NDN Blog

Today's Introduction of Bill to Improve Workers' Computer Skills

Here are a couple pictures I snapped at today's press conference on Capitol Hill for Congressman John Larson's introduction of legislation based on work by NDN's Rob Shapiro. Congressmen David Wu and Phil Hare also spoke, as did David Baime, Vice President of the American Association of Community Colleges. Check them out:

Thursday New Tools Feature: SWM Seeking Service

As our fellows Morley Winograd and Mike Hais wrote about earlier this week, President Obama signed into law on Tuesday the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. Here's an excerpt from their take on the act; they wrote that it

...represents a major redemption of candidate Obama’s promise to offer his most loyal and largest constituency, Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003, a chance to serve their country at the community level and in return earn assistance with the cost of their college education.

Not everyone is ready to join hands and sing the praises of the concept, however. While [the bill] enjoyed bipartisan sponsorship in both the Senate and the House, that didn’t prevent a majority of Republicans from voting against the bill on final passage. They complained that the bill was “too expensive” and would crowd out pure volunteer work with program participants receiving a modicum of financial support for their efforts from the federal government. In the House, 149 of 175 Republicans voted “no,” joined by 19 of their colleagues in the Senate, including the party's two top leaders. With all Democrats voting in favor of [the bill], the core of the Republican’s “Just say no” caucus demonstrated how out of touch with the Millennial Generation they are.

Of those Republicans expressing their opposition in the Senate, only one, John Ensign of Nevada, was from a state that Obama carried. Even though both Republican Senators from such bright red states as Utah, Georgia and Mississippi could see the potential value of increasing the number of volunteers and college students in the country’s civic life, both GOP Senators from South Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Idaho made it clear that there were no circumstances under which their hostility to government could be softened by the merits of a patriotic cause.

As Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina put it on his Web site, "We need to recognize that this bill does represent a lot of what's wrong with our federal government today.... civil society works, because it is everything that government is not. It's small, it's personal, it's responsible, it's accountable.” And Louisiana Senator David Vitter spuriously argued, “This new federal bureaucracy would, in effect, politicize charitable activity around the country." Echoing Governor Sarah Palin’s horribly off key comment at her party’s convention last August that “the world isn’t a community and it doesn’t need an organizer,” these Republicans demonstrated just how out of touch they are with Millennial thinking.

I wholeheartedly agree with Morley and Mike that members of my generation are lookings for ways to do good for our country (and others) - in fact, many are frustrated with how difficult it is to find something worthwhile to do after graduating, particularly since monetary compensation is often a secondary or tertiary concern. Lucikly, President Obama understands the way that we millennials operate - if we want to go get a drink after work, for example, we might be more inclined to check out dchappyhours.com for specials first. So the Obama administration has launched a new Web site, Serve.gov, to help unite people with service opportunities that match their interests and passions.

Serve.gov is wonderful in its simplicity. It asks you what you're interested in, and where you want to be working, and that's it - the engine searches all posted entries that match your critera. It searches entries posted on Serve.gov itself, as well as on all of these partner sites:

1-800-Volunteer.org America's Promise Alliance AmeriCorps Citizen Corps
Corporation for National and Community Service U.S. Department of Homeland Security HandsOn Network Idealist.org
Learn and Serve America Mentor Martin Luther King Jr., Day of Service Network for Good
Peace Corps President's Council on Service and Civic Participation Senior Corps Youth Service America
United Way - Volunteer Solutions Volunteer.gov/gov VolunteerMatch Register Your Event or Project

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist (and a supporter of NDN) was on hand at the signing. Here's what he had to say about the act, and the new site (courtesy of TechPresident):

Many people want to fully dedicate themselves to service, they're troops, teachers, social workers, cops, and all manner of public servants. We should remember the nobility of the public service they perform.

Me, I spend a lot of every day performing customer service and see real human behavior. I see, every day, that Americans are eager to help out, particularly the millennial youth, maybe the new "civic generation."

