NDN Blog

Saudi Arabia Appoints New Ambassador to the US

The Saudi's new Ambassador to the United States is young, not a member of the royal family, an alumnus of the University of North Texas and Georgetown University, and couldn't be assuming his position at a more pivital moment for US-Saudi relations. 

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Congress Debates Earmarks

The President wants them gone and Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Dave Obey has steadfastly resisted pressure to allow them, so why is Congress still talking about earmarks? 

The Washington Post explains:

...Democrats now in charge of spending on Capitol Hill say they will not allow those narrow, special-interest provisions when they introduce a resolution this week to fund the federal government for the remaining eight months of the current fiscal year. Those unprecedented ground rules complicate an urgent matter, for unless Congress can agree on a new spending plan by Feb. 15, the government will shut down.

But what precisely is an earmark?

That question has been at the heart of passionate negotiations across the capital as lawmakers, federal agencies and lobbyists argue over what constitutes waste and what is legitimate spending.

The debate goes beyond semantics. The stakes are huge -- deciding how to spend $463 billion between now and Sept. 30 on thousands of programs run by local communities, states and federal agencies. While public debate on Capitol Hill has been dominated by the war in Iraq, closed-door arguments about what the federal government will fund this year have been nearly as intense.

Earmarks will probably return in FY 2008, but thanks to a campaign promise kept, they will have to be attached to a member's name.  Ending the practice of inserting anonymous earmarks into spending bills is an important first step in appropriations reform, and will help restore faith in Congress, as well as the budgeting process. 

VA Democrats Using New Tools to Hold GOP Accountable

The Washington Post reported Friday on the innovative efforts of Democrats in the Virginia General Assembly to bring greater transparency to state government through the use of the new tool of internet video.

Upset that Republicans are killing bills without recording the vote, a Democratic operative is trolling the halls of the State Capitol with a video camera to put Republicans on the defensive.

Last year, House Republican leaders implemented new rules that allow for a bill to be killed in a subcommittee, where formal votes are not usually taken. Democrats tried and failed last week to reverse the rule.

"We saw last election how [video] can be a powerful tool, so now we are helping bring sunshine and openness to the General Assembly," said Mark Bergman, a state Democratic Party spokesman.

Click below to watch the video of the House Commerce and Labor subcommitte holding a closed-door, unrecorded vote on the minimum wage bill:

"The fight we're in"

"This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we're in."

This morning I offer up three pieces helpful in gaining a greater understanding of this new "fight we're in."

Yesterday the Times published a remarkable essay by Sabrina Tavernise, looking back at her time in Iraq, and how much things have degraded in the last several years. The story dives into the deepening and horrible fight between the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq in a way few other stories I've read have.

The Post had a thoughtful editorial yesterday making the case that now is the time for a diplomatic opening to Iran. I agree with their arguments.

And this morning, the Iranians outflank the Administration, and offer the Iraqi government aid in reconstruction and in "the security fight."

I can't get that State of the Union line out of my head, for in so many ways it is the defining line of the Bush Administration. The stumbling, the lack of understanding of what they were doing, of where we are headed in the Middle East today. And that is my great concern now. These guys have gotten so utterly wrong for so long, why do we believe they are going to get it right now?

I don't think they have really come to terms with what is happening in the Middle East today. The most powerful new dynamic, unleashed by our actions in Iraq, is the growing violence between Sunnis and Shiites, and the assertation of power by Shiites across the region. Do we really believe that this dynamic, captured so powerfully in Tavernise's piece above, will be solved by military action alone? Reopening some state owned factories? Or the capturing of some insurgents in a field?

It seems as if the Administration simply doesn't understand this new Middle East our policies have created, this new "fight we're in." It isn't going to get made better by arms alone. It is going to require a great deal more imagination, diplomacy and political sophistication than the Administration is showing today. Starting by telling Congress to go f--- themselves was probably not a great sign that these guys, once again, are headed in the right direction.

Out with the old, in with the...same?

The Economist has a great article on the transition of Cuba, noting the contrasting views here in Washington about how to deal with the island.

Also, The New York Times has a relevant article on how the emerging politics of Latin America is cause for concern, regardless of Fidel Castro's health. As the article points out at the end:

Perhaps we were kidding ourselves when we imagined that when Castro died, the yearning in many parts of the world for a figure like Castro would die as well. If Hugo Chávez proves nothing else, it is that such dreams are alive and well.

Both of these articles reveal much consideration and thought on behalf of our government. If the issues above concern you, come to NDN's upcoming event on Post-Castro Cuba: A New Day for American Relations with Cuba and Latin America.

