New Progressive Politics

Blogs Define Libby Trial Coverage

The Libby trial is almost over, now that the defense has rested it's case, and one of the most important precidents it is going to be remembered for won't be in the decision.  That's because the Libby trial is a landmark for blogs:

For blogs, the Libby trial marks a courthouse coming of age. It is the first federal case for which independent bloggers have been given official credentials along with reporters from the traditional news media, said Robert A. Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association. Mr. Cox negotiated access for the bloggers.

The leader in coverage of the trial is, who have a devoted legal team live blogging and providing analysis of the trial:

Even the Web-savvy may ask, Fire dog what? A collective of liberal bloggers, fueled by online donations and a fanatical devotion to the intricacies of the Libby case, Firedoglake has offered intensive trial coverage, using some six contributors in rotation. They include a former prosecutor, a current defense lawyer, a Ph.D. business consultant and a movie producer, all of whom lodge at a Washington apartment rented for the duration of the trial.

All day long during the trial, one Firedoglake blogger is on duty to beam to the Web from the courthouse media room a rough, real-time transcript of the testimony. With no audio or video feed permitted, the Firedoglake “live blog” has offered the fullest, fastest public report available. Many mainstream journalists use it to check on the trial.

Blogs and the online communication revolution they are a part of are changing how we get our news, and ruffling a few traditional press feathers doing it.

In the courthouse, the old- and new-media groups have mixed warily at times. Mainstream reporters have shushed the bloggers when their sarcastic comments on the testimony drowned out the audio feed. But traditional reporters have also called on the bloggers on occasion to check a quote or an obscure detail from the investigation.

Some bloggers at the trial have seen their skepticism about mainstream reporting confirmed.

“It’s shown me the degree to which journalists work together to define the story,” said Marcy Wheeler, author of a book on the case, “Anatomy of Deceit,” and the woman usually in the Firedoglake live-blogger seat.

Check out NDN affiliate the New Politics Institute for the latest analysis of the rise of the blogs and how progressives can engage the netroots. 

Al Franken: Candidate for a New Era

Al Franken announced his candidacy for the Senate today and he came out of the gate strong, with the 'look straight into the camera, no stirring strings, post it on YouTube" announcement that is fast-becoming the accepted way to launch a candidacy.  Republican/George Galloway punching bag Senator Norm Coleman had better watch out, because Franken's announcement was good, damn good, and his mastery of this new format bodes well for his ability to run a 21st century campaign. 

In the second half of the 20th century and even up through 2006, television was the dominant way politicians communicated to voters.  This gave us the good, great leaders who also happen to be great on television:

And the bad, undistinguished politicians with nice haircuts who look presentable on teevee.  There are far too many to list here, so I'll only offer two contemporary examples that jump to mind:

But, as Simon wrote, political ads are changing and so are the ways in which we watch them.  Quick, casual messages posted to the internet can have the same impact as slickly produced television ads that show the candidate playing with kids, listening to seniors and speaking in front of a big crowd, while a narrator speaks to the accompaniment of blandly uplifting music.  This new approach requires an understanding of how to create effective internet video and a candidate who can connect through the medium. 

Julie Bergman Sender's recent paper on the topic points out that good internet video requires a good narrative and the Franken announcement has an excellent one.  He begins by addressing the white elephant in the room: can a comedian be a serious candidate?  He then talks about where his values come from - growing up in a middle class family and marrying a woman who grew up poor and never would have made it to Harvard without social security and Pell Grants.  Franken moves onto the challenges of today, talking about the concerns he's heard from ordinary Minnesotans who are finding it harder to find good jobs, afford health care,  send their kids to college, save for retirement, and who, like all of us, worry about what they see and hear from Iraq.  He finishes by tying his campaign to the great legacy of progressive Minnesota politicians:

Our state has sent some strong progressive leaders to Washington form Hubert Humphrey to Walter Mondale to Paul Wellstone and now Amy Klobuchar.  Minnesota’s public servants might not always look and sound like typical politicians, but they stand by their principles and lead by their values.  That's the kind of leaders I think we need more of these days and that's the kind of Senator I'll be.

But its not just good writing (SNL misses you, Al) that makes this video so effective; it is a great performance too.  After all, until now that was Franken's job.  On SNL, in Comedy Clubs and even on his Air America show, Al made a living entertaining people.  But he's not an entertainer cum politician in the tradition of B-movie stars like Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Franken's success comes from being able to connect with people in a much more direct way, be they studio guests laughing at his Henry Kissinger impersonation or commuters nodding in agreement with his commentary on the Al Franken Show.  It's the casual, genuine nature of Al Franken's entertainment that makes this video so effective.

Al Franken may just be a new kind of candidate, someone who combines celebrity with authenticity, and can use that one-two punch to communicate with voters more effectively than ever before.  In this new era, voters are going to demand more than a pretty face and an expensive media campaign and it looks like Al Franken can give it to them.

