media giant, by going with another of Pearson's holdings, Viking, when he published his latest book, Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush.

Come on, people. Is it all about the big advances? Hear this: a big advance does not a bestseller make. It should be about how many people buy your book.

As a small, independent publisher, we at Chelsea Green have often heard variations on this particular theme: I'd love to go with a mission-oriented publisher like you, but you just don't have the publicity, distribution and sales strength to get my book out into the world on a grand scale.

Not true. Look at the Lakoff book example, which capitalized on creativity, speed and the harnessing of strategic partnerships and new technology. The book has been a bestseller on The New York Times list for 13 weeks running, and is holding strong on other national lists as well. Don't Think of an Elephant has been featured in several New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe articles, and continues to appear in newspapers and magazines around the country -- even in the far-flung red states. Lakoff has appeared on NPR, PBS, CNN, FOX, CBS, ABC, NBC ... and on an alphabet of broadcast stations around the country. What's more? Lakoff's book sits in cash register displays at bookstores from California to Vermont.

There are plenty of other examples of recent independent hits, including Berret-Koehler's tremendous job with John Perkins' bestselling Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and the runaway hits, "MoveOn's 50 Ways to Love Your Country, from Inner Ocean, and Potomac Books' Imperial Hubris The time has come to marshal our independent might and technology for all progressive-minded books, so that the money made on your books does not, in the end, fund the very same corporate media interests we are all fighting against on other fronts.

This rant is really not meant to excoriate progressive writers, but to draw attention to the fact that you need to do more than talk the talk about media reform. Independent publishers are with you, fighting against what's happening to our media, to our democracy and to our country. How much sense does it make to publish your books with the likes of corporate publishers, with the proceeds going to strengthen the very media and political systems against which you rail so eloquently? Why not make money for yourselves and also funnel profits into strengthening independent presses by giving us a chance to work with your names and ideas?

No one is asking you to make less money, or to see your books die on the vine due to a lack of publicity, marketing or distribution. Book publishing has always been a crapshoot in corporate hands, and it always will be. Why not align your efforts with nimble, committed folks who are working to reform our media while they sell books? Just as the internet is changing politics, it is changing media -- and it is changing the slow and antiquated world of book publishing. We've proven it, and we can keep proving it, with ever more inventive ways of reaching out to the public.

You no longer have to make deals with the devil of corporate might in order to sell your books. Independent book publishers can work with writers to find their audiences, and create new echo chambers with technology and various independent media partners. Together, we can spread word of your important ideas -- and turn them into bestsellers.

We just need to be invited to the table. Let's think creatively about new ways to publish books, so we can start making some honest headway on changing our corrupt media system.

It's time to put up -- with some commitment to independent book publishing -- or to shut up about media reform.

Ed. Note: Amy Goodman contributed an interview to the Chelsea Green/AlterNet book "Start Making Sense," and is volunteering her time to help AlterNet publicize the book.

Instant Film Festival

During what's being called the "16-day sprint" between now and election day, the organizers of a new film tour hope to throw traditional film distribution out the window as they inspire citizen activism from coast to coast.

Organizers of the Films to See Before You Vote Tour have put together a bevy of this season's best political films into 25 "film-festival-in-a-box" kits, which will bring a series of acclaimed films – free of charge – to far-flung communities in key battleground states before the election.

This film tour is the result of a meeting of the minds behind the web site FilmstoSeeBeforYouVote.org, created by Hollywood-based Peter Broderick and key players from the Imagine Festival of Arts, Issues and Ideas, which, during the Republican Convention in New York City in September, showcased more than 200 events at 75 venues.

The Imagine Festival creators joined forces with Peter Broderick on his existing web site to help facilitate the curated "festival-in-a- box" distribution and to catalyze action before Nov. 2. In recent months, Broderick's site has helped to coordinate various film screenings and served as a resource for those who "want to use film to bring people together and have an impact." The site continues to provide a list and links to other political films that can be bought individually or together. "At this site, anyone can connect to the best new political films, find out if they are playing in a local theater, or order them on DVD and receive them in a few days," said Broderick.

Veteran filmmaker and curator Jim Browne, of Imagine, said the Films to See Before You Vote Tour aims to help create impromptu film festivals in theaters, college auditoriums, libraries, churches, community centers, retirement centers and private residences all across the country. The success of Internet "house parties," for films like"Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" was also inspiration for the tour, Browne said.

