Coyote Gulch had a great time at this year's Yearly Kos. We were blown away by the enthusiasm and friendliness of the attendees. The people attending the conference are dedicated and informed and engaged in the political system in the U.S. We made new friends from Arizona, Indiana, Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois, Oregon, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maine, England (ex-pat) and Croatia (reporter).
The attendees represented wide ranging viewpoints, with a great deal of agreement on some major issues such as Iraq and the politicization of government over the last six years. The questions during the sessions were penetrating and on point for the most part.
The highlight of the conference for us was the closing keynote on Saturday night. Markos Moulitsas' speech was heartfelt. He barely could contain his emotions talking about the work that went into the conference, the accomplishments of the netroots since 2004, his new daughter, his wife, and his friends; the 1500 or so in the ballroom along with all of those that were watching the conference in the weblogs and news stories online. Of the netroots critics he said, "They've lost the right to judge us."
The presidential forum was great fun. Most in the audience felt that they were watching the next occupant of the White House. This red state moderate reminded them that the only poll that matters is in November of 2008 and that you can never rest in politics.
The presidential candidates on hand were, Bill Richardson, Mike Gravel, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Dennis Kucinich. It was tough for the moderator to keep a lid on the emotion of the crowd. The netroots are outlaws in some ways and are mavericks for sure. Cheering, boos, hisses, applause, jeering and laughter validated or not the answers given to fairly tough questions. The moderator knew he was in trouble when, after announcing that it was Barack Obama's birthday the crowd spontaneously broke into a chorus of "Happy Birthday." The candidates all joined in. There was a smile on every face. The party was on.
Richardson promised to appoint legal scholars to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said he would ask his nominees if they considered Roe v. Wade and other decisions settled law. If not they would not get his nomination. Dodd told the crowd that he is reluctant to accept any nominees from the current administration, citing the difference between John Roberts answers to the Judiciary Committee and his subsequent votes in session.
When asked about Universal Healthcare Clinton replied that she had scars from the healthcare battle in '93 and '94. She knows now how important strategy is to successful reform. The reformers need to anticipate and be ready for the blowback from insurers and drug companies. She admitted to tactical mistakes but said that healthcare reform would be her, "Number one domestic priority." Edwards, while saying that big changes are needed warned, "The insurance companies won't give up power easily."
After a question about the budget Obama pledged that ending the war in Iraq would be a big step towards a balanced position. He will institute PAYGO as did President Clinton along with reversing the Bush tax cuts. Kucinich would shut down certain programs such as nuclear energy to pay mandatory Universal Single Payer Healthcare.
Dodd stated that it is time to stand up to media consolidation. Clinton wants to open up the media environment, keep the Internet open and nurture competition.
Edwards tried to pick a fight, and accomplished it, bringing up lobbyist dough and it's effects on our government. He asked each candidate to pledge not to take Washington lobbyist money from then on. Kucinich called him out on hedge fund contributions. Heh.
On Iraq Clinton mentioned the power of the purse that Congress possesses. She said that Congress must keep the pressure on the administration to plan for withdrawal. Kucinich called for the immediate impeachment of Dick Cheney and, if the President doesn't end the war soon, his impeachment. Richardson announced his "One point plan" for Iraq. Immediate withdrawal with no residual forces.
On terrorism Obama said, "There is no excuse for 9/11." He wants to hunt down Bin Laden and his cronies. Obama fears that our reaction to 9/11 has fueled anti-American sentiment and thinking. The U.S. went into Iraq without thinking about the cultural effects - we, "Didn't think it through."
Edwards repeated his claim that we, the U.S., is, "Not safer under George Bush." He told the crowd that George Bush has used the Global War on Terror to justify every bad thing he has done. Clinton claims that we have made progress towards making the U.S. safer. She will fight terrorism, by starting with diplomacy and outreach (education, dough, economic incentives) and only use force as a last resort.
On China, Obama would apply pressure. He claims they are manipulating their currency and not engaging in free trade. He cautions that they are investing heavily in Latin America and Africa and that the U.S. has to follow suit.
On the Middle East, Edwards would help provide public education for 100 million middle eastern children (he claims that this is a Musharaff suggestion). Right now those children are being taught to hate the West in their schools. He would pressure Pakistan economically.
By a show of hands all candidates said that they would hire an official Whitehouse blogger. Gravel said the next president should blog. Coyote Gulch can see it now: "My fellow Americans. It's Saturday night and instead of partying I'm sitting in the basement of the White House in my underwear writing this."
After the forum each candidate held a breakout session with their fans and supporters. We went to Bill Richardson's session.
While the presidential forum and closing keynote were great fun, the individual sessions are the meat of the conference. We were impressed with the topics and presenters while lamenting that we had to skip many good topics just because of a lack of time. We would suggest to the organizers that fewer sessions, repeated more than once, might fuel a richer experience and promote more conversation.
