NDN Blog

"I would ask you to walk through that fire." - Al Gore testifying before Congress today

Awesome.  The room is so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  If Al Gore is a rock star, this is the power ballad at the end of the concert.  I think Ed Markey is holding a lighter...

NDN Endorses U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health, and Iraq Accountability Act

NDN, a progressive think tank and advocacy organization, today issued the following statement in support for the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act, scheduled for a vote on the House floor tomorrow.
As the war in Iraq enters its fifth year, it now clear that President Bush’s strategy to bring democracy and stability to the Middle East is not working.  The centerpiece of that strategy, the war in and the occupation of Iraq has cost our nation American lives, money and prestige, and left the region more volatile and dangerous than before.  Our nation, and the world are less safe as a result.
NDN believes that the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health, and Iraq Accountability Act, scheduled for a full House vote tomorrow, offers a better path forward, and we endorse its passage.

Ethical earmarking?

The New York Times has an interesting article on the decisions surrounding newly-elected Rep. (and longtime friend of NDN) Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), as her office decides which projects get earmark appropriations.

Politics and Justice

Was it all political? Were Rove and co trying to put political operatives into these 8 positions to help their 2008 electoral chances?  It certainly seems from all the stories that this was all about politics, and about better using these powerful offices as they did in New Jersey in 2006, to go after the Democrats and weaken their position in the 2008 elections. 

So assuming this was all political, and not based on performance, lets take a look at what could be driving these picks. 

The 4 in the Southwest - The immigration debate has significantly weakened the Republican brand with Hispanics, making the greatest new threat to their 2008 chances the four heavily Hispanic states in the Southwest, AZ, CO, NM and NV.  If you take the Gore/Kerry states and add these four, all of which have been won by Democrats in recent years, Democrats win the Presidency.  Looking to 2008 Republicans will have to defend there weakened position in these 4 states with everything they have - and amazingly, 4 of the 8 fired US Attorneys came from these critical battleground states.   We also know of the remarkable efforts by Senators Dominici and Rep. Wilson in NM to use the post for shortterm partisan gain in 2006. 

Carol Lam - A year ago the greatest threat to the Republican Majority were not the Democrats, but career prosecutors in DoJ's Office of Public Integrity and US Attorneys who were taking down errant GOPers for their historic and rampant corruption and betrayal of the public trust.  No prosecutor had done more to damage the Republicans than the San Diego US Attorney, Carol Lam, who secured the longest jail sentence for a sitting US Congressman in history, was moving against the #3 in the CIA and reportedly was also looking at what may end up being the greatest of all the corruption scandals, Cong. Jerry Lewis's handling of the earmark process (something he has already spent more than a $1m defending against).  Lam was a huge threat to the GOP and needed to be removed.  She was. 

Arkansas - Perhaps the most brazen move.  The White House actually tried to put a Rove political deputy in as US Attorney in the home state of the Clintons, and what could be a pivotal battleground in 2008. 

San Francisco - Speaker Pelosi. 

Washington - Punishment for not moving more aggressively on the 2006 Guberatorial recount.  Sends a signal to the remaining 90 plus US Attorneys and career prosecutors in DC. 

Michigan - Not sure.  Perhaps a diversity pick.   A core 2008 battleground nonetheless with Romney as possible GOP nominee. 

Given the "rules don't apply to us" worldview of the Bush era, it is not a great leap to believe that the White House decided to use these slots to stack the deck for 2008, remove their greatest prosecutorial threat, and punish folks who had not played ball in using these offices for partisan means.  Given how highly political all this was, and that Rove had already in 2002 helped remove a US Attorney in Guam who was going after Jack Abramoff, it is not believable that Rove, the political boss of this era, was not directly involved, if not supervising the whole campaign.   

No wonder Bush doesnt want his team to testify under oath. 

Rove, Miers to Testify, Kind Of

Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) told members of the media that White House Counsel Fred Fielding and the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees had agreed to have Karl Rove and Harriet Miers meet with the committees about the US Attorneys scandal, without resorting to a subpoena.  Unfortunately, it looks like they will not be under oath, the meetings will be closed to the public and there will be no testimony.  Sounds like fodder for Bob Woodward's next book. 

Meanwhile President Bush is making a statement on the scandal at 5:45pm tonight.

Big Business to Senate Finance Committee: Invest More in Education

That was the message Accenture CEO William Green (with a name like that you pretty much have to be a CEO) brought to Congress in his testimony today.  He told the Senate Finance Committee about his own experience at a junior college outside Boston:

“I am a shameless advocate for junior and community colleges because I am an example of what they can accomplish.  There is no doubt that my two years at Dean College not only prepared me for advancing my education and gearing up for a career, but also transformed me as a person. Our nation’s network of junior and community colleges can produce these results. I am living proof.“  

Green also talked about the need to make higher education more affordable by making all education expenses tax deductable, not just tuition, and re-doubling our efforts to teach math and science:

“To build a truly competitive workforce, every company needs people who know how to learn; people with skills in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem solving and communications; and people who have ambition and self confidence. In essence, we need people who are great raw material.”