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Digi-Debate

Imagine being given a no-interest business loan after showing no business plan and telling the banker, "It's my right to do whatever I want with this money -- and you can't tell me to do anything!" That, says Kevin Taglang, is what happened on April 3, when the Federal Communications Commission bestowed upon the nation's broadcasters up to $70 billion worth of the prime spectrum real estate -- free of charge. "The Government turned over a huge chunk of the public's resources -- the airwaves -- without putting any real demands on broadcasters," explains Taglang, communications policy analyst for the Washington-based Benton Foundation. "And the broadcasters have not been forthcoming at all about how they will use this gift to better serve the public interest -- they don't even want to hear about the public interest." The FCC divvied up and doled out one additional license to each of the nation's nearly 1,600 television stations to help the broadcast industry make the transition from analog to digital technology, despite last-minute scrambling by opponents who ran the gamut -- from Bob Dole and the conservative Heritage Foundation to Jesse Jackson and liberal media reform groups. For a time, even FCC Chairman Reed Hundt had made noises about legislating broadcasters to provide more bang for the public buck. In the end, however, the industry Senator John McCain (R-Ariz) has called "the nation's most powerful lobby" got just about everything it had been asking for: free licenses, plenty of time to make the transition, and no mandated public service obligations.So, what does it all mean? Top ten markets should start to see digital transmission within 18 months, according to Chairman Hundt's "dream of a digital Christmas in 1998," but the full roll-out calendar shows it will take at least three years, even for the big stations. Broadcasters will use their second channel to transmit signals via analog and digital systems for the next nine years -- a period which will "make the transition seamless for the American consumer," according to National Association of Broadcasters President Eddie Fritts.Those "consumers" will be forced to shell out at least $2000 for the first generation of low-end digital sets. It will also be possible to buy converter boxes, estimated to cost $200. But without the new sets, it will be impossible to see the "unbelievably seductive, crystal clear picture and CD-quality sound that is High Definition television, or HDTV," according to the NAB's Dennis Wharton.Broadcasters say they are "unable to predict" whether they will be using their new digital channel to exclusively provide HD-TV programming, or whether they will split the channel into as many as four subchannels carrying different programs simultaneously -- a process called multiplexing. Some predict they will do a little of both, but they are noncommital on the subject."We really have to just jump in and start doing it, and then see what the market can bear," NBC President and CEO Robert Wright said cautiously, at a media mogul-studded industry conference in New York two days before the licenses were granted.When the nine-year transition period is up, broadcasters are scheduled to return their current analog allotments of spectrum, or 40 percent of what they now have, so the FCC can auction them off later. But, critics of the "corporate welfare" move say, what is said now and what is done later could be two very different things."And, here we had the most important debate over public property in this century going on, and most people didn't know a thing about it because the networks that stood to gain from this deal didn't run news stories explaining what was happening," says a disgusted Gigi Sohn, Executive Director of the Media Access Project, in Washington.After choosing to air almost no coverage of the spectrum debate, which had been raging for nearly a year, the major networks eagerly ran reports about the brave new world of digital television (DTV) the evening of April 3...when licenses were safely in hand. (ABC out-did the others by airing a somewhat critical "Your Money, Your Choice" segment about the debate -- the night before the licenses were handed out.)"What really irked me was how (network news reports) portrayed the entire opposition to the giveaway as a small band of scruffy 'Ralph Naderites' screaming about auctions," Sohn offered. "Realistically, the auction issue has been dead for a while. We were fighting for a higher standard of public service; something that could hold broadcasters more accountable." Deficit hawks and 'screaming Naderites' aside, the most highly publicized idea to quantify public service was related to campaign finance reform. BBroadcasters vehemently opposed any proposals to legislate amounts of free airtime for political candidates, saying the move would not solve the problem and would be "blatantly unconstitutional." Proponents of the idea, like Paul Taylor of the Free TV for Straight Talk Coalition, question why broadcasters are so unwilling to talk about something that might get the country's political system back on track, by cutting out the candidates' number one reason for raising money: campaign ads. "Last year, candidates spent $500 million on campaign ads," Taylor said in a recent interview. "That's only one percent of the broadcast industry's revenues last year. I'm not saying this is a panacea for all our political woes, but it would certainly be a step in right direction." It's good idea, and should be included in the public service mix, says Sohn, but there is a lot more to the equation. "Look, contrary to what broadcasters think, this is about a lot more than the 'American consumer's pocketbook.' It's about our democracy," Sohn said. "In corporate hands, our media is becoming more and more consolidated and homogenous. This was a chance to get broadcasters to provide more access to minority owners, more public interest programming...like educational and children's programming, as well as free time for candidates. "They are public trustees, but that point is lost on them. Profit, not democracy, rules," she added."That's simply not the case," says the NAB's Wharton. "Broadcasters have been living up to public service obligations since 1934. We provide local news and public affairs programming, school closings, public service announcements, political debates...and now, three hours of children's programming a week. We don't need new mandates in this area for a move to digital technology."But when a communications revolution on par with the introduction of AM Radio in 1920s and VHF television in the 1940s comes along, says University of Wisconsin professor Robert McChesney, perhaps it is time to discuss how new policies could improve our TV and political culture. "Many Americans understand that there are severe problems with our hyper-commercialized, corporate-dominated television system, although their opinions are rarely solicited on this matter," McChesney wrote in a recent article. "If the media giants and their allies in Washington have their way, the American people will have no clue that it could (be) very, very different."It appears, for the moment, that the media giants have had their way, but Sohn and others say the fight is not over. The FCC will soon set up an Adivisory Committee to determine public service obligations for broadcasters might look like in the digital era."Our efforts are going to be focused on getting people who know about these issues onto that Advisory Committee," Sohn says. "We can also work to get new FCC Commissioners who aren't in the broadcasters' back pockets." It is too soon to tell what the public really thinks about what has happened to their airwaves. But in the eleventh hour, either by choice or by force, broadcasters moved the debate from the back room and into the public discourse by finally admitting on air that there was a debate. Que sera, sera.

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