NDN Blog

Going Forward, Not Back – Support NDN in 2018

Dear Friends,

As is our tradition, we come to you with asks for support only a few times a year, and only when it matters.  We are aware of how critical it is that our collective political capital stays focused on the upcoming elections, which are perhaps the most important in my many years in politics.  So we are not asking to divert too much of your limited capital today towards NDN – just enough to keep us doing the important work we do to get ahead, tackle the next challenge, define the terms of coming debate – the work we’ve been doing for more than a decade now.

To meet that work is more important than ever because whatever Trump represents he has jumbled the issue and political landscape of the country.  Everything is different now, and many long held assumptions need to be rethought completely.  For the center-left to succeed in the coming years, we will need a comprehensive response to Trump, and one that cannot be about restoration but more about reinvention and innovation – going forward, not back. 

Going forward, not back – that is what this organization has been about in its many forms for many years now.  We have always been guided by a simple belief that the world was changing – globalization and the “rise of the rest,” advances in tech, large changes in our demography and our media – and these changes required new and compelling responses.  We may have to add another disruption – the Trump presidency itself – to that list of disruptions if we are to be successful in the coming years.  Which is why we keep doing our work, offering data-driven thoughtful analyses to help guide our leaders through these turbulent times. 

If you want to keep supporting our important work, please do so today.  Any amount matters – $25, $50 or more.  Our goal is to raise $25,000 from our community in the coming weeks, and if we can do so we can make our budget targets for the spring and keep contributing to the national debate in ways that add value, and move things forward.  Join with us in any way you can, today, and thanks again for your interest and support of our work.

Best, Simon

Moving on From Discourse

As some of you may know, I’ve been working for the past several months outside of NDN to get a new company off the ground in the info/disinfo space.  Called Discourse Intelligence, it did good work in both the Virginia and Alabama races last year, and is gearing up to play a major role in 2018.  The company grew out of research NDN commissioned last year from our long-time friend and collaborator, Tim Chambers.  You can read his compelling paper here

Unfortunately, due to unresolvable disagreements among the founders about direction and strategy, this week I decided to leave this promising company.  These things happen in startups, and I felt it best to walk away before these disagreements became even more debilitating to the company and its important mission. 

I have learned a lot about the new media ecosystem in working with the talented team at Discourse over the last few months, and intend to apply it aggressively in my work with NDN and others in the days ahead.  

All of us have to do our part in the coming days to make our democracy and our discourse far healthier.  With your help, we here at NDN will continue to try to lead the way.  

Best, Simon

Rebutting Trump’s Ridiculous Arguments on Immigration, Crime and Jobs

This essay was originally published on the website Medium.

For the last few months Donald Trump has continually attacked his political opponents as being weak on the border/immigration and crime, and bad for the economy. He did so again today in this intemperate tweet about “Chuck and Nancy.” The problem with these attacks, of course, is that during the Presidency of the last Democrat, Barack Obama, crime and the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country plummeted, and the economy grew — tens of millions of jobs were created, incomes went up, the stock market boomed and the annual deficit came way down. Today the President repeated a new version of his attack on Democrats — that they want to raise taxes. Not only have the Democrats not embraced a plan that would do so, that the GOP plan will raise taxes on tens of millions of Americans is the central Democratic critique of the awful GOP proposal stumbling through the Senate this week. The level of dishonesty being exhibited by our President is literally jaw-dropping, and deserves a forceful rebuttal.

Let’s look a few graphs which tell a very different story about what happens on these matters when Democrats are in power:

Flow of undocumented immigrants slowed way down after many years of rapid growth, and was actually net negative under Obama:

In 2016 there were almost a million fewer undocumented immigrants in the US than in 2007.

