Live streaming isn’t new to American politics

Dan Pfeiffer puts it well when he describes Meerkat as a platform “no one seems to know how to use…yet.” It’s brand new and may well be offering something that people find applications for, in politics or beyond. But for now descriptions of how Meerkat is going to change the 2016 elections are premature. Pfeiffer’s hype of Meerkat seems to be a bit much to me, particularly given his apparent ignorance of other live streaming platforms from the present and recent past.

For starters, Pfeiffer seems to be unaware that live video streaming technology already exists and has been around with varying degrees of success since before Barack Obama was even nominated by the Democratic Party for President in 2008. UStream and launched in 2007. Qik launched in 2008. YouTube has had live streaming functionality for quite some time too.

These platforms launched before smartphones with decent video cameras were ubiquitous. But they existed and they have been (and are) used quite widely — to broadcast live streams of puppies, of baby bears, of concerts, and yes, American politicians.

In spring 2007 I went to work for Chris Dodd’s presidential campaign. Dodd, at the time a five term Democratic Senator from Connecticut, never got above two or three percent in national polls and exited the race after the Iowa caucus in early January 2008.

Prior to that exit, though, we deployed live video streaming as a core part of our campaign’s engagement with the public. As deputy internet director, I traveled with Dodd on essentially all of his political trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, Michigan and other early states. Along the way, I used UStream to live stream anywhere from one to three speeches and Q&A sessions per day.

People following the presidential primary were able to engage in the same dialogue with a candidate as residents of the early states. Using UStream’s embedded chat functionality, as well as monitoring comments on the sites where our streams were embedded, we were able to bring in questions from people across the country into Dodd’s Q&A sessions with voters in New Hampshire and caucus-goers in Iowa.

The technology was simple and easy. A small camcorder hooked up to a laptop and broadcast on UStream. For the best streams we would use an ethernet cable, but the best was rarely possible. Most of our streams were done over wifi or even a Verizon air card. I was able to set up live streams in back yards at house parties in New Hampshire or in greasy spoon diners rural Iowa. At big political forums I was able to run live streams from the press risers alongside CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News.

We promoted live streams on Twitter and kept a scroll of recent tweets and streaming feeds on the home page of the campaign’s website.

During the Google & YouTube-hosted debate in South Carolina we even UStreamed senior campaign staff commenting and fact checking what was being said during the course of the debate in real time. According to UStream, that feed have over 10,000 views. Following the debate commentary, I broadcast live from the post-debate spin room while Senator Dodd answered questions from reporters.

Again, this was in 2007.

The Dodd internet campaign, under the leadership of Tim Tagaris, turned our website into a video hub for speaking directly to voters. Tagaris’s vision was to give people greater access to Dodd and the campaign via streaming video — to create “Big Brother” for politics with brand new technology. We built DoddTV — a multi-channel repository for live streams of speeches, saved videos of Dodd talking on key political topics, and interviews with senior campaign staff talking about our work. DoddTV even included a live stream of the Dodd campaign headquarters to watch staff work (naturally we didn’t broadcast sound).

To state the obvious, the Dodd campaign’s innovative use of live streaming technology and public engagement via streaming video did not move the needle an inch in the Democratic presidential primary. Maybe it’s because we were eight years ahead of our time. But more likely it’s because the forces of political sentiment in America are too big to be influenced by one technology platform or one medium of engagement.

I have no clue if Meerkat will revolutionize political engagement during the 2016 cycle and neither does Dan Pfeiffer. Maybe the spread of smartphones with good video cameras and faster data connections will bring live streaming into politics in a bigger way than we did in 2007. Maybe the fact that recording broadcasts for later viewing is actually a really key feature for spreading what happens at political events won’t be relevant to Meerkat’s growth in politics or beyond.

I just hope we can have a discussion of Meerkat that recognizes the technology platforms that came before it, as well as the applications that those platforms were deployed in, before we anoint live streaming as the “new” technology of the 2016 election cycle.

Cross posted from Medium.

