NDN Blog

Monday Buzz: Optimistic Obama, Sotomayor, and More

Simon had a great quote in the Washington Post last week in Dan Balz's story on the Sotomayor hearings:

Simon Rosenberg, president of the Democratic-leaning think tank NDN, said in an e-mail message yesterday that his party has been far more deft at capitalizing on the nation's changing demographics. He put the Sotomayor nomination in that context, another example, he said, of the party's recognition that the United States will soon be a majority-minority nation.

"If during the next few weeks the Republicans appear to be playing politics with race rather than raising legitimate issues about Sotomayor's judicial approach, it could reinforce the deep impression that the Republican Party's anachronistic and intolerant approach to race and diversity is making them less capable of leading a very different and more racially diverse America of the early 21st century," he wrote.

Rob was quoted in Politico and CBS News about the Obama administration's overly-optimistic financial forecasts:

“They used a rosy forecast, and that’s understandable because a quick recovery makes the rest of the agenda possible. It creates the basis for the revenues you need for health care and climate change,” said Robert Shapiro, a former Clinton economic adviser.

“But it’s also dangerous and risky because if the forecast doesn’t come true, you’ve undermined the basis for the rest of your policies,” he added.

Rob also appeared in the Associated Press discussing CIT's bailout rejection; in the Huffington Post on the IMF's predictions for the global recession; and in the New York Times on cap and trade. From the AP piece:

After spending tens of billions of dollars on banks, automakers and insurance firms, the administration's decision marked the first time it set a limit on the types of institutions it deems too big and too interconnected to be allowed to fail.

"You have to be glad for any line at all — that the government and the taxpayers are not prepared to rescue any financial institution under all circumstances," said Rob Shapiro, a former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton and chairman of Sonecon, an economic-consulting firm.

Finally, Andres was quoted in the Las Vegas Sun discussing a flawed neighborhood satisfaction survey which discouraged Hispanic participation:

Andres Ramirez, vice president of Hispanic programs at NDN, a Washington, D.C., think tank, says the city could have gotten more involved in both designing and executing the survey to target Hispanics.

“There were not enough people paying attention to this community and its importance to the growth of this city,” says Ramirez, who lost a bid to become North Las Vegas’ first Hispanic mayor in 2005.

Because of the low sample size of respondents in general, and the even smaller number of Hispanic participants, Ramirez says, the survey “shouldn’t be used as a viable political tool.”

Friday New Tools Feature: Will Journalism Find Itself in the Obituaries?

There have been a plethora of pieces written this year about the impending death of journalism as we know it. Most of us are familiar with the general story-line - newspaper subscriptions are in decline, reporters are being laid off in droves, and nobody can figure out how to make money in online journalism. The Daily Show recently ran an amazing bit where Jason Jones asked a New York Times editor, "What's black and white and red all over?" The answer to the riddle, according to Jones? "Your balance sheets." 

But if journalism as we know it really is dying, what will come next? It's a question that no one has really figured out how to answer. At a panel at this year's Personal Democracy Forum Conference, Frank Rich and others discussed the future of journalism; Rich, one of my favorite MSM columnists, reiterated points from an article he wrote in May:

...News gathering is not to be confused with opinion writing or bloviating — including that practiced here. Opinions can be stimulating and, for the audiences at Fox News and MSNBC, cathartic. We can spend hours surfing the posts of bloggers we like or despise, some of them gems, even as we might be moved to write our own blogs about local restaurants or the government documents we obsessively study online.

But opinions, however insightful or provocative and whether expressed online or in print or in prime time, are cheap. Reporting the news can be expensive. Some of it — monitoring the local school board, say — can and is being done by voluntary “citizen journalists” with time on their hands, integrity and a Web site. But we can’t have serious opinions about America’s role in combating the Taliban in Pakistan unless brave and knowledgeable correspondents (with security to protect them) tell us in real time what is actually going on there. We can’t know what is happening behind closed doors at corrupt, hard-to-penetrate institutions in Washington or Wall Street unless teams of reporters armed with the appropriate technical expertise and assiduously developed contacts are digging night and day. Those reporters have to eat and pay rent, whether they work for print, a TV network, a Web operation or some new bottom-up news organism we can’t yet imagine.

...It’s all a matter of priorities. Not long ago, we laughed at the idea of pay TV. Free television was considered an inalienable American right (as long as it was paid for by advertisers). Then cable and satellite became the national standard.

