21st Century Agenda for America

3 good reads for a Sunday morning

In the Post, PW Singer of Brookings does a good job making the case against Blackwater and the privatization of war. 

The Times has a story that further illustrates how much the Sunni-Shiite struggle for regional dominance in the Middle East is driving events there.

Tom Friedman makes a strong case for a new national commitment to invest in our aging infrastructure here at home.  NDN friend Robert Hormats is quoted extensively throughout the piece. 


GAO report suggests little Iraq progress

In what is sure to be a major topic of debate, the Post reports on a leaked draft of an upcoming GAO report that suggests very little progress has been made in Iraq.  The story begins:

Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress, according to a draft of a Government Accountability Office report. The document questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration.

The strikingly negative GAO draft, which will be delivered to Congress in final form on Tuesday, comes as the White House prepares to deliver its own new benchmark report in the second week of September, along with congressional testimony from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. They are expected to describe significant security improvements and offer at least some promise for political reconciliation in Iraq.

Meanwhile the Times reports that the White House is upbeat about its chances to win the coming fall debate over our approach to the increasing turmoil in the Middle East.

Our statement today on the new income data

Rob Shapiro and I released the following statement today:  

The Census Bureau's disappointing report on U.S. income released yesterday reinforces the pressing national need for a new economic strategy that makes globalization work for all Americans.

The sobering fact that the median income of American families is still $1,000 less than when George Bush took office demonstrates the failures of the current Republican economic strategy, which has consisted largely of tax cuts for the privileged and has never provided what the American people need in a more competitive global economy.

Moreover, a New York Times editorial today notes that real improvements to Americans' economic situation may remain elusive in the medium-term:  "Sputtering under the weight of the credit crisis and the associated drop in the housing market, the economic expansion that started in 2001 looks like it might enter history books with the dubious distinction of being the only sustained expansion on record in which the incomes of typical American households never reached the peak of the previous cycle. It seems that ordinary working families are going to have to wait - at the very minimum - until the next cycle to make up the losses they suffered in this one. There’s no guarantee they will."

The new economic data - median incomes still trailing 1999 levels; a fall in real median earnings of full time workers for the third consecutive year; more Americans with no health insurance; and little change in the poverty rate - make clear that more must be done to help  the many Americans struggling harder to get ahead. 

In a recent paper for NDN, we offered the following three-part recommendation for a new economic strategy for America:

  • Modernize our health care and energy policies - Reduce pressures on workers' wages and jobs through reforms that reduce the rate of increase in employers' and workers' medical insurance costs, and lessen upward pressures on energy prices and U.S. dependence on foreign energy.
  • Invest in people - Enact a comprehensive new strategy to better ensure that every worker and child in the 21st century has real opportunities to succeed; focus significant new investment on giving all Americans the skills and knowledge needed to operate productively in an idea-based economy; initiate a new national commitment to offer all Americans training in information technologies and affordable access to the evolving global communications network itself.
  • Foster and accelerate innovation - Support the development and spread of technological and business innovations throughout the economy by promoting the formation of new businesses, increasing support for basic research and development, upgrading our infrastructure, and aggressively protecting American intellectual property rights in foreign markets.

To read the new report, please visit the Census Bureau's website.

What the resignations mean for Bush

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the Times has an interesting look this am at what the departures of Rove and Gonzales means for the White House.

The great Rovian failure

When Karl Rove announced his resignation this week I'm pretty sure he did not expect the media to so swiftly declare his tenure a failure, and to start serious speculation that the great accomplishment of this "genius" was to give progressives an historic opening to advance their agenda.

Several examples today.  The Post frontpages a story that looks at the Rovian politicization of the Administration, which many, including NDN, believe went way beyond what was permissible or just (for years we've been calling the modern conservative machine an Information Age Tammany Hall).  Andrew Kohut looks at how much more progressive the nation has become, and Frank Rich wonderfully deconstructs Rove in his weekly column today. 

We weighed in on Rove with this piece earlier this week, and of course have been exploring this subject for the last several years.  A collection of our essays can be found in our Meeting the Conservative Challenge section.  A particularly worthy read is this essay, the Democratic Opportunity, which ran in the Politico in April and lays out what progressives and Democrats must to do to seize the opportunity Bush and Rove have given us.

The Bush Effect

Proximity to this deeply unpopular President and his policies has become in itself a major factor in world affairs.  Let's call it the Bush Effect.  Throughout the world - and here at home - leaders allied with Bush has seen their political fortunes ebb, and leaders seen as opponents to this Administration's policies are gaining ground.  What this means is the very presence of Bush in the White House is becoming a daunting national security challenge for the United States. 

We've seen it here at home with the GOP, as their national repudiation in 2006 has left them with much less power and with their lowest levels of approval in a generation.  We've seen it with Tony Blair, and the Spanish government who backed the Iraqi war.  We've seen it in the rise of Putin and Chavez. 

But even more dangerous is how leaders, countries and parties seen as "pro-Western" are losing ground to more extreme elements throughout the Muslim world.  The installation of a Shiite government in Iraq has strenghtened the hand of Iran in the Gulf.  Our allies in Palestine lost an election to a group we had declared to be terrorists, and now have had to flee half the country.  Pro-Western forces in Lebanon have lost control of the nation's politics.  We know what is happening in Iraq, though it is increasingly unclear who are allies are there these days.  The Iranian government has its most radical leader since its revolution, one who replaced a leader much more oriented to the West.  Karzhai's government in Afghanistan is teetering.  And now our long time ally, General Musharrah in Pakistan, seems to be on the verge of collapse. 