The Political Impact of Video Through 2008
Our first session dealt with video and politics. One panelist told us that if Google (owners of YouTube now) keeps growing at their present rate their revenue will exceed the combined ad revenue of the three old guard networks by 2010. Campaigns have caught on. They are using web video to announce, present issues and enable video chats. Video is creating events that live on. (i.e. "Gotcha" video like the Macaca Video in the Webb campaign in Virginia in 2006). We're seeing user generated content contests, opposition research videos, flash pieces and TV clips.
The panel tried to peer into the video (and web) future. They predict more growth of the video roots. Candidates have learned to use video to pitch for dough to go on TV. There will be video ad watches online, policy videos, smear videos, November surprise videos. Campaigns and party organizations will use video to monitor polls on election day to ferret out voter fraud.
While generally praising the recent YouTube debate the panel praised the few questioners that used film in their questions to better frame and enhance the intent.
Reversing the Alito Effect: Mobilizing for 2008 to Take Back the Supreme Court
The panel in this session included: Adam Bonin, David Barron, Ralph Neas and Dahlia Lithwick. Mr. Bonin introduced everyone and set the stage by telling us that there were 24 five to four decisions in the last Supreme Court session. Justice Kennedy voted with the majority every time.
Dahlia Lithwick told us that the court heard fewer cases and that one highlight was Massachusetts vs. The Environment Protection Agency.
David Barron insists that contrary to popular opinion, the current court is not a minimalist court. They have a view about what the Constitution means and they are working towards it. Justice Kennedy has sent signals, despite his voting with the majority most of the time, that he is part of the four centrist justices, especially on the environment.
Ralph Neas issued a call to action to Judiciary Committee members saying that if they, "Don't get answers," to their questions, that should mean, "Automatic disqualification." For him the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court is the most important issue is the 2008 election. The Progressives should win control of the Congress but a conservative court can veto their work. His advice: Put a human face on the law; Be sure to organize with a goal of 56 to 57 U.S. Senators; This is the moment to decide not to, "Retreat to a 19th century view of the Supreme Court"; Fight to win; The best hope of educating nominees are the bloggers.
Rural Issues: America is Really Purple and Proud
The panel in this session included: Jim Harkness, Bill Bishop and Phil Bailey. David Sirota was the moderator. He claims that there exist opportunities in rural America, but that Democrats have stopped talking to rural voters on moral and kitchen table issues.
Jim Harkness told attendees that the Iraq war is a big deal in rural areas because they are overrepresented in the military. Rural areas are suffering from years of export led growth. They are facing the problem of an aging population and loss of their youth. Corporations have undue power over agricultural areas. Rural areas are hoping to reestablish control over natural resources and add value locally.
Bill Bishop said the, "Rural/Urban division is not false." There was an enormous shift from 1996 to 2000 from the Democratic to the Republican party.
Phil Bailey explained the success of the Democratic party in a formerly red county in Maine. In 2004 they started doing things differently. Starting with a handful of people they updated voter registration lists and started regularly scheduled meetings (that start on time). They revised their communication strategies moving from sending out postcard notices to using email. They stepped up the fundraising. Mr. Bailey told the audience if they find a good fundraiser - never let them go. Make sure the local organization has a place to call their own. Use your creativity. Hold potlucks, auctions, march in every parade you can find. Implement discussion groups online. Finally, seek out individuals that are committed to winning instead of personal glory.
Science Politics and Activism
This was the kick butt session for Coyote Gulch, despite primarily consisting of lectures. Three good speakers and great topics. First up was Chris Mooney. He has a book coming out on the climate change issue. He told us about his experienced writing his latest book (Subject: Hurricanes and the effects of global warming). The media is twisting the facts to tell a story. Conflict is occurring (and being manufactured by the media) between the physicists (modelers) and the empiricists. He told us that hurricanes are increasing in intensity and duration. This may indicate global warming. Some records are falling, i.e. barometric pressure in the eye of storms.
Sean Carroll's subject was Dark Matter and Dark Energy. In the last 10 years physicists have made strides in building an inventory of what the universe is made of. It turns out that you and I, all the things we can see along with all the known universe, only make up a small part of what makes the universe. Most of the stuff out there is actually dark energy. We can measure the effects of dark matter and dark energy as a means to prove they exist. We can't yet see them. He says that there are two ways to look at the world, come to the table with basic beliefs and make the data fit to you or come with no pre-conceived notions (science).
Ed Brayton introduced a new effort, 70 Weeks to Save America. They write on their website:
On behalf of Ambassador Alan Keyes and myself, welcome to our new site dedicated to bringing renewal to America.
Dr. Keyes and I have joined forces as Preacher and Constitutional Expert in a Seventy Week project comprised of seventy "One Day Crusades" across America beginning the week of July 4th and ending the week of the national elections in 2008.
