Economist Dean Baker at the Michigan Policy Summit

Economist Dean Baker, the co-founder and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., was the keynote speaker at the 2009 Michigan Policy Summit in Detroit on Saturday, May 16, 2009. Baker has a Ph.d. in Economics from the University of Michigan and blogs for the American Prospect.

Baker’s talk:

Note: This video was submitted to us by Thomas Rico, you can check out his blog for more related video at

May Day: Celebrate Workers Power


Today is May Day, a day that around the world is celebrated as a celebration of workers’ rights and the power of collective action. In Europe, protestors celebrated the social and economic gains of the labor movement, while also criticizing the world’s elites over the economic crisis.

In the United States, we’ve largely forgotten that history with May Day’s relationship to workers’ rights being scrubbed in the 1950s hysteria over communism and instead christened “Loyalty Day”.

When we lost that history, working people lost part of an inspiring history of grassroots action. Things like the 8-hour day, the end to child labor, and the right to collectively bargain all came out of the struggles of unionized and non-unionized workers and their allies. Radical historian Howard Zinn said in a recent interview:

“Think back to 1886,” he urged, ” … that last part of the nineteenth century, when corporations were growing more and more powerful … And workers were working ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day in factories, and mills, and mines.” “Particularly in the period, in the 1880s, workers decided they would have to win the eight-hour day by their own efforts, by direct action, by going on strike. And they did, they went on strike all over the country. And the result was, they did win the eight-hour day in many places at that time.”

“It wasn’t written into law … until the 1930s, until the New Deal. But it was the unions, the strikers, who did it first. And so it’s very important to understand that May Day is a symbol of protest against terrible working conditions, and of workers’ solidarity to change that.”

So celebrate today as a day of power, and more importantly, (re)commit yourself to the struggle for social justice. Join a progressive group in West Michigan, call your legislators in support of the Employee Free Choice Act (which would make it easier for workers to form unions), or start a new group or project. History shows us that we have the power to change things–we just need to make the effort.

It’s also worth noting that in recent years, May Day has had a resurgence in the U.S. as a day of protest in support of immigrant rights. Since 2006, massive protests have taken place annually in cities across the United States that have in many cases link immigrant rights and workers rights and forged a broader sense of solidarity across movements.

Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be

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The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be is the latest in a long line of books that make a case that progressive politics–and not conservative politics–have a long history of making positive change in the United States. In it, author Michael Lux–a Democratic strategist and former advisor to Bill Clinton–argues that conservatives have been on the “wrong side” of the issue since the United States’ founding.

In the opening sentence of his introduction, Lux writes that “American history consists of one long battle between the forces of reaction and the defense of wealth and power, on one hand, and the forces of progressivism and community, on the other.” It’s a thesis that makes sense if one looks at the history of the United States and Lux offers a number of examples through which he proves his assertion. He discusses the founding of the country and the discussions over how to organize government, the debate over slavery, the Bill of Rights, the right to vote, and other major debates in the country’s history. In each case, he identifies the “progressives”–for example those wanting to extend the right to vote to women–and the “conservatives”–those who sought to maintain the status quo.

Overall, Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be is a fairly simple book. It offers some basic historical arguments that counter the idea that the United States is and always has been a conservative country. They are the kind of arguments that you might share with your conservative, but somewhat sympathetic relative–nothing too detailed, but just enough to add some weight to what you might argue yourself. Often times, the arguments gloss over complex details and oversimplify, but that’s largely inevitable for any book that aims to cover such a broad period.

Unfortunately, while Lux simplifies history, I’d argue that he also repeatedly emphasizes the actions of politicians and “great thinkers” over those of the folks working on the grassroots to make the changes that he talks about possible. At times he does mention movements–for example the abolitionist movement or the Civil Rights movement–but he tends to over-emphasize the contributions of the leaders. He argues that progressive social change needs both a strong movement and strong progressive political leaders in the final chapter, but the emphasis is clearly on the leaders.

