NDN Blog

Monday morning roundup

Am blogging here from the Courts in DC, as I wait to see if I get to serve on a jury trial.

Didnt get to do my normal scan of the news today, but the most interesting pieces I found came from the Times, and report on the growing regional fear in the Middle East of Iran and its Shiite allies. From the first piece:

"With the battle between Israel and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah raging, key Arab governments have taken the rare step of blaming Hezbollah, underscoring in part their growing fear of influence by the group’s main sponsor, Iran. Saudi Arabia, with Jordan, Egypt and several Persian Gulf states, chastised Hezbollah for “unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible acts” at an emergency Arab League summit meeting in Cairo on Saturday."

From the second piece: "As sectarian violence soars, many Sunni Arab political and religious leaders once staunchly opposed to the American presence here are now saying they need American troops to protect them from the rampages of Shiite militias and Shiite-run government forces.

The pleas from the Sunni Arab leaders have been growing in intensity since an eruption of sectarian bloodletting in February, but they have reached a new pitch in recent days as Shiite militiamen have brazenly shot dead groups of Sunni civilians in broad daylight in Baghdad and other mixed areas of central Iraq."

While there is much to be debated about American foreign policy these days, there is growing global concern about the rise of Iran, the main sponsors of Hezbollah. I offered some additional thoughts on Iran on Saturday.


Economic Special: 1% off.

"The backlash against globalisation is becoming more pronounced every day in the US." So begins a comment piece by Jacques Mistral, a European economist currently at Harvard, in this Morning's FT. Tell us more about that, Jaques:

Rapid growth in recent decades did not deliver those results; the best-off have done so well in the past decade only because they succeeded in capturing a huge part of the increase in national income. The top one-tenth of 1 per cent of the income distribution earned as much of the real 1997-2001 gain in wage and salary income (excluding non-labour income) as the bottom 50 per cent. It should come as no surprise that the number of those without health insurance is increasing and poverty ratesin the US are the highest amongall Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, in particular for children and seniors.

Lest you think this is just a nasty case of we-told-you-so euromoaning, Mistral isn't the only one making this argument. Listen carefully, and elsewhere in the commentary jungle this morning you'll hear the unmistakeable thound of distant resumes clashing. This thudding noise is a different take on same brouhaha, midway to being thrashed out by Paul Krugman (D- Times, nobel laureate presumptive), Brad De Long (D- Berkely, Republican hating ex-Clinton economy boffin) and Greg Mankiw (R- Harvard, ex-Bush economy boffin.)

The gist of the debate has been exactly how unequal America has become, and how much of that inequality can be put down to returns to education.A decent summary of where they've got to is here, on the superb Economist's View website. The argument stems from an updated economic study, mentioned here last week. The killer point of disagreement is what explains the huge recent income gains made by the top 1% of Americans (see graph in link). The fact that such an increase has occured - what Krugam calls "Guilded Age II - is not in dispute. (In fact, the discussion is all the more remarkable for what isn't up for discussion. Just one example would be the fact that even the top 10% of wealthy Americans have seen relatively pedestrian increases in their incomes lately)

Again, don't take my word for it. Whats that? You want me to engage in my usual habit of finding business-friendly firepower to back up seemingly partisan anaylsis. Well ok then, i'll give you the ever Democrat-supporting Outlook section of this morning's Wall St Journal, discussing last week's improved budget figures. Quoth the Journal: "So, the tax windfall is another piece of evidence that income inequality in the U.S. continues to grow, which in turn may explain why the average American still gives President Bush low marks on the economy despite its overall strength.

Does this matter? Sure it does. The latest example of why comes in the opening paragraph of a fascinating story in this morning's Washington Post:

Jerry Nelson steered his grocery cart out of the Wal-Mart on a recent night, fuming about globalization, Southern style. "Another great night at the Mexican Wal-Mart," he groused to no one in particular.

Whatever the smartest-men-in-the-room decide, its increasingly clear that this 1% economy is not performing for Jerry Nelson, or most other Americans for that matter. Bringing that fringe 99% of the rest of us along for the ride can rarely have seemed more important.


Sunday Roundup

We've written a great deal about the Middle East these past few days, so today's focus is on other news today:  

The Post's lede editorial today begins with this remarkable graph: "The world last week seemed almost to be spinning out of control. From Lebanon to North Korea to Darfur, from Baghdad to Bombay, the news was frightening or depressing or both. Hundreds of innocent people died. Oil prices soared, stock prices fell. It's been some time since global affairs seemed so bleak."  They then raise the vital question - is the world spinning out of control because of the weakness of the Administration, or despite it?  The answer to this question is one of the most important ones of our time. 

