21st Century Agenda for America

Challenging the President on the Colombia FTA

I sent the following letter to President Bush today:

Dear President Bush,

Today your Administration announced that tomorrow you intend to send to Congress implementing legislation for the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Your Administration has not done what is required to pass this important agreement. If you send it tomorrow it will surely fail, undermining a staunch American ally in a troubled region, and weakening nascent bi-partisan efforts to find a new economic strategy that responds to the recession, shores up our financial markets and once again makes globalization work for all Americans.

In the weeks ahead you will surely blame Congress for not passing the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. But make no mistake - if this agreement fails the fault will be yours, and the nation will be able to add gross mismanagement of our global trade portfolio and a more unstable Latin America to your already terribly disappointing economic and national security legacy.

I call on you to put our national interest over your political party's interest, work with Congress to find a path forward on this Colombia Free Trade Agreement and introduce it when more work has been done to ensure its passage.

Given the warnings from Congressional leaders that the time was not right to introduce this important agreement, and given the stakes involved for our economy and our hemisphere, there can only be one plausible explanation for why you have chosen this reckless path now - the tens of thousands of votes of Colombian-Americans in South Florida. Out of respect for our close ally Colombia, and in recognition of the significant strides President Uribe has made in recent years, it is simply irresponsible to let this important agreement collapse out of hope for a political advantage in a pivotal Presidential state this fall.

I wish I could discern a more noble motive behind your decision, but given that Congressional leaders have told you the Agreement will fail if introduced, then your present course ensures that you will damage our ability to find a better path forward for our struggling economy and the interests of working people here and abroad; damage future efforts to liberalize global trade; undermine one of our most important allies in Latin America; and weaken our already diminished standing in the region. There can only be one explanation for why you have chosen this course - once again you have chosen your party's interest over the interests of the nation itself.

The people of both the United States of America and the nation of Colombia deserve better.


Getting Climate Change right: Elaine Kamarck

Speaking of Climate Change initiatives, be sure to check out the video below of Dr. Elaine Kamarck, a former Senior Policy Advisor to Al Gore. In it, Dr. Kamarck, soon to be co-chair of the Climate Task Force, discusses the viability of Climate Change. As the creator and manager of the Clinton Administration's National Performance Review (aka, reinventing government), she definitely speaks with authority on what it would take to institute real Climate Change policies:

Lights Out

Yesterday, in the annual Australian-born event gone global called Earth Hour, millions of people around the world turned off their lights for one hour to save electricity and demonstrate their commitment to fighting climate change. If you pointed your browser to Google, you may seen a black background that the accompanying link explained did not use less energy but was designed to raise awareness of Earth Hour and the climate change issue.

Google has been at the forefront of efforts to fight climate change and last week, I had a chance to learn more in a visit with leaders of the climate change team. The company and its founders became interested in clean energy a few years ago when, in search of renewable power for data centers, they discovered how difficult clean energy can be to find. Since then, the company has launched a series of initiatives such as its program, RE<C.

Last year, Google turned on the world's largest largest corporate solar PV array, capable of generating 1.6 megawatts of power or about one third of Google's needs. You can monitor the power production at the website: http://www.google.com/corporate/solarpanels/home

At its server farms and in the workplace, Google has also set goals of reducing wasted energy from about 50% for desktops and 33% for servers to under 10%. And Google's fabled employee generosity includes green components. For example, Google will pay $5,000 toward the purchase of a hybrid which approximates the up front differential in cost between many hybrids and their conventional equivalents.

Google is not alone among Silicon Valley companies in pursuing clean technology. At a Bay Area listening session for the Green Project last week hosted by NPI's Pete Leyden, entrepreneurs and VCs told us about transformative potential solutions to climate change. They stressed, however, the need for stable policy to reinforce investment.