By all means let’s mock the old mainstream media as they preen and party on in a Washington ballroom. Let’s deplore the tabloid journalism that, like the cockroach, will always be with us. But if a comprehensive array of real news is to be part of the picture as well, the time will soon arrive for us to put up or shut up. Whatever shape journalism ultimately takes in America, make no mistake that in the end we will get what we pay for.

I think that in most respects, Rich is basically correct, but on this issue he didn't nail it as well as he normally does - the picture he paints is really only part of the story. At PDF, Rich tried to illustrate this point by referencing his colleague, Roger Cohen, who was reporting from Iran. In a column, Cohen himself echoed Rich's earlier argument, explaining that

To bear witness means being there -- and that's not free. No search engine gives you the smell of a crime, the tremor in the air, the eyes that smolder, or the cadence of a scream.

No news aggregator tells of the ravaged city exhaling in the dusk, nor summons the defiant cries that rise into the night. No miracle of technology renders the lip-drying taste of fear. No algorithm captures the hush of dignity, nor evokes the adrenalin rush of courage coalescing, nor traces the fresh raw line of a welt.

Yet by far the most compelling, accurate, and up-to-date account of the Iranian uprising came not from Cohen, but from the Huffington Post's Nico Pitney, assisted by citizen journalists using Twitter, YouTube, and email (see our video of Nico speaking to these issues from this Wednesday). Arianna Huffington herself took on Cohen's assertions:

How bizarre is it that Cohen chooses to attack the tools of new-media-fueled reporting by citing the very event that highlights the power of those tools -- and the weakness of his argument?

Indeed, search engines, news aggregation, live-blogging, and "miracles of technology" such as Twitter, Facebook, and real-time video delivered via camera phones, played an indispensable part in allowing millions of people around the world to "bear witness" to what was happening in Iran.

The truth is, you don't have to "be there" to bear witness. And you can be there and fail to bear witness.

Both Rich and Huffington are correct in their own way; professional investigative journalism is vital to a functioning democracy, and the lack of good journalism can have disastrous consequences (see the Iraq war). However, the news-industrial complex already does a pretty dismal job of actually informing us about the world around us, and has for a long time (to see just how bad things have been for a long time in the corporate-run media universe, read Chomsky's classic "Manufacturing Consent" or watch the documentary). Citizen journalism has the potential to be a powerful corrective to corporate censorship and its feigned objectivity - a potential it began to realize in the 2008 elections and now in Iran.

It's true that the investigative journalism of the future will have to be paid for somehow, and aggregation is not the same thing as creation. But to survive and thrive in this new age, journalists will have to embrace the decentralization and dehierarchicalization of the internet age - and that's a good thing.

Recap of "Twitter, Iran, and More: Impressions from the Front Lines of the Global Media Revolution"

As Simon wrote earlier, this Wednesday at NDN we had a great event with Nico Pitney from the Huffington Post and Eric Jaye and Theo Yedinsky from the Gavin Newsom campaign. These panelists discussed how they are using Twitter in new and innovative ways to radically alter the landscapes of campaigning and journalism. Check out video from this excellent and thought-provoking event below:


Monday Buzz: Sotomayor and the Supremes, Waxman-Markey and More

Simon had an excellent quote in Dan Balz's story on Sotomayor in today's Washington Post:

...But in energizing the conservative base, Republicans almost certainly will face questions about whether their hearing-room strategy does damage to their efforts to appeal more broadly to Hispanics.

Simon Rosenberg, president of the Democratic-leaning think tank NDN, argued in an e-mail message Monday that his party has been far more deft at capitalizing on the nation's changing demographics and called the Sotomayor nomination another example of the party's recognition of the fact that America will soon be a majority-minority nation.

"If during the next few weeks the Republicans appear to be playing politics with race rather than raising legitimate issues about Sotomayor's judicial approach it could reinforce the deep impression that the Republican Party's anachronistic and intolerant approach to race and diversity is making them less capable of leading a very different and more racially diverse America of the early 21st century," he wrote.

Ruy Texiera, a New Politics Institute fellow, also discussed Sotomayor on The New Republic's TNRtv - check it out here.