Micropayments, Political Giving, and Microsoft

I’ve long been a fan of the theory of net based “micropayments”….the idea that content providers (or political causes) could ask for much smaller fees or donations than credit card based fee systems currently could allow…often times as low as .99 cents and lower.

The space was littered with dead dotcom businesses that tried and failed to offer this service. There was an ongoing debate that these companies failed due to the idea of micropayments itself was flawed, or due to poor implementation…until iTunes proved the business model that .99 cent digital items sold in mass works, having made over 1 billion dollars selling over 1 billion songs.

As micropayments begin to slowly take hold beyond theory, I have a strong curiosity as to how micropayments can be relevant to political giving.

Well today Microsoft in Davos just announced they’d be launching a platform aimed squarely at the micropayment space… Here is an excerpt from the Dow Jones news story:

"Gates described a system that would undercut credit card fees, making it profitable for an online newspaper to charge small fees for individual articles, for example.

'If you want to charge somebody $0.10 or $1 a month, that will just be a click…you won’t have to manage some funny thing or pay some big credit charge, where half of it goes to the clearing,' Gates said."

The facebook effect on Obama

For those of you with accounts, check out this Facebook group: "One Million Strong for Barack"

From the group's page:

The goal here is simple - get one million strong in support of the Next President of the United States

There goals (and when they were reached) are as follows:

Created January 16th, 2007
100 - Same day (January 16th) Reached
1000 - (Jan 19th) Reached
10000 - (Jan 26th) Reached
100000 - (Feb 1st) Reached
1000000 - (Feb 5th)

Here's more detail of their progress so far:

100 in less than 1 hour...
1000 in just over 24 hours
10000 reached 6 days ahead of schedule
100000 - 1 week ahead of schedule

As of now, the group has 116,248 members. After 10 seconds, the group had 10 more members.

The group also advises you to "help introduce more people to Barack Obama by creating a buzz around his YouTube video," which you can see below

Because of mobilization like this, the video is now the top rated news & blog video, as well as the following stats:

#61 - Most Viewed (This Week) - News & Blogs - All
#8 - Top Rated (This Week) - All
#1 - Top Rated (This Week) - News & Blogs - All
#8 - Top Rated (This Week) - English
#1 - Top Rated (This Week) - News & Blogs - English
#68 - Top Rated (This Month) - All
#3 - Top Rated (This Month) - News & Blogs - All
#3 - Top Rated (This Month) - News & Blogs - English
#133 - Most Discussed (This Week) - All
#25 - Most Discussed (This Week) - News & Blogs - All
#122 - Most Discussed (This Month) - News & Blogs - All
#38 - Top Favorites (This Week) - All
#2 - Top Favorites (This Week) - News & Blogs - All
#35 - Top Favorites (This Week) - English
#2 - Top Favorites (This Week) - News & Blogs - English
#7 - Top Favorites (This Month) - News & Blogs - All
#7 - Top Favorites (This Month) - News & Blogs - English

This is no surprise to us, as this is the exact thing we've been discussing.

Senate Immigration Amendment to Minimum Wage Hike

The Senate took its first action on immigration yesterday, inserting an amendment into the minimum wage bill that would withhold federal contracts from companies that hire illegal immigrants.

The Senate, by a 94-0 vote Thursday, inserted a federal contracting ban for businesses that violate immigration laws into a bill that would raise the federal floor on hourly pay from $5.15 to $7.25 over two years. To become law, the Senate immigration provisions would have to be approved by House and Senate negotiators if and when they meet to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of minimum wage legislation. The House approved a minimum wage boost earlier this month.

Brownback Rips-Off Fake Tocqueville Line

Nowhere in Alexis de Tocqueville's classic portrait of early American civic life Democracy in America does the line "America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great" appear.  But that doesn't stop politicians from quoting it, begining with Eisenhower and running all the way through current Republican candidate Sam Brownback.  Thanks to Tyler Hudson for pointing this out.  Read more on the history of this Franco-forgery here, and look at the third paragraph of the letter on the Brownback for President website for the uncredited lift.

Rep. Duncan Hunter is in

Rep. Duncan Hunter launched his presidential exploratory committee yesterday in South Carolina. You can learn more about his announcement here, or check out his website.

(Note: It seems as if Rep. Hunter missed the memo on how to use the new tools to help spread his announcement, as he doesn't seem to have either video or a blog on his site.)

For more information on NDN's coverage of the 2008 Presidential election, click here.

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