The Revolution

Last week was my dad's birthday and much like most children around holidays, I started tearing my hair out trying to find a fitting present. I couldn't decide whether to go with a tie that he would never wear, or golf binoculars that would never be used since all his shots slice into the woods (sorry Dad). Ultimately, the day was saved with a gift certificate.

Started in March of 2005, is modernizing the way every day people can help problems in the developing world. The organization's focus is through an intricate system of microloans aimed at allowing any everyday person to directly loan money to a person of their choice somewhere else in the developing world. works with microfinance organizations and then posts on their website a list of individual people in need of a certain amount of money. Whether it be basket weaving, raising livestock, or selling produce, individuals are now directly getting the money to start their own business. As an "investor" you can choose exactly which person you would like to directly loan money to and in return the overseas entrepreneur will provide you with updates about how the business is going. In addition, while you have the option of donating as much money as you would like, loaners typically loan anywhere from $25-$500 dollars thus revolutionizing the way people are able to support these developing entrepreneurs. Eventually, your investment is paid back, without interest, and then you can either take your money back, or reinvest it in another entrepreneur elsewhere in the world.

To date, 251,966 people have loaned $22.8 million, with an astounding repayment rate of 99.87%. By breaking the mold of normal donations, people looking to help the developing world can do so by making individual choices, rather than donating to large global organizations like the Red Cross or Amnesty International where once you donate your money, you simply must trust that it's going to good use. Furthermore, with such a hands on system, people are widely using Kiva gift certificates, as mentioned earlier, and further promoting the program in whole.

An important lesson is being taught though the example of Kiva. As we've known for quite some time now, the Internet is completely changing the dynamic abilities of the individual. As we can see in the recent presidential primaries, grassroots efforts are proving to be the most valuable tool in candidates arsenals in spreading awareness, gaining support, and raising money at a rate never before seen. This model being applied to something even as obscure as microfinance underlines the strength of utilizing grassroots efforts to any variety of fields. With people now more interconnected than ever before, the possibilities are virtually limitless. Now the next real question is how can we apply this model of 250,000 individuals working separately towards a single goal to other areas in need, and revolutionize every cause with the support of thousands of active supporters.

Obama wins, Clinton struggles

I thought Senator Clinton's speech tonight was a notch below what she has delivered on other nights. She looked and sounded tired. Not a great sign for her campaign as it enters this next critical phase.

McCain is raising his game up. He was much better tonight than previous nights, and is growing in confidence and finding his voice.

20,000 people for Obama tonight in Houston. 20,000. He also seemed a little tired tonight, and a little long, but man the visuals of the event were great. He talked more about America's role in the world, and of the economy tonight than previous nights. His narrative continues to evolve.

Now 2 debates in the next week, and a two week all important battle for Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont.

Lots of stats tonight but the biggest one may be Obama's win with those who voted on the economy by more than 10 points. As I've been writing for some time if Obama were to win he would have retool his economic message, and better connect with the struggle of every day people. Winning on this issue has been the core strength of the Clinton campaign to date. Well tonight that changed, and this may have enormous implications for the March 4th contests. As CNN reports:

The exit polls showed 43 percent of Democratic voters said the economy was the most important issue in deciding their vote -- followed by the war in Iraq at 29 percent and health care at 25 percent.

Fifty-five percent of those who cited the economy voted for Obama, compared to 43 percent for Clinton.

An overwhelming 90 percent of the Democratic voters polled said the nation's economy is either "not so good" or "poor."

If you are in DC tomorrow please do come by our event at 12:30 at the Phoenix Park Hotel. Joining me will be Joe Trippi, Amy Walter of Hotline and our own Peter Leyden and Andres Ramirez. It will be a spirited discussion on this historic election season.

Wed am Update: Early analyses focus on Obama's growing ability to blow apart the very effective Clinton strategic triad of women, traditional Democrats and Hispanics. Obama won 49% of the women's vote last night, and won those making under $50,000 by ten points. Given his enormous margins of late, and the 25-30 swing towards Obama in the national polls, it was inevitable that his dramatic gains had to start coming from her coalition. Given that the economy and the struggle of the middle class will be one of the two or three defining issues of the 2008 elections, if Obama can maintain his new connection with these voters it has very important implications not only for the Democratic nomination but for the general election itself.