Rob was quoted this week in articles from both sides of the aisle, in the American Spectator as well as the Huffington Post and GreenLeft, attacking Waxman-Markey - on the right, mostly because they don't believe in climate change, and on the left, mostly because they want a bill that actually does something about it. Here's a snippet from the excellent and highly-recommended Huffington Post article by NASA Scientist Dr. James Hansen:

For all its "green" aura, Waxman-Markey locks in fossil fuel business-as-usual and garlands it with a Ponzi-like "cap-and-trade" scheme. Here are a few of the bill's egregious flaws:

  • It guts the Clean Air Act, removing EPA's ability to regulate CO2 emissions from power plants.
  • It sets meager targets -- 2020 emissions are to be a paltry 13% less than this year's level -- and sabotages even these by permitting fictitious "offsets," by which other nations are paid to preserve forests - while logging and food production will simply move elsewhere to meet market demand.
  • Its cap-and-trade system, reports former U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs Robert Shapiro, "has no provisions to prevent insider trading by utilities and energy companies or a financial meltdown from speculators trading frantically in the permits and their derivatives."
  • It fails to set predictable prices for carbon, without which, Shapiro notes, "businesses and households won't be able to calculate whether developing and using less carbon-intensive energy and technologies makes economic sense," thus ensuring that millions of carbon-critical decisions fall short.

Finally, NDN Fellow Joe Garcia's recent Administration appointment was covered by the Miami New Times:


Joe Garcia put up a good fight against Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart in last year's election but came up just a few percentage points shy. No matter, because he's headed to D.C. anyway. 

Garcia landed a job in the Obama administration as director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity in the Department of Energy. Garcia has previously been president of the Cuban American National Foundation, chairman of Florida's Public Service Commission, and executive VP and director of the Hispanic Project for NDN.

Here's the official release from the White House about Joe's appointment (congratulations again, Joe!).

Friday New Tools Feature: Chrome Spinners

The big news this week in the tech world was Google's announcement that it is developing an open-source, netbook-oriented operating system, tentatively titled Google Chrome OS. The announcement immediately sparked widespread speculation, confusion, and some less-than-stellar tech writing.

Case in point: the New York Times ran a story entitled "In Chrome, Hints of a Real Rival to Windows." The story starts off:

If at times you’re frustrated with your PC — and who isn’t? — Google says it is working on a solution.

Many people easily lose patience with PCs that are slow to start up and prone to crashing, vulnerable to virus attacks and constantly in need of fiddly updates. Hoping to turn that irritation to its advantage, Google is developing an operating system — the underlying software that handles the most basic functions of a computer.

Judging from this intro, the writer has apparently never heard of a little company called Apple - they've been making a superior OS free of these problems for years, and they still have only around 4% market share. Second, even John McCain knows what an operating system is (and might even describe it more accurately).

More importantly, though, the new Google OS is not really a challenge to Windows. The new Google OS will be free and almost entirely web-based, betting on the power of cloud computing and the increasing prevalence of cheap netbooks - currently a tiny slice of the computing market. It will be based around Google's browser, Chrome, which has not been a resounding success so far (personally, I think it's better than Internet Explorer - I mean, what isn't - but still inferior to Firefox or the new Safari).

Google has also said that Microsoft is welcome to port over Internet Explorer onto their new OS, and since the software will be open, they can't really block Microsoft out. As Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, said, "Even if we had an evil moment, we would be unsuccessful." Admittedly, this was a dig at Microsoft; Google's unofficial motto is "don't be evil," which is widely taken to be code for "don't be Microsoft." But, dissing aside, I don't think that Google is really looking for a fight here. According to the Wall Street Journal,

Mr. Page [co-founder of Google] described the Chrome operating system as a kind of anti-operating system — one that is basically indistinguishable from a browser. Netbooks loaded with Chrome will boot up almost instantaneously and will store data on the Internet instead of a hard drive.

...Messrs. Schmidt and Page were also careful not to position Chrome as a competitor to Microsoft Windows. They argued that Chrome will expand the market for netbooks, rather than eating into Windows’ share of the netbook market.

Rather than creating a traditional OS to challenge Windows, OS X and Linux, Google is trying to make the computer experience more web-centric - a strategy which clearly plays to its own market strengths. However, it is still unclear if there is a strong market for a netbook-based "OS lite," no matter how quickly it boots or how fast it gets you on the web. It is also unclear exactly how this new Chrome operating system relates to Google's Android OS, which is used on a variety of mobile devices and was supposed to be moving to netbooks in the near future. Asked about how these two products relate, Google's CEO Eric Schmidt responded:

Although it appears they are two separate projects, there's a great deal of commonality. Eventually they may merge even closer.