This isn’t too surprising, given that the back of the book contains blurbs by former Democratic Party politicians, strategists, and activists. In the final chapters, Lux makes it clear that he sees the history of progressive politics in the United States to be the history of the Democratic Party. He argues that Democrats have led–or perhaps responded to movements demanding–progressive changes over the years. While this is certainly true to an extent–Democrats are more “progressive” than Republicans–they have hardly been harbingers of radical change. Lux is willing to offer some minor criticisms of Democrats–they are too cautious and they have been unwilling to undertake bold political changes–but he is quite forgiving. He encourages people to support them even after he gives a fairly extensive critique of how they have failed repeatedly in recent years on major issues.

Overall, Lux’s book is pretty basic. Some of the historical arguments are interesting, but I didn’t really get too much out of it. More often than not, I found myself frustrated with the simplicity of the history. Lux’s book–if it was read widely by Democratic politicians and activists–might inspire some to take stronger stands, but I can’t imagine too many outside the party gaining much from his book. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States makes a more convincing case regarding the power of the left to make social change and does so in a far more inspiring manner.

Michael Lux, The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, (Wiley, 2009).

The Nation Guide to the Nation

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For anyone that has traveled–or has browsed through bookstores–you’ve likely seen the large number of resources dedicated to publicizing tourist traps and offering the so-called “insider” information about any number of cities. The Nation Guide to the Nation takes that approach and highlights historical sites, projects, bookstores, and other places and events that would interest leftist travelers.

The book is divided into five sections–“Culture,” “The Media Gallery,” “Organize!,” “Goods and Services,” and “Social: Connecting”–that catalog a wide variety things pertaining to “the left” in the United States. In the introduction, the editors write that this book is for:

“People of the left-liberal-radical persuasion (the kind of people who read The Nation) who find themselves in some red state backwater hungering for kindred spirits, for community, for folks who’ll help them organize an antiwar rally or a fund-raiser or a peace march or a discussion group or a food co-op.”

That said–it certainly has the potential to deliver on its goals. Whether you are travelling and want to check out some new and inspiring projects (for example, food cooperatives, radical printers, or independent media centers) or wanting to find people in your own to work with, its resources are helpful. For the most part, they are organized logically using broad categories and then smaller categories to narrow down the listings even more. My only complaint is that it might have been easier to organize resources by state in some sections so that people could find out about new things in their own area. Nevertheless, the breadth of the listings are impressive–it contains projects of different political persuasions including anarchists, socialists, and more traditional liberals. Moreover, these projects cut across a wide variety of areas covering everything from organizing hubs to green architects. I’d say that while there are obviously some things left out that could have been added, the book largely succeeds in being a catalog of the left.

Even if you aren’t planning to go anywhere soon to check out new places, the book can be a helpful resource. It catalogs some of the best of the leftist websites on the Internet, indentifies organizations working for social change, and identifies places where you can purchase goods produced in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner. Reading about places in far away cities–or even interesting websites–could easily inspire readers to take on new projects in their own areas.

Overall, The Nation Guide to the Nation is a good introduction to left and progressive politics in the United States. From its exploration of art collectives to websites, the book lists a wealth of resources, a number of which are almost sure to be new to any reader who picks up the book regardless of how long they have been involved in leftist politics.

Richard Lingeman and the Editors of The Nation, The Nation Guide to the Nation, (Vintage, 2009).

Liberal Group calls for more Troops in Afghanistan; Supports Obama Policy

Center for American Progress Afghanistan Report Supports Obama Policy

Last week, the liberal think-tank the Center for American Progress released a new report on the war in Afghanistan. Unlike the major anti-war groups and a growing coalition of bloggers who are organizing opposition to Obama’s Afghanistan policy, the Center for American Progress’ report came out in support of Obama’s policy and U.S. empire generally. Any disagreements with the administration were largely on the tactical level and did not challenge the overall policy.