At a listening session for the Green Project in Washington, NDN members from large and small companies agreed that the issue has reached the forefront of the national agenda. Many companies see good business in energy efficiency. Dell, for example, is developing virtual servers that use less energy, Proctor and Gamble is marketing more concentrated detergent to reduce shipping costs and emissions and UPS has begun introducing hybrid trucks. But they also stressed to me the importance of thoughtful, stable policy to drive the process.

Despite enthusiasm for supportive policy, the clean tech movement has suffered recent setbacks. Californians defeated Proposition 87 which would have shifted incentives from oil production to clean technology and Congress has, amazingly, not renewed the solar tax credit due to expire this year. Due to long lead times for installations, many companies have had to kill or place on hold enterprise-sized solar power projects.

As if to highlight the need for action, last week an ice chunk the size of Connecticut broke off from the ice shelf in Antartica. While this massive piece of ice is expected to refreeze-rather than float off into the ocean as an iceberg-it shows how pressing the case for action has become and how policy must move faster if we are to meet the climate change challenge.


Time's Halperin sees something missing on the economy

Time's Mark Halperin writes that something is missing when the three presidential candidates talk about the economy. He argues that the candidates need to get a lot better at talking about the American economy and outlines 17 points that the candidates lack in their rhetoric. Here are some highlights:

3. A grand overarching narrative that frames/makes sense of the changes whipping through the American and the global economies.

4. A firm grip on BOTH the promise AND the perils of the transformations whipping through the 21st century economy like a Bengali typhoon.

7. Ideas on how to address everything plaguing the economy-from unemployment to outsourcing to the weak dollar - ideas that don't sound like they're recycled from the file cabinets of Arthur Laffer/Jack Kemp/Bob Rubin/Gene Sperling (in other words: new ideas).

8. A compelling explanation of where the jobs of the future are going to come from.

17. Really big policy ideas that could serve as data points or ways to animate whatever their big idea vision would be - and a capacity to drive an economic idea on an ongoing basis for a week or so.

NDN's Globalization Initiative has been discussing these economic changes for years. We have produced innovative proposals that both call for a comprehensive economic strategy to make globalization work for all Americans and include specific policy recommendations on how to do so. Rob Shapiro, Chair of the Globalization Initiative, recently laid out these arguments in his paper: The New Landscape of Globalization. Simon has also recently blogged on these issues, illustrating the disastrous policies of the Bush Administration and pointing to NDN's creative fixes.

At NDN, we agree with Mark Halperin that America needs to address this new period of economic development, and we are pleased to see the national media discussing globalization in this manner. The presidential candidates would be wise to acknowledge that globalization is here to stay. And, while John McCain has admitted to not having a fantastic grasp of economics, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have a unique opportunity to lay out a governing agenda on the top issue in the minds of American voters and to speak honestly about the direction of the global economy in which we live. Both are slated to give major addresses on the economy tomorrow; we will be watching closely.



New Issue of Democracy is released

Just got this email from our friend Kenny Baer about the new issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas -

Today, the Spring issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas is available on our website, in bookstores, and in our subscribers' mailboxes - and it might be our most important issue yet. 

The 2008 election offers America something we haven't had in a long time: the chance to begin not just a new presidency, but a new era of progressive reform. The collapse of conservative economic policies and neoconservative foreign policies gives us the opportunity to fundamentally reshape the landscape of the ideas debate in America. But this won't happen if we confine ourselves to criticizing the failures of President Bush, somehow pretending that what John McCain offers is simply a third Bush term, or offering the same old answers ourselves. In 2008, we have the chance to forge a 21st century progressivism - and chances like this don't come along very often.

That's why in this special issue of Democracy, we're offering 20 big ideas, each of which could be an important part of a new progressive agenda. A wide-ranging group of thinkers - including Lael Brainard, Larry Sabato, Michael McFaul, Robert Frank, and Jeanne Lambrew - answer the question "What's next?" Ideas like ending foreign aid as we know it, a cap-and-lease system to curb carbon emissions, a home guard, tradable water rights, after-school coupons, and community insurance aren't at the forefront of our national debate - but they, and the other ideas we're presenting, will be. Already before this issue was released, Jason Bordoff's piece on "Pay as You Drive" auto insurance was praised by the Washington Post's Sebastian Mallaby as the kind of idea the presidential candidates should be offering.