John McCain is going to have a hard time getting back in the game on economic issues. The economic policies of the Bush era have left a typical American family earning less than they earned in 2000, and may be leaving McCain with a slowdown or even a full blown serious recession just in time for the general election. Despite McCain's early efforts, this election is not going to be about tax cuts and new found conservative austerity plans. It is going to be a much bigger conversation, one about our common economic future, about restoring broad-based prosperity in a much more global age, or as we say at NDN, about creating an economic strategy for 21st century America that makes globalization work for all Americans. The Democrats are increasingly talking this way. It is not even clear yet that as as a national Party the GOP - or their new leader John McCain - even understands - let alone has plans to address - what has happened to average Americans in this terribly disapointing age of Bush. No matter his history, if John McCain doesn't develop a compelling economic narrative that speaks to the concerns of the struggling American middle class he will not be President of the United States. Security alone will not cut it this year, not in this economy.


Obama on Infrastructure

Crisscrossing Wisconsin today in advance of what may be his next primary win next Tuesday, Barack Obama delivered what aides billed as a major economic policy address. Most notable about the speech following a tour of a GM assembly plant in Janesville--a venue loaded with meaning given the huge losses just announced by GM--was Obama's support for a $60 billion National Infrastructure Bank to rebuild America's infrastructure and his support for a $150 billion energy and technology investment plan to create five million jobs in the new green economy.

Against the backdrop of an economy in turmoil, Obama's message of creating the conditions for long term economic revival was refreshing. The bi-partisan stimulus package signed today to forestall or blunt a recession is certainly needed. However, short term relief is no substitute for the long term leadership needed to get America moving again and to ensure that benefits of globalization flow to all Americans.

The Bush Administration has focused exclusively for seven years on short term appearances at the expense of long term economic growth. Lost has been any sense of vision or leadership for the future. In November, in a paper I authored for NDN on rebuilding America's infrastucture, I offered support for the Dodd-Hagel legislation to create a National Infrastructure Bank and a new Green Act to green the federal government. Obama's support for a bank along the lines suggested by Dodd and Hagel and his $150 billion plan to invest in new energy technologies--like a similar plan proposed by Senator Clinton--is the sort of bold stroke needed to set America on a path of future growth.

A growing consensus is emerging among venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, politicians and increasingly the public that the green economy will be central to America's economic future--this at a time when the once far off dangers of global warming are coming home--as hurricanes rage and the summer ice line of the Artic continues its alarming retreat.

Money and energy are now pouring into efforts to halt climate change and create a post carbon economy. The changes will be profound and overwhelmingly positive--quiet, exhaust free electric cars, a smart and more decentralized electric grid--and new modes of living. As a new NDN Fellow and director of a new green project, I am going to be exploring these issues in coming months. Nothing could be more exciting for me and it is exciting to hear that Senator Obama views building the green economy as central to his economic agenda.


The evolution of the Obama campaign

A lot of the initial chattering commentary over night has referenced Obama's incredible speech in front of 17,000 people in Madison last night. How you can see him growing, evolving, reaching, summoning even more, all right in front of us. That part of the emerging drama of this race is tracking the maturation of the most moving and remarkable public speaker America has seen in a very long time.

Last night he added a whole very compelling riff on McCain, and as I've written, it may turn out that McCain is one of the worst candidates the GOP could have fielded this year. But the most important new part of the speech was his discussion of the economy, of the middle class struggle, something that the campaign has had a very hard time taking to the same level as the rest of his stump. Given how important the economy is this year, it is remarkable how far Senator Obama has come given that his economic messaging has been less than it should be. But later this morning he is giving what the campaign is billing as a "major" new economic speech. For those tracking the evolution of the good Senator from Illinois, this speech - which I think was previewed a little last night - will be an important moment in assessing his continued growth.

He also appears to be in the process of successfully addressing one of his other weaknesses - Latinos. He broke 40% last night in both MD and VA, and actually won Latinos in Virginia. The real test of his new efforts in the Hispanic community will of course come in Texas on March 4th, where both campaigns are already on the air with Spanish language ads (scroll below to listen and watch). Obama doesn't need to win Latinos to win Texas, he just needs to get close, something he did last night, and did in both Arizona and Colorado. As Andres wrote last night, the Clinton campaign is very aware of the centrality of the Hispanic vote as her primetime event last night was very very Hispanic focused.

Of all the stats the one that stood out to me most this morning - and that should be terrifying GOP strategists - was that Senator Obama won more votes in Virginia than all the Republican candidates combined. Yes, Virginia, a state Democrats have not won in a general election since 1964. As Senator Obama has been saying, "something is happening out there." One of the most interesting trends to watch is how the recent Obama surge not only put him ahead of Clinton but of McCain as well.