A New Plan to Slow Carbon Emissions

NDN's good friend Garrett Gruener co-authored an op-ed in the LA Times today, which offers an innovative, market-based plan to deal with Carbon emissions.  One more sign that there are a lot of great ideas coming out of the modern progressive movement.

The longer we wait to take action on global warming, the more it will cost us in the long run. So it makes sense to adopt a tax on carbon emissions now. The trick is to design a "global cooling tax" that a majority of Americans will want to pay. We propose a tax that will hit energy hogs hardest. But under our scheme, whether you use a little or a lot, you would be able to invest your tax dollars directly in clean technologies that would lower your energy bills.

Read the entire op-ed here

Supercomputer in a chip: the inexorable march of computing power

Today in San Francisco, Intel will present their newest chip breakthrough to an industry conference. They now have a microchip the size of someone’s fingertip that has the same computational power as room-size supercomputer of just 11 years ago.

The chip is five years out from commercial use, and there are some software barriers that have to be overcome in the meantime, but the basic model has been cracked on how to get there. So we will have supercomputers able to fit in our cellphones in the span of five years.

This is just the latest example of a process of that has been going on for more than 30 years in Silicon Valley – about every 18 months a new generation of computer chips shrinks in size, roughly doubles in power and drops in price.

For those who want a lay person’s explanation of this process and what this new chip means, check out Tom Abate’s story in the San Francisco Chronicle. For those who want a more geeky explanation, check out the New York Times story by John Markoff, the dean of tech reporters out here.

And for those who want more on how these tech changes fit into the larger political transformation, check out the New Politics Institute website, and especially our talk, The New Politics Begins.

Peter Leyden

On Obama, Clinton, Richardson and the historic Democratic 2008 field

In this new century, in my lifetime, America will become a country that is only 60 percent or so white.  Factoring in that a little more than half the population is female, this means that somewhere between 70% and 75% of all Americans in the future will be either women or minorities.  One of the great challenges for both political parties and both ideological movements in this new century will be to build their politics around these and other profound demographic changes in America, ones that are creating what we call a “new politics.”

By this measure the emerging Democratic Presidential field in 2008 is historic.  The two leading contenders today are a woman and a mixed race American of partial African descent.  Another leading contender is of Mexican descent, is bi-lingual, and comes from a state, New Mexico, which has the most complicated racial and cultural mix of any state in the Union.  When you add white male candidates from the South, Midwest and Northeast this field looks an awful lot like the emerging America of the 21st century and not at all like the America of the 20th century.  We’ve never seen any Presidential field like this in American history.  It is now clear that Democrats are offering a vision of a party that looks like, and speaks to, the emerging population of 21st century America.

The Republican Presidential field on the other hand is all white, and all male.  It looks very much like a field from any race of the late 20th century.  It even features one candidate, Tom Tancredo, who is running in large degree to reverse the demographic changes described above.

In 2006 the Republicans attempted a new twist on the old Willie Horton approach by demonizing Hispanics, and waged a national campaign against immigrants of all kinds.  The American people, aware of the new realities of our 21st century people, rejected the racial rhetoric of the Republicans.  Vicious anti-immigrant candidates like Randy Graff and JD Hayworth lost in Arizona, ground zero for this debate.  Millions marched in the largest civic demonstrations in recent American history.  And the Hispanic vote, the fastest growing segment of the American population, surged to never seen before numbers and swung wildly towards the Democrats.  On understanding and accepting these demographic realities the American people appear to be way ahead of its leaders.

Many words will be used to describe the Democrat’s field this year but the one I believe is most accurate is “modern.”  Democrats just look like a 21st century Party, with leaders who look like and speak to the people of the America of today and tomorrow.  The Republicans on the other hand are struggling with reinventing their politics around these new realities.   Yes, over the objections of many, they now have a Hispanic immigrant as the Chair of their party.  But that same week Senator Martinez was chosen, the Senate Republicans made Trent Lott, a Senator with a history of institutional bigotry and racism, their number two.   Their Presidential field is all white male, the only minorities in their Congressional Party are four Cuban-Americans from Florida and many leaders in their Party continue to fight comprehensive immigration reform in horrible and racist terms.

The Republicans should be worried about these developments.  For getting on the wrong side of enormous cultural trends like this one can make a party a minority party for a long time.  But perhaps in times of great change this what we should expect from one party long associated with the word “progress,” and another associated with the word “conserve.”

So this morning, as we watch the exciting Senator Obama toss his hat into the ring, let us also reflect on the historic nature of the Democratic field, and acknowledge that this party of Clinton, Obama, Richardson and Edwards appears to today much more the party of 21st century American than its adversary.