Thinkprogress captures the well-reported exchange between Bush and Putin, where, at a low moment for our country, the Russian autocrat bests an American President in a discussion of the meaning of democracy. 

The Post reports how worried GOP leaders are that the immigration debate could do long term damage to their Party.  NDN agrees that they should be worried.

The Times previews this week's Senate stemcell debate. 

On the subject of Presidential power, talkingpointsmemo offers an interesting take on what happened this week with FISA and Arlen Specter.  Glenn Greenwald, author of How Would a Patriot Act? has had a series of thoughtful posts on the subject this week. And in a related editorial, the Times weighs in hard:

"It is only now, nearly five years after Sept. 11, that the full picture of the Bush administration’s response to the terror attacks is becoming clear. Much of it, we can see now, had far less to do with fighting Osama bin Laden than with expanding presidential power.

Over and over again, the same pattern emerges: Given a choice between following the rules or carving out some unprecedented executive power, the White House always shrugged off the legal constraints. Even when the only challenge was to get required approval from an ever-cooperative Congress, the president and his staff preferred to go it alone. While no one questions the determination of the White House to fight terrorism, the methods this administration has used to do it have been shaped by another, perverse determination: never to consult, never to ask and always to fight against any constraint on the executive branch.

One result has been a frayed democratic fabric in a country founded on a constitutional system of checks and balances. Another has been a less effective war on terror."

And finally, the Times Magazine has a piece that I've haven't read yet - but will tonight - on the possible return of nuclear power

Saturday Morning Reflections

I will do more of a news roundup tomorrow, but today wanted to reflect upon the rising violence in the Middle East.   Here we go:

Iran is a big problem - At the heart of Israel's actions this week is a needed and important challenge of the efforts of Iran to become a regional hegemon.  Iran is a significant funder of both Hezbollah and Hamas; they are developing nuclear weapons against the objections of the world; they have a new powerful beachhead in Iraq; their current leader is perhaps, should we say, "unstable:" with oil revenues surging, they have the money to project greater power; and I believe they have, along with the Russians, decided to create instability in the Middle East to drive up the price of oil to both weaken the West and reinforce their power. 

Iran should be viewed as a classic regional aggressor, acting outside the norms of the International Community.  As we are tied down in Iraq, and with reduced money, international credibility and troops, America is at this moment ill-equipped to lead a multi-year effort to contain Iran's ambitions.  Israel sees all this, and is taking aggressive action to begin challenging Iran before they grow too powerful, knowing that the America and the world at this point are unlikely to be effective at checking the dangerous rise of Iran. 

The high cost of oil is creating global instability - While much has been made of the environmental impact of our dependence on fossil fuels, it is time to begin a public conversation about the security challenges it poses.  Several oil states - Russia, Iran, Venezuela - buoyed by high oil prices, are becoming exporters of instability.  As the providers of something all growing nations are deeply dependent on, they literally have the world over a barrel.  Challenge Russia as the Europeans wanted to, and Putin threatens to cut off natural gas supplies.   Bush goes to Russia for the G-8, and is muted in his criticism of the growing authoritarianism of Putin and his team. 

Remember that when Hamas was elected Russia joined Iran as one of first nations to provide monthly aid.  Hamas's leadership visited Russia in their first trip outside the Middle East.  There is clear evidence of a growing deep and strategic relationship between Russia and Iran.  The provocative acts by Hamas and Hezbollah came at a time when Israel and the moderates in the Palestinian government were making progress on talks to have Israel pull out of the West Bank as it did in Gaza, a core plank of Olmert's recent campaign.  

The provocative acts by Hamas and Hezbollah appeared strategic and coordinated, designed to create instability and possibly regional war.  But who would want this? Certainly not the Palestinian or Lebanese governments, as they were benefiting from the recent peace.  Not the Saudis or Jordanians.  It sure makes sense to believe these actions were encouraged by Iran.  Both Hamas and Hezbollah are enemies of Israel, are bankrolled by Iran, and the actions themselves seemed more designed to create instability then to achieve a concrete outcome - and who benefits from instability in the Middle East?  Those who own the oil - Iran, Russia - and those who have a vested interest in fostering instability in the region. 

The question facing our government, great friends of the US oil industry, is do they believe the high cost of oil to be a problem for America? Sure doesn't seem that way by their actions.  And fundamentally, if we cannot accept as a nation that our dependence on fossil fuels is becomg a one of our greatest societal and security threats, then our government is no longer serving the interests of the American people.   

Tracking the Conservatives' Mastery of Niche Marketing

The New Politics Institute is mostly focused on what progressives can do to take advantage of the current wave of new media and new tools and connect with emerging constituencies. However, when it was founded a little over the year ago, we said we wanted to keep closely watching the conservative strategy too.