This answer, as Gizmodo points out, translates to something between "Oops" and "I have no idea." My guess, though, is that Android remains and evolves in the mobile realm - with plenty of apps and a slew of new Android phones coming out later this year on a range of carriers, Google is positioned to make big gains in the mobile market with Android. We will see if it can do the same in the PC market, but either way, Windows is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

The real news here is that global the barrier to entry will be further lowered. A free, open OS designed for inexpensive netbooks brings their prices down further. And such an OS built specifically to make connecting to the internet as easy and intuitive as possible means that many more people around the world, particularly in developing countries, will have access to the global communications network. That, it seems to me, is the reason to get excited about Chrome OS. 

The Limits of the Digital Revolution

I write a lot about the potential of technology to improve people's lives and open up politics here and around the world. We have just seen this play out in dramatic fashion in Iran. Although it remains unclear that the technologically-supported resistance there will ultimately be successful, the impact of tools like Twitter and YouTube on the Iranian uprising is undeniable - we have the Huffington Post's Nico Pitney, who has done an unbelievable job covering Iran, coming to discuss it next Wednesday, so make sure to check out our webcast if you can't make it in person.

Yet we must remember that the transformative power of tools has everything to do with access and availability. Iran is the third-largest blogger country in the world, and has an internet penetration of around 35% - much lower than Israel's 74%, but enough to make a difference. They also have a 60% mobile phone penetration.

Contrast this with Honduras, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, which has internet penetration of just 4.5%. When Zelaya took office, 70% of Hondurans lived below the poverty line. He managed to bring that number down considerably, but it is still well over 50%, and Honduras still has the highest income inequality in Central America. Protesters in Honduras therefore have much less ability to make their voices heard - and if history is any guide, the world at large is also less likely to care. U.S. coverage of the crisis in Honduras has been far weaker than coverage of Iran.

Of course, some of this also has to do with ideology. Still, the situation there is undeniably similar to Iran; the state has seized control of the media, there have been large popular protests, and peaceful protesters fighting for their legitimate democracy have been murdered in cold blood. One of the big differences, unfortunately, is that many of President Zelaya's supporters belong to the 70% of Honduras's population living below the poverty line. They are not nearly as technically literate or privileged as Iranian university students. Nor do they have access to the hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid that the Iranian resistance has had - indeed, the United States has been funding opposition groups in Honduras for years. As human rights lawyer Eva Golinger pointed out after the coup,

The majority of the recipients of [US AID] in Honduras, which comes in the form of funding, training, resources, strategic advice, communications counseling, political party strengthening and leadership training, are organizations directly linked to the recent coup d'etat.

The situations in both places have yet to play out, so we will see what happens. But it's good to remember that these events never take place in a vacuum - and if you want to know what our real foreign policy priorities are, democratic rhetoric aside, a good start is to follow the money and the media coverage.

July 15: Twitter, Iran and More: Impressions from the Front Lines of the Global Media Revolution

NDN and the New Politics Institute are excited to announce a cutting-edge event – an examination of how Twitter and the new media landscape are drastically changing government and journalism both in the United States and around the world, creating the possibility of a more bottom-up politics.

TwitterJoining NDN President Simon Rosenberg to discuss these seismic shifts will be Eric Jaye and Theo Yedinsky of Storefront Political Media and Nico Pitney of the Huffington Post. Jaye and Yedinsky are the new media masterminds behind Gavin Newsom’s pioneering gubernatorial campaign. Using Twitter as never before, they have helped Gavin accrue more than 700,000 followers, up from 250,000 just ten weeks ago. This explosive growth is raising questions about whether the model pioneered by Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election has already become obsolete.

Twitter is also having a profound impact on politics around the world. Staying connected through Twitter and other new media, Nico Pitney has been providing real-time coverage of what has been happening inside Iran, and becoming himself a witness to the historic uprising there. His work, which quickly became the “blog of record” on Iran and has been closely followed by millions around the world, is an inspiring example of the paradigm shift that is now occurring in journalism. In a recent press conference, President Obama answered a question from Nico, a question he passed along from a reader inside Iran. The State Department even asked Twitter to postpone their scheduled maintenance to allow the Iranians to keep speaking to the world.