Report Reflects Democratic Co-Opting of Anti-War Movement

At first, it’s surprising that the report–from an ostensibly “progressive” organization–goes further than the Obama administration in supporting the U.S. war in Afghanistan. It calls for a long-term U.S. presence that could last as long as ten years, mentioning withdrawal only as a long-term possibility. The report does say that the Obama administration’s strategic review should consider the “time frame” of U.S. involvement, but it doesn’t demand that withdrawal be on the table. In fact, the report argues for increasing U.S. military forces in Afghanistan by 15,000 more than what Obama has committed. Other “key recommendations” are well within the realm of what the Obama administration is considering.

Unfortunately, this is to be expected as the Center for American Progress is closely tied to the Obama administration and generally supportive of the Democratic Party’s goals. Its founder, John Podesta, served as Chair of Obama’s transition team. He was also a former Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton.

In a blog post titled “How Obama Took Over the Peace Movement,” John Stauber of PR Watch writes:

“CAP and the five million member liberal lobby group MoveOn were behind Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI), a coalition that spent tens of millions of dollars using Iraq as a political bludgeon against Republican politicians, while refusing to pressure the Democratic Congress to actually cut off funding for the war.”

That group worked to channel opposition to the Iraq War towards Republicans, effectively absolving Democrats of responsibility for the war.

It seems that the Center for American Progress is engaging in a similar strategy here. It is giving “progressive” approval to a long-term U.S. presence at a time when there is growing grassroots opposition to the war. With their financial resources, the group may be able to effectively stop opposition to the escalation in Afghanistan, just as they did with Iraq. Groups such as and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq were critical in removing Iraq from the presidential campaign and making it so that Obama’s Iraq policy would be able to pass as “ending the war” when it most certainly does not.

Report Comes Amid Rising Opposition to the War

The report is quite aware of a growing opposition to the war, writing:

“Given declining American and European support for the war in Afghanistan, the strategy must be not only effective but convincing, too. In a U.S. poll taken in mid-March, 42 percent of the respondents said the United States made a mistake in sending military forces to Afghanistan, up from 30 percent just a month before and from 6 percent in January 2002.2 Europeans are even more skeptical, with majorities in Germany, Britain, France, and Italy opposing increased troop commitments to the conflict.”

Later, Afghani opposition to the war is given some space, but it is largely viewed as an afterthought or an aside. What ultimately matters to the report’s authors are the all important “U.S. interests.”

The report takes a dramatically different approach than other progressives–from bloggers to anti-war groups–who are calling for an end to the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Other progressive policy organizations have not been calling for an increase in the U.S. troop presence. They have more frequently called for an increase in aid. To be fair, the report does call for increases in diplomacy and economic aid, but it stands out for its tepid–at best–criticism of Obama and its call for further escalation.

The Institute for Policy Studies recently came out strongly against military escalation:

“When the Soviets retreated from Afghanistan, many Afghans expected that Western powers would come to their aid and assist with reconstruction, reconstituting democratic structures, and implementing a rule of law. Mostly this didn’t happen. Today, these vital steps for helping Afghanistan escape the violence it is trapped in are once again missing — and it is unlikely any of these obligations to the people of Afghanistan can be met as long as the military occupation continues and even escalates.

The pressure is on from the U.S. public and the growing international community for a quick fix. However, the “surge” approach further undermines the democratic principles needed for Afghanistan to stand up over time. Increasing troop numbers and escalating a military occupation are not going to help Afghanistan rebuild its shattered society, and won’t keep Americans safer by undermining the Taliban; its real impact, unfortunately, is likely to be exactly the opposite.”