Dramatic drop in crime America has experienced over the past generation continued under Obama:

In this new age of globalization the US economy has done far better under Democratic Presidents than their GOP counterparts. Let’s look at the job creation record (not even a close call):

Incomes grew under Clinton and Obama, fell under both Bushes:

Stock market has performed far better under Democratic Presidents, including Trump:

And while Republicans have caused the annual deficit to rise, Democrats have brought it down:

So spare us the desperate attacks Mr. President. The Democratic Party you describe is one that exists only in your mind. The one you are facing everyday and will face next year in the elections is one that has governed responsibly when in power, and left the country far better than they found it. It is impossible for us to imagine saying the same thing about your time in office, as short as it may be.

TrumpRussia and the Weakening of American Democracy

As the gravity of Trump's historic betrayal of our nation weighs further upon us this week, NDN firmly plants itself in the camp that believes those of us in the center-left should be making the issues around Trump and the GOP’s degradation of our democracy front and center in American politics. Whether it is Trump Russia, the attacks on a free press, unprecedented official corruption and malicious lying, restricting people’s ability to vote, illegal gerrymandering and racial discrimination, the stealing of a Supreme Court seat or Congress’s unwillingness to hold hearings, use CBO scores, conduct de minimus oversight or other abuses of their power the issue of the modern GOP’s abandonment of its commitment to democratic norms is a grave threat to our understanding of what a democracy is and should be.

Proud patriots here in the US will be working to renew and repair our democracy for years if not decades to come. This will become one of the central responsibilities of those who will serve in elected office, and we should begin this conversation with the American people today. It borders on recklessness to leave these tasks to Robert Mueller and the courts, as history has shown that even in strong democracies like ours there is no guarantee these institutions can withstand a sustained assault from an autocrat and his enablers in the legislature.

Still have doubts that Trump colluded, coordinated, conspired, partnered with Russia in 2016? Read this thread. It is no longer in doubt. 

For more on NDN’s views on these matters be sure to check out our vertical, Renewing Our Democracy.

- Simon Rosenberg, Nov 2017

Under 45 Year Olds Swing Hard to Dems in VA

While we all plow through the data over the next few days (Prince William 61-38!), we focus today on the dramatic movement in the under 45 vote in Virginia last night. Using the 2016 and 2017 exits, we know that in 2016 the vote split this way:

• Under 45s - Clinton 54 Trump 38 (plus 16)
• 45s and over - 51 Trump 47 Clinton (plus 4)

Last night in VA it was:

• Under 45s - 64 Northam 34 Gillespie (plus 30)
• 45s and over - Gillespie 51 Northam 49 (plus 2)

For 18-29 years olds it went from 54-36 Clinton/Trump to 69-30 Northam/Gillespie; from plus 18 to plus 39. This is a lot of movement, and not a great deal of movement with people 45 and over.

It is our belief here at NDN that Americans under 45, all of whom came of age after the Reagan Presidency and in this new age of globalization which began in 1989, are a key demographic to watch in the years ahead. They went 53-39 for Clinton in 2016 (45s and over went 52-44 for Trump). And in their political lifetime what they have known are two failed Republican Presidents, 2 relatively successful Democratic ones and now Trump. This age cohort is approaching high 40s of the electorate now, and swings like the one we saw last night if replicated in 2018 spell big trouble for Republicans, particularly in parts of the country with many younger voters, places like CA, FL, TX.

More on this soon.

Release: Can't Be for Tackling Opioids While Cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Sabatoging Individual Market

Washington, DC – “While the President’s diving into the opioid crisis is welcome, the President’s efforts cannot be successful if he simultaneously takes hundreds of billions of dollars out of the US health care system through aggressive cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and sabotages the individual market which is raising costs for tens of millions of people and causing many millions to lose their insurance and access to basic care.

Today the President will be promising to be give the American people more tools to tackle the opioid crisis. He is in fact giving them far less."

-Simon Rosenberg, NDN 

Column: Make ACA Sign-Ups an Annual Civic Ritual

Today, US News published Simon's latest column, “Make ACA Sign-Ups an Annual Civic Ritual.”  An excerpt –

.....Somewhere around 1 in 12 Americans of any age – about 25 million people – get their health insurance and health care through provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The annual period to sign up for insurance starts on Nov. 1, and it is critical that responsible members of both political parties – but particularly Democrats – commit time and resources to help people sign up this year.