Serve America provides means for those who want to fully engage, like by seriously increasing support for Americorps, increasing the number of participants from 75,000 positions annually to 250,000...

...Serve America also provides for Serve.gov, a new Web 2.0-style government site that brings together service opportunities from a number of sources. It's genuinely innovative, especially in allowing any organization to create its listing on the site, building on top of the Network for Good platform.

Coming from Mr. Newmark, that is high praise - and it seems like this will have a much higher chance of success than "missed connections."

Monday Buzz: Census Politics, Civic Values, Congressional Irresponsibility, More

Simon had a great closing quote this week in big Politico article about H1-Bs and immigration reform:

The small visa programs have little to do with the central issues of the broader immigration debate, such as how to handle the 11 million illegal immigrants now in the U.S., said Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a progressive group seeking a broad immigration package.

But they have become the stray dogs in this political fight. “It’s irresponsible the way some members of Congress are going after this,” Rosenberg said.

Simon was also the lead quote in an NPR story about immigration reform:

Now, immigrant advocates are rolling out a new argument: They argue an immigration overhaul is, in fact, vital to economic recovery. Simon Rosenberg of the Democratic think-tank NDN says legalizing immigrants would go a long way toward ending unfair competition for low-wage American workers.

"The people who are not playing on an even playing field are the undocumented, because they can be paid less than you. They can be given less benefits. They can be forced to work 60, 70 hours by unscrupulous employers," he says.

Rosenberg and others also point to a Congressional Budget Office study that found legalizing the estimated 6 or 7 million unauthorized workers and their families would add tens of billions to the U.S. Treasury. It would come through more taxes paid, plus the fees and fines likely in any legalization package.

Finally, Simon laid out the case for passing immigration reform this year in The Hill.

It was a big week for NDN fellows Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, who appeared in the USA Today, the Washington Post (twice, here and here), the Harvard Crimson, and the Argus Reader. Here are the highlights from the USA Today article:

Surveys show people born between 1982 and 2000 are the most civic-minded since the generation of the 1930s and 1940s, say Morley Winograd and Michael Hais, co-authors of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics.

Unlike culturally polarized Baby Boomers or cynical Gen-Xers, this is "a generation of activist doers," they write.

"Other generations were reared to be more individualistic," Hais says. "This civic generation has a willingness to put aside some of their own personal advancement to improve society."

Here's an excerpt from Jose Antonio Vargas's piece in the Washington Post about the new Pew report on the internet and the 2008 campaign (which I wrote about here last week):

"Reading the report, what struck me is the movement of reading news online and watching news on TV and online that agree with you, this increase partisanship that we're seeing," said Morley Winograd, co-author of "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics" and a fellow at NDN, a liberal think tank that has focused on the impact of new media in politics. "This is just the nature of the political era we're living in."

Finally, Rob was featured in an interesting NPR piece about the 2010 census -- you can listen to it here (Rob comes in around 7:35 if you want to skip Newt Gingrich).

Thursday New Tools Feature: Pew Drops Some Science

This week, the Pew Internet and American Life project released an important new report, "The Internet's Role in Campaign 2008." The 92-page document contains a plethora of fascinating data about the how the internet affected the 2008 race. I'll run through some highlights in a moment; basically, though, the report confirms what you may have already suspected, namely that the internet is kind of a big deal.

The Pew report shows concretely and conclusively what we at NDN and NPI have been saying for many years -- that the web is fundamentally changing the way that people get their information about politics, interact with campaigns and each other, organize, and advocate.

Here are some of the key findings of the report:

  • 55% of American adults and 74% of internet users were online political users in 2008, meaning that they got news about politics on the internet and/or communicated with others about politics on the internet.
  • Largely due to the rise of the internet, the size of the overall political news audience in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2000.
  • Online political users are becoming more likely to visit sites and sources that reflect their political viewpoints:

    Fully 44% of Democratic online political users (up from 34% in 2004) and 35% of Republican online political users (up from 26% in 2006) now say that they mostly visit sites that share their political point of view. However, the biggest change between elections occurred among the young. In 2004, 22% of online political users ages 18-24 said most of the sites they visit shared their views. That doubled to 43% of online political users in that age range in 2008.

