Reports from Israel and London

I'm sorry I haven't reported in more from my overseas trip.  I've had some technical problems, and just been very busy.  I will be posting more detailed thoughts on my return flight home on Sunday, but for now I will say that it has been a terrific trip, I've learned a great deal, met many remarkable people, and have an even better understanding of the incredible power of globalization (and its relative the global telcom and internet revolution), which is without doubt, the single most significant force effecting the people of the world today.


n/a Now Moving on Five 21st Century Challenges

At the end of last week, the leaders of, the philanthropic arm of Google, finally announced the five areas that they will focus their money and attention in the coming years. In the language that we use around NDN and the New Politics Institute, the areas are five 21st century challenges that the old politics of the 20th century has ignored but that the new politics of this century needs to address.

I sat in on the conference call they held with Larry Brilliant, the head of, and he outlined the plan to take an initial $25 million and support organizations or invest in companies in each of these five spaces. They are:

  • “Developing renewable energy cheaper than coal.” This is the holy grail of the green tech world, and Google is going to help make this happen as fast as possible.
  • “Accelerate the commercialization of plug-in electric vehicles.” Which ties into the first one, because once the electric grid is running off clean energy, then the plug-ins leverage that same clean energy source.
  • “Fuel the Growth of Small and Medium-sized enterprises in the developing world.” This fills the gap between the World-Bank level infrastructure projects, and the Grameen Bank micro-loan space. In between, there are the bulk of job-producing small business which need capital and resources too.
  • “Inform and Empower to Improve Public Services.” This leverages one of Google’s core competencies of aggregating good information and getting it into the hands of those who can make for change. It can involve simple things like getting the information of results about kid’s schools in rural areas to the authorities and international agencies who might be able to help.
  • Predict and Prevent.” This is all about getting early warning system in place to detect the outbreaks of any pandemics that might arise, like Bird Flu. This stems from Brilliant’s personal interest in this area.

I know Brilliant from pre-Google days, and his personal story is a fascinating one, one that I laid out in a lengthy magazine-length interview earlier this decade. In short, Brilliant was part of the team the helped eradicate smallpox in the 1970s, a daunting 20th century challenge that we definitively solved.

Onto this century’s challenges….

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

1st report from Israel

Jerusalem, Sunday, 830am - I arrived in Israel late Friday afternoon a few days before I am slated to speak at the well-regarded Herzliya conference on Monday morning. I have visited Israel just once before, in 1993, for a wonderful trip that lasted 10 days. Some initial impressions:

- Jerusalem and its hills are much more beautiful than I remember. Though a little chilly yesterday, I visited the top of the Mount of Olives in several spots and was able to see both east, towards the West Bank, and West towards the Old City. It was a clear day, allowing views all the way to the Dead Sea and Jordan and well beyond Jerusalem proper. The air was fresh and vital, a wonderful breeze was blowing all day, the sun was warm and inviting. And the views....well let us just say this is a place of unnatural natural beauty.

- The newly erected "Security Fence," separating Israel from the lands of the Palestinian Authority, is very present in and around Jerusalem. There can be little doubt that resolving the final status of Jersusalem will be difficult, and consequential.

- Modern communications is simply a wonder. When I landed in Israel my blackberry and phone worked just like home, keeping me in real time communication with the office, my listserves, my friends and family. I am writing this from my laptop, which has a global wireless connection. After breakfast this morning I came back to my room and scanned over the internet the major American papers and sites like Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo to get caught up on the elections last night.

On the way in from the airport my cab driver, a Palestinian Israeli, had a cell phone mount on his dashboard and what looked like a GPS. He took several calls during the trip into Jerusalem, putting on his wireless ear piece to talk. And of course he played American music for the entire drive.

In recent years most of my travels have been inside the US. With my 3 kids getting old enough to allow me to leave my remarkable wife for some longer trips, I plan on traveling more this year to see how globalization and this communications revolution is changing the world. As someone who did a great deal of traveling as a younger guy, before cell phones and the internet, before cash cards and computers, it is remarkable how different traveling is today. You feel much less "away," much less distant from my American life, as it all comes with you now wherever you go. All of this makes travel, distance somehow much less a hardship. It is a very different way to travel than even when I was here in 1993. Very different.

This new global communications network is creating a truly global web of information, bringing all the worlds people closer together. We are all becoming more mobile, more connected, less distant from one another. Half the world's 6 billion people are now on this global communications grid, something that will without doubt do much to spread ideas, spur the desire for personal freedom and democracy, and increasingly lift isolated and poor communities from poverty and ignorance.

But as I am reminded, here in Jerusalem, even in this modern age, identity, faith and history can be monumental barriers to overcome, no matter how wired and connected we may all be.


On the economy, staying focused on the big picture and struggling American families

David Leonhardt of the Times today has an excellent piece today comparing the 1992 Bush Recession to what might be end up being called the 2008 Bush Recession. As he notes what makes this coming slowdown/recession different from 1992 is that in the Bush era the middle class was already in what might be called a recession despite record GDP and productivity growth and very strong corporate profits and a soaring stock market. Even before this slowdown the typical family's income had dropped by over a $1,000 after gaining more than $7,000 in the Clinton era; wages have been flat; and the number of those in poverty, without health insurance and struggling with high levels of debt had increased.