Why is this so important? Because, remarkably, President Donald Trump's administration has taken a series of dramatic steps to make it harder for his fellow citizens to sign up under the health care law this year. It has cut the enrollment window to sign up from 12 to just six weeks, and is spending far less money marketing the enrollment period to the public (TV ad spending is dropping from $100 million to $10 million). Regional directors in the Department of Health and Human Services were told not to participate in outreach events and administrators will take down healthcare.gov on most Sunday mornings during the already shortened enrollment period. It is likely that without a significant push by office holders, community leaders, health care providers and regular citizens, millions of Americans could miss the deadline this year and end up without insurance. It is hard to believe that our government is taking such aggressive steps to make it harder for American citizens to get affordable care – but it is so. And those of us who believe in the ACA, as the law is known for short, should do something about it.

To continue reading, please refer to the US News link. You can Simon's previous US News columns here.

A Primer on Social Media Bots And Their Malicious Use In U.S. Politics

This full paper is in PDF format, and can be found through the links in the text below or at the bottom of the page. 

Tens of millions of malicious bots – automated accounts programmed to tweet or post in a manner masquerading as humans – infest our social media platforms, and many are being used deceptively for political purposes. These “computational propaganda” accounts fake petition signatures, skew poll results, sow discord and spread falsehoods. In doing so, they pose a serious danger to democracy.

They’ve been deployed by Russia and others to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Brexit vote, the 2017 French election and more. As America approaches the 2018 and 2020 election seasons, the threat will only grow – weaponized social bots will become more convincing and harder to detect.

To help those in the political arena better understand this new phenomenon, NDN is proud to release a new paper, "A Primer on Social Media Bots and Their Malicious Use in US Politics." Written by our long time collaborator Tim Chambers, this paper lays out in plain, simple English what bots are, how they are being used, and some ways we can together combat their impact in the days ahead.

Especially as we approach the 2018 and 2020 elections, it is critical that we understand and counteract this threat now, or we will lose this new form of information war. We must develop more and better technological defenses. We must demand that our social networks build for the good of the countries they act in, not just for their own profits. And we must adopt laws and policies that protect our democracy while safeguarding social media’s enormous potential to enhance the democratic process. This compelling new paper offers some early thinking on how we may want to approach taking on the bots. Please let us know what you think of it, and feel free to share with others you think might be interested.

Update: Since publication of the paper, Simon and Tim were quoted in this Yahoo Finance piece, "Maybe Facebook and Twitter should be regulated like TV".

Trump is right to be worried about Arizona (and Texas too)

When Donald Trump returns to Arizona tomorrow, he is returning to a state that is now among the most important Presidential battlegrounds in the country.

Though it was not heavily contested by the Clinton and Trump campaigns in 2016, a combination of Trump’s structural weaknesses with Hispanic and Millennial voters and the growing share of the vote in Arizona of both these groups have made this state far more competitive than it has been in the past. Some background, and data:

Arizona now a large, core Presidential battleground state. Of the 15 expanded 2016 battleground states (AZ, CO, FL, GA, IA, ME, MI, MN, NC, NH, NV, OH, PA, VA, WI), Arizona was Clinton’s 11th best (losing by a margin 3.5% points). Clinton performed worse in NC (3.7), GA (5.2), OH (8.4) and IA (9.1). Arizona has more Electoral College votes (11) than 6 of these battlegrounds – WI (10), CO (9), IA (6), NV (6), ME (4), NH (4) – and almost as many as VA (13) and NC (15).