Our aim is to inform, equip and mobilize millions of God-fearing Americans to rise up and reclaim our heritage as a country uniquely blessed and called by God to be an example to the world of freedom.
Their aim is to push creationism, abstinence only education and get God back into the schools. Mr. Brayton warned that the netroots and Progressives need to use similar tactics, run for local offices and push a science based curriculum in schools. He defined two types of ignorance, mundane and virulent. The former is just a lack of knowledge while the latter is the systematic accretion of non-scientific knowledge.
Blogs and Journalism: The New News?
The panel was led by Rob Levine and included Abdi Aynte, Sidney Blumenthal, Cara DeGette and Ezra Klein. In this session panelists were asked to comment on certain topics.
First up was trust. Abdi Aynte said that traditional media gives us the same people over and over and that they are no longer skeptics when told something by their sources. He stated that he always questions his sources and verifies. Ezra Klein remarked the blogs have traditionally relied on hyper-linking to build trust.
When asked about the decline of the traditional print media Mr. Blumenthal told the story of his start in journalism through independent newpapers in the early 70's. There were over 4,000 of them with 10 million readers. The new media is too radical for the Washington press corps and are contrary to the sensibility of the Washington press corps. The problem now is that there are many bloggers but fewer institutions to support them.
Commenting on the clash of bloggers and the mainstream media Mr. Aynte added that, "We're being blamed for the meltdown." However part of the problem is that it is a generational clash. He asked, "Should we be obsessed with objectivism?" He answered by saying, "We should be obsessed with fairness."
Cara DeGette added that doing good journalism costs money. She longs for someone to step in and create a business model for the new journalism.
On the subject of media consolidation Ezra Klein commented that, "It's getting harder to consolidate," news sources. Since it's easier to own spectrum, and papers are expensive to own, the Internet has a lower barrier to entry and lower costs.
Sidney Blumenthal told us that bloggers now have the opportunity to show their stuff with the bridge collapse in the Twin Cities. Will we find out who is responsible? What are the policies that led to the tragedy?
Immigration and Hispanics: The Policy and the Politics
The panel was led by Joe Garcia with panelists, Celia Muñoz, Eliseo Medina and Simon Rosenberg.
Simon Rosenberg started off showing the numbers, trends and demographics. The hispanic electorate is now ~20% of the population. Immigrants are a large share of this group, the majority is foreign born and Spanish is their first language. 70% of the nation's largest cities are in the West. The Hispanic electorate is not a monolithic community, the reverse is true, it is the most volatile.
If the Democratic nominee carries the states that were blue in the last two cycles, carrying Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, they will have a sufficient total to be inaugurated in January, 2009. Strategists know this, hence a convention in Denver.
Celia Muñoz commented on the immigration bill debate. She said that, "Hispanics took it very personally." Her advice to the Democratic Party is to seize the opportunity. There is a broken immigration system. Immigrants need legal status, "Help them come out of the shadows." The legislation needs to let people come in a limited, regulated way. Ms. Muñoz emphasized the need for, "A legal path to citizenship." The recent, stepped up, ICE raids have galvanized the community. They're outraged over the breakup of families with minor children. She also talked about the tendency for Republicans to play the illegal immigration card to bring down bills that are unrelated.
Eliseo Medina talked about the accomplishments of the SEIU. Much of their membership is Hispanic. He told attendees that 5% of the U.S. military consists of "greencard military," that is, immigrants hoping to earn citizenship by serving. "Senator Sensenbrenner has organized the Latino community like no one else" quipped Medina. He predicts that there is a new civil rights movement being born.
Simon Rosenberg chided bloggers saying, "Bloggers did not show up in the immigration debate."
The Middle Class: The Problems it Faces and Progressive Solutions
This session's panel, moderated by Hale Stewart, included Rob Shapiro, Vic Uzumeri, Elana Levin and Tula Connell. Mr. Stewart informed us that in this current recovery we have experienced a historically low job creation rate. The lion's share of the jobs that have been created are lower paying, primarily in the service sector.
Elana Levin spoke of the effects of increasing tuition and other costs for college education having increase 35% in the last 5 years. Couple that with the reality that a college education is not any longer a guarantor of a middle class lifestyle. Outsourcing looms large in her view.
Tula Connell reminded us that healthcare is harder to get for the middle class and that worker productivity and income no longer move together (as they have historically). She sees union membership as key to the recovery.
Rob Shapiro was one of the numbers guys. Economic growth has been reasonably strong over the last 5 years, productivity is up 3% year on year. Globalization is, "The big event in the last 6-7 years." This requires, "Serious healthcare reform," followed by a strong energy policy.
Vic Uzumeri pointed out the globalization is putting downward pressure on prices while at the same time the middle class is being pushed on from below. Healthcare costs are the primary villain here. He recommends life long learning where we can teach anything, anywhere at any time, at any stage of life. The learning needs to be social and fun.