Dodd: Senate is “A Dysfunctional Institution”

Mike Stark does some great work interviewing Senator Chris Dodd, getting him to speak out against the obstructionism by the Republicans that have turned the Senate into a dysfunctional institution.

he had some pretty strong words for the conduct of certain Senators (that remained unnamed), saying they needed to “start acting like Senators”.

But perhaps the most revealing thing Senator Dodd said was that because the Senate is currently dysfunctional, “because we’re frustrated right now over an abusive use of a historic vehicle that led to the essence of what the Senate is,we’re about to abandon the essence of the Senate.”

That came after he said, “I’m saddened in a way… the reason the Senate works is because the chemistry of the membership makes it work. That’s why it takes unanimous consent to do almost anything. And the essence of the Senate was basically a longer, slower look at things.”

The audio of Stark’s interview with Dodd is below:

NYT’s Ed Board Should Read the NYT

The New York Times editorial board, “Will the Real Chris Dodd Stand Up? 1/7/10:

That coziness — especially the V.I.P. cut-rate mortgage he received from the now-defunct subprime lender, Countrywide Financial — is one of the reasons his state’s voters have turned against him. [Emphasis added]

The New York Times’s David Herszenhorn, “Senators Are Cleared of Ethics Complaints,” 8/7/09:

The committee noted that the Senate’s gift rules allow lawmakers to obtain loans provided they are made at terms available to the general public. And that seemed to be a crucial factor in its decision.

“The loans you received,” the committee wrote, “appear to have been available industry-wide to borrowers with comparable loan profiles.”

It’d be great if the editorial board at the New York Times read their own paper’s reporting.  According to both the New York Times and the Senate Ethics Committee, Dodd did not receive a “V.I.P. cut-rate mortgage.” He received on “at terms available to the general public.”

To be precise, when the Times editorializes that CT voters turned against him because he received a “V.I.P. cut-rate mortgage,” what they really must mean is that voters turned against him because Republicans and a lazy press accused him of receiving a special deal, when there was zero evidence to support it. It was a media swarm that had no bearing on the truth — a truth that even the New York Times reported in the end.

On Senator Chris Dodd’s Retirement

There isn’t anyone in American politics who I respect or think more of than Senator Chris Dodd. I had the privilege to work for him for most of 2007 and the early days of 2008. I was fortunate that not only did I get to work for him, but helped him wage some of the most important progressive fights of that period — the May Iraq war supplemental fight in which Dodd fought for putting a timetable for withdrawal and the fight against the FISA Amendments Act, which would include retroactive immunity for telecoms that illegally spied on US citizens without warrant. He was also there with the netroots, standing up to Bill O’Reilly’s attacks on the Yearly Kos convention and whipping BillO’s butt six ways from Sunday on his own show. In all of these fights, for different reasons, Senator Dodd made me incredibly proud to work for him.

Beyond the big issue fights where Dodd lead both the Senate and his presidential opponents though, I was able to work closely with Senator Dodd in my role. My job including traveling with the Senator on just about all of his political trips from May through January. We criss-crossed the country, but spent most of our time in Iowa and New Hampshire. The vast majority of these trips weren’t on big tour buses, but rented minivans, packed with staffers and luggage and a Senator who always had energy for the next event. Along the way I was fortunate enough to get to know Senator Dodd very well on a personal level and, to some extent I’m sure, he got to know me. No matter how long I spend working in politics, I do not doubt that my year traveling with Senator Dodd will remain one of my fondest experiences.

It’s common in politics that politicians will put on one face with the public and the press and be complete terrors with their staff. Not Chris Dodd — he was the same guy hosting a town hall with 100 people in Manchester or have coffee with 10 people in Dubuque or talking to a journalist or having dinner with staff at 11pm after a six event day that covered hundreds of miles of Iowa corn fields. He has the same wit, charm and sense of humor, the same commitment to his Democratic beliefs, and the same faith in the goodness of the American people regardless of where he is or who he is talking to.