Arizona is trending Democratic. In an election that swung 1.8 % points from 2012 towards Trump, the GOP margin slipped in AZ from 9.1% points in 2012 to just 3.5 in 2016. This 5.5 point shift was the 3rd largest shift towards the Democrats of any medium to large state in 2016, only outpaced by CA (7.0) and TX (6.8). According to the 2016 exit polls, 18-29 year olds went 53-35 for Clinton and 18-44 overall went 49-39. Non-white voters, making up a quarter of the electorate, and growing rapidly, went 61-31 for Clinton. This number could clearly get much worse for Trump and Rs given Trump’s embrace of a politics seen as anti-immigrant and anti-Latino.

Arizona a sign of continued Democratic gains in the “Latin Belt.” While much attention has been given in recent months to the Rust Belt, it is important to also pay attention to what I call the “Latin Belt” – AZ, CA, CO, FL, NM, NV and TX – states with large, growing Hispanic/Latino populations. The slow migration of these states from Nixon/Reagan Sunbelt Republican states to more competitive and even now Democratic states have been one of the most important demographic stories in American politics in recent years. This region includes the 3 biggest states in the country and has 29% (153) of all the nation’s Electoral College votes. According to 538, it will add another 7 Electoral Votes in 2024 due to reapportionment.

As recently as 1984, all of these states voted Republican. All but California voted Republican in 1988. Florida remains a contested battleground. New Mexico has moved solidly into the Democratic column. Colorado (4.9) and Nevada (2.4) gave Clinton two of her four biggest margins of victory in the battleground. The remaining two – AZ and TX – moved dramatically towards Democrats in 2016.

As I wrote prior to the election, it is possible that Texas joins Arizona as a new Presidential battleground in 2020. Texas has among the highest Millennial and Hispanic share of population of any state in the US, comparable to the shares of each of these fast growing and Democratic-leaning groups in true blue California. Trump did very poorly with both of these groups in 2016 – losing 18-29s 55-36, 18-44s 49-43 and Hispanics 61-34. In a recent Texas Tribune/UTexas poll Trump’s job approval was 43-51, one of the most dramatic drops of approval he has seen in any state (TT/UT poll has similar findings as the Gallup poll referenced here).

While Trump should be comforted that he won Texas by 9 points in 2016, if Texas sees a shift in 2020 comparable to its 2016 shift of 7 points Texas could indeed join Arizona as a new Presidential battleground.

Trump’s Presidency Has Been Hostile To The Southwest/Border Region In Ways Which Are Already Causing Him Problems – While focused like a laser beam on the industrial north, Trump’s Presidency has been hostile to much of the Latin Belt, the southwestern/border region in particular. The demonization of Mexico, the border wall, the renegotiation of NAFTA, the anti-Hispanic/anti-immigrant /intolerant stances are controversial and difficult positions for him in a region of the country with many recent immigrants and which has deep cultural and economic ties with Mexico.  According to the exit polls, 2016 Presidential voters in Arizona choose legal status over deportation by 76-18 (higher than the nation), and opposed a border wall 51-45.  A new poll just released in Arizona has Trump at a dangerously low 42-55 approval, and a clear majority opposing a possible Arpaio pardon. 

I warned the White House about misunderstanding these politics in a recent US News column, "Steve Bannon Meet Russell Pearce." 

It should be instructive that among the most important opposition to Trump in both parties is coming from this region of the country. Senators Flake and McCain have become perhaps Trump’s most important GOP opponents in the US Senate, and Gov. Jerry Brown, Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Ruben Gallego have become nationally recognized leaders of the Democratic opposition.

Whatever Trump does in Arizona tomorrow – pardon Arpaio, endorse Flake’s GOP primary challenger – he returns to a core 2020 battleground state that appears to be slipping away from him and more broadly, the Republican Party. He is right to be concerned.  Whether what he does tomorrow in Arizona helps or hurts him remains to be seen.

Note: Earlier this year Simon did a longish interview with Phoenix's KJZZ 91.5 on Trump, Arizona and immigration.    

A Department of Jobs, Skills and Economic Development

This essay was originally published on Medium.