A new book is just coming out that should be useful in that regard: One Party Country : The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century, by Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten. These LA Times reporters look closely at the niche target marketing strategy that the Republicans executed in the 2004 election and their plans to keep tipping the country to their camp. The book is not out yet and I haven’t read it, but I used to work with Tom Hamburger and expect it will be excellent. George Will essentially reviews the book in his column in this week’s Newsweek and you can get a sense of the plan on the other side.

Peter Leyden

A Taxing President

Its been a fascinating week for that bemused breed: the GOP economic policy observer. And all the more so for Paul Krugman's collumn in The Times this morning. He nicely lays out the debate. Republicans complain they don't get much credit for a growing economy. Economists point out this is because most people haven't seen any benefit. He also picks up on new research highlighed a few days ago over at the CBPP showing huge rises in income concentration for the top 1% (and the top .01%) of Americans, and argues that most Americans haven't shared in this sucess.

Just for fun, here is a case in point. I was fiddling around with some wage figures for a report NDN is putting together on the Republican economic record. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that the average American wage when the President won re-election was $480.41. (Stats fans - check the average weekly earnings box, and click retrieve data.) Today that figure is $543.65, which looks ok. But control for the fact that prices have gone up around 15% in this period and the real weekly wage of the average America is - guess what? - $480.40. So, on our calculations, average americans haven't gained one cent under President Bush. In fact, they've lost one.

But perhaps the most perceptive comment on all of the week's economic news comes nestled in an editorial in this morning's Financial Times. They note that the President economic push this week wasn't just to battle for a tie on his economic record in the run-in to November. In fact, something more important is afoot, something central to his legacy as a President and the governance strategy of conservatives more generally.

"The president's chief aim was in fact to bolster his campaign to convert the temporary tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 into permanent reductions beyond their 2010 expiry date. It is smart politics that sends two messages: first, the numbers reassure fiscal conservatives alienated by the administration's record of rising deficits; and, second, Mr Bush's interpretation of the data rallies supply-side radicals who believe America's thumping GDP growth has been caused by the tax cuts."

As Rob Shapiro wrote yesterday, its difficult to know where to begin. The changed estimates can't have been the result of tax policy, because tax policy is unchanged since they were first made. They could well have been the result of fiddled figures, as both Rob and Brad De Long argued this week. And it couldn't be clearer after this week that the tax cuts do not pay for themselves. Yet, the more important battle is whether the tax cuts will be made permanent when they expire in 2010. If they are most estimates suggest that their costs will go through the roof - 3.3 trillion through 2017, says the Congressional Budget Office - significantly worsening the budget deficit for whoever is unlucky enough to pick up the President's economic tab. Not allowing this to happen must be among the most important economic fights of the next two years.

Friday Morning Roundup

Lots in the news today about the growing regional conflict in the Middle East.  Michael Young, writing in the Times, suggests: ISRAEL’S incursion into Lebanon after the kidnapping on Wednesday of two Israeli soldiers by the militant group Hezbollah is far more than another flare-up on a tense border. It must also be seen as a spinoff of a general counterattack against American and Israeli power in the region by Iran and Syria, operating through sub-state actors like Hezbollah and the Palestinian organization Hamas."

The Washington Post's editorial page writes: "WHEN ISRAEL withdrew its troops from southern Lebanon in 2000 after more than two decades of occupation, it also issued a warning: Any cross-border provocations by Hezbollah, the militant Shiite group, would elicit a severe military response. So there can be no surprise at the violent reaction to Hezbollah's ambush of an Israeli patrol Wednesday, in which three soldiers were killed and two others taken captive by the guerrillas. And there can be no doubt that Iran and Syria, Hezbollah's chief sponsors, bear responsibility for what has instantly become the most far-reaching, lethal and dangerous eruption of cross-border fighting in the Middle East in recent years."

And EJ Dionne correctly points out that the whole Bush strategy in the Middle East, here described as the Big Bang theory, has failed: "But when the Big Bang (invasion of Iraq)happened, the wreckage left behind took the form of reduced American influence, American armed forces stretched to their limit and a Middle East more dangerously unstable than it was at the beginning of 2003. Whether one ascribes these troubles to the flawed implementation of the Big Bang Theory or to the theory itself, what matters now is how to limit and, if possible, undo some of the damage."

As I wrote a few days ago, the Bush era foreign policy has failed.  The escalation in the Middle East, shines a light on what has been perhaps our greatest failure, our strategy to bring democracy and stability to the Middle East.   

But this is a familiar theme these days.  Katrina showed our Homeland Security strategy has failed; declining wages, rising health care cost, energy, college tuition and interest costs, coupled with the largest deficits in history has shown that our economic strategy has failed; a core piece of our strategy on how to fight the war on terror has been repudiated by the Supreme Court, and now in degrees by the Administration. 