Just Foreign Policy also weighed in on Obama’s recent announcement that he is sending more troops and civilians to Afghanistan writing that the policy really isn’t that new:

“President Obama announced his new Afghanistan strategy on Friday – the traditional Washington day for burying things. But there weren’t any big surprises. The administration had been dribbling details out through the news media: more troops, more civilians, narrower goals. As for “narrowing the goals” in his speech, Obama had it both ways: He asserted, “we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future” and “we are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future,” while striking out against an assumed threat of a “return to Taliban rule,” and insisting that al-Qaeda terrorists “would accompany the core Taliban leadership,” which arguably implies that the set of US goals may not have narrowed very much, and that the US is indeed still trying to control Afghanistan and dictate its future.”

Looking to the Left on the Economic Crisis

Over the past few weeks, we’ve provided a fair amount of coverage of the economic stimulus bill, particularly looking at possible benefits to West Michigan and unneccessary tax breaks contained within the bill.

Unfortunately, our coverage has tended to be fairly uncritical of the rest of the bill, not asking big questions about what it means for the economy, what the nature of the economy is, and what other possibilities are to the current economic model. Sadly, this reflects the poverty of leftist thought in the United States–there has been relatively little substantive critique. The crisis–unprecendented in many ways–offers an opportunity to reimagine how the economy functions.

To encourage people to think beyond the simply passing the stimulus and then moving on, we’re posting two interviews with Robert Kuttner about Obama, the economic crisis, and the solutions that have been offered thus far. Kuttner’s ideas certainly aren’t perfect, but he offers some worthwhile comments.

Part 1 – Conservative Solutions to a Radical Crisis

Part 2 – What Obama Should Do

Born Under a Bad Sky: Notes from the Dark Side of the Earth

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Confronted with chemical contamination, deforestation, privatization of water, species extinction, and global warming–what kind of analysis do we need in order to change direction to more sustainable human activity? CounterPunch co-editor and author Jeffrey St. Clair has written an excellent book that provides at least some of the analysis that environmentalists and anyone concerned about the future of the planet would benefit from.

For those familiar with St. Clair’s work, Born Under a Bad Sky: Notes from the Dark Side of the Earth, is a great sequel to his 2003 book Been Brown so Long, It Looked Like Green to Me: The Politics of Nature. Born Under a Bad Sky is mostly a collection of essays with some journal entries that cover the past twenty years. In these essays, St. Clair takes an investigative journalist’s approach to understanding who is responsible for environmental destruction, what policies support this destruction, and how the mainstream environmental groups have failed miserably to defend the wilderness over the past two decades.

Challenging the Clinton Environmental Legacy

One reason why the analysis provided in Born Under a Bad Sky is so important, is it documents in great detail how much of the environmental policies of the Clinton years paved the way for the Bush II administration. In fact, St. Clair argues that on some environmental issues, the Clinton administration was worse. This is not what the perception is generally within liberal or environmental circles, but St. Clair backs it up with numerous examples from logging policy, to species extinction, to the Clinton administration on global warming.

St. Clair takes on logging & mining companies, the factory farm industry, agribusiness, chemical companies, and big oil in his investigations. However, none of these industries could get away with this environmental destruction without having friends in Washington who either turn a blind eye to the destruction or help push policy that allows the destruction to happen.

An excellent example of government/business collaboration is found in St. Clair’s essay on the livestock industry. In most states in the western United States, the cattle industry is given the rights to let their livestock graze on rough 260 million acres of public land. Since cattle are one of the biggest causes of environmental destruction is western states, the Clinton administration was determined to make some reforms.

Bruce Babbitt was Secretary of the Interior during the Clinton years and he announced in 1993 that reforms would be made to what are called Cattle Grazing Allotments. Upon hearing this news, the cattle industry and western politicians pressured Babbitt to back off from his reform proposals. Babbitt, in conjunction with the cattle industry held “Town Hall” meetings on the topic and produced a document known as “Ranchland 94.” This policy didn’t change much other than call for a modest increase in the grazing fees. In 1993, just before the vote on NAFTA, western politicians who were in the pocket of the cattle industry threatened to vote against NAFTA if Clinton didn’t make further concessions on grazing lands. Clinton conceded and the grazing policy was so beneficial to the cattle industry that when Bush took office in 2001, “they barely had to adjust a single component of the Babbitt plan to fashion it to their liking.”