Two germane stories in the papers this am.  The Times makes news with a great piece about our government's efforts to help salvage Musharraf.  In the Post Robin Wright has a story that looks skeptically at the Administration's strategy towards Iran, which concludes with these thoughts about their latest move to brand the Revolutionary Guards terrorists:  

Michael McFaul of Stanford University also urged more carrots. "If you want democratic regime change and to destabilize the regime, the best thing you could do is to make an offer about massive negotiations about everything -- human rights and state sponsorship in terrorism, as well as lifting [U.S.] sanctions and opening an embassy," he said. "Politically, this step doesn't help the administration undermine the regime -- it helps to consolidate the regime."

The Muslim world is in a very combustable place right now, and I have fear that the only thing this Administration can do - because of its ineptitude and the Bush Effect - is make matters much much worse. 

Pick up Matt Bai's "The Argument" today

This month a new book arrives from an old friend, Matt Bai, the talented New York Times Magazine writer. The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics - like everything Matt writes - is a good read, insightful, full of ideas big and small, and certainly worth picking up and making it one of your end of summer books.

The Argument takes an in-depth look at a process that NDN and its family have been at the center of these last few years: the re-invention and modernization of progressive politics. It is perhaps one of the most important and least understood stories in American politics today.

Whatever the short-term electoral outcomes of this decade in American politics, it will be remembered as one where the progressive movement, so dominant in the 20th century, shook off a generation-long period of drift and began to do what was necessary to take on a very powerful and modern conservative politics. The reasons for this are many: changes in campaign finance law, the Iraq War, the manifest failures of Bush and the conservatives to govern, even while they accrued more and more power. Today the progressive movement is much more 21st century than 20th, and is better able to play on the modern battlefield of today's politics. We've seen the creation of many new institutions: the Democracy Alliance, Media Matters, Center for American Progress, Center for Progressive Leadership, Democracy Journal, Catalist, America Votes; a whole new slew of internet-based players in the emergent "netroots" like MoveOn, DailyKos, Talking Points Memo, MyDD and the Huffington Post; and we've seen the emergence of a whole new set of leaders from Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Howard Dean, Markos Moulitsas, Rahm Emanuel, Andy Stern and Rob Stein.

Perhaps most importantly, all the new tools we have at our disposal today have made it easier for millions of Americans to partner with us in this critical effort to offer America a better path. Their arrival has brought more passion, more debate, more resources and is creating an entire new generation of leaders capable of serving the nation for years to come.

What Matt's book points out is that this process is still in its infancy, or in a start-up phase; and as such, it is in a very messy and emergent state. Overall Matt's assessment of all this, and of the people involved in this effort, is a little rougher than I would have liked, but that's the business we are in. But if Matt is correct in his assessment - and for this you should read the book - it means that there is much more for all of us to do in the coming days. Our work in building this modern progressive movement is far from finished. That is very exciting to me.

Looking ahead it is important to realize how much American politics has changed in the last few years. Just two years ago Bush and the conservatives were triumphiant. They had greater ideological control of the government than any time in the last 75 years. The progressives and Democrats appeared weak, in retreat, and unable to adapt to modern realities. But then the conservatives collapsed. Democrats won an historic victory in 2006. All measures of Party strength show the Democrats in the strongest shape they've been since before Reagan's election in 1980. The movement's infrastructure has become much more robust and modern. Progressives are way ahead in adopting a whole new set of 21st century tools to engage the Americans of today. Critical emergent constituencies - the new Millennial generation and Hispanics - are moving deeply into the progressive camp. And Democratic leaders are slowly re-orienting the debate and our government around the daunting array of 21st century challenges, many ignored by the conservatives in recent years, and many made much tougher to manage because of the conservatives' many mistakes.

So yes, Matt is right: there is work left undone. But left of center politics is so much more exciting, so much more passionate, so much more entreprenurial than its been since I joined it 20 years ago. We also have more wind at our back than at any time in the last political generation, and for all of this, I remain optimistic that this movement of ours, as imperfect as it is, is poised to take the reins and lead America with confidence and grace to meet the emerging challenges of our new century.

The Times on how Afghanistan has gone bad

The Times has a wonderfully reported piece on how the "good war" in Afghanistan has gone bad.  This story reminds us that it isnt just Iraq that has gone bad, but virtually everything Bush and his foreign policy team have attempted to do has failed.

Time for progressives to stand against "the misery strategy" for resolving our immigration crisis

The Times weighs in with an excellent, though incomplete, editorial today.  Called "The Misery Strategy," it begins:

The path the country has set on since the defeat of immigration reform in the Senate in June enshrines enforcement and punishment above all else. It is narrow, shortsighted, disruptive and self-defeating. On top of that, it won’t work.

What it will do is unleash a flood of misery upon millions of illegal immigrants. For the ideologues who have pushed the nation into this position, that is more than enough reason to plunge ahead.

It then details a new program being rolled out this month whose goal is to make it much harder to employ undocumenteds.  What the editorial leaves out is a point made very clearly in a Times story yesterday - that these new efforts are creating a national climate of discrimination against all Hispanics, legal or not.  This new initiative will have the specific effect of discouraging the employment of legal Hispanics workers as employers will not want to take the risk of punishment if one of their "legal" workers turns out not to be so. 

A Sunday Times Magazine cover piece does a very good job describing how efforts to target undocumenteds can quickly become anti-Hispanic crusades.

Fixing our broken immigration system remains one of the most urgent governing challenges facing our political leaders today. Given this misery strategy described by the Times, it is also turning into one of the great moral challenges of our time, one that our leaders are simply not stepping up to meet.  It is time for our leaders, particularly the progressives, to do more than sit by and watch a new and virulent form of racism spread across our great nation.

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