Much of the structure of the government of the United States was designed and built in the middle part of the last century. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security in the aftermath of 9/11 was the last big structural change. In a time of rising global competition and technological change, it is time to fashion a new government department focused solely on creating good jobs for Americans, and helping American succeed in a new world of work that requires very different skills. Let’s call it the Department of Jobs, Skills and Economic Development.

It is remarkable to consider that the executive branch of our government has no one person or department truly responsible for creating good jobs for the American people, and ensuring our workers have the skills to succeed in a changing world. These responsibilities are scattered throughout the federal government, residing in the Departments of Commerce, Labor, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, Education and Agriculture, the United States Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Small Business Administration and throughout the White House itself. A new Department of Jobs, Skills and Economic Development would consolidate these many disparate activities and programs in a single place, allowing for greater efficiency but also far greater strategic focus and coordination. The process of building the Department would force a debate about all the programs it would inherit, and whether they are working or can be improved. Redundant or under-performing programs could be eliminated, freeing up resources for higher priority projects. It would be a powerful department, but also should by design be a modern and skinny one — lean and mean.


Congress and the White House would ultimately decide what would end up in this new department and what would remain in other places, but certainly one could imagine some of these other departments and agencies getting subsumed entirely into this new mission. This new department (DJSED) would work closely with the economic development agencies and other agencies of the states, and learn from their best practices. Policymakers can also study how other nations tackle these challenges, and draw from their experience. The balkanization of these responsibilities in Congress would also end, and allow far greater strategic focus from our elected representatives.

One of the things this new Department can focus on is what I call a “safety net of skills and knowledge.” In the industrial age we created a safety net for our people, one that included health care and income support. It is also now time we committed to create a true system of lifetime learning, one that anticipates our citizens will need the acquisition of new skills to become routine and persistent throughout their lives. There are many ways this new 21st century safety net can get constructed and built, many pieces of it already exist, and it will evolve and mature over time. But it is something that our emerging Millennial politicians should put their minds to and help build over the coming decades. Like the Department itself, this new digital age safety net would be about taking things that are already getting done and organizing them in a way that makes them far more focused and effective.

The Department could also expand the small Economic Development Administration currently in the Commerce Department, and give it a more expansive mission that could even include national infrastructure and transportation planning and travel, tourism and trade promotion. It would work closely with the fifty states, supporting their ongoing locally driven initiatives. All fifty states have an economic development agency focused on creating growth and good jobs for their communities for a reason. It works. It is long past time the federal government and the nation had one too.

Perhaps the most important reason to create this new Department is that in my mind the only way we can respond to both the enormity of the task in front of us, and its urgency. We simply have to do more than we are doing today to help the American people succeed. And whatever we do needs to be dramatic, something real and tangible, not something that is nibbling around the edges of what is perhaps the most important challenge America faces today. We need to let the American people know we hear them, and are changing the way we do business here in Washington to make their lives better. There may be other ways of attacking this problem but creating a super-sized but lean and mean Department would be an important first step that will give us a chance of coming up with approaches commensurate to the size of the problem itself.

And the problem is real. With billions of people today contributing to the advancement of knowledge every day, our already fast world will continue to speed up. Skills and knowledge acquired in high and school and college will be far more likely to become obsolete in one’s lifetime in the 21st century, and we need ways to make continuous learning more than a slogan. Additionally, with nations across the world rising and growing modern companies, global competition for our businesses and workers is likely to get more far more intense. The time when America stood like a conquering giant above the economies of the world is long in the past, and a new age of competition and progress is with us. Our government must help its own institutions become as fast and innovative as the global economy itself, and to do far more to effectively support good, deserving Americans who work hard and play by the rules and expect more from all of us.

Perhaps this project is the Kennedy Moonshot of our time, something we know we have to do but are not quite sure how to get there. Creating a new Department with a new mission and lots of capacity and focus is a good way to start. Perhaps it is old Washington think — a reorganization! — but am open to better ideas on how we can get this done in the years ahead. Whatever you think let the debate begin. The good people of the United States deserve more from all of us in Washington as they look to compete and prosper in a far more challenging 21st century global economy.

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