Keen Observations on the Nature and the Environment

The last section of the book includes journal entries from St. Clair while hiking, camping and white water rafting in the west and southwestern United States in 2006-2007. His keen observations about nature are matched by his ability to weave in the political realties of why those parts of the country are under attack from corporate profiteering and political pandering.

This is an excellent book that can provide an important framework for fighting the powers that seek to profit from the destruction of the planet.

Jeffery St. Clair, Born Under a Bad Sky: Notes from the Dark Side of the Earth, (CounterPunch, 2008).

Afghanistan War Protestors were Right: The War has Failed

Afghanistan Invasion Protestors were Basically Right

As the country gets ready to inaugurate President-Elect Barack Obama and say goodbye to the Bush years, a coalition of progressive bloggers are drawing attention the Afghanistan War. Obama has announced that he plans to send 30,000 troops to the country as part of an effort–albeit under a kinder rhetorical guise than Bush–to quash the persistent insurgency in the country.

For someone who has been involved in anti-war organizing since 9/11, it’s refreshing to see some critical attention placed on Afghanistan, especially when so many people on the left continue to see it as a “good war” that has noble aims, unlike Iraq which is seen as “Bush’s mistake” or some other variation.

A Look Back

However, it’s important for us to remember that Afghanistan is not a “good war” gone “bad,” but what has happened in Afghanistan since the October 2001 invasion was the predictable consequence of a flawed policy decision.

To be sure, much of the country supported the invasion of Afghanistan. However, there was a strong minority of people who were highly critical of the war. I’d argue that this group was a mix of folks from the 1960s left, the solidarity movements of the 1980s, the groups organizing against President Bill Clinton’s Iraq policy, and the anti-globalization movement that emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s (which was at its peek around the time of September 11). In September and October of 2001, the Internet was still in its infancy as a progressive news source, but a wealth of pieces critical of the US invasion of Afghanistan were published on sites such as and

Looking back on these articles, it’s striking how right many of them were. While a fair number included in their talking points the fact that the United States had no clear proof that Osama Bin Laden was behind the attacks (which was true at the time), many of the other points came to fruition. The war did become a lengthy occupation characterized by an unsuccessful counter-insurgency campaign, the war did not dramatically improve the lives of Afghanistan citizens (although some predicted humanitarian disasters did not come to fruition), and civilians bared the brunt of the assault both as direct casualties (a number which continues to grow) and as a result of the disruption of the country. At the same time, bombing Afghanistan failed to destroy either Al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and both have been able to attack the US and its allies in the years since the 2001 invasion. News out of the country continues to be dismal, with an almost constant stream of stories on civilians deaths by the Taliban and related insurgent groups or the US.

For those who are interested, links to some articles from September/Early October of 2001 critical of the invasion of Afghanistan appear at the end of this article.

Organizing Against the Invasion of Afghanistan

However, it wasn’t just written pieces that were being published–people did take to the streets to oppose the US invasion of Afghanistan. An antiwar group reported at the time:

“Before the bombs fell, 20,000 people in Washington D.C. and San Francisco each, as well as thousands in Los Angeles, rallied on September 29 under the slogan Act Now To Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER).

On October 7, the first day of the bombing, 10,000 New Yorkers marched from Union Square some 30 blocks to Times Square, stopping traffic and shouting “U.S. Hands Off Afghanistan!” Five thousand jammed San Francisco’s central cable car stop, and over the next 48 hours, thousands more collectively rallied again in New York, Buffalo, Washington, D.C., Boston, Princeton, Cleveland, Atlanta, Houston, Denver, Boulder, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Oakland, San Diego; and dozens of other cities, including students from American University, Princeton University, MIT, Harvard, Vassar College, the University of Michigan, Wesleyan University, UC Berkeley, San Francisco State, Mission High School, and others.”

