Having been in Washington now for 14 years, I have come to truly value the slow, deliberative nature of Congress. People with diverse views are forced to come together to hash out a common way forward. Tolerance, acceptance of difference is at the core of such a system, and required to make it work. Of course we've had little of that in the Bush years. Congress has acted as an irresponsible, braindead, corrupt, rubber stamp, allowing all sorts of nutty things to go on with little discussion, debate and oversight. Committees did not meet. Hearings weren't held. The opposition party was dismissed rather than engaged. This culture that allowed ideology to trump discourse, and debate to be seen as dissent, was one of the major reasons the Republicans went off track these past few years.
We are already seeing the return of an engaged, deliberative Congress. It will happen in big ways - the Reid/Pelosi challenge to the President on Iraq - an it will happen in many small ways, but the most dramatic and public way will be in Senator Joe Biden's four weeks of hearings on America's Middle East policy that start Tuesday. The Senator plans to use his new power to help us better understand what to do; to engage the public in a vital debate about our future; to search, debate, discuss, discover; to call Administration officials to account for their words and actions; to admit that we do not know the best path, and want to, together, as Americans, find a better way.
These hearings will be vital, important, difficult. I can't wait for them to start, and welcome the return of messiness to our democracy.
Just a quick thanks to the dozens of you who have contacted us about the appointment of new executive director, Ali Wade. We all agree that she is a great addition, and look forward to seeing her on her first day, this Monday.
The last year ended on a high note for the New Politics Institute, when Time magazine bestowed its prestigious Person of the Year Award not to a person, but to the bottom-up trend we have been tracking for the last 18 months. For those who missed it, Time’s Person of the Year is “You,” meaning all the people using the new tools and new media of the web to energize our society, our economy, and yes, our politics.
NPI is the only think tank dedicated to showing how these new tools and new media are transforming politics. We have been on that case from the beginning, inspired by one of our founding fellows, Markos Moulitsas, whose Daily Kos blog is the most popular progressive blog in the country. See his in-depth video interview where he gives a wonderful introduction and overview of the blog scene. We have held events in Washington, DC on the topic, and developed a groundbreaking report comparing the very different progressive and conservative blogospheres. And our recent 2006 Tools Campaign led off with a terrific memo on how progressives should Engage the Blogs.
The NPI website is also filled with written reports and video of events and talks that explore many other new tools and media. Check out the highlighted video off the front page on an event we held on Capital Hill in December, where we reviewed “The Next Wave of Tools for Progressive Politics,” including a big up-and-comer, Mobile Media. And besides tools, NPI analyzes the changing demographics of America that affect the changing media landscape, and ultimately profoundly effect politics. We have done some pioneering work in understanding the Millennial Generation, those young people born in the 1980s and 1990s who are masters of these new tools and who are starting to make their mark on politics.
If anything overshadowed the political impact of the blogs in 2006, it was the explosion of viral video on YouTube and similar sites. Millions went online and watched the "macaca video" of Senator George Allen taunting a Virginia honor student, and using what many consider a racial slur. In the weeks that followed, Allen went from a shoo-in for reelection to losing to Jim Webb by the narrowest of margins. Understanding the opportunities of this new type of video distribution needs to be a top priority for progressives. That's why next week NPI is launching a major paper on producing video for internet distribution, as the first paper in our "Re-imagining Video" series.
Time magazine’s validation at the end of the year reminds us that much of what happens next in progressive politics is up to "You." Time Managing Editor Richard Stengel wrote that some people denigrate this bottom-up era as an amateur hour. He continues: “But America was founded by amateurs. The framers were professional lawyers and military men and bankers, but they were amateur politicians, and that's the way they thought it should be."
We share the sentiment that getting more amateurs, more regular people involved in politics is good for progressives, good for politics, and good for the country. The tools that empower these people are to be celebrated. Time’s piece was a good omen for the coming year.