  • Although more Republicans than Democrats are internet users (internet use being closely related to income), Obama supporters were significantly more likely to be engaged with the campaign online than McCain supporters (see chart), as well as through text message.

  • Young people are the most politically engaged of all internet users:

    This online participatory class is composed largely of politically active young adults — fully 30% of those who post political content online are under the age of 25, and more than half are younger than 35. Political content creation is also tightly linked with the use of social media platforms such as online social networks, video sharing sites, blogs and status update services such as Twitter.

  • A full 65% of social network users age 18-24 used social networks for political purposes in 2008 in some fashion, including sharing who they voted for and seeing who their friends voted for (see my earlier post about why I think this phenomenon is particularly important).

I recommend reading the actual report, because it has a ton of other interesting numbers. I found much of it very heartening - I think, by and large, these developments are very good for our democracy. However, there are also some troubling trends. Take a look at this chart of major sources of election news:

The rise of the internet as a news source as a political news source is indeed pronounced and exciting. However, the sharp decline in newspapers, and therefore probably in professional investigative journalism, may be problematic. I'm also inclined to see the continued dominance of TV as a problem, given the dearth of real political journalism on television today (the Daily Show and Colbert Report of course excepted).

Overall, though, this report is a sign of progress. As Pew says,

...politically interested internet users have access to a wealth of political content online, along with new tools for finding, customizing and filtering highly targeted political commentary. As a result they are delving more deeply into the “long tail” of online political content, where they frequently seek out information that carries a distinct partisan slant and comes from sources beyond traditional news content.

Some may decry the decline of "objective" news, but I contend that more people may be able to discover the truth as they begin to move away from the objective pose of the mainstream media; as esteemed philosopher Slavoj Zizek points out,

Today, emphasizing the depoliticized "objective"...against the allegedly "outdated" forms of ideological passions is the predominant idelogical form, because ideology is always self-referential, that is, it always defines itself through some distance towards an Other dismissed and denounced as "ideological."


New Tools Update: America Votes for Ning

As our readers are well aware, we at NDN and the New Politics Institute are big believers in the power of social networks for politics. One of the most exciting rececnt developments in the social media realm is Ning, a service that allows organizations to create their own individual social networks, similar to MyBarackObama. Back in February, Jason Rosenthal of Ning came to NDN to demonstrate the many applications of this new tool - you can check out the video below:

This week, America Votes launched its new Ning site, americavotes.ning.com. We are pleased to see America Votes, which bills itself as "the largest grassroots voter mobilization effort in the country today," embracing this dynamic platform. We feel that Ning is extremely well suited to America Votes' needs, and look forward to seeing this effort progress.

Monday Buzz: Pragmatic Pessimism, Polarizing 'Pubs, Public-Private Partnerships?, More

Despite the President's more optimistic tone of late, many people remain gravely worried about the state of the U.S. and global economies. Rob was quoted in an exellent Huffington Post piece by Sam Stein criticizing Treasury Secretary Geithner's bank plan. From the article:

...But for many economists, the invitation for risk inherent in Geithner's plan is simply too great. Indeed a second critique being forcefully raised by economists is that the system Treasury is putting in place can easily be gamed.

In his Monday column, Sachs outlined this very prospect: Citibank, theoretically, has a toxic asset on its books with a face value of $1 million but no probability of payout. The bank sets up a Public-Private Investment Fund (PPIF) to bid the full $1 million for that worthless asset. That PPIF borrows $850,000 from the FDIC, gets an additional $75,000 from Treasury, and puts up $75,000 of is own money to make up the bid. In the end, Citi gets a profit of $925,000 (the $1 million it receives of the bid minus the $75k its related entity had to put up).

Such a scenario is indicative of the flaws in the Geithner plan, argued former senior Clinton commerce official Rob Shapiro. There is, in fact, a guarantee.