We hope you will be able to join us next Wednesday, July 15, at 12 p.m. Lunch will be served. Space is limited, so please click here to RSVP. For those unable to join us in person, the live webcast of the event will begin at 12:15 p.m. ET.

Monday Buzz: Obama's Decisive Phase, the Hispanic Wild-Card, NDN Internazionale, More

Simon was quoted this week in a major Financial Times piece by Ed Luce about the Obama presidency entering its definitional phase:

"President Obama was elected to make Washington work in the national, not the special, interest," says Simon Rosenberg, head of NDN, a prominent liberal advocacy group. "The greatest threat to his personal brand would be the sense that rather than taming Washington, it had tamed him - that rather than the visionary leadership he promised, he was just another politician."

The article was also reprinted in Spanish in Expansion. His quote even made its way into Europa in Italian.

NDN's demographic work also received some attention this week. Our work on Hispanics was featured in the Examiner:

On July 2, I did an article on why Republican dominance is on its way out in Arizona, “The elephant has left the room Arizona so you’d better get used to it,” that emphasized the new Independent voter impact—more Democrat, more moderate—as well as the increase in the Hispanic vote. Washington, D.C. think Tank, NDN, believes Hispanic voters could turn Arizona into a Blue state.

Meanwhile, our work with Millennials was featured in Forbes:

Then we have the X generation, who, if anything, has favored large homes and exurbs in large numbers. In addition, behind them lie the large cohorts of millenials, who according to surveys conducted by generational chroniclers Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, prioritize the ownership idea even more than their boomer parents do.

No doubt, the weak economy will slow this generation's push into the home market. However, by the next decade, as this generation enters the late 20s and early 30s, they will find their economic footing and be ready to enter the market for houses in a big way.

Live from PDF Conference 2009

I will be tweeting the proceedings from PDF 2009 today. Check it out below:

President Obama's Weekly Address

In his weekly address, President Obama praises the House of Representatives for passing "historic energy legislation." The bill passed the House 219 to 212. Only twelve Republicans voted for the bill - presumably the majority of House Republicans still don't understand the concept of "atmosphere." Among the others who voted against the bill were progressive Democrats like Dennis Kucinich, who explained his "no" vote by saying

It won't address the problem. In fact, it might make the problem worse.

It sets targets that are too weak, especially in the short term, and sets about meeting those targets through Enron-style accounting methods. It gives new life to one of the primary sources of the problem that should be on its way out– coal – by giving it record subsidies. And it is rounded out with massive corporate giveaways at taxpayer expense. There is $60 billion for a single technology which may or may not work, but which enables coal power plants to keep warming the planet at least another 20 years.

Worse, the bill locks us into a framework that will fail. Science tells us that immediately is not soon enough to begin repairing the planet. Waiting another decade or more will virtually guarantee catastrophic levels of warming. But the bill does not require any greenhouse gas reductions beyond current levels until 2030.

Today's bill is a fragile compromise, which leads some to claim that we cannot do better. I respectfully submit that not only can we do better; we have no choice but to do better. Indeed, if we pass a bill that only creates the illusion of addressing the problem, we walk away with only an illusion. The price for that illusion is the opportunity to take substantive action.

Not surprisingly, the President offered a slightly different take in his weekly address:

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a historic piece of legislation that will open the door to a clean energy economy and a better future for America. 

For more than three decades, we have talked about our dependence on foreign oil.  And for more than three decades, we have seen that dependence grow.  We have seen our reliance on fossil fuels jeopardize our national security.  We have seen it pollute the air we breathe and endanger our planet.  And most of all, we have seen other countries realize a critical truth:  the nation that leads in the creation of a clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy.  

Now is the time for the United States of America to realize this too.  Now is the time for us to lead.  

The energy bill that passed the House will finally create a set of incentives that will spark a clean energy transformation in our economy.  It will spur the development of low carbon sources of energy – everything from wind, solar, and geothermal power to safer nuclear energy and cleaner coal.  It will spur new energy savings, like the efficient windows and other materials that reduce heating costs in the winter and cooling costs in the summer.  And most importantly, it will make possible the creation of millions of new jobs. 

You can watch the full address below.


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