In talking to many friends over the past two days, it is clear that people are worried by what is happening in the Middle East, but more worried that there is so little we as American can do about it.  Our extraordinary failure in Iraq has shaken our faith, and I would add the faith of the world, in America's ability to tackle difficult international challenges.  It feels very much like we need a new leadership team, a new strategy and a new direction at what is a very critical time for the nation.  But how is that to happen?

The New Politics Institute is Coming to Capitol Hill 7/20 to Help Progressives Master the New Tools and New Media of Politics

Want to learn how people involved in politics can better allocate their media dollar? Use blogs? Optimize search? Connect with young people? Make a mobile phone a tool for your message? Understand the exurbs? Reach Hispanics? Use influentials to spread the word about your work?

Then you will want to check out www.newpolitics.net, the website of the New Politics Institute, a think tank helping progressives master today’s transformation of politics due to the rapid changes in technology, media and the demographic makeup of America.

Over the last year, NPI’s network of top professionals in these fields have developed a compelling body of practical, useful reports that will help you get your message out more effectively today. We’ve also put on a series of events in Washington DC, many of which can be watched on digital video that is archived on the website. Taken together, they form a very 21st century toolbox for progressives.

The next event on “The Powerful New Political Tools of 2006” will be Thursday, July 20th, at the Phoenix Park Hotel. The two-hour lunch program will feature short presentations about best practices from top innovators and experts in half a dozen critical areas:

Paid Search Advertising: With Jim Lecinski, Midwest Regional Director for Google, who will explain why Google sold $6 billion in paid search ads last year and how political actors can start to use this outlet too.

Viral Video on the Internet: With Julie Bergman Sender, a longtime motion picture executive and producer who produced the well-known viral video in the 2004 cycle starring Will Ferrell playing George W. Bush with horses on a ranch.

Blogs and Next Wave Internet Innovations: With Jerome Armstrong, coauthor of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics, and the internet strategist for Governor Mark Warner.

Mobile Phone Media: With Tim Chambers, who recently served as Sony Corp of America’s Senior Vice President of Advanced Media Platforms and just started his own company, Media 50 Group.

Getting More from TV Ads: With Theo Yedinsky, NPI’s Senior Advisor, who will speak about shifting more ad spend from broadcast television to targeted cable buys.

Speaking in Spanish: With Simon Rosenberg, President of NDN who has been leading a national Spanish language media campaign using soccer and the World Cup.

Feel free to spread the word of this free lunch event to colleagues in the DC area. And if you won't be in DC next week, look for a video of the event off our website a few days later. In any event, you can always check out the tools in our tool box on our website.

There are a wide array of new tools and new media being used by early adopters in the public and private sectors that are totally ready for prime time in politics not someday, not next year, but right now. The more progressives who understand how to use them, the better. Please spread the word.

Thursday Morning Roundup

Short one today, am traveling.  

- The move by the Democrats to make raising the minimum wage a major issue in the campaign is a good one.   As we've discussed in our globalization initiative, the average family is making $1,400 less today than five years ago.  Costs like health care, college tuition, energy and interest payments have risen.  It is has become much harder to make it in today economy.  Faced with this, what is the governing party looking to do? Eliminate the estate tax for the very wealthiest Americans, and give themselves a pay increase. 

This let them eat cake strategy of the governing party is unacceptable, and has left a vast opening for the Democrats.  We clearly need to do more than raise the minimum wage, but this is a very good and important start.  It says to those Americans struggling to get by that we know of your struggles and are working to make it better.  

- The Times has an important piece showing how much Iran is behing the recent military actions against Israel.   The Post previews the G-8, and the troubles following Bush there.  Most papers today have stories about the Russians waning committment to democracy at home. 

- USA Today has a front page piece on the efforts to mobilize Hispanics in response to the current immigration debate.  It features El Cucuy, a powerful California based DJ at the very center of the education and mobilization effort.  In our spring immigration radio campaign, NDN advertized extensively on Cucuy, and another vital DJ, El Piolin.  In a related story, the Post had a must read piece about the rise of Spanish-language radio, now the 3rd most listened to radio format in America.    

MySpace is #1

Last week, my space officially became the most popular website in America.

"MySpace commands 4.46 percent of all visits, according to new research by Hitwise. That's a greater market share than Yahoo's email service (4.42 percent), Yahoo's home page (4.25 percent), and Google (3.89 percent)."

"Within the social networking sphere, MySpace's dominance is uncontested with fully 79.9 percent of the total number of visits. The next biggest network is Facebook (7.5 percent share), followed by Xanga (3.8 percent)."

You can read the full story here - free subscription.

Would love to hear thoughts about the new online social networking tools and the presidential campaign in 08?

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