Customizing Ads down to the Individual Consumer/Voter

A good article in the New York Times  today on a trend that is picking up steam in the private sector advertising world, and could easily port over to politics soon. The story lays out how the combination of advanced digital tools and the internet are allowing mass customization in the production and distribution of advertising.

The story highlighted how several  companies are providing the means for giant corporations all the way down to small business owners like individual real estate agents to tailor commercials using a wide range of stock material. So a local car dealer can go on the web and use these services to easily create car commercials targeting his or her local audience.

The companies also help place the ads in cable  niches (and soon other arenas like mobile phones) so that the tailored messages actually reach the individuals they were designed for.

And since the internet ties this all  together, an advertiser can adjust the message within minutes before it will air. The story gave an example of Wendy’s tweaking halftime commercials on NFL football games to reflect how the games were going.

This “molecular marketing” is still very new in the business world, but you can see the obvious implications for politics. With time, you can see a wide range of political ads targeting a wide range of constituencies, and getting placed in media that gets closer and closer to connecting with individual voters.

Some political media consultancy or  campaign is going to leverage these pioneering companies, or emulate their model and start the migration of political advertising into this micro-targeting space. Keep watching for this.

Peter Leyden   

SEIU and Wal-Mart -- The Oddest Couple

Andy Stern, President of the SEIU, and Lee Scott the CEO of Wal-Mart, announced a new partnership to make sure that every American has access to affordable health insurance by 2012.  Sound unlikely?  Even Stern admitted that, calling it "a moment I never expected would have happened in my life."

Stern makes, and Wal-Mart seems to have accepted, an argument that has also been made by NDN Globalization Initiative Director Dr. Robert J. Shapiro, that health care is, in Stern's words, "not just a moral problem but a major drag on American business competitiveness and job creation."

Watch Andy Stern talk about this new coalition, below:

Simon Rosenberg on World Changing

World Changing is a new project launched by a committed group of activists and experts from all around the world who believe that "the motive, means and opportunity for profound positive change are already present. That another world is not just possible, it's here. We only need to put the pieces together."  One of their first interviews is with our own Simon Rosenberg, who Jonathan Greenblatt, NDN's good friend and a World Changing contributor, describes as "one of the most thoughtful voices on the political landscape, interpreting how current trends will affect politics long into the future both in the US and more broadly on a global scale."

Read the interview here.

The conservative retreat, continued

One of the most powerful new dynamics of global and American politics is the deep collapse of the muscular but universally unpopular Bush brand of conservatism that has driven the politics of the world these last 6 years.

This retreat, collapse, is evident all around us.  Rumsfeld, Bolton, DeLay, Santorum all gone. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are now in charge.  In recent days the President has been forced to acknowledge, essentially for the first time, that climate change, health care, a struggling middle class and rampant Congressional corruption are all challenges that must be tackled.  The Libby trial in unearthing all sorts of ugly stuff about their reign. There is bi-partisan Congressional competition to question the wisdom of this era’s foreign policy, a process that has been joined by the Joint Chiefs, the Iraq Study Group, the new NIE and the leaders of the 9/11 Commission.  Dozens of House Republicans have recently voted with the Democrats on core Democratic priorities, ones not even allowed to be discussed in the previous regime. The German government is attempting to prosecute CIA operatives for working illegally on their soil….it goes on.

Of course where the Administration has choosen to make their one last stand and fight the repudiation of their politics is on Iraq and their policies in the Middle East.  On this one the Administration soldiers on, fighting what seems to be a losing rhetorical, political and security battle.

Two stories today indicate, however, that despite their bravado the national repudiation of their Iraq/Middle East policy also soldiers on. The Times has a rather remarkable piece that points out, nicely, what a disaster Secretary Rice has been.  The Post has a detailed story by Karen DeYoung that also points, nicely, that even the planners of the new Iraq strategy are not confident that it has a high likelihood of succeeding.

The good news is that with the intellectual and political collapse of modern conservatism there is an opportunity for a new and much more effective politics to emerge.  The early signs of the 2008 Presidential debate, and in Congress, is that Democrats understand this opportunity and working hard to fashion a new and more germane approach to the vexing challenges of our time.

The interesting question is whether the Republicans can, in the next two years, reinvent their politics and move beyond the historic failures of the Bush years.  So far there is little evidence that they either understand the moment they are in, or have powerful enough leaders to move them forward.

MN-SEN: Al Franken Leaves Air America

Al Franken announced today that he intends to leave Air America Radio and will give "serious consideration" to running for US Senate in his home state of Minnesota.  He thanked his 1.5 million listeners and expressed optimism for the future of Air America, following its purchase by the Green brothers, Mark, former NYC Public Advocate, and Stephen, a leading real estate developer. 

Al promised to make a decision on challenging Republican Norm Coleman soon, and hinted that he might announce on or before his final show on February 14th.

You can hear Al make the non-announcement announcement here.

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