I also got to know his wife Jackie and his daughters, Grace and Christina.  Though Senator Dodd would not cite his family as the explicit reason he was no longer seeking reelection, the real benefit is he will now get to see his girls grow up without having to commute back and forth from Washington, DC to East Haddam, CT. His girls are fantastic and you could see that today, as Christina was in Jackie’s arms, her big smile, just like her father’s. Some of us politicos may not be happy to see Senator Dodd retire, but I’m sure Grace and Christina will be happy to have him home with them. And I couldn’t be more happy for the girls.

I think there’s a strong case to be made that Chris Dodd is his generation’s most prolific and accomplished Democratic legislator. The Family & Medical Leave Act is the most important piece of social legislation since the 1960s. He’s been an impassioned advocate for children, the disabled, and the disadvantaged. He’s been a leading voice for ending the war in Iraq and an even louder voice in defense of the Constitution and our civil liberties. Just in the last year he’s authored four major pieces of legislation, including a housing bill and the CREDIT CARD Act. He’s also chaired the Banking Committee and be the acting chair of the Health, Education, Labor & Pension Committee, ushering the Senate’s best health care reform legislation (which included a public option) through the Senate. The man is a true lion and progressives will be undoubtedly worse off without his voice in the Senate.

But it is because of all of his accomplishments and all of his work fighting for things that I believe in that I am glad to see him leaving the Senate on his own terms. I can’t imagine how hard a decision this was for Senator Dodd and his family, but it is his decision. I hope that he takes the last year he has in the Senate to redouble his efforts in fighting for the agenda he has long fought for. I hope he holds nothing back and bookends his career not just with the passage of health care reform, but financial reform, education, student lending, and restoring the rule of law to America. With a year to work, I know Senator Dodd can still accomplish more than any other one of his peers. Just watch him do it.

Senator Dodd, your voice will sorely be missed in the US Senate. Thank you for all of your service to Connecticut and to our country.

Sirota on Bernanke

David Sirota has a very good post on the interesting coalition of votes that is emerging against the re-confirmation of Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve Chairman on the Senate Banking Committee. He thinks Chairman Chris Dodd “shouldn’t be impossibly movable to “no,” but probably is,” citing Dodd’s historic ties to the banking and finance industry when it comes to fundraising.

It’s very hard to properly capture Dodd’s place on the Wall St vs Main St spectrum. While he’s from Connecticut and has clearly had close ties to banking when it comes to campaign support, he also was the strongest opponent of the Bankruptcy Bill in the Senate and created the Family and Medical Leave Act, the most important piece of social policy since LBJ. Many people presume that because he is from Connecticut and on this committee,  he must be in the pocket of the finance industry. But it just doesn’t stand up. Dodd has shown an incredible ability to take money from this industry and still vote his conscience and author progressive legislation.

I don’t know that his recent legislation on credit cards, debit cards, and housing is so easy to pigeonhole as coming from electoral vulnerability as Sirota says it is. It certainly is an easy story to tell. But it has never struck me as true, given what I know about Chris Dodd and his voting history on these issues.

Rebutting GOP Smears of Dodd on Countrywide

David Fiderer of the Huffington Post again provides a thoughtful and comprehensive rebuttal of the last round of bogus smears being hurled at Chris Dodd by Republicans who choose to ignore that Dodd was already exonerated of any wrongdoing related to Countrywide mortgages. Congressional investigation showed that Countrywide was not offering bargain rates for VIPs:

Overall it appears that the VIPs were often offered quicker, or more efficient loan processing and some discounts. However, it also appears that all VIP loans, including all [Friends of Angelo] loans, were required to meet the same underwriting standards and conditions for resale on the secondary market and non-VIP loans.  Furthermore, there is evidence on the record that the discounts offered to VIPs and FOAs were not the best deals available at Countrywide or in the marketplace at large. In sum, participation in the VIP or FOA programs did not necessarily mean that borrowers received the best financial deal available either from Countrywide or from other lenders.

Fiderer’s whole piece is worth a read. It’s clear that this vacuous crap is the most that Rob Simmons and other GOP challengers (or the particularly gullible and lax Michael Moore) are throwing at Dodd.