Greeen closed by asking Congress to reform the H-1B visa process for foreign-born, highly educated workers.  Hopefully, as head of the Business Roundtable’s Education and the Workforce Task Force Green will agree that there is no seperating H-1B visa reform from the broader issue of comprehensive immigration reform, and that it is time for the business community to join the broad coalition supporting its passage. 

House Prepares to Debate War Spending Bill

Later this week the House will debate a $124 billion dollar bill to fund the War the Iraq through the end of FY 2007.  As you probably already know, Speaker Pelosi is walking a political tightrope between conservative members of her caucus who may oppose the eventual drawdown of troop numbers and restrictions on the President in the bill, and anti-war Democrats who don't think there are enough strings attached to the bill.  Here's how she pitched the bill in a floor speech last night:

Again and again, Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic Leader, and I, have urged President Bush to adopt a plan for Iraq containing the following elements: transition the mission from combat to training; responsibly redeploy our troops; build consensus for political accommodation in Iraq; encourage a robust diplomatic effort, primarily involving Iraq’s neighbors.  We must then reform and reinvigorate the reconstruction effort; and refocus on the real war on terror – the war in Afghanistan.

Later this week we will debate a plan to bring the war to an end.  The U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health, and Iraq Accountability Act will rebuild our military, protect our troops, provide for our veterans, and hold the Iraqi government accountable. 

The benchmarks for the Iraqi government set forth in this bill are the benchmarks endorsed by President Bush on January 10.  They are: improvements in the performance of the Iraqi security forces; a greater commitment by the Iraqi government to national reconciliation; and reductions in the levels of sectarian violence in Iraq.

After four years of war, it is reasonable to expect these benchmarks to be met this year.

I welcome the debate over this bill and the opportunity it provides for Members of Congress to express themselves on what the greatest ethical challenge facing our country.

Outside of Congress, the influential progressive advocacy group MoveOn has decided to support the bill, after polling its 3.2 million members.  And they're running radio ads beating-up on Republicans who oppose the bill.

Of course, the President is strongly opposed to the bill, has threatened to veto it and in yesterday's Iraq War anniversary speech - at the end of the bloodiest year so far - said, "They [Congress] have a responsibility to get this bill to my desk without strings and without delay."  Of course, he gave the speech under a portrait of Teddy Roosevelt in heroic Rough Rider garb.  One thing that can be said for this White House, they still know how to pull-off a photo-shoot as delusion of grandeur.

LCV is Hiring

Our friends over at the League of Conservation Voters are looking to hire a Director of New Media Communications.  Learn more on their site.

Joe Biden Responds to the Bush Administration as Iraq War Enters Year 5

Biden gets to the core of the problem, that the Bush Administration is "pushing a rope," using a bad tactic, the surge to back-up a failed strategy. 

A New Idea on Health Care

Matt Miller from CAP writes about an innovative way to solve the health care crisis in this country, in his Fortune Magazine column:

Start with the fact that business now spends a stunning $500 billion a year, or 4% of GDP, on health-care benefits. Let’s say we shifted that cost to government—that’s right, relieved business of it entirely—and, to make matters simple, combined it with other public funds to give citizens a voucher with which they could buy a private health plan. To pay for this without boosting the deficit, we’d raise taxes by an identical amount—not on business, of course, but on taxpayers broadly, via various gas or carbon taxes that would have the salutary side effect of helping cure our energy and environmental woes. Note that the total amount the country is spending on health care doesn’t change under this scheme; we just shift the financing burden from business to the general population, via government. (To make the left happy, we can toss another 1% of GDP into the pot in new taxes to make sure the vouchers go to all today’s uninsured as well. Presto, universal health coverage.)

What would business think of such an idea? Policy suggestions like this would ordinarily be dead on arrival, decried as a record $500 billion tax hike sure to sink the economy. But what if the business community rose as one to force politicians to get past such rhetoric—and publicly trumpeted the need for the new taxes? It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Look what we’d be doing: We’d free business from the burden of financing health care. (Employers emotionally or paternalistically attached to their health role could still facilitate and arrange for coverage, just not fund it, as conservative Heritage Foundation scholar Stuart Butler lays out in a forthcoming paper for Bob Rubin’s Hamilton Project.) The boon for competitiveness—not to mention shareholder value and the stock market—is obvious. And to seal the deal for skeptical capitalists, conservative economists declare that this brand of tax hike should have no impact on growth. "In one scenario we call health expenditures government, and in another we don’t. What does it matter?" says Kevin Hassett, head of economics at the American Enterprise Institute and an advisor to John McCain. "It’s hard to imagine that would have the negative growth effects" normally ascribed to tax increases in the economics literature.

It's at the very least an idea worth debating and Matt finishes with an arguement that NDN's Globalization Initiative has been making for the past year, that American companies need to make improving their employees standards of living a priority now, or face the consequences.

If business doesn’t help Washington fix these essentials before long, rising worker anxiety will produce a protectionist backlash that could wreck everything capitalists believe in. Instead of reflexively resisting the idea of government and taxes, therefore, business leaders must now do some constructive, nonideological thinking if they want to serve corporate America’s self-interest—and the country’s.

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