Finally, while I loved his speech last night, my favorite line is the one from last week "we are the ones we've been waiting for." The campaign took the line and turned it into an incredible video which you can watch from the link.

Update: The Post's Jonathan Weisman has a good piece looking at whether the formidable Clinton triad - women, traditional Dems, Hispanics - broke apart last night.

Why is Lou Dobbs on CNN tonight?

Does CNN realize that Lou Dobbs is an offensive figure to many people? That he is not a newsman, but a divisive ideologue who toyed with running for President? That for those of us who have worked closely with the Latino community he is seen as an angry racist? And that he is in essence the antithesis of the Obama argument about America and thus not suited to be a commentator on the what is happening on the Democratic side?

I am a CNN guy but Lou Dobbs shouldn't be on this primetime election show tonight. It demeans this once proud network.

Update: Even though John King and his modern map has been the best thing in campaign coverage this year, I've switched to MSNBC. I will not watch any future CNN election night coverage if Dobbs in on.

Update: Unfortunately, MSNBC joins CNN in putting Florida and Michigan in the Clinton camp.  ABC keeps them open, uncommitted, as they should be. 


Dr. Robert Shapiro's take on the economy

In his first video blog (below), Dr. Robert J. Shapiro, Chair of NDN's Globalization Initiative, takes a quick, two minute look at the state of the economy:

There was an article in the New York Times recently on these very same issues that is worth checking out.

Report from Israel 2 - The Bush Legacy in the Middle East

As some may recall I just returned from a 10 day foreign trip, including 6 days in Israel. There I spoke at a major policy conference and met with Israeli journalists, policy makers, elected officials, entrepreneurs and other civic leaders. All in all it was a remarkable trip.

I offered up some initial thoughts soon after arriving in Jerusalem. Since I returned I've been thinking a lot about the trip, and have watched as the people of Gaza spilled into Egypt and the Winograd Commission issued its report. I've come away from the trip with a profound sense that the Bush era has made the Middle East more radical, less stable, more anti-American and anti-Israeli. The policies of the Bush Administration have left our ally, Israel, in a much weaker position than they found it.

4 key points:

The Iraq War is directly responsible for the rise of Iran as a regional power. The Iraq War removed Iran's greatest regional rival, placed an Iranian-influenced Shiite-led government in the heart of the region and paved the way for Iran's current regional ascension, which includes much more robust support for Hezbollah and Hamas. The chaos which has ensued in Iraq will also no doubt create an entire new generation of trained radicals who will be haunting the region for years to come. And the failure of our policy in Iraq has made it much more difficult to rally domestic and world opinion against the prospect of a nuclear Iran, a development hat simply must be seen as one of the greatest security threats in the world today and one that is an existential threat to Israel.

As readers of this blog know I have been obsessed for years about what Bush and company believed would happen in the region if America put in charge of Iraq Shia political parties whose leaders left the country during their war with Iran, and lived and sided with Iran in its war against Saddam. Did we not understand the history of the regional Sunni-Shiite struggle? How could democracy flourish there, particularly without any real plan for investing in and nurturing Iraqi civil society? How could the first Shiite-led Arab government in the Middle East become anything but a threat to the region's Sunni populations, Sunni governments and an ally of Iran?

After the initial success of the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2002, George Bush had many choices on how to proceed to bring about a more peaceful and prosperous world, and further riding the world of security threats. At a strategic and operational level, it is now clear, for the interests of both Israel and the United States, that the decision to invade Iraq, the lack of a serious plan to bring about post-invasion regional security, the lack of a serious plan for investment in Iraqi civil society, has been a disaster and left the region much more unstable and dangerous than before.

The epic failure of Bush's democratization agenda as a regional strategy. Prior to going to Israel, I had believed that the President's "democratization" agenda was just a rhetorical facade for Western audiences to put a more pleasant face on his more imperial designs. But in Israel I learned that Bush and his foreign policy team actually believed in this agenda, and worked to carry it out in the region. They met with Arab heads of state, and told them that is was a new day and that they needed to open up their closed societies. They promoted elections in Iraq, which of course elected Shiite parties close to Iran and anathema to the region's Sunnis. And most consequentially, over the objection of the Israeli government, the Bush Administration allowed the participation of the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah in elections in the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon without insisting that they give up their arms, recognize Israel's right to exist or renounce the killing of innocent civilians. Both Hamas and Hezbollah did well in their elections, and have now gained a degree of local, regional and international legitimacy - and political power - long denied them. The immediate impact was to plunge Lebanon into further political chaos, split the government of the PA into two and strengthen Iran's regional influence.