It doesn't get any clearer than what is revealed in this new CBS Poll:
Sixty-eight percent of those polled expressed optimism in the 110th Congress, as opposed to the twenty-five percent who are pessimistic. (Among Republicans polled, nearly half are optimistic.)
Fifty-one percent expressed doubt that the White House will work together with the new Congress.
Sadly, this means that the road ahead in Iraq - which was the main issue Americans want the 110th Congress to address - doesn't look like it's going to be born out of bipartisanship. Americans cast doubt on whether either Party has a clear plan for the country, even though a majority of them want Democrats to follow through on their promises to bring troops home; and only twenty-three percent approve of the President's handling of Iraq (after Saddam Hussein's execution).
An interesting statistic: Americans were split, 42 percent to 42 percent, on whether immigration reform would be passed.
Time for the President to realize (through his actions) what he wrote in his Wall Street Journalop-ed from Wednesday: "we share the responsibility for what we achieve."
Working Assets just launched a service to help push the new Democratic agenda for the first 100 hours of the new Congress… This is worth trying.
From their site:
“We’ll text you during the first 100 legislative hours (which could be four weeks or longer) when there’s an urgent vote on an issue where your participation — with a simple phone call to your representative — can make a difference.”
The Washington Postreported today that the Dems are poised to roll back subsidies to the oil industry and plow the money into tax breaks for renewable energy sources right after their 100 hour push. That is a win-win-win strategy that almost can’t go wrong with the public at this point. After years of Republicans outright denying global warming and supporting policies that exacerbate it, the Dems have a rare opportunity to move fast into the wide-open terrain of boosting green energy.
It is also a progressive position that a wide array of Americans increasingly support. Going down this path won’t evoke much controversy. And there is a highly developed body of progressive policies that can be quickly instituted on a national level.
With that in mind, the New York Times also had a great article today showing the consequences of wise progressive policies already instituted in California. A long article in the House&Home section looked at the solar panel craze now happening across California – partly because of landmark legislation passed a year ago. Here’s an excerpt from the story that gives you the gist:
The vogue began in earnest a year ago, when the state legislature approved the California Solar Initiative, one of the most ambitious solar programs in the world. The legislation took effect at the start of this month but was preceded by a stopgap measure with similar terms that ran throughout 2006, offering homeowners a rebate on top of the federal tax credit of up to $2,000 that has been available nationwide since 2006.
The theory was that supplanting the year-to-year incentive programs in place since 1998 with the long-term certainty offered by the initiative’s 10-year, $3.2 billion program of rebates (one-third of which would likely go to homeowners) would stimulate the development of a robust solar sector — which could then be weaned from subsidies as its growing scale brought down prices.
If it works as planned, said J. P. Ross, the policy director for Vote Solar, an organization that advocates for large state-level solar projects, the initiative will stimulate the installation of 3,000 megawatts of solar electrical generating capacity in the state over the next decade. That would be an increase by a factor of more than 20, Mr. Ross said, equivalent to 30 small natural-gas-fired power plants.
Given the enthusiasm homeowners have shown for the initiative, filing nearly twice as many plans for solar systems with the California State Energy Commission in 2006 than in previous years, this goal may not be far-fetched.
Other states are considering the future of their solar programs (several states in the Northeast and the Southwest have less ambitious ones in place, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut), and they are closely watching California’s.
I might add that Congress could take a close look at what’s happening here and boost the fledgling national solar incentive program and help spread this kind of change across the country.
The Washington Postreminds us of an extremely important problem emerging on the horizon for immigration services. If Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will find itself on the receiving end of an incredible surge of applications for legal residency. "Responsible for the administration of immigration and naturalization adjudication functions and establishing immigration services policies and priorities," the USCIS is already unable to manage its existing work. Adding the applications of 12 million undocumented immigrants and you've got even more chaos. Shockingly, outside reviews concur with those conducted internally by the USCIS:
A report released Dec. 20 by Homeland Security Inspector General Richard L. Skinner cited a long list of setbacks and concurred with internal USCIS reviews that the bureau "lacks the processing capacity, systems integration and project management resources needed to manage a potential increase in workloads.