"The Feds guarantee the 5/6 leverage used to buy the assets," he said, "so if the assets tank and the buyer defaults on the loan (no $ to pay it back, since the assets really were worthless), the feds (taxpayers) make it up to the lender."

Rob also had his own essay, "Time to Face the Facts: The Economy Probably Won't Get Better For Quite a While," published in the Huffington Post last week.

Next, NDN fellows Morley Winograd and Mike Hais had a post on MyDD, which then made its way into the "Best of the Blogs" section of Real Clear Politics. Here's a quote from their piece:

...The polarization between Democrats and Republicans in the Pew survey has much less to do with President Obama's personal and political style, as they are suggesting, than it does with the inability of his own Republican Party to adapt to this new era. From the earliest Pew survey conducted in 1989, the first year of George H.W. Bush's administration, through 2005, there was near parity in the distribution of party identifiers within the electorate; no more than three or four percentage points ever separated the Democrats from the Republicans. By contrast, since 2006 the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats has risen significantly while the number saying they are Republican has fallen. In the most recent Pew study, conducted early this month, the Democrats held a clear 52% to 35% lead over the Republicans in party ID, a 13-percentage point shift toward the Democratic Party since 2004. And, only 21-percent of American voters are "pure" Republicans, a group that consists only of those willing to call themselves Republicans and does not include independents that say they lean toward the GOP. This is the smallest number of "pure" partisans for either party in any survey ever conducted by Pew.

Our good friend and NDN Fellow Joe Garcia was quoted in The Hill about Obama's plan to lift some restrictions on Cuba. From the Hill piece:

...If the younger Cuban-American voters are looking for a different approach to U.S. policy toward Cuba, as the Obama administration and Democrats think, lifting some of the travel restrictions could help Obama grow his popularity with this community.

Joe Garcia, a fellow at the NDN think tank, said Obama made it clear he would lift these restrictions and change U.S. policy with Cuba during the presidential campaign. Restricting travel and remittances by Cuban-Americans makes little sense in terms of policy or politics, said Garcia, a Democrat who last fall unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), one of Congress’s staunchest supporters of the embargo.

Simon was quoted in a New York Times Syndicate piece by Marcela Sanchez about perceptions of President Obama in Latin America:

...Recent polls show Obama is more highly regarded in Latin America than in the United States. With an event such as the town hall meeting in Strasbourg, France, or the roundtable discussion with students in Istanbul, Turkey, Obama could chip away at the less than casual anti-American sentiment that festers in the region.

"We haven't had a global leader with Obama's appeal in a very long time," said Simon Rosenberg, president of the center-left Washington think tank NDN, who added that the president's power to reach out is aided not only by today's communications but also by his desire to speak straight and openly to people everywhere. "The politics of the bottom up we saw in the election is going global," Rosenberg said.

Finally, Simon was featured extensively in an ABC News story about immigration and how it actually affects the job security of U.S. citizens:

Simon Rosenberg, president and founder of NDN, a Washington, D.C.-based progressive think-tank and advocacy group that is pushing for change in immigration law, also agreed. He said that letting illegal immigrants move down the path to legal work and citizenship will help all workers.

"If anything, it will help low-end workers across the country because it would remove the trapdoor under the minimum wage," he said. Right now, these workers are "driving down wages for you. They are creating unfair competition."

Rosenberg said immigration reform is not going to cause an influx of new immigrants into the country.

"You against an illegal worker, you lose that fight every time," he said. "The worst possible thing for American workers is to have a vast pool of undocumented immigrants in the United States."

There are some business owners who say immigration changes would only increase the cost of doing business and drive up prices for all.

Rosenberg says to them: "I think the idea that we are accepting illegal exploitation of workers to prop up businesses, there's a question as to whether those businesses should be in business in the first place.

Ultimately, Rosenberg believes that change in immigration law reform would be good for the country, economically and socially.

"It will take the air out of the balloon of some of the most virulent racism that we've seen in America in generations," he said. "There is publicly sanctioned racism against Hispanic-Americans in this country today in a way that is very unhealthy and morally unacceptable in the age of a bi-racial president."