Other efforts also took place across the country in the wake of the bombing. Protests have continued over the years, but by mid-2002 anti-war organizing shift its focus to the impending Iraq War.

Protesting the Afghanistan War in Grand Rapids

Even here in Grand Rapids, a relatively conservative Midwestern town, there was visible opposition to the US invasion of Afghanistan. Shortly after the attacks, a group formed out of the Institute for Global Education (IGE) to organize a “Peace Presence“–weekly vigils held outside the Gerald R. Ford Federal Building–to voice opposition to the invasion of Afghanistan. Those vigils–albeit shifting in focus and location–have continued to this day.

Another group organized a “teach-in” to expose US policy in the region, emphasizing that if people were going to understand both the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the US invasion of Afghanistan, they would need to understand the historical context of US foreign policy. The teach-in–dubbed “September 11th: Causes and Just Responses”–was well attended.

Out of the teach-in came a number of related organizing efforts. A group of activists put together a “reader” collecting a wealth of articles critical of the US response to the 9/11 attacks and plans to invade Afghanistan. The reader was distributed around town and filled important gaps left by the local media’s jingoistic coverage of war. Another group organized a public protest against the Afghanistan War. The protest featured a march from Veteran’s Park to the most watched local television station, WOOD TV 8, to highlight its role in supporting the war. Following the march, activists held a 24-hour vigil on the corner of Division and Fulton to draw attention to the war.

Limited Local Media Coverage of Dissent

Media coverage of such dissent was limited, both locally and nationally. the Grand Rapids Press ran one article in 2001 on protests against the invasion (“We don’t believe in bombing’ – Peace activists with roots in the Vietnam War protests know they are a vocal minority in opposing Afghanistan attacks,” October 30, 2001). Its decision to place the article on the front page generated a large number of calls and letters according to The Press (“Press’ coverage of war protesters draws readers’ ire”, November 4, 2001), prompting The Press to defend its decision:

“After the complaints, Andy [News Editor Andy Angelo] checked our A-1 pattern for October. No other photo could be described as a directly critical view of U.S policy. And 21 days out of 31, we ran page-dominant news photographs that would have to be characterized as supportive of the war effort or displays of patriotic emotion.”

Even in its defense of running a front page photo of a protestor, the Grand Rapids Press didn’t hesitate to admit that it had a heavy pro-military bias.

A study the period after the bombing started by the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) showed that the local media’s coverage of the Afghanistan War overwhelmingly relied on government and military sources.

Looking Back and Moving Forward

It’s impossible to say what organizing against the Afghanistan War would have looked like had it continued along at its late-2001 pace. Instead, the build-up for the invasion of Iraq started and much of the nascent anti-war movement turned its sights to stopping that invasion. A number of conclusions could be drawn about this decision–among them that much of the progressive left supported the Afghanistan War–but that’s a discussion for another day.

Rather, the important lesson to draw from the short-lived resistance to the Afghanistan War is that those protesting the war were basically right. The invasion of Afghanistan did not succeed in dismantling the Al-Qaeda network, it did not eradicate the Taliban, it has not led to stability in the country, and it has not helped improve the collective lot of the Afghan people. Instead, the war has become a long-term occupation that has no clear ends, no clear goal, and no clear victory.

As we consider how best to deal with the Afghanistan War and build the opposition necessary to end it, we’d do well to remember that those of us who opposed it from the start were right.

Articles Critical of the Afghanistan War from September and October of 2001

New Effort Launched to Oppose Afghanistan War

Progressive Bloggers Opposing the Afghanistan War

Over the past seven years, the occupation of Afghanistan has received scant attention in both the corporate media and among progressives. During the recent presidential election, Afghanistan was a non-issue, with both major party candidates agreeing that the United States needs to send more troops to Iraq.