Also in this issue, Democracy continues our track record of tackling the looming challenges facing our nation. As the subprime mess engulfs Wall Street, Joshua Kurlantzick takes a look at the sovereign wealth funds that have been riding to the rescue - and offers a way to regulate them. And the Asia Society's Jamie Metzl examines the coming "arms race" in genetic engineering and how we can prevent it from destabilizing the world. Our usual complement of responses and reviews includes essays by current New York Times bestselling-author Susan Jacoby on progressives' misplaced faith in faith based initiatives, Michael Tomasky on Ron Paul conservatism, former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt on the future of the Internet, and Kenneth Baer on how to restore democracy to our presidential nominating process.

Finally, we want to note two important accomplishments. First, it is our honor to announce that Democracy was chosen as the Best New Publication by the Independent Press Awards from among the 700 new publications that debuted last year. For that, we thank you - our loyal readers. Second, this April marks the publication of Andrei Cherny's new book, The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America's Finest Hour. The entire Democracy team welcomes this important contribution to America's postwar history and the ongoing debate of how the United States can use its soft power to win over its enemies and build a democracy where many thought it could not survive. To read the new issue, visit us at www.DemocrayJournal.org, subscribe to our print edition, or ask for us at your local bookstore.

You can find all this wonderful stuff here. Enjoy, and congrats to my friends Kenny and Andrei for their great work in launching this excellent new journal.

The economic news worsens, Bear Stearns and a failed conservative era

Coming up from the morning read of the papers it is hard not to feel more than a little worried about the country these days.

We are five years into Iraq, trillions spent, tens of thousands of casualities, the region is more troubled than before and there is no clear and easy end in sight. Warnings about the impact of climate change are growing more urgent, and scary. Oil and gas prices are breaking all sorts of records, and there is no prospect of these price gains being substantially reversed. Global prosperity is driving up commodity and food prices across the world, making the task of moving struggling societies and people into a better place ever more difficult. Important Olympic athletes announce they are skipping the Beijing Olympics due to the dangerous levels of pollution there. More evidence comes to light each week it seems of systemic and almost unthinkable violations of the civil liberties of Americans in the Bush era. The President reaffirms for all the world to see his committment to rip apart the Geneva Conventions. A new and extraordinary Congressional GOP scandal explodes across Washington. The GOP returns to their failed, and racist, efforts to blame the nation's problems on Hispanic immigrants, and a terrible "enforcement-only" bill stumbles closer to passage in the House. The Administation announces they plan on bringing the Columbia Free Trade Agreement to a vote even though it will not pass, will damage the standing of one of our most important allies in Latin America and set back our efforts to rebuild a bi-partisan consensus on global economic policy. The career of a very promising young governor from New York ends spectacularly. The Republican Presidental candidate seems to have been transported into today's election from a bygone era of American politics. The Democrats can't make up their mind on who their next leader will be, and are not even sure how they are going to make up their mind.

Democrats are finding solace in that the nation's anger about the state of our union is being directed, properly, at the Republicans. From today's Post:


"It's no mystery," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.). "You have a very unhappy electorate, which is no surprise, with oil at $108 a barrel, stocks down a few thousand points, a war in Iraq with no end in sight and a president who is still very, very unpopular. He's just killed the Republican brand."



As we've been writing for years now the governing failures of the Bush era have been historic, and have done grave damage to the "American brand." Few believe that in this last year in office this failed President, perhaps the worst in US history, has the capacity to lead and meet even simple challenges. But each passing day the ongoing revelations about the weakening of our financial system suggests we could be facing a crisis of historic porportions, one that will require far-sighted and sure-footed leadership from the President, the Administration and from Congress, from Republican and Democrat alike. A front-page article in the Times today raises serious questions about the Federal Reserves effectiveness in managing the growing crisis so far. And an editorial in the Times today about a speech the President gave on Friday should leave all of us very worried about the capacity of this President to even understand - let alone take appropriate action to deal with - our growing economic and financial challenges.