Thursday New Tools Feature: It's an App, App World

In almost all of Apple's recent ads for the iPhone, the actual hardware seems almost irrelevant - the ads focus almost exclusively on the iTunes App Store.

While some of the phone's physical features like intuitive touch-screen controls and integrated wi-fi are attractive features, they are no longer unique or particularly uncommon (although apparently they may be proprietary); iPhone copies like the new Motorola Evoke and other touch-screen phones with full-featured browsers are popping up everywhere, and the new Palm Pre looks like it might almost out-iPhone the iPhone in terms of stock capability and "oh, cool" specs (like a wireless charging "stone" that the Pre can simply be placed on to juice up).

However, with the App Store business model, Apple really has revolutionized the mobile device. My phone is not just a phone, or an email device, or a web browser, or a GPS device, or an iPod; there really is an app for just about everything, and that's not just Apple propaganda. I've become almost weirdly dependent on my iPhone - I'm so used to being able to do just about anything on the fly that it's hard to remember how I managed without it. With the introduction of the App Store, the iPhone quickly became a remarkably polished mobile computing and gaming platform that also happened to incidentally make and receive phone calls.  

In fact, even that feature has been partly replicated through the app store; last week, I downloaded the free Skype application, which allows me to make free calls to Skype users from anywhere in the world over a wi-fi connection, and extremely inexpensive calls to normal phone lines as well. iPod Touch users can do this as well, and bypass the iPhone's rather prohibitive AT&T contract pricing. 

Other companies have been quick to realize what a game-changer the App Store really is; Apple's innovation has spawned a whole host of competitor application stores, including, most recently, the Blackberry App World (click here for a full comparison of the current App Store competitors and their pros and cons). 

The potential of mobile applications for politics and policy has yet to be tapped; the Obama '08 application, while very cool at the time and ahead of the curve, barely scratched the surface. For some ideas of the power of mobile technology, check out our excellent New Policy Institute paper, "Harnessing the Mobile Revolution" by Tom Kalil. This paper demonstrates the incredible power of simple, cheap cell phones to do good in the developing world. Downloadable applications, which essentially turn mobile devices into ultra-portable computers, promise to amplify the already extraordinary power of mobile devices.   

Monday Buzz: Climate Change, Civic Generations, Canadians, and More

NDN had major essays run in several publications this week. First off, NDN fellows Morley Winograd and Mike Hais had an ideas piece published in Politico, entitled "A New Generation Shapes a New Era." Here's an excerpt:

...Meanwhile, outside the Beltway, America’s demography is steadily and quietly changing in a way that will fundamentally reshape the country for decades to come. A new generation, the millennial generation (born between 1982 and 2003), is coming of age to make over or realign U.S. politics. The approximately 95 million millennials compose the largest American generation in history. There are now about 17 million more millennials alive than there are baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), previously the largest generation, and 27 million more millennials than members of generation X (born between 1965 and 1981), the relatively small generation between the boomers and the millennials.

While about 4.5 million millennials have reached voting age every year since 2000, the generation didn’t enter the electorate in large enough numbers to make a real difference until 2008. And make a difference it did. Millennials were decisive in securing the Democratic presidential nomination for Obama. In November, millennials supported Obama over John McCain by a greater-than-2-to-1 ratio, accounting for 80 percent of Obama’s popular vote margin and turning what would have been a squeaker into a decisive victory.

But the 2008 election was barely the tip of the millennial iceberg. Important as they were a year ago, not even half (41 percent) of millennials were eligible to vote, and they accounted for less than one-fifth (17 percent) of the voting-age population in 2008. A bare majority of millennials will be eligible in 2010. Close to two-thirds of them (61 percent), representing a quarter of the electorate, will be able to vote when Obama runs for reelection in 2012. By 2016, eight in 10 millennials will be eligible to vote, and they will account for 30 percent of the electorate. In 2020, when virtually all millennials will be old enough to vote, they will account for more than one-third of the electorate (36 percent). With numbers like these, the millennial generation will be in position to dominate U.S. elections and politics for decades to come...