At NDN we agree with the sentiment of some in the piece that the critical thing for policymakers is to focus on offering a new economic agenda that makes this new age of globalization work for all Americans. The most important impact of a stimulus will be to show the American people that their government, after 7 years of ignoring their increasing struggle, is watching their backs, and working to help them and their families once again prosper. But it would be unfortunate if the stimulus debate ended up distracting our political leaders from focusing on the much larger and more difficult challenge of restroring broad-based prosperity in our new economic age.

It is also important for our leaders to realize that the American people's concerns about the economy was sky high long before this recent downturn. As this analysis of the 2006 exit polls shows, there is a strong argument that concerns about the economy drove the outcome of the 2006 Congressional elections much more than the Iraq War. Political and economic elites have been very slow to recognize these pre-slowdown economic realities because for those on the upper end have had a remarkable decade. Their incomes increased, their assets soared, their taxes were significantly reduced. I know from my travels that few American elites were intuitively sympathetic to the middle class struggle of the Bush era because for them things were getting better, much better. And now that the economy is slowing, and their friends on Wall Street are getting fearful of the future, it is essential that the governing class in the United States not accept a $100 billion stimulus as an adequate response the economic challenges of our day. Much more must be done. And offering this new economic strategy that makes globalization work for all Americans is what our Globalization Initiative has been focusing on for the past several years.

On Obama, Race and The End of The Southern Strategy

For the past several years NDN has been making an argument that for progressives to succeed in the coming century they would have to build a new majority coalition very different from the one FDR built in the 20th century. The nation has changed a great deal since the mid-20th century, as we’ve become more Southern and Western, suburban and exurban, Hispanic and Asian, immigrant and Spanish-speaking, more millennial and aging boomer and more digital age in our life and work habits than industrial age. 21st century progressive success would require building our politics around these new demographic realities.

Looking at the leadership of the Democratic Party today, there is cause for optimism on this score. The four leading Presidential candidates includes a mixed race Senator of African descent, an accomplished and powerful woman, a border state governor of Mexican descent and a populist from the new South. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi represent areas west of the Rockies. Taken together these leaders represent a very different kind of politics, a 21st century politics, for the Democrats.

But of all these great changes the one that may be most important today is the growth of what we call the “minority” population. When I was born in 1963 the country was almost 89 percent white, 10.5 percent African-American and less than 1 percent other. The racial construct of America was, and had been for over hundreds of years, a white-black, majority-minority construct, and for most of our history had been a pernicious and exploitive one. Of course the Civil Rights Movement (particularly the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act) began to change our understanding of race around the time of my birth, but it was the Immigration Act of 1965 that changed the face of America. That act changed who would enter America, reorienting our new immigrant pool from Europe, as it had been for over 300 years, to Latin America and Asia. And America changed.

As the chart below shows, today America is 66 percent white and 33 percent "minority". While the African-American population has grown a bit, most of that increase has come from the recent historic wave of Asian and Hispanic immigrants. In my half a lifetime the “minority” population in the United States has tripled. When I was born one of out ten people walking around America were non-white. Today it is one out of three.


I think it is safe to say that America is going through the most profound demographic transformation in its long history. If current trends continue, America will be majority minority in my lifetime or soon thereafter. In a single lifetime we will have gone from a country made up largely of white Europeans to one that looks much more like the rest of the world.

If Senator Obama becomes the Democratic nominee this profound change will become something we all begin to discuss openly. Today the nation is having a big conversation about this change - whether it understands it or not - through our ongoing debate over immigration. While this debate has seen some of the most awful racist rhetoric and imagery since the days of Willie Horton, what should leave us all optimistic is that only 15 percent of the country is truly alarmed about the new wave of immigrants arriving in America. Consistently about 60 percent of the country says we need to leave all the undocumenteds here, indicating a pragmatic acceptance of the changes happening around our people and their families. Once again the uncommon wisdom of the common people appears to be prevailing here, and it is my hope, perhaps my prayer, that if Obama is the nominee American can begin to have a healthy and constructive discussion of our new population rather than what we have seen to date.

My final observation this morning is a point we focus on in our recent magazine article, The 50 Year Strategy. This election is the first post-Southern Strategy election since its early emergence in 1964. The Southern Strategy was the strategy used by Conservatives and the GOP to use race and other means to cleave the South from the Democrats. This strategy – welfare queens, Willie Horton, Reagan Democrats, tough on crime, an aggressive redistricting approach in 1990 – of course worked. It flipped the South (a base Democratic region since Thomas Jefferson’s day) to the GOP, giving them majorities in Congress and the Presidency. 20th century math and demography and politics dictated that without the South one could not have a majority in the US. But the arrival of a “new politics” of the 21st century – driven to a great degree by the new demographic realities of America - has changed this calculation, and has thankfully rendered the Southern Strategy and all its tools a relic of the 20th century. As Tom Schaller has noted, today the Democrats control both Houses of Congress without having a majority of southern Congressional seats, something never before achieved by the party of Jefferson, Jackson and Lyndon Johnson.