I am taking the unusual step of posting the whole editorial, for given the gravity of our emerging financial crisis, this excellent essay needs to be read and considered in its entirety:


President Bush admitted on Friday that times are tough. So much for the straight talk.


Mr. Bush went on to paint a false picture of the economy. He dismissed virtually every proposal Congress is working on to alleviate the mortgage crisis, sticking to his administration's inadequate ideas. And despite the rush of serious problems - frozen credit markets, millions of impending mortgage defaults, solvency issues at banks, a plunging dollar - he said that a major source of uncertainty today is whether his tax cuts, scheduled to expire in 2010, would be extended.

This was too far afield of reality to be dismissed as simple cheerleading. It points to the pressing need for a coherent plan to steer through what some economists are now predicting could be a severe downturn. Mr. Bush's denial of the economic truth underscores the need for Congress to push forward with solutions to the mortgage crisis - especially bankruptcy reform to help defaulting homeowners. Lawmakers also must prepare to execute, in case it is needed, a government rescue of people whose homes are now worth less than they borrowed to buy them.

Mr. Bush said he was optimistic because the economy's "foundation is solid" as measured by employment, wages, productivity, exports and the federal deficit. He was wrong on every count. On some, he has been wrong for quite a while.

Mr. Bush boasted about 52 consecutive months of job growth during his presidency. What matters is the magnitude of growth, not ticks on a calendar. The economic expansion under Mr. Bush - which it is safe to assume is now over - produced job growth of 4.2 percent. That is the worst performance over a business cycle since the government started keeping track in 1945.

Mr. Bush also talked approvingly of the recent unemployment rate of 4.8 percent. A low rate is good news when it indicates a robust job market. The unemployment rate ticked down last month because hundreds of thousands of people dropped out of the work force altogether. Worse, long-term unemployment, of six months or more, hit 17.5 percent. We'd expect that in the depths of a recession. It is unprecedented at the onset of one.

Mr. Bush was wrong to say wages are rising. On Friday morning, the day he spoke, the government reported that wages failed to outpace inflation in February, for the fifth straight month. Productivity growth has also weakened markedly in the past two years, a harbinger of a lower overall standard of living for Americans.

Exports have surged of late, but largely on the back of a falling dollar. The weaker dollar makes American exports cheaper, but it also pushes up oil prices. Potentially far more serious, a weakening dollar also reduces the Federal Reserve's flexibility to steady the economy.

Finally, Mr. Bush's focus on the size of the federal budget deficit ignores that annual government borrowing comes on top of existing debt. Publicly held federal debt will be up by a stunning 76 percent by the end of his presidency. Paying back the money means less to spend on everything else for a very long time.

The fiscal stimulus passed by Congress, and touted by Mr. Bush on Friday, could juice growth for a quarter or two later this year. But the economy's fundamental weaknesses indicate that Americans are ill-prepared for hard times. That makes the need for clear-eyed policies all the more urgent. We need them from the president, Congress and the contenders for the White House.


Meeting the deep array of daunting challenges the nation faces today will require bold, resolute and visionary leadership from all quarters in the years ahead. My hope is that the President will attempt to do more than prepare for his disgraced retirement in his remaining days in office. And at the very least if he cannot and will not lead, he should do everything he can to get out of the way of those who want to help our great nation clean up the incredible mess he is leaving behind. Democrats may be delighting in the collapse of their opposition but with Congress in their control and the Presidency likely to be in their hands next year, these problems will very soon become theirs to solve.

Sunday night update: The NYTimes lede on its site tells it all: Federal Reserve Acts to Rescue U.S. Financial Markets

For two years we've been wondering out loud if Bush was this century's Hoover. In the past few days I worry that this analogy has become truer than we should all desire.

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