Morley and Mike were also featured in the front-page story of Saturday's The Globe and Mail (Saturday is the Canadian equivalent of the Sunday paper here). From the Globe and Mail piece:

...The key to this debate may lie in a statistic. There are now more millennials than boomers. To be precise, there are 17 million more people born between 1982 and 2003 living in the United States than there are people who were born between 1946 and 1964. There are 27 million more millennials than there are Gen-Xers, the generation in between. The millennials constitute the largest generation in American history.

Millennials identify as Democrats over Republicans by 55 to 30 per cent; in one poll 80 per cent identified with Mr. Obama, and only 10 per cent identified generically with Republicans.

The boomers, who were raised to believe in ideals — hence the culture wars of the past 50 years — taught their children civic responsibility, says Morley Winograd, co-author of Millennial Makeover, a book that explores the phenomenon.

In the last election, millennials constituted 17 per cent of the electorate. In 2012 they will make up 25 per cent. By 2020, they will make up 36 per cent of the electorate, and will be the dominant demographic for decades to come.

"As long as they hold on to these more politically progressive ideas, which generations tend to hold onto throughout their lives — it's not true that they get more conservative as they get old — it obviously bodes well not just for Democratic politics but for activist government in economic matters, though not in social issues," he says, "which is the reverse of what we've seen."

Morley and Mike also appeared in The Hill talking about Obama's plans for the auto industry.

Next, Rob had a big piece published this week in Roll Call, "The Economy Will Force Quick Action on Climate Change." Here's an excerpt, though the whole essay is really worth reading:

...But with everyone’s attention now fixed on our economic crisis, this process can be accelerated. And as President Barack Obama has suggested many times, rebuilding the economy and dealing with climate change need not be mutually exclusive, if we enact the proper policies.

The proper approach here is a straightforward one.

First, enact a carbon-based tax to move people and firms to prefer and choose less-carbon-intensive fuels and technologies. Second, as we change the relative prices of different forms of energy based on their effects on the climate, protect people’s incomes and the overall economy by returning all or virtually all of the revenues through payroll tax cuts or lump-sum payments to households.

Third, use the certainty of a substantial tax on carbon, along with additional subsidies, to promote the development of new climate-friendly fuels and technologies that can capture a new and fast-growing global market.

Rob was quoted in the Houston Chronicle on climate change as well.

Michelle Obama Makes an Impression

President Obama wasn't the only one wowing audiences in Europe this week; check out this video of the First Lady making a surprise visit at a girl's school in London:

Thursday New Tools Feature: The Cable Show '09

Today, Simon and I took a brief break from the usual D.C. grind and headed over to the The Cable Show 2009 to check out the state of cable technology. Beyond the requisite scantily-clad spokeswomen, gigantic TVs, and vapor projector screens that accompany such gatherings, there was a lot of exciting tech on display. Here are my quick impresions:

Perhaps the biggest theme of the whole show was convergence, and the many ways that entertainment, information, and communication are merging. Streaming and downloadable movies and shows, IPTV, advanced DVR and Network PVR technology, 3-D home theater (available this year), networked video sharing, online video syndication, a huge variety of set-top boxes, mobile VoIP, fully integrated household systems, and many other technologies were being combined in myriad ways. 

Without getting bogged down in the details, the key takeaway of the show was that cable is no longer a broadcast technology; it has become flexible, customizable, and interactive to a striking degree in just a few years time, and with ever-increasing bandwidth (one provider boasted "wideband" download speeds reaching 50 mbps), this trend is sure to accelerate. 

Another trend that is likely to continue is the increase in the number of digital cable subscribers. As more and more people gain access to digital cable in some form, it will also become even more important for those of us in the political world to recognize and address these trends. NDN and the New Politics Institute have long been advocates of buying cable, especially now that it is beginning to offer individually targeted advertising (see my recent post on this subject). Read our NPI paper Buy Cable Smart to learn more about why buying cable advertising is an especially smart investment. 

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