In our article we lay out what might become the next great majority strategy, one yet unnamed, that we believe may be used by the Democrats to build a durable 21st century majority. It will be built upon an America described above, and will embrace the new diversity of 21st century America at its core. At a strategic level, resistance to the new demographic reality is futile, which is why GOP leaders like George Bush, Ken Mehlman and even the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page (here and here) have railed against the GOP’s approach to immigration. They rightly understand that positioning their party against this new demography of America may render them as much a 20th century relic as the Southern Strategy itself.

Liberating American politics from the pernicious era of the Southern Strategy should be one the highest strategic priorities for left-of-center politics. Last night a powerful and thoughtful man emerged on the national stage who deeply understands - and is himself the embodiment of - the moral and political imperative of moving beyond this disappointing age. He appears to be summoning the courage, the vision, and the conviction to usher in a whole new – and better – era of politics for America. At its core this new politics will embrace diversity and difference rather than exploit it; at its core this new politics will be defined by hope and tolerance not fear and Tancredoism; at its core this new politics of tolerance is not just a requirement for a more just America here at home, but is a requirement if America is to reassert itself abroad in the much more globalized, multi-polar, interconnected, and open world of the 21st century.

And of course the arrival of this new post-Southern Strategy age of American politics will be accelerated by the extraordinary level of political participation of Millennials, the largest generation in American history, whose life experiences and values are much more Obama than Nixon.

Whatever happens in this campaign, the arrival of Barack Obama and his politics is a welcome development for our nation struggling to find its way in a new and challenging day.

On the mortgage crisis, immigration and the need for a new economic strategy for America

Paul Krugman has a very good column today that puts the emerging home mortgage crisis in sharper relief - 10 million homes effected, $400 billion in potential losses. A staggering outcome. I've called it a Bush era financial market equivalent of Katrina - an extraordinary failure of government to meet its basic responsibilities.

And as Krugman suggests, it is important for progressives to use this crisis to highlight the difference in economic and governing philosophies between our world and theirs. But what is most important is for Democrats next year is not to allow the urgency of dealing with the mortgage crisis to get in the way of a much needed process to develop a much broader strategy for the American economy that addesses the already difficult struggle of too many Americans. While the Bush era produced strong GDP and productivity growth, record corporate profits and a high-flying market, the median income of a typical family actually declined; more are now without health insurance, more are in poverty and too many with dangerous levels of debt. The failure of immigration reform has left 5 percent of our workforce undocumented, dragging down wages and working conditions for all American workers. And Bush took our nation's vast wealth and invested it only in one great project - Iraq - which has, shall we say, not delivered the return we all had hoped.

Rahm Emanuel is right that the economy is going to be a dominant issue next year. Our recent poll like most others show the incredible concerns Americans have about their current and future prospects. But like most things in governing, the question is what are we are going to about it all? It is our belief that our leaders need to generate a 21st economic strategy that is comensurate with the size of the struggle Americans feel in their daily lives. Our Globalization Initiative has set forth a 3 part plan, one that calls for a reform of our energy and health care policies, promotes innovation throughout our new "idea-based" economy, and invests in our people and in our infrastructure. This plan will take years and hundreds of billions of dollars to implement. But I think at this point we have little choice other than to offer a plan of big and bold ambition, and then fight with everything we have to get it done over the next few years. Our heritage and philosophy - and the needs of the American people - demand no less.

Offering up such a modern and 21st century agenda will also help solve one of the country's other great challenges - how to best create an immigration system that meets the needs of our modern economy and does so in a way that is consistent with our values. The fear some Democrats have about the immigration debate should be taken seriously. Even though Comprehensive Immigration Reform has broad and deep support with the American people, it would be much more effective to package the issue in with this broader agenda to show that we are addressing the economic concerns of all American workers not just those of undocumented immigrants. To us at NDN the single best way to counter the nativist chants from the other side is offer a bold and ambitious economic agenda that includes aggressive support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

The enforcement-only approach to immigration reform is simply bad policy and bad politics. It won't actually fix the immigration system. It has been tried by Republicans for the last few years and gotten them very little in return. It will deeply anger the fastest-growing part of the American electorate, Hispanics, and I believe is deeply inconsistent with core progressive values. It connotes fear and cowardice rather than strength and strong leadership. It is the very opposite of tough - as it appears to be all about politics and not about problem solving. Which is why we oppose the legislative manifestation of this idea, the Shuler bill.

Getting our politics to work again after the terribly disapointing age of Bush will require bold and resolute leadership, and a commitment to many years of tough and difficult battles ahead. But once one enters the political arena, that my friends is the job, and this is no time to allow fear to continue to triumph over hope, and no time for us to walk away from the tough battles the American people are expecting us to fight on their behalf.

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