Again, what were they thinking?

As in Iraq, the Bush Administration seemed to believe that democracy itself had magical powers, that it was the act of electing a democratic leader which would bring about peaceful societies. But this idea is an extraordinary misreading of history. Hitler gained power through democratic elections. Chavez and Putin today, two of the world's most powerful autocrats, were elected. Fidel Castro is elected every few years in Cuba, getting, remarkably, all the votes cast. Elections themselves have never been sufficient to create open societies. The American formula, used so effectively to help bring modern and open societies to ever more of the world, was always more complex. It required free markets, personal liberty, the rule of law and yes democratic representation. Applying tried and true formula to the Middle East would have required Hamas and Hezbollah to renounce terror, recognize Israel, and demilitarize as a condition for participation in their elections. There can be no rule of law, no personal freedom if one of the major political parties in a nation keeps a private and well-funded private militia.

Bush's democratization agenda has become a joke in the Middle East. Israelis I spoke to saw it as a wildly naïve, dangerous concept and policy. This simplistic view of what builds complex, functioning, civil societies undermined both realistic planning for the peace in Iraq and the Arab-Israeli peace process. For it is harder to see today how meaningful peace can be brought to Israel and Palestine with he fanatics of the Hamas having control in Gaza and a newfound global legitimacy. Sunni Arabs have not exactly been inspired by the aftermath of our democratizing efforts in Iraq, which among other things strengthened the regional hand of Iran and the Shiites.

And, of course, once Hamas and Hezbollah had strong electoral showings, as many had predicted, the Bush Administration announced they would not work with these newly elected groups, further making the Bush call for democratization a hallow and cyniical one.

So also damaged in the Bush era is the whole idea of free and open societies themselves, as his loony vision of "democratization" has been instrumental in bringing further chaos and instability to an already troubled region. It will be vital that the next President, of whichever Party, restores the tried and true - and hard - vision of what it takes to build pluralistic, democratic and free nations.

The failure to lead the world in lessening its dependence on oil. There can be no doubt that the world's dependence on oil is itself becoming a grave security threat. We know the global environmental challenge a carbon-based economy offers. But we also have to come to terms with oil how many of the oil producing nations themselves - Venezuela, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia - are becoming the main funders and purveyors of regional and global instability. And perversely, as the price of oil rises with the perception of global instability, these nations now have a national interest in maintaining or increasing the instability which fuels their economies and is the source of their regional and global power.

Hamas and Hezbollah are funded with Iranian oil money. Al Qaeda's start up capital came from a wealthy Saudi family, made rich by their relationship with the Saudi Royal family. Oil money funds the Madrassas which are radicalizing young Muslims around the world. Oil money is keeping dictators in power, preventing the modernization of many nations.

It is simply impossible to be for Israel and for a peaceful Middle East without also being for an enormous global effort to wean the world its debilitating addiction to oil. The Bush Administration's lack of leadership on climate change has in of itself strengthened the hand of the world's emerging petro-dictators, and lengthened their time of influence and power.

Bush's actions and rhetoric have made tens of millions of Europeans and Arabs much more anti-US and anti-Israeli. For many, the collective impact of the Axis of Evil war on terror language towards Muslims, the botched Iraq War, the lack of a commitment to lasting Arab-Israeli peace, the closeness of Bush and the Israeli government, and the sheer unpopularity of Bush himself has weakened the Israeli cause across the world, including in the United States. The Israelis are now seen not just aligned with the United States but one of the world's most unpopular and belligerent leaders. The UN may have once equated Zionism with racism, but now the world is essentially equating Zionism with Bushism, something that may be much more damaging for Israel than the infamous UN Resolution.

In my several days in Britain I was able to learn first hand how anti-Israeli many British elites have become. It was something I didn't expect, as it was a Brit almost a century ago who cleared the way for the early Israeli state, and Israel is the only nation in the entire Middle Eastern region which looks anything like a Western pluralistic democracy.

To sum up my trip to Israel left me excited about what a wonderful nation Israel has become, and worried about the worsening political situation around it. I have no doubt from my trip that the people of Israel are ready to accept a free and open Palestinian state, one that accepts Israel's right to exist, and one that does not launch attacks from across what we all hope will be a peaceful border. But years of historic and extraordinary failures of the Bush Administration have made the realization of a peaceful Middle East and a two state solution much more difficult, leading me to conclude that this American Administration has weakened our ally Israel and done damage to the hope of peace in the Middle East.

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