Earlier this week, when news broke that Obama intends to sign-off on a plan to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, much of the progressive and liberal establishment–as well as the somewhat more independent national anti-war movement–said nothing.

However, in a refreshing development, a group of progressive bloggers opposed to the military escalation of the Afghanistan War has launched an effort called “Get Afghanistan Right” that aims to increase discussion about “the dangers of escalation, the current situation in Afghanistan and South Asia, the effects of the war at home, and potential solutions.” Robert Greenwald writes:

“With the economy continuing a severe decline and the international scene in turmoil, we absolutely cannot afford a hugely expensive troop increase in Afghanistan. The country desperately needs many of the reforms and programs proposed by the incoming Obama administration. But, an escalation in Afghanistan will cripple our ability to mitigate the effects of the recession while making that country less stable. The success of the President-elect’s broader agenda depends on his ability to get us out of President Bush’s wars”

The effort was initiated by writers and bloggers including Brave New Films’ Robert Greenwald, Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation, Alex Thurston and Jason Rosenbaum of The Seminal, and Howie Klein of DownWithTyranny. Throughout the week, the group will publicize stories critical of the war in Afghanistan on

Tomorrow as part of the campaign, will be blogging about the occupation of Afghanistan.

The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging

The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging is a helpful book for anyone that is interested in either starting a new political blog or expanding the audience of an existing blog. It’s full of tips that can save you from making many common mistakes.

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Over the past five years, political blogs (especially left, progressive and liberal blogs) have exploded, with many attracting significant readership, building virtual communities, and gaining considerable media attention. Among the top blogs in the US is The Huffington Post, a blog started by Arianna Huffington in 2005.

With the explosion of blogs–and the ease at which new blogs can be created–there is a need for any new blog to consider what niche it can fill, and the same goes for political blogs. Writing a general blog on “politics” probably isn’t going garner many readers, but a more narrow focus–say Michigan politics–might. That’s where The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging comes into play–it’s an incredible helpful book for any progressive interested in starting a new blog.

Written by folks who were involved in forming one of the most widely read political blogs, this book gives a lot of important advice. Beginning with a brief overview of what blogs are and their political context, the book moves into a discussion the fundamentals of blogging. The book guides readers through choosing a blogging platform, tools that can be used to make blogging easier, how to organize your blog, and even options for making money from blogging. By far the most useful sections are on how to grow your blog community and develop a unique voice. The book discusses how to deal with abusive commentors, the fundamentals of writing a good blog post, and other topics. Granted, it’s all advice that you could probably find online, but reading it in a single printed book is much easier than piecing together ideas from multiple website.

Unfortunately, the book’s biggest drawback is that story of the Huffington Post’s is one that most political blogs simply are not going to be able to replicate. The blog was started with a substantial infusion of cash and relied on Arianna Huffington’s considerable personal collections. Few people are going to be able to call on former Senators, Hollywood celebrities, and prominent progressive to write for their blog. Similarly, most of us are not going to be able to get the developers of our blog software to fly to our homes for meetings as the Huffington Post crew did when developing their blog on Movable Type. That’s not to say that the Huffington Post’s story isn’t interesting or worth understanding–it is (especially for understanding the role it plays in contemporary politics)–but it’s just not something that most of us can do.

The book ends with a section that highlights some of the best posts on the Huffington Post, which provides a useful look at the kind of stories that can draw significant readership. There is also brief annotated lists to some of the Huffington Post’s favorite blogs (this can be a good resource list for promoting your own blog) and an index of helpful blogging resources.

Overall, The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging is a helpful read for anyone that is considering starting a new blog. Reading the book, taking notes, and then implementing the ideas contained within could save anyone a lot of time when starting a blog. For those who already run their own blogs, the book can also be useful–offering reminders of best practices that we often forget and providing inspiration.

Editors of the Huffington Post, The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging, (Simon & Schuster, 2008).