So the USCIS knows it has problems, Homeland Security knows it has problems, and now we know it has problems, but who will fix it? [Enter the 110th Congress...?]
The immigration system is broken and a comprehensive solution is the only way it will get better. NDN knows this, the President knows it, and many others know it. We need Congress to step in so that the entities in charge of these applications are funded and managed properly so that people can have a path (albeit a long one) to citizenship.
I am very excited to announce a major new step forward for our organization. One of the most talented and good people I know, Ali Weise, is joining NDN as our new executive director. Below, I send along a press release announcing her arrival.
Bringing Ali on board is the first in a series of steps we will be taking to ensure that this wonderful network we've built does its part - and does it well - at this critical time for the nation.
I hope everyone in the NDN community will make Ali feel welcome, and do everything they can to ensure her success in the years ahead,
Happy New Year all.
ALIXANDRIA WEISE TO JOIN NDN Veteran Congressional, political aide to become new executive director
Washington, DC – NDN, a progressive think tank and advocacy organization, announced that Alixandria Weise would be joining its staff in a newly created position of executive director.
“America and the progressive movement face a whole new array of 21st century challenges,” said Ali Weise. “Few organizations have thought more about or worked harder to help us meet these challenges than NDN. I am excited to be joining this team that has such a long track record of success, and I am ready to get to work.”
“Ali has the right mix of vision, intelligence and leadership skills to take NDN to the next institutional level,” said NDN President Simon Rosenberg. “I’ve known Ali for a long time, consider her a good friend and believe deeply that she is one of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with. With Ali on board, there is much, much more NDN will be able to do to contribute to the important debates of our day.”
With the titles of Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, Ms. Weise will oversee the day to day operations of NDN, and will report directly to President Simon Rosenberg. She will be joining NDN’s very experienced management team that includes New Politics Institute Director Peter Leyden, a well-known writer and former managing editor of Wired magazine, and Hispanic Strategy Center Director Joe Garcia, the former head of the Cuban-American National Foundation.
Alixandria Weise, 31, has worked in the United States Congress and Democratic politics for over ten years. During the 2006 campaign cycle, Ms. Weise was the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Campaign Director and then became the Deputy Director of the Committee's Independent Expenditure operation, which spent $67 million in over 50 congressional races. Ali served as Congressman Adam Smith's (WA-09) Chief of Staff from 2000 - 2005, and as his Communications and Legislative Director from 1997 - 2000. During her time in Congress, Weise was a leading staffer for the New Democrat Coalition, a House Caucus currently co-chaired by Congressman Smith.
Ms. Weise also ran the Washington State Caucus campaign for Senator John Kerry's presidential race in 2004. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, and a Washington state native.
NDN is a think tank and advocacy organization working to advance a 21st century progressivism. It has three affiliates, the New Politics Institute, the Hispanic Strategy Center and the NDN Political Fund. NDN and its work can be found at www.ndn.org, www.newpolitics.net and www.ndnblog.org.
Those who won’t be able to make the actual opening of the 110th Congress can join others in a parallel universe – the online virtual world of Second Life. Sun Microsystems and Clear Ink have sponsored the building of a House of Representatives in the popular online environment. The floor is reminiscent of the actual floor and any of the more than 2 million residents can gather there to debate issues and interact with actual politicians who venture in. Rep. George Miller, for one, will be there at noon EST on Thursday, January 4th.
If this all seems a bit strange, check out the short video of a person scoping out the building ahead of time. And read up more about this on wikipedia. Or, if so moved, go to Second Life and enter the world yourself. It’s free, and relatively easy to do. And, in the long run, this kind of environment is one that many people in politics are going to have to become familiar with, if not master. Check out these numbers of the numbers of people involved in a place that did not exist little more than a year ago.
Total Residents: 2,323,516 Logged In Last 60 Days: 844,310 US$ Spent in the Last 24 hours: $969,587